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Tag Archives: The Cocteau Twins

John Hughes, may he rest in peace, must be flattered. M83’s ‘Saturdays=Youth’ doesn’t just owe him a debt of gratitude, it’s practicially a sequel to his movie canon, picking up the day after Claire fell for Bender in ‘The Breakfast Club’. Even the cover of the album looks like a family portrait of Hughes characters, wistful, disaffected teens, neatly arranged in a sunny field. The 80’s permeate every glossy song on the album so it’s both an irony free re-creation and a modern nostalgic update.

Every sound has been run through the synthesizers and fuzzed out or sharpened up. Each instrument is layered and layered under a heavy atmosphere of production so there’s a constant comforting hum to the songs. The opening ‘You, Appearing’ gently washes up, serving as the traditional mood setting track one. ‘Kim & Jessie’, the first single, breaks the calm by opening with a echoey drum snap before floating away under towering synths. It’s dinstinctly goth, but the pretty sort of goth like The Cure or The Cocteau Twins.

The smoulderingly sexy ‘Skin of the Night’ sounds like it would be equally at home in ‘Twin Peaks’ or ‘Miami Vice’, with it’s languid high register vocals punctuated by thunderous drum beats. ‘Graveyard Girl’ threatens to cross over into laughable teenage angst, but is saved by the shear exhileration of the rushing melodies and anthematic energy and a Molly Ringwald namedrop that will make you smile. If you aren’t immediatly won over, then it’s possible you don’t remember the feeling of growing up.

But after the the hot instrumental dance club track ‘Couleurs’, the album loses its pace. Because it’s frontloaded with the singles, there is some slow down to the last half the of the album. With the exception of the dramatic anticpation of ‘We Own the Sky’, the snyths keep building, and the delicate white noise pulsates, but the songs lack the hooks and can’t stand up to the brilliant opening four tracks. The album concludes with the pretty, but slightly confusing ‘Midnight Souls Still Remain’, an 11+ minute ambient experiment that consists entirely of two lazily alternating notes.

‘Saturdays=Youth’ is gorgeously cinematic, honest music about an ironic time. It might be inconsistently paced, but the love, attention and craft on each song ends up counting for a lot. In it’s effort to transport you back to the 80’s, it succeds on nearly every level. If you have fond memories of John Hughes and synthetic shoegazing soundscapes, you’ll love every moment of this nostalgic album.

Barely noticed outside their native UK, nonexistent in charts anywhere, released on the tiniest of record labels (Black Bell Records has only released one album, this one), The Joy Formidable don’t seem to care. They’re putting as much energy as they can into crafting giddy, swirling dream rock that will wake you out of your indie-pop daze. You’ve rarely heard a three piece churn out quite this much beautiful, rollicking noise.

Sporting cover art that could have been a page from the Voynich manuscript, the lyrics are equally and willfully mysterious. Sung by Ritzy Bryan in a thick Welsh accent and drowned by cascading waterfalls of guitar, you’ll find yourself looking for a logic course to unravel lines like “I can see he says what he means/I can’t say what he means when he says that/I’ll pretend a pretty pretend/When all I wanna see is the end of this” from the song ‘Cradle’. But by the end, you won’t care as you shout along “My vicious tongue/Cradles just one” over and over again and the band pummels through another catchy minimalistic riff.

The goth, shoegazer aesthetic is all over the album, with hints of The Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine prominently on display, but it’s happy, seriously uptempo goth like you’ve never heard. Check out ‘Austere’ a three minute single with a finale that lasts just over a full minute. It’s a delirious droning riff that sounds like Bauhaus sped up to triple time. ‘Whirring’ could be a hit, with it’s soft/loud dynamic and pretty feedback effects. If you’re not already enthralled by the one minute mark, then The Joy Formidable is just not your thing.

The album is not without its missteps. The songs seem divided between the catchy pop tunes that blaze by all too quickly and the introspective slower tunes that reach for deeper emotional chords but plod along. If the band finds a way to combine these approaches, they could get some serious attention. At under 30 minutes, its also far too short. You have to respect the band for not padding the album with songs they don’t feel confidant enough to release, but you also worry that they’ve already exhausted what they wanted to say. Personally, I’m hoping ‘A Balloon Called Moaning’ is just the introduction to an exciting new band.

When ‘Terrible Love’ opens The National’s newest album ‘High Violet’, you might catch yourself checking your speakers to make sure there are no loose wires. The first 15 seconds are pure lo-fi fuzz, an airy ode to My Bloody Valentine. But then Matt Berninger starts his instantly identifiable drone, which pierces the static like a sheet of water. What began as a gentle wake up slowly builds until the the reverb fills the room and Berninger repeats over and over “It takes an ocean not to break” and the band hits a layered, uplifting crescendo that would make Arcade Fire smile. It’s a powerful track one, and it’s only a teaser of what is already the best album of the year.

It still sounds like The National, but they’ve never sounded this awake. Berninger, always understated, sometimes monotone, delivers soulful, literate, stream of consciousness thoughts in a delicate baritone that sounds like he might splinter apart if pushed too far. But he keeps pushing this time out, finding a range to match his soaring emotions. Sometimes it’s an awkward stutter like on ‘Afraid of Everyone’ where he sounds like a record jumping grooves ‘Your voice is swallowing my soul-soul-soul’. It turns to pure silk on ‘Sorrow’ where the band plays a sparkling angelic driving beat as he half whispers, as if he might be ashamed to admit it, that ‘I don’t want to get over you’. And on ‘England’ it becomes an operatic, layered projecting chorus. Even if you can’t fully decipher the words or the meaning behind the lyrics (’cause all the silver girls gave us black dreams/leave the silver city/to all the silver girls/everything means everything/I was afraid I’d eat your brains /Cause I’m evil’ on ‘Conversation 16’) you can gather connotation from how he sings. Like The Cocteau Twins or The Talking Heads, the meaning of these songs does not come through a concrete narrative, but through a texture of words, sounds and inflection.

The band displays a similar broadening range, moving between the gentle chamber indie-folk of ‘Runaway’ to the slow burning storm of ‘England’ to the towering anthem of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’. Everything sounds thickly layered, with horns and strings washing through and choruses of backing vocals adding further depth. It’s a wall of sound, but it never sounds muddy. Even the lo-fi fuzz on tracks like ‘Terrible Love’ comes gently and feels comforting. Indie rock likes to sound pretty, but it rarely hits the highs that ‘High Violet’ reaches on every other track.

‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ deserves special mention. The first single from the album, it’s also the first song by The National that actually deserves to be released as such. For a band that willfully kept their heads down and played to the critics, ‘Bloodbuzz’ sounds like a wake up call. The drum beats burst out of the gate, hurtling the song into a lush, spiraling wall of sound and the best use of piano in rock and roll since Pink Floyd’s ‘Us and Them’. It’s an epic road trip of a song, one that will raise hairs on your arms and make your chest hurt with the staggering beauty of it all. As it climaxes in a final rush of insistent pounding tides of sound, you’ll find yourself looking for the repeat button. ‘Bloodbuzz’ is easily one of the best songs of the decade.