The experimental, jerky and perpetually entrancing musical styling known as dubstep grew out of London in the early 2000s but has steadily gained popularity on this side of the pond over the past few years. Indeed, it seems the genre is here to stay, even making a quick cameo in a McDonald’s commercial. One of the movement’s standouts is a producer-turned-artist who goes by the moniker Zomby. He found success with Where Were U in ’92? in 2008, and despite some personal trials (failing to show for a much-hyped gig at All Tomorrow’s Parties), he is back with his latest, an homage of sorts to his deceased father, the aptly-titled Dedication.

The album is noticeably sparse and dark compared to Zomby’s 2008 effort. With songs like “Witch Hunt” laced with gunshots and a persistent, droning din comparable to virtual mosquitoes, the album’s a figurative assault on the ears. Luckily, though, Dedication finds its stride with “Natalia’s Song,” a hypnotizing cache of club beats and vocal samples. “Vortex” is layered with a complex array of hi-hats and kick-drums accompanied by a droning bass line that ties the seemingly random bits together. The album takes a slight detour, albeit a nice change of pace, with “Basquiat,” which sports a haunting, barren piano melody worthy of its namesake. Dedication’s high point is undoubtedly the primitively structured “Things Fall Apart.” It is perhaps the most robust song on the album, and with its layered chant-style vocals and cascading rhythms, it calls to mind Achebe’s written exploration of colonialism of the same title. Inevitably, though, Dedication is so overtly mechanical and sparse that though the many elements come together, they never quite seem to blend, leaving that byzantine task to the listener.
Jennifer Farmer

MP3: “Things Fall Apart”

Part Time
What Would You Say?
Mexican Summer

The problem with crafting a certain sort of nostalgia is that the anachronistic glare created in doing so can become so oblique that it’s often times hard to recognize an artist’s talent and auteur chops. It took three albums cobbled together on four-track before people recognized that Ariel Pink was more than capable of creating the alternate universe realized with Before Today. The San Franciscan quartet Part Time arrives with such nonchalance on their debut, What Would You Say? (the faux Strokes motif doesn’t help), it’s initially hard to take any of it seriously. The listener is instantly transported to some den of decadence on the Sunset Strip, where the house band dabbles in crystal rituals, Steely Dan, New Romantic vamps, VHS porn and air-conditioned Californian staycations. Mr. Pink probably even lingers at the back door giving spiritual encouragement.

Whether or not Ariel Pink was a direct inspiration, it’s hard not to consider What Would You Say? the little-brother companion piece to Before Today, the Haunted Graffiti opus. For some, it may even sound like a big dress rehearsal leading up to the album’s purest single, the bubblegum glitzty “Cassie (Won’t You Be My Doll),” as most of the record is spent picking through ’70s FM pop obscured by an opiate haze. The benefit of Part Time’s hypnotic mosaic is that the virtuosity in their smooth jazz, new age template can be discerned upon further listens. The Wakemen-esque synth-conclusion of “Living in Pretend (My Girl Imagination),” the perfectly cool Bowie/Ferry axis twisted in “She’s Got the Right” and the title track, a near duplicate of OMD’s dazzling electro minimalisism, add enough encyclopedic depth to what Part Time is trying to conjure that it’s impossible to write them off as a one-hit rerun.
Kevin J. Elliott

The Fruit Tree Foundation
First Edition
Chemikal Underground

Borne out of the 2010 Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, the Fruit Tree Foundation is as much charitable outfit as it is band. The collaboration between nine of Scotland’s leading lights was created as a ways not only to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation and bring attention to the problems with which the organization concerns itself, but also to add commentary through music. Sure, there’s a joke to be made about nine musicians (and perhaps a light bulb) in a room, but given the nature of the project, I’ll refrain. Besides, the real joy comes with listening to First Edition.

The Fruit Tree Foundation is headed up by former Delgado Emma Pollock and Idlewild guitarist Rod Jones and features the talents of Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchinson, Twilight Sad vocalist James Graham, Alasdair Roberts, and James Yorkston, among others. The record begins by Hutchinson asking Graham if he’s ready before the two begin a duet of acoustic guitar, piano, and broguish vocals. Like much of the record, “Splinter” conveys a casual countenance, one reflecting the camaraderie between the musicians, but which also often belies the weight of the songs. That dichotomy is best shown on “Beware Beware,” credited to Yorkston and Roberts, who start by discussing when they need to be home before beginning the traditionally toned folk lament. “Singing for Singers,” with Hutchinson and Pollock, is probably my favorite, if for nothing besides the contrast between the beauty of Pollack’s voice and the clamorous backing and Hutchinson’s wailing plaint, which is emphasized when they simultaneously sing, “I can’t stand the sound of my own voice.” The album is a full of such moments, though, and stands on its own merits and not just its charitable intentions.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Sons and Daughters
Mirror Mirror

Sons and Daughters, a four-piece band from Glasgow, Scotland, really love Nick Cave. They love him so much they’ve made a career out of mimicking every song he’s ever recorded. One would suppose that this would be a flattering thing for a guy like Cave, who will go down as a legend in his own strange, spoken-word, abstract genre. One would suppose that Cave’s fans would fall all over themselves trying to get a glimpse of Sons and Daughters, whom they might assume are going to carry the torch once the one-time Birthday Party front man calls it a career. They’d probably be right, but this niche foursome, the indie-rock equivalent to a Led Zeppelin cover band, has once again proven that they’re more about the look than the artistic intent.

With their newest effort, Mirror Mirror, S&D has presented a record so full of pretension and annoying production values that it’s almost hard to not burst out laughing half way through every song. Vocalists Adele Bethel, with her amateur disco vibrato, and Scott Paterson, with his Cave-aping baritone, painfully attempt to prove how artsy they are by lacing every track with exceptionally dumb lyrics. Meanwhile, dance beats and jangly guitars push the listener to the brink of eye-rolling madness. The most disappointing thing about Mirror Mirror isn’t even the record itself. It’s that you know in your heart of hearts that there’s actually a market for this drivel. If bets were to be made as to which track would jump out as the next mumble-core, indie flick soundtrack stand out, one would have to put all of their chips on “Ink Free,” an industrial mash-up which, at best, can be ignored without too much damage to the frontal lobe. Basically, if you want to know what kind of band this is, all you need to do is go to Adele’s website and gaze at the pictures of her recent vacation to Crete. Pictures of food? Check. Pictures of her wearing vintage clothing and sunglasses? Check. Picture of her vacation book, The Tibetan Art of Living? Double check. It’s probably safe to assume that talking to her would probably be exactly like listening to the music she makes in that you will find yourself itching to run as fast as possible as soon as possible in the opposite direction.
Terrence Adams

Eleanor Friedberger
Last Summer

It seems like it was just yesterday that the indie world loved brother-and-sister act the Fiery Furnaces, a.k.a. Eleanor and Mathew Friedberger. Then 2005 saw the release of the polarizing Rehearsing My Choir, on which the band backed their grandmother telling stories from her life. In retrospect, it wasn’t that much odder than anything else the band had done up to that time, including their now trademark album mash-up performances, but it threw a significant portion of their fanbase for a loop. The band didn’t take pause, though, releasing another four albums and a live record between 2006 and 2009. Mathew also released a double solo album, Winter Women and Holy Ghost Language School, during that same period.

It’s now been a couple of years since the last release, and a betting man would place money on either the Fiery Furnaces returning or Mathew putting out a solo record. (Mathew is in the midst of releasing eight records available only via a subsciption.) Conventional wisdom was wrong, as Eleanor has released her first proper solo record, Last Summer.

There were some hints as to what an Eleanor solo record might sound like on the last Fiery Furnaces record, Take Me Round Again. On that album, the siblings reworked songs from the preceding record, I Was Going. It was the first opportunity to hear Eleanor as more than just the voice. On Last Summer, she’s the sole captain of the ship, and the result is poppy and less dense than the Fiery Furnaces. With her brother, she seemed to take delight in the constant shifting of moods, styles and sounds. On Last Summer, she tends to find a groove and stick with it.

What Eleanor retains from her role in the Furnaces is the conversational approach to her vocals, where at times it seems like she’s talking nearly as much as she’s singing. She also continued the trend of “concept” record, with Last Summer playing out as half travelogue, half scrapbook of a past relationship. The result is an instantly engaging summertime record from a person least likely to be linked to that phrase. The Fiery Furnaces revival begins now.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “My Mistakes”