On the Record
Disconnect from Desire
School of Seven Bells
Here’s a bit of cool electronic pop for the final hot days of summer. School of Seven Bells—a trio made up of Benjamin Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines), and twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (drawn from the wonderfully named On! Air! Library!)—make music that is loaded with space and mood, but also has a real musical drive. If you were around in the early 1990s, think Curve, but with Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins as the vocalist. On their second album, School of Seven Bells unleash 10 of their signature tunes, from the appropriately swirling “Dust Devil” to “Joviann.” Lots of acts draw on the superficial sounds of the past, but School of Seven Bells embraces these influences as just part of their sound. Even a cut like “Carmarilla,” which brings to mind genre godfathers Kraftwerk, also clearly is a song from 2010. Toss in the pure joy of opener “Windstorm,” and you get plenty of musical pleasure.
While Cloud Cult’s latest won’t hit the streets in physical form until September, it is available now on their website at cloudcult.com, and believe me, it’s worth an early listen. The Minnesota band always have dealt with expansive sounds and deep feelings, but it all comes into sharp focus on their latest epic, Light Chasers. Fueled by lush arrangements and subtle-but-driving songcraft, leader Craig Minowa takes listeners on a pretty amazing journey that is serious in tone without ever being somber. Give a lot of credit for that to the arrangements and playing, where decidedly nonrocking horn and string sections help craft an elegant musical backdrop. It’s the kind of album that can get away with subtitling two songs as part of an “Invocation” and five more as the “Journey to the Light.” In fact, this album deserves more thought than I can give it here. Just buy it, and hear it for yourself.
Polarizing and controversial, M.I.A. is, at the very least, never boring. On her third album, the Sri Lankan firebrand continues the personal revolution that fueled Arular and Kala. As is often the case with third albums, Maya sprawls quite a bit, sometimes threatening to lose control completely. Still, that only helps the music here—even the by-the-numbers tracks are driven by a sense of danger and imminent disaster. At its best, Maya stands with the finest music of 2010. Cool kiss-off “XXXO” and the incendiary “Born Free” drive the first half of the album, but don’t miss out on the punk vibe of “Meds and Feds” or the throbbing electro of “Teqkilla.” M.I.A. chooses to sing more here than on past albums, though when pressed, she’ll return to her signature half-rapped/half-shouted style, all with some mixed results. Still, it always has been about the full aural tapestry, and on “Maya,” that has become even more complex than the past.
Montreal’s Arcade Fire continues to follow a path laid out by many artists in the past: breakout debut with critical plaudits; difficult follow-up and resulting backlash; and now, a “we don’t care what you think” third release. After all, The Suburbs is a concept album (the subject is right there in the title), and a double album to boot. You know what? It doesn’t matter what has happened before in rock history or to the band. Taken on its own, The Suburbs is just a great, great release. Conceived as a missive from those oft-reviled communities (several band members spent their youth in a Houston suburb), the album is soaked in atmosphere, from the ennui of life far from the excitement to the moments of excitement occasionally punctuating the land. Above all, it’s a platform for one of the best modern bands to unleash more than an hour of prime, vibrant, and thrilling music.