Music Reviews: April 2014 (I)

Future Islands, Singles

With Singles, the Baltimore-based Future Islands has created exactly the opposite: a series of dull and indistinct tracks that, rather unpleasantly, bleed together into a sappy and synth-happy lump. Lead-man Samuel Herring’s predilection for writing songs about the cosmic energy of various astronomical objects, the changing of the seasons, and worlds populated by animal spirits, makes me wonder if he doubles as the leader of a Druid cult venerating tired synth riffs and insipid poetry. Their oddball performance on Letterman may have garnered Future Islands the coveted status of pop flavor of the week, but Singles has left nothing but bitter ringing in my ears. 

Grade: D+


The Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams

Another tepid and predictable release from The Hold Steady. Craig Finn intones in his familiar half-singing, half-declaiming manner which often seems at odds with his tender stories about the travails of love and life in Minneapolis's blue-collar underbelly. The guitars too, conjuring the band’s signature (read: bland) punk harmonies, seem at once fitting and insufficient accompaniment for the lyrical nuance of some of their songs. Many of the tracks ramble, especially “Oaks”, the album’s overwrought finale, and their sound suffers without keyboardist Franz Nicolay, whose playing provided occasional respite from the unrelenting cascade of power-chords and overdrive.  After Heaven Is Whenever, their disastrous fifth release, Teeth Dreams represents a welcome return to mediocrity for The Hold Steady.  

Grade: C+


Foster the People, Supermodel

Foster the People’s knack for writing exuberant electro-pop is on full display in Supermodel, a formidable follow-up to their hit debut Torches, which spawned the ubiquitous “Pumped Up Kicks”. On Supermodel, the band sounds more comfortable and studio-ready, and producer Paul Epworth’s expansive imagination and production chops add intrigue to the album’s otherwise unremarkable tracks, “Goats in Trees” and “The Truth”. Foster has branded Supermodel as a “concept album”, a cautionary tale of their own success and the demons exposed by their recent celebrity and good fortune. Indeed, the band has managed to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of pop music by coupling their esoteric inspirations - in the case of this album, West African percussion, 70s punk, and David Bowie  - with decidedly mainstream production techniques that have made their music accessible and popular among the fickle youth of the selfie-generation. If Supermodel is intended as an expression of Foster’s survivor’s guilt, it’s a half-hearted attempt at atonement. Relentlessly cheery tunes like “Best Friend” and “Pseudologica Fantastica” belie the supposed seriousness of their message, and the inclusion of trendy synth and chorus effects (see: Future Islands, Singles) on “Coming of Age” and “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon” makes it seem as if the band is pandering to the same superficial listeners their lyrics simultaneously decry. Supermodel is a rare case of an album's execution far exceeding its concept, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. 

Grade: B+


Perfect Pussy, Say Yes To Love

The onslaught of distortion and feedback in the guitars, at first abrasive and overbearing, mesmerizes on “Bells” and the aptly named “Interference Fits”. Perfect Pussy may be a one-trick pony, but they excel in creating frenetic, fuzzed-out punk that radiates energy and angst. Although it clocks in at a trim twenty three minutes (not counting the four live recordings that conclude the album), I can’t help but feel both exhausted and craving more after listening. After all, it is Perfect Pussy. 

Grade: B+