Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lucy Dreams of a Coathanger in Parallax, Beirut (CD Mini-Reviews) by Alison Ross

Parallaxing with Bradford Cox (Parallax, by Atlas Sound)

I make it no secret my huge crush on fellow Atlantan Bradford Cox. I have worshipped at the shrine of his main band, Deerhunter, for five or more years now. Cryptograms, the band's second album, remains in my top five favorite albums ever, and their output since then has failed to disappoint, too. Cox's second band, Atlas Sound, is also a treat, but I admit to being more ambivalent about the Atlas Sound albums than those of Deerhunter. There are always shimmering gems on every Atlas Sound record, but those albums have not been as cohesive as Deerhunter's, to my ears, anyway. But the new one, Parallax, is just blow-you-away fabulous! Atlas Sound has always been the folksier twin of ambient-punks Deerhunter, anyway, and on this album the folksy description is particularly apt. I am still digesting the album, of course, since I just bought it, but I can say that I immediately liked it, which is rare for me concerning Atlas Sound albums - usually they take some time to sink in and work their spell. Parallax features buoyantly danceable tunes, gorgeously languid ballads, zenful meditative pieces...and I think the production is what drives this album home. It showcases Cox's mellifluous, southern-drawl-tinged vocals without drawing overt attention to them, and the instrumentation is just magical. I cannot hyperbolize enough about this album - just go ahead and fucking get it! Bradford Cox is one of the most prolific and intriguing artists playing today, and you'd be shamefully remiss not to take notice.

The Laced-up Larceny of The Coathangers (Larceny and Old Lace, by The Coathangers)

As has been reported previously in CC, The Coathangers are one of my favorite local Atlanta bands, and my estimation of them has only grown with each new release. The first release was their party album - it was meant to be taken at face value, even though it packed a wallop and was packed with solid singable tunes. Too, the electric synergy among the girls and the crass vocal caterwauling seemed to foreshadow great things for the band, if only they would take themselves slightly more seriously. So then came Scramble, which did indeed delve into the more cerebral side of their musical antics - if that was even possible given their wild, wayward, feisty-whimsical nature. But it proved that the band could indeed add depth and dimension to their songs while still infusing them with silly-sassy attitude. The new one, Larceny and Old Lace, almost seems to take this ethos to new heights, however - the acerbic humor, though present, does not seem to be as prevalent, and the songs possess a more growling edge, almost in a metal-punk vein. While on the first release the humor was veering toward the endearingly ludicrous("Nestle in my Boobies," "Don't Touch My Shit"), by the time Scramble rolled around, the humor had hardened a bit (though they had also softened romantically, as on the deliriously lovely, "Sonic You"). On Larceny and Old Lace, it's almost as though The Coathanger's have toughened up TOO much, become jaded before their time. After all, they're only three albums in! What's been especially captivating about this band is the crackling tension between the aggressively giddy fuck-it-all demeanor and the more earnest focus on musical maturation. It's not to say that there is not still an upbeat vibe at times, but there is something more darkly moody in the band's approach these days. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I hope these gals don't eternally eschew the humor, since that is what grounds them and at the same time gives them a wholly refreshing levity. Musically speaking, the songs are as punk-polished as ever, which is to say they have truly refined their amateur approach, a glorious oxymoron if there ever was one. They seem to draw more from classic rock, blues, and metal on this album...witness blazing opener "Hurricane," with its Motley Crue allusions, as well as "Old Tobacco Road," with its subtle southern rock nods. Naturally, despite any reservations mentioned, The Coathangers are still bangin', and their live show remains a must-see EVENT. I just hope they don't get too mired in their mercuriality, because just as their party tendencies could wear thin, the darkness could actually sink them.

Riffing on The Rip Tide (The Rip Tide, by Beirut)

Beirut has always been known for its woozy, swoony, melifluous gypsy tunes that boast a dash of new wave flair. The songs are so horn-heavy and contain such luscious vintage luster, they are almost like anachronistic anomalies, except they paradoxically feel updated with the times. Vocalist Zach Condon's full-flavored baritone adds such nostalgic reverie to the songs; it's as though he was plucked straight from the streets of Moulin Rouge-era Paris. The new album, The Riptide, is not dramatically different from the last two (in truth I only own the Flying Club Cup, but I have heard a few from the other), really, except that it seems a bit tighter in structure and more vivid production-wise. There is a more polished approach to showcasing the sundry instruments, and the songs do not ramble quite as much, but seem to have more compact purpose. Also, the songs do have a more American-jazzy-pop feeling, rather than being as blatantly Eastern/Western European as before (hear "Santa Fe"). Too, there seems to be more of a bias toward ballads (hear "East Harlem," "Payne's Bay") as well as proud stately statements like "A Candle's Fire." But the rag-tag spirit of the songs is intact, and the only thing that can be a bit off-putting at times is a suffocating sentimentality.

Lucy Dreams and Lucy Sings (Vivian, by Lucy Dreams)

The gist of the music of Lucy Dreams is, in fact, as the name suggests: ethereal. Indeed, if you take the band name to its logical genesis, perhaps it was inspired by the Beatle's song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (its mischievous acronym being LSD, the drug which induces a wild and wayward dream state). The music on their album, Vivian, isn't quite that hallucinatory - you don't necessarily feel like you're tripping in a field of mushrooms while listening - but the songs do invoke a floaty tranquility. Shoegaze psychedelia might be the most apt genre in which to pigeonhole Lucy Dreams, but most artists resist labels, and rightly so, because such restrictive descriptions too readily straightjacket the sound. Either way, Lucy Dreams has carved out a startingly subtle musical mood, songs shrouded in soft cyclones of feedback and shot through with mellow, muted crooning. The songs strive to achieve that coveted balance between abrasiveness and fragility, with metallic guitars domineering the soundscape while vocals (which alternate between male and female), keyboards and synths offer gossamer, even ghostly, embellishment. But the sound is far from amorphous - there is actually scaffolding that ensnares you with its multiple hooks. This is an astoundingly mature sound for such a green band - the youngest is in high school and the oldest members are still in their first years of college - and it foreshadows creative longevity for this Atlanta quintet.

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