Sleeper Agent Celebrasion (Mom + Pop)
Remember the first time you heard the Ramones? Or Cheap Trick? Or the sadly forgotten Elastica? These bands shared similar DNA: jolt-the-senses pop hooks, raggedy instrumental bravado, and a love of all things nervous and adenoidal. Bowling Green''s Sleeper Agent captures all the gusto of a 20-year-old spazzed out on a crate of Red Bull, but they''ve got the talent to keep the interest meter pegged. Eighteen-year-old female singer Alex Kandel super-squeals the rockin'' compositions of guitarist Tony Smith, while the band slams the songs like baboons giving birth. ?
M83 Hurry Up, We''re Dreaming (Mute)
Saturdays=Youth, the 2008 full-length from Anthony Gonzalez, was a vertical album. It was full of dense synth-pop hymnals, ascendant vignettes paying homage to John Hughes'' era of wistful, flushed soundtracking. This double-album follow-up is more horizontal, featuring sawtooth crescendos and lush melodic interludes existing on an oscillating plane of reverb-soaked progressions. It''s a pneumatic collection of transportive passages, discrete reflections punctuated by congregations of blissful groove.
HTRK Work (Work, Work) (Ghostly International)
With the tragic suicide last year of bassist Sean Stewart, the Hate Rock Trio, or HTRK, are down to two, making this collection of ten songs, tracked in Berlin and London between 2006 and 2010, more of a tribute than an experiment in catharsis. Texturally, though, the music throbs with a dark, dystopian temper—a wall of processed bass, guitar, and sparse machine beats that accentuates the macabre range of singer Jonnine Standish, especially on “Slo Glo” and the creepy “Poison.”
Justice Audio, Video, Disco (Ed Banger Records/Because Music/Elektra)
When Parisian duo Justice emerged in 2005, Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé presented redlining filter-disco and stutter-edited electro-thrash. Their sophomore full-length, however, is more composed in several senses. There''s an almost classical compositional structure to many tempo/key shifts, which are more reserved in general. The specter of arena-oriented prog-rock hangs heavy; imagine tones evocative of harpsichords harmonized through overdriven Tom Scholz Rockman amplifiers, or Pete Townshend''s Arp 2600 on a steady robot rock diet.
Matthew Herbert One Pig (Accidental)
Mixing composition with conceptual art, Herbert presents a suite based on the lifecycle (and posthumous consumption) of a pig. At times macabre, the overall work is as sonically compelling and poignant as it is politically charged. More disturbing than the squeals, oinks, sawing, cooking, and severed-head thump bass-drum sample, is the artist''s cynical attempt to hype the project, which weighs questions such as “Cultural critique or animal exploitation?” and “Agitprop or pure art” against the composer.
VHS or Beta Diamonds and Death (Chromosome/Krian Music Group)
You can still call them a dance-rock band, but Craig Pfunder and Mark Palgy now rely much less on the rock tropes of 2007''s Bring on the Comets. Their latest, a club-friendly slice of ''80s-style synths and retro-house beats, at times bears an unfortunate resemblance to late-era Split Enz, but in the punk-pop kitsch of “Over” and the extended psych-disco strains of “Jellybean,” Pfunder and Palgy find a redeeming force amid the cheese.
America Back Pages (Eone Music Group)
America''s Velveeta harmonies and masterful soft rock songs were all the rage in the ''70s, and Back Pages looks to recapture the magic. Covering warhorses by Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan is a sure bet for the heartfelt pair of Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Buckley; more interesting is their take on “A Road Song” by Fountains of Wayne. And when the “Sister Golden Hair” chords break out mid-song, America''s glory returns, effusive and on fire.