ROYKSOPP FEATURING KARIN DREIJER ANDERSSON
"This Must Be It"
Karin Dreijer Andersson of the Knife just released her first solo album as Fever Ray, and after its black-black moods, everyday feminisms, and pitch-shifted "scary male butler" voice (per Sasha Frere-Jones), it's good to hear her doing this reckless sort of ABBA-for-actual-bad-girls number. "This Must Be It," from Royksopp's brand-new album, Junior, whets our appetite for epic summer rave with slinky synths and gnashing disco 4/4, and all the while Andersson keeps one foot in Grace Jones sangfroid and the other in Stevie Nicks smolder. Unadulterated dance-floor joy.
BAT FOR LASHES
Natasha Khan separates herself from the pack on Bat for Lashes' second album, the imminent Two Suns, ditching the British folk and girl-group big beat for luxuriant but minimal dance music cum polychromatic witch tunes. The album is built on plush electronics and abundant reverb, its spartan arrangements employing a wide variety of heavily processed sounds—is that a guitar, or is it a cheap keyboard set to "French horn"?—but Khan puts her ethereal voice authoritatively front and center. So far the tone of this spring's version of the 80s has been set by "1901," the first single from Phoenix's new Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and the zillion remixes thereof, but that band's beige-on-beige nu-Hammer moves connect with those parts of the 80s aesthetic that are synthetic and obvious—they barely merit the minute of listening it takes to dismiss them. The cool, synthetic mood of "Daniel," by contrast, feels like the aftermath of something, not just a hollow signifier; Khan's curious song demands we follow her down the rabbit hole she's fashioned from plastic and burnt lace, where we'll play the zither and fast dance to Kate Bush's Hounds of Love until dawn.
"The Wooden Chair"
(Gold Medal Recordings)
Jenny Wilson's Hardships! is leaking its way across America, slowly but surely—though the "slowly" part is a baffler, given that the album has broken the top ten in her native Sweden. "The Wooden Chair" is characteristic of its low-tech R&B weirdness: Wilson has abandoned the indie-pop singer-songwriter template for arrangements that recall vintage Timbaland, but instead of sub-bass and baby samples it's flute and multitracked handclaps and her big, seductive voice. It sounds like someone trying to make a hit R&B album with a four-track and whatever she happens to have around the house—and that inventiveness is only one of Wilson's talents.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS
The new-wavey dance-rock on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' new It's Blitz! is exceedingly palatable, but it's a bummer to see a genuinely cool band release an album so oddly edgeless and behind the times. The debut single, "Zero," is easy-peasy pop made by and for people assured of their place in the world, a percolating feel-good number that screams out to be played over the closing credits of a summer blockbuster—big-budget sexy and utterly harmless.
The sound of brilliant kids fucking around. The fragged-up dance rock on Jewellery has the same happy-accident feel as the Raincoats: harsh but languid melodies and Mica Levi's genderless kid-croon unspool over insurgent thudding and loose-jointed beats, which sometimes erupt with rippling bursts of Morse-code cowbell and sometimes stumble fortuitously. Perhaps the drummer has fallen, or maybe it's a sample of someone tossing the kit in a trash can or even someone actually doing it? It's the young idea gone micro-pop. Levi's ramshackle dance music has been called "organic," but to make that distinction you'd first have to decide that the vacuum cleaner was somehow more "natural" than the drum machine, no?
"A New Error" and "Nasty Silence"
It feels like for the past couple years techno has been hell-bent on drawing in the bloghouse masses or wooing the uninitiated with corny shit that wouldn't be out of place at an Ibiza sunrise rave. The Berlin-based supergroup of Modeselektor and Apparat—whose full-length, Moderat, is due in April—makes techno for people who already love techno ("Nasty Silence") but also shows that sublimity and accessibility aren't mutually exclusive ("A New Error"). If this is the sort of music that a city with an unemployment rate pushing 15 percent produces, then the midwest ought to see a techno rebirth by 2010.
You could fairly describe Katie Stelmanis's music as "Canadian choir punk," which probably explains why her 2008 album, Join Us, was universally slept on (I didn't know about it and neither did you—let's not front). Her star turn singing on Fucked Up's latest record wasn't, though, and now we're all making up for lost time. Stelmanis's voice is big, forceful, and very serious, with a chilly folk lament woven deep into it. Think medieval new-wave band, with the Maiden Stelmanis singing along from inside her lonely turret. She'll be in Chicago in May, opening for Iron& Wine at the Lakeshore Theater and headlining her own show at Ronny's.
BURAKA SOM SISTEMA FEATURING PONGO LOVE
"Kalemba (Wegue Wegue)"
America's introduction to this Portuguese kuduro group—the music evolved in Angola, a former colony of Portugal—came when their track "Sound of Kuduro" got tacked onto the rerelease of M.I.A.'s Kala that dropped after "Paper Planes" blew up. Ms. Arulpragasam makes a cameo on the song, but Buraka Som Sistema manages to outshine her—no small feat. The lead single from the futuristic and flawless new Black Diamond, "Kalemba (Wegue Wegue)" is the combustible Afro-twerk of our post-Diplo globalized dance-floor dreams.v
Care to comment? Find these reviews at chicagoreader.com. And for more on music, visit our blogs Crickets and Post No Bills.