Breton - Blanket Rule EP I have been burning with anticipation for their first full-length since it was announced last year so this free EP came as a nice surprise to bank the flames. But this is no odds and sods collection - the four new tracks are finely-wrought and fascinating, featuring layers of gritty sonics. Among other signs of increasing mastery, singer Roman Rappak displays a new sensitivity on How Can They Tell, which evokes feelings of confusion, betrayal and sorrow over a slippery background. While you can download Blanket Rule from Soundcloud, this is a band that takes their physical product seriously so I highly recommend getting the exclusive CD from FNAC, which features an excellent bonus track called Not Gospel, which you won't find anywhere else. BIG IMPORTANT NOTE: Breton are making their NYC debut at Mercury Lounge on Wednesday, March 21. There are still a few tickets available and all it takes is $10 for the privilege of saying you were there when.
Field Music - Plumb The Brewis brothers have cooked up another collection of intricate and witty pop to follow up their magnum opus, Measure, which was my number three album of 2010. Considerably shorter than that double album and filled with often very short songs Plumb has the flavor of a suite. It's tough to imagine them not performing the 35 minutes of music in one continuous burst. It's amazing the level of detail they shoehorn into 1:53 and I have the feeling I will be discovering new nooks and crannies for a long time. I was also impressed with their cover of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne for a Mojo compilation. It seems there is even more range to these guys than I thought!
Brooklyn Rider - Seven Steps This string quartet has a well-deserved rep for a wide-ranging repertoire and excellent, passionate playing and their new album does not disappoint. It opens with the title track, a group composition(!) that explores the many ways that long lines can be combined with skittering and plucked sounds to create various moods. Christopher Tignor's threnodic Into This Unknowable Night follows almost with a sense of relief from the sturm und drang but soon becomes unsettling. The composer' samples, percussion and AM radio add texture and detail to the drawn out chords. With their expansive view of music I suppose a trip to the 19th century shouldn't come as a surprise (and they have performed Mozart brilliantly in concert), yet it is still notable that more than half the album is taken up with Beethoven's 14th String Quartet in C# Minor (Opus 131). The more you listen, however, the more it makes sense. This confounding work, published a year before Beethoven died, opens with an amorphous, miasmic movement that was part of the inspiration for the music in Scanners, the David Cronenberg 1981 creep-fest and it is full of frissons. The combination of short and long movements, shifting keys and unexpected variations has me shaking my head thoughout the work's seven movements each time I listen. Brooklyn Rider tackle the demanding piece "guided by the spirit of free play rather than the heavy weight of the auteur's pen," so in a way this is just another performance of a canonical work. But the context is unique and when you circle back to the start of the record, the quartet's commitment to communicating the perpetual freshness of great music becomes blindingly apparent.
Sleigh Bells - Reign Of Terror There may be more noise around this band than there is on their records so I'm not going to add to it at any length. Suffice it to say that if you liked their debut, you will likely find this almost equally diverting. Guitarist/producer Derek Miller and Singer Alexis Krauss give us some more of what we want (cartoonish guitars, distortion, programmed beats, breathy vocals and distortion) while pushing into some new, more emotionally reverberant areas. The key track for me is You Lost Me with its weeping glissando guitars. While the verses are pure teen noir, the chorus of "I don't want you to see me this way/But I'm ready to die" seems to reflect Miller's mother's recent battle with cancer. And as someone who has watched three people very close to me die of the disease, this certainly struck a chord with me.
Hospitality - Hospitality This debut record (besides an EP in 2009) is as warm and welcoming as the band's name, and as expertly put together as something by label-mates Spoon. The lyrics are easily relatable and Amber Papini sings then with a few different voices - pixieish, wry, confessional. It's like a night out with someone you haven't seen for a while but are so glad to have in your life again. The more you listen, the more details you notice in the arrangements. It goes down easy but there are rougher edges lurking underneath the chiming guitars. They betray their inexperience only in the slight overuse of a few tricks, like adding a beat to the bar to emphasize the words ("Don't-You-Know"), something they do on three songs. But this short and sweet album introduces a delightful new group to the world we call Indie.
Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas Look up "elegiac" in a dictionary and you won't be far from the overall mood of this collection, but there's more variety here than you might notice at first. From the sly blues of Darkness to the gospel shadings of Show Me The Place and the folk basis of everything, this is the most "Americana" record he's put out since 1984's Various Positions. The lyrics, of course, are deep, witty, and endlessly quotable. If you're new to Cohen, this is maybe not the best place to start - but start! I envy you your journey.
Prodigy - HNIC Part 3 Speaking of endlessly quotable, how's this from Look In My Life MSTR: "The fire in my heart could burn up the planet/The plans in my head are putting me on a hammock/In the Canary Islands, with my canary diamonds"? This free mixtape is neither a career defining masterpiece like the first in the series nor a solid placeholder like the second, but more of a sketchpad, although one with a few thrilling moments and no real weak spots. One of the high points for me is simply titled ex and features an energized P spitting flames over the sparsest of beats. Download it for free and get the rush for yourself. Keep in mind that this is just the warm up for the official H.N.I.C. 3 release, which is imminent.