Listening Lounge

Listening Lounge
After The Disco
Columbia Records
Broken Bells
The indie duo returns with a space-rock sophomore album.
By: Larry Fitzmaurice
lot has changed since James Mer- across as two seasoned musicians taking advancer formed Broken Bells four years tage of a major-label budget (the list of addiago with producer Brian Burton, aka tional contributors dwarfed Port of Morrow’s
Danger Mouse. Broken Bells’ roots considerable collab-a-palooza). The (the list of
can be traced to when Mercer lent additional contributors dwarfed Port of Morhis voice to the squiggly oddity “Insane Lulla- row’s considerable collab-a-palooza).
by”, a track that landed on the Burton/Mark LinkThe record dipped in and out of differous project Dark Night of the Soul. You can also ent sounds and styles—wheezing indie-pop,
draw a line from Mercer’s previdrum-machine percolators, Beach
ous album with the Shins, WincBoys-style funhouse psychedelia.
ing the Night Away, which moved
The songs lacked the staying power
Holding On for Life
away from the spiky guitar pop of
of the Shins’ best work but there
Leave it Alone
their first two star-making records
was enough sonic variety to make
towards moodier, more impressionistic territo- for an intermittently engaging listen. Still, Merry. A subtly excellent album that has benefited cer remains one of North America’s stronger
from the passage of time, Wincing the Night melodic songwriters. But these glimmers of
Away nonetheless sounded like a statement warmth quickly fade in After the Disco’s chilly
of defeat from a songwriter who had experi- environs; as soon as “After the Disco” hits its
enced major success earlier in that decade. The bridge, the melody falters and Mercer is forced
first Broken Bells album was an eclectic, low- to hop around in his vocal range.
Article originally published for, 2014
Photography by James Minchin
favourite tracks
APRIL 2014
After the Disco is a
more cohesive record,
and that turns out to
be the problem: Mercer
and Burton’s eccentricities have been sanded
down to a single, flattened plane. Broken
Bells have been fond of
outer space imagery—
Christina Hendricks’ turn
as a vacationing astronaut for the video for
Broken Bells’ “The Ghost
Inside”, the similarly
astral series of short
films accompanying
After the Disco’s singles—
and this set represents
the sonic manifestation of their space-isthe-place mindset, with
music that is weightless,
atmospherically heavy,
and inert. The LP’s title
suggests that Broken
Bells’ attentions have
turned to the dancefloor,
and to a point that holds
true—there’s the perky
beat and synth stabs of
the title track, Mercer’s
strange Bee Gees affectation on “Holding on for
Life”, the elided grandeur
of “The Changing Lights”.
But too often, these
songs sound lifeless and
drained of energy. Still,
Mercer remains one of
North America’s stronger melodic songwriters.
His sing-songy cadence
on the verse section
of “After the Disco”
proves an instant earworm, and the acoustic
dusk of “Lazy Wonderland” stands with the
best in Mercer’s catalogue, reminiscent of
Port of Morrow’s lovely,
languid “September”.
But these glimmers of
warmth quickly fade.
listening lounge
Bombay Bicycle Club
So Long, See You Tomorrow
Island Records
IT’S INAPPROPRIATE TO TALK about Bombay Bicycle Club’s “evolution," since that word assumes
some kind of logical progression. Between
2009 and 2011, the London group released three
albums—one as an affable post-punk-pop Arctic
Vampires hybrid, another as a “quiet is the new
loud” retread and, on the surprisingly vigorous, Ben
H. Allen-helmed A Different Kind of Fix, a third that
was sleek and streamlined Urban Outfitters mixtape filler. It secured them a sizable fanbase and
not much respect as a rock band: it’s hard to get
taken seriously when your first big break involves
winning a Battle of the Bands, and even as their
music improved significantly, this was often credited to their producers. But that all happened in
the span of two years, about six months less
than it took just to make their fourth LP. Another
radical change and a wonder of cosmetic sur-
gery, So Long, See You Tomorrow is an often daz- ing electronic production by playing actual festizling, euphoric electronic-pop record where Bom- vals. They’re operating with a broad scope and
bay Bicycle Club have decided they don’t want an eagerness to please, so every time they go
to be seen as a rock band anyway.
overboard with the ProTools, it’s in the service
Who knew that Bombay Bicycle Club’s ulti- of adding fundamental pleasures of melody or
mate destiny would involve finally figuring out rhythm rather than dull atmosphere. The band
a way where TNGHT and the greatrecorded and produced So Long in
est hits of Alexandra Patsavas can
their own studio, and wisely enlistcoexist? On a musical level, it’s pretty
ed Mark Rankin as an engineer and
Home By Now
much what most upstart “indie rock”
mixer—he worked on the most recent
Eyes Off You
(read: synth-pop) acts are trying in
Queens of the Stone Age and Aluvain to suss out—how to make syncable, meet- naGeorge albums and that’s adequate prepacute songs conversant in maximalist, omnivo- ration for band who likely asked him, “help us
rous R&B and hip-hop production. Compared to sound like both.” In particular, first single “Carry
damn near every band trying to do the same Me” and opener “Overdone” show Bombay Bicything, Bombay Bicycle Club are exceedingly cle Club getting newly aggressive, where they
well-prepared, having started as a hooky, if indis- just want to express their joy in discovering
tinct pop band and learning about crowd-pleas- different. forms of sonic expression.
favourite tracks
Band Of Horses
Acoustic at the Ryman
THANKS TO ITS VENUE, Acoustic at the Ryman known as the Ryman Auditorium until the 1900s,
can't be just a simple live album, as that sto- when it was renamed after a local businessman,
ried concert hall in Nashville carries far too much saloon proprietor, and riverboat captain. It wasn’t
cultural and historical baggage. Band of Horses known for country music, however, until 40 years
played a two-night stand there in April 2013, and later: The Grand Ole Opry radio show relocated to
their decision to unplug their electric
that space when it outgrew nearby
guitars in favor of acoustic suggests
War Memorial Auditorium. Broadknowledge of the venue's long life
cast hundreds of miles in every
No One’s Gonna Love You
as the home of country music. It's
direction, the show became so
The Funeral
certainly an impressive name on
popular that the Ryman was soon
the album cover, and definitely the most compel- identified as the home of country music—or, as it
ling aspect of this pallid set. Seemingly intended is currently billed, the “mother church.”
to legitimize the band's music—specifically, their
The country music industry, if not necestwo most recent albums of diminishing-returns sarily the music itself, eventually outgrew the
bro rock—the venue conjures up a very specific venue, and in the early 1970s, the Opry moved
musical legacy that Band of Horses simply can- to a theme park outside of Nashville, which
not live up to. The redbrick tabernacle on Fifth held more fans in its mega church-like auditoAvenue in Nashville was built in 1892, but it wasn’t rium. For two decades, the Ryman sat down-
favourite tracks
town empty and neglected, and was nearly
torn. down. Thanks to the efforts of local artists
and fans—including Emmylou Harris, who filmed
a series of concerts there in the early 1990s—
the building was refurbished and reopened as
a concert hall and museum, its rustic ambience. Acoustic sounds like the culmination of a
H.O.R.D.E.-ward trajectory Band of Horses have
been tracing since their second release: beefing
up their sound, abandoning the outsize moments
that distinguished their debut, yet maintaining that same I-love-you-man rock romanticism. It’s either the most depressing career arc
or the greatest indie-rock trolling of the twenty-first century. On this live album, the Ryman
is just a room with good acoustics. The album
is almost as good as the real thing, it sounds
as if you were there, live, listening.
APRIL 2014
Article originally published for, 2014 by Ian Cohen and Stephen M. Deusner
listening lounge
Cut Copy
Free Your Mind
CUT COPY NEVER SOUNDED like a band that
had a problem getting to the point. Nor did they
ever sound like a band that needed a serotonin boost. Yet, even “Lights & Music”, “Need You
Now”, “Hearts on Fire”, “Take Me Over” and just
about any of the Australian quartet’s uniformly
excellent and directly-titled singles can sound
wishy-washy and kinda dark in the face of Free
Your Mind, its Successories screen-saver album
cover and Dan Whitford’s claim that the title
refers to a freedom that’s “universally positive
and timeless.” Maybe Cut Copy were hippies all
along, and whether you think that’s progress or
a serious regression, Free Your Mind is at least
a sensible continuation of their trajectory from
the cosmopolitan, club-friendly and DFA-affiliated In Ghost Colours to the breezier, more festival-ready 80s pop of Zonoscope. But there’s a
difference between freeing your mind, losing your
mind and just flat-out shutting it down. And you signifiers, sorted out neatly: staggered house
just wish Cut Copy left even something to the piano vamps, endlessly thumping bass drum
imagination, as their most overtly fun and least and Whitford letting his vocals get all baggy in
dynamic music restates the obvious over and every sense of the word, an amalgamation of
over again throughout Free Your Mind.
Shaun Ryder’s dysfunctional relationship with
Their aims are admirable here. Whitford pitch, Ian Brown’s bedheaded proclamations and
claimed the band took their inspiration from Bobby Gillespie’s revolutionary hokum.
the Summers of Love, both 1967 and 1989.
Cut Copy’s music has always been simple;
Philosophically and sonically, those years are the difficult part was trying to explain in non-ilsomething of a package deal
lusory terms what made Bright
anyway—Stone Roses and InspiLike Neon Love, In Ghost Colours
ral Carpets were essentially psyand Zonoscope glorious and
Meet Me in the House of Love
chedelic pop-rock bands with
uplifting rather than silly or even
Walking in the Sky
beats, while Primal Scream and
flat out dumb. My take is that
Happy Mondays had no qualms about straight- they had omnivorous enough taste to show
up pilfering the era. You can’t doubt Cut Copy’s they take their craft seriously, while avoiding
commitment to sidling up with nu-Madchester crowd-moving mock profundity and proving septypes like Jagwar Ma and Paradise, as there’s arating it from the vapid electro-pop to which
barely any modernist touch to be found on the Cut Copy used to be an alternative.
favourite tracks
Foster The People
Morning Phase
Rave Tapes
White Women
Recalling his 1990s emergence in a Pitchfork interview
from 2011, Beck said, “Back
then I had a feeling that we
weren’t quite measuring
up to the music that had
come before, or it just wasn’t
as important somehow.” It
upholds the myths of baby
boomers like the Byrds and
Simon and Garfunkel with
a staid type of reverence,
but it also piggybacks on
the legacy of one of Beck’s
best records. It’s the sound
of a rule-breaker coloring
inside the lines.
Rave Tapes, the band’s
eighth album outside of
their soundtrack and remix
work, has been built up for
its increased use of electronics, with a debt partially
owed to the vintage synth
scores that have held a sustained influence over a huge
swathe of underground
artists. The first song to be
released from the album,
“Remurdered”, certainly
hinted that analog sounds
would form a more rigorous backbone to their music
than before.
Foster The People‘s lead
Supermodel single “Coming Of Age” was a pleasant,
if rather unassuming, bit of
guitar pop. New album cut
“Pseudologia Fantastica” is
much weirder and more
substantial in every way. It
starts off with galactic synth
textures and thumping percussion, but then the chorus is driven by a chunky
piano chord and driving
bass line. Just when you
think things can’t get prettier, a shoegaze-lite swirl of
feedback enters the mix.
Electrofunk duo Chromeo
has shared album art for the
forthcoming White Women,
the follow up to 2010’s Business Casual, via a missed
connections ad on Craigslist. According to the ad, the
new album is set to drop
May 12. White Women will
feature contributions from
Vampire Weekend’s Ezra
Koenig, Toro Y Moi, Solange,
LCD Soundsystem’s Pat
Mahoney, and Fool’s Gold
duo Oliver. So far, the duo
has shared “Come Alive” and
“Sexy Socialite”.
Article originally published for, 2014 by Ian Cohen
Next Month’s Anticipated Albums
APRIL 2014