Chvrches get a production boost on the overlong Love Is Dead, while fifth full-length V. erodes Wooden Shjips’ edge away for good, and post-punks Numb.er debut with all style and little substance.
And in case you missed it, read our review of Pusha T’s Daytona, also out today, right here.
Chvrches, Love Is Dead
Scottish electro-pop trio Chvrches favors self-reliance, producing its own albums and eschewing outside collaboration. While that has resulted in two excellent albums, it’s also limiting. For number three, the group enlisted outside producers, primarily Greg Kurstin (Pink, Katy Perry, Sia). He helmed nine tracks, with producer-composer Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran, Pink) producing one, and Chvrches handling the others. But whatever magic the outsiders contributed simply amplified what was already there: The songs sound bigger and more layered, but the core of hook-laden, synth-based pop and Lauren Mayberry’s lilting vocals remains undisturbed. Maybe the producers brought bloat? At 13 songs, Love Is Dead goes a little long, particularly as it slows toward the end. Chvrches also made curious choices for prerelease singles. The Matt Berninger-assisted “My Enemy” is a bit sleepy, and “Get Out” isn’t as good as the songs around it. Listeners unmoved by those should check out the rest of the album.
RIYL: MS MR. The Naked And Famous. Anthemic pop with biting lyrics.
Start here: “Graffiti” provides the best example of producer-boosted Chvrches, with big, fat synths, a hugely catchy chorus, and an intro that nods to the band’s breakthrough song, “The Mother We Share.” [Kyle Ryan]
Wooden Shjips, V.
Wooden Shjips’ last album, 2013’s Back To Land, started the process of sanding down the band’s abrasive fuzzed-out guitars and replacing their foundational presence with a bed of smooth, unobtrusive organ. Fifth album V. finishes the job, eroding the San Francisco group’s edge away for good and leaving behind guitar-solo-driven psychedelic rock of the gentlest, jammiest variety. Opener “Eclipse” is a promising start, alternating between a frayed solo and singer Ripley Johnson’s echoing whispers as it builds to the introduction of a crazed, distant sax. But that momentum is lacking throughout much of the record, as comatose tracks like “Already Gone” drone on with little to grab the ear. Thankfully, the band perks up again during the closing stretch, filling “Golden Flower” with swampy guitars and a conga-laden Latin-rock finale before capping things off with the slow-burning sweetness of closer “Ride On.” With highs like these, the band is proving it can weave real emotion and flair into its spacey jam sessions. Now it just needs to do it more consistently.
RIYL: Spacemen 3. My Morning Jacket. Velvet Underground at its most sedate. Guitar solos.
Start here: It feels weird recommending someone start at the end, but there’s nothing on V. that manages to enrapture quite like “Ride On”—though that sax solo on “Eclipse” comes close. [Matt Gerardi]
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Numb.er leader Jeff Fribourg has a day job in photography and graphic design, and the gray-hued post-punk he creates has a similarly artful construction and artificial remove. All the right aesthetic elements are there: plodding, motorik drumbeats; driving bass lines; dour, minimalist guitars; tastefully analog synths. Fribourg even apes a distinctly British snarl in his otherwise anesthetized vocals, which seem to openly sneer at melody. Yet the L.A. band’s debut, (maybe) cheekily titled Goodbye, feels like little more than a set of carefully chosen typefaces, creating only the stylized illusion of genuine expression. Numb.er often evokes the bleak timbres of bands like Wire, Magazine, and the broodier sides of New Order, along with more contemporary groups such as The Soft Moon, and it’s an amalgam with plenty of attractive, expertly curated style. But the frustrating lack of memorable hooks and lyrics that wallow in boilerplate goth-kid disaffection don’t do much to distinguish the band beyond its borrowed cool.
RIYL: Gloom and vaguely defined doom. Swaying glumly in chic black clothes. All the Factory Records-era bands that didn’t get famous.
Start here: “Without Bloom” is an exception to the album’s uniform lethargy, an uptempo number resembling a slightly more bitter The Wake that’s built on a jangling guitar figure and a modulated synth drone, and whose male-female “la la la” harmonies create a song you could sing along to. [Sean O’Neal]
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