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TBTS Eustachian Ruminations, 10/26/09 Edition

October 26, 2009

Any of you out there that love the Cure, raise your hands.  Wait, I can’t see that.  Scream “Me!” really loud.  Crap, can’t hear that either.  Can you tap on the screen or something….nevermind.  Needless to say, I love the Cure.  Actually, I love certain versions of the Cure, specifically the 1985-1996 version that put together a great run of albums beginning with The Head On The Door and ending with Wild Mood Swings.  My absolute favorite of this run is 1989’s Disintegration, which introduced me to Robert Smith’s delicately powdered face when I was but a young buck.

Why am I bringing up the Cure?  Well, I was thinking the other day about great album openers and I have to submit Disintegration‘s opening song, “Plainsong” as my absolute favorite.  Not saying it’s the best, mind you, just my favorite.  If you haven’t heard it, head on over to the Tweed’s page, play it on the radio player real quick, be amazed, and then come back for the rest of the post.  Great, glad you’re back.  Can you see why I love it?  The wall of synth, the gorgeous harmonies, and Smith’s cryptic lyrics are just superb.  Coming as it did at the close of the glorious Eighties, this song embodies the best of that era’s reliance on the synthesizer as an instrument to carry a pop tune.

Today’s post is going to ruminate a little on two acts that, like the Cure, push pop’s boundaries toward a more unabashedly electronic direction.  I’m not talking about electronica or house music, mind you.  Rather, these are bands that write rock and pop songs that could easily be played in a plugged-in four piece, but rather are played with a variety of synths, drum machines, and other computer-based applications.  Don’t let this push you away, both bands have terrific, recently released albums.  But their music isn’t for your traditional rock or pop radio crowd, either.

The xx are an English quartet that released their debut album XX in August of this year on Young Turks records.  Ever since, they’ve played all over the states, most recently in New York’s CMJ festival.  They’ve also been burning up the blogosphere, as they seem to be one of the latest “indie darling” bands.  If you do any research on their album, you’ll hear descriptors like “moody” and “atmospheric” applied, all appropriate to describe the tone of the album.  But there’s more there than just moodiness, each song on the album has a very melodic core that gently washes over the listener.  Despite its low-key nature, this album has a grand scope that is easy to miss on a first listen.  The opener “Intro” reminds me of “Plainsong”–not so much in sound but in scope, it’s a mighty statement that is spoken rather than shouted.

Deerhunter‘s Bradford Cox is a prolific guy.  When he’s not fronting the Atlanta foursome, he works solo under the moniker Atlas Sound.  It’s hard for me to determine what the fundamental differences are between Deerhunter and Atlas Sound other than personnel, but I’m learning to like it regardless of what Cox calls it.  Deerhunter’s 2008 release Microcastle and its companion Weird Era Cont. were collectively one of the year’s funnest releases for me, mainly because it took me a while to make any kind of sense out of them.  They reminded me of a less in-your-face and more melodic version of Animal Collective, and for me that was a good thing.  AC is oftentimes overstimulating for me, so Deerhunter was a welcome addition to my musical diet. 

Earlier in 2009, Deerhunter released the Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP, which only endeared me to young Mr. Cox even more.  Then, he dropped Logos under the Atlas Sound name and turned me into a fan.  Decidedly weird but somehow accessible, Logos showcases how great modern music can be produced with little more than a computer and a bedroom.  Supplementing his song’s acoustic base with a bevy of computer effects and sounds, Cox creates something that can be beautiful and a little scary, all at the same time.  I don’t have a background in Deerhunter or Atlas Sound releases prior to Microcastles so I can’t say if his 2008 and 2009 output is a departure from previous work, but whatever Cox is doing, it’s working big time for me.  Comparisons to Beck come to mind in terms of Cox’s production, just without the obvious hip-hop influence.  Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) shows up on the track “Walkabout”, which is the album’s most extroverted song.  Just as impressive is “Quick Canal” with Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, which is the most danceable track I’ve heard from Cox.

All in all both XX and Atlas Sound are different musically but similar in spirit to Disintegration.  I doubt that either the xx or Bradford Cox were channeling Porl Thompson while recording, but each artist’s ability to use computerized and studio effects is cut from the same cloth.  I recommend both of these albums for anyone who just needs a change of pace from the more folk and rock-oriented music out there. Sometimes you need something different to clear your head and these albums are definite palate-cleansers.  Speaking of clearing my head, I think I’ll go listen to some more Cure tunes, put on some lipstick, and saw on my wrists for a while with a dull razor.  Later!

  1. T. Stump permalink
    April 5, 2010 1:51 am

    When Lexington’s Z103, a radio venture towards corporate-approved “alternative” music, decided to add “Pictures of You” to their playlist in 1998-2000, they played a Bowdlerized radio-edit that removed the first 3 minutes of the song.

    Not to sound like a grumpy purist, but re-editing “Pictures of You” so the vocals kick in within the first 20 seconds of the song is wrong on so many levels, I need the damn Wonka-vator to get to them.

    As for the XX, I like that debut record quite a lot. It reminds me of – don’t laugh – The Motels’ tune “Total Control”

  2. Caleb permalink
    April 6, 2010 10:10 pm

    It’s funny, I remember what I assume was the same edit for that song and absolutely railing! It’s great to hear that Smith has been curating a remix of the album, I have long longed for a better mix, and I hope he’s done a good job with it.

    Honestly, can’t say I’ve ever heard the Motels, will have to check them out and try to catch the parallels. Thanks!

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