FangIslandmajor.jpgFANG ISLAND: Major
Sargent House, 45 minutes
Rating: 5/5

Fang Island’s “Daisy” is one of the most joyous songs I’ve ever heard. Its lyrics are cryptic, and that feels right – the emotional high it replicates is hard to put into words. Its surrounding album, the band’s self-titled debut, took a long time to emerge from that shadow.

Thankfully their sophomore effort Major doesn’t so closely pivot around a single song. It lacks a lone standout, but more importantly any trace of filler. Tighter instrumentals, no false peaks, a remarkable leap forward in songwriting and production. It’s the first great album of the year to drop without hype.

Maybe anticipation is low because the music requires no great intellectual leap. It is more fun to listen to than talk about. But anyway: it’s guitar rock, a bit of ‘90s alternative, songs built around simple, sing-along mantras (“All I know I learned in kindergarten,” “I hope I never understand”) that haunt and exhilarate in equal measure. There are rhythms that dance (“Dooney Rock”) and bounce (“Make Me”). Songs both speedy (“Chompers”) and dense (“Chime Out”).

For an indie rock album in 2012, the combined levels of creativity and focus in Major is enviable; it makes that Dirty Projectors record sound like a C-grade high school art project.

PassionPitGossamer.jpgPASSION PIT: Gossamer
Columbia, 47 minutes
Rating: 3.5/5

Why anyone would share their mental anguish (even indirectly through the press) with total strangers is beyond me, but in recent profiles Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelekous has done just that. The long and short of it is: he suffers from bi-polar disorder and a streak of self-harm, something you perhaps wouldn’t need to know if it didn’t affect his ability to keep this project on the ground.

When I interviewed Angelekous in 2010 he was polite and well-spoken but clearly troubled by the relatively benign backlash Passion Pit and its debut Manners had received. The biggest complaints anyone could throw at them – their initial live shows were weak, his voice is bit of a girlish falsetto – are not uncommon for indie music. But something about the pressure stuck in his heart.

Whatever it was, it doesn’t show up, at least superficially, on their second full LP Gossamer. Like Manners it rails against darkness with outstretched fists, with shimmering electro-pop songs built around production so thick it should, but doesn't feel, suffocating. “I’ll Be Alright,” “Constant Conversations” and “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy” touch lyrically on a troubled state of mind, but are so upbeat and glowing it’s hard to imagine they come a life of such deep lows.

micachu_never.jpgMICACHU AND THE SHAPES: Never

Rough Trade Records, 35 minutes
Rating: 2.5/5

While some modern musicians don’t know when to cut a good song short, Surrey singer/songwriter Mica “Micachu” Levi has the opposite problem: she tends to curb her best ideas prematurely. Her debut Jewellery, planted with the seeds of great tunes, was both fascinating and frustrating for that reason. Some songs felt just right, but others were sketches inexplicably presented as final product.

Never is weirder, wilder and even less tuneful. The demented “Easy,” supplemented with what sounds like buzzing table saws, sets a tone of aggressive background clatter that drives a wedge between the offbeat, often charming Micachu of 2009 and her current output. “Waste,” “OK” and “Nowhere” are downright industrial.

It’s not all so punishing. “You Know” has an infectious rhythm; “Fall” is an eerie soundscape more powerful for its lack of intrusive noise. Unfortunately, these high points are more like moments of respite than clarity amid the density that surrounds most of Never.

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