Hot Chip - One Life Stand

I've been listening to the new Hot Chip since February or March. I don't know why I never got around to writing about it until now, maybe because Hot Chip's reputation precedes them, and it seemed like a band that didn't need a review from yours truly to light the ol' knowledge beacon. But I've been looking for work lately, and spending a sizable portion of my time writing on other projects, which means I have neglected the music hunt that fueled this space so greatly over the last few months. It seems like as good a time as any to discuss Hot Chip's One Life Stand, an album that rides the band's well-known electropop vibe to new blessed, choral, angelic places. And perhaps because of the band's predilection toward glitchy moments their song writing skill, creating moods out of ether and using just the right ingredients, to drive emotional/musical concepts.

One Life Stand is a moody, very nearly prissy, album. It opens with the churchy organ-work of "Thieves In The Night," a song that goes from ritual to pummeling drums in a moment, and then darts into the territory of the best Erasure songs. This is brilliant dance music with soulful, poetic additives. "Hand Me Down Your Love" is my favorite track. It has marching drums, a simple piano riff, and great call and response vocals (complete with an electronic squeal-fusion) that make it an invigorating listen each and every time. And the soft, string-laden chorus draws everything back to a serious space that is completely satisfying. "I Feel Better" is an example of AutoTune applied in a context that isn't entirely torturous. The track is a slow dance number, with dusty shakers filling the gaps and synth organ that builds from verse to chorus, allowing humanity to overtake machinery, into undeniable addictiveness. The titular track is a noble and fun, complete and well-constructed, with a '80s-esque synth line that will stick in your head. "Brothers" is another Erasure-esque classic. It's a little overblown in its self-seriousness, but it's also a song the families we build for ourselves. "Slush" sits midway down the track list, and it is not the best go on the disc, mostly because of the decorative "hum a nah hum a nuh" choral whisper, and it fails in its melodrama, but, like "Brothers" it's a sappy love song that makes no apologies.

The final four on the album "Alley Cats," "We Have Love," "Keep Quiet," and "Take It In" all bring the pace back up toward how the album opened, but they are all also more pronounced in their dire outlook, at least musically if not wholly lyrically. "Take It In" closes strong, and really finishes the album nicely, tying back to the poppier, higher spirited work in the first half. It also features a lead-in vocal that sounds vaguely like Billy Idol and the lyric "My heart has flown to you just like a dove," which is a seriously elegant way to assess romantic openness and peace. For its few failings, One Life Stand tries to be many things, working from a dance album to something soulful and completely unapologetic. It will take a listener through a range of emotions (not necessarily a broad one) from elated happy dancing to withdrawn happy dancing to quiet contemplation and back. If you haven't heard Hot Chip before, this is a great place to start.

Score: 8/10
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July 24: Gaslight Anthem

Ah, the Ogden. A great venue that tends to bring out the best in any band, and will be alive and sentient, like a musical octopus flailing its tentacles whenever the place is packed. Gaslight Anthem just about overloaded the house last night, which is no small feat considering their music is not wholly mainstream, and that its clear ties to the Americana rock, working man's blues style made famous by Bruce Springsteen. Since their album, The '59 Sound came out in 2008, I was mostly sold. Brian Fallon's tortured, world-weary vocals are iconic. And the lyrical content is about love, life and success versus failure, all in a very middle-America way. This isn't heady dance music, it's straight up, aggressive power punk/rock. This was bound to be a good show. And what's more, I lucked into the ticket. A last minute invite from my buddy Sean that was a welcome gift/surprise.

I decided, though, that if the show sucked, I'd start with the admittedly lame statement: "You can't spell Gaslight Anthem without 'a slight.'" This was made easier to consider as the show went on because of an obscured Dead-esque skull and crossbones on a black banner, with Gaslight written in a biker-rock font. Due to a larger concert-goer, and I'm by no means difficult to obscure in a crowd, standing squarely in front of me, only to keep backing up, while performing violent arm raises and that power-pointing-toward-the-stage thing that represents agreement with the lyrics and a passion for the music, I couldn't see much of anything. I could see "aslight" for a while, hence the thought, but the good news is that the point is moot, if great at filling a little space here.

Gaslight Anthem was very strong, playing a good mix of work from The '59 Sound and the newest American Slang. They were powerful and grinding, and just played and played. There wasn't a lot of chitchat, just music. And they played 5 songs in encore, a notable amount, considering that they didn't milk the encore situation for more than two minutes. They played their set, left, took a breath and came back out to play more. It was refreshing and it was also just a phenomenally good show by a band that is exponentially heavier live than they are on a produced album. The impression given by the studio work is that the band plays thoughtful, semi-fast paced, contemplative rock. In practice though, they shred, with speeding, pounding, grinding guitar playing. It's a very different experience, and one that is really essential to properly appreciate Gaslight Anthem as a band.

The other acts, Chamberlain and Tim Barry both provided a similar powerful sound, though more in an emo-country, and country-rock style, respectively. The crowd wasn't as warm to them, something I always find problematic. If, as an audience member, you are not prepared to be there, to listen and to appreciate the fact that these bands are here to perform for you, then you should just hang out at the bar and shoot the shit there. I don't mean, of course, that all conversation is bad, but when a full auditorium of people doesn't clap unless the current act mentions the headliner, that's pretty inconsiderate and just poor audience participation. I'll admit, I didn't know those two bands either, and I didn't have the full capacity to appreciate their work, and in a lot of ways, they don't create the kind of music I'm currently into, but I still respect and appreciate what they do. It takes an incredible amount of courage and love of music to go up on a stage. Audience gripes aside, this was a hell of a show. Live music is rarely a disappointment, and Gaslight, et al., did not let us down.
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Jamie Lidell - Compass

Fans of Jamie Lidell will surely enjoy Compass, his newest release, because it holds onto (and upgrades) a lot of digital effect-driven soul-pop that made him famous with 2005's Multiply. Compass re-raises the stakes after Lidell's more reserved, straightforward presentation on Jim, but for all it brings back in the heavy-beat, crunchy electronic department it also lacks the distinct catches and hooks, and memorable choruses that populated Multiply. Instead, Lidell produces a series of cool (both in spirit and in pace) songs that keep the new album moving forward in a more shoe-gazey way. What made Lidell most desirable, a sort of unapologetic attachment to dance and soul sounds drifts greatly out of the picture, replaced with rock vignettes that don't seem to be in any hurry to reach a goal, or even wrap themselves up clearly or completely. This could be part of the titular compass that Lidell's using to find direction, but at times it seems that the needle is spinning in a magnetic vortex, lost more than stable.

Opening with a mostly Multiply-era dance track in "Completely Exposed," Lidell barks with a heavy-distortion musical backdrop that sets a tone of ceaseless grinding, but also exclaims a subtle vulnerability, seeming to say, "This is what you know of me, but things are going to change." It's a great song to start the album off, rooting itself in the previous Lidell canon. But it's followed by "Your Sweet Boom," which has a very similar sound, despite its slowed speed, and is littered with tiny guitar riffs and a distinctly Beck-ish aspect that is clearly due to his hand in the album's production. "She Needs Me" feels like a mix between a classic Al Green track and synth-driven '80s projects. There even seems to be a little hint of The Police in there. And then "I Wanna Be Your Telephone" deviates toward the other end of things, less soulful, more dance, and more glitchy touches. And the repetition of the track's title as a lyric in a whispery tone that doesn't really grab the listener in a tangible way. Really, it's a hit-esque song that misses by using too many extraneous sounds to make up for a lack of lyrical and melodic ingenuity. Luckily, "Enough's Enough" drops back into Lidell's soul wheelhouse by presenting a classic "lover wondering where he stands with his lady" song. The track demonstrates the same repetition as some of the others, but has a little bit of a Jackson 5 quality, multiple vocals and a call-and-response style with bright instruments. It's, perhaps, the best song on the album.

Lidell turns to the second third of the album with the bluesier "The Ring," a song about both commitment and being possessed by love. And then the straight '70s grind-rock, "You Are Waking" populated with distorted guitar riffs, and fast, marching drums. Another great song because Lidell succeeds through the experiment vocally by letting the song's tone and heavy production drive it, rather than sing it to success. "It's A Kiss" is sweet, and well done, but less than memorable, and "Compass" is a little too melodramatic. Then "Gypsy Blood" combines, and pretty seamlessly, the R&B vibe with the building rock vibe. "Coma Chameleon" a track co-written by Lidell and Beck, blends their styles thoughtfully. It's a fine song, and yet I'm slightly averse to it simply because of the "Karma Chameleon"-like title. The song doesn't touch on anything Culture Club, and that sort makes it seem self-aware. Like a speed metal band doing a song called "Cashmere" that never even touches on the Led Zeppelin classic of similar pronunciation. "The Big Drift" is a serious treat, though slower, because it blends Lidell with Beck, Leslie Feist and Lindsay Rome in a chorus that's both enchanting and eclectic. "You See My Light" closes the album on a peaceful, quiet, and somewhat sad note for an album that feels all over the place and mostly mid-up beat.

So, is Compass a success? Yes and no. For a Lidell fan like myself, it's a great addition to his catalog, but also one that feels a little haphazard. With Beck, and Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor involved in the production, it feels unclear who possesses the album creatively. Lidell did write the majority of the tracks, but he also appears to be actively pulled in opposing directions. If all of these diverse styles created stellar songs, something big and unexpected, then it would be a whole success, but the album isn't as memorable as past Lidell work, and that's a problem. It's great project, with a lot of hits, but some subtle misses, so Compass isn't a must have, but it is a worthy edition to any Lidell fan's collection, or any fan of soul/R&B/rock fusion. Just don't look for a consistent message.

Score: 7/10
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Words On Film: Inception

Warning: I'll caution right now. Don't read this post about the new film Inception if you want to avoid any spoilers. I am going to do my damnedest to avoid overt information spillage, but to touch on some of the nuances of the film, and its themes, I will have to give away a bit here and there. That said, join me if you still want below.

Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Ken Watanabe, among others (Ooh... Michael Caine). The film, directed by noted noir super-director Christopher Nolan, follows DiCaprio and his cohorts in their work as dream-jumping, sub-conscious exploring thieves. These people are like the upper-level secret agent/thieves from any traditional heist movie, but their setting is what sets them apart. The film opens with DiCaprio and Gordon-Levitt working a job in an ornate Japanese castle. But, we're not necessarily in that castle, or anywhere near it. In fact, we may be in a small, dilapidated apartment nearly under siege by protesting rioters. And then again, we may be just about anywhere at any time throughout Inception. And that's pretty much the big (BIG) question Nolan's film poses throughout. Where are we? What are we? And what is real?

DiCaprio stars as a complex, dream-crawling prodigy who takes on an impossible sounding mission out of desperation named Dom Cobb. He is the best at what he does, but he's also deeply haunted by several issues from his past. Gordon-Levitt is his partner, a talented man in his own right, and also the all-business, straight man for any situation. Ellen Page is recruited to the team for the big job, as a talented designer of dreamscapes, building a world that is both fantastic and logical for the subconscious. The plot, more or less, follows any traditional heist noir, but the set pieces have the incredible opportunity to dazzle and show a world that seems conceivable in principle, but looks amazing in execution.

Fans of Nolan's Dark Knight, among other films, will see the same visual aptitude and exemplary shot design. There are several moments that cannot be forgotten and drive pace of the film more than dialog ever could. Inception is a film-lover's movie. And Nolan excels at presenting something visually stunning. The only problems with Inception come in the writing, which occasionally features dialog driven to explain the scenario too obviously. An extended scene with DiCaprio and Page comes to mind. But, it's a tall order for any writer to present the litany of new (and some old) ideas about dreaming without providing some direct exposition. In the same way that Memento required some moments of "This is what's happening, just so you know, audience," Inception has its flat points. Still, the elaborate design and heady concepts of the film, including an ending that will have anyone thinking/talking for days to come make it a must see.

Inception asks us repeated to question what is real. Is the world we live in daily real? Is the world dream actually the real one? Is there any difference? It brings to mind the Zhuangzi quote, "Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man." That's largely the crux of the film. There is action, sure, and excellent suspense, but Inception is about questioning reality, how far in or out of reality any one can go safely, and whether or not the real is as significant as we believe it is.
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Words On Film: Predators

Apparently, the modern actor uses just one device when it comes to creating a persona of menacing, tough guy extreme: the two-octave drop, vocal growl. Christian Bale started it with his gravelly-voiced Batman, and in Predators, Adrian Brody uses a combination of weight-lifting and grunty speech to develop his super-mercenary leader type. The good news is that Brody drops the act about 2/3 into the film, when his character finally opens up to his fellow "prey," all castaways on the terrible planet of the Predators.

The film opens strong with a mid-fall shot of Brody attempting to figure out an alien parachute mechanism. This thrilling bit, which is also remarkably well shot and creative marks one of the high points of actual suspense in the film. When Brody's mercenary meets up with other rogue's gallery members from various parts of the world, and Topher Grace playing a very Eric Foreman-esque doctor, he quickly figures out why they are where they and what they have in common. But he doesn't say. And for most of Predators, the suspense is formed by that very device. Characters will say just enough to let you know that they obviously know what's up, but they don't finish that sentence. Really though, any discerning or vaguely conscious audience member is with them, if not steps ahead. But, Predators seems built this way on purpose, intentionally suspense-less as it plays into all the traditional B-movie action stereotypes.

The band of warriors, all "predators" on their home planet of Earth, find themselves on a new, night-less planet run as a game preserve for the Predators race who long ago took out Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura, but couldn't get Arnold. What happens next is a series of "who's the next to die" moments that boil down precisely how you'd imagine, with the most developed and most unlikely characters making it the longest. All the deaths are brutal, though only two are extremely memorable. Someones skull and spine get torn out, so there's that. And there's an all too short moment with Laurence Fishburne that adds some small laughs and a lot of strange contrivance. The film succeeds, though, because it doesn't try to be anything big, and does everything it does with minimal use of CGI, something that's very appreciated in a time when any and all action movies throw clumsy graphics around.

There's a twist too, but it doesn't make a lot of sense when it's never completely set up. It's more of a mystery that had potential to be interesting, but never quite got there, and then ends, joyfully in an explosion. Predators is just a fun action callback to the original film. It doesn't try to break new ground or even define its world. Instead it plops the audience down in the world they kind of already know and gives them what they want, alien warrior violence with no heady-high-concept aftertaste.
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The Books - The Way Out

Consider yourself welcomed to The Way Out in the customary late-'70s, early-'80s video textbook style demonstrated/lampooned most recently in the Adult Swim show Look Around You. The Books invite, and prepare the listener from track one to enter into a different, strange, pseudo-scientific place. That's the mission statement of "Group Autogenics I," but even more, it's a track that welcomes The Books back from a five year hiatus of sorts. It's also the most complacent, straightforward track offered over the course of their new release. "IDKT" throws a creepy dollhouse menagerie of twinkling notes into the mix, with the sounds of delicate pirouettes and safe, well-planned dance steps. Leading into "I Didn't Know That," presumably the actual track, which operates in a sort of illustrious standard-rock-song-nervous-breakdown mode. "A Cold Freezin' Night" then features repetitive sampling of children promising acts of violence against one another. It's a call to all the bullying that exists in youth, and on through adulthood, and the chaos of the track bolsters the samples' claims. It's a disorienting melange to be sure, but one that guides the album into the beautiful, choral, near miraculous "Beautiful People."

"Beautiful People" makes the first third of the album. It's a soft, lush and orchestral offering that roots the album, which to The Books' credit, has been primarily (and very clearly artistically chosen to be) chaotic and incongruous. "Beautiful People" is angelic in a completely non-religious way. It commands admiration, compassion and deep, thoughtful breathing. And it functions well to prime the ears for "I Am Who I Am" and "Chain of Missing Links," the latter of which calls back to the opening track, and also very intriguingly links (like in the song's title) disparate aspects of meditative recordings, textbook recordings, and runs on the idea that we're all not using all the resources available to us, mentally, physically, etc., because there is after all, more room for food. "All You Need Is A Wall" is the albums center, in track number and in a sort of sweetness, vulnerability sense. The track features Nick Zammuto at his vocal best, with an acoustic guitar, and the backing cello of Paul de Jong driving a sweet, contemplative track that feels like honey, and is inherently human among a sea of electronic-infused songs.

It's a good thing, that sweetness exists, because the telephone call/answering machine message bombardment of "Thirty Incoming" is a polar opposite. It runs on a catchy beat, hooky guitar and cello pieces and messages left by various men via phone, the initial being the most unsettling/sweet. The Books force the listener to question what their "characters'" motivations are for this song (although it seems true with most) and guess the meaning/value of each sample. These aren't just telephone messages, their audio snippets of lives, Polaroids of moments. The Books give us a note from Gandhi, which lives easily up to the track title, then and load up the cavernous, plodding and gentle "We Brought The Flood" (a track that immediately reminds me of Plus/Minus in the quieter stuff from Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album). The album closes with solid work on "The Story of Hip-Hop," the folksy ballad "Free Translator" (a truly sweet song that draws the disc into a palatable denouement), and the closer "Group Autogenics II," which closes with the sentiments of self-help pseudo-science that opened the album. The notable sample states, "You are a work of art." And it couldn't be more true. And there's more food imagery... the idea of self-esteem as mutable.

The Books provide something chaotic and diverse with The Way Out. The album is like a thousand disparate voices calling for attention at the same time, with music and cements it all a hopeful demand for self-growth. You'd be hard pressed to find another album in 2010 that asks for so much from the listener, but also readily prepares a palette of thoughts and colorful sounds to spread across the aural canvass. It's work to listen to, and a loving piece of art.

Score: 8/10
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Wolf Parade - Expo 86

After the relative disappointment of At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade's new release Expo 86 arrived with a sort of day-before-Christmas kind of anticipation. The surprise of their new album is that it stretches the spectrum of their careers, rather than marching ceaselessly forward (don't worry, the drums still drive you aurally forward) or recessing to their garage-band beginnings on Apologies to the Queen Mary. Instead, it's an '80s-infused rock masterpiece, with a bit of synth here and there, and all the expected (demanded?) guitar heroics. Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner provide more disjointed vocals of impeccable lyrics, showing that the dry and low-key leanings of Zoomer were not the band's new direction, and also proving that among their litany of side projects, they still have a special place in their hearts for the original band. Of course, that's what the album title and artwork imply too. Expo 86 references the 1986 World's Fair (technically a mini-fair) held in the boys' home country of Canada, though specifically in Vancouver. There was a monorail there! If that's not confirmation enough of the album's desire to time-travel back a bit, I don't know what is.

The opening track "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain" speaks mostly to early Wolf Parade, a hooky, drum-driven, chanting-chorused welcome wagon that feels like some of Krug's most recent work with Sunset Rubdown. It's thick with a song-long build that takes the sparse beginning to a place lush with a cacophony of instruments and finishes with a fade-out guitar roar. "Palm Road" juxtaposes the opener with a more solemn, sweet song of travel and journey that's laden with hope, but also a heavy helping of doubt. The chorus, repeating the song's title with increasingly tired whelps, speaks the song's fears as much as the verse lyrics. And that's precisely the subtle touches that Wolf Parade seemed to be glossing just an album ago. "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" has the strongest hook of the album, grabbing you from note one and ripping at your senses with its disjointed clatter. It also features the line "I've got a sandcastle heart/ made out of fine, black sand./ Sometimes it turns into glass when shit gets hot." It's possible that it is the best song on the album, but I hate to make such an assertion when the whole album is phenomenal. And because "Little Golden Age" is just as good, or better. See, if there was a problem with Expo 86 is that it's too great. Every corner turned is another classic, raucous-but-thoughtful Wolf Parade song. The album closes extremely strong too, reminiscent of Apologies, which featured the deadly "I'll Believe In Anything," "It's a Curse," "Dinner Bells," and "This Heart's on Fire" closing set. "Two Men in New Tuxedos" leads off a final four that excels in completing the disc. "Oh You, Old Thing" is my favorite "sad/slow" song on the album, but "Yulia" and "Cave-O-Sapien" are both stellar in their own rights as well.

Bottom line, Expo 86 is a return to form, and a return to the past for Wolf Parade. It's also potentially their best album, a declaration I'd never thought I'd make. I assumed their greatest work had happened, but this is a new day dawning. This is a new album that captures all of the disillusion, lovelorn-hope, and disjointed composition that made Wolf Parade essential five years ago. There's no filler, no crap. Just great music. Go pick it up.

Score: 9.5/10
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Jens Lekman - A Summer in 3/4 Time (remixes)

There are a couple of distinct camps, in my experience, when it comes to the music of Jens Lekman. Some friends I've talked to consider him to be cloyingly poppy, very nearly too theatrically melodramatic in his ups and downs on albums like Night Falls Over Kortedala the compilation Oh You're So Silent Jens. While I can understand their arguments, with the nonsensical lyrics and orchestral arrangements making "big deals" out of small things, I fall squarely into the opposite position. Lekman has the skill to thrill and pluck every emotional chord through mood as well as any other band/artist. And he does it with a capable self-awareness that distances him from an emo tag that would lay an additional sappiness on his work. On Friday, my friend John pointed me to Lekman's website/blog Smalltalk, on which Lekman has posted a free downloadable compilation of remixes called A Summer in 3/4 Time. On the "album" Lekman marries 13 songs all in 3/4 (and in some cases 6/8) time from Au Revoir Simone, The Morning Benders, Chad & Jeremy, Peter Drake, Sharon O'Neill and many more. The result is 28+ minutes of exceptional musical dialogue. One that wanders from pop happiness, to calm, contemplative coming of age narratives. And as this blog takes shape, the set of tracks has played through three times, looping, and there's no way I'd think of turning it off. It feels like summer. It feels like new directions, new places, all settled in a timeless shell.

Opening with the aforementioned Au Revoir Simone's "Shadows" from Still Night, Still Light, Lekman drops in a marching beat and some very Lekman-esque string arrangements that build the pace of a project that captures the self-discovery, journey and quiet wandering that comes so easily during summertime. Lekman manages to mix in a lot of sadness and big question mark moments, with some philosophical notes that give the mixes lovable gravity. Barbara Mason's "Oh How It Hurts" caps off the Au Revoir Simone opener perfectly, which lifts up into Thomas Mapfumo's "Madiro" a fast-paced track that unloads the heavy mood. The Morning Benders rolled into Mapfumo's song makes for a notable highpoint in the set. And from there the music holds strong, latching onto the sounds and images of summer, until the closing, chill-out track "Like A Sleep Blue Ocean" where it feels like a combination of a cooling summer night, or perhaps even the end of the season altogether.

A Summer in 3/4 Time is a photograph album of all the big summer moments, love lost, love found, dancing, hope, life, newness rolled into a single long-playing track. And Lekman's trademark sentimentality reigns supreme. This is a set of remixes that makes you happy and then sad and mostly contemplative. Since Lekman's main contribution comes in the form of arrangement, you never hear from him, but it remains clear that he has an incredible grasp on what music can do to our emotions, and how powerfully music joins with memory. This set feels like this summer, but it also feels like every summer I can recall: Warm, but fleeting and filled with irreplaceable memories.

Score: 9/10
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Efterklang - Magic Chairs

I'll admit that I picked up Efterklang's most recent album Magic Chairs based mostly on the cover artwork. I had never heard them, or heard of them. But the whole "courtyard-reflecting pool-streamers" aesthetic really grabbed me. I passed the album up several times, on many trips to the local exceptional record store Twist & Shout because I buy music mostly on lists that I write out prior to embarking on such a journey. Record stores are beautiful, but for me often overwhelming. There's so much to see and hear, so I operate in lists. The point is, Efterklang was never on my list. Never. Still. That album artwork. And eventually, when I was looking to round out a purchase I decided to give them a quick listen at one of the huge-headphoned stations in the store. After quickly sampling the first few tracks, I picked it up. And I don't regret my choice, though Magic Chairs is an album of "mood music" rather than the mood-altering dance, or empowering hybridized upbeat stuff recently reviewed here. Efterklang, out of Copenhagen, Denmark, is like the European The National/Grizzly Bear, with a healthy helping of twinkling piano keys and thundering, deadened drums.

Magic Chairs opens with its most powerful track, a song called "Modern Drift" that fondles the line between upbeat and careful self-deprecation. There's a lot of piano and electronics running the show. Then the more downbeat stuff arrives, but not depressingly. "Alike" and "I Was Playing Drums" have that anthem quality found in early-mid-era Radiohead, and pacing that holds your interest without really lifting you up or motivating you. It's beautiful music. Strings enter, especially in "I Was Playing Drums" and these orchestral touches lend the music an air of sincerity and seriousness. "Raincoats" follows with a spare arrangement of muted claps, quiet vocals and some electronic touches that seems odd in the "four-spot" on albums that is often coveted as a place for another essential track. Vocalist Casper Clausen plays with his singing in mostly effective ways, allowing his voice to wane to a strained falsetto on "Harmonics," which features a very Grizzly Bear style backing vocal track... and a melody composed entirely of harmonics, tickled out of a distant guitar. "Full Moon" features Clausen pulling a sincere '80s pop, Sting-esque inflection for a song that feels displaced in time. The song has the dramatic qualities of theater, and lots of the so-now-in '80s style, with a touch of Revolver-era Beatles.

Efterklang builds a lush and creative album. And they're adept at layers of electronic, vocals, strings, piano and subtle guitar. The only failing is that they open too strong. A "fast" opening track sets up the discs remaining cool pace to seem somewhat plodding. There are definite gems here and excellent musicianship. And truly, the album art is dreamy and ethereal, just as the music inside reveals itself to be. Fans of Grizzly Bear and '80s downbeat will surely enjoy Magic Chairs.

Score: 7/10
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