Print Edition: June 6, 2012
The Talking Heads describe heaven as “a place where nothing ever happens,” some place totally unthrilling and antithetical to the rock and roll spirit. But for The Walkmen, it represents a brimming and lively, if sepia-toned, transition to adulthood. While some might expect the title of the DC/NYC group’s seventh album in 10 years to likewise anticipate a disillusioned portrait of paradise, it’s a pretty honest appraisal of their fortunate lot. Over their last few records, The Walkmen have eased away from the raw immediacy of their earlier recordings into a stately grandeur that is not without its share of domestic trials to accompany the many causes for jubilation. Hamilton Leithauser’s impassioned drawl works wonders on “Song for Leigh,” a sweet and steady hymn to his daughter in which he pushes his voice to the verge of breaking on the refrain: “I sing myself sick about you.” The band’s steadily gathering confidence allows for moments of remarkable vulnerability like the broken “Southern Heart” that bring the familiar heart-pounding numbers like “Love You Love” into sharper relief. With Heaven, The Walkmen have found a way to age gracefully by writing honest and compelling music about their current stage in life. So why begrudge them a little well-earned happiness?
This isn’t a debut record for Jack White. Last April, White’s eldest brother, Ray, died suddenly at the age of 54. In a recent interview with Josh Eells of New York Times Magazine, White opened up about the importance of Ray in his life and how “Blunderbuss is dedicated to him.” Ray had lived as a priest, worked as a private investigator and at one point opened up a spy shop, all while having a close-knit relationship with his little brother Jack. Blunderbuss stands out as White’s most personal album to date as he examines what makes his relationships fail, along with other facets of his psyche, in the aftermath of tragic loss. The new-found maturity of his twelfth studio record is new but long overdue. The strange creative and emotional blend of White’s previous projects resonates throughout Blunderbuss, but it’s the country and rockabilly style from the Nashville setting that really starts to infiltrate his reputable sound. Third Man Records strikes again.
It starts with the scratch-hum of a record needle, a paradox, yet in tune with a thick strand of current electronic music that, as it pushes forward looking for the “next” beat, breakdown, dubstep remix, moment of ecstasy, frequently looks over its shoulder – collecting and collating and curating the old that contains what they’re looking for now. It takes a good four minutes and change of Origins for chiptune (re)arranger demoscene innovator 4mat (Matt Simmonds) to hit start, a design that apes that object from which his work’s design and construction pulls from: videogames. Simmonds recognizes the beauty of the now mostly lost aesthetic of videogames when they were sprites and bleeps, but doesn’t recreate it. Instead, Origins, like all of his albums—that’s four in the span of two years, as diverse an assemblage of the endlessly repeatable genre you’ll find—is an amalgam of familiar sounds, reconstructed into almost-dance, almost-trance tracks of all-buildup. Interrupted only by a phone-call and a short stream of vocals on album-clincher “Strobelights,” Origins races through Simmonds’s established repertoire, acknowledging and claiming the past, producing a present that continues to laugh at the “Chipmusic is dead” joke title on 2011’s Surrender.
ORBO and the Longshots
ORBO and the Longshots’ sixth album Prairie Sun offers listeners something smooth and summery that could easily have come out of Nashville or Memphis instead of Bergen, Norway. With the combined vocals of lead singer/songwriter ORBO (Ole Reinert Berg-Olsen) and Ine Tumyr, Prairie Sun takes off on a journey into the horizon with “Highway Tears,” a song which mirrors the album’s cover art. “High Grass Dog” and “Nights Don’t Belong To Us (No More)” welcome swaying and toe tapping in time with the snare. There isn’t much in the category of instrumental complexity, but the syrupy, country harmony of ORBO and Tumyr is the real success throughout the tracks. If you are looking for an album to compliment your Saskatchewan road trip this summer, Prairie Sun deserves a dusty sunset.