Despite its cheerless title, A Guide To Love, Loss, and Desperation — the well-received 2007 debut album by the Wombats — was technically more manic than depressive; lyrical nods to bleak romantic failure and bleaker Joy Division listening sessions were belied by the music's pulsing party soundtrack. But the album's fixation on hopelessness, we know now, was deeper than the surface allowed: Vocalist Matthew Murphy was, in fact, not only struggling with depression, but with a spate of psychological side effects from the antidepressants he was taking to cure it. With This Modern Glitch Murphy comes out through to the other side, where the paradigm shift is most pronounced on songs like "Techno Fan" — perhaps the first-ever explicitly anti-rockist anthem — or "Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)," in which the demons from Murphy's past are recast as horror movie beasts before he finally beats them. It's a motif that carries over into the album's undisputed centerpiece, "Anti-D," where The Wombats revise "Bittersweet Symphony" for an anti-Prozac polemic that is as uplifting and optimistic as any song that rhymes "antidepressant" with "decongestant" will ever be. The symbolism of Murphy taking a beating by a gang of doctors in the song's video is, therefore, a literal one — but then so are the final images of Murphy being saved by his friends and raised to the sky in some sort of cognitive rapture. In other words, while the narrative of the "triumphant return" is a hackneyed one, sometimes the shoe just fits.
Cancer claimed the lives of two great musicians this week: On Wednesday, TV On The Radio announced the tragic passing of their bassist and founding member Gerard Smith. It was revealed last month that Smith had been diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after recording their new album, Nine Types of Light. He was 34. And just this morning it was confirmed that feminist punk icon Poly Styrene lost her battle with breast cancer yesterday. Best known for her work in X-Ray Spex, Poly's inimitable voice and individualist attitude set the stage for gender politics in punk rock — arguably changing the landscape for generations of indie bands to follow. Her newest album, Generation Indigo, came out today in America and is available for streaming. She was 53.
Next month, former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook will issue a new EP with his current group The Light, featuring new versions of classic Joy Division songs like "Atmosphere" and "New Dawn Fades." More intriguing, however, is the inclusion of "Pictures In My Mind" — a previously unfinished and unreleased Joy Division song that Hook carries the lead vocal on.
Rufus Wainwright is set to release an insanely huge box set of his recorded works titled House of Rufus. The set will contain all six studio albums (with unreleased bonus tracks), as well as four additional CDs featuring pretty much every song Wainwright has ever recorded or appeared on — including the demos that got him signed. There will also be another six DVDs of live performances and feature-length documentaries, a 90-page hardcover book, and interviews with Neil Tennant, Martha Wainwright, and Linda Thompson, among others. This impossible-to-consume-in-its-entirety collection will be available on July 18.
Here's another one for our ongoing list of unlikely pop music collaborations: M.I.A. was recently in the studio with producer Polow Da Don (the man responsible for "Love In This Club") and the perpetually choleric Chris Brown. Whether or not Maya is using these sessions for a new mixtape or her fourth full-length album is as of yet unclear.
Motion City Soundtrack's Justin Pierre resurfaced this week as a member of Farewell Continental — a shamelessly pop side project that Spin quite accurately compares to "British boy-girl bands like Ash." That dynamic is apparent on lead single "Dagger, Dagger: Terror Terror," where Pierre is outshined by Kari Gray's anxious introspection wrapped up in '90s indie delivery. The song is available now as a free download.
The Franz Ferdinand Covers EP, originally released for last month's Record Store Day, will get a proper release in May. The band calls it "an EP of covers of our songs by people whose music we love," and the tracklist is pretty flawless: Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, LCD Soundsystem, ESG, and Peaches all contribute to the record, as does Debbie Harry — who appears with Franz Ferdinand themselves. The entire EP is available for streaming below.
Since the release of 2007's excellent All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone, Austin's Explosions In The Sky have seen their brand of angular post-rock soundtracking Friday Night Lights, in the upper reaches of the Billboard charts, and on stage at Radio City Music Hall — all of which seems incomprehensible for an instrumental group whose closest musical reference points have names like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and This Will Destroy You. This week, the band returns with Take Care, Take Care, Take Care — a sprawling collection of intersecting guitar patterns, Eno-inspired ambiance, and slow-building loud rock freakouts which, at their best, reconfirm Explosion's genre-defying relevance.
We weren't really done with "the old James Blake" when the UK press proclaimed Jamie Woon to be "the new James Blake," which is kind of a critical curse if I've ever heard one. Either way, Woon's debut album Mirrorwriting is sure to add to the divisive discourse surrounding the ongoing commercialization of dubstep: Producer Will Bevan — better known as Burial — handles production for the album's three opening tracks, presenting Woon as an ambient soul singer with a ghostly house soundtrack, and their collaborative success is actually quite stunning. Sadly, Bevan's absence from the rest of the album is deeply felt: "Middle," for one, pairs a lifeless UK garage beat with a generic lyrical hook, whereas "Echoes" merges Steve Reich and John Legend with questionable results. For now anyway, James Blake needn't look over his shoulder.
Deliberate or not, the twenty-first studio album by Emmylou Harris reminds me of Lucinda Williams' West — a palpably mournful country record steeped in loss and lament. For Harris as it was for Williams, this makes for some truly compelling listening: "The Road" is an elegy for Gram Parsons, "My Name Is Emmett Till" eulogizes a 14-year-old black boy murdered for speaking to a white woman during the American segregation era, and "Darlin' Kate" remembers Kate McGarrigle with a simple folk song befitting of its subject. But Hard Bargain is not as dark as its content might suggest, and much like her later-era work — especially with Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl — the stylistics of this album rely more on the emotional inclines popularized by U2 or Coldplay than that of the linear storytelling arcs of those Merle Haggard or Hank Williams songs that Harris covered so early in her career. That the title track is a cover of a Ron Sexsmith song is certainly revealing in that sense: Hard Bargain is a thoroughly modern requiem for our increasingly slippery past.
The debut single for Nerina Pallot's upcoming fourth album was originally written by Pallot for inclusion on Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite album, but thank God it didn't make the cut. While I know there's a club hit inside of here somewhere, Pallot's version is better served when it's steered by '60s pop and Northern Soul, comparable to Feist or Adele while not quite conjuring either. Also unexpected: Pallot made the bulk of this new album with Suede's Bernard Butler.
Friendly Fires — "Live Those Days Tonight"
A song that critiques nostalgia for things you were probably too young to be a part of the first time around is actually quite refreshing, if not somewhat self-referential, when it's coming from Friendly Fires. "Live Those Days Tonight," from the band's forthcoming Pala, revisits hip-house, acid, and the death of the smiley face with this oddly mesmerizing collage of images and video from the UK Summer of Love. A cameo by the Techno Viking was, perhaps, inevitable.
Heavenly States — "Berlin Wall" (feat. Britt Daniel)
Oakland's Heavenly States found their biggest fan in Spoon's Britt Daniel, who discovered the band's 2008 album Delayer, shortlisted it for his published year-end lists, and later asked them to open for a handful of Spoon tour dates. On the first single for Heavenly States' new Oui Camera Oui EP, Daniel extends his connection to the band by lending his voice to this throbbing, memorable folk-rock concoction.
Superchunk — "Crossed Wires"
In the near-ten-year interim between Here's To Shutting Up and last year's excellent Majesty Shredding, Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster became a comedian and writer for shows like Monk and Tim and Eric Awesome Show. The band's latest video combines this comedic impulse with the number-one loved thing on the Internet — namely, cats. Like there was any chance this wasn't gonna go viral.
The debut album by 23-year-old James Blake comes with some baggage attached to it: Having already broken the UK Top 40 with a ghostly rendition of Feist's "Limit To Your Love" in November, Blake unwittingly became the great commercial hope for dubstep — a somewhat challenging strand of experimental electronic music better known for its sub-bass than its hit singles. To be fair, this is not that kind of record. But it's not exactly a purist's dubstep record either: While Blake dabbles in the genre's dark minimalism, he rarely ends up being swallowed by it, and much of this can be attributed to the surprisingly soulful depth of his singing voice — which appears unaccompanied throughout, as on the heavily vocoded "Lindisfarne I" or the seemingly Antony–inspired "I Never Learnt To Share." So while it's tempting to cite James Blake as a record that takes the commercialization of dubstep further than ever, the reality is that Blake has essentially sidestepped the genre altogether. For one, it could be argued that the album's lead single, "The Wilhelm Scream," is technically a D'Angelo song in a Burial disguise — and there probably isn't a wall for that at your local record shop.
Cut CopyZonoscope (Modular)
Any club DJ worth his salt will tell you: It's not about beating your audience over the head with peaks and valleys, but seducing them with the tension of a hypnotic rhythm. This is, apparently, one of the lessons that Melbourne's Cut Copy has learned since releasing 2008's In Ghost Colours — an exercise in uptempo, jagged dance-rock, if ever there was one. So where Ghost Colours bobbed and weaved, Zonoscope simply stays the course with great success: Album opener "Need You Now" is somewhat of a modern cousin to Lil Louis's "French Kiss" with its pulsing, uninterrupted flow, while "Take Me Over" reimagines Men At Work's "Down Under" as an outtake from Slave to the Rhythm. But it's the epic "Sun God" that ultimately reveals the full extent of Cut Copy's transformation into a full-on dance outfit — because, as any clubber worth his salt might tell you, the only way to get lost inside of a 15-minute track is to commit to the kick drum.
Did Microsoft really just rip off Arcade Fire for a television commercial? The evidence is pretty compelling. Relatedly, the sampling rogues over at The Hood Internet pointed out another compelling similarity this week: You're not the only one who thought Arcade Fire's "Sprawl II" sounded a lot like Blondie's "Heart of Glass." The mash-up — of course! — is available for free download HERE.
Fact Magazine roped Hercules & Love Affair mainman Andy Butler into compiling a mix of classic house inspirations for their forthcoming sophomore album, Blue Songs, which is available for a limited time as a free download HERE. The official tracklist ends with Hercules & Love Affair's new single, "My House," but stick it out for the real finale: Butler slips in his unofficial acid house mix of Madonna's "Into The Groove."
Ellie Goulding's phenomenal UK #1 album Lights is set for release in America on March 8, and this week, the singer announced her first U.S. tour, which begins in Austin for South by Southwest and culminates with a must-see performance at this year's Coachella festival.
Featuring one-half of the much-loved Promise Ring, Milwaukee's Maritime have announced a new label (Dangerbird), a new album (the forthcoming Human Hearts, due out April 5), and a comeback single called "Paraphernalia" — which shows the band going uptempo for a Cure-like dose of indie pop. An e-mail address gets you a free download HERE.
Being the son of famous folk-rock singers — in this case, Richard and Linda Thompson — is hard! Which is probably why they tend to stick together: Teddy Thompson has provided additional vocals on all but two of Rufus Wainwright's albums. For his fifth studio album, Bella, Thompson works with a blended approach of alt-country and classic pop that recalls the golden era of Crowded House at its best.
The debut album by Chapel Club had all the momentum to become a huge hit last year on the back of lead single "Surfacing," but contested issues of copyright tossed the record into a legal limbo. (Note to new bands: You'll probably want to clear the use of lyrics from "Dream a Little Dream of Me" before you send the song to radio!) Palace finally comes out this week, and it's certainly not any worse for the wear: Tracks like "Blind" and "White Knight Position" invoke all the songwriting savvy of Echo & The Bunnymen without the '80s pomp and circumstance.
Ellie Goulding — "This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)"
This song has been my own personal obsession for the last few weeks, but it's never been an official single. Fortunately, some fans picked up the slack and reappropriated someone else's music video about a kidnapping to create this narrative about a failed relationship.
The Good Natured — "Your Body is a Machine"
Considering how young they are — singer-songwriter Sarah McIntosh just turned 20! — "Your Body is a Machine" is the almost impossibly mature lead single from The Good Natured's forthcoming Be My Animal EP.
The New Pornographers — "Moves"
This is what happens when you hand over a music video to a group of comedians: You get Superchunk's Jon Wurster rocking a red wig, while practically the entire supporting cast of The Daily Show go on to make fun of your band for as long as time will allow. Also seen: Ted Leo, John Hodgman, and Community's Donald Glover. It's kind of genius.
PJ Harvey — "The Words That Maketh Murder"
In an interview with the Guardian last week, Patti Smith called the first single from PJ Harvey's forthcoming eighth album "a great song," adding, "It just makes me happy to exist. Whenever anyone does something of worth, including myself, it just makes me happy to be alive." That just about sums it up.
Modern Tonic — a daily email that delivers gay-approved pop culture gems (before they've been co-opted by everyone else) — presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad.
TODAY’S FEATURED NEW RELEASES:
It’d be easy to hate Mark Ronson. Born into wealth, he’s a jet-setting DJ, Grammy-winning producer of Amy Winehouse's Back to Black, and a good-looking bloke. If it weren’t for his pesky heterosexuality he’d be the perfect man. And with the release of his electro-vibing third album Record Collection with his band the Business Intl, he still kind of is. Ronson gets help from pop luminaries and exciting up-and-comers: Boy George, Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt and former Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall anchor the skittering "Somebody to Love Me" (stream in player below). The frothy summer single "Bang Bang Bang" with Q-Tip and New York electro duo MNDR’s a hip-hop jam that opens the set on the right foot. And the multitasking Ronson debuts his own vocal chops on the title tune and the breezy pop trifle "Lose It (In the End)." Even the instrumentals — where we usually hit "skip" — are enjoyably stylish.
We’re always grateful for those who don’t squander our precious time. Ellie Innocenti — the Karen O, the Debbie Harry, the Chrissie Hynde of UK/Brooklyn quartet Deluka — is a tough chick who gets right down to it on Deluka’s frenzied debut You Are the Night (out digitally today; on CD October 26). "Oh my God! I start to panic," Innocenti bawls to kick off a skittish New Wave slice of nirvana called "OMFG." And when Innocenti gets agitated you should just stand back and enjoy the fireworks. That is, if you aren’t too busy dancing. You Are the Night’s 11 tracks are diamond-hard gems of pop rock. The perky electronics, the scratchy guitars of angular funk, the slamming crescendos of grunge: all are here, often on the same track. The single "Cascade" sounds like Elastica fronting La Roux. "Snapshot" rages like Metric at the disco. And when she shows us her gentle side on "Waves," Innocenti reaches back to the Ronettes for sweet-natured guidance. In 40 minutes, she handles her panic — about life, about men, about the world in general — and announces that she’s a major talent to reckon with. And she doesn’t waste our time for one single second.
Break out your parachute pants, Aqua Net your quiff and twirl around the dance-floor, because two of the '80s' finest return today. Yaz (or, all right, Yazoo you freaking trademark lawyers) release Reconnected Live: two discs of Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet cuts culled from their two — only two — classic albums. Like the best live sets, this one — featuring hot versions of "Don’t Go," "Situation" and more — makes us wish to go back and experience it all over again. OMD (or, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, you detail freaks) release their first CD in 14 years, History of Modern. And — surprise — it’s as good as their classics Dazzle Ships and Junk Culture. They offer — as they put it in their robotic voices — "electronic soul music" with a vintage Aretha Franklin sample on "Save Me," sweetly sad pop on "If You Want It" and they indulge their musique concrete side with the spectrally gloomy "Bondage of Fate." Welcome back, lads and lady.
Kristian Hoffman — the gay multi-hyphenate who makes L.A. his home these days — is the kind of guy who will, and we quote, "bitchslap you with a flower, child." (Or is that "bitchslap you with a flower child"?!) It’s a line from his latest release, the aptly-titled Fop. Hoffman’s been around for years — as the frontman for the cult band the Mumps, as an illustrative artist, as a musical director for Ann Magnuson and Rufus Wainwright — yet he’s still an underground artist unknown to the general public. We'd love for that to change. Fop features 17 songs that run the gamut from delicate balladry ("Something New Is Born") to theatrical odes ("Out of the Habit") and thumping disco ("Soothe Me"). He may not be to everyone’s taste, but those who enjoy Rufus Wainwright, Vincent Minor and a night at a sophisticated musical have no reason not to like this.
Glee: The Music, The Rocky Horror Glee Show will be available October 19. The seven-track soundtrack EP includes the music from the Rocky Horror-themed episode airing October 26. Tracks are: "Science Fiction Double Feature," "Damn It, Janet," "Whatever Happened To Saturday Night?," "Sweet Transvestite," "Touch A Touch A Touch A Touch Me," "There's a Light (Over at Frankenstein Place)," and, of course, "Time Warp."
The composer/violinist Owen Pallett follows up the rich tapestry of Heartlandwith A Swedish Love Story, four ornately decorated pop tunes heavy with melody, drama and the orchestrations that have endeared him to collaborators as disparate as F**ked Up and Arcade Fire.
Mr. Heidi Klum — that’s Seal to you — releases 6: Commitment, 11 songs full of his silken, dramatic pop, none more passionate than the yearning "Silence" and the soulful single "Secret." For those about to swoon, we salute you.
The only thing to expect from New York songwriter Nellie McKay is the unexpected. On her fourth release Home Sweet Mobile Home she tackles reggae ("Caribbean Time"), blues ("Coosada Blues") and — wtf?! — straight up pop ("Bruise On the Sky").
Lauren Pritchard — "Not The Drinking" A grunge-y basement party turns into a handclapping dance fest all around the house on this soulful single from the Broadway "Spring Awakening" star's forthcoming debut Wasted in Jackson.
The Superions — "Fruitcake" Oh, Santa, we must have been very good this year to receive this holiday gift from the B-52's Fred Schneider and his side project the Superions. A paean to nobody's favorite holiday treat, this kitschy clip precedes their forthcoming album Destination...Christmas!
Joe McElderry — "Ambitions" This out English model and singer — winner of the sixth season of the U.K.'s The X Factor — has an angelic voice like Will Young with extra Euro beats on this hi-NRG cut from his forthcoming debut Wide Awake. There's loads of dancing across what looks like a Hollywood backlot, and the boy's enthusiasm — and his cuteness — is infectious.
Andrea Faithful — "Booby Trap" This U.K. disco dolly is a robotic bimbo in her sci-fi dance clip. We love that she borrowed her outfit from early-period Berlin (the band, not the city), but what's up with the undearwear that looks like haute-couture Depends?
V magazine's New York issue featured Lady Gaga and Marc Jacobs on its cover. Inside the magazine is an editorial feature other New Yorkers, including this shot of Scissor Sister Jake Shears and Debbie Harry.