Welcome to another edition of Sound Bites, our economy-sized album reviews, wherein we give you the lowdown in 75 words or less. Today, Nick Hall weighs in on recent releases from Ancestors, AU, the Mountain Goats, Brian Setzer Orchestra and xx after the jump.
Ancestors, Of Sound Mind (Tee Pee). With its mid-tempo guitar-hero bent and pseudo-august organ fills, Ancestors sounds a bit like Built to Spill covering Iron Butterfly. That's a good thing. The aforementioned reference points are merged into arrangements that sound like they're trying to sound aged and mystical, as if the band's moniker adds a mental patina to its songwriting, and it works surprisingly well.
AU, Versions (Aagoo). Lap steel meets synthesizers in a freak-folk jamboree; maracas pair with plinky keys for a carnival polka with tugboat horns and skittering percussion; sparse and solemn piano finds its way into the mix with haunting effect before being eclipsed by blissed out chimes and a gentle noise whitewash, which somehow morphs into kraut inflected indie-jazz. The best you can do is hang on.
The Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come (4AD). John Darnielle has one ambitious piece of work on his hands, here. Taking its themes from biblical passages, the lyrical bent is frequently haunting, occasionally achingly poetic, and always perfectly matched to the tenor of the music. The effect manages to be serious without being heavy handed, miraculously void of pretense, and utterly appropriate. 1 Samuel 15:23 is about as affecting a piece of music as I've ever heard.
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Brian Setzer Orchestra, Songs from Lonely Avenue (Surfdog Records). It's tough to tell if the tired edge in Setzer's voice is the natural result of so many years as a dynamic touring force, or an on-par inflection designed to complement these devilishly dark song-stories. Either way, the gruffness pairs well with the aerospace-engineering-tolerance tightness of the band, and the seedy underbelly of the noirish material.
xx, xx (Beggars XL). xx is skeleton crew R&B inflected indie glam-pop that somehow doesn't rely on pastiche to make its point. With its hypnotic, omnipresent bass, thick, resonant guitars, lyrics that manage to be both slyly and frankly sexualized, the album seeps in slowly, rewarding repeat listens and full immersion. By the time you realize you're really digging it, you've got the damn thing memorized.