Divine Fits
A Thing Called Divine Fits

Perhaps after the definitively lackluster Transference, Spoon’s sketchbook-as-album from 2010, Brit Daniel needed something different to get his creative juices flowing again. Or maybe the frontman just wanted a change of pace after seven albums with the same band. Whatever the case, A Thing Called Divine Fits is some of his finest work since Kill the Moonlight.

But attributing the triumph that is the Divine Fits’ knockout debut solely to Daniel’s reignited creative energies would be a disservice to his bandmates: Dan Boeckner, of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs fame, and Sam Brown, who while perhaps best known for manning the skins for the New Bomb Turks, has also played with Gaunt and The Sun, among other bands. The band’s synergy is obvious, and though they exhibit a penchant for the kind of taut pop-rock for which Daniel is known, it’s not like Boeckner and Brown haven’t exhibited those tendencies in their own work. So while songs like “Flaggin a Ride” and “Would That Not Be Nice,” on which Daniel sings, are a Spoon-esque mix of sharp hooks and cracking beats, it’s a synth-soaked aesthetic that dominates the record. (I’m not sure why keyboardist Alex Fischel isn’t an official Divine Fit.) Indeed, the oscillating synths of “The Salton Sea” share more in common with Kraftwerk or OMD than Daniel’s other band, while the fidgety keys of “For Your Heart” bring New Order to mind. On both, Boeckner sings like he is at the end of his rope, his voice filled with just the right amounts of desperation and determination. Daniel sings from a similar place on a superb cover of “Shivers” by The Boys Next Door (a.k.a. The Birthday Party). The band’s various elements seem to culminate with “Neopolitans,” the nebulous closing track on which an echoed refrain, a repeated riff, a trickling of synths, and Brown’s smattering beats, drift in and out of focus. A Thing Called Divine Fits is the kind of well-crafted album that after hearing it you wonder how you could have lived so long without it.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Would That Not Be Nice”

Dan Deacon

How is it that the public can be both paranoid and complacent about the apocalypse? Perhaps because, as philosopher Slavoj Zizek says, it is easier for people to imagine the world ending than what it would take to stop it. Although it is nothing if not narcissistic to suppose the rapture will happen in our lifetime, this possibility, with its various seductive entry points, flickers across the minds of the best of us. As a hypothetical, it is the great perspective-inducer, socioeconomic leveler and priority adjustment bureau, becoming ever more mercurial as it slouches toward reality. In such a case, sheer terror would eclipse any sense of beauty.

But the theoretical apocalypse? Wondrous, as it is on Dan Deacon’s America. In a statement of intent, Deacon describes the shift change that came alight when he first toured Europe, and in the face of otherness, first identified as an American. In the wake of this small scale apocalyptic thrust was a newfound aggregate of understanding: America, a maquette of utopian fallout. America blows out the confines of a working subculture—the psycho-sociality of the Baltimore scene, Deacon’s Wham City collective, and the larger DIY network across the country—putting broad-scale feelers out in what could be the soundtrack to an epic American film. It’s dosed with pop, but not the sad, plastic kind offered by way of mimesis. America is self-sufficient, performative even. It is the sentiment that inspired its creation, therefore, devoid of any of the distracting quirk found on previous albums.

There is limited language for the trending avant-garde pop artist that is merely accessorizing commercial pop tropes with counterculture hairdos and outfits (although a few four-letter words come to mind). This is not that. America is by all accounts earnest and prefaced by a substantiated regionalism. In the face of global culture, it is still the increasing lack of cultural niches like Wham City that threaten a musically diverse future. Likewise, nothing can replace the self-reliance this nurtures, and nothing can fortify an artist’s work like putting the energy on the line. (Have you seen this dude’s tour schedule?) In my limited understanding of Dan Deacon’s understanding of music, in a post-apocalyptic landscape, he would be the one capable of turning atomized blips and bytes into a mobilizing sound.
Elizabeth Murphy

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Mature Themes

Recent interviews leading up to the release of the highly anticipated Mature Themes suggest that Ariel Rosenberg (stage name Pink) is finally comfortable in the spotlight and wants us to know he’s just as average as the rest of us. But there’s no doubting that some kind of genius, as schizophrenically unwieldy as it is, informs every ounce of his musical pursuits. There’s simply no other explanation for the outright kookiness of his follow-up to the universally revered Before Today. A few listens in and one could even assume Mature Themes is reactionary against the success of its softer, more manageable predecessor, forcing the issue of Pink’s inherent outsider approach to writing and recording. While as meticulously produced as Before Today was, Mature Themes harkens back to the madcap adventures that informed his earliest work, records that transpired in a constant flux, going in and out of conscious thought and subconscious desire, stitched together with links to the past no one really remembers. Bearing the foibles of self-indulgence and amateurism, they were records so dense that they were almost scary to approach knowing that with each turn there would be yet another engrossing twist with which to become obsessed. Mature Themes, for better or worse, is the ultimate collision of that world with Pink’s new found lucidity.

It’s been in heavy rotation now for a week and I still can’t get my ahead around Mature Themes’ vacuum of outre source material. The album’s an alternate universe where everything is fair game. From commercial jingles, film-strip synth warps, customer service hold-music, and other hypnagogic detritus culled from elevators and waiting rooms, Pink assembles a fascinating melange of pop music. Of course, the best stuff here is the Byrdsian, ’70s coke den feel of songs like “Only in My Dreams” and “Farewell American Primitive.” Herein is prismatic psychedelia as catchy as it is narcotic, but even when Mature Themes is at its most fragmented—for instance, on the carnival espionage of “Kinski Assasin”—there’s room for exploration and an overwhelming sense that somewhere down the road this will all make sense. Sure, the goofy genre-bouncing of Zappa and Ween are obvious points of reference. Pink, however, shifts moods even faster, making for an album that, like the best art, you’ll keep going back to with equal bouts of frustration and fascination. As he sings on “Symphony of the Nymph,” he’s “just a rock and roller from Beverly Hills.” While that might be true, few rock and rollers these days deal in subjects as disparate as Dr. Mario, she-males hopped up on meth, fast food drive-thrus and the “Schnitzel Boogie.” Pink may yearn to be an everyman, but in that quest he’s becoming stranger than we could ever imagine.
Kevin J. Elliott

Wild Nothing
Captured Tracks

Wild Nothing definitely pins their influences on the grillcloth of their silver-faced Fender Twins. I could say other band names here that would make me sound cool and frontman Jack Tatum sound derivative, but invoking the architects of the Dunedin Sound or citing pre-Madchester Glaswegian outfits will only lead to more illegal downloads and won’t do anyone any good. Besides, Tatum has a sincere appreciation for pop music, and while lesser musicians with the same amount of reverence for the gloomy ’80s will pale in comparison with their respective musical deities, the second proper effort from Wild Nothing elevates them well above imitators and into the realm of innovators. That said, “Paradise” has more in common with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart than Cocteau Twins. “This Chain Won’t Break” takes a cue from Twin Sister’s half electronic backbeat more so than it does from any Sugarcubes single. “Through the Grass” especially evokes Disintegration-era Cure as filtered by The Pastels. I’d love to hear this particular song live, as the backwards beat seems irreproducible, like one of those genius flukes that only happen when recording something all alone. Since this is the way Tatum worked for the last release, I’m assuming nothing has changed short of him having a committed live band to realize the tracks.

Nocturne’s title track, like the record as a whole, is a guitar-driven mood piece of simple layers placed on top of each other until they create a thick, unbreakable complex structure. Wild Nothing remains consistent in its sound—this second long-player is not a departure—and Tatum seems to have an even more clear vision for his songcraft after having more practical experience in the live setting. I’m beginning to think that this genre is much more than a throwback flash in the pan, when bands like Real Estate, Seapony, Pains, Twin Sister, et. al have steadfastly been releasing quality stuff that sounds fresh and new, but informed by the quality stuff from the past. It’s a feedback loop that needs more fodder, and I’m glad Jack Tatum came through again.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

In Limbo

Leaving Here We Go Magic to form a band with her sisters no doubt felt like the natural thing to do for Kristina “Teenie” Lieberson. With longtime friend Jane Herships joining Kristina, Lizzie and Katherine, Teen, as witnessed on full-length debut, In Limbo, seems not so much a band of individuals but rather the outlet of a collective mindset. Throughout the album, for better or worse, the members’ contributions coalesce together into a hazy swell of voices and instrumentation.

On In Limbo, Teen sticks to an unbending aesthetic of simple songs sung in unison and awash in a narcoleptic fog. Tracks like “Better” and “Charlie” come off like the Shangri-Las on a morphine drip, the girls’ vocals blending together over a languid melody scribbled out on a keyboard. Each utterance seems deliberated, and it’s hard not to long for a little excitement. Stimulation does eventually come, with the band picking up the pace on the apropos “Electric” and the buzzing “Why Why Why.” In Limbo is vaguely psychedelic, and with the band having enlisted Sonic Boom to produce, they were no doubt attempting to create such an effect. But whatever high they are able to invoke is inevitably squashed by the album’s overall lethargic effect.
Stephen Slaybaugh