After one of the most alarmingly distinct debuts in recent memory, Brooklyn noise pop-tarts Sleigh Bells return with another pep rally assault on the speakers, which again should split audiences with its defiantly simple formula (bubblegum girl chants over metal riffs). While Treats was dead-set on maximum volume, Reign of Terror finds the duo crafting in addition to crushing their melodies; things still get plenty heavy and hooky, but there's a subtle layer of prettiness that runs throughout this time around. It's a welcome compromise that gives a bit more dynamic and shelf-life to a band originally designed to just blast (and burn fast).
Montreal's Claire Boucher is on her third LP, but even she considers Visions a proper gateway to Grimes, her one-woman realm of soaring falsetto and fashionably surreal electro-goth. And if you've been tuned into all things hip and "post-internet" these days, then this album arrives (finally) amongst a buzz that's been steadily increasing since last year's SXSW festival. The big singles ("Oblivion", "Genesis") are now proven indicators of Visions' scope, as this thing is loaded with infectious pop: the apocalyptic "Circumambient", spirited centerpiece "Be a Body", and vampire club-ready "Nightmusic", to name a few.
As a guitarist in the legendary (and recently disbanded) Baltimore based art-rock act Ponytail, Dustin Wong has earned a much applauded, shred-centric reputation. And that prowess has taken to new and more psychedelic levels through an amassing body of solo work, which is primarily instrumental. One of his usual loop-heavy performances made our Best of CMJ feature last fall, something I detailed as "a hypnotic force to take in; Wong surrounds his chair with a spread of pedals, all with memorized purpose. Hard to decide what's a better way to appreciate his set, with eyes closed and mind spiraling along with each strum, or by studying his intense precision like a presentation." Though it's not an option to watch Wong play Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads, an album recorded similarly—almost like a mirror—to his intricate live process, the eyes closed approach works just fine. Over 16 ascending and descending tracks, Wong has sewn together a true hour of transcendence.
In 2010, Seattle singer/songwriter Mike Hadreas quickly went from myspace page to critical praise; there was something about that early set of stark, piano-driven outpourings that felt too fragile and real to be overlooked, as if we weren't supposed to be hearing them. His debut Learning put that feeling to long-player form, and surprisingly, its follow-up manages to preserve the intimacy while resonating on a more universal level—these are songs of love, heartache, and hope that now feel intended for an audience, in the way that, say, Elliot Smith used to pull off. And with the inclusive tone comes an upgrade on all production fronts; lightly orchestrated and textured to land somewhere between lush and lonely, putting extremes in balance, and giving his artistry room to not only still breath, but shine.
Longtime indie-folk virtuoso Damien Jurado floated towards pysch dream-pop on 2010's Saint Bartlet. This inclination gets reeled in, and put at ease on studio album number ten, Maraqopa. It's an organic collection with spacy tendencies, at times grand, and at others ghostly. It's the kind of western-tinged soundscape music that might evoke desert highways and vacant truck stops, combined with a lyrical directness (covering a range of life reflections), and a plain old solid tenor, that can keep a mind grounded enough to stay deeply engaged.
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