It’s clinically proven that the Beatles make life better. Combine the Beatles with the relaxing vibes of reggae, or more accurately reggae’s trippy cousin dub, and it’s quite possible that you could cure cancer. All right, perhaps some research is required before making a definitive statement, but it would not surprise us in the least to discover that a dub Beatles album serves as one hell of a placebo.
A quick Google search revealed a small army of reggae tributes to the Beatles, including another complete album makeover dub-style. Huh, who knew? But none of those other bands matter. We’re here to talk about Yellow Dubmarine, which is comprised of seven of the the most Anglo white men you’re likely to meet. (The only thing their press photo is missing is Damon Albarn, Graham Cozon, a monocle, and a Great Dane.) They sure don’t play like uptight English white boys, though, as this version of “Something” will show. It’s unclear where this will take them career-wise, but it’s a pretty interesting detour at the very least. We bet the Quiet One would have gotten a kick out of it, that’s for sure.
It’s nice to see that ’60s lounge cool has yet to go out of style. Heck, if anything, it’s making a big of a comeback in the indie community. Jon Fratelli put his “Chelsea Dagger” day job on hiatus in order to make a boy/girl ’60s pop record with his wife’s best friend (they’re called Codeine Velvet Club, and they’re super cool), and let us not forget the ultimate hipster, slightly retro boy/girl duo the Bird and the Bee, whom the blogosphere keeps trumpeting, even though their tribute album to Daryl Hall and John Oates left us cold. More than cold, really. Frozen.
Enter the Moor, boldly going where, well, no one has made money in decades. This is to our immense gain, of course, not to mention some up and coming filmmaker who wants to use a Nancy Sinatra song without paying for a Nancy Sinatra song. “Warm Winter,” the leadoff track to their self-titled album, actually brings to mind a couple of bands from across the pond, with an extra jump over a fjord – Club 8 and the Acid House Kings. Those bands, like the Moor, are boy/girl duos, and all three are suckers for the mellow ’60s vibe, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
God love the Republic Tigers. Their insanely melodic, mid-tempo pop is delightfully out of time, but not in a ‘let’s cash in on this retro thing’ kind of way. Think of them as a moder-day equivalent of a band like Bourgeois Tagg – thinking man’s pop for teenagers. Is that the next niche market?
Sadly, probably not, which is why we love the Tigers for doing it anyway. Their 2008 album Keep Color still receives steady airplay on the iPod, and their new EP, No Man’s Land, is more of the same, including a revved-up version of Keep Color track “The Nerve.” Check out this new song, “Merrymake It with Me,” which we’re convinced is a tip of the hat to Swedish power popsters the Merrymakers. Well, the title is. The song, not so much.
New album coming out later this year. Hopefully this will tide you over until then.
The Joy Formidable are North Wales’ Ritzy Brian and Rhydian Daffyd with drummer Matt Thomas who clearly needs to change his name to keep up with his band mates. Like many of their contemporaries, they bring a great deal of post-punk and new wave influences to their electronic indie rock, but unlike most, they manage to transform it all into a fresh sonic experience of sublimely constructed songs that work on levels musical, emotional and technical.
Before signing with Atlantic, the Joy Formidable produced an excellent EP, A Balloon Called Moaning that demonstrated a true breadth to their song craft. At eight songs, this was a much more than a typical EP, feeling like a complete debut work. Such a solid collection drove anticipation for their full-length debut, but also created some questions. Would they simply add a few more songs and call it new? What would they do with the experience and added room? The answers are a bit surprising, challenging for the listener, and well worth listening to again and again.
Unabashedly, the Joy Formidable kick off the record with “Austere,” one of their most accessible and catchy songs, and one of four repeats from the EP. But calling them repeats doesn’t do the songs justice; from the deeper, more resonant production quality to the extended ending, they improved upon the lush, layered pop in every way. Impressively, and with no little risk, they went with a “bigger and more” theme throughout The Big Roar, perhaps to live up to the aggrandizing title. Whatever the intent, it works. They play with more echoing, ambient haunts on the original “Buoy” slowing down the pace and tone on track two, playing with expectations, not catering to them. When they rev it back up on “Chapter 2,” they throw pop pretentions out the door, using an old typewriter as introductory percussion, before slamming you with a wall of grinding guitars and drums.
Somehow, throughout the album, Ritzy and company move in unexpected directions, without ever going off the rails. The wash of distortion that never loses its pop roots in “Cradles” flows into a mix of Primitives-style pop rock and prog rock eclecticism. Here you also get the taste of their all-out jam sensibility, as the song goes on for several minutes of heady instrumental work, ending in a wash of white noise.
The entire album is one designed to sweep you up on to a constant ride through a very deliberately crafted joyous and formidable world. If the band was trying to capture their live experience on a studio record, it feels like they made that magic happen. At times channeling Siouxsie Sioux, other times the Cocteau Twins with some balls, Ritzy Brian skates across the breathy, frosty vocal spectrum, without slipping into coyness or frigidity. She lets the pulse of the music carry her voice, riding the crests, and providing some clear focus in the cacophony without corralling the rush. It all comes to a close with the last and greatest of their songs brought over from the EP. “Whirring” is the quintessential example of the “bigger and more” philosophy, double in length from the original, bringing together all the pop, rock, indie and progressive sensibilities into a perfect whole. “All these things about me, you never can tell,” sings Brian, and this is a good thing. The Joy Formidable hook you easily, without ever being easy to pin down, and this makes for one of the best records you’ll hear this year. (Canvasback/Atlantic 2010)
Hipster elitists would like to convince you otherwise, but pop is not a four-letter word. It’s short for popular, after all, and who doesn’t want to be popular? Hell, even hipsters want to be popular. How do you think they became hipsters in the first place? Because they were never popular.
Australia’s Cut Copy, on the other hand, has no such inhibitions about the notion of popularity, if their latest album Zonoscope is any indication. Rounded out to a quartet, the electropop band who started their career riffing on New Order and Daft Punk has opted for a sunnier – and a tad softer – approach this time around, toning down the guitars while unleashing sky-high synthesizer tracks. Singer Dan Whitford can do a mean impression of OMD’s Andy McCluskey when he feels like it, and in fact the album’s opener, “Need You Now,” bests anything from OMD’s recent reunion album History of Modern. The galloping “Where I’m Going” is flat-out irresistible, while “Pharaohs & Pyramids” has an explosive finale. Zonoscope sees the band stretching things out as well, with several songs surpassing the five-minute mark and the album’s closer, “Sun God,” clocking in at a whopping 15 minutes. This is fun, gorgeous stuff, capturing the spirit of new wave while giving it a contemporary sonic makeover. One can only hope that more bands follow their lead, because God knows the world could use a few more albums like this. (Modular/Fontana 2010)