Monday, July 12, 2010

Quick Reviews: Sleigh Bells, Flying Lotus, Crystal Castles

At this point in Cassette Musique’s storied career, it is becoming almost tradition to go ungodly amounts of time in between posts. Fearful of breaking said tradition, I have anxiously withheld new material from the blog. That is, until now.

You’re welcome.

To help satiate the masses, here are three fantastic records that I have been abusing (i.e., overplaying, I would never hurt these records) this summer so far.

Sleigh Bells
Release Date: May 11, 2010
Mom + Pop/N.E.E.T.

Prepare for utter auditory numbing, in the best possible way. Sleigh Bells have crafted a superb debut album, centering around the core tenants that make popular music just that: It’s loud and it’s catchy-as-fuck. However, what separates Sleigh Bells from Top 40 schlock is oft-lacking originality. Quite frankly, this is a very fresh-sounding album.

In the crudest sense, Treats plays like eleven “Hollaback Girl” or “Mickey” cheerleader jams: Most songs feature the requisite stomp-and-handclaps, but the drums and bass are explosive and the guitars are simply paralyzing. The female vocals of Alexis Krauss are nothing extraordinary, as she intersperses yelling into her normal detached delivery, but the effect works wonderfully with the music.

In essence, Treats does not beg much description. It is mostly straightforward, and probably possesses one of the lowest barriers to entry for an album. The listener is immediately pummeled with the machinegun intro of “Tell ‘Em”, and it rarely lets up afterward. “Infinity Guitars” lives up to expectations, ending with some seriously hard axework, courtesy of Derek Miller of Poison the Well. “A/B Machines” is reminiscent of a noisy, lo-fi “Rockefeller Skank”, pounding its one line into the listeners head amidst the bountiful jangling guitars and handclaps. “Rill Rill” is the one break from the noise, as it slows things down a bit to create a fantastic, laidback summertime jam.

As unlikely as it may seem, at least in writing, Treats in its entirety is the perfect summer album. That is, it is the perfect volume-up, windows-down album, the album that should provoke involuntary headbanging and endless air guitar, wherever it’s heard. Simply put, Treats is one of the most refreshing and downright fun albums (and debuts) of the year, hands down. 4.5/5.

Flying Lotus
Release Date: May 3, 2010
Warp Records

Steven Ellison may have made his own genre of music with Cosmogramma. It effortlessly blends electronic, jazz, hip-hop and all sorts of sound effects to create its signature sound. Songs freely flow from one to another, creating a true album that almost defies having standout individual tracks.

However, there are a few distinguishable moments. “…And The World Laughs With You” sounds like an outtake from The Eraser, featuring a (welcoming!) Thom Yorke sample that is subtle as Ellison does his musical magic around it. “Do The Astral Plane” comes closest to a bonafide single, both in length and structure, as the strings, clicking, synth blips and elements of jazz congeal into a whimsical, workable piece. Fulfilling its title to the best of one’s imagination, “Dance of the Pseudo Nymph” implies a fanciful forest dance of mystical creatures around a fire (…or something.) Similarly, “Table Tennis” utilizes a surprisingly effective ping-pong backing as Laura Darlington’s dreamy vocals work in front of it.

Isolating an individual track from Cosmogramma actually weakens it, extracting it from its overall context of the album, which almost paradoxically seems to lack strict cohesion. However, it is the free flow, the spillover effect of songs, and the myriad of sounds at play at any given time that truly encapsulates the listener. It would be difficult to find a more interesting and intriguing work than Cosmogramma this year, a truly experimental effort that demands repeated listens. 4/5

Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles
Release Date: April 23, 2010
Fiction Records

No sophomore jinx at play here. Proving that they can transcend the hype and controversy surrounding their solid debut effort, Crystal Castles have improved upon their initial sound in almost every conceivable fashion. Shying away from the gimmicky, glitchy side and instead focusing more on a more emotive, atmospheric sound that proves that they are no one-trick ponies.

As with any great album, Crystal Castles never gets stale at any point, staying inventive the whole time (except for perhaps its screamingly creative title). One of the clear-cut standouts is “Celestica”, which is a brilliant display of maturity for the band, exhibiting Alice’s dreamy vocals behind a borderline atmospheric, new-wave backbone. “Baptism” manages to work in the 8-bit card, blipping away in the forefront until the buildup of the pre-chorus and chorus, which comes off almost industrial even though it is entirely electronic. They even manage to make a Sigur Rós sample into “Year of Silence” quite nicely, as it gels with the whole spacey, dancy vibe the song emits. The string of successive, successful songs rolls on with “Empathy” and “Suffocation”, the latter of which is reminiscent of emotive M83 electronica, flatly showcasing yet again the growth at play all throughout the album.

In fact, the album almost never stops churning out the gems, making one’s favorite song prone to change frequently with increased listens. Most of the songs are dense, often times menacing and, quite simply, intoxicating. They may not feature the striking immediacy of a majority of their debut’s tracks, but the songs are more rewarding and engaging this time around. The second Crystal Castles is an impressive sophomore effort in every respect of the word, remaining constantly infectious while showing marked signs of improvement, as well. Who would have thought something like this would have derived from Canada?! 4.5/5

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