May Music Reviews: Okkervil River, Fleet Foxes, Cults

blackbook.Image25808.austra.jpg_image.jpg
Share Button

Austra, Feel It Break (Domino) The debut album from this versatile Canadian three-piece has a singular sound, at once electronic and danceable, but with minor keys, austere chord progressions, and rainy-day vocals that sound goth at first, but are actually operatic—lead singer Katie Stelmanis (center) is classically trained.

It’s almost as if the band—named after the Latvian goddess of light—takes it as a personal challenge to imbue electronica with gravitas, a weight that can be heard on tracks like “Beat and the Pulse,” a sinister yet poppy song reminiscent of New Order at its best, and lead single “Lose It,” which showcases Stelmanis’ plaintive voice. The final track, “The Beast,” begins with an artful piano riff and builds to full classical orchestration. Feel It Break is a delicate balance of power and restraint. —Victor Ozols

Okkervil River, I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar) On I Am Very Far, lead singer Will Sheff shepherds his Okkervil River brigade into new terrain. Influenced by contemporaries like the National and the Decemberists, this Austin-based indie outfit has revamped their usual parabolic folk rock, delivering a surprising amalgamation of paradoxical forces—joy and sorrow, order and chaos. “Rider” is a rock anthem that zips along tight guitar lines and snapping snare, while “White Shadow Waltz” is a chamber pop explosion big on keys, horns, strings, and choral arrangements that never seem to unfold the same way twice. —William Kangas

Jessica 6, See the Light (Peacefrog) The outstanding debut album from this Brooklyn throwback act recalls a time when the city shone with glitter and cocaine. And it’s no wonder: Bassist Andrew Raposo, keyboardist Morgan Wiley, and singer Nomi Ruiz all met while touring in nu-disco figureheads Hercules and Love Affair’s live show. But Jessica 6 is first and foremost a house act, with Ruiz’s lush, androgynous vocals soaking up the beat on standouts “Fun Girl” and “White Horse,” in which Ruiz beckons, “Let me see you dance.” Not a problem. “Good To Go” slams on the brakes, a slow, candlelit jam that that would make Sade blush. —Caroline Seghers

Thurston Moore, Demolished Thoughts (Matador) Thirty seconds into Thurston Moore’s new album, you’re transported to the outskirts of Los Angeles back in the fall of ’94. With Beck as the record’s producer, this latest solo effort from the Sonic Youth iconoclast toggles between grace and weighty emotion. Experimental violinist Samara Lubelski elevates each track to soulful new heights. On “Benediction,” for example, Moore ponders the torments of human connection, while “Circulation” invokes in its listeners a blustery instrumental trance. With Demolished Thoughts, Moore proves just how fun wreckage can be. —Hillary Weston

Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop) The second album from this Pitchfork-approved band of brothers proves their success will be anything but fleeting. Gentle, tickling guitars and baroque chimes are portals into a sun-drenched daydream. The title track emphasizes the band’s refusal to play by any set of rules, as lead singer Robin Pecknold cheekily croons, “Bow down and be grateful, and say, ‘Sure, take all that you see’/ To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls, and determine my future for me.” The Foxes don’t exactly break new sonic ground here, but fixing things that ain’t broke is a fool’s errand. —CS

Cults, Cults (In The Name Of/Columbia) Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion have established a cult-like following in mere months. Their full-length debut includes “Go Outside,” the hooky, insouciant lo-fi tune that focused the internet’s ever-roaming gaze on the Brooklyn duo. The NYU film students—Follin sings, Oblivion slings the guitar—are purveyors of that brand of mysterious, old school rock ’n’ roll swagger. On songs like “Abducted,” their swooning, ’60s-era girl group melodies are undercut by heartbreak. Others, like “Bad Things,” are interspersed with speeches from notorious cult leaders, adding a sinister undercurrent that teeters on the edge of depressing. —Nadeska Alexis

Cat’s Eyes, Cat’s Eyes (Cooperative Music USA/Downtown) The Horrors’ frontman Faris Badwan and instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira’s mutual passion for iconic ’60s girl groups like the Shangri- Las is easily reflected in their debut effort, Cat’s Eyes. With the aid of Zeffira’s classically trained soprano voice, the twosome chart a torrid love affair, beginning with the wide-eyed ode “Best Person I’ve Ever Met,” to the pre-marital sex woes expressed on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” An abundance of dreamy vocals, a hearty helping of strings, and twinkling piano keys contrast sharply with Badwan’s down-low baritone and menacing horns on “Sooner Or Later,” the album’s darkest moment. By the time the closing track, “I Knew It Was Over,” rolls around, the album has already transitioned back into mistyeyed nostalgia. Serenity now. —NA