Man Or Astroman? – Defcon 5 4 3 2 1
After a lengthy hiatus of almost 12 years, Man Or Astroman? has lifted off again with its 9th studio album, Defcon 5 4 3 2 1, out on Communicating Vessels. Songs are propelled by guitar-driven rhythms and dissonance that are heavily influenced by Sonic Youth and surf rock alike.
Opener “Defcon 5” careens like the best of Sonic Youth before calming down with a twangy reverb edge that gives off a Western noir vibe. “Antimatter Man” continues the ominous, but highly kinetic spell, throwing into the mix some dispassionate, Thurston Moore-like sing-speaking vocals stating “Shoot out the stars / and they fall apart.” Various noises come and go, all service to the destabilizing beat.
The wiry and distorted guitars of “Disintegrate” growl and shine sharply, going along with the chugging pace as the lead singer Star Crunch declares “Stars… / falling out of space.” Airy female vocals float by with a wistful sweetness. The instrumental “Codebreaker Seventy Eight” comes close to a pure surf rock song, all scaling guitars and quicksilver rhythms and added laser reverberations. To sum it up succinctly, it’s cool.
“Defcon 3” is also cast from the surf rock mold, but it’s more controlled, sporadically building up the reverb guitar frisson, then matter-of-factly backing off with a pointed guitar line. Gear-grinding guitars grate through “New Cocoon” and it sounds like the early 1990s all over again, which is a good thing in this instance.
Midnight Faces – Fornication
Don’t be turned off – or on – by the suggestive album title. Sure, there may be references to the midnight hour (including the band’s name) and nocturnal pursuits, but it turns out that Fornication at its core is about the nakedness of the heart. Lyrics-centered songs take flight on light synth-pop instrumentation and earnestly emotive vocals from lead singer Philip Stancil. Matthew Warn, an ex-member of post-rockers Saxon Shore, rounds out the band.
The songs on this album tend to blend together, albeit in a pleasant way, with Philip and Matthew’s fuzzing the line between heartbroken, bittersweet lyrics and airy, bright sonics. Each song would be perfect for inclusion on a heartfelt mixtape, where it would have maximum aural impact.
Philip’s plaintive vocals, which he imbues with a warm, unguarded tone, are a standout. Highlights on the album include the title song with its regretful lyrics of “…in the night and in the day / I’ve wasted all my time away.” and “Feel This Way” which moves with a laid-back island-vibed sway, golden guitar strum, bright xylophone tings, and gently sustained synths. The mid-tempo pace and burnished synths sound of most songs, including “Give In Give Out”, dissipates near the end of the album, as more diverse forms emerge, like the delicate instrumentals on the ballad “Identity” and the amped up, marching beat of “Turn Back”.
Pick A Piper – Pick A Piper
Pick a Piper is a collaborative effort between Brad Weber, the drummer of Caribou, and his pals Angus Fraser, Dan Roberts, and Clint Scrivener. Brad is at the helm of this project, as songwriter and producer, but many guest vocalists fill out the sound, including members of Ruby Suns, Born Ruffians, and Braids. Two EPs were released in 2009 and 2010 and were more acoustic-leaning, while this debut album, out on Mint Records, delves into electronic sonics.
The percussive and electronic-centered tracks are hit or miss, with some songs or parts of songs tipping into discordant noise of the displeasing kind (Yes, some noise is good noise…), like at the midpoint of “South To Polynesia”. The vocals, from a range of guest artists, are at least all interesting.
Opening number “Lucid in Fjords” encapsulates the best of the “band”, with its blend of thumping, syncopated beats, quick tempo, quavering electronics and sharper runs of mechanical blips, touches of reverb guitar and horns, and hazy male vocals sighing “Drink up the potion / …so you can dream out loud.”
“All Her Colours” slides by with airy male vocals and heavy, rhythmic percussion reminiscent of Gold Fields, except that here the rhythms stay in a repetitive groove. The traditional pop song structure gets coated with video game-like electronic blips and various clacking, thwacking, and tapping noises on “Cinders and Dust”. “Once Were Leaves” is elevated by light female vocal fragments, a rapid beat, jingling percussion, and processed accordion bits. To sum up the MO of this album, look no further than album-ender “Dinghy in a Quiet Cove” and its lyrics “It’s all in your head.”