Total Life Forever
Sub Pop

With their 2008 debut, Antidotes, Foals channeled their youthful restlessness through a siphon rimmed with frenetic rhythms and Kiwi-kissed guitars. It was a near perfect dissimulation of now sounds and choice influences that seemed one step ahead of anything the band’s contemporaries might have been doing. As the record’s title suggested, this was the perfect elixir to the virtual migraine caused by the rising tide of post-millennial “progressives.”

It’s interesting then that with their follow-up, Total Life Forever, Foals have seemingly rolled out the red carpet for their own extrapolations. The aquatic themes of the first two tracks, “Blue Blood” and “Miami,” are tied to a lazy, but buoyant, groove that seems more about the motion than actually getting anywhere quickly. “Black Gold” has a similar demeanor stretched over its six minutes, but “Spanish Sahara,” which still works in aquatic motifs despite the lack of water in its title, is decidedly going somewhere. As Yannis Phillippakis sings, “I’m the fury in your head. I’m the fury in your bed,” the song builds to a heavenly conflux of criss-crossing guitar lines and oscillating synths that makes it clear that this must be the place. “This Orient” continues in the same vein, ambrosial guitars and synthesized submarine bells meshing perfectly. Foals are much more than what they once were—almost to an unrecognizable degree—but that’s also much, much better.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Muu’s Way
Ba Da Bing

Much like kindred spirits High Places, the duo of Sara Magenheimer and Eban Portnoy, also known as Woom, construct pop songs piecemeal. Be it rhythms from organic source, melodic patterns formed from clipped guitar samples, or vocal harmonies and intonations accumulated off of earthen vibrations, the charm of their debut album, Muu’s Way, is displayed in the foraging of outfield primal sounds, eventually spun and prepared into odd little patchworks. Though the Oakland couple deal in wind chimes, forest chatter and generally breezy ingredients akin to the tropical psych of the Animal Collective and Ruby Suns, they tend to gravitate towards an insular and sparse sphere of sonics.

Within that sphere there are certainly extremes which veer from the traditional seaside folk gale of “Backward’s Beach” to “Foggy Dew,” which is nothing but frog croak and crickets while Magenheimer pours out the hymnal in her head. Here, nature is the beat, the heart and the soul. As pretentious as that reads on paper, there are plenty of lavish bridges that connect all of these extremes. It might be difficult to glean the concept upon first listen, but a line from the lilting finale, “Judith,” that asks “is the jungle growing over you,” provides a common thread insulating each song. While many might be tired of the improv-with-coconuts aesthetic that has trended into banal background music, Woom actually use those slight gimmicks to their benefit, buffering what five years ago might have been sleepy post-rock instrumentals into playful, often incredibly intricate pop songs. It’s what you don’t hear on the thrifty bossanova of “Sister” that’s the most stunning. Whether Muu’s Way is some granola manifesto or not, there’s no denying that the effortless whistles and steel drums in “Quetzalcoatl’s Ship” (emblematic of Woom’s casualness) are elements we need to hear more of as we quickly bow to modernity.
Kevin J. Elliott

Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles

On their self-titled album, Crystal Castles mostly hit it out of the ballpark, and that’s exactly the problem. Opening track “Fainting Spells” is the perfect kick-off to the band’s second release. It’s so violent, harsh and propulsive that you might not notice all the pretty sounds in the background. Those noises quickly move to the foreground on the aptly named “Celestica,” one of Alice Glass’ lushest vocal performances on either this or their (also self-titled) debut. It’s got so much electro French gloss you might worry that the band has left behind the weirdo part of its personality. Give it a minute. When Alice unleashes her corrosive vocal stylings 10 seconds later in “Doe Deer,” you’ll be left with little doubt of their abrasive capacity.

That track is, however, the last time the album fully utilizes their scare-factor. The rest of the songs are mostly variations on the same theme: “Look, we’re a little more professional now.” “Baptism” sounds less like a raucous rave track than like the soundtrack to a raucous rave scene in some gothic movie. “Not in Love” is so poppy I wonder if they just wanted to prove they could do it.

But when they hit the marks, the band is worth shouting about. “Suffocation” is a convincing display of dance music basics, and “Birds” is a solid attempt to merge the duo’s dark side with their pop sensibilities. The most surprising cut on the album is “Empathy.” It’s not only the most well crafted song on the record, but one of the best songs anyone’s released this year. It’s got a killer beat, a pretty chorus, and it’s exceedingly smooth and catchy. In fact, more straightforward pleasures dominate much of the second half of the album. Even songs with names like “Vietnam” and “Violent Dreams” shock only with their competent polish. While these tracks are often fun, one does miss the Castles’ knack for living on the edge. If you too were a fan of the first Crystal Castles, you may only be disappointed that the band worked so hard to deliver an album so thoroughly well made.
Matt Slaybaugh

Rayon Beach
Memory Teeth

While it’s much too soon to equate the current Austin garage scene with what went down in the late ’60s via the psychedelic reverberations of the Elevators, Red Krayola and Golden Dawn, the output that has proliferated from bands like Woven Bones and those found on Matador’s Casual Victim Pile primer is much too incendiary to ignore as a fluke. It really must be the heat. Can you ever remember seeing a clip of the early Butthole Surfers live and not want to get them all a glass of ice water? Rayon Beach, Austin’s latest cretin darlings sound as if they’ve been baking on red rock for days. Even the production quality becomes warped, as if the tape is melting in the reels while they waver off their spindles.

The title track is everything you’d expect from a band freebasing “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (minus the electric jug). Instead, night tremors and endless delay take the place of that acid paranoia. I’d like to imagine that a lot of these kids playing this version of haunted psych were directly influenced by the constant bummer of Jim Shepard’s V-3 magna-grind, as “Wave Pool Ether” would have fit nicely on a Photograph Burns tribute somewhere. For the better part of this short player, though, Rayon Beach are channeling a large chunk of psychedelic wonders and exploiting them for the heat that was never released, which is prone to making each tune slightly unbalanced. “Comet Songs” is just a step or two behind a Flowers-era Stones mod-romp, while “Paradise Is Frail” is a reminder that the Cheater Slicks plundered this stuff already, if only for a new generation to find. The awesomely titled “Jacuzzi Limo Explosion” ends the record with an instrumental, frying a church organ in suntan lotion and riding the snake into the desert. And while there are noticeable melodies strewn throughout, if you really want the truth, this one’s strictly for the heads, but definitely a band to watch out for in the near future.
Kevin J. Elliott

Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse
Dark Night of the Soul

Nowadays, it’s barely worth a lazy eyebrow raise when artists get together for some side-project holiday. Yet when word leaked out in 2009 that Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse and David Lynch were working together on a project, it caused a fair amount of excited speculation. After all, Danger Mouse was still riding a buzz from his work with Gorilaz and Gnarles Barkley and his collaborations with everyone from Beck to the Black Keys. Then you have the much beloved Mark “Sparklehorse” Linkous, who may not have had the mainstream popularity of Danger Mouse, but had released four well-respected records. And then there was David Lynch—enough said.

Eventually, it was revealed that the project would be called Dark Night of the Soul and would feature an art book with photographs by Lynch and an accompanying CD with music by Danger Mouse and Linkous and a grab-bag of guest vocalists and collaborators. The final hook? The whole thing would be self-released and limited to only 5000 hand-numbered copies. Gentleman, prepare your credit cards and Lucite cases! Then on the eve of the project’s release, EMI put the kibosh on the project due to an unspecified “rights dispute.” The book still came out, but it included a blank CD that stated, “For legal reasons, the enclosed CDR contains no music. Use it as you will.” It was fairly safe to assume that Dark Night of the Soul would remain a lost album.

So it was with a fair amount of surprise that Dark Night of the Soul has finally received a legal release. In the aftermath of Linkous’ suicide and the death of Vic Chesnutt, who’s featured on “Grim Augury,” the album can now be seen as a type of posthumous tribute. But as with most things, the backstory doesn’t amount to much if the result is bunk. However, after about one minute into the Flaming Lips feature, “Revenge,” it seems almost embarrassing to admit that there would be doubt. The song and much of the record is the perfect mix between Danger Mouse’s ’60s-influenced atmospherics and Linkous’ surreal pop sensibilities. But it’s not all mellow all the time. There’s the triptych punch-up of Julian Casablancas, Frank Black and Iggy Pop to liven things up. And the other collaborators are also perfectly cast: David Lynch (on vocals!), James Mercer of the Shins, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Nina Persson of the Cardigans, and Suzanne Vega. The release of Dark Night of the Soul is tinged with bittersweet joy, but it’s good to see that Linkous and Chesnutt went out on a high note.
Dorian S. Ham

Pernice Brothers
Goodbye, Killer

Joe Pernice has been a busy guy—at least by a musician’s standards, I suppose—since the last Pernice Brothers album. He’s written a novel and recorded an accompanying soundtrack, moved to Canada and started a family. I’m sure there’s more to which we’re not privy as well. Anyway, it’s been four years since the last Pernice Brothers record, Live a Little, and it seems like the rest of the band may have gotten a little tired of waiting around. Here, Joe is joined by on-again, off-again member brother Bob, drummer Ric Menck and guitarist James Walbourne. Gone is Peyton Pinkerton and the rest of the gang.

The whole thing, in fact, seems like a project of economy. At just 10 songs clocking in around a half hour, this record would feel like somewhat of a letdown no matter how you sliced it, but the sparse arrangements and dry cadence of the recording also seem like the byproducts of cutbacks. Where once upon a time a lush pop treatment cushioned the black comedy of Pernice’s melancholic refrains, here a few guitars just don't seem enough. But Pernice has proven before that he doesn’t need all the bell and whistles (i.e. Big Tobacco), so perhaps it’s also that his songwriting has grown rusty from lack of polish. While the instincts are still there, poignancy is lacking. On “The Loving Kind,” probably the only true stunner of the album, Joe sings, “I’ve been through this too many times to bullshit you,” but given the evidence to the contrary, I have to wonder if he’s being sincere.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Jacqueline Susann”