Print Edition: August 21, 2012
Purity Ring pairs innocuous and sinister body parts and innards, undermining traditional ideas of corporeal attraction and roles with sweet-sung lyrics (Megan James) over thudding drones (Corin Roddick) in a way that can be exciting—a reversal—but in album form becomes repeated and interchangeable. Where the constant drip of singles over the past year allowed the space for replays and hooks to claw in—”Fineshrine” and “Saltkin” do it most effectively here, but just about any track seems destined to stick around for days at a time—over the course of an album the uh-uh-uh-uh underwater space singing coagulates. By the tenth skeletal discharge synonym or belaboured pause/chop it’s hard to tell where exactly Shrines lies between thoughtful and inane, magnetic and chromium paste. The spoken rhyme/rap of “Cartographist” is the dark valley of the album, but early releases “Lofticries,” “Belispeak” and “Obedear” still stand out. The question for debut albums is often what will they have left for an encore, but on the basis of Shrines— intermittently imaginative but always limiting its reach to the concept sound of love of a dirge—Purity Ring’s single sound struggles to justify a single long play.
A Thing Called Divine Fits
An unexpected collaboration between Spoon’s Britt Daniels and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner was met with ecstatic anticipation from long-time fans but also that nagging bubble of anxiety triggered whenever people start bandying about the term “supergroup.” Despite Divine Fits’ impeccable credentials, pop music history is littered with disastrous examples of locking a couple of separately talented musicians into a dank studio and expecting (musical) fireworks. But here? It really works. Buoyed by New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown on drums and Alex Ficshel’s expert synthesizer work, Divine Fits have assembled a new wave-inflected collection of sleek pop/rock tracks that grooves and snakes its way around nervy percussive arrangements. Daniels and Boeckner’s distinctive styles turn out to be quite complementary. As they trade lead vocal takes, it’s merely two sides of the same jagged pop aesthetic. Daniels’ spitfire bursts of distortion and knack for stripped-down bridges, and Boeckner’s deep synth grooves often bleed their way onto the others’ compositions. Nowhere is this more evident than on the Boeckner-sung “What Gets You Alone,” which resembles Spoon’s recent output. In an album full of modestly presented delights, Daniels’ cover of The Young Charlatans’ “Shivers,” provides a chill-inducing highpoint.
Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE falls under the surreal, yet equally compelling phenomenon of pop artists debuting their talents through introspective and emotionally-fuelled albums. Fortunately for 24-year-old Ocean, his velvet smooth voice and throwback R&B style are a breath of fresh air for a genre barely breathing. Channel ORANGE showcases an assortment of narratives, some of which seem autobiographical, while others feel like unconscious fantasies. The songs vary thematically, almost to the point where they don’t feel interconnected, however the album is based around the concept of channel surfing. Whether channel ORANGE swings through the naive bliss of “Sweet Life” and “Super-Rich Kids,” the impassioned ballad “Bad Religion,” or the phony advertisement “Fertilizer,” the breadth of Frank Ocean’s vision is cohesive enough to keep the album from feeling like a scattershot collection of singles. Ocean is a wordsmith, and his stunning lyrics and imagery throughout channel ORANGE are uniformly detailed, grand, complex and unpredictable as the brilliant production hums and glides on his effortless vocals. In addition to being this year’s most dreamy debut release, channel ORANGE remains the most appealing as well.
Local singer-songwriter-guitarist Bobby Wieler’s self-entitled EP proves that great things can indeed come out of Chilliwack besides fresh corn. In the tradition of soft rock artists such as John Mayer, Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson, Bobby Wieler has a smooth, upbeat yet soulful sound, full of tight guitar riffs, potent pop-hooks and a voice destined to melt girls’ hearts across the Fraser Valley. Unlike typical small-town solo acts, Wieler has shied away from crooning trite pop ballads and instead debuts powerfully with strong, catchy rhythms, melodic vocals and simple yet appealing lyrics. The one slow song of the album, “Time of Dismay,” is striking, full of haunting beauty and reminiscent of John Mayer’s Room for Squares, while retaining Wieler’s own unique sound. Tracks “Fade Away” and “I Want the Sunshine” particularly highlight Wieler’s superb blues guitar skills and gifted song-writing abilities, but undoubtedly the first track “Midsummer Day Dreaming” is the best song on the album; even though this is Wieler’s first EP, already this catchy, uplifting song has the potential of becoming a strong pop hit. If this is only Wieler’s beginning, one can only anticipate his bright future.