platters (2006-40)

Hear Us Out

The newest from TV on the Radio, The Decemberists, Beck, Sister Hazel and Sol.iLLaquists

TV on the Radio

And maybe that’s what is so fascinating about this album, the way you can’t quite tell whether it’s the most precise songwriting you’ve ever heard or the most expressionistic. Maybe it’s both. “I was a lover,” an incalculable chorus of voices chimes in on the first track, following an intro of chopped-off horns and formulaic rhythms, “before this war.” What follows is an album of melancholy studiously channeled into movement, cycling around and around again in digital loops, stopping and starting with a kind of arrhythmia that only the human heart, with all its vast improvisations, can relate to.

The Decemberists

And in the backdrop, as always, there’s rock ’n’ roll. This time, however, it’s of a bigger, louder, more epic variety, drifting at times into musical territory it probably shouldn’t for the sake of cohesiveness, but to hell with cohesiveness, right? Maybe. The Crane Wife is a moving target, and it’s occasionally hard to keep up.

In a sense, the new album is at once more accessible and less accessible than its predecessors. In earlier efforts, each song could stand on its own, independent of the rest of the record. With The Crane Wife the webbing between individual songs is thicker, so it’s a little harder for each song to spread its wings.

Beck

In many ways Beck’s is the music of the anti-ego, a state of being where self-mockery and self-aggrandizement come together, and he conjures it all quite beautifully on The Information . He once again assaults our senses with the same overdubbing ethic that made him seem so quirky in his early years, always dissecting his music with cuts of blues and folk, as well as ironic coffeehouse poetics. There’s quite a bit of introspection here—and it all sounds familiar. It’s polished and more mature, but familiar nonetheless. Maybe Beck is slowly capitulating to his own whacked-out orthodoxy. “Put the elevator music on,” he sings on “Elevator Music,” “Pull me back where I belong… If I could forget myself/ Find another lie to tell/ If I had a soul to sell/ I’d buy some time.”

Sister Hazel

Is it possible for a band to power down its sound and feel exploratory at the same time? Of course. And Sister Hazel has done it.    

The 13-track compilation, as catchy as any previous releases, moves with the energy of a rock concert, offering the kind of pleasing, energizing experience that a listener can’t get from the over-produced aural exhaustion that some bands of similar staying power (10-plus years) have a habit of generating. Rather than embellish a proven sound, Brock minimizes his almost-signature vocal tremolo, while harmonies remain tight. Every song is downloadable, from the upbeat rhythms of  “Mandolin Moon” to the caustic lyrics of “Shame.”

If Sister Hazel could go back 10 years knowing what it knows today and re-create a first record, it would sound like Absolutely —unadorned yet engaging. “Sometimes you have to go all the way back around the block to where you started,” guitarist Ryan Newell explains. “Breathing the same air and seeing the same sights took us back to our roots. I don’t think this was us settling back into old routines so much as it allowed us to be comfortable with ourselves while constantly still trying to push the boundaries.”

Sol.iLLaquists of Sound

Discovered by Rhode Island rapper Sage Francis, Sol.iLLaquists is an Orlando four-piece creating some of the smartest, most socially conscious hip-hop today. Made up of fiery, quick-tongued emcee Swamburger, beautifully and intentionally bald songbird Alexandra, backing vocalist Tonya Combs, and crazed MPC player and producer DiViNCi, the band crafts fiercely original, genre-transcending music.

Hard one moment, soft the next, Sol.iLLaquists combine spoken word, call and response choruses, angelic singing, rapid-fire rap and off-kilter beats laced with everything from violin to Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar licks. Add to that a sensibility that is part hippie intelligentsia, part family, part roving art co-op, and you have a dynamic underground musical force.

Fortunately, Sol.iLLaquists are getting some wider recognition on As If We Existed , its major label debut on Anti-. Existed showcases the band’s strengths through a dozen songs, some old but polished, some brand new. Both lyrically and musically complex, with a positive message of equality, loving one’s self and making the world a better place, Sol.iLLaquists prove that not every hip-hopper is a G-Unit wannabe.


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