New tunes for end times

New tunes for end times

Questionable health, haunted people, wintry pop and electric sex

By Benjamin Smith

As I write this article, a colossal storm is slamming the East Coast, a toxic presidential election is reaching fever pitch, many are hoping for some sort of apocalypse on Dec. 21 – and I think I have the plague. ‘Tis a bleak season, my friends. Ergo, the following reviews of four albums that, obviously or subtly, complement a dark atmosphere. Music must match the mood, no? But chin up: at least our winter of discontent will have a fashionable soundtrack.

 

Album: The Haunted Man

Artist: Bat for Lashes

Label: Parlophone/EMI

Release Date: October 2012

Country: United Kingdom

Website: www.batforlashes.com

Perfect With:  Red wine & old photographs

I love brunettes. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that I (superficially) dig Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes. Yet I also (seriously) dig her voice and music. The Haunted Man’s second song and second single, “All Your Gold,” is brilliant: a little funky, a little sexy and utterly intriguing. A lyrically awkward chorus betrays a bruised underbelly: “There was someone that I knew before/A heart from the past that I cannot forget/I let him take all my gold, and hurt me so bad/But now for you, I have nothing left of all my gold.” It soon becomes apparent that The Haunted Man – sonically a crisp, glittering LP – was wrought by a haunted woman. Following in the footsteps of other top composers, Khan uses personal darkness to light a spark of hope. This spark shines brightest on the starkly beautiful “Laura,” which should impress even Kate Bush. An album of ghosts and lovers, villains and heroines.

 

Album: Hylas 002

Artist: Thomas Azier

Label: Hylas Records/BMG

Release Date: October 2012

Country: Germany

Website: thomasazier.com

Perfect With: Getting assassinated, getting ass

With the imminent release of the doom-and-gloomish “Skyfall,” James Bond seems to be everywhere. This is fortuitous for Dutch-born and Berlin-based Thomas Azier, whose second EP Hylas 002 replicates the wintery Euro-pop that dominated 007 soundtracks during the Soviet-obsessed 1980s. Indeed, “Fire Arrow” could be a golden relic from 1985’s “A View to a Kill,” whereas “Angelene” may have been ejected from 1987’s “The Living Daylights.” Short on substance (and on actual tunes), Hylas 002 is long on style that, mirroring one Roger Moore, shifts dangerously between cool and candid, kitsch and kick-ass. Azier pulls it off, though; each song ultimately goes down like a shot of Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and A-ha. If it doesn’t entirely satisfy, check out September’s Hylas 001 or Hylas 003, scheduled to drop next summer. Nicely odd and oddly nostalgic.

 

Album: The National Health

Artist: Maximo Park

Label: V2

Release Date: June 2012

Country: United Kingdom

Website: maximopark.com

Perfect For: People who wear “funny” hats

For years I refused to listen to Maximo Park. First of all, their name is rubbish. Also, lead singer Paul Smith looks like Jason Schwartzman, one of the terrible bastards sabotaging this century. Then this paper’s editor, Lord Emperor Kyle Melton, forced me to review the Park’s fourth record under threat of “Gangnam torture.” The hasty diagnosis: The National Health is fairly fit. Sure, the indie five-piece comes disturbingly close to replicating Rush at times, but there are moments that reflect the artfulness of more ­–ahem – “refined” groups, such as Elbow (“Hips And Lips”) and Editors (“The Undercurrents”). Most impressive is Smith’s vocal delivery and the band’s collective energy. My advice? Work harder on the lyrics, lads. “What a world this is, but we don’t know what to do with it,” Smith states on “Waves of Fear.” Christ, even Jason Schwartzman can write a better line.

 

Album: Stubborn Heart

Artist: Stubborn Heart

Label: One Little Indian

Release Date: November 2012

Country: United Kingdom

Website: www.stubbornheart.com

Perfect For: Cyborgs Who Like It “Hard,” Baby

There is a new dynamic duo in London these days – Luca Santucci and Ben Fitzgerald, otherwise known as Stubborn Heart. Think of these seedy purveyors of “electro soul,” whose debut lets it all hang out from the start with first track “Penetrate,” as a post-dubstep R&B act obsessed with Hall & Oates and smooth jazz circa 1986. This shit should sound terrible. Strange thing is, Stubborn Heart is excellent. Second song “Better Than This” – on which Santucci admits, “I can do better than you, you can do better than me” – is pure slow jam genius. And while “Two Times a Maybe” may be beyond absurd, the Radiohead gents would totally get down and dirty to it. (Behold: The King of Naughty Limbs!) Now, a 40-minute record of synths, drum machines, handclaps and falsettos is certainly not for everyone.  But for the brave or stubborn, it will no doubt stimulate some midnight fun.

Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at BenjaminSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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