Love Is All
Two Thousand and Ten Injuries

Three albums in, Love Is All are still making jagged, yet immediately lovable, indie pop. On Two Thousand and Ten Injuries the edges are smoothed out a little bit, with closer “Take Your Time” borrowing its strings from the graduation-day classic, and the band as a whole seeming more attuned to doo-wop traditions than before (a lot of “ooh-ooh” harmonics, etc.) But overall, the record still moves at a ridiculously energetic, somewhat anxious pace, and it, like before, works incredibly well.

Just like on the last album, A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night, lead screecher Josephine Olausson is still hopelessly (and unhappily) alone. “I tried to count the stars, from driving cars, but I gave up” (“Again, Again”) is less about the endless cycle of “meet, fuck, and feel lonely afterwards” and more about being isolated, angst-ridden, and direly vengeful. “I didn’t expect you to be here and now I don’t know what to say. I’m less than thrilled you’re okay,” (“Less Than Thrilled”)

But Two Thousand and Ten Injuries isn’t as relationship-focused as the last record. “Kungen” is basically an obscure Scandinavian history lesson I had to reference Wikipedia to decipher, and “The Birds Were Singing With All Their Might” concedes it’s first half to an absolutely massive Go! Team-esque instrumental—stadium drums and all. The band is still at their best when they’re making music about the opposite sex, but there is more diversity here than in years past. In general, it’s just surprising how new Two Thousand and Ten Injuries sounds considering the legion of twee-punk copycats who have emerged over the last 5 years or so. Love Is All are the OGs, and they do it better than anyone else.
Luke Winkie

MP3: “Repitition”

Plastic Beach

To paraphrase something Courtney Love once said, the cartoon band Gorillaz fake it so real that they’re beyond fake. Founded at the turn of the century by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and “Tank Girl” creator Jamie Hewlett, the four-person cartoon band—2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel—could have been a gimmicky one-note project. Instead the band is a cross-media sensation, gracefully combining animation, the internet and music into a multilayered experience. And so, after a five-year hiatus, Gorillaz has returned with the highly anticipated Plastic Beach.

As with the previous two Gorillaz records, Plastic Beach features a mind-bending array of guest artists. While it’s not really that groundbreaking to put together a genre spanning line-up anymore, you still have to admire the pluck to put the Fall’s Mark E. Smith on the same album as Snoop Dogg. There are also turns by Lou Reed, De La Soul, Little Dragon and the Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon among others. The beauty about the Gorillaz’s concept is that it’s flexible enough to accommodate disjointed weirdness, but still manages to make it sound unified. And as with the other phases of the Gorillaz albums, there’s a loose narrative that gets more fleshed out with the visual work, but here’s a little obfuscated. Basically there’s an underlying environmental theme.

It’s almost unfair how effortless Albarn and company make this all seem. There’s not a weak track among the bunch, and there are countless moments that are breathtaking in their execution. One of those moments is in the current single, “Stylo,” which features Mos Def and the legendary Bobby Womack. Over a background of a muted pulsating bassline, Mos sharply trades lines with 2D (Albarn) while Womack’s rough-hewed voice crashes in like thunderbolts from Mt. Olympus. Then there’s the spry juxtaposition of the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music with grime MCs Bashy and Kano on “White Flag.” It’s all very clever, but never labored.

In the past, part of that credit could be given to the producers tapped; Handsome Boy Modeling School’s Dan the Automator crafted Gorillaz, while Demon Days was manned by Danger Mouse. This time around, however, Albarn does it all himself. Unless you’re a liner note–reading producer fanboy, this will really have no significance. Sonically, Plastic Beach is not that different from the other records and actually continues along the same ideas as the other two records. Simply put, if you liked the other records, you’ll love to spend time on Plastic Beach.
Dorian S. Ham

Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday
Sub Pop

As King Tuff, Kyle Thomas made his earnest home-recorded garage-punk sound bigger than life. It was as if every riff was intended for a gymnasium full of raging teenagers who hold the same ardor for the Ramones as T. Rex. That oversaturation made for a debut that was hard to top, but leave it to Thomas to assemble a trio, Happy Birthday, with drummer Ruth Garbus and bassist Chris Weisman, that charges onward in an attempt to be a bigger, thicker and more panoramic version of that initial King Tuff party. To be fair, Happy Birthday’s debut isn’t simply King Tuff on blast; the record is a sonic rollercoaster befitting Queen or ELO, with the same cavity-inducing sugar pop that sat at the heart of Thomas’ solo project.

“Girls FM,” the album’s lead, is almost too sweet a pop song for its own good. With Garbus’ bright vocals following along, visions of vintage Apples in Stereo cartoon psychedelia burst from the speakers. These days the threshold for such syrupy moments can be scant. Admittedly though, the band plays through the innocence (“Zit”), the cuteness (“Maxine the Teenage Eskimo”), and gimmicky overload (“Cracked”) with an adventurous adroitness that is sadly needed in inventive pop music. While not perfection (the amount of helium in the room is sometimes hard to swallow), when Thomas accents his smarmier, slinkier side, as on the lurching “Subliminal Message,” the record hits all the right pleasure points.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Girls FM”

Golden Triangle
Double Jointer
Hardly Art

While it may seem that the musical landscape is becoming crowded with the bevy of bands mining the bedrock of garage and other lo-fi traditions, it’s possible that the post-CD age has spurred a renaissance of sorts. Whatever the case, the chafe will surely separate from the wheat, and when that happens, I’m convinced of the fact that Brooklyn’s Golden Triangle will be left standing.

After several years of honing a live show of a-bomb explosiveness and recording a couple EPs, the sextet has released an album that clears any bar they might have previously set. I’ve seen the band compared to the Cramps, and while they really don’t dabble in the same industrial-age rockabilly as those legends, I can understand why somewhat might feel that Golden Triangle is possessed by the same kind of voodoo magic upon hearing Double Jointer. The album rolls in like a high-pressure system, letting loose with a hailstorm of rock nuggets. It’s certainly dark and stormy, but there’s too much go-go in most everything they do for the pall to become depressive. This paradigm is best exemplified on “I Want to Know,” which is fueled by the same kind of kerosene that once (dimly) lit the Gun Club’s paeans, only the big beat and the combined vocals of Vashti Windish and Carly Rabalais lend it more hipshake than death rattle. Similarly, “Eyes to See” is all fuzz and snare in a constant rolling tumble over one another, Vashti’s vocals providing the only center to the dervish. However, it’s the finale, the near six-minute “Arson Wells,” where the band musters all it has, the song swelling as it progresses till it finally bursts. It’s a fitting end to a record that is nothing if not fulminant.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Jinx”

Drive-By Truckers
The Big To-Do

The whiskey, guns and shame remain, but Drive-By Truckers yield a new element of weathered sensitivity on their eighth studio record (and first on ATO). Patterson Hood has always been the face of the band and Mike Cooley the miscreant, but The Big To-Do belongs to Shonna Tucker. The band’s lone female has emerged a quasi-debutante after six years of bass strumming and backing vocals. She has managed to write heart-twisting numbers without compromising her sass and pluck, and is leading the boys on a softer journey. “You Got Another,” which anchors itself in the middle of the record, is a sap-free and piercing ballad, while “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So” is defiantly catchy. What she may lack in vocal acuity, Tucker compensates with conviction.

Recorded in Athens last year and produced by longtime collaborator David Barbe (Sugar, Mercyland), this 13-song collection gratifies on multiple levels. The band sings stories, personifies characters, and perpetuates myths like a variety-pack of Southern rocklore. Tales of corruption, rebellion, and eventual survival best showcase their scraggy storytelling and triple-guitar thunder. After 14 years, they still pull all of this off because they have true talent and don’t patronize. “Daddy Learned To Fly” is a touch slick and “The Fourth Night Of My Drinking” might be construed as paradoxical, but it’s still a damn good testament to the perils of booze. “Birthday Boy” is one of The Big To-Do’s most heightened and provocative cuts, exploring a hooker’s wry acceptance of her circumstances. But “The Wig He Made Her Wear” and its interpretation of the real-life Tennessee woman convicted of shooting her abusive, sexually berating pastor husband, is the record’s archetype. Whether you’re from above or below the Mason-Dixon line, the force of this barreling cavalcade can’t be denied.
Alexandra Kelley

MP3: “This Fucking Job”