Niki and the Dove
Sub Pop

I often wonder what specific element it was that propelled a band like Florence and the Machine to the mainstream, as it certainly wasn’t the music. Is it the pomp and circumstance afforded her live shows, her looks, her boutique neo-gothic aesthetics? It’s certainly not the music. It’s especially confounding considering there are a handful of similar outfits pairing the vivid twinkle of electronica with high-end femme fatale drama and a slight bend towards the club scene. In a perfect world, Niki and the Dove’s Instinct would dethrone your atypical Florence heroine, not only because their debut album is a much smarter bricolage of influence and nascent trends, but because it also contains a much sharper sense of what a pop song should actually convey. Fitting then that the duo of Malin Dahlstrom and Gustak Karlof’s artistic careers were based in theatre (something easily heard in the dramatic sweeps and colorful grandeur of Instinct), so they are more in tune with the curatorial aspect of crafting electronic music culled from a myriad of sources.

In many ways, Instinct follows the same sophisticated hodgepodge previously constructed by fellow Swede Lykke Li, only Niki and the Dove make a much more profound impact, where the lights are brighter, the refrains catchier, and the verve increasingly lucid and inviting. The quirkiness of types like Björk and Kate Bush slinks in and out of the carefully constructed beat landscapes, while the sinister minimalist edge of The Knife pulsates through “Mother Protect” and “Winterheart.” Bangers like “DJ, Ease My Mind” and “The Drummer,” are odes to dancefloors of the future. Unlike the products of many of Niki and the Dove’s contemporaries, though, Instinct is not just a series of singles; there is craft in the flow and emotional pull of the album. Perhaps most intriguing is how much the duo looks to the past to create the experience of Instinct. It doesn’t reveal itself immediately, but when the Stevie Nicks mimicry on “In Our Eyes” is placed against a plush bed of New Romanticism, it provides a stormy nostalgic juxtaposition of elegant grooves and bohemian chic. Sure, there’s a great swath of music mining this territory, but don’t allow the baubles and trinkets of what may be topping the charts distract you from something this enchanting.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “DJ, Ease My Mind”

Apache Dropout
Bubblegum Graveyard
Trouble in Mind

An album like Bubblegum Graveyard, Apache Dropout’s second full-length, is an example of the positive outcomes than can occur when reading too many comic books, watching too many cartoons, and hoarding back issues of Cream becomes an act of resistance. As was the case with the band’s excellent 2011 self-titled LP, Bubblegum Graveyard doesn’t so much revere the various underground and junk-culture influences it holds within, but instead brings those influences vividly to life and makes them active participants in a trippy rock & roll passion play.

On Apache Dropout, the band took listeners on a brown-acid journey through rock history that paid tribute to the PT Barnum of record collecting, Johan Kugelberg; Motor City propagandist and White Panther luminary John Sinclair; and the original rock & roll Midas, Sam Phillips. Here they re-imagine Archie and Jughead as zombie marauders in a post-apocalyptic Riverdale, look for wisdom on the wrapper of a Baby Ruth, and get wistful for Quaalude highs. At the heart of Apache Dropout’s gonzo nostalgia, though, is genuine fandom. There isn’t any irony here: no knowing glances and insider winks, just true obsession.

There’s also something distinctly Midwest about this album, which may account, in part, for the refreshing lack of irony. Like fellow Hoosier State reprobates The Gizmos before them, Apache Dropout dot their songs with the signifiers of teenage triumph over a perpetually flat landscape, geographically and culturally speaking. For Apache Dropout, this triumph comes in the form of B-movies, drugs, candy, the opposite sex, and, most obviously, rock music (whether garage, punk, psychedelic, pop, or what have you). But it’s with “I-80” that the band really hammers this point home, giving the youth of the more remote parts of the United States their very own “Roadrunner” to which they can drive all night, hit the border, and then probably just head home. “Can’t Stand the Midwest” will always have resonance if you’re from that region, but “I-80” should make you hold your head up.
Nate Knaebel

MP3: “Candy Bar”

Reverence to Stone
20 Buck Spin

At first, it was just an island. Later, in pre-Hellenic Greece, it was a place where you could sacrifice pig’s blood to chthonic deities and join a mystery cult. And in 1884, when an acephalous female in white marble appeared frozen atop a staircase at the Louvre to a stunned crowd, she presented her placard with a set of wings and no arms: The Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Samothrace is also Brian Spinks, Joe Axler, Dylan Desmond and Renata Castagna—a metal band out of Seattle by way of Lawrence, Kansas. Reverence to Stone is the first product since the move and a follow-up to the group’s 2008 double-album debut, Life’s Trade. All of this material is on 20 Buck Spin Records, and every record is halved. That means Samothrace has delivered six lean-cut slices of doom, all clocking in within standard stoner time tables, over the span of four years. This would feel a bit pithy if it weren’t for the band’s relocation and guitarist and singer Brian Spinks’ openness about the band’s past substance abuse problems, which they’ve now put behind them.

The band’s fifth member is time. Not the designated kind in paragraphs past, but the irreducibility of its perception. Listening to the A-side of Reverence to Stone, “When We Emerged” feels like it is forever starting, until suddenly, it’s as if it has always been ending. This happens without any conscious record of the transition. How and when does the change happen? It is a known unknown, much like our acceptance that we will never understand lyrics implemented with black metal leanings like those of Spinks. Nothing enslaves someone to the capriciousness of time like being on drugs (maybe love). The members of Samothrace are effective manipulators of time, conditioned to endure and well-connected to each other. Let’s hope they stay clean, so they can dirty-up our minds some more.
Elizabeth Murphy

Dead Can Dance
[PIAS] America

If there’s any lesson to be learned from the current wave of horror mania, it’s that the dead will always rise again. It’s true for vampires, zombies and, as music fans well know, bands. In this case, it can be taken literally as Dead Can Dance has been revived to release Anastasis, their first album in 16 years.

Dead Can Dance has always sat in an interesting place in music. Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard have long held a foothold in the gothic community with their sweeping and ethereal soundscapes. But the other side of Dead Can Dance is that they were very worldly, in the world music sense of the word. Because it wasn’t run through a hippie filter, this component went under the radar. Similarly, the various shades of their sound weren’t tied to any specific time. As a result, Anastasis seems unconcerned with fitting into today’s climate.

Perry and Gerrard originally reunited for a tour in 2005, but waited until last year before starting to record. Anastasis shows the benefits of taking one’s time. It’s meticulous, but not belabored. It resurrects the aesthetic of the band’s older records, but also makes way for the lessons Perry and Gerrard learned from their respective solo careers. They give each other space to shine, throwing long instrumental passages into the mix. It’s vast and sweeping without being drawn out, intimate without being navel-gazing. In short, it’s a Dead Can Dance record, one you didn’t know you needed until it appeared.
Dorian S. Ham

The Black Swans
Occasion for Song

It would be wrong to say there’s something missing from The Black Swans’ sound nowadays. Jerry DeCicca and Noel Sayre, the core responsible for the band’s delicately heart-crushing sound, were torn asunder after Noel’s death in a swimming pool in Southern Ohio in 2008. Noel’s bold emotionally charged violin gestures complimented Jerry’s lilting whisper vocals perfectly and defined the band just inside the Venn diagram of where folk, country, chamber, and rock & roll music converge. I can remember seeing the band while tripping on ecstasy and the extreme elation that rang up my spine when Noel’s violin came in. (I also remember trying out to be their drummer and being so transfixed by the sound of his violin that I kept blowing the bridge changes.) It’s sad no one will ever hear that sound live again.

But this does not mean that the band is dead. On the contrary, instead of quitting, Jerry and the rest of the Swans have carried on and evolved, embracing the elusive joy that one can only feel after having gone through such a loss. Occasion for Song is The Black Swans’ first record without Noel’s violin, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t all over it. “Portsmouth, Ohio” details the events during and after Noel’s death with bitter harmonica solos between choruses where Jerry invents a rule after the fact: “Nobody’s supposed to die three days before the Fourth of July.” Of course, he knows it’s futile trying to discount the event in retrospect. This is also the nature of art. It is futile and pointless, but only as much as life is pointless. If we’re all going to die, what else are we supposed to do but live and create while we have the power? The in-between moments, the inconsequential seconds, those are the most vital. Jerry captures them almost too perfectly with the last line of “JD’s Blues”: “When the summer sun is shining strong, lay outside and pretend there’s nothing wrong. Open my eyes to the sky and watch the clouds move side to side.” The downfall of Occasion for Song is the running time of the album. It clocks in a just under an hour, and based on the metacosmically transporting nature of the music, that’s far too short. My only gripe is that I don’t have a double long-player in my hand yet, but the digital version will suffice for the time being. The genius of The Black Swans’ songwriting has always been their ability to make what isn’t there as crucial as the sounds that are. Never has this been more apparent.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy