Sights and Sounds

Sights and Sounds

by Mike Evans


Crazy Beats

SUN AIRWAY — Soft Fall
THE GOOD: Electronic Philly duo Sun Airway obliterates the Sophomore Slump.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Members John Barthmus and Patrick Marsceill introduced themselves a decade ago as part of another Philadelphia outfit, power pop band the A-Sides (their 2005 debut Hello, Hello released on Scranton’s own Prison Jazz Records). After those guys broke up, Barthmus and Marsceill remained musical partners and decided to go the computerized route.
Soft Fall is their second switched-on triumph, a record that once again combines chill wave, progressive and synth pop elements in a swirling concoction that washes over the casual listener or completely transfixes if one is paying strict attention.
Track like “Wild Palms” and “Black Noise” are tight confident pop gems; infectious melodies and rhythm-infused deliveries both irresistible. Instrumental pieces such as “Activity 2” and “Activity 3” work on a whole different level — their beats and electronic squiggles forming wraparound mixtures that are truly hypnotic. Take any one of these cuts, and it’s enticing. Put them all together, and Soft Fall becomes an overwhelmingly good whole. That doesn’t always happen with synthetic records.
BUY IT?: Yes.


KID KOALA — 12 Bit Blues
THE GOOD: Canadian DJ/producer/turntable artist Eric San (Kid Koala) changes styles again for his first full-length in six years.
THE BAD: Unless you’re a blues “purist,” absolutely nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Koala has always approached sampling and mixing with a wry sense of humor and an extremely open mind. Anything from children’s records to classical pieces is fair game. 12 Bit Blues finds the man stealing, manipulating, and conquering the blues. Records from the 1920s up to the 1970s are cut, scratched, dragged, reversed, and spun until they’re practically turned inside-out.
Yet there’s an undeniable authenticity running throughout this album. The piano riffs and little snippets of slide guitar are heavily sliced up or rubbed back and forth. The vocals slow down, speed up, and tend to wobble about. But you can still hear the emotion in the playing and the pain in those voices.
Not unlike what the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion does with volume and intensity to transform the blues into something radical, Koala does with turntables, samplers and mixing decks. It’s a different vibe, but the idea is the same.
BUY IT?: Yes.


CRYSTAL CASTLES — Crystal Castles (3)
THE GOOD: Producer Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass are back for another riotous go-round.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Maybe it’s a maturity thing, but the electronic duo’s third self-titled effort is easily their least confrontational and most hauntingly melodic yet. That’s not to say the two have mellowed. The new record still gets in your face with its fair share of hard-driving rhythms and buzzing synth lines. Glass remains an aggressive and unpredictable performer as well.
Yet there’s an underlying tranquility to a handful of these tracks. Opening cut “Plague” is a slow build with a lovely sense of dread straight out of some grainy Gothic horror film. Closer “Child I Will Hurt You” is almost soothing (almost); a rare CC moment not guided by a relentless thump.
In between, one gets the usual array of distortion, jagged riffs, jittery grooves and Glass’ distinct wail. Yet the melodies are sharper; the whole concoction more focused. The duo is simply getting better at what they do; their compositions beginning to outshine the production elements that bring them to life.
BUY IT?: Certainly.


COHEED AND CAMBRIA — The Aftermath: Descension
EELS — Wonderful, Glorious
JOSH GROBAN — All That Echoes
TIM MCGRAW — Two Lanes of Freedom

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