CD Reviews

Veronica Falls, The Whole Love and Night of Hunters

NEO-SHOEGAZE

Veronica Falls Veronica Falls (Slumberland)

Here’s a Glasgow (by way of London) quartet with a very strong melodic intuition and an obvious appreciation for ’60s folk-pop and ’90s shoegazer-rock. I hadn’t even thought of Oakland’s Slumberland label (home to early ’90s act Velocity Girl) until I stumbled into Veronica Falls who, like retro-indie peers Yuck, love to conjure dense guitar textures. Every song here is a distinct pleasure, from “Bad Feeling,” which cops its driving tunefulness from Paul Simon’s “Hazy Shade of Winter,” to “Come on Over,” a tribute to the primitive yet arty garage rock of Scottish indie foremothers the Vaselines. The doom-laden surf-guitar miasma of “Beachy Head” ripples across the eardrums like a torpedo fired from a ghost submarine. But it’s when Veronica Falls goes goth, as it does with “Found Love in a Graveyard,” that listeners might feel an inexplicable desire to don Doc Martens. This band knows how to make bittersweet pop music against which kids can break up and fall in love. ★★★★☆

AVANT-POP

Wilco The Whole Love (dBpm)

Out of the ashes of previous band Uncle Tupelo, singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy ignited an acclaimed second act with Wilco, alt-country darlings-cum-experimental rockers. Yankee Foxtrot Hotel cemented the band’s legendary status, even if some fans, myself included, consider the 2003 album loaded with studio trickery and lacking in quality songs. Good news: The Whole Love marks Tweedy’s return to soundboard knob-twiddling. Bad news: Much of the record, like Foxtrot, reeks of self-indulgence. Opener “Art of Almost” is almost a song if not for escalating layers of noisy synth and guitar and chopped-up drum samples that distract from the song’s structure. “I Might” is more conventional, yet sounds like a leftover Smashmouth track dipped in Farfisa organ and served with a side of glockenspiel. By the time I reach psychedelic Tin Pan Alley homage “Sunloathe,” I can’t shake the feeling I’ve been here before. Lose the sequined Sgt. Pepper jacket and grab a guitar, Tweedy! ★★☆☆☆

CLASSICAL PASTICHE

Tori Amos Night of Hunters (Deutsche Grammophon)

A million times more talented and interesting than Lady Gaga, Tori Amos could’ve easily had a massive commercial pop audience eating from her accomplished-pianist hands. Instead, like fellow art-chanteuse Kate Bush, she chose her own strange course, moving increasingly toward obscure projects and challenging concepts. Amos’ latest release arrives via a German classical-music label and incorporates themes from composers as varied as Bach and Erik Satie. Hunters is a song cycle relating the story of, according to Amos, “a woman who finds herself in the dying embers of a relationship.” You can hear the heart’s disorienting free fall in the track “Shattering Sea;” it’s rife with dissonant chords and chamber-music string swells courtesy of Apollon Musagete Quartett, who underscore the violent drama of the lyrics: “This is not my blood on the bedroom floor.” The dark, lovely “Star Whisperer,” meanwhile, brims with moody reed instruments, a plaintive prayer to love’s enduring mystery. Demanding, yet fans of Joanna Newsom will enjoy. ★★★☆☆

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