Collapse into Now
R.E.M. has been going strong for three decades, and I’ve been along for nearly the entire ride. Since the end of the band’s heyday in the mid-1990s, my interest has waxed and waned, but their latest draws my interest once again. Lots of middle-aged bands just go through the motions every few years, but Michael Stipe and company still are working hard. His voice is the easiest element to take note of, but I always have loved the interplay between Peter Buck and Mike Mills. Their moody, rocking folk style fuels the music here, outshining the occasional guest (Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, and Peaches), and neatly turning back the clock to the band I loved in my youth.
Life is Beautiful
The local rockers follow their debut with a five-track teaser that has me begging for more. Behind propulsive backbeats, catchy verses, and glammed-out choruses, the Idle Hands bring the distorted noise throughout this all-too-brief set. The clattering begins with “Socialite Death Squad,” which has the punk edge and energy you might expect from the song, but a glorious pop chorus brightens it up. “Uptown is Burning” sounds a bit like a lost, propulsive, late-period Suburbs song. Elsewhere, the band dives into different tempos (the languid Blur-like “Just Stop”); stuttering indie rock (“Dead Letter”); and grandly-realized pop perfection (“Fine”). Life is Beautiful doesn’t last much more than 20 minutes, but they’re the best so far in 2011.
The Most Incredible Thing
Pet Shop Boys
The Most Incredible Thing isn’t truly a new Pet Shop Boys album, but it’s as close are we’re likely to hear for some time. The double disc is the accompanying music to a new ballet by Javier de Frutos that debuted in March. Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s folktale, the piece makes for an intriguing listen, but it’s hard to judge without seeing the dances. Some of the more overt parts of the story can be heard in the mostly-instrumental score. Otherwise, the music features a lot of sweep. You certainly can dance to good chunks of it—this is a ballet, after all—but you truly need to see the visuals for it to come to life.
It’s a bad name for a band. On their second album, Starfucker continue to make beautiful, if fractured, music together. The electronic pulse fueling the band could be from any number of 1980s synth-pop acts, but they add a homemade, off-key, 2000s layer to the proceedings—sometimes sounding like an inquisitive 8-year-old has found his older brother’s keyboards, and is making an extra racket while listening to the Human League. The main weakness here comes from Hodges’s vocals, which are far too distant and shy for such aggressive pop music. The Depeche Mode-like “Julius” desperately needs a Dave Gahan-like vocalist to give the tune its needed swagger (maybe that’s because the band’s name reminds me of the Rolling Stones).