Late summer releases to get the semester started
VHS or Beta "Bring on the Comets" (Astralwerks) Grade: A- Sounds like: A harmless dance-rock record that wants to be a party playlist anchor.
The beginning bars of the title track sound like the credits from one of those not-quite Brat Pack movies always aired on Comedy Central. The angular guitars cavorting around over a beat that sounds a little too much like house music, the sappy lyrics - it's all nostalgia. On the fifth studio album from the Louisville electro-rock outfit VHS or Beta, the band produces an album packed with tracks that desperately want to become anthemic songs of youth (that aren't too far away, either) in an age when things get old too quickly. The single, "Burn It All Down," will keep the dance floor moving but will ultimately be forgotten after the next round of drinks.
Pissed Jeans "Hope for Men" (Sub Pop) Grade: A Sounds like: Pissed-off stoners forming a Steve Albini tribute band.
Fusing noise rock and post-hardcore, the Allentown, Penn., quartet Pissed Jeans delivers big on its first Sub Pop release. With stoner riffs ripped straight off of "Jerusalem" and shivering songs clocking in at three minutes, "Hope for Men" blends traditions into one big noisy mess. Think Big Black meets Boris. The closer, "My Bed," drones on for almost eight minutes of cathartic head-slamming glory. If it doesn't leave hope for men, it at least leaves hope for another release on a major.
Bat for Lashes "Fur and Gold" (Caroline) Grade: A Sounds like: A British Cat Power with beautiful production.
This re-release of Brighton's Bat for Lashes' 2006 record comes to America on Caroline Records, and perhaps we're all a little sadder for it. Dark arrangements featuring viola, autoharp, violin and horns provide a mysterious and deep backdrop for Natasha Khan's quirky falsetto vocals about wizards, bats and horses. From the spooky Theremin on the opening track "Horse and I" to the bass-y chords of "I'm on Fire," the album's exclusive U.S. bonus track, the central display is Khan's voice. A stunning offering from overseas.
Tiny Vipers "Hands Across the Void" (Sub Pop) Grade: A Sounds Like: A whimsical retreat into the darkest places of your heart.
"Hands Across the Void" is Jesy Fortino's first album alone as Tiny Vipers.
Like a really sorrowful Joanna Newsom strumming an acoustic guitar instead of a harp, Fortino can be haunting. If there were a short film about a young woman exploring the woods around a lake with a lantern, this would be the perfect soundtrack, as hinted at by all the album art. This album is appropriate for dark moods and depression or retreats into cool solitude.
That being said, the 42-minute record grows from a peaceful and lo-fi, mostly acoustic beginning, to a rolling electronic dissonance. In "Shipwreck," Fortino says, "I'm much too young to find my way / much too small to say 'at least I'm dying.'" These kind of melodic and intensely personal lyrics punctuate this great first record.