Xiu Xiu — ‘Oh No’
THE GOOD: The always difficult Xiu Xiu (singer/songwriter/experimental musician Jamie Stewart and producer Angela Seo) comes back with its 12th.
THE BAD: As usual, only the adventurous need apply. Not bad, but be prepared.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Oh No” is a strange duets album. Every track boasts a guest star who wandered into the Xiu Xiu universe. Stewart doesn’t make things more accommodating for his guests, either. They’re expected to both embrace and enhance the weirdness.
Indie faves such as Sharon Van Etten, Owen Pallett, Twin Shadow and Shearwater put their distinct voices on the usual assortment of abrasive electronics, minimalist atmospheres, disturbing lyrical quirks and various bangs, clatters and screams.
This time around, though, some of the tracks are shockingly infectious. Liz Harris adds her affected charms to the echo-heavy and melodic “Bottle of Rum.” Punk legend Alice Bag helps kick “Knock Out” into high gear. Liars smash us across the face with the gloriously out of control “Rumpus Room.” “Oh No” has its share of unexpected gems.
BUY IT?: Maybe.
Death from Above 1979 — ‘Is for Lovers’
THE GOOD: Canadian alt-rockers DFA79 return with their fourth.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger and multi-instrumentalist Jesse F. Keeler embrace noise, abrasive but danceable beats and catchy melodies that smash through the fuzzed-out sonic landscapes. “Is for Lovers” still puts confrontation at the forefront, at least during its first half.
Tracks such as “One Plus One” and “NYC Power Elite” get in your face while offering a decent hook and groove. The second half finds the guys exploring more reserved territories. Longtime fans might have to adjust. However, these unexpected forays do have their charms. “Glass Homes” rides a slick train of digital bleeps and bloops. “Love Letter” is almost a traditional pop song — almost. The guys don’t let us completely off the hook; distortion and the slightest hint of aggression are left intact.
“Is for Lovers” is a worthy, hyper-focused effort, one that’s in and out in just over 31 minutes. You can catch your breath when it’s over.
BUY IT?: Yes.
Small Black — ‘Cheap Dreams’
THE GOOD: Brooklyn electronic-leaning indie band Small Black is back with its fourth (first in six years).
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After throwing its energies into various side projects, the band sounds newly inspired. “Cheap Dreams” ends up a synth-heavy pop album recalling ’80s romantic new wave and chillwave sounds from earlier this century. Textbook relationship tropes carry the lyrics while the band delivers some of its strongest melodies ever. So there are no grand statements, but this set doesn’t need them.
Tracks such as epic opener “Tampa” and the seamlessly flowing “Driftwood Fire” prove that taking time worked wonders. The title cut is a mid-tempo gem while closer “Song to Ruin” ends matters with an emotional rush. Past albums have always featured a few standout songs amongst a lot of average filler. This record feels tighter and more energized, even during the slower intimate bits. Even the occasional instrumental link adds to the overall experience. Try not to split this one up.
BUY IT?: Surely.