With another presidential election come and gone, it must mean it’s time for another record from Röyksopp, the Norwegian electro wonder-duo who released The Understanding the year of Kerry’s defeat and their double-album opening opus, Melody A.M. back when we elected the village idiot to office.

But where The Understanding was largely forgettable (indeed, I had forgotten it until reacquainting myself with the group’s discography) and even Melody showed aspiration overreaching ability by the second disc, Junior, supposedly the first part of a two-record concept that will be completed with a second album, Senior, later this year, is Röyksopp’s evocative dabblings condensed to an immediately arresting form. As in the past, but with more palpable results, the record mines the sonic wormholes between the insularly atmosphered and the dancefloor oriented. The pair divines a sound that digs into the past while presenting a futuristic front. “The Girl and the Robot,” on which Robyn tells the tale of a dysfunctional love affair between (wo)man and machine, taps a Morodor sonic motif, and “Vision One” (featuring Anneli Drecker) borrows a synth riff from Stevie Wonder’s “Too High” to deconstruct.

On “Tricky Tricky,” Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray) breathes icy life to what might have been an ordinary techno bounce. Similarly, Lykke Li’s sweet coo is the voice to “Miss It So Much,” an equally beguiling slice of electo-pop. Of course, no Röyksopp album would be complete without its instrumental centerpiece, and here it is “Röyksopp Forever,” resplendent with strings and Air-ian synth chirps. That title may just say it all, for if Röyksopp can continue (however intermittently) to make synthetic music be this emotive and timeless, there should be no reason why we would ever want them to stop.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Harlem Shakes
Technicolor Health

Harlem Shakes are a young quintet hailing (despite their name) from Brooklyn that first gained notoriety in early 2007 with the release of their Burning Birthdays EP, which drew comparisons to the Strokes. These five hyperactive lads had a lot to live up to, so naturally, they took some time off. Now, almost two years later, they’ve finally gotten around to releasing their long-awaited full-length album, Technicolor Health. I guess, I’ll just come right out and say that it was well worth the wait.

The album starts out in true arbitrary, yet oddly cohesive, Shakes’ fashion: a Mario-esque electro tune, followed by a blaring guitar riff, a second of silence, and then one hell of a toe-tapping ditty (and that’s all in the first 30 seconds). Vocally lead singer Lexy Benaim is satisfyingly unique, though at times repetitive. However, Health is so full of surprises and rhythmic changes that they tend to become an afterthought. As soon as you think you’ve nailed down exactly how a song should sound, the Shakes throw in a swolen chorus, a string ensemble, or even an Afrobeat homage.

Health’s strength is in the fact that it mixes different instruments, rhythms and genres together in one grand musical experiment in a way Vampire Weekend could only dream about. Were there only time for a few tracks, make sure to spin the opener, “Nothing But Change Part II,” the sadly, yet oddly cheerful “Niagra Falls,” and the perpetually danceable “Sunlight”

Harlem Shakes have proven that comparisons to the Strokes, Vampire Weekend, or anyone else for that matter, are no longer apt—they’re surpassing them on their own terms.
Jennifer Farmer

MP3: “Strictly Game”

I Blame You
Sub Pop

They say that all good things must come to an end, but in the rock game the break-up of one band usually just means the formation of two (or three or four) more. Enter Obits, whose moniker probably presages the group’s eventual demise. Including vocalist/guitarist Rick Froberg (Drive Like Jehu/Hot Snakes) and guitarist Sohrab Habibion (Edsel), the band has already seen its share of break-ups, not to mention the comings and goings of varied trends. As such, their full-length debut, I Blame You is a hard-boiled nugget of full-bore rock ruckus that doesn’t kowtow in any fashion.

The band’s collective past output may have been a starting point at one time, but its long since been siphoned through a gritty mix of Oblivions-style back-to-basics. Froberg doesn’t mince word or riffs throughout, instead leading the band on a B-line of lean and mean clatter. “Talking to the Dog” barely stops for air, instead moving headfirst along the song’s taut bassline. In the same way, “Light Sweet Crude” digs its toes into a dirty groove that never relents, going from T-Rex croon to AmRep squawk in nearly the same breath. “Milk Cow Blues” might bear the heritage that its name denotes, if the Obits’ righteous noise didn’t so ably blow any such traditions out of the water. As it is, though, the old adage does prove true on one account: even this good record eventually ends.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Pine On”

Winter Gloves
About a Girl
Paper Bag

Winter Gloves, hailing, fittingly, from the chilly city of Montreal, is the latest in a string of hip Canadian bands to test their luck in the States. Gloves originated from a solo project in the downtown apartment of now–lead singer Charles F. and grew to include three more members. Their debut EP, Let Me Drive, earned them iTunes popularity across Canada, and with the release of their full-length album, About a Girl, the quintet is trying to repeat their success on this side of the border.

About a Girl is a danceable mash-up of electronica and synth-laden tunes, some of which have been recycled from the earlier EP. The album as a whole is as warm and inviting as the band’s name would suggest, but it never quite peaks to capture the rapt attention of the listener. Instead, it starts off catchy, but gets hung up on a plateau and never quite finds its way up, or down for that matter. The songs themselves are interesting enough to warrant an ample head bob, but lack the dynamic to turn that bob into full on cavorting, and unfortunately, often just blend together.

That is not to say, however, that the album lacks appeal. The use of instruments such as the glockenspiel and wurlitzer is oddly engaging, fit effortlessly into the record, and certainly up the Gloves’ quirk-factor. Plus, the vocals of Charles F. are slightly reminiscent of gentler Q and Not U tracks, albeit with a bit lighter sampling of music behind them.

The obligatory hand-clapping track, “Let Me Drive” is the clear standout on Girl, but songs such as “Glass Paperweight” manage to change up the pace of the album by slowing it down without weighing it down. The album is certainly charming and deserving of a listen. At the very least, add a tune to your late-night indie dance mixtape.
Jennifer Farmer