Procedure Club
Doomed Forever

Truth be told, I’m beginning to fret every time a Slumberland envelope shows up in my mailbox. Despite a throng of devotees who worship anything that appears beneath the mantle of dream-pop (especially those units female-fronted), we are already at a tipping point, as the stacks have been over-saturated with similar sounding upstarts remembering the allure of Black Tambourine and the Shop Assistants. All one has to do is buy the former’s newly re-issued retrospective and you should be set for a summer full of partly cloudy shimmer and tinny bliss. But in steps, Polish transplant Adam Malec and his uni-named partner, Andrea, are taking the sub-genre one more level into a sub-realm filled with endless echoes of reverb, misanthropic enthusiasm, and rickety buzzing guitars with their Procedure Club. Suddenly the aesthetics of dream-pop become fascinating, nostalgic, and inventive all at once.

But Doomed Forever is a palimpsest of that original blueprint, scrawling over those sacred rules and parameters with a more primitive, sometimes sinister, vision. Nothing on the debut album quite comes into focus. “Artificial Light” careens at the caffeinated jolt of the best Sarah singles, nervous and clumsy. But as with the bulk of the record, it’s difficult to make out the shape of the song as Andrea’s vocals overlap and fade and the melody spirals more than it guides. Malec assembles these elements with a good deal of randomness in songs like the magnificently titled “Slut Fossils” and “Dead Bird.” Imagine what would’ve have happened if the entire Slumberland empire were directly influenced by the Shaggs—it’s that much of a glorious mess. There are moments when Malec forces these jagged edges upon the listener when it’s not all that warranted. Prime examples would be the sludgy noise of “Nautical Song” or the minimal-wave intrusion of “Jupiter,” but neither of those diversions stick out like sore thumbs when placed within the whole. Doomed Forever is what happens when a mold is broken. In this case, it’s the fluffy idyllic racket of girly dream-pop that when infiltrated with nightmares and sharp sonic contrasts ultimately results in an altered reality, a fuzzy headfull of hummable melodies culled from a completely unique experience.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Feel Sorry For Me”

The Roots
How I Got Over
Def Jam

After two equally polarizing albums (the experimental phreak-out Phrenology and the ill-fated flirtation with commercial hip-hop, The Tipping Point), the Roots have been the model of consistency. The band is at their best when they strike a precarious balance between avant-garde leanings and pop impulses, and on the impressive duo of Game Theory and Rising Down, they confidently navigated that happy medium. After stating that Rising Down would be their final album, we figured the Roots had all but retired to the drudgery of late night TV. But then, out of nowhere, they announced the release of one more album. Let’s hope it’s not their last. On How I Got Over, which takes its title from a ’50s gospel hymn, the Roots embrace their trademark lyricism while mining the smooth pleasures of neo-soul. The album may be full of existential angst and urban psychological case studies, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bump and grind to it on a Saturday night.

The first thing that jumps out is the record’s surprising list of guest stars, which includes the Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom, and the girls of Dirty Projectors. But, to be honest, the idea that the Roots have “gone indie” on this record are vastly overplayed. The contribution from the DP ladies is limited to an atmospheric intro track less than two minutes long. In fact, I almost wish they’d been given a proper song to vamp on, seeing as how “Stillness Is the Move” proves they’re perfectly adept at R&B vocals. That said, Jim James’ vocals on the chorus of “Dear God 2.0” sound somewhat incongruous to the rest of the song, and the Joanna Newsom–sampled “Right On” is the record’s only outright misstep where the Roots sound just a tad too clever for their own good.

But beyond those songs, How I Got Over is filled with effortless classics that would fit nicely on any of the band’s past releases. “Walk Alone” is an unsentimental portrait of self-inflicted isolation that smartly explores the relationship between swagger and crippling loneliness. The sing-along anthem “Hustla” accomplishes the impressive feat of cutting up that auto-tuned baby clip into something resembling a melody. But the album’s centerpiece is its title track. “How I Got Over” recounts a litany of urban injustices before encouraging positive thinking for no other reason than the fact that, while optimism is hardly an answer to your problems, pessimism will definitely get you nowhere. It’s all played out over a driving beat that sounds like a long-lost blaxploitation theme song just screaming to be co-opted by Quentin Tarantino.

It’s hard to believe that How I Got Over is the Roots’ ninth studio album. I can probably count on one hand the number of bands whose ninth album was worth a damn. It will be a shame if this is their last release but, at the same time, the band’s consistency over the years has proved that they will generally only lay something down on tape if they think it’s worthwhile. It’s heartening to know that when the band does stop recording music, it won’t be because of petty infighting or the fact that the public has lost interest. Instead, it will merely be because they’ve said all they need to say.
David Holmes

The Chemical Brothers
Freestyle Dust/Astralwerks

Are The Chemical Brothers just parodies of themselves at this point? I mean, if “Smack My Bitch Up” didn’t completely sum-up the band’s increasingly silly approach to dance music, 2005’s brainless Budweiser anthem “Galvanize” certainly didn’t do them any favors. There was a time this band was synonymous with critical acclaim, but now, the further away they get from the titanic Dig Your Own Hole, the farther they drift from the good graces of the album-buying public.

However, Further might be the band’s smartest album since the late ’90s, which is a pretty bold statement when you consider what the Chemical Brothers really mean in 2010. It seems that Further is engineered to be more of a record than anything before. It opens with the absolutely un-single-able “Snow” that actually serves as an atmosphere builder, something for which the Chemical Brothers are not at all known. That moves on to the spacey, boom-clicking “Escape Velocity,” which is far easier to digest than the previous track, but still remains radio-elusive with a rather obtuse 11-minute running time and undergoing only minor mutations throughout. Things slowly get more traditional as the album goes on, but there’s never a moment of pure universalism. This is dance music with its feathers ruffled and something to prove, and I doubt it’ll make it onto a beer commercial.

If Further has a concept, it has something to do with space. The song titles—“Wonders of the Deep,” “Another World,” “Escape Velocity,” “Horse Power”—seem to reflect that, but it’s nothing deeper than some Star Trek bloops, and to be honest, despite the apparent resurgence of artistic pride, nothing here is all that original. Catchy but insubstantial, joyful but forgettable, the Chemical Brothers succeed and fail on exactly what got them here: being the Chemical Brothers.
Luke Winkie

Thieves Like Us
Again and Again

Sometimes you don’t want to be all up in the club, sweating out your electrolytes and generally raging up a storm. There are times when you just want to sit on a comfortable seat and wanly wave at that painter/filmmaker across the bar. It stands to reason that if an individual can feel that way then so can the ones providing the soundtrack. Such seems to be the case with Thieves Like Us. After the body-shaking “Drugs In My Body,” released by design house and record label Kitsuné, and the similarly minded debut album Play Music, it seemed like a fairly safe bet that the boys could be counted on for an arm-raising good time. Yet on their follow-up, Again and Again, it’s less about getting a workout on the dancefloor and more like finding a nice dark place in that corner booth.

This time around, Thieves Like Us seem to have cool sophistication on the agenda. Subdued seems to be the watchword for Again and Again. There are snatches of New Order, but not in the typical retro-mining way you’d expect. It’s mainly because, since the trio consists of drums, keyboards and vocals, New Order is the closest touchstone for having that “human in a machine” vocal presence. However, there’s nothing really deliberately throwback about the band. But with that said, “One Night With You” does sound an album cut from Technique.

The only downside to Again and Again is that as a whole it’s so cool and detached that the songs seem to float away as soon as the track is over. You’re left with a feeling of pleasantness, but not much is really lasting. There are a few that stick to the ribs: the previously mentioned “One Night With You,” the one uptempo song, “The Walk,” that shoots a random burst of energy into the proceedings rather late into the album, and “Shyness,” a song that’s a two-step swagger that borders on a down-tempo R&B jam.

To their credit Thieves Like Us didn’t try to make the same songs—wait for it—again and again. And as a companion to Play Music it makes sense as the chillout portion of the evening. Again and Again may not be the one record you need to grab, but it’s nice to have the option.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “Forget Me Not”

Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody
I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years
Second Motion

Since his days as leader of shoegazer forerunners Swervedriver, Adam Franklin’s forte has always been to push his music into fuzzy nether regions. Even after that seminal band’s initial disbandment, Franklin continued to indulge that penchant for etheric sounds, even as he got experimental with Toshack Highway, mellow releasing records under his own name, and somewhere in between with Magnetic Morning, his project with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino. With his laconic vocals naturally lending to the hazy vibe, Franklin has seemed born to work within such a realm.

Having rejuvenated Swervedriver last year may have reignited Franklin’s love of guitar maelstroms for his latest project with the Bolts of Melody. On I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years (the title no doubt taken from the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs”), he and the band shape swarths of guitar fuzz into songs that burn with certain intensity. “I’ll Be Your Mechanic,” in particular, recalls his days of old, brisk rhythms juxtaposing with sheets of six-string reverberation. Yet Franklin also shows the other facets of his songwriting, the chiming “Mary Gunn” and piano-led “Guernica” coming on like morning-after recollections of fevered dreams. The record’s best cuts, though, come when these worlds come into contact, as on “Carousel City” (my personal favorite) and “Lord Help Me Jesus, I’ve Wasted a Soul,” which makes Jason Pierce sound like a charlatan by comparison. I Could Sleep is easily Franklin’s most dynamic record to date, showing that there’s plenty of room for exploration out in the mist.
Stephen Slaybaugh

The Main Street Gospel
Love Will Have Her Revenge
Tee Pee

It’s well known that Columbus, Ohio has had a rich fertile (and usually overlooked) underground for quite some time, so much so that the city’s periphery bands specializing in metal-blooze and Marlboro-psych kind of get the shaft even when that commune has been thriving and evolving for the past decade-plus. The Main Street Gospel is one of those outfits, with members playing in various configurations over the years, who finally laid roots as a towering trio indebted just as much to Neil Young as they are Spacemen 3. Their debut, Love Will Have Her Revenge, is a soft pummeling of big, earthy jams, which lumber past the point of lethargy and into a blissful heady crawl. It’s a slow-motion groove equal to staring at a day’s worth of Ohio cornfield and rural blight, looking to the horizon from a bus seat.

If you are to assume that the record is a concept of sorts, with guitarist and vocalist Barry Dean in the role of scorned lover lamenting with fists of Quaaludes and ditch weed, then even in his languid sling the man can certainly show wild mood swings throughout the duration. “I Won’t Be Stayin’” is their bonfire—a massive riff, hulking drums, and the album’s most menacing playing, is beautifully fried and tangled. The flip or second face of the band comes in the penultimate “Give Your Love Away,” where Dean has the same gruff tenderness as a Jim James or Dan Auerbach. It’s fitting that Auerbach produced and engineered Love Will Have Her Revenge, as the slight twang that hangs in Dean’s lazily spun, but heat-stroke seared, solos gives off vibes befitting Black Keys and Crowes. The only misfire is the lengthy “Fool’s Gold,” which in its wonkiness could double as a Silver Bullet Band demo. That’s a minor quibble, though, and wishing the band would get a bit freakier in those marathon moments is asking them to launch into a stratosphere they have no need visiting. What you do get is a low-key, sub-stoner, Sunday record that rewards in repeated listens and stops time when looking for the infinite mellow.
Kevin J. Elliott