Author: Dean O Hillis

Björk 
Vulnicura 
One Little Indian Records 
Street: 03.24
Björk = Kate Bush – Portishead
 
Marking Björk’s most intimate-sounding album since Vespertine and her first original album since 2011’s nature-centered Biophilia, Vulnicura also boasts a noteworthy return of strings to her sound. As she always sounds so provocative surrounded by them, here she is awash. This is her breakup album from artist/longtime partner Matthew Barney and, like the best of them, it bleeds with a knowing beauty and a profound sense of sadness, too. It is surprising that it isn’t until the second-to-last track, the elegiac “Mouth Mantra,” that her beats and electronic bleeps become prominent in the mix. “Atom Dance,” which features another fine vocal assist from Antony Hegarty, is amazing, but to experience “Black Lake” is to be emotionally bowled over—it is so profoundly beautiful. There are experimental takes, too, like the filtered vocal overdubs on “Lionsong,” and the wondrously hopeful “Quicksand.” –Dean O Hillis 
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Rosie Lowe

Right Thing EP

37 Adventures

Street: 12.02.13

Rosie Lowe = Beth Gibbons + Lamb

Fresh from her recent guest stint on Lil Silva’s “No Doubt,” UK vocalist Lowe’s debut EP showcases a new and striking talent. While musically, the EP’s tunes sound as though they could have been created in the early 2000s—think Portishead’s drone and Lamb’s pop catchiness merging together—vocally, these four tracks are elevated by her dramatic flair and experimentation at play, especially on the title track and the seductive “Me & Your Ghost.” The more acoustic-based “10K Balloons” initially sounds like a ballad, until the dub and reverb kick in. The pleasant “Games” has a jazz-tinged suavity to it and is the most upbeat sounding of the four tunes. Co-produced by Kwes (Eliza Doolittle, Damon Albarn) and Dave Okumu (The Invisible), the duo’s draping of Lowe’s backgrounds may initially sound a tad dated, but in today’s retro-obsessed scene, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. –Dean O Hillis
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St. Lucia             
St. Lucia EP
Neon Gold/Columbia
Street: 03.06.12
St. Lucia = New Order + Chicane
Virtual one-man band and Johannesburg native Jean-Philip Grobler’s joyous, self-titled EP is something of a small marvel. Following a relatively simple formula of classic beats, infectious melody and a positive vibe presently missing on most radio these days, he has crafted a group of six tracks that are both pleasant and refreshingly memorable. There isn’t a bad song here, including “The Old House Is Gone,” with its nice, disco-y vibe and “Before The Dive,” where he sounds like he’s channeling happier-era New Order. Even his ballads, “All Eyes On You” and “Paper Heart,” stick to the formula, which just goes to show what a big difference having an element of positivity to one’s sound can make it pleasant, listenable and perhaps most important: lasting and memorable. The 80s-sounding “Closer Than This” hints at the promise of a storming full-length, presently rumored for fall. –Dean O Hillis

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Rare Facture

Rare Facture

Rare Facture
Light In The Dark

Self-Released
Street: 06.30
Rare Facture = OMD + Depeche Mode

Here’s a novel notion, local musos: study and learn the genre you’re interested in until it becomes your passion—if not your love—then go and make an album. Seemingly without pretension, local synth duo Tom Cella and David Burdick have done exactly that. Synth pop will always have deep ties in our fair city, so it is easy to see where their influences come from—Erasure and the equation above are examples—but it is what they’ve gleaned from these groups that makes their debut noteworthy. They sound quite accomplished and frankly ahead of most of their local competition. They are brimming with musical jubilance on “Say Something,” “Believe” and “A Million Words,” yet this is balanced by a darker side (like on “This Broken Resolution” and “Perception”). Some tracks (like “High Above”) strike a balance in between. Now they need to follow in their idols’ footsteps and start getting select tracks remixed. Well done, lads! –Dean O Hillis

Rare Facture | Suspension of the Conscious Mind | Groove Distortion Records

Rare Facture
Suspension of the Conscious Mind

Groove Distortion Records
Street: 09.29
Rare Facture = Anything Box + Dream Academy

Proving themselves to be more than just a one-trick pony, local synth heads Rare Facture (aka Tom Cella and David Burdick) have done it again with their sophomore offering, Suspension of the Conscious Mind. The results are fairly impressive. Landing sonically on the somewhat cheerier side of the street with a near-constant buoyancy, the new album’s 10 tracks (plus two remixes) are both optimistic and catchy.

“Young And Silent” starts things rather majestically: Its synths begin to ping slowly and then increase dramatically throughout. “Spiritus Donum” is as intriguing as it sounds, with Cella’s delicate, synthesized vocals layered against the song’s optimistic beat. “Verse Girl” is a good choice for that distinction, as it is both exhilarating and memorable, with its synths swirling around its backbeat. Of the two bonus remixes of the song, “FM Attack Mix” is the poppier here and filters the vocals, but the “New Division Bangin’ Mix” is intoxicatingly robust, recalling Blank & Jones.

“Timefreeze” is more intriguing because Cella exposes a darker side to his lyrics: “and now I taste the pain, as poison drips into my veins,” he confesses while Burdick’s keys perform double duty as a partial hymnal that remains contemporary. “Where You Reside” also contains the latter qualities and is jubilant. With its tweaked keys and echoing background vocals, “Subconscious Images” is defiantly happy. “Love A Guiding Star” continues the uplifting lyrics but is especially inspired in its music.

“Time Never Tells” refers to “ghosts” and “haunted memories,” but like most of the album, its music is joyously carefree. Love song “Signal Flow” is playful and is enhanced by its fractured keys and intriguing Vince Clarke–like ending. Even though the title suggests a heavier tune, closer “Light Starts Dark Forms” instead is rather pretty and uplifting lyrically, as it musically drifts and twirls delicately to its dreamy conclusion.

It must be noted the sound is excellent. Impressively, the album was mastered by the legendary Mike Marsh (Depeche Mode, Erasure, Chemical Brothers) in London at his infamous The Exchange Mike Marsh Mastering studio and sounds quite comparable to their contemporaries’ work. While some synth-based music can be stark and cold, both Burdick and Cella remain loyal to their genre’s basics and place as much emphasis on the backgrounds and bridges as the choruses and verses. Suspension is a masterful follow-up to the duo’s promising debut. –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
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Snowmine
Dialects
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
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Wild Belle
Isles   
Columbia
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.

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Erasure
World Beyond

Mute
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
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