Miami Horror: Illumination
Miami Horror is (at least half) an excellent moniker for this Australian electropop outfit, in that their debut LP Illumination sets the vibrancy and glitz of South Beach to disco-indebted dance music. "Horror"...well, creative license. Anyways, these Aussies deliver an impressive set of warm synthpop tracks with nuances of indie rock and more experimental soundscapes. The focus, nevertheless, is on songs designed to have you moving physically rather than mentally. The super-catchy beach party "Holidays" is a standout here, featuring Alan Palomo of Neon Indian, who seems like a natural contributor here. "Imagination (I Want You to Know)" is an innocent dance-pop pleasure rollerblading down the boardwalk. What's particularly refreshing about Illumination is that while a number of tracks don't manage to accomplish a distinctly memorable legacy, altogether the band clearly has no intention of cornering a narrow demographic. Rather, all of Illumination has an inclusive gravitational pull.
Guster: Easy Wonderful
[Aware, Universal Republic 2010]
On 2006's Ganging Up on the Sun, Guster suited up when we wanted them dressed down, releasing a super polished, meticulous pop rock affair that succeeded in parts but was altogether a rather lackluster effort. It's a shame then that on Easy Wonderful, Guster overcompensate to deliver an easygoing, cloyingly friendly album that is their most unimpressive release yet. It's hard to hate on Guster, because even here you want to be friends with these guys and have their optimistic pop songs soundtrack your young adult life. "Do You Love Me" is a beaming chorus surrounded by jovial but less necessary song parts, while "Well" is a rather creative folk story delivered in a quirky hush. But just about all else on Easy Wonderful is certainly easy, but disappointingly forgettable. The more laid-back vibe that is seemingly the bent here turns into song after song built on the same old guitar strum and half-baked chorus that quickly goes stale. The album is also lyrically corny and perhaps a bit to watered down by an aiming for the Christian Rock demographic ("Stay With Me Jesus", "Jesus & Mary"...enough with Jesus!). The album isn't enough for me to break up with you, Guster, but it's fair to say things are on the slide.
"Do You Love Me":
"Do You Love Me":
While there are plenty of vaguely classified indie rock bands that dip their toes, or go waist high, into the vat of electronica in all its forms, I find less familiar to be the electronica producer making an indie rock album, which is sort of what Bibio does with Ambivalence Avenue. Bibio (England's Stephen Wilkinson) has crafted a calming electro-acoustic aesthetic over five albums, but Ambivalence Avenue introduces vocals and weightier song structures to give his music more inertia. The result is a eclectic but cohesive statement incorporating a groovy faux-funk ("Jealous of Roses"), urgent electro ("S'Vive"), strongly affected R&B ("Fire Ant"), and soothing, all-the-time-in-the-world acoustic tracks like the innocent "Lovers' Carvings". Ambivalence Avenue is a smartly executed work, but despite its broad palette, like its cover art, it lacks color to really impact emotionally and sonically on multiple levels. In a gorgeous, perhaps Parisian streetscape, a dash of red mysteriously marks an alcove in an otherwise grayscaled world. Wilkinson should let more engaging tones and hues color the rest of his sonic landscape.
"Jealous of Roses":