Pentatonic Ponderings: More of That, Please

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By Allen

Prelude

I watch Almost Famous every year that I get the chance. I’ve been doing this since I was 15 or so, when it was first recommended to me by one of the editors of the now-defunct film website, Screened. If you’ve followed this site for a while, you know I really, REALLY like that movie. On my latest rewatch, I picked up on a whole new theme in the film that’s buried under all the nostalgia and rock music; longing. Specifically, the longing for a particular type of music, and how it feels to let a small clip of sound influence and change your life. Anna Paquin’s character sums this up in the screencap I’m using as the thumbnail; it does hurt, and it can be simultaneously isolating and inviting to feel like you’re the only person that feeds off of a particular piece of music. 2015 has been an incredible year of music, and I’ve easily listened to more full albums this year than ever before. Some of my favorite songs this year have that perfect, enchanting couple of seconds of sound that make me feel like everything is okay, and I’d like to share them with the world, and maybe we can all come to appreciate each other’s “silly little piece of music”.

Track 1: “Celebrate” by Metric (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLg9WUhhhAs&channel=lastofspades)

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We’re talking about the synth hit here. If you want my favorite instance of it in the track, it’s at 2:26. Metric’s been my favorite band since I first heard Synthetica in high school, so I started out as a fan of their synth-pop rebranding before going back and exploring their more rock-influenced roots. Shifting genres so drastically is a bold and polarizing decision, but it worked for Metric because they kept the core of what makes them special; an incredible concert sound and personal lyrics that have inspired millions. “Celebrate” is all about grasping at the opportunities in life while they’re still available to you. When Haines hits that synth note, it’s time to dance right then and there. The song almost grinds to a halt every time the synth kicks in, like the rest of the chorus is moving out of the way. It’s a powerful statement: “Here we are, this is what our sound is now.” Nobody wants to sit and wait.

Track 2: “Clearest Blue” by Chvrches (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpFXXPruuqU)

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I have gone on record to the official Chvrches Twitter account saying that I will cry if I ever get to hear “Clearest Blue” live in concert. It’s the type of song that attracts that sort of response, with an emotional buildup that is so intense that it, like Paquin’s character says in Almost Famous, almost hurts. It’s a long, intense two minutes and twelve seconds into “Clearest Blue” before the song stands out from so many other Chvrches songs. Their latest album, Every Open Eye, has been criticized for sticking fairly close to their previous work in terms of song structure, but “Clearest Blue” proves this wrong. Even a minute in, a careful listener can notice the addition of different instrumentation and faster pace. “Holding on tightly to the side/Never quite learning why” is exactly how I felt the first time I heard this song. You feel it coming, you feel your pulse racing. And right as the drop is about to start, we become Mayberry in the song, trying to push this track away as yet another dull, chorus-focused pop song. But then it happens. 2:16 into “Clearest Blue” is the singular where I knew that this was an incredible year for music. I was genuinely shaking the first time I heard it, and it’s quite the fun little game for me to show it to other people and watch their reactions. This is the kind of music that really stings when it’s over.

Track 3: “Seeing Stars” by BØRNS (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2GOGwB4QYU&channel=UCi13pi8_WsPJMpYBqSKwK_Q)

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Known by many as “the guy who wrote the song in that Hulu ad” and “Taylor Swift’s friend”, Garrett Borns established himself this year as an incredible voice in pop music. Although “Electric Love” is probably his most well-known song, “Seeing Stars” delivers much more in terms of the satisfaction we’re looking for in this list. Right from the start, the synth is overpowering and, most importantly, fast. Just when you think that’s just going to be the intro, it becomes the chorus. So simple, just a few notes, and it carries the entire song. I’ve found Borns to be fantastic music for cardio exercise, because rhythm like that keeps you from letting up for even a second.

Track 4: “Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4ooH8frBWg&channel=ChanceThaRapper)

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Chance the Rapper refuses to let up after having released Acid Rap, a 2013 mixtape that was so good, so incredibly memorable, that it put him on the map of modern hip-hop. “Sunday Candy” is a song off of Surf, an album he did with his rap/soul music collective The Social Experiment over the summer, and it represents a big step forward in hip-hop. The part we’re going to specifically close read here is the first verse and chorus. Chance raps about his grandmother, and how her cooking, spirituality, and tenacity make her his biggest inspiration. Jamila Woods absolutely makes this track though, and her chanting of “Rain down Zion/It’s gonna rain” layered over a velvety baritone AND Chance’s rapping? It’s awe-inspiring, it brightens up a bad day, it…I’m dancing to it right now, and it’s not even playing. Good music can do that to you, if you meet it halfway.

Track 5: “Run Away With Me” by Carly Rae Jepsen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeccAtqd5K8&channel=CarlyRaeJepsenVEVO)

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SYNTH HORNS, Y’ALL. Who would’ve thought Carly Rae Jepsen could make such a knockout comback after seemingly peaking with her 2012 summer hit “Call Me Maybe”? Emotion is all-around an amazing album, filled with breezy pop tracks that I’m not ashamed to say I’ll be bumping in the car for months to come. The running thread of the album for me was “Let’s do some pop music you already know and love, and throw something special in there”. That’s the synth horns in “Run Away With Me”. I’ve never heard anything like them, and coupled with the thumping bass running through the whole song and the hollow, almost gunshot-like drum hit before the chorus, you’ve got the formula for an incredibly memorable pop chorus that shows Jepsen’s range and reminds me why I fell in love with pop music.

Epilogue

Honest to goodness, I didn’t plan for all of these tracks to be so synth-heavy, but that’s really just what I’m into these days. The criteria for what sounds and songs fit into this article’s theme is intentionally broad, and different for each person. Listen back specifically to songs that have gotten stuck in your head recently, and try to isolate which part, be it some random instrumentation or a lovely falsetto, you’ll know what you’re listening for. Take that, play it over and over again, and make a playlist out of all the songs that do it for you. Here are some of the songs I added to a playlist for this article that didn’t make the cut, but have the same satisfying feel to them:

“Should Have Known Better” by Sufjan Stevens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJJT00wqlOo&channel=AsthmaticKitty

“Baby Blue” by Action Bronson and Chance the Rapper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVP_w1rQweE

“Duct Tape Heart” by Barenaked Ladies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zr23m4q6XoY

“New Americana” by Halsey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-eYbUVZedY&channel=HalseyVEVO

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Pop Modern Interviews: Max Heath, of Child Actor

Child Actor

By Allen

I had the incredible opportunity to briefly interview Max Heath, half of Boston-based electro-pop band Child Actor, over email recently after the release of their latest full album, Never Die. Described by some as dreamy dance music mixed with ethereal vocals by Natalie Plaza, Never Die  manages to lull you to sleep one moment and have you dancing in public the next. Heath and I discuss the album and Child Actor below:

Pop Modern: Never Die was just released about a week ago, and it’s already sitting high up on my personal Best Albums of the Year list. This is in part due to your unique style of producing, as well as Ms. Plaza’s vocals. What mood/feel were you going for with Never Die, and what are some tracks you are particularly proud of getting out there?

Max Heath: There is certainly a feeling of fantasy or dream that runs through most of the album. Writing these songs I was excited by a contrast between euphoria and dread in the music. I think my favorites might be “The Memory” and “Ungone”, but I also like “Morning” purely from a songwriting perspective.

Pop Modern: Child Actor has built itself almost entirely on word of mouth and free publicity, and Never Die at least is free to download on your website, with options to pay for it on most digital retailers. Has this model worked out for you so far, and do you plan to stick with it in the future?

Heath: Making a record is almost always a big, scary investment of time and money and it’s hard from a practical standpoint to resist the pressure to monetize everything. Our main goal is to allow anybody who wants to hear the album to be able to do so. Of course our more passionate fans also have the opportunity to buy shirts and vinyl so we’re not exactly socialist. Really figuring out how to sell (or not sell) music is my least favorite responsibility so I try not to spend too much time thinking about it. Hopefully somebody else will think about it on our behalf soon enough, though it is nice in theory to feel like we make all the decisions ourselves.

Pop Modern: Who inspires you musically? This can be artists that directly inspire Child Actor work, or just people who’ve inspired you to make things and create content for the world.

Heath: The feeling of being directly inspired by a particular artist changes pretty dramatically and constantly for me. At this moment it’s Milan Kundera.

Pop Modern: Any plans for a tour coming soon that you’d like to share with your fans? Or other upcoming work to look forward to?

Heath: We’re considering various options for putting a tour together but nothing solid yet. Hope that works out. We still have a few videos and a couple cover songs we’re planning on releasing over the next several months.

Pop Modern: Where did the title, Never Die, come from? There’s obviously a track on the album by the same name, but I was wondering what made you choose to name the album after it?

Heath: We spent a lot of time thinking about death; you could almost say we were obsessed. We came to the conclusion that we really don’t want to die right now.

Couldn’t have wrapped it up any better myself! Many thanks to Max from Child Actor from taking time out of his day to be interviewed, much love to Ms. Plaza for co-creating such a fantastic, enchanting piece of work. Go download Never Die for free at childactor.net, or buy it on iTunes, Soundbutt, Bandcamp, or Amazon. Support good music, and let us know if you’re enjoying these sporadic, more focused interview features.

Take Our Word: Kingdoms

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The Word

There are plenty of kingdoms in pop culture these days. With Game of Thrones‘s fourth season now long done, there’s been a severe lack of good royalty portrayed in television this year. On the games front, Shovel Knight has been the new hotness, and all the pomp and circumstance of a good medieval royalty story is there (King Knight and Enchantress Queen, I’m looking at y’all.) We’re going to be doing a little stretching to fit three diverse, quality pieces of media under the header of Kingdoms, so be prepared for some regal regaling of royalty.

The Recommendations

Allen

Queens of the Stone Age: I just couldn’t pick one thing to recommend from this California-based rock group. Their frontman, Josh Homme, is one of the most personable musicians based on his many public interviews and concerts, and QOTSA’s work is pretty consistently fantastic. I’d specifically recommend you go down at least one of two rabbit holes to get a full appreciation of their work: Listen to, in order: Songs For The Deaf, Lullabies To Paralyze, and …Like Clockwork. If you don’t have time to jam out to some of the best rock music of the last decade, at least poke around YouTube to find all of their music videos, particularly the ones for …Like Clockwork. Any good kingdom needs some Queens.

Here’s where you can buy …Like Clockwork on Amazon, which you absolutely should: http://www.amazon.com/Like-Clockwork-Queens-Stone-

Age/dp/B00CY1JUW2/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_mus?ie=UTF8&qid=1405475485&sr=8-1&keywords=like+clockwork

And if you hate long links, here’s one for their YouTube VEVO channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/QueensStoneAgeVEVO/

Magellan

Dungeons & Dragons Next Basic Rules: Although I haven’t had the fortune of playing pen and paper role playing games on any sort of a regular basis, I do love to collect books and look at the different ways that game designers choose to represent and implement certain concepts. D&D is a great case study of that, having gone through several generations of rules changes, all under the scrutiny of thousands of fans. This year will see the release of the franchise’s 5th Edition, and Wizards of the Coast has kindly put out a stripped-down version of the game for us fans to pick apart. It’s a free PDF that outlines a few core classes and other essential rules. From what I’ve read of it so far, it looks like Wizards has learned the lesson of 4th Edition and scaled back the combat focus, making the game less like an MMO and more like DnD. It has also learned the lesson of 3rd Edition and made the game much less complicated. Of course, it’ll take the full set of core books to see a complete picture of this new edition, but as it stands now this PDF makes me excited at the prospect of reading through and collecting DnD books again.

Here’s a direct link to the PDF if you’d like to take a look: http://media.wizards.com/downloads/dnd/DnDBasicRules.pdf

James

Demon Knights: When I think Kingdoms, the first thing that comes to mind is Moonrise Kingdom, which is a fantastic movie, but utterly too banal for Take Our Word. Instead, I am going to write about the demon Etrigan. With the release of the New 52 reboot of DC Comics came a somewhat surprising entry about the demon Etrigan. In the series, titled Demon Knights, Etrigan’s origins are explained. Etrigan is a demon bound to the immortal human Jason Blood, by Merlin. After Merlin’s death and Camelot’s fall, Jason discovers the poem that turns him into Etrigan. Oh, did I not mention? Etrigan spits out fat rhymes, in iambic pentameter. This brawling demon who rhymes every word he says is one of the most bizarre comic creations I have ever seen. And what’s absurdly funnier is the fact that it actually works. The character is interesting, with compelling stories, with Demon Knights set in a Medieval Europe ravaged by war and magic. There are many King Arthur references, as Jason Blood served at the court of Arthur, which further heightens the cool Medieval atmosphere. The plots are great and even though it was cancelled, it’s still one of my favorite New 52 reboots.

You can buy the first volume of this fantastic comic book here: http://www.amazon.com/Demon-Knights-Vol-Seven-Against/dp/1401234720
The Round-Up
My kingdom for some good Round-Up ideas! Ugh, even I hated that. Anyways, the first game that I think of when I hear Kingdoms is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. (Sorry, Kingdom Hearts fans. Go enjoy your metaphysical anime Disney nonsense and get back to me later.) The developers at 38 Studios ran into some economic troubles after the game’s launch, and the pushback from the Rhode Island government itself proved more interesting than the game itself.
The story of the company’s bankruptcy itself is recounted in the Giant Bomb wiki entry for the company: http://www.giantbomb.com/38-studios/3010-6332/
Kevin Dent also recounted the story more eloquently on Kotaku two years ago: http://kotaku.com/5913492/curt-schillings-big-huge-38-studios-debacle
And just the fact that it made local Rhode Island news shows just how serious this case got. It’s not fun to highlight game industry troubles, but it’s a reality of the business that people need to take into consideration: http://wpri.com/2014/02/11/sony-exec-blames-ri-pols-for-38-studios-debacle/

 

Three By Three: Eponymous Albums

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NPR’s All Songs Considered had their “The Year in Music (So Far)” episode just a couple days ago (check it out here), and it got us over at Pop Modern HQ thinking about music. Specifically, with all the talk of new bands (Beneath the Brine and Sylvan Esso, to name just two), it got us thinking about albums, and about how a band can use the medium of the album to say something about themselves. Of course, rather than be simple and talk explicitly about debut albums, we decided it would be more fun to put a twist on this list and go through all of our favorite self-titled (or, if this were an SAT essay question, “eponymous”) albums. We love all of these albums, and not just because they’re easier to find in a Spotify search.

The Choices

Allen

Queen by Queen: The British pop group that is synonymous with sports anthems, screaming rock ballads, and a suite of iconic songs wasn’t always the legend it is now. In 1973, a band known mostly for playing in clubs around London found its frontman, Farrokh Bulsara (later known as Freddie Mercury). His voice shone through even on their admittedly strange first album. With tracks with names like “My Fairy King” (where Mercury got his stage name) and “Great King Rat,” it was clear that they were taking inspiration from fantasy novels as much as their contemporaries in rock music were. That’s the thing about Queen; it’s simultaneously a love letter to 70s metal and hard rock music, and a glorious peek at what was to come from the band who would redefine pop and rock music forever.

“My Fairy King”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EYUqsfl7gE&feature=kp

St. Vincent by St. Vincent: The early months of 2014 were fairly disappointing to me in terms of new music, until St. Vincent came and rocked my damn ears off with her eponymous album from back in February. This almost makes my list exclusively because of “Digital Witness,” a badass earworm of a song all about putting technology down and interacting with those around us. Ironically, the best element of the song is the digital sax that kicks in early on. And, let’s not forget that it’s preceded by “Huey Newton,” a slower jam that highlights Annie Clark’s smooth-as-silk vocal style. This one’s stuck with me for a while.

“Digital Witness”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVAxUMuhz98

Boston by BostonLooping back around to 70s hard rock, we of course arrive at Boston, as all good trips do. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t at least know the chorus to “More Than a Feeling.” There’s actually a beautiful story behind the creation of this album. Founder Tom Scholz refused to record in a fancy LA studio, so the entire album was recorded in his basement in Massachusetts. It doesn’t get more homegrown than that. And, like Queen, Scholz was influenced by contemporary bands (The Kinks and The Yardbirds, mainly), yet few other albums more perfectly represent the time and place they came from than Boston.

“More Than a Feeling”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSR6ZzjDZ94

James

Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand: The first album by Franz Ferdinand is my favorite. The band embraces the chaos of Scottish alternative, bringing a punk rock feel to a more refined album. Eschewing the freneticism of typical punk, the group chooses a tempo that impresses great energy with restraint. The band’s most famous hit remains the song “Take Me Out,” a good measure of the band, which displays the range of tempo and tonal variation that the band brings. My personal favorite song on the album is “The Dark of the Matinée,” a song with oddly insightful, if slightly meaningless lyrics, with a great chorus, a great set of harmonies, and a certain humorous cynicism.

“The Dark of the Matinée” :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKyG1dRoDlA

Flight of the Conchords by Flight of the Conchords: Flight of the Conchords is the self-proclaimed fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo in New Zealand. Their parody of songs and styles include the hit “Bowie,” a song about David Bowie getting high in space, loosely based around the tune of “A Space Oddity.” The group’s humour comes first in their albums, but their music is surprisingly catchy, with solid rhythm to back up the potent lyrics, and humorous song concepts. The ode to an impartial office romance “Leggy Blonde” colours an intense relationship with an office co-worker with the name Leggy Blonde. The lyrics are humorously bad, and the rhythm section of the song is entirely created using office supplies, showing the unique take that the band uses to approach music. My personal favorite song is a rap battle between a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros, a seeming take on the insanity of rappers’ alter-egos. But maybe it’s not. The song is filled with zippy one liners, and a catchy beat. Take it as it is: a good song.

“Hiphopopotamus vs Rhymenoceros”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FArZxLj6DLk

Weezer by Weezer (Also known as The Blue Album): Weezer is a band that is almost perfect for any college kid. The music is on the right side of grunge, an unrefined energetic sound. The band puts together a set of appropriately angst-ridden songs, which are still appropriate twenty years later. The album has aged remarkably well, surviving the post-grunge purge that plagued other 90s bands.  The instrumentation for the songs is tight, with an emphasis on heavy drums and piercing electric guitar riffs.  My favorite song to come from Weezer is “Say It Ain’t So,” a song about an outcast feeling like an outcast. The song treads ground that has been well-traveled, but the exploration of the theme is presented well, showcasing the angst of the teen as he begs someone to say it ain’t so.

“Say It Ain’t So”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENXvZ9YRjbo&feature=kp

Magellan

The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground: I’ll go ahead and start off with my token street-cred entry (seriously, go read our other Three By Three’s, I always go for the easy pickings first). Just for the sake of transparency, my other options were Fleetwood Mac and The Cars, but the former would have just been an excuse to nod towards Rumours, and personally I think the latter is only so well-regarded because of its first few songs. Now, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you all know about The Velvet Underground, so I’ll give a little background on the album specifically. This is the group’s third release, and it marks a distinct stylistic departure from their earlier work. Here we see a shift from the noisy, avant-garde, experimental tracks that peppered The Velvet Underground & Nico and White Light/White Heat towards a sound that was much more folky, even poppy. Don’t equate those words with it being worse or less artistic, by any means, since this album still stands as one of the best rock records of all time. It’s a gorgeously pensive experience right from track one (the haunting “Candy Says”) and weaves its way seamlessly between mellow bitter-sweetness (like “Jesus”) and faster rock numbers (like “Beginning to See the Light”). You’re going to groan at me for this, but listening to “Pale Blue Eyes” on the day Lou Reed died will stick in my mind for maybe the rest of my life.

“Pale Blue Eyes”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcDuR9BF0Oc

The White Stripes by The White Stripes: Out of all three of the albums I picked, this is probably the one that I go back to the least. Not because it’s the worst of the three, but because it’s full of the kind of songs that The White Stripes kept doing and doing better as their career went on. If nothing else, The White Stripes is an impressive showcase of a band that isn’t afraid to explode out of the gate, to throw down nearly two-dozen rough, high-octane tracks. It’s pure energy from “Jimmy the Exploder” all the way through “I Fought Piranhas.” It’s also got a refreshingly blues-y quality mixed in with the unabashed garage rock with songs like “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” and “St. James Infirmary Blues.” Although this is certainly not the best that The White Stripes would come to offer over the course of the 00s, it’s a hell of a debut.

“Sugar Never Tasted So Good”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_aMZWv-7FY

Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend: In contrast, this is the eponymous album (and, to be honest, the Vampire Weekend album) that I return to the most often. I won’t say that it’s better than Contra or Modern Vampires of the City (although I definitely think it’s better than Contra, *cough* *cough*), but there’s no beating the sheer youthful charm of Vampire Weekend. The first four songs alone (“Mansard Roof,” “Oxford Comma,” “A-Punk,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”) are all modern classics, each one unforgettably catchy and adorned with some truly gorgeous and varied instrumentation. The rest of the album is fantastic as well (“Campus” and “I Stand Corrected”), cementing this album as one of those great releases that works equally well when the songs are separated as when they’re all played back-to-back. Each song crystallizes the naivety and joy of collegiate youth better than any other album I’ve heard.

“Mansard Roof”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlgNFwoApec

The Conclusion

Something missing from our list? SantanaSteely DanStone Temple Pilots, and any of the scores of other eponymous albums deserving of love? Send your opinions our way! Situate them down in the comments sections, so we can sing along to some of your favorites.

Set on Shuffle: Broken Bells

Broken BellsPrelude

We here at Pop Modern are experimenting with some new forms of collaborative content, and we thought a natural place to start with our new forays into group talk would be music. With that in mind, we present the first installment of “Set on Shuffle,” a trio of album reviews all centered around a common theme. Some installments will have all albums chosen by one of us, and some of them will be conducted in the round. This time around, Magellan wanted to honor the release of the new Broken Bells album next month by looking at the previous work of its collaborators (The Shins frontman James Mercer and Danger Mouse), as well as the duo’s eponymous first release.

The Reviews

Allen

Album Title: 
Wincing The Night Away by The Shins
Impression: With absolutely no exposure to The Shins other than passing words of praise, I was pleasantly surprised by Wincing The Night Away. It starts off kind of rocky, but James Mercer’s vocals shine through from the first track. “Australia” was mostly impressive because it made me enjoy banjo music, and it was the point at which I realized that The Shins are doing cool things with chord progression. After the instrumental “Pam Berry”, the album hits this really interesting tone, mixing surprisingly introspective lyrics with dischordant instruments. The random string instruments on “Sea Legs,” the darker tone of “Red Rabbits,” and then, as the album winds to a close, I realized something miraculous. These seemingly disparate, off-beat sound choices actually complement Mercer’s vocals. The last few tracks did some interesting things experimentally, but I feel like Wincing The Night Away really hit its stride around the middle. Even when I felt like I was just listening to Hey Ocean’s Is (a similarly chill, yet more pop-ish album), the production of this album makes it unique. By the time I was listening to “A Comet Appears” and the vocals were fading out, I was legitimately bummed it was over. Fortunately, the replay button was just a push away.
Favorite Track: My favorite track has to be either “Turn On Me” or “Australia”. “Turn On Me” is just so moody and pleasant, which is kind of how I felt about the whole album. And “Australia” is a trip through all sorts of musical styles, and I came out of it a big fan of The Shins.
Take-Away: I’d say Essential Listening if you want something different. The songs bear similarities to contemporary artists, but nobody is doing the things that The Shins did in Wincing The Night Away. It’s a beautiful, self-contained bit of musical sweetness, ready to put you to sleep on one track or have you air drumming in the next.

James

Album Title: St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley
Album Impression: Every once in a while, I am asked to step outside my usual limited experience, and asked to participate in something I would normally never do. This album was a unique experience for me, in the sense that I never have really listened to Gospel music at any great length. The fact of the matter is that the gospel-inspired techno music provides a gorgeous blend of emotion and cold sound. At its best, the album manages to combine the two musical genres well, mixing them into a coherent piece of work that showcases the talents of both artists. At its worst, it tended towards one genre, to the exclusion of the other. Both Cee Lo Green and Danger Mouse are immensely talented, and the frenetic vibes that come from some of their songs balance well against the more ballad-esque pieces. The production value is through the roof, and each of the artists seems to have found their own particular niche.
Favorite Track: “Crazy.” Even though it’s been played to a great extent, it still has the soul and energy that really shines through.
Take-Away: Worth a Listen

Magellan

Album Title: Broken Bells by Broken Bells
Impression: I’m a huge fan of The Shins, so I may be going into this album with a taste bias. That is to say, there’s enough carry-over of that airy, atmospheric quality that Mercer brings into his Shins songs that every song on Broken Bells has something for me to like. From the earworm perfection right out of the gate with “The High Road,” to the vocal effects throughout “Vaporize,” to the high-pitched verses and hand-clapping of “The Ghost Inside,” this album drips with the kind of vocal sound that weaves its way through some of The Shins’ best work. That isn’t to ignore what Danger Mouse brings to the table, of course, since the instrumental flourishes throughout do a lot to give the album its own unique flavor, to create a musical landscape that really can’t be replicated anywhere else. If you want songs that indicate this point, play “Your Head Is On Fire” or “Sailing To Nowhere.” Of course, if you listen to all these songs, you may come to the same conclusion I did, which is that they all sound fairly similar. This collaboration births a groovy twist on the Shins style, but it doesn’t do much else. All of the tracks are around the same speed, with similar-sounding instrumentation. There just isn’t much motion throughout the album, which, upon attempts to re-listen, has made it hard for me to want to jam along to anything past the first track.
Favorite Track: “The High Road” is both the first track on the album and the most popular for a reason: it’s the most distinctive of the bunch. The whole album, like I’ve said, has a wonderful ambiance to it, but when it comes to picking a single track and labeling it the best, one need not go further than “The High Road.”
Take-Away: Definitely listen to “The High Road.” If you like the sound, or if you’re a huge fan of either The Shins or Gnarls Barkley, I would recommend listening to a few tracks and deciding for yourself. Otherwise, just listen to the one song and call it a day.

Epilogue

And that’s it, the three-album primer to get you ready to listen to After the Disco, which is set to drop on February 4th. If you disagree with any of our points, you want to champion a particular song that we didn’t mention, or you want to offer up a suggestion for the next installment of Set on Shuffle, let us know in the comments below.