Colleen Green’s latest full-length Cool (Hardly Art) shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering it’s her 5th long-player. Her indie rock leanings are obvious though yet completely welcome, and when others attempt to get the most from the recording process, Green isn’t averse to letting a song ride out with happy little mistakes if something veers off (“I Believe In Love”) leaving the allure in its lo-fi-ness. There’s a simplicity about the album without leaving it plain. It’s obviously Green’s quick-witted songwriting that allows each song to be more infectious than that last. Even as she navigates through a pop kaleidoscope (“I Wanna Be a Dog”), there’s no need to fight off the direct sweetness the song is wrapped in. This isn’t confused with The Stooges song of a similar name, it’s completely different. There are moments here where Green’s movements are direct and focused (“Highway”) and that’s fine, as her brooding direction is dark and at times chilling. When she says “I prefer the scenic route” you may want to listen. Green’s album is full of varying pop inflections and you never know what you’re going to get. It could be bass-heavy grooves with urging guitars (“You Don’t Exist) or an instrumental that leaves much to the imagination (“Pressure To Cum”). Either way, Cool is very hot indeed.
Throughout the years, groups have remained steadfast in style, while some have opted to shift into other territories. They may gain or lose fans, but one thing remains certain; bands allow the music to show them the way. Some have remained consistent; no matter what happens, they’re always recognizable.
For close to 30 years now, Low has been surprising listeners from album to album with its compositions that have shifted in a gradual yet sometimes drastic fashion. While the band first began performing within the scope of minimal volume levels & slow-paced song structures, Alan Sparhawk (guitar), Mimi Parker (drums), and a number of bassists throughout the years have stood the test of time. Not because it caters to an audience but because the band has always taken chances on itself. Now whittled down to just a duo, Low has again found itself in uncharted territory with HEY WHAT (Sub Pop), its latest full-length. The band plays with looped repetition and I’m not sure there isn’t a song that defines that as much as the opening “White Horses” does. As the melody plays, both Parker & Sparhawk harmonize with one another, and while Sparhawk’s voice is commanding, it’s Parker’s that offsets his with her shifting harmonies here. Low utilizes noise & melody to fill spaces here and it’s a beautiful cacophony. The band gives what sounds like keyboards through distortion on “I Can Wait” before adding in bass notes over the juxtaposing vocal interplay. It’s obvious here that Sparhawk & Parker have mastered the art of vocal harmony as both musicians have become familiar with one another’s instrument throughout the years, knowing where one will begin and the other will end.
Literally, there isn’t a misstep to be found anywhere on HEY WHAT. Every track here is masterful in vocal delivery, and musically, well, it’s a reckoning. “Disappear” seems to find solace in the painful unknown as everything crashes around them while “Hey” spares us a bit from the discord to ride a caressing wave. Parker seems to take the lead on this one as she volleys the chorus over to Sparhawk. At almost 8-minutes in length, the time seems to float on by quickly. Please note, this is masterful. With “Days Like These” Low changes things again, semi-acapella at first before including a wall of distortion letting everyone know the two have a love-love relation with noise as much as it does with vocal harmonies.
When everything is said and done, HEY WHAT is possibly the greatest Low album ever made. Listening to the closing “The Price You Pay (It Must Be Wearing Off),” I’m filled with emotion that’s bounced off the track. It’s haunting, gripping, it’s a storm with semblances of beauty within; it leaves me speechless. Low has literally released its most realized work to date.
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When a group’s music simply exudes sexual tension, that’s probably when you know you have something worth listening to. But the music offered up is sometimes more than just that; it’s electrifying, it’s captivating, it’s era-esque – but remaining firmly planted in the present. This is everything we get from Daniel Romano’s Outfit.
The band released its new Cobra Poems (You’ve Changed Records) and while the music is singular in sound, its nature is varied, and I may be quick to guess there isn’t anything the band wouldn’t be capable of doing. Led by the Canadian Daniel Romano, who has worked with artists on musical & visual projects like M. Ward, Ladyhawke, Frederick Squire, and one of my favorites, Julie Doiron, the band moves from edgy blues-rock to an alluring country, all usually entwined within the same song. The band utilizes Stones dramaticism all the while holding onto its own identity. The opening “Tragic Head” – and even Holy Trumpeteer” – is a clear example as instruments clash alongside one another as Clarence Clemmons-like sax sputters in and around the song. But it’s the 70s like pop jams like “Nocturne Child” that creeps in quickly with catchy guitar riffs, along with Romano’s effected vocals, backing harmonies, and melody for days. But the Outfit switches things up a bit as vocalist Juliana Riolino takes the lead on the sweet balladry of “The Motions.” Don’t misunderstand, while there’s a softness here it doesn’t mean the band is letting up, as the organ collides with guitars and horns allow the atmosphere to shift.
Cobra Poems is full of surprises, and that’s what we find on “Baby If We Stick It Out,” with Latin percussion leading the way, embellished with guitars, eventually morphing into a beast of a song. Closing out the album is “Camera Varda,” with carefully placed vocal harmonies throughout the entire track, over light percussion and guitars that’s as different from the rest of the album but with Beatle-esque horns that all tie in well together. Cobra Poems is that album no one expected but everyone needs!