The Clean
Mister Pop

With Mister Pop, the first new Clean record in eight years, it’s official that the New Zealand trio are quintessential men of leisure. You can hear it in every subtle guitar squeal peeking out ever so slightly from Mister Pop’s decidedly radiant dream gauze. It’s the sound of a band who thinks of their band as an afterthought and its indelible mark on modern indie rock as a non-thought. Anyone just now discovering the early mojo of defiantly punk fidelities glazed over with defiantly precious yet ragged melody will no doubt find the direction of Mister Pop somewhat directionless. “Are You Really On Drugs?” might in fact find root in the romantic nihilism they found still blossoming while rooming with disciples like Times New Viking (at least in title alone). But the glittering prize here is a prism of stardust, pop at dusk in a fragrant ocean breeze.

Those who followed along with David Kilgour’s solo ventures (Frozen Orange is an underrated gem) and Hamish Kilgour’s Mad Scene will be familiar with this slow burning, maudlin type of shuffle. It’s not half-speed, more like half-mast. Not old age either; if you focus intently on the calculated beach-twang of “In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul,” you’ll notice their wisdom. Subconsciously for the Kilgours the song is “Tally Ho,” only the once teenage vibe is magnified and the jittery pace curbed to smell the roses.

Mister Pop is not immediate by any means, unless immediate is defined by a kind of innocent psychedelia lightly drifting and bubbling beneath the surface. There are plenty of moments here where the Clean still show their playfulness: in the sandy instrumental “Moonjumper,” in the vocoded electronic pulse of the penultimate “Tensile,” and in many more instances where they casually display the ways in which they’ve perfected the finite craft of pop without really trying. As a band of leisure, no one will ever fault the Clean for making a record that simply drifts by as they’ve always kind of been a diamond in the rough, and consequently Mister Pop is no different—it’s just different.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul”

AA Bondy
When The Devil’s Loose
Fat Possum

A friend of mine perpetually hunts the most doleful singer-songwriters on the circuit. The sadder their songs, the more joy she mysteriously feels. Perhaps this reverse glee is caused by a complex musicology equation whereby sullen introspection directly correlates with relief and enlightenment. Maybe for some people it’s always Opposite Day. Either way, all of the quasi-languish seekers out there will strike gold with AA Bondy’s sophomore effort, When the Devil’s Loose.

The artist formerly known as Scott Bondy changed more than his name. He traded his post as frontman of hectic rock band Verbena for crystalline homegrown tunes spurred by acoustic fingerpicking and harrowing sincerity. Since releasing American Hearts in 2007, Bondy has been anything but an orthodox folk practitioner. He recorded When the Devil’s Loose this past spring in the pious Southern town of Water Valley, Mississippi. Close to Fat Possum’s headquarters, Water Valley has less than 4,000 inhabitants and once housed legendary railroad engineer Casey Jones. It was the perfect setting to capture Bondy’s breathy Alabamian drawl and grave lyrics, which are so pervasive they could silence a room full of nonbelievers.

Bondy’s hundred-pound melodies, most notably “A Slow Parade,” are meticulously arranged and laden with self-analysis. The man obviously revels in wrestling his demons. His delivery is pristinely meek and his band consciously floats in the background. The ironic “Oh The Vampyre” sparks a glimmer of empathy for a woebegone Vlad who ponders the shortcomings of his vocation. “I Can See The Pines Are Dancing,” the album’s richest track, proves that lushness serves the songwriter well and that he can find balance between his previous life and the current one. In Bondy’s world lurks a headhangers ball, but there seems to be plenty lighter days ahead.
Alexandra Kelley

MP3: “When The Devil’s Loose”


Norwegian band Datarock came to American notice a couple of years ago, making a minor splash with the song “Fa Fa Fa.” Outfitted in matching red tracksuits and Porsche sunglasses, the duo arrived fully formed and seemed perfect to fill the void left by fellow dance rockers Junior Senior. Their debut record, Datarock Datarock, fulfilled that hope with precision-crafted pop songs that seem like second nature to groups from Sweden and Norway. As a result the band’s latest album Red seemingly comes just in time to set off end-of-the-summer dance parties.

Well, hold onto your dancing shoes because Datarock has thrown a curveball. While they haven’t done anything so radical as become an acoustic folk band or incorporate the soothing sounds of black metal into the mix, Red isn’t the non-stop dance-rock party one might expect. This time around the balance is more on the rock end of that equation. It seems like the duo has spent time studying new wave and post-punk records from the early ’80s and as a result the sound is much more guitar-driven.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is Datarock’s cheeky approach to music. Red’s kick-off song, “The Blog,” opens with a robot-voiced take off on the monologue that opens Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” It then launches into a danceable dissertation that covers the creation of the World Wide Web, a short history of the Internet, social networks and the implication of an electronic community. This all happens in a tidy three minutes and 11 seconds. The craziest thing is that it works as both a song and an interesting debate topic. The droll sense of play continues in “True Stories,” a song that neatly incorporates David Byrne’s vocal mannerisms with Talking Heads–like jagged guitar lines and lyrics that are constructed from their song titles.

However, the thing that separates Datarock from the irony welding hordes is that even when they sing about seemingly silly topics like BMX bikes or old computers, it’s with dripping sincerity. So be it a love song to Molly Ringwald (“Molly”) or talking about having a fear of death, there’s a refreshing lack of distance. At the end of the day, the songs have a greater resonance because of that fact. And on a record brimming with good songs, special mention must be made of the album closer, “New Days Dawn,” a lounge-soul tune that channels Curtis Mayfield, Steely Dan and the “California Sound” in its stunning three minutes of pure pop bliss. While they may be from Norway, Datarock has made a good argument on why it’s better to be “red” than dead.
Dorian S. Ham

Robert Glasper
Blue Note

Don’t worry—this is actual jazz played by dudes who, having been raised in the Boogie Down era, have hip-hop in their blood, not the abhorrent bebop/rap Frankenstein you might be fearing.

Double-Booked starts with a phone message from Terrance Blanchard, name-dropping Questlove. I think it’s Glasper’s way of announcing his cred, but he needn’t have bothered. From the first note of “No Worries,” it’s clear that this is the real deal. This is an album full of lyrical, determined, three-man workouts, both textured and dynamic.

If you’re both a bandleader and a pianist, you’ve got certain limitations to face. The first is that the piano has a much smaller range of tones and timbres than any horn. While Glasper faces down this limitation with gusto, he also compensates in the smartest way possible—by hiring a wicked sharp rhythm section. You’ll hear drummer Chris Dave’s true-school love in the busy syncopation of “Downtime.”

The latter third of the record really does get into some spacey, P-funky, trigonometric outness, as Glasper switches to electric piano and brings in a bevy of special guests. This is especially so on “Open Mind,” which brings to mind the apocryphal Miles Davis–Prince Nelson Rodgers session. (Apocryphal because it never happened. Get over it, people!) The Radioheadnodic “Festival” is another standout, an audacious blending of styles and sounds that exemplifies Glasper’s progressive ambitions for this music he calls jazz.
Matt Slaybaugh

The Dodos
Time to Die

The Dodos may be an indie-folk band stationed in San Francisco, but their adaptation of folk is far from the traditional psychedelic Monterey Pop songs of yore. They have very little to say about peace and love and wearing flowers in your hair—quite the opposite, actually—with an album titled Time To Die and sarcastic song lyrics apropos for killing parents and preachers. Make no mistake, though, however sadistically creative certain Dodos lines may be, the album is neither heavy nor gloomy.

Time To Die follows on 2008’s well received Visiter, and this record wisely follows much the same formula: spirited strumming and punchy percussion, both so passionate at intervals that they nearly overshadow the rest of the music. That “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” ethos has nonetheless allowed the Dodos to grow as musicians, perfecting a genre while developing stylistically, rather than relying on experimentation and distortion. And while the lyrics do posses melancholic undertones, new additions like vibraphone help keep the compositions from being anything but sad and sluggish.

The album starts with the quiet intro to “Small Deaths,” but that turns out to be merely a 50-second ruse as drummer Logan Kroeber launches into some structured thumping. The record flows onward and upward from there, fraught with passionate fingerpicking and pounding. The Dodos seem to draw inspiration from everything ranging from indie-pop to country, meshing it seamlessly into their own variation on folk. “Two Medicines” pays homage to less-obscure Animal Collective (circa Feels), and “This Is a Business” borrows some bluegrass twang. The record’s brightest moment, however, lies in the beautiful “Troll Nacht,” which peaks at just the right moments. With such fervor and ingenuity, the Dodos make it clear with Time To Die that folk can have many facades, not the least of which has to be about peace and love.
Jennifer Farmer