TWIN SHADOW: Confess
4AD, 41 minutes
Pop music has proven you can dress up any way you’d like if you deliver the goods. Imagine going out in public like Lady Gaga or Parliament-Funkadelic to do anything but sing great songs. While the guise of Twin Shadow (born George Lewis Jr.) isn’t as obviously ridiculous it’s still worth a groan: faux-greaser meets fashion model meets bored urban hipster, carried out with the self-seriousness of a Great American Novelist.
Lewis pulls it off with genuine talent. His voice is absolutely beautiful; tender yet bold, at times almost ghostly. And he possesses that rare ability to write instantly-memorable melodies without maximum effort. Many Twin Shadow songs feel familiar after a single listen, though none are what I’d call insistent.
The second Shadow album Confess is clearly rooted in affection for the 1980s but suggests that well may not yet be dry. References to the Police, Bruce Springsteen and Joy Division come to mind (the former two simultaneously on the excellent “Run My Heart”) but maybe that just reflects my personal taste. Anyone familiar with that decade of pop should experience their own particular nostalgia. While Lewis’ artificial front is very 2012, he can write singles (“Five Seconds, likely “Be Mine Tonight”) and deep cuts (“When the Movie’s Over“) with timeless quality.
BRAVESTATION: Giants and Dreamers
Led Astray Music, 35 minutes
I was lucky enough to work with Toronto new wave revivalists Bravestation early in their career. At the time Giants and Dreamers is not the debut album I thought they’d release. Obliterating all traces of indie rock, it’s an altogether more eclectic piece of work than their early talent hinted at.
You could describe it bluntly as synth-pop, more figuratively as summer music with a hint of regret – a beach with the sun rapidly going down. A strong emphasis on rhythm is offset by Devin Wilson’s shaking, wounded vocals and bittersweet lyrics. Hooks creep in and out, but never at the expense of that tight rhythm section. The songs evoke artists without imitating them; as diverse as Peter Gabriel (“Signs of the Civilized”), Michael Jackson (“Fluorescent Scenes”) and XTC (“Lines in the Sand”).
One group they don’t sound like is the Bravestation I knew from only a few years ago. That’s not a bad thing, at all. A band that can progress this much before their debut even drops is one with a bright and fascinating future ahead of them.
DIRTY PROJECTORS: Swing Lo Magellan
Domino, 42 minutes
Dirty Projectors’ Wikipedia page (my research goes deep) has this quote from frontman Dave Longstreth: “Frank Zappa I fucking hate.” Fair enough, but they have much in common. Like Zappa, Longstreth makes music that is technically proficient yet perpetually tuneless. Both compulsively test established genres while rarely committing to them. Both have legions of fans who might be putting the rest of us on.
Two minutes and 30 seconds into “Offspring Are Blank” and Dirty Projectors have already tried dubstep, doo-wop, ‘90s alternative and coffeehouse folk-rock, running the same melody through multiple genres to get ... what, exactly? Not a cohesive mixture, which would require settling on one idea and building around it, but a kind of shape-shifting thing too fussy to resemble a proper song.
Sometimes that restlessness is controlled. “Swing Lo Magellan” is blissful and warm. “Irresponsible Tune” closes on a beautiful, slightly spooky note. Those highlights aside, most of Swing Lo is hard, thankless work. “Maybe That Was It” and “Just From Chevron” are almost antagonistic in the way they build toward absolutely nothing. “Dance for You,” a tedious mash of guitar noodling and hand-slapping, will not inspire any dancing.
Longstreth is an incredibly talented musician, but his ADHD approach to songwriting leaves me scratching my head. Like those Magic Eye puzzles from years back, I cannot see what everyone else sees, and trying harder just makes my head hurt.