Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color
I’ve mentioned before that soul music is a genre I don’t really “get” – I can see the vocal and musical talent that goes into it, but it doesn’t necessarily speak my language. Alabama Shakes apply a bit of an indie/southern rock sort of feel to that sound, and occasionally they show some surprising left-field influences that keep me guessing. This definitely isn’t one of those albums where I would get any two tracks even remotely confused with each other. Brittany Howard is a boisterous vocalist who takes some getting used to, but she won me over with the extreme quiet/loud dynamic of “Gimme All Your Love”, a song which I’ve become rather addicted to in the last month or so, and a number of her other performances here are beginning to do so as well.
Beach House – Depression Cherry
Beach House is one of those bands that makes me fear I might not truly “get” indie music. I mean, that’s ridiculous – I listen to tons of indie bands and there’s really no unifying aesthetic to them all except for trying to go somewhere off the beaten path of what major labels and commercial radio might expect of them. Then you have Beach House, which does pretty much one thing – shoegaze-y, slow to mid-tempo dream pop – and they do it reasonably well, but it’s not a sound I’d ever get terribly excited about. Bloom had a few cuts that deviated from their norm, but to me that was not an amazing album, just one I’d put on every now and then for a chill, contemplative mood. Here Victoria and Alex are almost stubborn in their commitment to shedding anything remotely commercial about their sound, and the result is a scant 9 tracks that, despite the album’s brevity, are still rather difficult for me to tell apart. They sound only half-interested in what they’re doing most of the time, and the only things that really jump out at me are the extremely distorted vocal loop that becomes the main hook of “Sparks”, and the eerie choral approach taken on the closing track “Days of Candy”. Most of the rest of it is just vaguely moody vocalization and half-there guitar parts over their purposefully lo-tech (and painfully repetitive) drum programming. No thank you.
Attalus – Into the Sea
Attalus hails from a more aggressive corner of the rock music world than where I would usually venture – bands like Thrice and mewithoutYou might be good reference points because Attalus, much like those bands, can meander back and forth between full-throated screams and hauntingly beautiful melodic passages within mere seconds, often managing despite my expectations to make these opposite extremes work within a single song. This concept album, which uses nautical metaphors (and a bit of Greek mythology) to describe a soul being lost and then found, isn’t shy about the Christian faith of its members, but it does so in a poetic and artful way that for the most part, avoids setting off my “predictably didactic Christian music” alarm. This thing clocks in at over an hour; listening to it is like watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies in that I need to be in the right frame of mind to get all the way through it in one sitting, but it’s worthwhile listening when I do have the attention span for it.