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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Now Hear This: A roundup of the week's new albums

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 10:57 AM

  • Phantogram

Having famous parents is often a major setback for young musicians. This past week, we saw what happens when parents take career advice from their kids. In a bewildering attempt to rekindle fame and relevance, Billy Ray Cyrus came out of obscurity to bring us the sequel to "Achy Breaky Heart" that no one was waiting for. Inspired by his daughter's career advice, BRC and Buck 22, rap's answer to "nah, I don't have anything going on," penned "Achy Breaky 2."

What's stranger than the song itself is its accompanying music video. Backed by a barrage of twerking aliens and Larry King, BRC takes viewers on an epic journey straight from the mind of a horny and socially inept teenage boy. We have so many questions? Why did Larry King mention Muhammad Ali? Why did Buck 22 transform into an adult but Cyrus stayed the same age? Did Cyrus just mention his daughter amongst a bunch of half-naked alien women who will not stop twerking? Why won't they stop twerking? Could they please stop twerking? But mostly, we're left to ask: WHY?

If your eyes have grown fatigued from watching the BRC twerk-a-thon, put the workload on your ears. Voices, the latest record by New York City duo Phantogram, is an exciting electro-pop collection. Underlying the beautiful vocals, bass lines deeper than the Mariana Trench rip through the music, providing everything from subtle background to wonderfully syncopated rhythms. The track "Fall In Love" showcases everything that's great about their music. Swelling melodies and harmonies provide a basis for everything immediately attractive while the bass synthesizers and drums account for striking, rhythmic club-appeal. With a few slow numbers like "Bill Murray" and "Never Going Home" round out the album, the album takes on a little more of a serious side.

Despite announcing last year that they weren't recording anymore, Guided By Voices decided they couldn’t quit. Motivational Jumpsuit, the newest record by the Ohio legends of indie rock, blends in with the rest of their catalog. It features the same collection of two-minute long songs, solid rock songwriting and subtle quirkiness one would come to expect from a record of theirs. "Littlest League Possible" shows the band's commitment to still rocking out after 20+ years of touring with a noticeably cleaner touch than some of their mid-career albums. Even with their extensive catalog, it's notable that time after time, their lyrics are always insightful, witty and charming. It's ultimately a finely crafted record but it sounds as if the guys are tired and finally close to the end of their career.

Exploring the facets of multiple directions, "Giants," the single for Bear Hands' new record Distraction, successfully merges styles into a singular, catchy track. Verses explode with the band's post-punk influence and youthful energy and hooks follow with clean, indie pop guitar lines. When taken separately, the song parts seem like they wouldn't coexist well together, however, the band segues from one sound to the other seamlessly. Following the overall unpredictable style, vocals are not quite sung and not quite rapped. When analyzed, it's a wholly unusual track that seems like it shouldn't work under any circumstances but, oddly enough, does.

With its twerking aliens and country/rap disasters, the grit and grime of this world causes artists to reflect on the general strangeness of what's laid before them. Churches Schools and Guns, the latest from the Italian experimental electronic artist Lucy, is as dirty and dark as the title would suggest. The repetitive beats, grinding layers and claustrophobic timbres, make it feel as though this album is trapped beneath the weight of the world while simultaneously dreaming of another place and time. Deeply cynical, track titles like "The Illusion Of Choice" and "Follow The Leader" put a bullet on the reflective nature of the album. But moments of cautious beauty come out in "We As We Dream."

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