Magic Omnibus | January 2015: The Beginning of “Words About Sounds”

mo1_75It’s not meant to be comprehensive, but a snapshot of things that caught my ear and inspired me to talk about.




Welcome to the inaugural edition of my monthly “words about sounds” omnibus! I’m still exploring what this column can and will encompass. For now, I envision it being a place where, once a month, I chime in with a series of hits (quick or not-so-quick) on the past month’s musical happenings. It’s not meant to be comprehensive, but a snapshot of things that caught my ear and inspired me to talk about. For now, it means reviews of new albums, EPs and singles, as well as “new to me” releases from the recent past. I’m also thinking concert reviews, riffs on musical trends, and even artist profiles and photos if I get ambitious. But enough writing about writing, on to the tune! Here’s my take on January 2015.

Viet Cong | s/t (Jagjaguwar)

Viet Cong’s sophomore release is a rhythmically intense mix of progressive post-punk and indie-dance influences. Focused, concise moments reminiscent of Interpol’s spiky, black-suited noir are blended with expansive, noisy bits that bring to mind PUJOL’s grinding, lo-fi aesthetic. Even the more straightforward tracks have a tendency to shift gears halfway through—this is clearly a group that thinks in “movements.” Viet Cong is dissonance roughing up melody in a seedy alley.

The Lone Bellow | Then Came the Morning (Descendant)

Can it already be time for groups influenced by turn-of-the-millennium British mope rock? Brooklyn’s The Lone Bellow make evocative, timeless folk-inflected rock that brings to mind wild-eyed, late 1960s/early 1970s Van Morrison crossed with a more bearable, less suspenders-and-fedora-clad version of the Lumineers’ neo-folk, riveted together with the ethereal emotionalism of Starsailor’s “Love Is Here.”

Rae Sremmurd | SremmLife (Eardruma/Interscope)

Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy are a barely-legal-drinking-age brother duo from Tupelo, Mississippi who sound as if Kriss Kross had sex with a Casio keyboard in an upstairs bedroom at a drank-fueled college house party. Songs lurch around, bleeding vocoder-reggae swirled together with Southern hip-hop. The tempos stick to the midrange, but every song is vibrant and assured. Swae and Slim are neither cocksure nor aggressive, but confident in the fact that they’re damn good at what they’re doing, and they’re having a hell of a good time doing it. Gritty and infectious, their deft use of chants obscures and negates the holes in their MC skills. I’m not sure yet what sort of extended shelf life SremmLife has, but for now, it’s best to enjoy the party.

Paperwhite | Magic EP (Duly Noted)

Brother/sister duo Paperwhite hit it out of the multi-purpose AstroTurf ballpark with their late 2014 EP Magic. Its unabashedly loving and frighteningly accurate recreation of techno-romantic 1980s synthpop will inject a dose of summer into your winter-frozen veins, a bit of instant brainspace recall back to stretched-out-forever sunsets and festival blanket vibes.


Catfish & the Bottlemen | The Balcony (Communion)

While their name suggests they’d make handlebar-mustachioed, suspender-wearing Mumford music, Catfish & the Bottlemen bring big, shiny radio-indie straight out of 2004. Think Kasabian or possibly early Walkmen. This is polished, driving stuff, piloted by lead Catfish Van McCann’s raspy-shouty voice that’s Roger Daltrey by way of Luke Pritchard from the Kooks. This is the kind of music that sounds better the less you focus on it; the lyrics are rather dreadful. Ultimately, The Balcony is energetic and often powerful, but sorely lacking in variety. This is a case of satisfaction being inversely proportional to the attention paid.

Aurora | “Under Stars”/“Awakening” (Glassnote)

You know me and my unerring fondness for Scandinavian electro/indie pop! Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes is poised, serious and has a voice that hits in that way that feels like someone’s filled a balloon up inside your rib cage…in a good way. Right now there’s only these two tracks from 2014, but she signed a deal with Decca & Glassnote, so I expect big things and a full LP here in 2015. | Mike Rengel

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