By working across a broad spectrum of styles, Britain's Muse evokes a wide range of reactions. Indisputably, however, it's one of the few remaining mainstream rock acts to pull off bombast with a real degree of success.
Three years after The Resistance, the trio of school friends is back with The 2nd Law, most notably featuring the London Olympics theme "Survival." The extravagant track best exemplifies that bombast, playing to its operatic strengths (with a hearty dose of riff rock) like Queen. The rest of The 2nd Law isn't quite so symphonic, but bits of orchestration are scattered throughout, whether in the horns of the dance-rock "Panic Station," the harpsichord of "Animals," or the accoutrements of opener "Supremacy," which pairs a quasi-polyrhythmic headbanger of a riff with 007-esque strings and a marching snare.
The album's biggest surprise, meanwhile, is its electronic elements. "Madness" is a step from full-blown electronica; "Follow Me" marries buzzing synths to a rock ballad; and "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable" moves from an operatic opening to a squelching dubstep breakdown with string backup. Later in the latter, the strings and programmed synths sprint together in lockstep, creating a sort of semi-symphonic Blade Runner piece.
As with many radio-ready releases, the album's vocals can be the biggest detraction, from breathy and melodramatic deliveries to cheese in the lyrics. But alternately, they can be compelling and powerful, channeling the likes of Freddie Mercury and Thom Yorke.
Musically, The 2nd Law has more than its share of strengths — none greater than its willingness to take chances.
- Scott Morrow
"Putty Boy Strut"
Originally sharpening his teeth with bumper music for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, electronic producer Flying Lotus garnered notoriety that bolstered the success of his 2006 debut, 1983. Now with four full-length albums, seven EPs, and countless singles and collaborations, it’s clear that, in retrospect, Steven Ellison has skills that only can be inherited, not taught.
Until the Quiet Comes capitalizes on the “chillwave” trend sweeping the lo-fi playlists, though it’s all served up with a healthy admixture of jazz samples, electronic textures, and hazy, glitchy, fuzzed-out beats (a FlyLo signature). You can play Quiet straight through without knowing where one track ends and another starts — perfect for a sunset road trip or midnight drive. A few tracks, such as “Me Yesterday//Corded” and “Putty Boy Strut,” have a hard time taking off, but the collaborative tracks (featuring Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu, Laura Darlington of The Long Lost, and more) play strong, steady, and smooth.
- Benjamin van Loon
Three years ago, Aaron Turner of Isis (and many, many other bands) and James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida of Khanate (and many, many other bands) formed a haunting, melodic, ambient project called Jodis.
Each already had quite a résumé for elongated, swirling, textured pieces, particularly of the dark variety, whether from projects like Old Man Gloom, House of Low Culture, or solo material. Jodis was different, though, and now the three experimentalists are issuing a second album together with a renewed focus on slow-building melody.
The guitars, ringing out with distortion and reverb, pluck notes one by one as feedback, atmospherics, and Turner's harmonized, almost chant-like vocals craft a ghostly setting. When Wyskida's drums come crashing in, the band's full weight can be felt, but like an apparition, they too are fleeting, never allowing the listener to know when to expect them.
- Scott Morrow
It’s true that breakups can be a catalyst to endearing music. Much like it sounds, Dark Dark Dark’s Who Needs Who carries a heavy heart, written during the parting of singer/pianist Nona Marie Invie and bandmate/multi-instrumentalist Marshall LaCount. And though challenging under the circumstances, each member manages to translate mixed emotions into a musical synergy that’s deeply private and revealing.
Perhaps it’s the piano-driven chamber folk or the wistful lyrics that make the music seem interlocked with deeper meaning, but even at the surface, this Minneapolis-based collective confronts emotional intensity with immediate poise and clarity. Like its past albums, Who Needs Who revolves around the husky vocals of Invie. Her somber piano playing and lingering vocal melodies create an undeniable bond as the record takes shape, retreating now and then to take refuge behind layers of instrumentation.
- Text by Michael Nolledo. Read the full review here.
Axewound: Vultures (The End)
Balmorhea: Stranger (Western Vinyl)
HAARP: Husks (Housecore)
How to Dress Well: Total Loss (Acéphale)
Kimbra: Vows Remix EP (Warner Bros.)
Maserati: Maserati VII (Temporary Residence)
Moon Duo: Circles (Sacred Bones)
Steve Moore: Light Echoes (Cuneiform)
Two Fingers: Stunt Rhythms (Big Dada)
Ultraista: s/t (Temporary Residence)