Author: Dean O Hillis

Geoff Westen
I’m Not Crazy
Disturbing Music
Street: 01.06
Geoff Westen = Oingo Boingo + The Cars – David Byrne 
Westen is an interesting musician. On one hand, he writes fairly passable pop music with a slight edge (his big claim to fame is having Alice Cooper record a cover of his song “Leather Boots”) and on the other he seems—literally—stuck in the ’80s. Of course this isn’t always such a bad thing, but by default you are limiting yourself and therefore your audience. I’m Not Crazy’s 10 tunes are fairly interchangeable and therein lies the problem that so many before him have faced: a lack of distinction. Simply put: there isn’t a “hit” here. Still, the breezy “Partyline” and “The Big Mistake” are passably pleasant. There are two “alternate” versions of previous songs (using a lyric as their titles) which are a tad more interesting since they mix things up a bit. Apparently no one bothered to tell him that the dead man’s party actually ended. –Dean O Hillis
Mystery Buildings
Street: 02.04
Snowmine = My Morning Jacket – Tears For Fears + Fleet Foxes
Sounding a bit like an unsigned 4AD band complete with moody, ethereal backgrounds, lush orchestrations and sometimes-coherent-sometimes-not vocals—the Brooklyn quintet certainly distances itself from its contemporaries by creating everything by hand. This complete control extends to the releasing of their material—including eschewing a record label—for this, their sophomore release. Time will tell if this was wise, but more importantly, it is with their upbeat material that they excel: Singles “Columbus” and “Silver Sieve” retain their cinematic beauty, incorporating dreamy, near sing-along—albeit at times unintelligible—harmonies. Lead singer/songwriter Grayson Sanders has a pleasant voice, even if it isn’t always clear what he is saying. While the more dramatic songs, like “Courts” and “Dollar Divided,” certainly have their place comfortably here—tracks like “Rome” or the especially lush and the catchy “Glide” and “Plans” are better for maintaining their respective beats. –Dean O Hillis

Wild Belle
Street: 03.12
Wild Belle = Bob Marley & The Wailers + Tricky + Donny and Marie
With an interesting mash-up of eclectic styles—including trip hop, reggae and ska—siblings Natalie and Elliot Bergman’s debut is equally unique. Possessing a voice reminiscent of Lily Allen—with little trace of her American heritage, quite the feat—Natalie’s style takes nearly a whole song to get accustomed to, but when you do, it starts to enchant. Elliot builds a nice wave (as opposed to “wall”) of Afrobeat sound—and even showcases a pleasant vocal of his own on a few tracks, including the Jamaican smooth jam “Love Like This,” and then takes the lead on the great “When It’s Over.” The duo’s synths and subtle samples help to update their sound, like on their magnetic debut, single/album opener “Keep You.” The breezy vibe of “June” (a tribute to their late mother) almost negates their heaviest lyrics, but “Take Me Away” balances matters with an upbeat hope.


World Beyond

Street: 03.09
Erasure = Sparks + Communards + Kronos Quartet

Having continued to more than enjoy last year’s édifiant World Be Gone offering from synth trailblazers Vince Clarke and Andy Bell, and in anticipation of awaiting news of their forthcoming live return to the States, it was unexpectedly pleasant to learn of a companion release that had recently been completed. (Their wait to return to the States was a necessary calculation on the band’s part, given their already exhaustive touring commitment in other parts of the world, but the unexpected result of not immediately touring this album has paid off handsomely in an unprecedented string of sold-out dates, including two here in Salt Lake City! In other words, their absence has made U.S. fans’ hearts grow fonder.) Dubbed as a “post-classical re-interpretation” of World Be Gone with the impressive talents of Echo Collective at the helm, World Beyond is not only a refreshing concept, but also stirs the beauty and thought-provoking notions the original album helped to inspire.

Last year’s review of this regenerative project offers my track-by-track World Be Gone analysis, so there’s no need to revisit those here, yet the most startling thing about World Beyond is how dynamic these recreated tracks sound. Lyrically, the new setting makes quite a few songs “pop” in new, unexpected ways. Take the slightly re-ordered opener “Oh What A World,” which swaps places with “Love You To The Sky.” A near-reverential repeated pulsing note precedes Bell’s melancholic singing (which were originally drone-like) and are joined by strings and piano. The initial wallop of the message is more than still alive, but it sounds even more arresting. “Be Careful What You Wish For!” and the especially poignant “Still It’s Not Over” induce goosebumps in their new arrangements respectively. The original album’s title track—a desire for peace and Hope if ever there was one—is divinely reimagined with a harp and a delicate vocal performance from Bell and can simply be described as gorgeous. The new setting makes its lyrics that much more profound. Likewise, the aforementioned numinous pearl that is “Still It’s Not Over” commands one’s full attention to it.

The initial intrigue of “Sweet Summer Loving” is recreated brilliantly with minatory strings that reappear even as the more lightened vocals and instrumentation rescue it from a darker collision, and the new arrangement of original lead single “Love You To the Sky” shows it is still brimming with wonder and even enhances a few extra background lyrics, which are complemented by a slight musical coda at track’s end. “Lousy Sum Of Nothing” still possesses its balladry and strength, but the vocal further highlights this project’s greatest asset: one Mr. Bell. His voice literally soars throughout. It’s a praiseworthy performance considering he’s already provided an impressive take on all of these songs.

But let’s not forget about co-creator Clarke, whose initial idea for this project was at first just to have one of the tracks be given an orchestral reinterpretation, but then expanded the concept astutely to realize the full album’s grandeur. Produced by the Echo Collective, it features the talents of seven of its members: Margarent Hermant (violin, harp), Neil Leiter (viola), Thomas Engelen (cello), Jaroslaw Mroz (double bass), Gary De Cart (piano) and Antoine Dandoy (vibraphone, glockenspiel), all of whom enhance Bell’s tour de force vocal performance.

World Beyond is available in a wide variety of formats (LTD hardback CD, red vinyl, cassette) and is released via Mute on March 9. Erasure World Be Gone Tour comes to Kingsbury Hall on Aug. 11–12 and is already sold out. –Dean O Hillis

Dutch Uncles
O Shudder
Memphis Industries
Street: 02.24
Dutch Uncles = Scritti Politti + XTC
Dutch Uncles recently pared down from a quintet to a quartet, literally upon the release of this, their fourth album. Marple, England’s own “Fab Four” are quite unique and write instantly memorable songs. Lead singer Duncan Wallis’ androgynous voice is key to the magic and his falsetto—more akin to Green Gartside than say, Antony Hegarty—suits these tunes well. Singles “Decided Knowledge” and “In N Out” highlight their secret strength—quirkiness. Longtime producer Brendan Williams helps guide them through a variety of topics, like pregnancy, sexual dysfunction and divorce to name but three, while the psych-folk trio extraordinaire Stealing Sheep’s appearance enhances the already buoyant “Be Right Back.” Only time will tell if guitarist Daniel "Sped" Spedding’s departure helps or hurts them (hopefully it is more Bernard Butler/Suede than Peter Gabriel/Genesis) but for now they seem decidedly on the verge of making it big, and why spoil that? –Dean O Hillis
Potpourri Of Pearls
We Went to Heaven
Heavn At Last
Street: 02.11
Potpourri Of Pearls = They Might Be Giants + Beck – Weird Al Yankovic
A concept album of sorts—based on the fact that PoP’s lead singer Adam Brody’s 14th birthday coincided with the discovery of the unfortunate victims from the Heaven’s Gate cult—even if only loosely themed, makes for a bizarre sophomore release. There is definitely a poppy edge to the trio, but the vocoder-cum-auto-tuning chiming in within 30 seconds of opener “Island” seems to spell imminent disaster. In terms of studio effects, the equally annoying “Boyfriend” and “Nico” only further confirm that Brody and co-conspirators Sam Allingham and Emily Bate don’t have that much to say, which appears to take the piss out of the fun that pop (even parody) can sometimes arrive at naturally. The trio’s over-dependency on homoeroticism wears thin quite quickly, and like the fates of those cult members, they seem doomed toward incorporating it too much, rather than bettering their puerile music. –Dean O Hillis

Chad Valley

Young Hunger


Street: 10.30.12

Chad Valley = Scritti Politti + Christopher Cross-Tears For Fears

Sounding too much like an 80’s act resolvedly stuck in the ’80s–save the occasional auto-tune tweaking–one man band Hugo Manuel (of Jonquil) has a silky smooth and very high-pitched falsetto, which he can impressively drop a few octaves down effortlessly. From a musical stand point, his full-length debut frequently veers into the elevator kind with little to distinguish it.  The culprit? The too-many-cooks-spoil-the-sound-formula: seven of the 11 tracks are of the “featuring another guest” variety.  That isn’t to dismiss the whole concept or guests for that matter–as lead track “I Owe You This” featuring Twin Shadow–is elevated by the addition.  There is a market for this retro sound but the more successful artists who have embraced it (like La Roux or Hurts) have a much better grasp of what makes it so memorable: the beat. –Dean O Hillis 

Line & Circle – Split Figure

Line & Circle

Line & Circle
Split Figure

Grand Gallop
Street: 10.0
Line & Circle = R.E.M. + Crowded House

With a few lead-up singles (like 2012’s dreamy debut “Roman Ruins” and “Mine Is Mine”) and an eponymous EP under their belt, critically acclaimed Los Angeles-based Line & Circle offer a fairly solid debut. Musically reminiscent of early R.E.M., singer/rhythm guitarist Brian J Cohen has a pleasing vocal style that glides over the top of fairly interchangeable melodies, but since they—guitarist Eric Neujahr, bassist John Engelhard, Keyboardist Brian Egan and Drummer Nick Cisik flesh out the quintet—sound accomplished this is small criticism. Mostly recordedin LA with producer Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast) with the exception of “Shade the Pride” in Philadelphia with producers Jonathan Low (The National) and Brian McTear (The War on Drugs) the album—with an odd lack of balladry—flows fairly seamlessly. All tracks are catchy, but the title especially so, as are “Our Of Metaphors,” and “Like A Statue.” –Dean O Hillis

Them Are Us Too
Dais Records
Street: 03.24
Them Are Us Too = Cocteau Twins – My Bloody Valentine
For being such a young duo (vocalist Kennedy Ashlyn and musical cohort Cash Askew are both just 21), it is nice to hear elements of earlier musical eras—in their case, late ’80s and early ’90s shoegaze—not only being appreciated but intelligently incorporated into their sound. It seems unavoidable to compare Ashlyn’s voice to that of vocal goddess Elizabeth Fraser, but it’s more like later-era Cocteau Twins, where Fraser mostly sang in English. Askew then could arguably also be compared to Robin Guthrie and even Simon Raymonde, especially with his wall of guitar swirling around his partner’s angelic voice. What seems to propel them from merely being a cover band is that their tunes sound modern, including using male voices and some sampling. “Us Now” and “Marilyn” are achingly pretty, but there is a tendency, here and there, where it is especially hard to understand the lyrics. –Dean O Hillis 

Pulling Chain
Run For Cover Records
Street: 03.04
ANNE = The Cure + Type O Negative – My Bloody Valentine
While the invisible line that often divides musical subgenres sometimes requires a stretch of the imagination, Portland-based ANNE (aka David Lindell) has completely jumped the shoegazer one it inherited for a decidedly electronic gothy one, on this, their “proper” debut. This anti-stereotyping approach works well musically, and the bulk of the tracks (like “Blonde Men” and “Modesty”) recall early stuff by The Cure. Not always so smooth is the vocal experimentation (low to high) that Lindell dabbles with. The otherwise catchy “Terms” is slightly flawed by his deeper pitch during its intro, but saves itself when he lightens it up. In fact, when Lindell takes himself a tad too seriously (like on “Concession” and “Guarnieri”), he unwittingly steers his otherwise happy party into those murkier goth clichés. ANNE’s new direction benefits greatly when taking a livelier approach (witness “Disruption” and “Interruption”), which I hope they continue to explore. –Dean O Hillis