At risk of taking the easy way out, I have to say that the most recent offering from Canada’s Junior Boys’ turns a neat trick: reestablishing and sustaining familiar tonal palette over the course of an entire album while eluding the joint specter of drudgery and repetition.
Yet rather than a sprawling masterwork, “So This is Goodbye” is a cohesive album, whose melodic bass lines issue taut rejoinders to lazy keyboard echoes, delicate synth arpeggios, and efficient percussion—complete with judicious handclaps, especially on “First Time” (alas, sans cowbell).
Despite the album’s electro-sheen and programmatic counterpoint, singer Jeremy Greenspan’s high, reverb-enhanced vocals imbue the tracks with a necessary human element.
Indeed, Greenspan’s voice staves off the otherwise-inevitable feeling that these tracks might, in fact, make rather excellent lounge instrumentals.
And while these ten tracks do tend to emphasize a removed compositional sensibility, outliers such as the jaunty, Eurythmics-lite “The Equalizer” and the aching “When No One Cares” eliminate fears of redundancy.
Ultimately, while this may be an album better suited to our friend winter—its placid textures embracing days and nights in—it stands as one of the most compositionally and emotionally interesting releases of the summer.
Thom Yorke: “The Eraser”
Much digital ink has been spilled about Thom Yorke’s surprise solo album, “The Eraser,” both prior to and since its July 11 debut.
As rumors about new Radiohead releases—or break-ups, depending on what blog you were reading—circulated, the internet hype machine seemed content to perform at redline, relentlessly predicting and asserting on the basis of a few pre-released MySpace tracks and characteristic industry leaks.
Of course, all of this press begged, and begs, the admittedly jealous question: does Yorke’s first solo effort really deserve this attention, apart from the fact that it happens to share a gene-pool with Radiohead?
Not as great as you’d hope, but not as awful as you’d fear, “The Eraser” turns out to be quite a good album.
From the off-kilter opening piano chords in the title track to the hypnotic percussion of “Black Swan” (featured in the closing credits of the summer’s most insidious film, “A Scanner Darkly”) and the tin-pan drum machines and expansive bass of “Harrowdown Hill,” the record’s nine tracks reassert Yorke’s musical genius.
It’s a simple album, content to rely on competent electronic drums, synthesizer flourishes, producer Nigel Godrich’s occasional esoteric grace notes, and, most notably, Yorke’s achingly flexible voice.
And yet, it is an album that stands up to repeated examination. While “Eraser” lacks the manic fluctuations of favorite Radiohead tracks, and while Yorke’s voice slips rarely into his characteristic Brit-sneer, its expression of its creator’s singular vision—lyrical, musical, and otherwise—makes it one of the most intriguing albums of the past summer.
TV on the Radio: “Return to Cookie Mountain”
In which yesterday’s next big thing actually fulfills their potential, creating an album that is both cutting edge and listenable. 2004’s “Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes” was universally lauded for its inventive marriage of synthesized sounds and soulful vocals within a more-or-less traditional rock context; “Return to Cookie Mountain” surpasses it in every way. The songs are all nearly perfect: relentlessly percussive, and affecting without being sappy. As if that weren’t enough, David Bowie performs a guest benediction on “Province.”
Digital, mechanical, and organic elements are combined to make a sound that is dark without being hopeless, propulsive without being stupid. It may sound hyperbolic, but the closest point of comparison is Radiohead’s “OK Computer.” Both albums use technology as a backdrop for an album about desolation, although TV on the Radio are more viscerally appealing, less nerdy, have better voices, and, at least at this point, are far more interesting.
Or maybe they’re U2 but smarter and more realistic. Whatever you want to call it, it’s the most compelling listening of the year so far.
Girl Talk: “Night Ripper”
Mashups have been enjoying success over the last few years, but most people have considered them novelties; if they were art, they were of the moustache-on-Mona-Lisa variety. Enter “Night Ripper,” an ultra-tight 40 minute survey of pop music, 5 seconds at a time.
Restlessly shifting beats, melodies, and vocals, there are enough ideas here to create hours and hours of lesser music. Instead, 250-some samples are fired off as quickly as they can be identified, giving the effect that every song you know is being played at once. Despite this, the tracks rarely sound cluttered. The mostly fantastic and always recognizable source material ensures that there’s never a boring moment.
And as the layers of the mix wander from genre to genre, there are some revelatory moments. “Juicy” over “Tiny Dancer”? Paul Wall over “California”? The first time you’ll laugh; the second time you’ll philosophize.
The DJ here shows a gift for reducing songs to only the most necessary elements, as when field-stripping The Rentals’ “Friends of P” from a three and a half minute slice of mid-90’s nostalgia rock to half-second moment of heavenly clarity.
While at times it seems that the goal is to make the most shocking, rather than best-sounding, juxtaposition, there’s enough of merit going on here that it will take multiple listens to unravel. And even after all the samples are identified and analyzed, it’s still a great pop record.
The Knife: “Silent Shout”
Most famous for their hit “Heartbeats” (which in turn was most famous for appearing in a cover version in the Sony “bouncy balls” TV commercial), Swedish duo The Knife return with a dark, processed, captivating sound. This is middle path electronic music, too weird and meandering to be considered dance, but still far too beat-driven to be mistaken for anything too experimental. Drum machines and synthesizers dominate, giving the album an icy and Continental feel. But there are enough vocal hooks strung along the moonscape that it is still recognizable as pop, albeit a kind bound not to get much play on radios stateside.
It’s a record so weird and original that there’s no context for which it would be wholly appropriate, except maybe Halloween. The vocals are so heavily processed throughout that the singers never sound human—this is the sort of music ghosts might make, if they were Nordic and liked to dance as they haunted. That may not sound like a compliment, but believe me, it is.
—Reviewer Eric L. Fritz can be reached at email@example.com.
—Reviewer Nathaniel Naddaff-Hafrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org