Picks for August 2011
By Christopher Schutte
Unlike last month’s GBV, which was prefaced by a fair amount of witty repartee on my part, we’re going to get right down to business this time around. It’s just too damned hot for cleverness.
What I’m listening to now:
Within and Without
Ernest Greene records under the name Washed Out, a term he learned as an amateur photographer. “It basically means that a shot is over lit — just a little blown-out looking,” Greene said. “People say that my music is like that.”
The de facto leader of the hazy chillwave movement is out with a new record that, if anything, redefines the genre and gives credence to the statement above.
Within and Without is still synth-heavy bedroom pop, but it is far more immediate and focused than its predecessor, Life of Leisure. Unlike some of his electronica contemporaries, Greene favors traditional song structure over texture building, and pop constructs over skittering beats. His new version of chillwave would be better defined as “trip-hop with soul,” or maybe something that defies genre altogether.
Within and Without is an unapologetically pretty, unabashedly ambitious record. The production is lush, the beats are bold and the blown-out ‘80s synth-pop vibe is palpable.
Black Up [Sub Pop]
Contrary to popular opinion Shabazz Palaces didn’t emerge out of the ether. What we know is this: Digable Planets alumnus Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler, adopted the alias Palaceer Lazaro and set out performing behind a head scarf and sunglasses. He released two critically acclaimed mini-albums in 2009 and has remained fairly anonymous until now.
In a world where you can quickly access a seemingly endless flow of information on virtually anything, it’s actually refreshing when the back-story is made irrelevant. That’s definitely the case with Shabazz Palaces.
Black Up is a dazzling collection of free-form stories told over a sonic palette of discordant beats and swirling synths that create the ideal backdrop for Butler’s hard-flow delivery.
This is an abstract work – experimental in many ways – that may serve as a roadmap for progressive hip-hop.
Black Up is hard, adventurous and gripping. That’s about all you can ask for.
The Civil Wars
Barton Hollow [Sensibility Music]
I chanced upon the Civil Wars one woozy Sunday morning on VH1 (yeah, I know). What I saw was a guy (John Paul White) banging on a beat-up acoustic guitar while harmonizing with a cute girl (Joy Williams) in a black dress. Not very original, right?
The two were singing the title track to Barton Hollow and what made the performance instantly memorable wasn’t their looks (though they’re both telegenic), their voices (more John Doe and Exene than Robert Plant and Alison Krauss), or the music itself (good, but nothing really special). It was some kind of innate quality between the two – a palpable heat and chemistry – that made the whole thing work.
Barton Hollow is by turns traditional folk, alt-country and chamber pop. It careens between dark and bluesy on the title track, to somber and a little too predictable in spots. The instrumentation is sparse and haunting, allowing White and Williams to carry the load – and that’s a plus. While the Civil Wars may not be the most unique combination in the world, they’ve got a certain something that far exceeds the sum of their parts. They probably have a more cohesive record in them, but Barton Hollow is a fine start.
Sound Kapital [Sub Pop]
What happens when your side project flourishes and your more established band breaks up? If you’re Dan Boeckner and the bands in question are Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade, you make your most committed Handsome Furs album to date.
Where Handsome Furs always sounded, to me, like a ramshackle rock band slumming with synthesizers, Sound Kapital is all raw, unswerving synth-driven anthems with equal musical focus placed on Boeckner’s wife, Alexei Perry’s, contributions.
It’s also lo-fi in both spirit, and production. It reminds me of the early days of indie synth-pop when bands/artists like Our Daughter’s Wedding, Gary Numan, Ultravox and Pete Shelley were exploring as yet uncharted territory.
The same spirit of exploration exists on Sound Kapital in which Boeckner – for the first time – puts down his guitar entirely in favor of keyboards. The results include a three song stretch featuring “Serve the People,” “What About Us” and “Repatriated,” that may be the best 14 consecutive minutes of music I’ve heard this year.
Reach DCP freelance writer Christopher Schutte at