On The Record

For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver

Eau Claire native Justin Vernon was at a dead end in 2006. A move to North Carolina had ended in disaster, with breakups of his band and a long-term relationship. So, he came home, and then retreated to his father’s cabin in the Wisconsin woods. There, the singer-songwriter began to craft and record.

Vernon self-released the result, For Emma, Forever Ago, last summer under the name Bon Iver. It caught the ears of some folks on the Internet. Now out for all to hear, the album is a delicate creation. Some of this certainly comes from the location—the Wisconsin Northwoods can make anyone feel a bit melancholy, especially after a breakup—and from the low-key recordings.

But much of it is because of Vernon’s voice, which he often pitches in a high and brittle way. This delivery, especially on tunes like the indie radio hit “Skinny Love,” gives the album a memorable vibe. Meanwhile, he digs deep into his heart and psyche, detailing the derailed affair in a string of scorching, introspective tunes, ending with the gorgeous “Re: Stacks.”
It is Time for a Love Revolution
Lenny Kravitz

A decade-and-a-half into his career, Lenny Kravitz at his best comes off as a retro-rock lover with enough soul to make it work.

Thankfully, It Is Time for a Love Revolution finds Kravitz doing just that. Sure, the album grates, especially for an eternity for an artist at his best with singles.

Once again, Kravitz crafts a sound that feels like it comes from another era—specifically, from the heavy-duty rock years of the early 1970s. You get that from the first almost tinny sounds of the opening title track. Driven by an insatiable beat, the song has the usual trippy-hippy vibe that Kravitz prefers, but you can ignore the lyrics, and just get lost in the beat.

At times, Kravitz sounds as if he wants to re-create the groovy vibe of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. Other places, he’s content to be Wings. And sometimes—well, the songs probably should have been left on the shelf.

Love Revolution isn’t a case where you could cut off the back half of the album, and call it a day. Instead, some of the best music comes at the end, such as the driving “I Want to Go Home” and album-closer “Confused.”
Oracular Spectacular

While electronic dance often leaves me cold, a sleazy pop album many times warms my musical heart. MGMT plies a sound similar to the Scissor Sisters—outlandish glam with bouncy beats—and provides a bit of warmth for a long cold winter.

The duo, Brooklynites Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, have moved rather quickly to the top of the indie heap, but MGMT has enough going on in the music to handle the hype.

While the music superficially may resemble acts like the Scissor Sisters, the band takes the songs into some different directions. Pulling as much inspiration from the likes of Ween and the Flaming Lips, the boys excel at songs that, beneath the effects and odd affectations, are straight-up pop tunes.

Check out “Kids”—the beat makes an appealing bounce, while the eccentric keyboard line gives the song a nice hook, but it is the stick-in-the-head melody that makes the song fly.

Oracular Spectacular runs out of steam before the album’s end, and it isn’t a particularly long album to start out with, but as a debut, it shows that MGMT might have some legs beyond a few singles.
Seventh Tree

The dance music of Goldfrapp—singer-musician Alison Goldfrapp and musician-composer Will Gregory—never has done much for me, but on Seventh Tree, the duo turns away from the beat-structured tunes into something deeper and darker, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Decked out on the cover like an extra from an Adam Ant video, Goldfrapp remains the focus here. She has the flighty, slightly ethereal, voice that has merged well with this style of music for decades. Other times, she showcases her more soulful and playful side, such as on the bright ’60s pop of “Happiness.”

Musically, the duo has moved beyond the soundscapes of earlier recordings into a collection of pure songs. Along with “Happiness,” standouts include the string-driven moodiness of “Some People” and the psychedelic-Beatles-like “Little Bird.”

By expanding the musical palette via acoustic instruments, ambient touches, and a sense of ’60s pop, Goldfrapp has made an album that not only takes advantage of all their skills, but also makes better dance and romance music than a million “thumpa-thumpa” beats.

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