Divine Fits // Chained To Love / Ain’t That The Way
On the back of their phenomenal debut album, Divine Fits continue with their perfect batting average. Yesterday, the group dropped a brand-new double-sided single digitally (with a 12” out July 23 through Merge) and debuted the songs on Conan last night. Dan Boeckner’s offering ("Chained To Love") is equally skittish and taut, but it’s Britt Daniel’s "Ain’t That The Way" that truly catches the ear. In an alternate ’70s-power-pop-meets-90s-indie-rock universe, this song would be a massive hit. “Juggernaut” is not a term thrown out too often with hooky pop songwriters, but it seems every time Divine Fits offer up something new, you better drop what you’re doing and pay attention.
Yellowbirds // Songs From The Vanished Frontier
It’s not often that Norah Jones, Shakira, and psychedelic pop collide, but in the world of Sam Cohen, they do. The Houston-born, New York-based songwriter started out as a session guitarist, appearing on chart-topping songs by those two respective chart-toppers. But when he’s not an axe-for-hire, he makes music in his home studio under the name Yellowbirds.
His first foray into psych-pop, though, came through his old band Apollo Sunshine. Formed in Boston by a group of Berklee College of Music students, the group quickly became a blog darling and just as quickly burned out. Cohen struck out on his own in 2011, releasing Yellowbirds’ stunning debut The Color.
Now he’s back with Songs From The Vanished Frontier, which picks up right where The Color left off. Cohen is adept at a wide range of stringed instruments, running zithers and pedal steels through effects pedals to create a Technicolor harmonic haze. His sound owes as much to Roy Orbison as it does to Nuggets; the “pop” side is firmly emphasized on songs like “Young Men Of Promise” and the swooning, symphonic opener “Stop Tonight.” Pulsing rhythms propel the album into unexpected places. Psychedelia often emphasizes the untethered over the groove, but on the centerpiece “The Ceiling,” Cohen has the ingredients right.
Adding to the record’s heady atmosphere is its tactile quality, both sonically and otherwise. Bass and drums snap in the mix, and the guitars don’t ring so much as smear color. Like on his past releases, Cohen has also designed all the artwork and videos himself, taking a collagist approach that fits perfectly with the sound. Listening to “Young Men” is to see strange figures and shapes coming to wonderful life. That’s a hard trick to pull off. Of Cohen’s many skills—ace guitarist, idiosyncratic composer, whimsical designer—his imagination might be his strongest.
Boards of Canada // Reach For The Dead
For almost thirty years (!), Boards of Canada have pushed the very boundaries and possibilities of electronic music. The Scottish duo has a way of making a synthesizer sound like it sprung from the very earth; they can make landscapes appear and disappear at the push of a button. On June 11, Boards returns with Tomorrow’s Harvest, their first record since 2005’s classic The Campfire Headphase. The first taste, "Reach For The Dead," suggests a turn towards the desert. There’s a beauty to that kind of landscape, but Boards also recognize the dark underbelly that lurks in such wide open spaces.
The Baptist Generals // Jackleg Devotional To The Heart
The Baptist Generals’ Chris Flemmons spent the better part of a decade doubting himself. That’s a common practice among artists, but for Flemmons, it was absolutely crippling. After the release of their stunning, warts-and-all debut, he was worried the Baptist Generals would end up sounding like any other indie band. Tentative work on the follow-up left Flemmons disillusioned. He scuttled the operation, sticking to his bed in a depressed haze after trashing the album in a fit of frustration.
It was unhealthy living, to say the least. For those who grew up in and around the North Texas music scene, Flemmons loomed large. No Silver/No Gold was a major touchstone, and the singer decided to get out of bed to make a difference in another way. He started a DIY music festival called 35 Denton that road the coattails of South By Southwest. Now in its fourth year, the festival has become a viable mid-March alternative to the more corporatized musical orgy down the road in Austin.
Remaking himself as a musical mogul is par-for-the-course for the shaggy, affable Flemmons. Even in his darkest moments, he’s had a can-do attitude to get his art across—art that he likes, and he thinks a lot of other people will like as well. As 35 Denton took off, Flemmons returned to that aborted second Baptist Generals album and slowly chipped away with the help of producer Stuart Sikes—who’s worked with Loretta Lynn, the White Stripes, the Walkmen, Cat Power, and Modest Mouse—and a handful of North Texas session musicians. All of a sudden, after ten years of work, he had an email addressed to Sub Pop with a strange, out-of-the-blue subject heading: New Baptist Generals Album.
"It was like coming out of the deep-freeze," Flemmons told us at Texas Music Matters recently, when asked about how it feels to jump right back into the band. He’s particularly self-deprecating about the whole episode, but his Rip Van Winkle-esque turn has created something that perhaps even his most ardent fans couldn’t have predicted: an absolute gem. Jackleg Devotional To The Heart is more polished, yes, but that only serves to highlight Flemmons’ stunning gift for melody and song structure. Here, he’s Roky Erickson on a happy high, turning “Dog That Bit You” into a loping could-be hit single. Songs are constructed from the ground up; rhythmic and melodic interplay pushes ballads like “Turnunders And Overpasses” and “Broken Glass” into goosebump territory. On top of it all, Flemmons seems to be having fun again, conducting a mini-orchestra one moment and making a synthesizer-heavy racket the next. He doesn’t need to worry: the Baptist Generals don’t sound like any other band on the planet.
Bibio // À tout à l’heure
Bibio, aka Britain’s Stephen Wilkinson, is set to release his new album Silver Wilkinson on May 14. "À tout à l’heure" (which is French for “see you later”) is the first taste, bridging Bibio’s looped-based folk past with a warbly electronic beat. The video is thirteen years in the making:
“Many years ago I was in Wolverhampton library looking for music to take out. I was in the cassette section and there was an album cover which stood out to me - it was the self-titled album by ‘Free’. The cover is of a blue sky and a naked woman’s silhouette striding over the camera. Her silhouette is transformed into a hole in the sky showing the stars, or perhaps a ‘window’ onto the heavens.…”