On The Record: The XX, Bob Mould, David Byrne and St. Vincent, and Amanda Palmer
The XX Coexist
Just in time for autumn comes this cool, cool collection of electronic pop, where the bright and garish sounds of the summer are left behind for something more subtle and substantial. It’s not like the XX were all that broad and loud on their self-titled debut, but Coexist engages the quiet between the notes and the beats, making a virtue out of its quiet. It’s a technique that is tricky, but can reap pretty amazing rewards, which happens from beginning to end here. It helps that the hooks are present and quickly dig into the brain. Unexpected touches—like a melodic steel-drum line on “Reunion”—bring this out, while the dueling male and female vocals help to raise the tension without raising the volume.
Bob Mould Silver Age
As the first album since his autobiography cleared the emotional decks for a fresh musical start, this one owes a lot to the classic sounds he recorded with Sugar two decades ago. (No surprise that his current tour features straight-through performances of this and Sugar’s Copper Blue.) The songs are tight and bright, with Mould’s traditional buzz saw guitars adding weight and his voice clear-cutting across the mix. Mould isn’t the kid we heard in Hüsker Du or even the troubled troubadour from his numerous solo records. Instead, this is a highly skilled musician who has finally found some of the happiness he has wanted. That sounds like death for someone who has worked angry, but Mould’s skills means this is just a new musical chapter.
David Byrne and St. Vincent Love this Giant
Byrne and the Talking Heads are on the brain right now. Along with this, the artist has issued a book about music and done a lecture and performance tour (fans of the other Heads take note: The Tom Tom Club has a new E.P. out as well). Musically, the album continues the decades-long journey Byrne has made through world music, in this case focusing on writing songs around an ever-present brass section. It echoes his classic New Orleans-infused songs written for The Knee Plays. St. Vincent—singer Annie Clark—does more than add some color to the proceedings. The two singers shared in the songwriting and merge their styles quite well, making for a bright, easy-to-digest sound quite unique on today’s stage.
Amanda Palmer Theatre is Evil
This album is famous—or infamous, depending on your side—for being funded by a Kickstarter campaign that netted more than 10 times the expected amount. That led to plenty of hyper-limited editions for contributors, though it can also be downloaded for free at Palmer’s Bandcamp site. Of course, the real question is: what’s the music like? Pretty much like the sounds she first explored in the Dresden Dolls and then as a solo artist. Lots of musical influences, from folk to Brecht-influenced cabaret, flitter across the sound waves of the album. Palmer has never been one to stand still, from the opening keyboard crush of “Smile” and “Do it with a Rock Star” to the seesawing strings of the Captain Beefheart-quoting “Trout Heart Replica.”