Sights and Sounds
by Mike Evans
BABES IN BLACK
MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS — Electra Heart
THE GOOD: Welsh singer Marina Lambrini Diamandis (stage name Marina and the Diamonds) returns with her second album.
THE BAD: Too ambitious?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Diamandis has a commanding vocal presence; her songs catchy bits of new wave-infused modern pop. The 2010 debut The Family Jewels was gripping, blurring the lines between indie cred and mainstream acceptance (OK, not so much mainstream acceptance here in the States).
Electra Heart could be more of the same, but you have to get past the multiple caricatures making up Marina’s “alter-ego” that supposedly carry the narrative. The woman wants to make an epic statement against modern celebrity and trash culture (or something like that) but only ends up with lyrical clichés in the process. I wanna drink until I ache/I wanna make a big mistake/I want blood, guts and angel cake. Meh … whatever.
Admittedly though, a lot of these cuts are highly addictive. Diamandis knows how to milk a great melody for every subtle nuance. I was stuck on lead single “Primadonna” for the better part of a week.
BUY IT?: Your call. Diamandis can do better.
DARK DARK DARK — Who Needs Who
THE GOOD: Minnesota indie folk outfit Dark Dark Dark is back with a moody third set.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band’s moniker truly describes the music’s vibe. Not “dark” in an evil or sinister sense, but rather “dark” in a mysterious, melancholy, and down-tempo manner. Lead vocalist Nona Marie Invie possesses a somewhat husky voice, commanding yet feminine. The band’s music is built upon layers of warm piano, splashes of woodwinds and brass, swirling accordion, and slight but steady rhythms. One can picture the outfit playing late into the night at some smoky club circa 1950 or during the final moments of a garden party just after the sun has set.
Who Needs Who wasn’t made under the most ideal conditions. Invie and DDD founder Marshall Lacount ended their long relationship just before the disc was written and recorded. But sometimes powerful music comes from emotional turmoil; Invie using the breakup to create some of the band’s most compelling songs yet. Tracks like “Tell Me” and “Without You” burst with feeling, everything coming together to paint grand pictures of love and loss.
BUY IT?: Absolutely.
BAT FOR LASHES — The Haunted Man
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Natasha Kahn (stage name Bat For Lashes) gives us a determined third set.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What started out as a D.I.Y. goth-pop project has blossomed into a fully fleshed-out and tastefully orchestrated tour-de-force. And Haunted Man is her best work yet. Kahn has never sounded more in control nor have her songs ever held so many musical surprises. One bounces from frothy beat-driven yet highly atmospheric tracks such as ‘Horses of the Sun” and “Oh Yeah” to stark intimate pieces like the piano heavy and vocally soaring “Laura.” Kahn makes it all sound effortless, but you can tell Haunted is the result of many hours of emotional chaos and brash experimentation.
It’s as if Kahn finally decided to make a GREAT album. Haunted establishes an air of both mystery and stirring passion over slowly building opener “Lilies.” For the better part of an hour, those intrinsic feelings never let up. The ghostly marches guiding the title cut, the otherworldly beauty of “Marilyn,” the eerie pop coloring “Rest Your Head” — all of it fantastic.
BUY IT?: Yes!