Issue August 27, 2008

Music Reviews

Youth Novels

Lykke Li

(LL/PHANTOM SOUND & VISION)

<next!>

I’m not sure what to think when “Melodies and Desires” opens Lykke Li’s Youth Novels. It’s a poetry reading over elevator music, and I find myself waiting on a room full of Beatniks to snap in approval from behind their cups of black coffee. It’s an off-putting introduction to an otherwise lackluster album.

Li is a citizen of the world who in her mere 22 years has lived in Sweden, Portugal, Lisbon, Nepal, India and Morocco — all before settling in New York to record with Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn & John fame.

The album gets a little groovy, especially on lead single “I’m Good, I’m Gone” and “Let It Fall,” which picks up amid lyrics that might otherwise have remained submerged in melodrama. Li’s superb voice is mostly lost in the trappings of the psychedelic-folk craze that seems to be so trendy in indie rock now.

With its capricious reverb, vapid drum machines and desolate synthesizers, this album is hardly more fulfilling than a collection of bad Feist outtakes. —Brent Owen

Fortunately

Brothers and Sisters

(CALLA LILLY)

<gone native>

If there’s one band that bucks the notion that there is no Austin sound, it’s Brothers and Sisters. Something about the ATX sextet’s not-quite-alt-country milieu is just what you’d expect to see on stage at a SXSW showcase. Call it hillbilly-infused indie pop, call it ProgTex, call it whatever you like. I’m calling it the indigenous sound of the Texas capital.

Their self-titled debut album was brimming over with gorgeous Tex-pop. Not a lot changed with Fortunately: B&S continue to craft heartfelt songs you’ll include on mixtapes for people you’re romantically interested in. Highlights include title track “California” and a souped-up version of “That’s How it Goes,” a formerly lackluster song they shined up to a real showpiece.

Although the poster children of the Austin sound haven’t seen a lot of growth, no one will mind: Fortunately will win new listeners and appease older fans looking for more of the same. —Kirsten Schofield

New York City

Brazilian Girls

(VERVE FORECAST)

<hooker>

One thing I have learned to appreciate is the proven ability to fuse many levels and layers into one package, with the end result being anything but chaotic.

In wine, this is the bottle I want to drink for dinner. To discover the same in music is bliss. This collection is multi-faceted; all elements are openly acknowledged and seamlessly integrated, complementing each other as if every part is a supporting layer for the other. None demands supremacy.

Each track is streamlined beauty, individual unto itself, with some popping out and some skulking by. “St. Petersburg” edges toward Bow Wow Wow’s eclectic style, while “Strangeboy” exemplifies the smoky, hollow texture of lead singer Sciubba’s voice in a Deborah Harry fashion. “Good Time” is groovy, electronic, quirky, non-committal dance music. Go techno! Sciubba’s multi-lingual lyrics are the perfect supplement to the variety of musical styles executed here. Think about this when listening to “Internacional.” All the way around, this disc is full of unrestrained and excitable sound, leaving this listener sold for life. —Michelle Manker

Chemical Chords

Stereolab

(4AD)

<chemistry set>

The mad musical scientists of Stereolab are at it again, brewing up more astonishing concoctions of pleasantly trippy jams. Their latest record presents layers upon layers of fantastic material, and the album, as a whole, is a retro and futuristic experience all at once.

Stereolab clings to their distinctive sound, while offering evident variation from track to track. I especially dug their prominent use of percussion, and the fact that the vocals didn’t dominate on any piece — they were just another layer, another ingredient. Of course they’re not Mary Hansen’s anymore, but they groove on nonetheless.

Some tracks were dancy, others meditative, and the rest indescribable — like the song “Pop Molecule,” which totally freaked me out in a good way. The ’90s British band that has been drifting in and out of the music world like a long-lost cousin doesn’t fail to deliver, and this album is a true music-lover’s delight. —Jane Mattingly

Sujinho

Jackson Conti

(MOCHILLA)

<crack it open>

Is it hip hop because the fingers that created it are of a legend in the genre? Can you transcend genre and not alienate your base? Will the new audience accept you, especially if you are of that heathen (and “non-musical” © Wynton Marsalis) breed called hip hop? Enter one Otis Jackson Jr., known to us heathens as Madlib.

Sujinho extends Madlib’s previous forays into jazz under various pseudonyms (collected under the Yesterday’s New Quintet banner) into what is easily his best (and most musical, Mr. M) jazz work to date. This one’s a Brazilian affair, and for it, he enlists the help of master percussionist and Azymuth member Ivan Conti. The result is a near-perfect yet nearly exhausting look into the rhythms and vibes of Conti’s home. 

Many are covers of classics, though most ears will hear these songs for the first time. There is some evidence of Madlib’s day job in the mix and in some of the off-kilter arrangements and slightly-behind-the-beat cues. It gets no better than the 10-minute “Papaia,” a slow, guitar-flourished groove that doesn’t let up. The xylophone workout on “Xibaba” could be a leftover Zappa track. Essential summer listening. —Damien McPherson

Preteen Weaponry

Oneida

(JAGJAGUWAR)

<meditative>

Brah Records founders/operators Oneida, who appeared at this year’s Terrastock Festival here, are fans of the trilogy, and this is the first installment of their Thank You Parents series. As trilogies go, this is more “Lord of The Rings” than “Star Wars: A New Hope.” 

Translation: Esta muy bueno.

The three tracks show a knack for urgent crescendos and slight, but not overdone, improvisation, honed to a fine edge over the 10 years the group has been together. The album doesn’t sound unsafe for children, but, like kids, has this tribal playground quality that’s impressive and ever-present.

Track 2’s plodding dirge spells doom, like Malachai somehow returned for another round with the corn children, while 3 reverses the gloom for a healthy round of electromagnetism, not so much ending a feeling as leaving you with one, whatever that might be. —Mat Herron