By: Carolyn Todd
“Champion Sound,” Crystal Fighters
“Star of Love” (Atlantic Records)
Crystal Fighters’ ethereal sound emerges at the intersection of two unlikely genres—Spanish folk and electronica—delivering a novel brand of British/Spanish “folktronica.” This stellar track is from the band’s first album “Star of Love,” which was initially released in Britain in 2010 and debuted in the U.S. last spring.
Crystal Fighters are inspired by traditional Basque folk music, a heritage the band draws from with an exceptional amount of authenticity—they heavily use conventional Basque instruments in addition to electric and acoustic guitars and synthesizers. The tribal background chant and mesmeric rhythm conjure visions of feverish, barefoot folk dancing around a campfire in Spanish mountain country. In fact, the swiftly repeated, hypnotic riff in “Champion Sound” is produced by the txistu (Basque flute) and lifted straight from the traditional Basque folk-dance piece “Sagar Dantza.” Also prevalent throughout “Star of Love” is the influence of ’80s Spanish punk and electronica, palpable in this track’s pulsing electronic drum line and funky synths.
If you’re finding this account of Crystal Fighters’ sound to be a bit confusing, maybe the band’s self-description will help: “We are kind of like the sound that would be created if the Velvet Underground and the Gipsy Kings were to travel back in time to the Pyrenees, 1980, and make a record with Skream, Madlib and Luciano on production.” Right, that clarifies things…I would recommend just giving these talented “electronifolks” a listen for yourself.
“Reboot the Mission,” The Wallflowers feat. Mick Jones
“Glad All Over” (Columbia)
“Reboot the Mission” fittingly kicks off the Wallflowers’ first album in seven years with an homage to the past and an eye to the future: “Eyes on the prize/Reboot the mission/I lost my sight/But not the vision,” goes the confident sing-along chorus.
The danceable single seamlessly incorporates a reggae backbeat piano shuffle and disco drum line into its groovy rock ’n’ roll vibe. The backbeat shuffle, rarely heard in rock, is not the only element of “Reboot the Mission” that pays tribute to the Wallflowers’ musical heroes the Clash—former member of the Clash Mick Jones lends his vocals on the track (as well as one other on the album). The lyrics also reference the late Joe Strummer, frontman of the Clash, during a shout-out role call of the band’s new lineup (“Welcome Jack, the new drummer/He jammed with the mighty Joe Strummer”).
The Wallflowers are remarkably energetic and creatively fresh after a seven year hiatus and 23 years in the business (three original members have outlasted the numerous changeups over the years). Download this single for free on the Wallflowers’ website, or buy the whole album to fully enjoy this celebratory, optimistic comeback. This Grammy-winning act will be in town on Thursday, Nov. 8, for a show at the Trocadero in Philly.
“The Base,” Paul Banks
The opener of Interpol frontman Paul Banks’ second full-length studio album subtly draws the listener in with an exquisite fingerpicked guitar hook—the soft inception of a dark allure that lasts the length of the cohesively composed “Banks.”
Interpol fans hungry for a new collaboration will likely be tided over by this record. Banks’ exactingly constructed, intricately arranged solo effort echoes Interpol’s dark signature sound—characterized by a propensity for the minor key, sublimely harmonized electric guitars and moody staccato bass. Yet Banks’ complete creative sovereignty on this album has undoubtedly produced a more organic, accessible and personal feel to the album. This is reflected largely in the (relatively) less cryptic and aloof lyrics.
“I do think that in some sense there are more direct lyrics on this album, and there is some purging and venting happening,” says Banks. There is slightly less cynicism and abstraction and more intimacy and humility (“Can a man turn the page/While he’s trying to amaze?/So I hold my arms apart”). The album is far from a rose-tinted epiphany though—Banks continues to agonize with serious inner demons, and his uncanny, nearly monotonous voice retains its depth and somberness.
If “The Base” whets your appetite for an Interpol reunion, you can look forward to the 10th anniversary deluxe reissue of “Turn on the Bright Lights,” arriving Nov. 20, and a tentative reunion next year. Fingers crossed!
“Worry,” Little Comets
“Life is Elsewhere” (Dirty Hit)
This catchy single from the English trio’s sophomore album, released Oct. 15, is a welcome, albeit brief, reprieve from increasingly cold and dark fall days. Little Comets’ self-dubbed “kitchen-sink indie” sound is captured well here: an unconventional and worldly mix of Calypso, Reggae, West African and English alt-rock influences.
Drawing from such an eclectic melange of musical traditions, the band plays with a freeness and looseness in their instrumentation reminiscent of improvisational jam-bands. And if you enjoy Vampire Weekend, then you’ll likely be a fan of Little Comets. Their African-tinged sound, in combination with the fact that lead singer Robert Coles’ voice is a dead-ringer for Ezra Koenig’s vocals, has led critics to dub the band the “British Vampire Weekend.”
Like most Little Comets tunes, it takes a few listens of “Worry” to tap into the surprisingly mature and emotional lyrics underpinning the carefree stylization: “On a Tuesday morn’ when I feel humanity slip from broken hands down to her hips/Realising lethargy in both her eyes/And as the sun emancipates the dawn her tan lines cackle with the power of the allegory.” The latent lyrical depth of Little Comets’ music makes for a listening experience as affective as it is fun.
The band is only touring the UK for now, but check out the rest of the album for more enjoyably experimental material.