words by Nick Graveline
“That’s Alright” — Kindness
I first heard Kindness when a mysterious cover of “Swingin’ Party” by the Replacements appeared on blogs, done up in laidback, quasi-disco grooves that bathed one of Tim’s strongest tracks in a whole new light. On his debut album (real name, Adam Bainbridge) draws on influences ranging from late-70’s, disco, R&B and French electro-pop to craft songs that achieve a mellow funkiness perfect for dance floors or study sessions. “That’s Alright” comes across as a love child between Malcolm MacLaren and Prince & the Revolution, where a sax solo sets a sensual mood until synths, bass and a mixture of processed and organic drum sounds collide, punctuated with onomatopoeia ‘uh’s’ and ‘bah’s’, signifying a serious change of direction. Feeling like it could at any moment shift into an early 80’s style hip-hop jam, this notion fades as layered female vocals channeling Wendy & Lisa come in over the top of everything to create the perfect synthesis of “Waterfalls” and “Buffalo Girls” filling any speakers, headphones, or car stereos with pure bliss. For further listening, check out “Swingin’ Party” or “Cyan”.
“Andrew in Drag” — The Magnetic Fields
Confession: the Magnetic Fields are a relatively new love of mine, but I fell hard. I feel somewhat under-qualified to discuss their new album Love at the Bottom of the Sea, compared to a discography that, with the exception of 69 Love Songs and I, I am still fairly ignorant of (although this will hopefully change in the coming months…like I said, this love is still fresh and quite exciting). But that all being said, “Andrew in Drag” is a fantastic example of Stephen Merritt’s ability to combine humor, sadness and unrequited love into a concoction that yields laughter quicker than it would, tears. Merritt’s deadpan baritone moves adeptly through comic wordplay over subtle guitars and 606 drum machines, jumping from defending his character in the song’s macho status to lamenting their inability to see “the only girl he’ll ever love” again “because he [Andrew] did it as a gag.” The entire album is full of such moments, but this track in particular stuck out as perhaps the shiniest of gems.
My mom recently gave me an old issue of a Bomp! Magazine she’d squirreled away because of its dedication to power pop after hearing the Nerves coming out of my room (yes, I’m still freeloading). The issue focused on bands that were redefining pop music, taking what had been done by acts since the early 60’s and fusing it with elements of punk rock that had recently come screaming onto the scene and reeking of airplane glue. Described in Bomp! as ‘looking more like Hoover salesmen than rock and roll stars”, but offering up “original material, crisp songs with strong melodies”, Peter Case, Paul Collins and Jack Lee deliver one of many high water marks from their catalog with “Hanging On the Telephone”, a song that immediately struck me as sounding like something I should have heard years ago on commercial radio, independent of my own musical geekdom. The raw intensity of the vocals coupled with the stripped down instrumentation allows for every facet of the song to be parsed out with a keen ear. Not to mention, it’s catchy as hell. If you don’t trust me, take Blondie’s word for it. And if you’re intrigued, catch Peter Case and Paul Collins performing at Shank Hall this Saturday, March 24th, for a firsthand glimpse of their musical mojo.
“Medication” — New Build
“When you’re all alone / and you’re feeling terrified / try some medication”. These are the first lines that appear on New Build’s debut album Yesterday Was Lived and Lost, a new project by Hot Chip members Al Doyle and Felix Martin. Reminiscent of Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip collaboration Neon Neon, whose album Stainless Style tore up the speakers in my parents’ Honda CRV, New Build follows in a similar vein of pastiche wrapped in deep love and respect for the original style being emulated. With equal parts new wave, 80’s electronic, and certain art-rock, Roxy Music type elements, New Build manages to recapture and progress on elements that are simultaneously fresh as well as nostalgic. While I have several tracks that have been making me quite happy off this album, “Medication” is both the first one I heard (apart from a short instrumental intro) but also the first one to get stuck in my head, and it’s hard to top that first experience. If you’re fans of Hot Chip, or just plain feeling good about life, try some medication.
Younger sisters have a tendency to be much cooler than their older brothers, and me discovering this song—among many others—is a case in point. My sister has been into Dr. Dog pretty much since we saw them open for the Black Keys in high school, and, probably due to my own preoccupation with some other musical kick (no doubt probably embarrassing, or at the very least not worthy of the attention I gave it) I ended up never pursued the band that gave the now Billboard charting artists a run for their money. However, I’ve been catching up on my homework. On their new album Be The Void, Dr. Dog move away from their country/folk/bluegrass roots in favor of a more straight rocking sound that fits garage and at times even glam criterion. “Vampires” is a track that could easily find itself at home on T.Rex’s The Slider with its guitar tones and devil-may-care classy but trashy air that pervades virtually every aspect of the song. Wails that come across as a mixture of pain and ecstasy are answered by a guitar riff that practically begs to be played along on a broom, tennis racket, or the air if you find yourself empty handed. Needless to say, Be The Void has sparked serious curiosity in Dr. Dog’s older albums. And in my defense, being late to a party is not as bad as not bothering to show up.