Pantha du Prince
Black Noise
Rough Trade

Somewhere between dubstep and the twilight cosmos of minimal house exists the singular perspective of German Hendrik Weber. In listening to Pantha du Prince’s anticipated follow-up to the hushed brilliance of This Bliss, Black Noise offers both sides of that spectrum. Though it’s certainly the singles that will dominate any discussion of a crossover, particularly the melodic side-winding of “The Splendour” and the whack-a-mole appearance of Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) on “Stick to My Side,” running the marathon of Black Noise will reveal that it couldn’t be further from the dancefloor. For the album, Weber played the role of naturalist, removing himself from concrete and glass and capturing the vibe of the immersive landscape provided by a remote studio in the Swiss Alps. With the deft hands of a surgeon and the glowing perspective of a philosopher, Weber knew he wasn’t crafting a brave new world in Black Noise—he was just composing a more accurate reflection of the untouched environments evolving outside our view. Anyone who’s been in awe of This Bliss’ subterranean space-disco will experience the same euphoria in “A Nomad’s Retreat,” only the beats cling closer to the Earth, the layers of atmosphere (a collection of shimmering bells and purely random, yet organic, sturm and drang) hang in the air like a fog, his scope a panorama. Scale is essential in the epic ambitions of Black Noise. On many of these tracks, it can sound like dawn has gone to dusk in the span of six minutes. Glaciers break free, jungles breath, and mountains gracefully impose in stoic beauty—Black Noise attempts to capture it all, no matter how tedious. For most of its length, though, the album will hold any imaginary attention span.

As pretentiously esoteric as this all sounds, Weber acknowledges drum and bass as eloquently as the next man, just littering it with lessons learned in the past from homeland peers like Pole, Oval, and Mouse on Mars. Back then they used to call the glitch, skip and clip, intelligent dance music. Somehow in spite of the folly of those tics at times (and the overcompensated goal of his work), Weber constructs as vivid a portrait of modernity as one could want: “Satellite Sniper,” the soundtrack to a future of Metroidian labyrinths; “Behind the Stars,” the dirtiest German low-country funk Prince was afraid to touch in 1983; and “Welt Am Draht,” a cross-continental train-ride caught in time-lapse. As Pantha du Prince, Weber has alchemized a strand of electronica that is infused, if not with a human element, than with the capacity to feel some ounce of genuine emotion.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “The Splendour”

You Say Party! We Say Die!
Paper Bag

You Say Party! We Say Die! is the perfect example of a band whose craft and versatility makes up for their lack of originality. The Canadian fivesome is equally adept at sexed-up dance-punk, creepy electronica, and ’80s college rock. And that adherence to variety makes XXXX a thoroughly enjoyable listen despite the ease with which many listeners will trace the band’s influences.

“There Is XXXX (Within My Heart)” opens the album with a marriage of ice-cold keyboards and multi-tracked vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Fever Ray or Knife album. Midway through, however, the song unexpectedly morphs into a dancefloor-burner worthy of the best erstwhile disco-punk acts. The band then segues seamlessly into a new waver’s dream, “Glory,” which gives us a clue as to what it would sound like if Debbie Harry fronted Devo. But the album’s two greatest achievements are “Cosmic Warship Avengers” and “Laura Palmer’s Prom.” The latter is a fuzzed-out bundle of nerves and a small consolation for anyone still holding out for a Death From Above 1979 reunion, while the former is a shimmering teen anthem that, despite its title, is more John Hughes than David Lynch.

Admittedly, XXXX doesn’t add much to the world’s collective musical vocabulary. But it is a workmanlike effort from a band who clearly understands both its strengths and limitations.
David Holmes

MP3: “Dark Days”

Puerto Muerto
Drumming for Pistols

If the name wasn’t enough of an indicator, perhaps it is advisable to offer fair warning that Puerto Muerto’s music is fairly dark. The husband-and-wife duo of Tim Kelley and Christa Meyer have a penchant for creating haunting, yet stirring, albums with subject matters and lyrics as sinister and dark as their titles. (Their first couple releases were called Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore and See You in Hell.) Their latest release on Fire Records, Drumming for Pistols, is an emotive mix of Kelley’s guitar-driven leads, some country-tinged melodies, and scattered intimations of blues thrown in for good measure.

The album opens with a paradigm of that blues persuasion, “Song of the Moon,” a choppy guitar tune where Meyer sheds her classically trained mezzo-soprano voice in favor of a lower, huskier drone a la Nina Simone. Kelley’s gruff voice adds some starkl contrast. This trace of the blues, both in musical styling and subject matter, saturates much of the album, and reappears again in full on “Vermillion Sky” and in the opening riffs of “Tanze.”

Puerto Muerto’s lyrics, as expected, are bleak and have drawn comparisons to Nick Cave’s depressingly poetic style. However, they aren’t nearly as evocative, instead clearly influenced by the miserable state of affairs in the world today. Pistols is stirring and disturbing (in subject matter alone), but the album still reveals a good appreciation of beauty, not through magical or miraculous revelations, but through despair, sadness, and of course, “la muerte.”
Jennifer Farmer

MP3: “Drumming for Pistols”

U.S. Girls
Go Grey

In late 2008, the Die Stasi label released the excellent XXperiments compilation, which highlighted some of the more interesting female acts in the current underground scene, all joined together by a penchant for creating raw, minimalist sounds. Since then, XXperiments alumni like Zola Jesus and Circuit des Yeux have further refined their crafts and released intriguing albums. It’s good to see this trend continuing, as another XXperiments entrant, U.S. Girls, has delivered a terrific record.

Go Grey is the second full-length to be released on Siltbreeze by U.S. Girls, essentially a one-woman operation fronted by Megan Remy. While 2008’s Introducing . . . had some nice moments, Go Grey is a much more focused effort and clearly a step forward for the project. Every electronic noise, guitar track and percussive element sounds like it’s there for a purpose, and the overall result is that Remy’s dark songs are given a strong vitality.

The centerpiece of the record is “Sleeping on Glass,” which starts out as a fractured and grating pop song based around a fittingly jagged guitar track before totally switching course and going into an extended noise passage that, in turn, settles back into a groovy guitar riff shrouded in distortion and delay. Another highlight, “Red Ford Radio,” revolves around a hypnotic percussion line and an eerily chanted vocal that sound just as claustrophobic as the song’s lyrics, which describe the state of a narrator confined in a physical and psychological trap.

As with Introducing . . ., which featured a deranged Springsteen cover, Go Grey also serves as a vehicle for Remy’s take on the old classics. “The Mountain’s High” is a cover of the 1961 Dick and Dee Dee hit that moves the old-style rock song in a much darker direction, relying upon some brutal percussion and subtle changes to the original’s melody and falsetto harmonies to give the tune a more sinister sound. Ultimately, this is probably where Remy’s at her best—taking what’s familiar and filtering it through an arsenal of electronics so that something otherwise unimaginable can become real.
Ron Wadlinger

MP3: “Red Ford Radio”

The Watson Twins
Talking to You, Talking to Me

An estimated 0.2% of the world’s population is identical twins. Chandra and Leigh Watson represent an even tinier percentage that play professional music together. The Louisville born-and-bred twosome earned notoriety from backing Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) on 2006’s vixen piece de resistance, Rabbit Fur Coat. Two years later they released their first full-length record Fire Songs, and now they’re launching their sophomore effort Talking to You, Talking to Me.

The former church choir girls moved to Los Angeles 13 years ago to conjure a darkly coquettish mix of twang and gospel, thanks to sugared harmonies and a heavy crush on the Hammond B3. Produced by Russell Pollard (Sebadoh, Folk Implosion, Everest), and Jason Soda (Slydell, Everest), Talking was recorded in North Hollywood and features contributions from My Morning Jacket’s Bo Koster. While nowhere near the world-domination capabilities of Rabbit Fur Coat, the record carries a few promising moments with “Midnight” and “Devil In You.” The twins are at their best when they strap on the sass, let the organ wail its heart out, and evoke shreds of real feeling. At less than 40 minutes, it goes by quickly, but still takes a while to claim its persona. Chandra and Leigh have the whole sultry thing down, but they could really benefit from spiking their vocals with energy and beefing their victimized lyrics with some ardent feminism. It’s fitting that they found a home at historic Vanguard (Doc Watson, Levon Helm, Joan Baez), and they could easily land a guest appearance on Prairie Home Companion. But if they projected more spunk, they’d sound less like background music and more like listening music. Either way, they’re probably the best identical twin sister musical act in the world. So there’s always that.
Alexandra Kelley

Various Artists
Ashley Beedle presents Mavis

Inspiration can come at anytime. For Ashley Beedle and Darren Morrisis, the minds behind Mavis, it came one night while listening to records by the Staples Singers. The Staples were on the forefront of ’60s soul music, crossing easily between secular and gospel music. After being floored by Mavis Staples’ take on the Burt Bacharach “A House Is Not a Home,” they decided to make their own version of it. But instead of releasing the song as is, they decided to take a different approach. They sent the track to 11 different performers so that they could write and record their own versions of the song. Then they remixed the tracks, and the result is the project they call Mavis.

Mavis is a mix between up-and-comers, established acts and British indie veterans. There are names that haven’t been heard since the Britpop boom of the ’90s. (Remember Cery Matthews of Catalonia or Sarah Cracknell from St. Etienne? Exactly.) There’s such a wide range of styles that the record could have been a schizophrenic mess. Instead, Beedle and Morrisis wisely remixed and arranged the record so that the musical ideas are never redundant. So while all the songs come from the same root, it’s not like listening the same thing over and over again. One of the strengths of the record is how effortlessly they make it all seem.

Mavis invokes the sound and moods of records like Dusty In Memphis or the times when Dionne Warwick worked with Burt Bacharach. It’s the mark of sophistication that resulted when ’60s R&B wanted to expand its sonic palate. True to the spirit of Staples and her work with her family and as a solo artist, the album is so good and works so well as a whole that it almost seems almost rude to highlight one song over another. But with that said, “What You’re Looking For” featuring John Turrell should become both a modern standard and a staple of break-up mixtapes from this point on. And Staples Singers contemporary Candi Staton taps their civil rights protest background for the slow-burning “Revolution.” But honestly you could drop the needle, (or laser or cursor) on any track and not hit a dud. Simply put Mavis is someone you need to know.
Dorian S. Ham