Review from .

On the first song on their debut record, MGMT let us know how they got here. The rock song-as-origin myth is nothing new– from “Who Do You Love” through “Immigrant Song”, to “We Share Our Mother’s Health” and Kanye West’s “Big Brother”– and “Time to Pretend” situates itself in that canon. Emerging initially from a viscous electronic fluid, the song quickly takes shape as a bombastic electro-glam number about rock star dreams. Accordingly, it’s cheesy and clichéd, but also thick with sarcasm: Before the first chorus, MGMT sing nostalgically about having models for wives, moving to Paris, and shooting heroin. The kicker, though, is in the title itself. Knowing that the Almost Famous notion of stardom doesn’t exist anymore (if it ever did), the duo of Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser realize they’re “fated to pretend.” It’s a charming idea– making a career out of fantasizing– and on Oracular Spectacular, they not only accept their playacting destiny, they demonstrate that, just maybe, it’s a path more people should take.

MGMT find kindred spirits in Muse and Mew by dressing their melodies in the fanciful trappings of 1970s British prog, but unlike their contemporaries the duo also weaves in lessons from disco, new-wave synth-pop, and early 90s Britpop. The understanding that youthful innocence is a potent force– a theme first established in “Time to Pretend”– continues throughout the record. Instead of the “Knights of Cydonia”, though, MGMT fights “Weekend Wars”, ostensibly an ode to the fictionalized childhood battles that treat backyards as independent colonies in need of conquering. The gentle, chiming melody and effete vocals of “The Youth” recall Sparks or Queen at their most restrained moments, and “Kids” comes across as an inspirational dance anthem for playgrounders.

Most impressive on Spectacular is Vanwyngarden and Goldwasser’s ability to dabble, with the shared understanding that whatever they do is Big. “Pieces of What” is an unexpected acoustic guitar piece, but it’s delivered like an outtake from Suede’s Dog Man Star. “4th Dimensional Transition” augments its cavernous psychedelic vocals with a jacked-up BPM count, and on “Electric Feel”, MGMT pull off lithe, falsetto electro-funk surprisingly well. There’s not much to the song aside from a Barry Gibb vocal and limber bassline, but within the context of the rest of Spectacular, it makes perfect sense. In fact, so does the duo’s current tour pairing, as the openers for Of Montreal. Kevin Barnes’ emergence as an icon of theatricalized electro-glam seems the ideal toward which the duo should strive. They’re still young, of course; they’ve got plenty of time to figure that out.

Review from .

As rock & roll gets older – really as any medium of art gets older – the questions start amassing about where there is left to explore once more and more corners of a once dimly lit room are illuminated. What once seemed unlimited is now boxed neatly with walls – sturdy, supportive and finite.  What’s a good decorator to do? One option is to create the illusion of more space, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to place broad mirrors at the end of a room. They provide the illusion of depth and space, making the room feel larger than it really is. These mirrors reflect back on the space of the room, showing everything the room contains, framing within the mirror’s confines a view of the world that ties everything together.

Enter Chapel Hill, NC’s Lake Inferior.  One of the first bands signed to the University of North Carolina’s student-run record label, Vinyl Records, the five piece pull from the many disparate areas of rock & roll’s lineage.  While the question of “where is left to go” must seem daunting to artists, Lake Inferior refutes the question, concentrating on how to incorporate all that has already been found.

The band’s debut, self-titled, EP embraces modern anthemic indie like Arcade Fire, touches of time signature and mood shifts, blaring horns and frenetic, racing rock. These particular influences aren’t confined just to particular songs – nor are they the only notes struck. Throw in a seeming penchant for the world-embracing folk-rock of North Carolina contemporaries like Bombadil, flourishes of the dancey rhythms of Talking Heads and, seriously, a bit of the odd pairings and shifts of prog-rock.

On the surface this sounds like a studio experiment just waiting to fall flat on its face, but Lake Inferior excel in composition and the EP strolls through its six songs with a fierce confidence in its work. “How the Wars Are Won” opens the EP with a deft appreciation for the aforementioned Arcade Fire, here sounding like fellow populist songsmiths. “Landlocked Surf Rock” takes nearly two and a half minutes to reach its vocals, but the style-hopping turns it takes to get there leads to a dynamic song within the song.

But it’s the note-perfect “Spiders” that is the crown jewel of this EP and that will undoubtedly have people dancing, figuratively or literally. It’s the song that immediately calls to mind the influence of Talking Heads, touching also on the infectious electronic punctuations of Animal Collective. It’s a swinging, pulsing, living song that is impossible to ignore. It sounds, underneath, like the cartoony music that should underline some mammoth creature’s stroll through the underbrush, like a lost bit of Bjork’s Post heyday.

I’m not one to usually invite so many comparisons to existing artists, but this is where the metaphor of the mirror becomes most apt. In making the room seem larger, Lake Inferior is using a reflection of so much of rock & roll’s history that it all becomes fragmented, edges blurred. The result is the image of rock cast back upon itself, seeing itself through multiple lenses at once, and realizing that the undiscovered country may lay within parts already known.

Review from .

Luke Temple’s first foray into pseudonymical songwriting territory feels as current as did Snowbeast and Hold a Match for a Gasoline World , his prior two records released under his given name. But where those albums– banjo-centric and cast with Temple’s delicately high-pitched voice– situated him firmly in the realm of borderline-precious indie folkies like Sufjan Stevens and Danielson, Here We Go Magic works with a different form of alchemy. Four-tracked and supposedly cut in “a two-month period of stream-of-consciousness recording,” the album filters Temple’s psychedelic muse through a much more muted palette: hazy electronic textures, endlessly-spiraling lyrical loops, occasional forays into extended sections of ambience and noise. The title itself indicates that Here We Go Magic might just be a spur-of-the-moment lark between more polished works, but its best points suggest we should only encourage Temple to mess around more in his off-time.

The old-timey waltz “Everything’s Big” closes Magic as both a reminder of the first two records and a neat index of the prevailing themes of the current effort: winsome, romantic philosophizing distilled to its very essence, with Temple agape, staring down the immensity of his existence. Opener “Only Pieces” has Temple singing a mantra about mortality awareness (“What’s the use in dyin’, dyin’, if I don’t know when?”) in a lo-fi wash of xylophone, clip-clopping percussion, and acoustic guitar. If it sounds like a field recording of a ca. 1971 Paul Simon acid trip, it’s as much kismet as intent: Temple’s vocals throughout the album are cast with a sense of boyish wonder that suggests Simon, but that’s only because it’s how a lot of young guys sound when they’re confronting the enormity of the Big Questions.

The gentle abruptness of “Only Pieces”‘ conclusion– it just quietly fades away– is indicative of Magic on the whole: we don’t get proper endings, but brief interruptions in what seem like transmissions straight from Temple’s unconscious. The best bits of Magic are, like “Pieces”, wispy and repetitive, emerging fully formed, drifting about for a bit, then disappearing. On “I Just Want to See You Underwater”, Temple blanches his voice to Perry Farrell territory, and cycles through that phrase alone, mantra-like, as if it matters not to him that anyone actually hears it. All of “Tunnelvision”s woozy vigor is also contained in Temple’s undulating vocals, which glide effortlessly between notes over a backing of hiccupping guitars and the comforting sound of drumsticks on a guitar case. The result is a bedroom-folk “Knives Out”, which is a good thing. “Fangela”, the best and most fully realized track, is where clip-clopping percussion and handclaps share space with glimmering synth flecks, over which Temple’s voice offers sympathetic counsel. Only swatches of the lyrics are intelligible (“Look at me,” “Feast your eyes,” “All is yours”) but that’s part of the enchantment of magic: A fleeting glimpse of something that might have been transcendent, leaving our minds to fill in what we didn’t quite see.

By definition, interior monologues are self-indulgent, and entrancing as it can be at its peaks, 11 minutes of Magic’s brief 38 are taken with that trendiest of current indie tropes, the ambient/noise interstitial. Deerhunter, No Age, and Women have all found different ways to let the hiss take over, but Temple doesn’t seem to have the same innate knack for this stuff (maybe I’m being too idealistic, but Temple seems too good-natured to simply broadcast white noise), and those moments combine to drag the album down a bit. More specifically, those bits suffer in comparison to those other 27 minutes of Magic: a sculpted version of that same disarming din, with a compassionate interpreter telling us what we’re seeing.

Album Review: Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

What starts off like a Dead Kennedys album on mescaline, ends like a warped Big Star 7″ single. That’s Parquet Courts for you: bratty, messy, loud, and full of heart. On their second full-length, Light Up Gold, Texas transplants Austin Brown and Andrew Savage discover America through the eyes of a beatnik slacker, who says shitty things (“People die I don’t care, you should see the wall of ambivalence I’m building”) yet speaks of acidic truths two steps later (“Death to all false profits around here we praise a dollar you fuckin hippie”). For an album crafted by late twentysomethings, the band’s two principal songwriters really managed to scribble out the journals of a teenager living on the side of the road, carrying nothing but old receipts, some Swedish fish, and a bindle of angst.

Yet that’s what’s so appealing about it. It’s full-on escapism for those on the cusp of adulthood, where the only thing that waits is responsibility and what many might see as the death of freewill. This album has everything a late twentysomething might look back on; there’s the unnecessary existential dilemma (“Borrowed Time”), those wasted, lazy days (“Stoned and Starving”), that disappointing drive less traveled (“N Dakota”), the finger to oppression (“Donuts Only”), and the wall of ignorance (“Yonder is Closer to the Heart”). Being young does have its share of faults, but there’s also this sense of disregard that’s unlike any decade in anyone’s life — in other words, it was okay to be a slacker who didn’t know what to do.

So, as Savage told us recently, “There are some themes on the record that can be easily understood, like loneliness, but things like the flaws of stumbling through adulthood probably couldn’t be understood by a teenager. They wouldn’t get it.” Once again, (and why this should ever be surprising is beyond me), but the artist knows their record, and he’s not wrong. Light Up Gold may sound like a string of slacker anthems, but it’s so much deeper than that. It’s a collection of fears, it’s a volley of self-reflection, and it’s Dharma Bums for tomorrow’s thirtysomethings. Whether or not that always translates doesn’t reallymatter, especially since it all comes off like the tail-end of one wild party, where the door’s left open and there’s just enough party favors to duck out with. Still, if you get the chatter, the favors are secondary — and that’s where one truly strikes gold.

Album Review: Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting

As Ultimate Painting, UK duo Jack Cooper and James Hoare dive into influences and pursue whims they aren’t able to in their other bands. Cooper’s work in Mazes draws upon ’90s American indie rock, referencing acts like Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, and Yo La Tengo in the their latest album, Wooden Aquarium. On the other hand, Hoare and his partner Roxanne Clifford explore wistful C86-jangle as Veronica Falls, while his other project The Proper Ornaments examine the breezy textures of Paisley Underground. Together, Cooper and Hoare, who met while on tour with their respective bands, have decided to look back to the ’60s with their reverent, self-titled debut.

For most of its 10 tracks, Ultimate Painting occupies a stoned, jangly mid-tempo territory — lackadaisical chord progressions and hazy atmospheres filled with hushed, sometimes monotonous vocals. Songs like the gripping “Ten Street” take on the bluesy grime of Lou Reed’s solo career, while “Can’t You See” recalls indie rock bands like Pinback with its interlocking composition and slow-building structures. Sometimes, offerings like “Riverside”, which features a simple, woozy arpeggio and wobbling synths, never seem to go further than their rudimentary parts. While the songs feel ramshackle but not lazy, disaffected but not apathetic, these loving tributes rarely surpass pastiche. When a voice talks about visiting John Lennon’s house in Central Park at the end of “Jane”, it’s laid on a little thick.

On “Talking Central Park Blues”, both the tempo and songwriting pick up. Beginning with a briskly strummed series of clean-toned guitars, the song’s New York-referencing lyrics and sardonic vocal delivery make it feel like a close cousin of the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On”. While it obviously touches on signifiers from that era, it’s expertly put together in a way that makes it exciting. Here, Ultimate Painting take their record collections and transcend their influences. As the album progresses, a distinct vision emerges from the duo; closer “Winter in Your Heart” boasts impeccable harmonies and an effortless groove. One of the album’s best songs, it’s another welcome instance of songwriting overpowering style.

Ultimate Painting is professionally executed, but at times underwhelming. Still, Cooper and Hoare have undeniable chemistry, and the album seems to be the start of a promising partnership.