CD Reviews

Dark Matters, Grand & Noble, The Narrow Garden


Expensive Looks, Dark Matters (Group Tightener)

Every now and then an electronic album comes along that completely thwarts my ability to classify it. Take, for instance, the proper full-length release by New Yorker Alec Feld, a.k.a. Expensive Looks, on boutique indie label Group Tightener. Dark Matters is an LP that runs the dance-music gamut, from the suffocating disco pulse of “Nightfalls” to the shattered Motown-infused trance of “Tracewave” to the cough-syrupy and looped experiment of “Vanishers.” Although the lyrics, murky and buried within the music, don’t sound very fantastical on the surface, the overall vibe here bears a strong whiff of dystopian Sci-Fi, as if Feld seeks to fashion a synthetic jukebox for Blade Runner-grade androids to shimmy their soon-to-perish bodies to in the hours before dawn. In other words, this is dance music with a tough edge, the ideal soundtrack for a world waiting for the so-called Mayan calendar to ring true. ★★★★☆


Grand & Noble, Grand & Noble (Self-released)

It never fails—whenever I grow tired of all the countless and precious indie-rock bands competing for ear time, a breath of fresh riffs and lyrics arrives to reinstall my faith. Grand & Noble, led by Jonathan Elling (vocals, guitar) and Scott Kane (keys, bass), hail from Chicago and sound as vast and sprawling as that city’s majestic history. “Hellcats,” with its intertwined electric guitar riff and pounding piano chords, is a stellar, straight-up rocker imbedded in a clever metaphor for a spurned lover’s strafing fury. The chiming, reverb-laden, finger-picked Telecaster guitar riff of “This Light” is pure alt-country sweetness, even if the lyrics possess a painter’s eye for dour ambience. (“Call me up and say, What’s there left to do/but save our money for some ordinary shoes?) The swinging ballad “Episcopal,” though, is graced with Kane’s harmony vocals, an example of classic songwriting at its most divine. Wilco and Spoon fans will find this to be grand, noble and necessary. ★★★☆☆


Eyvind Kang, The Narrow Garden (Ipecac)

Recorded in a studio in Barcelona, Spain, with an orchestra of 30 musicians, The Narrow Garden is Oregon-born composer Eyvind Kang’s most lighthearted effort to date for Faith No More/Tomahawk/Fantomas frontman Mike Patton’s eclectic rock label, and an example of how a classical approach to jazz delivers pop pyrotechnics. Indeed, at certain moments—say, the lovely female vocals backed by spike-fiddle in “Pure Nothing”—Garden sounds purposefully weeded with melodic hooks aimed at convincing a money-to-burn Hollywood executive into letting Kang compose the music for a big-budget blockbuster. It would be a smart move, given the multi-instrumentalist’s knack for creating epic soundscapes. Of course, Kang never lets you forget he has an experimental side, as the noisy, seagull-like violin screeches of “Usnea” make abundantly clear. Even then, however, he can’t help but mollify the sonic abrasions with a bed of Chinese flute. Still, anyone who digs avant-metal or Sonic Youth-ful pop will want to spend time exploring Kang’s latest hothouse. ★★★☆☆

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