Looking back at Chairlift's bright-eyed debut in 2008, they laid down an attractive foundation of posh art-rock, foggy 80s new wave, and ipod-selling synth pop that could have gone anywhere next, especially with all that buzz. But it's the time in between then and now that proves they wanted to go somewhere carefully, and perhaps that the evolution wasn't always easy (founding member Aaron Pfenning left the band in 2010 after his relationship ended with singer Caroline Polachek). Now down to a duo, Chairlift sound streamlined, and exceptionally radio friendly. Polachek's sometimes bold-sometimes breathy vocals are in full control, and backed by a fine-tuned production gloss. This is a vastly approachable record; they simply went bigger and broader, which is a risk for any band once so firmly attached to a Brooklyn scene, and it payed off.
London-via-Italy's Mauro Remiddi is not your average bedroom composer; he's nearing 40 and has plenty of band years behind him. The static-y, reverb-y one-man-plays-all approach is actually more a stylistic choice than resource-dependent one. And perhaps that's why his Porcelain Raft project immediately stood out in last year's blog-crop; these were deeply affecting pop songs of a certain aesthetic, but felt far from amateur—more like an artist starting over. And Strange Weekend is the proper full length culmination—delivering on the promise, while refining all sonic elements to their purest form.
Dylan Baldi defiantly abandoned his lo-fi roots on last year's self titled LP, and has now succeeded in yet another drastic makeover. This Steve Albini-produced sophomore effort, Attack On Memory, is the first to be written and recorded as a full band, and this shift is felt immediately—these are giant anthems that cross ethos of punk and emo with vintage Albini grade professional rawness. It comes together best on "Wasted Days", a charging eight minute epic that explodes into the closing mantra of a lost generation: "I thought I would be more than this."
In 2008, at the height of the baroque, folk-rock movement, young Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg rose to fame on an outstanding YouTube cover of Fleet Foxes' "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" in the woods. The unique take on Americana would get them a stage appearance with the band themselves, and eventually a deal with The Knife's own record label. Their 2010 debut was praised for its stunning choral work, while some found its simple acoustic arrangements a bit more ordinary. A good follow-up, The Lion's Roar focuses on the previously under-explored instrumentation, opening up to a fuller sound, and of course keeping the girls' echo chamber as pristine as ever.
On their 7th album (and for some of us, 6th in a list of releases that haven't let this band be known for anything other than 1996 MTV hit "Popular"), Nada Surf attempt a return to jam-session energy levels. It's an expected direction for an aging band, and the lyrical fixation on the past/getting older/looking back fits right in line too. There's nothing wrong with that, in fact it's nice to hear a 90s-jangly guitar-sounding band that's actually from the 90s. But the insistence on an even-paced, upbeat-tone on The Stars makes for a rather uniform, and at times generic alt-rock-light listen. Still, big respect to these guys for kicking around.
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