Here are the album reviews I wrote for the September issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last week.
-Little Dragon (Because/Warner)
Since pop and, especially, rock don’t exclusively belong to youth any more, the kids have to do something to distinguish their musical sensibilities from that of condescending elders, and over the years the preferred mode of delivery has been a cheaper sound. Some call it lo-fi, but that implies limited resources, and everybody has access to Pro Tools (or whatever the current software is) now. What youth wants to convey is the experience of listening to and playing music under the challenging circumstances of lowered expectations: crappy speakers (or earbuds), the verve of accomplishment set against still developing skills. Alvvays, a group from Toronto via Nova Scotia, embodies this attitude in much the same way that the C86 bands of Britain did when they appropriated early 60s pop as a means of cutting through the sophisticated bullshit offered up by mid-80s synth-pop acts. There’s a directness to their pop that transcends the cloudy sonics. Molly Rankin sports a lazy, care-free vocal style that constrasts with the fuzzy guitar tone in pleasing, humorous ways. Whether she’s undressing a fellow commuter in her mind or insufficiently lamenting the death of a lover there’s real personality: a young person owning up to the limitations of her cohort. The flatness of the musical effect does not make the songs any less catchy or moving; and, in any case, if you turn it up to clubland volumes you get what you need. The longing on “Archie, Marry Me” has less to do with Rankin’s singing than with the soaring lead guitar, which barely breaks out of the surrounding din and feels all the punchier for it. When the band settles down, the production approach simply makes them sound muddy, far away. Youth has a right to be loud, so don’t be shy; which may explain why Yukimi Nagano opens the fourth album by her group Little Dragon with a slow jam. The Swedish indie R&B quartet has had plenty of time to ponder their place in the world and Nabuma Rubberband is what used to be called a “mature work,” meaning thoughtful, insular, oblivious to commercial considerations. The kids in Alvvays might interpret that as being boring, as well, and if Nagano has nothing on Janet Jackson in terms of hooks, she often makes for a much more compelling vocalist. Still, the album reeks of experimentalism: game show interludes, synthesizer freestyles, even the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. In other words, it sounds like the major label debut it tries to be, but without the hits that major labels usually insist on. Nagano’s unique voice has always been the band’s central appeal, but their playful lyricism and left field soul moves gave them an edge over similarly purposed acts from Northern Europe. Nabuma Rubberband is an album made by a band who has been listening to the competition rather than Prince. It’s no fun getting old, but only fogies will blame you for sucking up to your juniors. Continue reading