By Carolyn Todd
“Under the Gun,” Electric Guest
Los Angeles duo Electric Guest has gained an almost-instantaneous cult following with its debut album last spring—probably because the music industry has figured out that anything producer Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) touches turns to gold, the Gorillaz, Beck and the Black Keys, among others. Or it could be because Electric Guest is a boldly original talent with a fun and unfamiliar sound. Countless bands these days are described as “genre-bending,” but Electric Guest truly merits the title with its indefinable mix of ’60s funk, ’70s soul/disco and retro pop-rock.
The dancey yet soulful delight “Under the Gun,” like most songs on the album, paints a lyrical narrative of young wandering souls: “Maya Mi/hated Tennessee, so she packed her bag/Halfway gone she called her dad/He said, ‘Baby girl, if you want free, you won’t see me.’” According to Burton, band founder Asa Taccone based the band’s name on an odd encounter he once had: “an old new-age woman he met at a donut shop…told him that he was an electric guest from another planet.” That kooky old lady might have been on to something, because Electric Guest’s music is truly out of this “Mondo.”
Look out for their next EP “Holiday” (to be released Oct. 22) and an upcoming show at the Theatre of Living Arts in Philly (Oct. 18).
“Ruin,” Cat Power
Six years after her last original album, Cat Power makes a vibrant return with “Sun,” a fresh and fearless departure from this indie-queen’s usually understated sound. Stylistically, “Sun” is markedly more produced and upbeat than Chan Marshall’s previous albums—here, she is playfully experimental and unapologetically fun.
She raises the tempo of her customarily beautiful melodies, and enhances them with softly layered vocals and varied instrumental synthesis, ultimately making for a much more accessible, Urban Outfitters-friendly sound. The album as a whole radiates a sense of confidence and freedom, a definitive change in direction for Cat Power.
This new style is embodied particularly well on “Ruin,” a catchy tune driven by a rapid and recurrent minor-key piano riff that is sure to linger in your head for days. When the cymbals and scratchy electric guitar enter about 90 seconds in, the track becomes positively danceable. Loyal Cat Power fans shouldn’t fear, though—Marshall’s intellectual, soul-searching lyrics haven’t gone anywhere.
Here, she protests our ignorance of the disparity of privilege around the world. In the deceptively cheery, smoothly synthesized chorus, Marshall is actually scolding such lack of gratitude: “B*tching, complaining when some people ain’t got sh*t to eat.” Compassionate indignation at the injustices in today’s world is a recurring theme on “Sun,” and Cat Power expresses her defiant yet subtle protests of humanity’s pitfalls beautifully.
Catch this incredible live act on Oct. 25 at the Electric Factory in Philly.
“Shuffle,” Bombay Bicycle Club
“A Different Kind of Fix” (A&M / Octone)
This English foursome has already reached rock-royalty status in their home country—they opened the London Olympics Closing Ceremony concert this August. The band’s third record, “A Different Kind of Fix,” veers away from their 2010 acoustic album with the introduction of a talented new production team—Jim Abbiss (Artic Monkeys), Ben H. Allen (Gnarls Barkley, M.I.A.) and Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire)—who became integral in the creative process rather than post-production polishers.
Their U.S. breakout single, “Shuffle,” couples a cheery Matt and Kim-style piano riff with dreamy, reverberated vocals to create a tune as unique as it is enjoyable. Skillfully mastered by Allen and mixed by Silvey, the rhythmically tight track seamlessly layers various instrumental and vocal samples. Enigmatic, ambiguous lyrics add depth and gravity to this poppy gem: “Once you get the feeling it/Wants you back for more/Now it gets ethereal/Feet ain’t on the floor.”
This reviewer would like a word with the band’s tour manager, though—their North American tour kicks off tomorrow but unfortunately skips over the East Coast before heading down to Australia.
“Demons,” Imagine Dragons
“Night Visions” (Kid Ina Korner / Interscope)
A torrential downpour broke out over a recent outdoor show at the Piazza in Philly, quite literally dampening the venue’s mood. Luckily, the crowd quickly forgot how cold and wet it was when AWOLNATION’s opening act took the stage. The decision to rock out in the rain was an easy one—Imagine Dragons makes the rare kind of music that engulfs you in energy, allowing you to lose yourself in the song for just a few minutes. Their surging arena-rock sound has earned the Vegas-based quartet comparisons to U2 and One Republic—but their intimately honest, empowering lyrics distinguish them from the pack.
An empowering sense of self-revelation and emotional clarity saturates the recently-released “Night Visions,” perhaps nowhere more so than on the anthemic foot-stomper “Demons.” This standout track explores the destructive role inner demons (self-doubt, selfishness, etc.) play in our relationships.
Singer/writer Dan Reynolds’ introspective lyrics and emotive voice express this counterintuitive internal struggle: the love and need you have for someone, battling with the urge to push him or her away to protect them from your demons. Reynolds grapples with the tragic irony of needing the strength this person gives you to take on your demons: “Your eyes, they shine so bright/I want to save their light/I can’t escape this now/Unless you show me how.”
Frontman Reynolds offers some insight into the band’s therapeutic creative process: “We all deal with our own demons and anxieties, but we find that nothing calms the mind more than creating.” For the less creatively inclined, I recommend listening to Imagine Dragons’ soul-soothing new album instead.
“Shakedown” (Collective Sounds)
It’s only a matter of time before this quirky earworm gets plucked out of indie obscurity to be featured in a car commercial and launched into the mainstream. “Savage” is a feel-good, carefree jingle from the third album by this San Antonio family foursome (three brothers and their cousin). With its groovy hook and the Villanueva brothers’ harmonious, supple vocals, this single practically begs to be whistled along to. Produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Hacienda’s psychedelic sound runs in the same vein of indie electro-rock as Foster the People, Passion Pit and MGMT.
Similar to the Black Keys, Hacienda exudes a rock ’n’ roll air of enjoyment and effortlessness—in other words, they sound like they’re having a lot of fun (“Let’s be savage, gonna sing our song/Let’s be savage, till the feeling’s gone”).
“Savage” also showcases the band’s subtle bluesy and less subtle ’60s pop influences—the sunny chorus is reminiscent of the Beatles or the Beach Boys.
Check out the music video for “Savage” as well, which features the band working in the studio—an old-school approach uncommonly seen these days. Similar to the song itself, the video is refreshingly simple and fun.
Upcoming tour dates are sparse, but if the band’s well-received appearance on Letterman last month is any indication, we can expect to see a lot more from Hacienda in the near future.