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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: The Apples in Stereo: "Travellers in Space and Time"

There are few bands in the indie world that garner as much name recognition and instant-respect as The Apples in Stereo. The band has been bringing their unique brand of pop music to fans for nearly two decades at this point; changing their sound throughout the process and therefore ensuring that they’ve created something for everybody. On Travellers in Space and Time, their seventh full-length album, the band offers up one of their most solid collection in years – and they do so by taking some fairly bold steps.

The most notable influence on Travellers has to be 70s-era disco music, which shows up on songs like “Hey Elevator,” “No One in the World” or “Dance Floor.” The former is a dance-along, sing-along pop masterpiece in and of itself, and the album’s greatest asset. Of course, The Apples are no strangers to singable pop songs, but it’s rare that one has been this instantly-enjoyable and able to hold its own after several repeat listens. “Dance Floor,” doesn’t have as strong of a melody, but it too pulls off the band’s new dance sound flawlessly. It’s the safe bet for the first single, for sure, but it’s certainly worthy of such a title.

One of the band’s best attributes is that they have always been able to mix pop and rock in such a manner that it hearkens back to some of the best music of the past. Whether its 60s rock or disco, The Apples are masters at blending those sounds with more modern twists; like a vocoder or synthesizer. “Dignified Dignitary” is a great example of this, with its heavy guitars and drums, but equally powerful melody. The band has drawn Beatles comparisons in the past, but their effect on Robert Schneider’s songwriting has rarely been so clear as it is here, or on “It’s All Right.”

And like The Beatles, the hooks just keep on coming. Travellers in Space and Time is one of the catchiest albums I’ve heard in months, not to mention one of the best! Aside from your typical Apples in Stereo fodder like a vocoder-only song (“Strange Solar System”) or tracks that aren’t music but just samples of something else (“The Code” or “Time Pilot”), Travellers is a surprisingly solid album and easily one of the band’s best! “C.P.U.” is mostly-awful due to its insistence on trying to make dissonance catchy, but every other song on here is great! As a pop album, one can rest assured that a few of these songs will lose their appeal after a certain amount of listens. The surprising thing about Travellers in Space and Time isn’t this fact, but rather the amount of quality songs that will no doubt go further. Any Apples fan has got to check this one out. I highly recommend it.

Key Tracks:
1. "Dream About the Future"
2. "Hey Elevator"
3. "Dignified Dignitary"
4. "No Vacation"
5. "Nobody But You"

8 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: MGMT: "Congratulations"

MGMT's debut album was difficult for me.  Pretty much every time that I tried to dig into the weirder sides of it, I was pulled back into the catchy dance-hooks of "Electric Feel" and "Kids."  I never really made it past those songs in any significant form.  So to hear Congratulations, the band's newest album is both a gift an a curse.  A gift because, like it or not, there ain't a song on here that's overtly accessible; and a curse because that makes it all the more difficult to get into.  Fortunately, if you're able to give it the time it deserves, you'll find a fairly decent and rewarding album that only gets better with time.

MGMT spend most of their time on Congratulations exploring the murky depths of psychedelia and blending it with pop music of both current and past persuasions. "It's Working" begins resembling old school Of Montreal before colliding head-on with a Beach Boys hook, complete with multi-part harmonies.  Throw in some Surfaris, "Wipeout" drums and you've got one hell of a tribute to 60s pop/rock!  One thing to take note of here is how often the songs on Congratulations seem to change direction, often ending in a completely different manner than they started and going through multiple alterations in between.

"Congratulations is an album about exploration and experimentation, about embracing sounds that are either long-forgotten or entirely new."

This is never more apparent than it is in the 12+ minute, "Siberian Breaks." The problem here isn't that the multiple movements in themselves are awful, but rather that they seem to be pieced together for the sake of being difficult.  Of Montreal pulled off the multi-movement thing with Skeletal Lamping, but MGMT's attempt here seems forced.  That's a real disappointment too because there are ideas in "Breaks" that could have been fleshed out into full (great) songs but are left as mere appetizers.  "Song for Dan Treacy" handles the idea of cramming a bunch of concepts into one song much more smoothly.

My favorite track on Congratulations has to be "Flash Delirium," a song that I would imagine would be absolutely amazing live.  Despite the fact that it's got the catchiest, most obvious melody on the album, it's also got a bunch of stuff that I simply wouldn't expect, but love!  Whether it's the random shout-along verse, the jazz flute, or the chaotic finale; there is something here that just does it for me.  Perhaps it's all of the above.  "Brian Eno's" frantic, organ-heavy, Monster Mash-ish sound is equally as infectious.  If the band were to release a single from this album (apparently that's not the plan), this seems like the safest choice, as it's a fun, upbeat track that probably has the widest appeal.  People still like circus music, right?

My apologies to MGMT, but I spent my first few minutes with Congratulations skipping through the songs looking for an obvious first single a la "Time to Pretend." Much to the chagrin of, well, everybody I would imagine, that song doesn't exist.  Congratulations is an album about exploration and experimentation, about embracing sounds that are either long-forgotten or entirely new.  The result of such an endeavor is an album that is certainly mixed, but refreshingly deep.  If that album art up there seems a little too weird for you, your time may be better spent elsewhere.  As WTF-inducing as that image is, it's entirely appropriate for an album this bizarre.  But aside from weirdness, Congratulations offers above average lyricism, complex instrumentation, and deep arrangements that beg to be listened to over and over again.  Will I be jamming any of these songs for as long as I've been jamming "Electric Feel?"  Not even close.  But Congratulations is easily one of 2010's better releases thus far, and should definitely be checked out.

Key Tracks:
1. "Song for Dan Treacy"
2. "Flash Delirium"
3. "Brian Eno"
4. "Lady Dada's Nightmare"
5. "Congratulations"

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