Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Releases

A fine batch of new albums has come out in the last month (Magnetic Fields, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Massive Attack!), and two of the bigger names in that list (or as big as one can be in this fragmented universe) are Spoon and Vampire Weekend. Both albums are excellent works.

Spoon, mainly Britt Daniel and Jim Eno throughout their existence, work within the indie rock idiom, but since that's such a broad description at this point, it's perhaps better to describe them as masters of clean minimalism. It's not that strange to compare the band to modern art, given the attention to detail that goes into each Spoon album and song. Much like Wire (during Chair Missing and 154) and Elvis Costello (circa Get Happy!!) the songs are simple and catchy but also quite cerebral. Drums may be real or electronic, but are rarely in a predictable rhythm. Guitar or keyboards may be used to provide additional percussion rather than melody. Each piece is only kept if it enhances the song, and so space is often one of the most important sounds in the mix.

On the new album Transference the band uses a number of demos for songs rather than the studio recordings that were recorded later. A number of tracks also cut off unexpectedly. Not midway through the song, mind you, but they still don't exactly "resolve" themselves. The effect is not so much lo-fi as a continuation of the Spoon aesthetic. In the past, drums, or guitar may have been largely expendable at times, and now the band has shown that they don't even need a studio or a proper ending to make a song what it needs to be. The songs themselves may not be the catchiest bunch Daniel has ever written, but the quality is still quite high and there are a few cuts "Who Makes Your Money" and the second half of "I Saw the Light" that rank among the bands finest moments.

Vampire Weekend is composed of four well-dressed Columbia graduates who really like African music. Their existence alone has made them deeply polarizing, but the songs on their debut and this new album Contra are uniformly catchy. And that's why I keep listening to them. They may be dicks, and I probably wouldn't really want to drink with them (which is the officially metric for all judgment in this life, it seems) but as long as I find myself humming their songs they're doing something right.

The main leap forward in this albums seems to have come from the work of keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij in his side project Discovery. That duo's album was a shamelessly shiny indie-r'n'b-pop hyrbid filled with auto-tune and bright keyboards. Contra is not quite so garish, but the band now seem to have no fear of mixing in a bit of auto-tune here or an M.I.A. sample there. They're a pop band at the end of the day, and this album is further proof of that.

No comments: