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The chatter that southern blues-rockers Alabama Shakes have generated in the months leading up to their debut is usually reserved for legends twice their age, or at least groups with more than a couple of songs to their name. There have been Janis Joplin and Otis Redding comparisons, endorsements from the likes of Jack White and Adele, and fans talking about their raucous live shows like they're enough... to convert you to a new religion. And — if you can believe it — the Athens, Alabama quartet's full length debut Boys & Girls lives up to the hype.more »
The first thing that will bowl you over is that voice. "Bless my heart, bless my soul/ I didn't think I'd make it to 22 years old," howls singer/guitarist Brittany Howard in the opening moments of stellar single "Hold On," showing off her gritty, soulful pipes and making those Joplin comparisons feel earned. But they're not the whole story, either: Boys & Girls finds the Alabama Shakes pulling from the greats of rock and blues (catch the Bo Diddley reference in the opening lyric?) into a distinctive, and occasionally downright personal, sound. ("Come on Brittany!" she hollers to herself. "You gotta come on up!")
From the barroom piano stomp of "Hang Loose" to the Stones swagger of "Be Mine," Boys & Girls sounds like the work of a group of weary, wizened road warriors who've been playing together for decades, rather than a group who formed a couple of years ago when its principle players were still in their teens. With all this talent and confidence already on full display on their debut, imagine all they can do with the years ahead.
fun. is one of those bands that came seemingly out of nowhere to ascend to the top of the charts. Usually, those groups piggyback the steez of some other currently radio-ruling act. fun. doesn't. On this, its breakout second album, the New York trio draws from hip-hop, power-pop, emo, '70s art-rock, singer-songwriter balladry, contemporary R&B and Broadway; a combo you'll likely only find right here. Singer Nate Ruess — who also writes... the ardent lyrics and highly sing-able melodies — has a Freddie Mercury thing going on vocally, and Some Nights opens with a flurry of Queen-y harmonies and symphonic gallantry. But after that, all bets are off. The runaway success of "We Are Young," the first substantial rock song in ages to not only top the pop charts but also put a justified critic's darling, avant-R&B diva Janelle MonÃ¡e, on the radio where she belongs, is particularly amazing considering that Ruess's first band, the Format, was dropped by the same major that now distributes both fun. and MonÃ¡e. That Arizona band teamed with Redd Kross/OFF! bassist Steven McDonald for its second album, 2006's Dog Problems, and Ruess and McDonald continued honing their smarty-pants eclecticism on fun.'s 2009 debut Aim and Ignite, with the help of its multi-instrumentalists Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost, formerly of Steel Train and Anathallo. Here the trio trade McDonald for Jeff Bhasker, a hip-hop/R&B guy who produced monster hits for Kanye West, Jay-Z and BeyoncÃ©. Together, they layer seemingly incompatible genres with reckless but radio-friendly glee, as if a music nerd's iPod somehow got into the hands of a Bruno Mars.more »
Koory, Looloosh and Obaash met and formed the way of young rock bands since time immemorial: Hanging out at a local park as teenagers, among skaters and punk rockers, they bonded over their mutual tastes and began playing together. It's a pretty standard, unremarkable story — except it took place in Iran, where, as Koory puts it, "you can find instruments, but the problem is that you're probably going to get the... shittiest ones, at triple the price," and where the legality of pop music is, he says, similar to that of marijuana: You can buy the supplies, but don't get caught fooling with the substance. In Brooklyn, where Yellow Dogs currently reside, forming a post-punk band with your friends is about as remarkable an activity as ordering Thai food. In Tehran, it was like more like a covert operation. And, lo and behold, the music they produced, the four-song EP Upper Class Complexity, crackles with more life, wit, tension and imagination than most of their peers. Maybe there's something to be said for having to work for it.more »
The sound of Upper Class Complexity feels a little out-of-step with the current Brooklyn-scene moment, but in the best possible way: While more bands are chasing hazy good vibes and New Zealand-inspired indie jangle (Real Estate's self-titled appears to be slowly morphing into some kids' Is This It?), Yellow Dogs' music harks back to a moment when every band had a busily riding hi-hat, rhythmic stabs of guitar, and a head full of frayed nerves: the brittle post-punk moment of circa-2003. Yellow Dogs songs are fiendish, caffeinated little puzzles of warily circling guitar and keyboards, each element feeling close and cramped, like riders stuck in a stalled elevator.
With their just-so vintage keyboard sounds, the echo-laden recording atmosphere, and the herky-jerk mid-song breakdowns, these songs seem to spring from years' worth of close study of post-punk deep catalog. Imagine our surprise, then, when the members confessed to not hearing most of these touchstones until after they had found their sound: apart from Joy Division and the Clash, they learned at the feet of those who worshiped the sound with the same reverence they did: Rancid, in other words, was a big influence. But we can't detect a single hint of attenuation in the resulting music. "The City," which closes the EP, is a sneering, evil two-chord vamp that just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller parts, until finally it's nothing more than a spidery guitar line crawling up your backbone. The song could easily go on for nine minutes and never peter out — live, we hear, it sometimes does — but they cut it off, sharp and still sparking, before it hits five minutes: one last expertly deployed cold-water bucket to the face. It only proves that you don't always need first-hand experience with the source to catch the spirit.