What Am I Listening To? – June 2015

2015_OfMonstersandMen_BeneaththeSkinOf Monsters and Men – Beneath the Skin
I was over the moon for OMAM’s debut. This one… I’m just not feelin’ it. I don’t even think that much has changed. Sound-wise, it’s about what I’d expect from a follow-up… same folk/rock sound with an Icelandic lilt, just a little more electric guitar-driven and brooding. The songs just don’t reach the same heights as the nearly wall-to-wall highlights on My Head Is an Animal. They try, but they feel bogged down by something intangible. Maybe the hooks just aren’t as strong. Maybe the instrumentation isn’t as diverse. It’s hard to say. It just feels like a chore to get through this one, despite some well-meaning highlights in its front half, and that’s frustrating for an album that I was looking forward to so eagerly.

2015_Muse_DronesMuse – Drones
Speaking of albums that are difficult to get through, nearly everything about the new Muse is ridiculously overblown. That’s compared to the previous work of a band that I had already acknowledged as a bit cartoonish and over-the-top in mostly fun ways. There’s just something especially tasteless about using that sound to tell us that war is bad. It feels like a clown trying to do an anti-smoking PSA or something. The tone is just off, especially in the shock-rocker “Psycho”, which has little more to say than “Hey, drill sergeants sure curse up a storm and psychologically abuse their recruits a lot, don’t they?” I can appreciate the ambition here, as I always can with Muse. they tried a little harder to pack every song with badass riffery and engaging rhythms. But the hooks often fall flat and a lot of the songs feel disjointed. The more pop-friendly ones are almost Muse-by-numbers. I’m not going to say the whole thing is a wash, since even on a bad day the sound these guys make can be quite entertaining. Song-for-song, though, they just aren’t firing on all cylinders, and even though I thought The 2nd Law was highly inconsistent, I’d take it over this bizarre mess any day.

2015_Copeland_IxoraTwinCopeland – Ixora Twin
What could have been a lame cash grab, or a retread of an idea that was done far more daringly by The Flaming Lips almost twenty years ago, actually turned out to be a pretty enjoyable listen. Apparently either after the band had wrapped up their comeback album Ixora last year, or at least while it was in progress, someone got the bright idea to record alternate takes of all ten of its songs with mostly different instrumentation, with melody lines that contrast the original versions, or heck, even different lyrics. The result is sort of a remix album in the sense that it’s a little more electronic and beat-driven, but listening to it on its own only gives you part of the picture. Each track is exactly the same length as its original counterpart, making it possible to play the two albums in sync and hear how the two combine into a more fully fleshed-out whole. The bare-bones approach on some of Ixora‘s tracks makes a whole lot more sense to me now, but it’s remarkable how well some of these versions complement each other without the competing sounds overpowering each other. If you preferred some of the more intimate, quiet sketches on the original Ixora, hearing them in more of a beat-driven format will probably throw you for a loop, but then some of Ixora‘s busiest tracks got the stripped-down treatment here, making it really interesting to hear how the whole jigsaw puzzle fits together. “Lavender” and “Like a Lie” may contain the most striking contrasts on the entire album, but for those who like to listen to a record until they know all the little details by heart, fascinating little sonic twists on the songs you thought you knew are always lurking just around the corner.

2015_FlorenceTheMachine_HowBigHowBlueHowBeautifulFlorence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
I’d seen Florence a few times on SNL; I’m not sure why she and her band didn’t connect with me, but when she brought “Ship to Wreck” out to play on Jimmy Fallon’s show, I was instantly hooked. Maybe I perceived more eccentricity to her than what was really there? The woman’s got a powerful voice, that’s for sure, and the first four tracks on this album exhibit her huge, ravenous singing style in the most wonderful ways possible. “Delilah” and the closing track “Mother” aren’t far behind. Things do get a little sleepy when she eases up on the throttle, but for every middle-of-the-road track in this album’s midsection, there’s an engaging bonus track on the deluxe edition that more than makes up for it.

2015_BurlaptoCashmere_FreedomSoulsBurlap to Cashmere – Freedom Souls
I’d call this the “long-anticipated” third record by B2C, but honestly, a 4-year gap doesn’t seem so bad compared to the 13-year gap before their last one! This one might have begun life as a Steven Delopoulos solo record before the guys came full circle and found themselves dusting off some old ideas from those intervening years between Anybody Out There? and the self-titled. It almost feels like it could have been their long lost second album, particularly since the closing track “Dialing God” has been floating around ever since their turn-of-the-century live shows. Musically, it’s all over the place in all the ways you’d expect a sophomore album from a highly eclectic band to be. One minute it’s the frenetic Greek/Latin-infused folk/rock we came to love them for, the next minute it’s slightly country, or Springsteen-inspired balladry, or (gasp!) a little bit of smooth jazz, if you can believe it. Not the most consistent thing in the world to listen to, but I enjoy the curveballs nonetheless. These guys are too restless to keep in a box, anyway.

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