ALT-J — ‘Relaxer’
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Alt-J releases its third. I guess that’s “good” for established fans.
THE BAD: I nodded off there for a second.
THE NITTY GRITTY: That’s this band’s biggest problem. For all its banging rhythms, multi-layered atmospherics, vocal twitches courtesy of frontman Joe Newman and wild mood swings, Alt-J can’t seem to make music that’s inherently INTERESTING. The lyrics are forgettable, the melodies lackadaisical. And these regrettable conditions don’t seem to change much from record to record.
“Relaxer” is simply another gloomy collection that drifts out of focus and seeps into the wallpaper. This time, the lads added some subtle string arrangements and female guest vocals courtesy of Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell. These touches make tracks like “3WW” and “Pleader” kind of sweet; you almost want to revisit them. But when the band attempts injecting some much-needed life into the party, we get the proto-punk stupidity of “Hit Me Like That Snare.” You can’t win with these guys.
BUY IT?: Meh…probably another Alt-J worth skipping.
PHOENIX — ‘Ti Amo’
THE GOOD: French indie pop/rockers Phoenix come back with a colorful, multi-lingual sixth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Recorded in the band’s native country during a time of terrorism and social unrest, “Ti Amo” feels like one big, warm, fuzzy safe space. And that’s not a bad thing. While many indie rockers are confronting issues head-on, Phoenix chose instead to hit the dance floor while taking us on a whirlwind trip across Europe. It also creates a set that’s distinctly Phoenix while not strictly repeating any past work — a logical, refreshing progression.
Tracks such as “Tuttifrutti” and “Goodbye Soleil” are built on irresistible galloping grooves and overstuffed pink, fluffy melodies. More delicate bits, such as “Fior Di Latte” and “Via Veneto,” are swaying, synth-based swatches of new wave that are both hypnotic and painfully romantic.
“Ti Amo” makes it OK to simply feel good again. Close your eyes. Become lost in the streamlined flow of it all. Dance. Smile. It’s a beautiful day.
BUY IT?: Yes.
BLEACHERS — ‘Gone Now’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff releases his second effort as Bleachers.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The first Bleachers record, 2014’s “Strange Desire,” sounded different from Antonoff’s work with Fun; we heard a bit LESS pop and a little MORE rock. “Gone Now” sees some of Fun’s bubblier elements creeping back into the mix. The beats are more important, the guitars less so. Keyboards and horns are more prevalent. And those bold singalongs for which the guy is known play a bigger role this time. Throw in a few random spoken-word samples and “Gone Now” becomes a lot of fun (pun intended).
At the same time, though, it’s an album with recurring musical themes and reprises, making for a bold and complex structure. Antonoff wants us to smile and clap our hands (the rhythms and melodies sweep you away), but he’s also hoping we’ll think a little too. The trip is so vibrant though, you won’t mind putting in the extra effort.
BUY IT?: Yes.