We recently made you a mixtape of new songs designed to be a distraction from the wrath of The Snowpocalypse (and the inevitable Shovelations) and to inspire you to take a brief mental, warm-weather “staycation.”
And normally that’s how we roll, allowing the sum of the parts — in this case, 10 songs by 10 different artists — to speak for the whole. But we have since come across, and played continuously (or is it continually, I can’t remember), two new full-lengths — by a band you may have heard about and one you may not — that should prove more compelling, on the whole. In fact, after a few spins of either, I suspect you may find yourself online, booking tickets to a wholly different dream getaway.
Be sure to click on the links below to sample the songs (open each as a new tab or window), and then follow the threads to find out where you can download them. Or you can listen to a playlist that features some of these songs along with a few others at the Scribbleskiff page on the 8tracks Web site. Just click HERE, open as a new tab or window, and let the music play as you read along. Enjoy!
Vampire Weekend, Contra. This young Brooklyn-based quartet swooped in at the end of 2008, seemingly out of nowhere, and whipped the blogosphere into a frenzy. They were quirky and likable, and they were instantly everyone’s “it” band. Then, just as suddenly, they weren’t, and spent much of last year dealing with — and, more likely, trying to avoid falling from — such great hype. Which may explain why their sophomore record is titled Contra: after suffering the joys and agonies of such a meteoric pop-music popularity contest they could (rightly) declare, “if you like us, and even if you don’t, you must be against us.” And that might also account for all the tropical island getaway references in their lyrics.
The band’s self-titled debut was lauded for its uniquely eclectic and upbeat, almost manic style — a mix of indie, pop, and world-beat, sort of like The Talking Heads covering Paul Simon’s Graceland. But it was also accused of being derivative, phony, and uneven. Their new one, however, should firmly establish Vampire Weekend as the genuine artifact. They have maintained some of the original’s playfulness and novelty, but the soundscapes on Contra are more expansive and balanced, with more complex instrumentation.
There isn’t a runaway hit on par with the whimsical “A-Punk.” But that one was almost too standoutish, compared to the rest. On Contra, in contrast, all the songs are standouts, in their own way. For instance, it’s the varying rhythms that make the first single, the jaunty “Horchata,” so fascinating. And while “Cousins,” “Holiday,” and “California English” riff on the giddiness and frantic pace established in the debut, other songs, such as “Taxi Cab” and “Diplomat’s Son,” trip along more leisurely, revealing a band happy to revel in the sounds they make. My favorite track, though, is “White Sky,” which combines all these elements, and more (including a groovy, birdlike falsetto chorus), and seems to sum up the LP’s overall sunny disposition.
Beach House, Teen Dream. Sometimes it takes me a couple of tries, and several different approaches, before I get hooked by a band. Beach House is a case in point. I have been hearing about this duo for several years, mainly because they are Baltimore-based, though I hadn’t heard much by them. The local college radio station played an occasional song, prompting me to grab the woozy “Gila” from their 2008 record, Devotion, which I liked. But that was it. Nothing else lured me to strike.
Until this winter, that is. First, I reeled in the podcast version of “Norway” in December, just ahead of the new release, Teen Dream. I took to it right away and played it repeatedly, sensing something was different. Then I saw them perform the album’s leadoff track, the stark, hazy “Zebra,” on the Jimmy Fallon show, and that was all it took. I swam over iTunes and threw myself on their hook, ready to be hauled in to shore.
What had changed? Well, their sound, for one thing. It’s always been unique but not all that different from other electronic/dream-pop/indie bands I drool over, such as Band of Horses or The Helio Sequence. And they openly kowtow to their droning psychedelic forebears, like The Velvet Underground and Mazzy Star, which I appreciate. Now, though, their echoey arrangements seem cleaner and richer, catchier and more melodic. But it’s singer Victoria Legrand’s voice — that voice! — that makes all the difference. She used to hold back, blending her vocals with the wash of vintage organs and guitars. On Teen Dream, she steps out of the shadows, sounding more mature and surprisingly sultry and vulnerable, the way Billie Holiday or Nico could. And she’s got a lighter, gutsier touch, like Grace Slick’s. As a result, songs like “Lover of Mine,” “Silver Soul,” and “10 Mile Stereo” can sound at times both ethereal and soulful, spacey and gritty, upbeat and bluesy. In other words, it’s the perfect music collection for some beachy, California (Md.?) dreaming.
As always, tell us what you think. Have you heard either of these new records? Or are there others that you think might help take our minds off winter? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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