On the Record

The Presets

Apparently, judging from the discs landing on my desk recently, it’s trashy dance-music summer. It seems a million-and-one acts are trying to capture the success of the Scissor Sisters, MGMT, et al., with collections of pulsing tunes laced with old-school electronics and ice-cold melodies. Australian two-piece The Presets may be the best of the lot, and their latest sports a mix of the above, with a sound closer to prime Chemical Brothers than anything else on the current market. What the duo don’t have—yet—are the chops to make a full and engaging record. Midway through Apocalypso, the listener really needs a break from the incessant beat. You need to do a bit of pruning on this 11-track collection, but it has enough for a good listen. The record does offer some surprises, like the laid-back groove of album closer “Anywhere.”

Mercurial Rage

These Minneapolis-based electronic rockers merge a bevy of influences on this six-song EP, and end up sounding like they’ve fallen through a time warp from 1989. I loved that year, which may be why I love Mercurial Rage here. While the band’s background is largely in electronic dance, enough guitars here add that extra bit of drive to the songs. Now, put in some expert production from Ed Ackerson, and you have the sound of success. Of course, you still need songs to make it go, but the boys in Mercurial Rage understand what makes good rocking pop songs. You can hear it throughout these six tracks, from the massive opener “Give it Up” right through a pair of remixes—“Star Star” and “Soldier Boy”—that could have been pulled through a time warp to today. This EP is a wonderful snack from the band. When’s the full meal coming?


This artist has taken the pop world by storm in the past few months with her beguiling debut. Steeped in soul, pop, and the atmosphere of Duffy’s native Wales, Rockferry pushes her to the leading edge of modern British pop soul singers. That can be a dangerous place to be, but so far, she shows no signs of a self-destructive bent à la Amy Winehouse. While Duffy co-
wrote all the tunes here, she had some great assistance, including former Suede-man Bernard Butler, who had a hand in the title tune and several other standout tracks. Duffy, who is still quite young (early 20s), suffers from a lack of experience that often hurts young soul singers. It’s tough to sing about suffering and surviving with only limited knowledge of both, but she gives it a good try throughout. Check out the groove and emotion on “Stepping Stone,” for example.

The Slip
Nine Inch Nails

Speaking of 1989 again, I spent a lot of time in Dinkytown, haunting the record stores, where I picked up Nine Inch Nails’s debut Pretty Hate Machine. Trent Reznor is a survivor. His career has picked up momentum in the past few years, and The Slip is the latest sign. It finds him playing his familiar hard-edged electronic music, with pounding beats, as well as angry and pained lyrics about—well, anything you can think of. You won’t find anything as instantly appealing as “Head Like a Hole” or “Sin” here. Reznor has drifted away from the sense of melody that pushed Nine Inch Nails to the top, although touches of it are in the moody buildup on “Discipline,” or the sense of dread permeating “The Four of Us Are Dying.” The Slip is more about The Loud Noise or The Experimental Electronics than The Melody.

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