Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Currents: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Arcade Fire, Nite Jewel

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin: Let It Sway
[Polyvinyl 2010]

Over three albums and five years, SSYLBY have commonly taken cues from the likes of the Shins in developing a composed, guitar-centric indie pop. They were most successful with the organic pop melodies of 2005's Broom, while after that letting studio polish and cruise control result in the more sterile Pershing. Let It Sway has the band as bent as ever on making agreeable melodies and being that nice mellow folk rock that floats around in the scenery until you're bored before the record's done. As on Pershing, the band does have its moments (the propulsive singing on "Back in the Saddle", the tightness of "Critical Drain"), but the rest of the album plods along on weak choruses, rehashed acoustic riffs and mutually embarrassing songwriting ("All Hail Dracula!"...really?).  It sounds like SSYLBY have become (are spearheading?) a kind of indie brand more inspired by soft/alternative rock than anything else.  And just like, say, the Goo Goo Dolls after Dizzy Up the Girl, SSLYBY have their moments of pop relevancy, but more often, the attempts at catholic melodies evaporate almost instantly.

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
[Merge/Mercury 2010]

Arcade Fire has surely represented the most glaring gap in my '00s indie music education, as I had barely heard a single song by them until I first gave The Suburbs a shot a few weeks ago (yes, I didn't start with Funeral; so it goes).  I don't know what drove my insulation from them, but with The Suburbs, my awareness begins.  After numerous listens, I have developed that vague notion that I'm hearing musical brilliance in the form of intensely detailed compositions and lyrics of obsessive conceptual significance.  But is the music actually grabbing me? No, not really.  The sweeping gestures seem to not pack the gravity and emotional familiarity to keep most of the songs from running together to the point of stressing a narrow point ad infinitum.  I didn't expect to hear it like this, but I probably enjoy some of these songs, like "Rococo" and "Modern Man", as standalone singles, rather than lumped in other melodramatic rockers.  A very notable exception here is "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)", which has a welcoming immediacy and synthy, dance-focused undertones.  I first heard this track while crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge just after dusk, looking over an industrial south Jersey shore and the monumental suspension cables.  Musically and conceptually, it had quite the effect.  As for the rest of The Suburbs, it could still prove to be a strong grower over time, but presently I'm not swept away by it.  Where are the "Wow!" moments?


Nite Jewel: Am I Real? EP
[Gloriette 2010]

Nite Jewel's most recent release, this 26 minute long EP, is only seven minutes shorter than her 2009 debut full-length Good Evening, so it's tempting to treat it as a proper album statement as opposed to a scattering of tracks L.A.'s Ramona Gonzalez has been working on lately (fair or not).  Whatever the intention in not just going for the LP label, Am I Real? shows artistic growth as well as stylistic continuity.  Gone is the lo-fi buzz that lay like a fine dust upon Good Evening, now replaced by a sleek sheen clarifying every floating synth and sinking bass thump.  What stays the same for Nite Jewel is a creative celebration of the electro '80s in a decidedly 2010 fashion.  Gonzalez's voice is still ethereal and lyrically obscured, the synth keyboards build dreamy, sexy grooves, and nimble beats keep the music rooted in dance, with bookends "Another Horizon" and "Am I Real?" being the best examples of this.

"Am I Real?":


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