Deth Red Sabaoth
Evilive/The End

With no credible Misfits reunion in sight, no signs of a new album in six years and no album worth actually listening to in 16, anywhere outside of his niche community of comic book sadomasochists, Glenn Danzig has been reduced to a punchline. Of course, that’s not for lack of trying, as throughout metal’s constant evolution Danzig has embraced electronic beats, black metal distortion, and plunged into the deepest realms of goth-geek fiction, but with extremely diminishing returns. With his career in decline it would seem almost cartoonish for Danzig to self-declare Deth Red Sabaoth as his cliched “return to form,” especially if said album is not to include John Christ, Eerie Von or Chuck Biscuits (the “classic” line-up) or Rick Rubin at the controls. Song titles like “Ju Ju Bone,” “Black Candy” and “Hammer of the Gods” do little to stifle the snickers—another day, another mediocre Danzig album destined for the cut-out bin.

But there was something very intriguing about the prospect of a Danzig album in which he was drawn to “warmer, analog tones,” an album on which he plays all the basslines, and keeps long-time guitarist Tommy Victor on a leash of his own devilish design (despite some irritating squeals here and there). Surprisingly, Deth Red Sabaoth is full of substantive Danzig schlock, with enough “classic” resonance to warrant repeated listens. The aforementioned “Hammer of the Gods” is the kind of adrenalized album starter that is equal in stature to songs like the seminal “Long Way Back From Hell” and “Godless,” two moments where Danzig’s voice, coupled with the fiercest line-up in ’90s metal, was an impenetrable force. While that power and rage doesn’t really translate through the entirety of Deth Red Sabaoth, Danzig more than makes up for it in dank, dirty, sinister blues and his patented bellow. Many have criticized Danzig in recent years for his increasingly lacerated vocal chords, but none of that is apparent here. “On a Wicked Night,” his obligatory ballad, now acoustic, he conjures up the werewolf vibes (along with the corpse of Jim Morrison), slinking through the riffs with the professionalism of a macabre champion. None of it sounds all that revived or fresh, but for the simple fact that Danzig has embraced old tropes and moved forward with an album that would satiate a fan a decade removed is enough to let him back on the wagon. The 10-minute “Pyre of Souls” shows enough fervor and ambition in itself to shake the man’s hand again. Full of psychedelic warp and drowsy, hypnotic groove, it’s the best thing he has done for a very long time.
Kevin J. Elliott

Smalltown Supersound

There comes a time in every reviewer’s life where, after reading one too many breathless press releases, it’s hard to resist the urge to scream, “You’re a damn lie!” Does the band really believe that they are _____ crossed with _____? K-X-P hit me that way. The Helsinki duo of Timo Kaukolampi (electronics, vocals and the “K”) and Tuomo Puranen (bass and keyboards and the “P”), along with the rotating “X” on drums (Anssi Nykänen and Tomi Leppanen), cite Raymond Scott, Spacemen 3, Suicide and Nue! as key influences. In addition, Kaukolampi is possibly best known as Annie’s main producer and cowriter. The members have done everything from free jazz to more straightahead dance music. And Optimo have been championing the band pretty hard. Potentially they have a lot of slack to play with.

So it’s almost infuriating that the resulting self-titled debut feels so flat. A bad album is one thing, but it’s a whole other kettle of fish when a band just underachieves. Far too many of the songs peak within the first minute and then proceed to go nowhere. It’s not even a “get into the groove” deal or the glorious drone of the Fall. Its just songs that are over before they begin.

Yet K-X-P do give a hint of what they’re capable of producing. The pre-album single “18 Hours of Love” features a gloriously ragged vocal, distorted guitar riffs and electronic noise that sounds like it was run through a busted bass amp. The instrumentals “Labyrinth” and “Aibal Dub” actually have interesting arrangements and movement and break out of the locked groove of some earlier tracks. And while “Pockets” actually tries to do to much with its Perry Farrell–like vocals, at least they seem to be actually trying. Still there’s not enough to pull them from the meaty part of the curve. Better luck next time.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “18 Hours (Of Love)”

That’s How We Burn
Sub Pop

The stylistic choices made by Jaill are really nothing new if viewed through the post-Spoon/post-Shins climate of indie rock: terse chords, anonymous lyrics, photos of strangers in quotidian life and an extra consonant tacked onto their plain name for good measure. We shouldn’t blame Jaill, though, as the current environment made them this way. That’s How We Burn, the sophomore album for the Milwaukee quartet, is a completely inoffensive, possibly neutered, attempt by Jaill to make their sterling Sub Pop record; when sub rosa, these guys are gnarlier than they appear. You can hear it in the chug-a-chug riffs that look to bolster “Demon,” but suffocate. “On the Beat” is riddled with odd shifts at odd times. It is a three-minute slice of melancholic pop shaded in earthy hues and spiked with occasional sandpaper scrapes of guitar clatter, but it also never quite bites hard enough.

Singer Adam Kircher could be guilty of cribbing from James Mercer’s melodic vocal sweeps and Britt Daniel’s broad herky-jerky strokes on a slightly distorted guitar, but again, it’s what’s all-around him that has caused him to react this way. At the heart, his songwriting is something much purer, unfettered by cycles and trends. “Summer Mess” has bubblegum simplicity shining through, and is one of the few instances on That’s How We Burn that the listener should be rapt in attention at a truly original band. Recording faux pas aside, there’s something to celebrate in Jaill’s inherent quirkiness. “Snake Shakes” and “How’s the Grave” are both instilled with a deceptive greaser romanticism and a nervously nerdy punk underbelly hiding beneath that polished Weezer-esque facade. And that title track, despite it’s similarity to many of the aforementioned bands, is so indelibly catchy and bright, it’s hard to fault any band with hooks played with this much color and enthusiasm. While it’s fine to bring on the clones, it’s wise to just not get too attached.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Everyone’s Hip”

Francis and the Lights
It’ll Be Better

The tale of Francis and the Lights is a strange one. They formed in college as many bands do—Wesleyan University to be exact, the breeding ground for MGMT and others. And they also self-released an EP as many bands do. Then things took an odd turn. The band, led by Francis Farewell Starlite, became a LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) and received a $100,000 investment from The Normative Music Company, who released their 2008 EP, A Modern Romance. It was an experiment in a new model for record labels that worked out far better for the band than it did for the label. Then Francis and the Lights entered into a more traditional relationship with Cantora, who released a 7-inch single in 2008. During that time they got kudos from everyone from Kanye West to college pals MGMT, who they’ve opened up for on many occasions, to hip-hop’s current golden child Drake, who’s had Francis and the Lights as his opening band on his current tour. Finally the band has delivered its debut album, It’ll Be Better.

It seems like from day one Francis and the Lights were equal parts conceptual and musical. Their live debut was a performance of the posthumous The Immortal Otis Redding in its entirety. For a time, their website had a detailed list of Starlite’s daily purchases. And Starlite seems to be the only official member, as the name “the Lights” refers to stage lighting and not his backing band. Add to that the fact that he calls Strunk and White’s Elements of Style his biggest songwriting influence, and it seems like 25 pounds of pretension in a Ziploc bag. You kind of want this guy to lose. Then you hear the songs and all that goes away. It’ll Be Better is a weird hybrid of a pop sensibility, Peter Gabriel (circa “Sledgehammer”), a whisper of Jack Johnson, Prince in his Dirty Mind days (“For Days”), and ’80s synth R&B. It may even be safe to unfurl the “blue-eyed soul” flag. There’s nothing studied or insincere about the record. It’s refreshing for how straightforward the songs play out. Broken hearts and relationship woes aren’t anything new, but quality craftsmanship is always a delight. Francis and the Lights may have taken an odd road to get here, but they’ve certainly arrived.
Dorian S. Ham

Carissa’s Wierd
They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996–l2003
Temporary Residence

Every once in a while you stumble across a band with an odd name and a terse Wikipedia article that has managed to slip by your ever-increasing iTunes library. Luckily with the internet at our side, more of these forgotten projects and local heroes have washed up on the analytical shores of music journalism, emerging for an audience they never had the chance to reach.

Enter Carissa’s Wierd (yes, the egregious misspelling is part of the band name) a former group of Seattlites with a downhearted methodology and a surprisingly accurate prediction of the direction indie rock would take in the ’00s. It shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the anchors of the band (Matt Brooke and Ben Bridwell) went on to found the enormously successful and thoroughly popular Band of Horses. CW existed for a respectable eight years, releasing a respectable four studio albums, and now after a one-off reunion show, have put together their first career-long retrospective in They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996-2003. As as the title might suggest, it’s a rather morose cataloging of tracks that promote the unseen innovation and influence of the band.

If you’re looking for a batch of Band of Horses demos, Carissa’s Wierd isn’t your destination. You’re not going to find anything even remotely resembling the epic bombast of timeless tracks like “The Funeral” or “Is There a Ghost.” Instead, you get a predominately quiet album, anchored by the hushed whispers of frontman Matt Brooke surrounded by tingling, deciduous folk texture. It’s very much an album of the ’90s, incorporating the truly emo mope and spiraling shoegaze that defined the decade, but still peering into the present (then future) with a fractured indie-folk sensibility that would later become the engine for bands like Bright Eyes and M. Ward. They’ll Only Miss You is one of the few reissues that doesn’t rehash or retread; it opens an entirely new door for both listening and historic purposes, which few records are able to accomplish.
Luke Winkie

MP3: “Die”

So Percussion and Matmos
Treasure State

Treasure State is devoid of vocals, but full of organic squishes, clicks, snips and snaps, with weirdo percussion instruments of Garageband quality—sort of generic, digitized rhythms with silicon at the heart. Too perfectly measured, snapped to a grid of timing, even the slightly off-time splishes of what might be (or probably is) a ladle on water in “Water” are recorded so flawlessly that they mix in too well with the machine-perfect steel drum. The water sounds fit so well, almost subliminally in fact, that it made me have to pee. Chalk one up to Matmos for successfully producing a visceral response to manufactured electronic music. The same can’t be said for the usual urge to dance to electronic music, unfortunately.

Judging from the title of the record, Treasure State (an alternative nickname for Big Sky Country), this amounts to a sound portrait of the state of Montana, though further investigation based on the titles of the songs yields little correlation between commonly known facts about the state. Rather, the titles exist to explain the instrumentation used for each piece . “Aluminum” sounds like processed sounds of aluminum being clanked upon or stroked with bows perhaps. “Needles” is the amplified results of the So Percussion players’ manipulation of the prickly spines of cacti. As this is a collaboration between So Percussion, known for their revitalization of avant-garde percussion-based symphonic pieces and their use of unconventional instruments (or just clanking on found objects), and Matmos, notable for their vitalization of laptop soundscapes, not to mention their mastery of the avant-garde collaboration (Björk, Rachel’s, et al.), expecting anything approaching straight songs might be foolish. That said, it is not beyond the reach of Matmos to construct a song out of scissor snips that sounds pleasing to the ear. Maybe this collaboration is a step too far into the realm of conservatory bound art-sounds that would be incredible to experience in a gallery in person, essentially captive to the artists, rather than at home with the freewill to change tracks or skip through songs. Either way, the Matmos microchip magic applied to So Percussion’s primitive pounding amounts to an interesting auditory exercise, greater than the sum of its parts and weirder still after every listen.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

MP3: “Treasure”

School of Seven Bells
Disconnect from Desire
Vagrant/Ghostly International

You’d never call School of Seven Bells an album-centric band. Sure they have their songs, but like most blissful, quasi-dance collectives, their records tend to stick together in a bit of indecipherability.

But like I said, they do have their songs. Disconnect from Desire’s 10 tracks are all near-equally strong, with the usual trappings of druggy euphoria and old-school shoegaze the band has become known for over their brief trajectory, and they’re still hard to place in the context of modern music. They sound almost resistant to other influences. Simply speaking, there aren’t too many bands that sound like School of Seven Bells right now; their slinky, dream-woven songwriting (at its best on tracks like “Windstorm” and “Bye Bye Bye”) occupies a niche all by itself, and that’s pretty impressive for a band so young.

I will say that the closest album Disconnect from Desire relates to is Delorean’s debut longplayer, Subzia, which arrived only a few months ago. They’re both rapturous, emotive works of dance music, and taken as songs, they’re some of the most interesting and immediately enjoyable things you’ll hear all year. But after a lengthy, 50 minute listen, it’s easy to get sidetracked, complacent, and even bored of the record. It’s a shame really, as tracks these good deserve better than to drown in a sea of diminishing returns.
Luke Winkie