Sights & Sounds: New Noise

CRYSTAL STILTS – In Love with Oblivion

THE GOOD: Brooklyn noise-pop outfit Crystal Stilts completely avoid the sophomore slump.

THE BAD: Oblivion is a multi-layered chunk of modern garage-psyche, where distorted guitars play against echo-heavy vocals over surf-tinged rhythms. Bad? Hardly. Just realize what you’re getting into before taking that giant leap forward.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Brad Hargett doesn’t exactly stretch his vocal range on this outing; his usual “low notes growl” intact behind an impenetrable atmosphere. Heavy guitars, retro keyboards, and a serious rhythmic thud carry that vocal drone to mysterious unexpected places throughout Oblivion; the album both tripped-out and spooky.

But Oblivion’s true strength is its songs; many tracks simply three-minute AM-radio flashbacks in disguise. Check out the one-two punch of “Through the Floor” and “Silver Sun” and then try to resist the infectious hooks buried beneath the din. Perhaps the record’s coolest moment though is “Shake the Shackles” – a heavily compressed thumper whose sound closely resembles the later more guitar-driven work of legendary producer Joe Meek. It’s as if the British wunderkind came back from beyond the grave to do one more mix.

BUY IT?: Yes.

BLACK LIPS – Arabia Mountain

THE GOOD: Georgia garage punks Black Lips return with a focused sixth album.

THE BAD: I don’t want to call this record “tight,” but every song has a clearly defined sense of purpose. The boys worked with outside producer Mark Ronson (Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Kaiser Chiefs) and he gives the set a real rhythmic drive. Some may have a problem with that; Mountain much more polished than 2009′s muddled and murky 200 Million Thousand. But I’m certainly not ready to cry “Sell out!”

THE NITTY GRITTY: Black Lips haven’t lost their attitude or sloppy aesthetic. Despite its slight sheen, Mountain still sounds like a spontaneous session cranked out during a riotous weekend filled with booze and multi-colored pills. But the melodies are better and the backbeats more pronounced. The guys also turn the retro surf and psychedelic pop vibes way up. Lyrics reference everything from Spiderman to dumpster diving to backmasking on Judas Priest records so you know the Lips’ off-beat sense of humor is still intact. Combine all that with distorted guitars and go-go vibes and you can’t lose.

BUY IT?: Sure. Black Lips continue to “mature”…but in a good way.

TIMES NEW VIKING – Dancer Equired

THE GOOD: Lo-fi Ohio trio Times New Viking switches labels and recording techniques.

THE BAD: Dancer is a record of peaks and valleys.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Inspired by the likes of Guided by Voices and Sonic Youth, TNV used to record their music on cassette and eventually made the switch to VHS videotape (the term “lo-fi” definitely applies). Dancer, the group’s first release on Merge, is only their second album done in a proper recording studio. Indie purists need not worry though – there is still plenty of low hum and distortion to go around.

The record shows off the male/female balance between vocalists/multi-instrumentalists Adam Elliott and Beth Murphy; the two trading off vocal duties, keeping the emotional kick of these songs unpredictable. And there are some fine track here – noisy but driven melodic pieces such as “Ever Falling in Love” and “No Room to Live.”

As is usually the case with such DIY artists though, one has to expect the frequent experiment that bends the rules of both song structure and playing in general. Some fly, some fall flat.

BUY IT?: Despite some shortcomings…sure.

NEW RELEASES – CD

BLINK 182 – Neighborhoods

CHICKENFOOT – Chickenfoot 2

DUM DUM GIRLS – Only In Dreams

JANE’S ADDICTION – The Great Escape

SWITCHFOOT – Vice Verses

VHS OR BETA – Diamonds and Death

WILCO – The Whole Love

NEW RELEASES – DVD

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON with Shia LaBeouf and Tyrese Gibson