Dig These Discs :: Standish/Carlyon, Straight No Chaser, She & Him, Phoenix
French alt-indie crew Phoenix is back with a hot follow-up to their last hit album, Aussie duo Standish-Carlyon gets up to their elbows in electronica, Straight No Chaser covers the best artists of our times, and She & Him move way beyond ukuleles with their new collection of sunny surfer songs.
This alt-rock band from Versailles, France, has been together since the mid-’90s, but made a big splash in 2009 with their hit album "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix," which spawned such hits as "1901," "Lisztomania" and "Too Young." Now the crew of Thomas Mars, Deck d’Arcy, Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz have dropped another winner, their 10-track album "Bankrupt." This, their fifth studio album, is much more experimental than their last. But they jump right into things with their first track, "Entertainment," which they have performed on the late-night talk show circuit. The bouncy guitars and rapid-fire staccato keyboards give it a real ’90s feel. "Almost the real thing/How could I have missed that one? Am I the only one, your Lancelot?," they sing in "The Real Thing," a darker, layered piece. The single "SOS in Bel Air" is another promising cut, as it jumps from zero to sixty in three seconds with the repeating chorus "you can’t cross the line/ but you can’t stop trying." The keyboards run up and down the scale in classic Phoenix style, and their French accents charmingly mangle the lyrics just enough to make them interesting. On top of all of this are their cryptic lyrics. In "Trying to Be Cool," they mash up the word salad, "Too much intention Presbyterian, mint julep testosterone." I’m not sure exactly what they mean, but I am down for the ride. The experimental music track "Bankrupt" melds odd percussions, high keyboard strokes and what sounds like a mandolin for a long, seven-minute instrumental jam session that morphs midway into electronic beats overlaid with ethereal chimes. When they finally do get to singing, the lyrics are cryptic: "Victory lap, formal with feathery eyes, Dating vendetta win small spray pesticide." Among the best cuts is the pop track "Drakkar Noir," which has attracted early critical acclaim, and features addictive keyboard flourishes and the repetitive chorus of hits like, "1901." "Chloroform" follows a similar pattern, but slowed down, and with the chorus, "My love, my love, my love is cruel." The fast-moving "Don’t" is a confusing hodge-podge of images, and the slower "Bourgeois" is cutting, tempered with lots of "Sha la las." They finish it up with the catchy "Oblique," another word salad of "It’s everything I’ve ever known/Coca-Cola’s Rosetta Stone." Phoenix is just bouncy enough to make it big in the U.S. pop scene, and just weird and cryptic enough to be credibly indie. With "Bankrupt!" they just hit pay dirt.
Deleted Scenes" (Standish/Carlyon)
The futuristic dub pop duo of bassist/vocalist Conrad Standish and guitarist/electronics dude Tom Carlyon release their 10-track debut album "Deleted Scenes" this month. The two are both formerly of Australian noir rock outfit the Devastations, and hope their new project will find success. They describe their album as featuring "submerged electronic rhythms and late-night altered states," noting that it is surreal chic, sensual and ultramodern with deep vibrations. The duo relies on rich baritone and high falsetto with dark, absurd lyrics over their shimmering dubstep. Their first track, "Critics Multiply" employs sharp percussive woodblock over a dark dubstep that evokes the pop/goth sound of the ’90s, a la the Smiths or The Cure. The band White Car has taken on a remix of their slow, syncopated single, "Nono/Yoyo," and added even more synthetic fragmented funk to the mix. Elastic beats and keyboard gasps give the music a very disjointed effect, especially when layered with Carlyon’s quicksand-slow vocals. They lay down solid drum tracks and peppery keyboards in the track "Feb Love," and go spacey with an edge and an addictive falsetto hook in "Gucci Mountain," with Standish singing, "Truly it blew off the coast of Casanova/ The principles of leisure, the tyranny of pleasure/ Jamaica, Jamaica, don’t jinx me, Jamaica." This edgy dubstep is grounded by earthy guitar licks in "Industrial Resort," and gets a pop/dance feel in "Moves, Moves," with Standish singing out to a girl he’s seen around a lot. The most innovative percussion arises in "Aqua Valerie," which pops and crackles in all the right spots. In "Subliminally," Standish sings, "She always says she’s feeling fine/Though I’m inclined to disagree," and the deep bass sound is a world away from the pitched falsetto he dropped in previous tracks. They say variety is the spice of life, and Standish/Carlyon may discover this to be true with the release of this interesting debut.
Volume 3 (She & Him)
Quirky crooner Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, singer/producer team up for a third album of original material, and like the last, it’s very much in the style of the Beach Boys. This sunny collection of 14 songs, (all but three of which Deschanel wrote) starts out with "I’ve Got Your Number, Son," a bouncy tune very rooted in the early ’60s sound. "I never wanted your love, but I needed it all," she sings in the second track. Although I’m not much for actors turned singers, Deschanel has clearly added to her musical retinue over time, as this album features more dynamic songs with tempo shifts, disco grooves, string arrangements and horn flourishes that mesh well with the surfer girl, ukulele vibe. Deschanel sings, "I could have been your girl, and you could have been my four-leaf clover/ If I could do it over I’d send you the pillow that I cry on." Her voice shines in "Turn to White" with an endearing acoustic accompaniment, and "London," with sweet piano backing. While none of the songs broach any topic deeper than sweet love, Deschanel’s voice shows real emotion in "Somebody Sweet to Talk To." A disco vibe surfaces in the swinging tune "Together" and a folksy vibe in "Snow Queen." Covers include "Baby," Harry Noble’s 1952 hit "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" and "Sunday Girl" by Chris Stein. Deschanel does a good job with this Blondie standard. Guest contributions come from Joey Spampinato, Mike Watt, Tilly and the Wall, Pierre de Reeder and Tom Hagerman. Deschanel said she wrote the bulk of the songs during her downtime from filming her sitcom "New Girl," while Ward was on tour with his solo album, "A Wasteland Companion." The two will hit the road this summer from Nashville to New York and loads of states in between, from June 13-July 11. If you’re a fan of this old-timey, Brill Building sound, be sure to catch them when they come through your town.
"Under the Influence" (Straight No Chaser)
If you’re a fan of a cappella remixes, "Under the Influence" is the album for you! Through their 10 tracks, the 10 guys of this former Indiana University a cappella group pay homage to the songs and sounds that influenced their own work. This, their fourth album, features music by pop’s biggest stars, including Stevie Wonder, Adele, Elton John, Seal, Dolly Parton, Phil Collins and more. "Having eight guest artists with such renown, all having influenced us so much, come together on this album and grace us with their stamp of approval is remarkable. It is a testament to not only to the group but also to our fans’ support. From the very beginning of spreading the word about us with video clicks on YouTube, it is our Chaser community that has elevated SNC to what we are," wrote Musical Director Walter Chase. Sara Bareilles sings in their first track, a cover of the Jackson 5 song "I Want You Back," that is soulful and spot-on. Adele’s "Rolling in the Deep" is sung with soulful power that verges on the spiritual. The mellifluous sadness of "Against All Odds" is richer with singer Phil Collins on lead vocals; ditto for the ditty "Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me," featuring Elton John. They produce amazing, glowing harmonies in "Some Nights/ We Are Young," singing, "By the time the bar closes and you feel like falling down, I’ll carry you home tonight." Jason Mraz chimes in on "This is How a Heart Breaks," and Dolly Parton shines in the two-timing classic "Jolene," with the help of richly textured background from the guys. Straight No Chaser is like a grown-up version of the "Glee" crew, retooled for an audience that values both nostalgia and talent. The band has taken their homage on the road, and will hit East Coast cities through June before making their way to California and Las Vegas in the fall. Their schedule is highly ambitious, so check your local venues to catch Straight No Chaser live.