Singers stepping up in new albumsPublished 5:56am Monday, September 17, 2012
The singers are taking center stage.
The new school year and impending autumn are bringing a string of intriguing new album releases. Three of the September releases feature talented singers backed by distinctly different instrumental sounds.
Here are three very different albums worth giving a chance.
“Shields” By Grizzly Bear
4 out 5 stars
On their third album, the Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear shows its rock-heavy side.
Granted Grizzly Bear’s rock-heavier “Shield” is still rooted in harmonious vocals, but the band set aside the style of full-band harmonies that carried much of 2009’s “Veckatimest.”
On “Shield,” guitarists Daniel Rossen and Edward Droste take turns singing lead vocals, but the rest of the band plays key roles.
Unlike “Veckatimest,” the band doesn’t set its sights as blatantly on beauty. Yes, these are beautiful songs, but they have a bit more of an edge.
On “Speak in Rounds,” Grizzly Bear drummer Christopher Bear takes a page out of The National’s Bryan Devendorf’s playbook. Like The National, Bear sets the tone with uptempo, aggressive drum beats over the melodious, almost choir-like vocals.
Fans of Grizzly Bear may be disappointed that there’s not a standalone song as beautiful as “All We Ask” off “Veckatimest,” but on “Shield” the sum is greater than its parts.
“coexist” By The xx
3.5 out 5 stars
The xx’s newest album, “Coexist,” billows with emotion over closely contained music.
On their follow-up to debut “xx,” The xx continue to rely heavily on vocals from Romney Madley Croft and Oliver Sim.
Croft and Sim build off each other and form a heart-wrenching duo. That emotion overflows on songs like “Try” when they sing “You know the way I can’t resist you,” as the music shimmers and whirls like a siren around their voices.
The guitars and music flow around Croft and Sim in sparse waves. Jamie Smith, a drummer and sampling artist, sets the tone with beats and drums that build and disappear out of nowhere.
At first listen, there’s something distant and aloof about The xx’s understated, sparse style, especially because the group always sounds on the verge of an explosion and outburst that never comes.
When Sim sings “My heart is beating in a different way” on “Sunset,” it sounds as if he’s on the verge of exploding. But just as you expect the peak, the next track — “Missing” — starts with Sim and Croft singing A capella.
It’s not an easy listen, as “Coexist” is emotionally draining, and every expected crescendo and climax is cutoff, particularly on the final track, “Our Song.”
In the tradition of minimalist bands like Low, The xx maintain a steady push forward, but climaxes are more in emotion than in music.
Partway through the album, Sim and Croft sing “let it unfold.” If listeners do just that with the album, the songs will unfold as a breath of fresh air — and a bit of a challenge — for a music culture used to instant gratification. However, it’s easy to see The xx as a one-trick pony.
“Love This giant” By David Byrne and St. Vincent
3.5 out 5 stars
A big name in 1980s music has joined forces with a newer act.
David Byrne — formerly of the talking heads — and St. Vincent, aka Annie Erin Clark, recently released “Love this Giant,” an album loosely inspired by “Beauty and the Beast.”
David Byrne and Clark first performed together for what was supposed to be a one-off live performance. They liked the horn-based sound they performed with enough to turn it into a collaborative album.
Byrnes and St. Vincent distinct styles compliment each other across a landscape of horns.
That horn section takes center stage in instrumentation, making for a funky and unique style that also seems to be limiting at times.
At times, the album is a pure knock-out, like on tracks like “Ice Age,” where Clark’s dynamic voice shines. Similarly, Byrne’s skills are on full display on “I Am An Ape.”
Many moments border on greatness, but the specific tone of the album is difficult to maintain and grow over the whole album.