Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Teen Dream" by Beach House
I've always had a draw toward 80s music, especially soft rock like Phil Collins or that one Cutting Crew song, but I felt like I enjoyed it tongue-in-cheek. That is, until I heard Beach House. In listening to "Teen Dream" I had moments of "oh, wow, this is so good" quickly followed by the realization "oh, uh, this sounds just like Mr. Mister..." So all my claims that I listened to Don Henley and Steve Perry purely for kitsch value are now exposed as a ruse; much to my chagrin, the center section of the Venn Diagram mapping my mother's and my musical taste includes more than just the Beatles. All of that to say, Beach House is an 80s revival band, and a really good one. I can't stop listening. Gems on "Teen Dream" include "Zebra," "Norway," "Walk in the Park," "Better Times," and "10 Mile Stereo."

"Contra" Vampire Weekend
I've heard Vampire Weekend are a divisive band since they flaunt, rather than hide or modestly forget to mention, their monolithic privileged Upper West Side prep-school then Ivy League upbringing. In actuality, the band's formation story is uncannily similar to the Strokes, but I suppose the latter's preference for leather jackets over popped collars has made all the difference. I heard Vampire Weekend's self-titled album only once or twice through, and enjoyed the musical flourishes and the AP English class references ("Oxford Comma"), so I thought I'd buy "Contra" to give the band a proper chance. Unfortunately, that meant I had to choose a side, and my conclusion is that I think Vampire Weekend are pretentious. I felt at times like the songs were testing my intelligence. Yes, I've had horchata and I think it tastes like carrots; yes, I know a balaclava is a type of face mask...get to the point. Tell me something insightful about humanity. I do, however, firmly approve of the album art. That picture is so striking, and mysterious, and timeless that I just can't stop staring. And thankfully it doesn't startle me in the way St. Vincent's close-up does.
(Also, I have no contempt toward those who enjoy Vampire Weekend :) )

"There is Love in You" Four Tet
I listened to this under recommendation of Pitchfork Media, and was disappointed to find that my appreciation for inventive and experimental indie music does not yet expand to electronica. My auditory palette needs further refinement before I'm able to hear the magic in Four Tet. But I really like the album art!

"xx" by the xx
Perhaps the xx can be my gateway to electronica. All the critics say this debut album sounds like several excellent-but-not-quite-pinnacled albums came before it, like how the Beatles had eight full-length LPs before the release of "the White Album." From the intro, the xx sound so polished and...perfect. Anytime a new instrument is cued, or the mode changes, or Romy Madley uses a glottal attack, I just think "yes, that's exactly it, that's exactly what the music needed right at that point." It sounds so natural and subdued and understated, for the first time I can see how musicians in a band can be vessels delivering a melody that was previously alive and waiting to be unearthed. I know that's mystical, and I don't believe it literally, but I do think the xx are worthy of such a weighty metaphor.

"Bitte Orca" by Dirty Projectors
My introduction to Dirty Projectors was "Stillness is the Move," and I thought it was gloriously and unapologetically clunky. When I heard Solange Knowles' cover of that song, it suddenly made sense to me. "Stillness is the Move" is actually a hip-hop song quirkily embellished with dromedaries and onesies (watch the music video for illumination: The music is so inventive and, to be frank, weird, at times forgoing a time signature altogether, but still accessible, so it's closer to TV on the Radio than it is to Joanna Newsom. Also, the females aren't afraid to use pipe voice or difficult a cappella-style harmonies, so I feel I can both appreciate and relate to the band's purposely off-kilter style.