Impish robots, dark stars, flying horsemen and wonderful toys

Four albums you have to buy or die

By Benjamin Smith

Hell is holiday shopping. Oh, how I loathe the upcoming exercises in self-induced anxiety and advertising-induced excess. Purchase or perish! For me, it’s bad enough that I don’t know what to buy people anymore; worse still is the fact that I don’t know if people are even human anymore. (Only my lovely wife and maybe Rachel Maddow are exempt from this doubt.) And forget that whole “Christmas spirit” sham: the Universe is a cold slab of matter. However, before your writer gets too nihilistic, he can at least recommend four gift ideas for the musically-minded automatons in your automatic lives. Happy consuming.

Album: Automaton

Artist: Fairmont

Label: My Favorite Robot Records

Release Date: November 2012

Country: Canada


Perfect Gift For: Friends who lost their virginity listening to Depeche Mode’s Violator

Jake Fairley, a.k.a. Fairmont, is apparently a bit impish. What else could explain why new album Automaton – overall very catchy, slightly discordant indie-electronica – was bookended by atrocity? Opener “Creatures Of Night” conjures visions of a vampiric Tim Curry disco dancing (just trust me on this one), while closer “Slowing Down” presents a boring open letter to some bum who habitually drinks Fairley’s wine and flirts with his wife. Fucked if I know. Yet, the rest excels. “Alkaline,” based on repetitive synthesizer stabs plus drum machine, stands out as the coolest New Romantic track I’ve heard in years, the beautiful “Sara” is covered in Washed Out’s Chillwave fingerprints and “Tiny Diamonds” sparkles with ‘80s darkness and drama. Time to break out the eyeliner and awkwardly dance, all ye merry gentlemen. Impressive, mischievous, poignant.

Album: Navigate
Artist: Flying Horseman

Label: N.E.W.S./Unday

Release Date: November 12

Country: Belgium


Perfect With: Relatives who always wear black

Sometimes a mediocre band can make memorable, even haunting, music. Such is the case with Flying Horseman and their new four-song EP. Navigate is skeletal modern folk that succeeds in evoking emotion in spite of itself. Singer Bert Dockx is a boring vocalist and childish lyricist (“America is dead, America is dead, don’t be sad … it’s a good thing some might have said,” he reports on – surprise – “America Is Dead”); nevertheless, the melancholic guitar notes will remain in your mind like sepia-stained memories. Adding texture, “We Navigate” arrives with screeching electric terror. The main reason to buy the EP, though, is for the excellent cover of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay,” here interpreted as a somber country ballad as performed by the blokes from Doves or Nick Drake’s ghost. Hopefully, recording this classic has inspired Mr. Dockx to step up his game.

Album: TOY
Artist: TOY

Label: Heavenly Recordings

Release Date: September 2012

Country: United Kingdom


Perfect With: Avant-garde anglophiles

Last year, The Horrors wowed Britain with Skying, a brilliant fireworks display of post-punk psychedelia. This year, their mates in TOY have launched a similar spectacle with their debut. To their credit, the spooky-looking five-piece have high praise for their normal-looking producer Dan Carey (Bat For Lashes, Hot Chip), who – among other things – utilized smoke and lasers in the studio. As Carey explained to England’s The Quietus, “I think if you fill the eyes with something intense and visual, it leaves you with the space to focus on the music. Your body reacts to the environment … There’s a logic behind that.” Clearly the logic works. TOY is a joy, from its space-rock beginning (“Colours Running Out”) to its epic whirling dervish ending (“Kopter”). Bizarrely, the best bit is a lush pop song called “Heart Skips A Beat.” State-of-the-art in British style.

Album: AXIS
Artist: Mugstar

Label: Agitated Records

Release Date: October 2012

Country: United Kingdom


Perfect With: Post-rock potheads

I’ll forgo commenting on the outfit’s god-awful name and will begin instead with an unlikely confession: I never completely appreciated the Doors until I listened to AXIS. Turns out I actually dig a little Morrison mojo if mixed with early Pink Floyd atmospherics and Mogwai muscle. This brew creates both the majesty of “Hollow Ox” – hippies laying siege to massive castles built by the gods – and the menace of “Axis Modulator,” which boasts faux-Lizard King yelps. (AXIS also radiates other influences, including Hawkwind and Dig Out Your Soul-era Oasis.) These seven songs prove the Mugstar chaps have chops, but there is an important lesson to be learned: when playing keyboards in a rock group, you better understand that brevity is the soul of showmanship. Tragically, third track “Tangerina” is marred by pointless Richard Wright/Ray Manzarek noodling. A strange instrumental storm.

Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at

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