Trailer Trash Tracys

In 2012, the idea of nostalgia will likely become such a moot concept that most bands will quickly be forgiven for the obvious touchstones from which they knowingly crib. Supposing this theory sticks, the bevy of groups existing in this post-nostalgia fringe will be accepted or panned based on either how well they replicate Sarah Records singles and My Bloody Valentine demos or how far they expand those initial horizons into uncharted territory. Said criteria can apply to any genre pushing nostalgia towards a tipping point, but the worst offenders tend to dabble in the combination of jangly guitar pop, shoegaze theatrics, and the new romantic swoon. Few can manage the balance, which leaves most of these records hollow and plain, as interchangeable as the nondescript names the bands give themselves.

Eyeing London quartet Trailer Trash Tracys from the outside will elicit such indifference, maybe even a little unwarranted scorn. Somewhere I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness is sighing in relief. Even scraping a bit under the surface of their debut album, Ester, might be cause for concern. They are, from the outset, hopelessly wailing in homage to the Cocteau Twins (a band that in retrospect was the precursor to shoegaze mania), with vocalist Suzanne Aztoria channeling Elizabeth Fraser’s celestial vocals over a shimmering layer of striking guitars and the mirage of cavernous atmospherics. For as gauzy and gossamer the Tracys spin their web to revive the Twins’ spirit, though, they also manage to splinter just enough to shake the listener out of the usual hypnotic state. On Ester, the Tracys try a number of freakish juxtapositions for maximal effect. Whether it’s the thumping 808 backbeats that recall old school hip-hop on “Wish You Were Read” or the basslines on the demented prom theme of “Turkish Heights” that seem plucked straight from an Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks score, each composition accents the strong songwriting with jarring textures. It’s nostalgic in the sense that it’s reminiscent of the feeling one could glean from hearing The Cure’s “Close to Me” for the first time, but yet it’s a distorted perception of exactly where or when that moment occurred. What really sets Ester apart is this search for outer realms, connecting the want for the past and sonically amplifying that desire into something as equally pristine and discombobulated.
Kevin J. Elliott

Mind Spiders

The Texas web of Denton, Austin, and the thrice-yearly cleaned truckstops in between has become an oily pipeline of excellently spasmodic, ears-pinned-back fuzz-punk for a few years now. High Tension Wires, OBN IIIs, Flesh Lights, Elvis, Bad Sports, and more have bubbled up from the slow-boil, fast-bopping speed pop of Denton daddies like the Riverboat Gamblers and the Marked Men. (In fact, lots of these bands share members.)

Main man Mark Ryan started Mind Spiders a couple years ago as a way to get some Devo ticks out of his system. Following on the buzzy kick of the Mind Spiders’ 2011 self-titled debut, this second album seems to be more of a band effort, as Ryan scrummed one up to tour during the last year. The Mind Spiders creep somewhere between the road-racing power pop of the aforementioned Marked Men and the fuzzy, analog-electro of mid-2000s Memphis synth-stompers like the Lost Sounds and Digital Leather, while lyrically focusing on a Planet of the Apes–like takeover of Earth, only with arachnids for apes, i.e. less “ooga-ooga” butt scratch and more multi-appendage idea flailing. But rather than wanting to bash the heads in of all bi-pedalers not fully covered in hair, the Mind Spiders seem content to noogie the heads of pretty exes. So on Meltdown there are lots of skittish, bug-eyed love songs about how love ain’t really the problem, like “More Than You,” wherein Ryan sings, “I’m not alone, but I wish I was,” and the jerky riff-racer, “Play Out Out,” with its soft sneers of, “You will close your eyes and fade away when it’s over.”

But by mid-album they really get going with the amazing “Fall In Line,” firing chorus pedals for fuel and zooming along on burning stardust trails of one-chord solos, sick synth whirling, and mini-epic sci-fi flick outros. The next song, “Upside Down,” is even catchier, and nearly as nervous. This fine collection of corrosive amp-melting fun means the well of southern Texas punk is nowhere near sapped yet, so drill Spidey, drill!
Eric Davidson

Various Artists
We Are the Works in Progress
Asa Wa Kuru

Maybe it’s too many years of do-gooding, but if your email inbox is anything like mine, you are constantly being bombarded with pleas to help save this animal or that, petitions to members of government, and letters from worthy causes asking for donations. As such, few of us probably bat an eye when news of a new benefit album comes our way—no matter how worthy the beneficiaries. Indeed, benefit albums are a dime a dozen, and many, however commendable the intent behind them may be, are unfortunately hardly worth hearing, let alone purchasing. Which, of course, is too bad, especially for their causes.

We Are the Works in Progress, an album to help the ongoing post-tsunami relief effort in Japan, could have very easily been just such an album, especially considering the concept behind the record. Organized by Blonde Redhead singer Kazu Makino, the album consists of 14 tracks considered unfinished by their composers. As Makino put it in a press releases, “They are ideas that we became very attached to... versions of music that aren’t right for release, but ones that we love.” So while each song is successful to varying degrees, this compendium could have very easily gone awry and been filled with nothing but discarded leftovers. As it is, Makino has helped put together an album that not only has a sense of completeness about it, but which is comprised of exclusive material that never feels second-rate. Among the highlights here, Deerhunter contributes an uncharacteristically ambient track, “Curve,” and “Bamboo House,” by Japan’s David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto is a textural swirl of electronics equal parts pop and experimental. Cuts like these make it easy to support Makino and her cause (in this case, specifically Japan Society and Architecture For Humanity).
Stephen Slaybaugh

Bombay Bicycle Club
A Different Kind of Fix

There’s an unspoken expectation after a band has a few releases under its belt. For example, you don’t expect a folksy singer-songwriter to drop club beats and you wouldn’t expect a metal band to do a record inspired by a German playwright. (Or would you?) Bombay Bicycle Club hasn’t taken as hard a turn as that, but the British quartet has proven itself slightly slippery. After two EPs and a debut record full of scrappy indie rock that easily lent itself to the manipulations of remixers, the band then released the acoustic Flaws. It made a weird kind of sense as an attempt to be taken seriously. The remarkable thing is that the shift happened only a year after the release of the debut. Now, just a year after Flaws, the band has drafted Animal Collective producer Ben Allen to help with their third album, A Different Kind of Fix.

While A Different Kind of Fix isn’t a great shock to the system, it’s definitely a leap. There’s something immediately admirable about that kind of ambition. Hell, even the album title seems to be a type of heads up for people who were expecting a return to I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, though obviously having Allen on the boards also leads to expectations. The record isn’t Bombay Bicycle Club does Animal Collective, but there’s a much more extensive use of the studio as an instrument. An untreated background handclap evolves into a percussion loop and guitars shift from sounding like guitars to something else all together different. Yet, it’s not just window dressing. To crib a term from Top Chef, there’s depth of flavor that’s come with Allen’s touch. So while the songs do stand on their own, the production acts like the fifth member. It’s like they took the best elements from the their earlier work and kicked it up a notch. And as good as A Different Kind of Fix is, it’s also an exciting indication of where the next record might take Bombay Bicycle Club.
Dorian S. Ham

German Army
Turkish Bath
Kill Shaman

The new collaboration between Paul Kneejie (The Pope, Bipolar Bear) and Greg Toumassian, German Army is an exercise in ambient minimalism, but not the kind Brian Eno once made for airports. Over the course of the 20 tracks found on Turkish Bath, the pair divines a strange quaaludic atmosphere that varies little throughout the record. The album seems muted by a gauzy layer of static, making subtle disturbances in the band’s cadence even more difficult to recognize and more monumental when they are.

While it’s hard to muster too much enthusiasm for a record that seems designed to drain such emotions, there is something vaguely cathartic about Turkish Bath, as if such negativism (as in a lacking, not an attitude) is equal to other extremes. Sonically, this is a mindfuck somewhere between early Alien Sex Fiend and Pagan Day–era Psychic TV, with mutated, spoken lyrics that seem not intended to be heard, but rather to be inner dialogs to which we’ve somehow become privy. In this regard, it’s probably best to try not to read into anything here too much, but rather admire the record for its uniquely gray aesthetic and certain despondency.
Stephen Slaybaugh