FREE ENERGY — Love Sign
THE GOOD: Philadelphia indie pop outfit Free Energy stumbles on their second effort.
THE BAD: By-the-numbers music is never a grand source of stimulation.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band’s 2010 debut, the James Murphy-produced Stuck on Nothing, was a funky rock album that didn’t break any rules, but at least left a lasting impression. Now Murphy has been replaced by John Agnello (Son Volt, Dinosaur Jr., the Hold Steady). And while that flip certainly offers a new vibe, something’s missing.
Murphy’s grooves? Better songs? A compelling reason to play all of Love Sign a second time? I don’t know. The new record is an extremely uneven affair. A couple of tracks take hold with their directness and easy-breezy hooks. The one-two punch of “Hey Tonight” and “Hold You Close” is especially enticing. But even these moments feel too calculated and devoid of any real thrust and/or emotion.
Love Sign is not disagreeable, it’s just upbeat background stuff that flies in one ear and leaks out the other. You kind of liked what you heard but don’t immediately crank it up again.
BUY IT?: Meh … your call.
TORO Y MOI — Anything in Return
THE GOOD: North Carolina indie musician/producer Chaz Bundick (stage name Toro Y Moi) is back with his most ambitious yet.
THE BAD: No real complaints. Just remember that Bundick focuses on the groove.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Any Toro Y Moi record is more about conjuring up an atmosphere and less about genuinely fantastic songs. Bundick is good, really good, at establishing a mood. Combining elements of chillwave, indie pop and retro funk, the guy makes slick background jams custom-made for overpriced clothing boutiques and ultra-hip midtown bars. Need some modern upbeat stuff for next week’s art gallery opening? Toro’s got you covered.
Anything is the guy’s third full-length and his most driven; a record that’s less “chill” and more bottom end. The sounds are more layered too; Bundick not shying away from choppy vocal loops and thick scratchy rhythms now and again. Individual songs are irrelevant; what matters most is that all the pieces flow together seamlessly.
BUY IT?: Yes. Newbie or not, Anything is solid. Returning fans will be pleased with the progression. The uninitiated get a good place to start.
RA RA RIOT — Beta Love
THE GOOD: Syracuse indie rockers Ra Ra Riot come back with their third.
THE BAD: There’s a musical shift, and maybe not a welcome one.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The jittery string-laced indie pop of the band’s first two records has been replaced with a slicker more synth-based sound. Blatant bid for the mainstream? Perhaps not, but there’s a definite “Hey, Fun did it, so why can’t we?” vibe sugar coating these new cuts.
Blasting through 11 tracks in just over 30 minutes, RRR churn out an upbeat calculated set that feels more “planned” and less emotional than more rustic previous efforts. Songs like “Dance with Me” and “Is It Too Much” are quick and catchy; snappy instant gratification of the highest caliber. Big hooks and surging beats are ever-present. But it all feels hollow. Individual tunes become interchangeable.
And once this mix is over, any possible lasting impression immediately fades away.
BUY IT?: Your choice. It’s easy to enjoy Beta Love on some level. But the record doesn’t leave you counting the days until the band unveils their fourth.
NEW RELEASES — CD
GOLD FIELDS — Black Sun
EMMYLOU HARRIS AND RODNEY CROWELL — Old Yellow Moon
KMFDM — Kunst
JOHNNY MARR — The Messenger
SHOUT OUT LOUDS — Optica
WOODPIGEON — Thumbtacks and Glue
NEW RELEASES — DVD
CHASING MAVERICKS with Gerard Butler and Elisabeth Shue
THE MASTER with Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman