There are many ways to praise the duo Beach House including saying that over the course of five durable albums, they have consistently maintained a high level of artistry and craft. This holds true for the twosome’s new disc Depression Cherry (Sub Pop). Taking its place on the musical landscape, somewhere between Cocteau Twins and Galaxie 500, Beach House finds a way to evolve without alienating its core fan-base. Songs such as “Space Song, “PPP,” “Wildflower,” and in particular “Bluebird” and “10:37” are excellent examples of this. Depression, cherry or otherwise, has never sounded so good.
Inara George and Greg Kurstin are two busy people. Both are, or have been, members of other bands (see The Living Sisters and Geggy Tah, respectively) and both are prolific songwriters. So it’s nice that they still find time to get together to write and record as The Bird and The Bee, which they have been doing for almost 10 years. The Bird and The Bee’s previous album found the dutiful duo paying homage to Hall & Oates, one of pop music’s most enduring pairs. On Recreational Love (Rostrum), The Bird and The Bee’s first album of original tunes in seven years, they take a gently electro turn for the better. The style is more `80s synth-pop with a human touch than the mind-numbing EDM dominating this part of the century. The 10 songs owe a debt to predecessors including Tom Tom Club and Nu Shooz (see the fall 2015 Target commercial), while also remaining true to the groundwork that The Bird and The Bee has already laid for itself on songs such as “Young And Dumb,” “Jenny,” “Doctor” and “Will You Dance?” And, yes, we will dance.
Wow, what a comeback! On Born in the Echoes (Virgin), its strongest album in more than 10 years, The Chemical Brothers are back to set the record straight about the out-of-control EDM trend that it helped to launch 20 years ago with Exit Planet Dust. Kicking things off with the beat and buzz-driven “Sometimes I Feel So Deserted,” The Chemical Brothers stake their claim with some invited guests. Q-Tip provides the voice for “Go” giving the song its direction, while St. Vincent illuminates “Under Neon Lights.” That’s Cate Le Bon on the title cut and Beck chimes in on the strangely pretty “Wide Open. The deluxe edition contains four bonus tracks, including extended mixes of the distorted track “Reflexion” and “Go,” as well as the psychedelic “Let Us Build A City” and the breathy “Wo Ha.”
Attractive Australian brothers Keith and Michael Jeffrey of Atlas Genius made a splash with “Trojans,” a song from its debut disc When It Was Now. The album mixed electronic dance and rock sensibilities for an intriguing result. Inanimate Objects (WB) sticks with a similar formula but is not as immediately agreeable. You have to wait until the second track, “Molecules” (from which the album gets its title), for a measurable burst of energy. Atlas Genius does what it can to maintain the momentum on “Refugees” and “A Perfect End,” but the remainder of the songs are too generic to be memorable.
Caitlyn Jenner isn’t the only one who went through a significant name-change and transition this year. Formerly known as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., the duo of Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott have shortened their moniker to JR JR. To further simplify matters, the first album released on Warner Brothers under the new name is self-titled. As for the 12 songs on the disc, it proves that not even a new name can stifle these guys’ creativity. Opener “As Time Goes” is a timely piece of over-the-top dance pop and “In The Middle” will keep dancers stuck to the (dance)floor as soon as they hear it. “Gone,” story song “Philip The Engineer,” the pleasing “In My Mind (Summertime),” and “Listening To Outkast, June 23, 2013” are all worth mentioning.
If you miss the music of duo known as The Civil Wars then you will probably find something to like about mixed-gender Americana/bluegrass duo Mandolin Orange and its new full-length disc Such Jubilee (Yep Roc). The title is a bit of a misnomer because there isn’t much jubilation to be found. That’s not a bad thing, because what is here is, including the domestic bliss of “Settled Down,” “From Now On” and “Daylight,” as well as the powerful anti-gun violence tune “Blue Ruin,” is quite special.
Finally, birds of different feathers take flight on a couple of new releases. Heavy metal is not a genre known for its humor, but thanks to Eagles of Death Metal (hot Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and pal Jesse Hughes) that is no longer the case. On Zipper Down (T-Boy/UMe), featuring 10 originals, including the brilliantly sarcastic “Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M.),” and great cover of Duran Duran’s “Save A Prayer,” Eagles of Death Metal soar.
Working again with producer (and music legend) Chris Stamey, North Carolina duo Birds and Arrows (Andrea and Pete Connolly) return with Edge of Everything (birdsandarrows.com) as they prepare to make a new nest for themselves in Tucson, Arizona. In fact, you can hear more Southwest influence than Southeast on this disc in songs such as “Desert Home,” “Trainwreck,” “Wolf,” and “Edgewood.”
By Gregg Shapiro