The Horrors

After first revealing themselves to the world as a third generation reincarnation of the batty sound once perfected by the Birthday Party, the Horrors added a new spectrum of sounds, albeit one still decidedly dark, to their arsenal with the brilliantly nuanced Primary Colours in 2009. But while that record introduced concepts like atmosphere to the Horrors’ vernacular, the band’s new songs weren’t lacking teeth. Spiked by both lyrical and guitar barbs, Primary Colours showed the band capable of meshing mood and visceral impulses at once.

Of course, one would expect the Horrors to travel further down this path already proven successful (Primary Colours was nominated for a Mercury Prize). And the band’s new album, Skying, starts off promisingly enough. The opening track, “Changing the Rain,” is saturated with booming drums, a bevy of synths and Faris Badwan’s distinctive croon. But for the rest of the album, such high points are few and far between. Tracks like “You Said” and “Still Life” come off as second-rate modern-rock leftovers, the kind you’d once find in the cut-out bin on albums by Modern English and Shreikback. Signs of life are evident on “Endless Blue,” which morphs from a meandering synth swoon into a pulsating minor-keyed lament built atop a jagged guitar riff, and “Wild Eyed,” which, though not nearly as two-sided, has some dimensionality within its milky swirl. Still, one can’t help but get the sense that the band has been stripped of its fangs, as there is rarely a moment that draws blood the way the Horrors once did.
Stephen Slaybaugh

The Blackout
Thrill Jockey

With the release of The Blackout, Nick Bindeman joins the ranks of musicians making new millennium goth in their bedrooms. Earlier releases from his Tunnels solo project had less structure and no pop sensibility, in keeping more with his other gig as the erstwhile guitarist for Jackie-O Motherfucker, as well as Bindeman’s other project, Eternal Tapestry. So while transforming from guitar drones to the synth-heavy, coldwave sound is a departure, it’s a successful one.

Bindeman may have left the drone behind, but not necessarily the experimental. In the first single, “Crystal Arms,” he sings in a monotone voice over a backdrop of minimal synth and bass. Oh, and Laurie Anderson’s skull. The percussion tapping throughout the song is a sample from an Anderson performance where contact mic sunglasses picked up the vibrations of fists pounding on her head. Meanwhile, “Volt 1979” appropriately pays tribute to the post-punk guitar strains made popular by Bauhaus and the Birthday Party. But even within a genre, Bindeman seems intent on exploring, as he seems to emulate the Space Oddity himself, David Bowie, in “Solid Space.” Elsewhere, the rhythmic “Without Light” seems geared for the dancefloor, with its synth melody and vocals. While The Blackout borrows from its predecessors, it’s infused with a fresh take—unexpected when listening to what can best be described as a goth record. With The Blackout, Tunnels has bridged the gap between dark and light, avant garde and pop, and past and present.
Josie Rubio

Jeff Bridges
Jeff Bridges
Blue Note

If you ask anyone on the street who Jeff Bridges is, they’re likely to respond by saying either “an actor” or “the Dude.” Regardless, it’s a near certainty that they’re not going to say, “a country musician.” When you think about it, though, it’s not that big of a stretch to think of Bridges as a musician. After all, it was just last year that he won his first Oscar for depicting a down-on-his-luck country singer in Crazy Heart, a role for which Bridges did his own singing. And, it turns out, Bridges had previously taken a step into the music world when he self-released an album, Be Here Soon, in 2000. Now, perhaps reinvigorated by his role in Crazy Heart, Bridges has signed up with Blue Note Records to release a self-titled follow-up, an album that makes a solid case for considering him as a legitimate musical artist.

Jeff Bridges, which was produced by Bridges’ friend T Bone Burnett and features a mix of covers and originals, is largely standard country fare. “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do” and “Maybe I Missed the Point” would fit seamlessly on modern country radio with their catchy hooks and pinpoint harmonies. “Everything But Love” and “Nothing Yet” are well-done ballads that feature a hint of knowing regret amidst the great pedal steel accompaniment. The highlights of the album, though, are the darker songs with a Western feel, namely “Tumbling Vine” and “Slow Boat,” which evoke vast desert landscapes illuminated by distorted electric guitar lightning. These two songs, both of which were cowritten by Bridges, sound fresh and lively and ultimately make Jeff Bridges something more than an actor’s novelty project.
Ron Wadlinger


Prince’s Purple Rain is perhaps, along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, one of the most eduring pop albums of the last 30 years. Each song stands on its own as an example of love, families broken or the mending of hearts through dance. The title track alone makes the album an epic affair and a pillar of the contemporary music canon.

NewVillager, the Brooklyn music collective, should love to be compared to the likes of Prince. Instead, they have made a self-titled record that rips him off at every turn and makes his legacy seem as though it was all for naught. Steered by visual artists and musicians Ross Simonini and Ben Bromley, NewVillager, along with making albums, involves themselves in weeklong concerts and instillations in which the audience is invited to take part—a noble concept until you gauge the quality of what they’re putting forth. Their art, as captured on this debut, consists of bastardized pop tracks with annoying hooks and keyboard-birthed instrumentations.

Now, why would one reference Prince to lead this review off, you ask? Well, the vocals on this album, whether they are natural or doctored, are blatant attempts to sound almost exactly like the former artist formerly known. The only difference is NewVillager’s vocals sound like they were produced at a drunken karaoke party full of people who thought it was ironic to do so. The most listenable track on the album is “Lighthouse,” which, although catchy, almost immediately makes you envision each member sporting a hipster beard and Bob Dylan boots. For further proof, check out the video by Ben Dickinson, which would make Matthew Barney think about approaching his lawyer to figure out the definition of copywrite infringement. Overall, the album is nothing more than a fevered dream from a narcissistic art student and should immediately be forgotten less it spawns more of this modern music.
Terrence Adams

The Duke & the King
The Duke & the King
Via So

It’s not a common tale, but it does still happen. American band goes overseas, reaches a respectable level of success, and then tries to break the States. It happened to some degree with the Strokes, happened big time with Kings of Leon, and now the Duke & the King, lead by former Felice Brothers member Simone Felice, hope it happens for them. After releasing two albums overseas, Nothing Gold Can Stay and Long Live the Duke & the King, they’re looking for some domestic love for this self-titled album made up of tracks from those two records.

It makes sense. Why try to crank out a new record when you can curate your own best of? It would be a good assumption to think that the result would be the best portrait of the band. If that’s the case, though, there may be a problem. Felice sounds like a guy that “Willing to Wait”-era Lou Barlow would tell to “sack up.” The songs are too delicate and full of trembling Americana-tinged emotion. Some cringe-inducing lyrical turns don’t help. Take this line from “You & I, ”for example, “Love is a coke dealer’s daughter. Love is a slave ship at sea.” Ugh.

There are a handful of good tunes here, mainly those where Felice steps back and let his bandmates take a greater role in the proceedings, as on the Motown-leaning, “Hudson River”, the country strutting “No Easy Way Out” and the testifying “O’Gloria.” But then there are songs like the album closer, “Don’t Take That Plane Tonight,” which not only amps up the lyrical problems, but also adds an ill-advised vocal freakout in the coda. On this American introduction, the Duke & the King fail to do much besides make a bad first impression.
Dorian S. Ham