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Witness yet another “Next Big Thing” in full effect. What makes electroclash so critic-friendly is that the movement has more than enough self-sufficiency and panache to look and sound great on paper. It’s a generation of producers wielding analog synths and rubbing shoulders with kinky vocalists, reconfiguring rock music’s lost sex appeal under the icy auspices of Eighties new wave—only remade for the 21st century.
The “electro” element in electroclash doesn’t signal a return to the jittery rhythms of “Planet Rock” and its progeny, but rather to Kraftwerk and the cool futurisms of synth-pop. Herein lies the problem; the profound inhumanity of machine music was central to the latter group’s ethos and appeal. With the radio often sounding more deranged and metallic than those early experiments, this late revival really comprises some of the oldest sounding new music around.
There isn’t a drop of irony in Adult.’s harsh productions, at once their greatest and most limiting aspect. The duo’s music stands a notch above the rest of the pack, with a punk slant that adds a much-needed shot of adrenaline and the compositional flair to match. The wonderfully alien “Glue Your Eyelids Together” wields its synths like guitars and “Turn Your Back” whines and squeals like no normal instruments would. They’re headbangers made for robots. “People, You Can Confuse” is brilliantly oppressive, sounding like circuits in cardiac arrest—the album’s delirious peak. Nicola’s deadpan singing is the crux’s of Adult.’s paradox, at once a riveting call to arms and a signifier of times long passed. —Ryan J. Kuo
The Blue Idol
It’s safe to say that Altan have secured a place in Irish music history, with ten albums in the last twenty years. With its latest, The Blue Idol, the group proves its maturity and shows off the six-member-plus band’s extraordinary unity.
Singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s rousing fiddle playing shines on the title track, a welcome set of jigs that break pace from the downtrodden songs that open the album. While Ní Mhaonaigh’s voice enchants, particularly on the Irish language tracks “Cuach mo Lon Dubh Buí” and “An Cailín Deas Óg,” the album’s real strength is its instrumentals. Arguably the group’s backbone, these tunes burst with the energy of live sessions, and their smooth melodic transitions—from fiddle to accordion to flute—speak to the players’ experience. The raucous reels of “The Low Highland” and the fantastic “Gweebara Bridge” infuse The Blue Idol with the toe-tapping beats that Irish music is best known for. Altan could stand to break free from their languid pace by further realizing the strength of these riotous tunes.
Some missteps are evident, such as “The Pretty Young Girl,” which features rather out-of-place vocals by Dolly Parton. The saxophone on “Cuach mo Lon Dubh Buí” oozes uncertainty, and ultimately doesn’t blend with Altan’s usual mix of instruments. While credit is due for Altan’s creativity, the group’s essence still lies in the picking of guitars or bouzoukis and the harmonies of fiddle and cello.
The original air “Sláinte Theilinn” is composed with the melodic inspirations of Donegal, an area of Ireland that influences much of the group’s sound. With this solid composition, Altan rounds out an album that showcases a variety of musical talents, with slow airs and 16th century songs standing quietly between punchy and perfected group tunes. —Neasa Coll
Considering that none other than teen queen Britney Spears was one of Boomkat’s original supporters, it’s not surprising that some of her style has rubbed off on Boomkat. In the preteen chat-room vein of “I’m A Slave 4 U,” the brother-and-sister duo offer such classics as “B4 It’s 2 Late” and “What U Do 2 Me” on their debut album, Boomkatalog One.
Kellin and Taryn Manning claim influences ranging from the Beatles to A Tribe Called Quest. But rather than melding the finest musical elements of these groups, their style can perhaps best be described as a glib, confused, badly executed fusion of hip-hop, pop, soul and electronica.
Boomkatalog One panders to Southern Californian middle school audiences. Taryn and Kellin cover all the requisite preteen bases—angst, love and screwy relationships. “Do you think I’m pretty or don’t you / Do you wanna get with me or not?” Taryn croons in her raspy drawl on “Wastin’ My Time.” “Now Understand This” boasts a refrain that sounds like a chorus of kindergarteners on uppers, happily la-la-la-ing their way to hyperactive oblivion. And “Crazylove” is a ditzy paean to family and friends—the kind perfected by Vitamin C with her notorious 2000 graduation anthem.
Supplemented by Kellin’s relentless drum machines and beats, Taryn pseudo-raps and yowls her throaty way through the 14 tracks on Boomkatalog One. But all her endless bluster and crazylove can’t save this album from disintegrating into a messy, genre-hopping katastrophe. —Tiffany I. Hsieh
The Summer of the Shark
Portastatic’s new album is a pleasant ballad collection for the seasonal warmth, with upbeat rhythms and alternately rousing and wistful lyrics by vocalist and drummer Mac McCaughan. Portastatic are a relaxed and unpretentious change from McCaughan’s well known indie band Superchunk.
Many of the songs, including “Paratrooper” and the opening “Oh Come Down,” are quiet ballads featuring acoustic guitar and occasionally drums. Typical McCaughan, the lyrics are infused with a poet’s sense for words and at the same time exquisite and emotional. In “Don’t Disappear,” McCaughan sings softly and longingly: “And in this dream we were terribly tall, wobbly and weak / And I was afraid we would fall / Impaled on dull silver mass of antennae / And I wanted to grab you, but you were so skinny.”
These ballads are complemented by more upbeat songs such as “Chesapeake” and “Drill Me.” The instrumental “Through A Rainy Lens” gives a taste of McCaughan’s sophistication, with electric soundscapes playing against a low bass line.
The album’s best songs are wistful but not sentimental, unpretentious but well-executed. The yearning lyrics and catchy melody of “Clay Cakes” at once evoke Yo La Tengo’s pop gems and the sweeter moments of the Rolling Stones decades ago. Those are timeless moments. —Zhenzhen Lu
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