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It's been a few years, and to be succinct, what we have here is another outstanding album by PJ Harvey. Upon first listen, I have to admit that I had some doubts. I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to be moved by this one, despite the intriguing circumstances: it's rather bleak, thematically striking, and more or less features her stunning To Bring You My Love band (John Parish and Mick Harvey). All it took was a few more listens to seal my opinion that Let England Shake is another Harvey classic to add to her already impressive cannon.
As is usually the case, this record is rather different from her previous releases. Vocally, Harvey tends to sing in a higher register - not unlike her approach in White Chalk, which is sonically where Let England Shake is the most similar. Both albums are brutally stark too, with death as an integral thread. The difference here, however, is where the former was devastingly personal with the issue of death relating to family and dying relationships, the new release deals with death in universally objective terms. The central theme this time around is war, especially as it relates to the history and politics of England.
This is probably an oversimplification, but it often seems that some bands are merely a great idea, and some bands are full of great ideas. Ideas are great, but they shouldn't be half-drawn caricatures simplified in order to sell, sell, sell. San Francisco's Papercuts is a band (the band being Jason Robert Quever and whoever and whatever he's playing with) with a lot of great ideas going on, echoing Moogs, the mnemonically unsettling Mellotron, shivering guitars, tape chopping, and apparitional (yet somehow apple-cheeked) vocals. Its pouty prettiness sure sells to me, but it doesn't appear to my ears anywhere near crypto-Warholian sold-out.
Having toured with Beach House, Grizzly Bear, and Camera Obscura (all like-minded bands in that they frolic wit song-form but still fulfill the emotional obligations of the songwriter), and gotten big ratings from the press (hello, 8.3 from Pitchfork for 2007's Can't Go Back; and "Good day, squire" for MOJO's four stars on last time's Can Have What You Want), I predict the California dream-rock of Fading Parade is soon going to find many a happy home. Get into it and perhaps get it out of your system early before you start hearing it in as many Barnes & Nobles and bistros as Teen Dream.
Seattle band Midday Veil, the core of which is vocalist and guitarist Emily Pothast and master synthesizer musician David Golightly, have happily bear-hugged with producer Mell Dettmer (whose CV includes Sunn 0))), Jesse Sykes, and Kinski) for their widescreen and elastic debut, Eyes All Around. This three-way marriage of heavenly voice, humming drone, and wizardly recording makes the full-length a spacious but stunning, sensual yet cerebral, mutation of song and space.
Created out of her struggle in coming to terms with the car-crash deaths of her parents a few years ago, Pothast carefully put the elements of Midday Veil together with Stockhausen-taught programmer and analog synth obsessive Golightly. As a form of meditation and a manual on a way to continue keeping on, you can hear this ontological battle in the clarity of the vocalized tracks ("Anthem," "Divide By Zero"), but also in the mindful instrumentation throughout.
When I was a very little man, probably three years old, my family took me to the circus. As I observed the caged lions and tigers, I confidently asserted that they were not ferocious beasts, but rather “people dressed up” as animals. Yes, I was a cynic even as a toddler.
In the days since its release, I’ve listened to Radiohead’s The King of Limbs between 40 and 50 times, which suggests two things: 1. I probably need a girlfriend and 2. I LOVE Radiohead. The latter point cannot be overstated - I’m so into them that, on more than one occasion, I’ve actually forgotten to breathe while taking in a new record. Suffice to say, I greeted news of their 8th LP with considerable enthusiasm.
The initial volley of songs on Limbs quickly make it known that the now-legendary Oxford quintet are not content to rest on their laurels. In Rainbows, Part II, this is not. While the warm, amorous aura of In Rainbows remains, Limbs has much more in common with the records that now make up the literal centerpiece of their career - Kid A and Amnesiac.
San Francisco's John Vanderslice has worked his subtle, unique, elegant, and memorable musical magic for about eight full-lengths' worth of material. But like many excellent writers who fill lit journals and staff picks sections of bookstores, I have always walked away from his releases craving a little more, I don't know, danger. Vision. More happy accidents. Less concern to detail, a greater chance things might fall apart.
White Wilderness is his collaboration with Minna Choi and the Magik*Magik Orchestra, and just what he needed to do after hitting his singer-songwriter peak with 2009's Romanian Names (his last album for Barsuk). I wasn't able to hear his self-released Green Grow the Rushes EP before this debut on Dead Oceans, but the modern classical elements and instruments used to unpack or bundle up the nine songs on White Wilderness really help to make it more compelling to me than any of his earlier releases.