31 March 2010

AMG review round-up, volume XVIII: the rest of 2009

{didn't quite make the list}

Y∆CHT: See Mystery Lights review
See Mystery Lights is YACHT's first album as a duo -- vocalist Claire Evans is now a full-fledged member alongside beatmaker/primary instigator Jona Bechtolt -- and their first for DFA Records. Though initially surprising, their shift from a tiny Portland indie to N.Y.C.'s premier independent dance label was in many ways eminently logical: YACHT's playful electronic beats, party-friendly eclecticism, off-kilter poppiness, and array of male/female, spoken/sung (mostly spoken) vocals already had a lot in common with the DFA sound, and particularly with the label's flagship act, LCD Soundsystem. (Their previous album's "Platinum," for instance, bore a more than passing resemblance to LCD's "Get Innocuous.") Musically speaking, the differences between See Mystery Lights and its predecessor are hardly dramatic: the songs are lengthier and fewer, the beats are tighter and more dance-oriented, but the same fundamental elements and energy are all still in place. And energy is key: if most of the DFA stable draws on a hip, wryly detached downtown aesthetic, YACHT's outlook is typically a good deal sunnier, embracing an ethos of childlike innocence and personal affirmation (with just a slight shading of artily ironic distance). Concurrent with this album (which was named for the paranormal optical phenomenon haunting their adopted home base of Marfa, TX), Bechtolt and Evans made things considerably more complicated (or, arguably, just more distracting) in that regard: declaring YACHT to be just a band, but also a Belief System; inviting anyone to "join" (via the online "YACHT trust"); issuing cryptic manifestos online and in print; displaying a conspicuous obsession with triangles; and propagating a series of aphoristic mantras (including one borrowed from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and, perhaps the most worrisome, "YACHT is not a cult") -- all adding an inscrutable, somewhat sinister undertone to their positivity.

Despite the mass of verbiage and iconography, it's hardly clear what they're getting at with all the quasi-occult trappings, apart from creating some marginally intriguing art, but thankfully understanding it is completely unnecessary for enjoying the music. The only album cuts with an overt lyrical connection to this pseudo-spiritual business are the first two numbers (both built around repeated nursery rhyme-like incantations about the afterlife) and "Don't Fight the Darkness," which turns the Maharishi's mantra into a loopy bit of sparse, Timbaland-ish IDM. Despite some reasonably inventive beat programming, they're probably the least interesting things here, sounding dry and labored in comparison to the freewheeling fun of obvious party jams like the cheeky "I'm in a Love with a Ripper," with its T-Pain-jacking Auto-Tune hook, and the very-DFA "Summer Song," an affectionate if derivative disco-punk homage built on a solid foundation of cowbells, handclaps, and an all-mighty bassline. Though the album as a whole makes for an enjoyably unpredictable hodgepodge of summery, celebratory, and frequently quirky sounds, individual numbers often suffer from a sort of ambivalence of form, as though they couldn't decide whether they wanted to be pop songs or dance tracks -- it's telling that the two most effective moments both feature a clear and engaging structure, albeit very different approaches. The biggest earworm is "Psychic City," a laid-back groover that borrows the curious verse lyrics (and linear song form) of a 1987 song-poem by K Records' Rich Jensen, adding the self-evident refrain "Ay-Ya-Ya-Ya!"

But See Mystery Lights' biggest leap, and most surprising success, is the two-parter "It's Boring/You Can Live Anywhere You Want," which abandons pop linearity altogether in favor of an extended, expansive beat workout, kicking off with unprecedented guitar-driven punk-funk intensity, then delving into a hypnotic, Afro-tinged groove powered by frenetic drumming and swirling, chanted vocals. It's by far the album's longest cut and also the clearest indication of why DFA is an appropriate home for YACHT -- to the extent that it could almost be written off as a mere LCD Soundsystem/Juan Maclean ripoff (which, perhaps, if you want to be a real killjoy, makes it in turn an Arthur Russell/Brian Eno ripoff...) if it weren't so compelling and enjoyable in its own right. YACHT focus most of their (musical) energies on making goofy, offbeat pop in the frivolously fun vein of good-vibes heroes Tom Tom Club, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that -- it's their best quality, and that certainly remains true on See Mystery Lights -- but this track in particular demonstrates that, when they so choose, they can be equally adept at channeling the fearlessly adventuresome spirit of Talking Heads, and there's definitely nothing wrong with that either.

OMO: bio and The White Album review

The London/Berlin-based duo Omo have a good deal in common with their willfully weird Lo Recordings labelmates the Chap, which comes as little surprise considering that one-half of the duo, Berit Immig, also serves as a vocalist and keyboardist in that band (and, in fact, both members of Omo previously played with Chap main man Johannes Von Weizsäcker in the group Karamazov). The two outfits share a deliciously warped sensibility, characterized by a wry, steely-eyed humorousness that seems at once decidedly English and also rather incongruous and alien, as though something were being lost (or deliberately mangled) in translation. Whereas the Chap typically deliver a fairly muscular, mutant electro-rock sound, Omo's musical approach on this debut LP is calmer and gentler but perhaps even quirkier, combining cheap-sounding synths and beatboxes with languidly plucked guitars and an array of electronic burbles, whistles, wordless vocalizing, and other odd noises to craft sparse but amiable compositions recalling the retro-minded stylings of groups like Plone and Stereolab as well as the strangely lucid sonic abstractions of the Books. As curious and endearing as Omo's music might be, however, its primary function is clearly to serve as a backdrop for the duo's vocal and lyrical shenanigans. Typically delivered in spoken or half-sung phrasing (bearing out occasionally cited comparisons to Laurie Anderson) and often subjected to electronic vocal manipulations whose effect is, on the whole, more whimsical than off-putting, The White Album's lyrics focus in on the minutia of various facets of everyday life: the hours of the clock ("2 PM"), a tennis game ("Advantage"), some fish in a tin ("Fish in the Tin"), and, of course, teatime ("Tea Break"), along with occasional forays into biology ("Her Body," a found-text description of a bird laying an egg) and fantasy ("König," sung by a theramin-voiced queen with a crown of "real stars"). There's an occasional whiff of overarching commentary on the culture of consumerist consumption -- in the general preoccupation with material objects and in more specific instances like the music industry vignette "Live Show," the bland ad-copy language of "ROV," and especially standout track "Oversized," which features some folderol about eating tarts (over a perky, chintzy bossa-nova beat) followed by the comically unsettling refrain "Will you be surprised when I'm oversized?" By and large, though, Omo offer arch absurdism of an elemental and purely conceptual stripe, rendering any inklings of interpretation more or less gleefully futile.

Caspa: Everybody's Talking, Nobody's Listening! review

Highly touted dubstep scenemaker (DJ, producer, label head, ostensible great white hope) Caspa opens his debut album, Everybody's Talking, Nobody's Listening!, with, ironically enough, some talking: the legendary U.K. reggae DJ David Rodigan asserting that "it's all about the music" and sketching an implied sonic and cultural lineage leading directly back to "King Tubby's echo chamber in western Kingston." It's an odd choice for a keynote, and a rather dubious connection, because the music that follows lands pretty squarely on the least roots-oriented end of the dubstep continuum. Despite a vague Jamaican flavor imparted by guest MCs on a few cuts (most notably Roni Size compatriot MC Dynamite, always a likable presence, though he's more of a grime/hip-hop hypeman than a true ragga toaster) and the genre's de facto half-time skank undergirding about two-thirds of the set, there's relatively little reggae influence discernible here, and almost none of the organic, reverberant, dubby haze favored by producers like Burial. Instead, Caspa's productions are cold and mechanical, often strident and occasionally somewhat sterile-feeling, but nonetheless brutally effective dance music, albeit dance music of a curiously sluggish strain. There may be hints of heat and humanity in these grooves, and moments of woozy intoxication, but they derive strictly from the interplay of rhythms themselves, while the textures remain resolutely forbidding and industrial. Caspa's sound is presented at its most potent, elemental form in the instrumental cuts: the spare, ominous "Low Blow," with its trademark midrange wobbles and pummeling bass; the strobed, colorless zapping of "Marmite." The bleepy "I Beat My Robot" and "The Terminator" hit just as hard while offering just slightly more musical range, which could almost be taken for playfulness. Elsewhere, the vocal cuts are decent if fairly undistinguished musically (though "The Takeover" does amusingly feature its own screwed-and-chopped remix outro), while a handful of stylistic experiments reaching beyond Caspa's comfort zone (slick R&B on "Lon-Don City," downtempo acid jazz on "Victoria's Secret") are passable in themselves but feel out of place. He leaves listeners with a final pair of curiosities: the jittery, obnoxious Streets-like pop-grime-house oddity "Disco Jaws" and an evidently nostalgic tribal-ambient excursion titled "Back to '93," which is the album's longest and probably most incongruous cut. Taken together with the aggrandizing intro track, it seems there is some attempt being made here at a statement about U.K. urban dance culture/history, and, presumably, Caspa's place within it. The album itself is hardly strong enough of a musical statement to make much of that premise (notwithstanding the foolhardiness of historicizing yourself on your own debut album), but it's certainly got a lot of energy.

Hanne Hukkelberg: bio and Blood From A Stone review

Is Blood from a Stone Hanne Hukkelberg's difficult third album? Actually, on the surface it may be her most direct work so far, slotting more neatly and readily into a recognizable genre type -- call it dark, shoegazey, post-punk-derived art rock -- than either of her previous albums, and making prominent and comparatively conventional use of electric guitars, without abandoning her distinctive found-object approach to orchestration. Hukkelberg's music has always been difficult, requiring repeated and attentive listening for the nuances of its elliptical melodies and intimate sound-worlds to seep through. She's always been an artist who works in shades of gray. But if Little Things was silvery: blithe, wispy, evanescent; Rykestraße 68 more of a wizened, smoky charcoal, mottled and murky; Blood is closer to a gunmetal smear: drab, dense, and frequently oppressive. Drawing explicit inspiration here from the likes of Sonic Youth, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and PJ Harvey, Hukkelberg seems less interested in those artists' visceral urgency than their sonic grittiness. Blood gestures toward post-punk's primal edginess, particularly in its brutalist percussion tactics (freezers and stoves, clogs and rocks, no traditional drum kits), but it fails to approach the traction and immediacy of, for instance, the previous album's gripping, revelatory Pixies cover. Part of the trouble is that her remarkable voice is put to notably less expressive use this time around. More to the point, though: most of the songs just aren't that compelling. Things start out strong, with the lush, gauzy "Midnight Sun Dream," the swaggering title track, and the driving "Bandy Riddles," which boasts the album's most sprightly melody. From there on it's heavy going, as the songs seem to devolve into a dreary, largely undistinguished mass, respectable and even potent on a tonal and textural level, with some undeniable moments of beauty and strangeness, but weirdly laborious to actually listen to. No one should have expected getting Blood from a Stone to be easy, but it's a shame it had to be this much of a chore.

Sally Shapiro: Miracle review

If the most striking feature of Disco Romance, Sally Shapiro's utterly charming debut album, was its uncannily meticulous evocation of early-'80s Italo disco in all its fragile, intimate glory, the most notable thing about this follow-up set may be how fully and faithfully it replicates its predecessor. Save for an occasionally perceptible updating and subtle toughening of their sound, and a marginally poppier writing approach (thanks largely to the increased involvement of Nixon/Cloetta Paris songsmith Roger Gunnarsson), Johan Agebjörn and his still-secretive chanteuse have hardly altered their working template, so album number two feels mostly like a déjà vu whirlwind of glistening synths and icily insistent beats, laden with sweetly cooed romantic disclosures and hushed spoken asides. It's a rather less uncanny feat the second time around, certainly, and My Guilty Pleasure can't help but feel like something of a letdown after the starry-eyed singularity and surprise of Shapiro's initial appearance, but more of the same is, in this case, far from a horrible thing. To some extent, it's hard to say what else could have been expected -- the two discs' worth of largely reverent remixes that followed Disco Romance were surprisingly scant on potential new directions (that said, the one remixer who crops up again here, Tensnake, does provide a loose, poppy highlight in "Moonlight Dance," even if it's less distinctive than his dubby, percussive mix of "I'll Be By Your Side"). Excepting perhaps wholesale retreads like "Looking at the Stars" and "My Fantasy" (dead ringers for the first album standouts "Hold Me So Tight" and "I Know"), the sameness of the sound isn't necessarily such a problem in itself; more disappointing is that nothing here follows up on the charismatic songwriting promise of the stellar inter-album singles "He Keeps Me Alive" and "Jackie Jackie" (which appeared on the North American release of Disco Romance and the European edition of this album) -- even with Gunnarsson aboard, nothing here approaches the personable nature of those songs or of his work for Cloetta Paris (whose overlooked 2008 debut is a far more worthy next step for Shapiro admirers). The closest are probably "Love in July" (featuring an almost imperceptible vocal cameo from Paris), whose electro-tinged warmth does indeed inject a bit of summer into Shapiro's decidedly wintry vibe, and "Save Your Love," a simple but touching blast of quasi-Hi-NRG dance. The lushly arranged album closer, (and first single), "Miracle" is a nicely effective piece of overwrought emotionalism, complete with fake thunderstorm. A little variety goes a long way -- here's hoping the next album will continue to explore further afield. In the meantime, this may be a holding pattern, but it's one worth holding on to. Diminishing results are, after all, still results.

Montt Mardié: Skaizerkite review

By the time of his third album -- fourth if you count the disparate double-set Clocks/Pretender as two; fifth if you include the half-re-recorded compilation Introducing...The Best Of (whose several new tunes are very much in keeping with his work here) -- Montt Mardié, still only 25, had long since left behind the endearing adolescent idiosyncrasy of his debut for a distinctly sophisticated brand of classically inflected indie pop. That's not to suggest that he's abandoned his deep-seated sentimental streak (a sensibility which feels at once youthfully idealistic and somewhat improbably nostalgic and wistful) or his penchant for giddy exuberance. On the contrary, Skaizerkite is packed full of peppy, danceable, and dramatically heartfelt soul-pop, from trumpet-blaring opener "Welcome to Stalingrad" to the Motown-ish groover "Bang, Bang," the tense New Romantic fashionista strut "Click, Click," the string-laden stomper "I Love You Annie," and the majestically melancholy lead single "Dancing Shoes," a perfectly pitched ode to dancing through your tears. Mardié's familiar lyrical concerns, including (most chiefly) lovesickness and (as a glance at the track list suggests) European travel, are all here, and the album is practically dripping with schmaltzy romanticism, inflated both by his impassioned falsetto delivery and by lavish semi-orchestral arrangements that hearken in equal measure to the '40s, the '60s, the '80s, and the more recent likes of Camera Obscura. It's accomplished stuff, to be sure -- fans of Mardié's past work or the chamber pop genre in general are likely to be pleased -- but it can feel fairly overwrought and overwhelming when taken as a whole, so the handful of gentler, more stripped-down numbers (including the tender portrait-ballad "Elisabeth by the Piano" and geek-love farewell "Dungeons and Dragons") come as a welcome change of pace, even if the latter's combination of nerdy references and heart-on-sleeve emotionalism verge on parody. It may not have quite as many obvious stand-out songs as his past work, but Skaizerkite still stands as a consolidation of Mardié's many strengths, and the most self-assured and unified statement thus far from one of Sweden's finest young popsmiths.

Thunderheist: bio and Thunderheist review

An admirable attempt to shake up hipster dance music formulas that doesn't quite come off, Thunderheist's self-titled debut combines the decent if derivative talents of Isis -- a real-deal MC who mostly limits herself here to dumbed-down good-times party rhymes -- and Grahm Zilla, whose synth-laced productions take in Moroder-esque disco, old-school electro, stuttering crunk and B-more club, and brittle tech-funk. It's a promising merger, but the results are frustratingly uneven. While the blank-voiced Isis occasionally makes for an intriguing presence on the mic, as on the minimal, electro-flavored "Slow Roll" and "Cruise Low," too many of her ostensible hooks come off as tired and oddly dispassionate rehashes of the frank sex rap perfected by the likes Peaches and Spank Rock, not to mention Missy and Lil' Kim. That's particularly true of the duo's early singles ("Jerk It," "Bubblegum") and several of the other tracks packed towards the front of the album, where Zilla's beats are too plodding and one-note to provide much spark, either. Things get somewhat more colorful, or at least varied, in the album's latter half, with "The Party After"'s curiously murky booty-groove and "Space Cowboy"'s gleaming disco/R&B, which demonstrates -- along with the surprisingly soulful early standout "Nothing 2 Step 2" -- that Isis is far more engaging as a singer than as an MC. A few notably weak tracks notwithstanding, most of this material would be pretty enjoyable, or at least reasonably effective, in a club context -- taken as an album, though, it's an unfortunately tepid, shruggable listen with a small handful of highlights.

Black Devil Disco Club: In Dub, Eight Oh Eight and The Strange New World of Bernard Fevre reviews

"What could be more devilish than a decently atmospheric but insipidly monotonous and ultimately fairly tepid techno record? How about that same record again...twice! That's not exactly what Bernard Fevre is offering here on this companion release to his 2006 "comeback" album, 28 After, but it's distressingly not far off."

Bernard Fevre may have been largely inactive in the quarter-century between the little-heard initial release of his 1978 Black Devil opus Disco Club and its 2004 re-release (and attendant critical plaudits), but he's certainly been making up for lost time since then. In the ensuing years, he's toured, cut a handful of remixes, issued a follow-up LP of uncertain provenance (28 After), a remixed version of same (In Dub), and another similarly styled album (Eight Oh Eight) of evidently new material, which was presented as the third and final item in the Black Devil oeuvre. Honoring that notion (at least for the time being) while still keeping the ball rolling, Fevre has now turned to his pre-1978 output -- several albums of electronic library music (i.e., generic-use soundtrack cues) -- for source material. Neither a wholly new outing nor a straight reissue, this release is a curious amalgam: it contains about half of the tracks from 1975's The Strange World of Bernard Fevre -- two of which had surfaced more recently on the crate-trawling library music compilations Further Nuggets and Space Oddities -- all of them newly spruced up with richer, fuller production and extended a good minute or more past their original one- to two-minute snippet length. The remaining half of the tracks are previously unreleased, though it's hard to know for sure whether they're wholly new or just salvaged from '70s scraps. It's certainly an unorthodox approach to constructing an album, but it's a sensible one for this material, which benefits from the expanded focus. The results are enjoyably old-fangled but not overbearingly so, making for an engaging, immersive experience and arguably a more rewarding one than the latter-day Black Devil efforts. The sound palette is familiar -- nothing but deliciously musty analog synths -- but the emphasis is on mood-alteration rather than dancefloor incitement, spanning an emotional range from seedy to spacy to spooky and, of course, campy. Strangely delightful.

also reviewed for AMG:
Baby Teeth, Fanfarlo, Fischerspooner, Nite Jewel, Throw Me The Statue, John Vanderslice, Susumu Yokota

also previewed/reviewed for CP:
The Field, Issa, Junior Boys, Lady Sovereign, Micachu, NOMO, Paramore, Sian Alice Group, Telekinesis, Keith Urban

{reissued '09}

The Boy Least Likely To: The Best B-Sides Ever review

The Boy Least Likely To were one of the most delightful indie pop outfits of the 2000s, but hardly one of the most prolific, so it's a great boon to fans of their ramshackle twee to have the loose ends of their output to date compiled here -- especially so since most of it is first-rate stuff, entirely in keeping with the style and quality of their albums. As its title suggests, this disc (which was initially bundled with pre-ordered copies of their sophomore album, The Law of the Playground, and later made available at independent record shops) collects the B-sides of the singles from their debut, The Best Party Ever, with one perhaps wise omission: the highly improbable Armand Van Helden remix of "Monsters" (it's more listenable than you might expect, but it would certainly disrupt the flow here). There's also "Faith," a rendition of the George Michael chestnut that first appeared on a Q magazine freebie disc of '80s covers -- it might sound a bit funny on paper but it works marvelously, a sweet and relatively straight reworking (albeit swapping the original's Bo Diddley groove for a simple plodding two-step), at least until the recorders, glockenspiel, and toy percussion kick in for an instrumental bridge. The other cover here, of the Field Mice's somewhat dour acoustic ballad "Between Hello and Goodbye" (itself a B-side to begin with) is more reverent and less revelatory, though nice enough. The originals, however, are all prime Boy, deploying the full arsenal of banjos, xylos, synthesizers, and assorted kiddie instrumentation; spanning the spectrum from bouncy ("Oddballs") to tender ("Cuddle Me"); and boasting melodies that in some cases rank among their finest work -- particularly the jubilant "Rock Upon a Porch with You" and wistful "When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Boy Again," both of which seek to shortcut the gap between childhood and old age, though working from opposite ends of the equation. Simply put, anybody who has treasured the Boy Least Likely To's superb albums will find there's that much more to love on this brief but satisfying collection.

Pax Nicholas and the Nettey Family: bio and Na Teef Know De Road Of Teef review

A virtually unknown Afro-funk rarity, deservedly rescued from obscurity by the good people of Daptone Records, Na Teef Know de Road of Teef is the work of Fela Kuti sideman Nicholas Addo Nettey, featuring several of his Africa 70 bandmates and recorded at the same Lagos studio (run by Cream's Ginger Baker) where Kuti cut many of his prime '70s sides. It's no great surprise, then, that Kuti's output of this era is the obvious touchstone here, and Fela fans will find this material immediately familiar, right down to the format of the album: four lengthy, intricately rhythmic, jam-heavy grooves, alternating between gritty call-and-response vocals and extended instrumental passages. That said, these recordings feel particularly raw and stripped-down, sacrificing some of Fela's horn-heavy punch (even though there are certainly horns here, along with plenty of percussion) for a slinkier, burbling vibe, dominated throughout by a reedy organ that recalls the chicken-shack jazz-funk of Jimmy Smith and the Meters. Soulfully grooving, if sometimes more hypnotic than danceable, and handsomely presented with the eye-popping original sleeve art intact, Na Teef Know de Road of Teef makes a welcome addition both to the Daptone catalog and to the shelf of any discerning Afro-beat collector.

{release date confusion: '08 France, '09 UK, '10 US}
The Dø: A Mouthful review

The Dø -- the Parisian duo of Dan Levy and Olivia B. Merilahtin, whose moniker (pronounced like "dough") derives from both member's initials, but also refers to the first (and last) note of the solfege scale, as well as the Norwegian and Danish words for "die" -- stake out their unconventional indie folk-hip-pop territory with A Mouthful. It's all over the map, both musically and emotionally, and can be a lot to take in ("A Handful" might have been more appropriate), but they manage to strike a quirky yet affecting through-line that mediates between their frisky playfulness, fiery brashness, and tenderly sentimental sincerity, and helps to integrate the album's stylistic hodge-podge so that its eclecticism feels improbably natural rather than forced or gimmicky (or simply schizophrenic.) To be sure, the album's success rests largely on the duo's high-caliber musicianship -- in particular, multi-instrumentalist Levy's dextrous, sophisticated arrangements (which reflect, among other things, both his jazz influences and the pair's past collaborations on a handful of film soundtracks), and Merilahtin's distinctive, versatile singing voice -- which allows them to tackle an idiosyncratic assortment of genres with uncanny ease and coherence.

For the bulk of its running time -- roughly two-thirds of the tracks, give or take -- A Mouthful doesn't stray terribly far from relatively familiar, primarily guitar-centric folk/pop/rock fare, with a particular focus on breezy balladry (including the autumnal "Song for Lovers" and the sublime, elegantly bluesy "At Last") and a few tougher-edged roots-pop nuggets ("On My Shoulders," "The Bridge Is Broken.") Often, especially on the more aggressive cuts toward the album's end, this material recalls the artier side of '90s alternative and indie rock -- a comparison brought home by Merilahtin's passing vocal resemblance to prettily gritty singers like PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, and Nina Persson (specifically her work with A Camp). Even on these comparatively pedestrian offerings, the Dø offer far more compositional and instrumental nuance than your typical songwriterly outfit. Elsewhere, they hop through genres with gleeful abandon, calling to mind the infectious precocity of early Nellie McKay, the capriciousness of Beck, and perhaps even Björk's limitless ingenuity. Not that anything here feels remotely like a derivative genre exercise. "Stay (Just a Little Bit More)" is a cute bit of retro-pop whimsy polka-dotted with ukulele, whistling, strings, and carnivalesque organ; "Queen Dot Kong" is a shockingly credible but utterly demented stab at hip-hop with a swaggering horn section, all manner of cartoonish musical left turns, and its own expansively grooving instrumental-fusion coda. And the album's hidden gem is "Unissassi Laulelet," an all-too-brief curiosity that blends bewitchingly harmonized a cappella vocals (sung in Finnish) with polyrhythmic, quasi-ethnic "tribal" percussion to truly enchanting effect. Then there's the downright off-the-wall opener, "Playground Hustle," a sort of nursery rhyme-war chant by an army of disgruntled, gender-norm-disrupting youngsters, set to a spasmodically funky found-sound beat, which sounds like the Go! Team skirmishing with Le Tigre in a schoolyard scrap-heap with Matmos (circa The Civil War) providing the arsenal. Or something. Anyway, it doesn't really sound like anything else out there, or for that matter like anything else on this album -- which makes it a pretty appropriate calling card. The Dø's debut may be a mouthful, but it's deliciously sweet, tangy, and zestful, and definitely well worth biting into.

{#7 - songs list} The Sound of Arrows: Danger! and M.A.G.I.C. review

If the Sound of Arrows' debut single "Danger!" described the world as a dark and scary place (not that it necessarily sounded that way), this follow-up presents entirely the opposite outlook -- instead of the exhortations of a neurotic parent, it's an unbridled expression of lightness and childlike wonder: "The W.O.R.L.D. is full of M.A.G.I.C." That utterly exuberant chorus (with definite shades of Justice's "D.A.N.C.E.") is even chanted by a bunch of kids -- conveniently or confusingly, "W" is pronounced in Swedish like "V," which may make them seem like a bunch of kid vampires. Rarely has a song's message been so perfectly suited to its sound; a giddy, gushy confection of synths, strings, twinkles, and beats that launches this Swedish duo right into the forefront of prime 2000s regressionist-pop, alongside the Go! Team and Architecture in Helsinki. A trio of glitchified electronic reworkings -- Let's Get Invisible's jumpy, '80s-happy take (subtitled "Reading Is Fundamental"), a spastic synth pop slice-up by Spain's Cof Cof, and a muted breakbeat infusion from Alaska's Curtis Vodka -- do interesting but inessential things, diluting the song's primal innocence somewhat without entirely obscuring its joyful essence, nor making it necessarily any better or worse for the dancefloor, whereas Japan's Ice Cream Shout manage to re-envision the song entirely (this time with harp, glockenspiel, a plodding tuba, and a battery of marching-band percussion) for a fittingly tender and warmhearted new reading. The mellow, meandering "Smalltown Lullaby," a somewhat Christmas-y quasi-instrumental which comes complete with storybook narration, closes out this entirely delightful EP.

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