GodspeedCover.jpgGODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR: ’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

Constellation, 53 minutes

Rating: 4.5/5 

By the kickoff of the Iraq War in March ’03, a conflict that could’ve provided real context to their sometimes overly vague political commentary, Montreal's Godspeed You! Black Emperor had announced an indefinite hiatus. 

Given the mixed reception of their third album, Yanqui U.X.O., this wasn’t entirely unexpected. Yanqui was an apparent attempt to streamline the Godspeed sound, something nobody really asked for. Their previous effort, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven (2000), was a hard act to follow, certainly, but dropping its most distinctive elements — haunting field samples, spoken word pieces and deeply varied tone — was like stripping meat off a drumstick. Yanqui was all bones.

To strain that analogy a bit, reunion album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is a full skeletal structure. It likewise lacks the signature samples of their most acclaimed work, but displays a much greater instrumental power than Yanqui. In sheer volume alone it is absolutely flooring. The final haul of “Mladic” is arguably the highest peak they’ve reached as musicians since “Kicking Horse on Brokenhill.”

Its outline is simple: two 20-minute suites, both pieces worked out on tour years ago, each followed by shorter “drone” tracks that clear the air without necessarily calming it. In form and content it’s the most direct, unpretentious album they’ve ever released. Aside from one track (apparently) named after accused war criminal Ratko Mladić, it's more like a soundtrack for political unrest than a demonstration of it.

the-heist.jpgMACKLEMORE AND RYAN LEWIS: The Heist

Macklemore LLC, 62 minutes 

Rating: 4/5

Those who found Macklemore through his YouTube hit “Thrift Shop” might peg him as a jokester, a white hipster Kanye or, worse, a novelty, but the best songs on The Heist are dead serious: check the evocation of Catholic guilt in “Neon Cathedral,” drug abuse in “Starting Over,” career uncertainty in “Ten Thousand Hours.” The Seattle rapper knows when to have a laugh, but he’s not fucking around.

Macklemore is a former addict, his dark past a running subject throughout the album. It gives him something to work toward in “White Walls,” provides a bittersweet connection to fans in “Starting Over” and generally lets him keep distance from the typical sins of hip-hop that have, by 2012, become mind-numbingly uninteresting. His skills as a rapper are more technical than lyrical — it’s never much of a challenge to unpack his wordplay — but he and producer Ryan Lewis know how to craft bangers, even while wading through downbeat subject matter. 

InletCover.jpgINLET SOUND: The Romantics

Maplecore, 41 minutes

Rating: 3.5/5

True to its painterly cover, Inlet Sound’s debut is a pleasant, breezy little album, evoking the joy of casting off and leaving the world behind. Term papers be damned!

The Toronto band specializes in a particularly jubilant style of Decemberists-esque folk pop, concerned with nothing but the grandest gestures and melodies — “Romantics to the end,” as they claim. Frontman Michael Wexler’s voice is hopelessly geeky, but charming in its passionate desire to be heard far and wide.

The album roughly follows the arc of a voyage; “Romantics 1” is a joyous departure from land, filled with the momentum of unknown possibility. “Mail-Order” is a midway lull, calmer and slower than the songs surrounding it. Closer “Mademoiselle,” with its narrator getting ready for a date, is like the start of another story altogether, perhaps a more down-to-earth tale Inlet Sound can tell the next time we meet them.  

CavDaysCover.jpgCAVIARE DAYS: Caviare Days

label259, 39 minutes
Rating: 3.5/5

Caviare Days is a Swedish group, led by sisters Lina and Maja Westin, that plays nostalgic garage-pop like it just occurred to them. There’s nothing particularly inventive or forward-thinking about their songs, but the lack of distance between the band and their influences makes their debut an incredibly easy listen. It really does feel like an artifact from the days when musicians couldn’t coast on charm alone — they had to write great hooks to survive.

Here, there are many. The sunny “Fresh Tomatoes,” led by comically dramatic vocals, is an immediate standout. “When the Light is Breaking” is part-psych rock, part glorious girl-group pop. “The Dream is Dying” evokes the narcotic haze of Velvet Underground.

Potential reference points never end — even if they stop around 1969. Considering how hard it is to do something new in music these days, if you’re gonna do something old, at least do it as well as Caviare Days.

0 Comments | Add a Comment
*Your Name:
*Enter code:
* Comment: