platters (2008-06)

The Old College Try

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Xiu Xiu holds it down but Vampire Weekend canâ’t shake the Ivy League

Xiu Xiu Women as Lovers (Kill Rock Stars) Women as Lovers, the sixth album from the experimental San Francisco pop collective Xiu Xiu, isnâ’t exactly easy listening. But it is the groupâ’s most accessible effort to date, with songwriting taking clear precedence over sampled noise and found sounds. Thereâ’s even a subdued but fairly straightforward (if you ignore the skronky saxophone) cover of Queenâ’s â“Under Pressure.â” Former Swans frontman Michael Gira chips in on that track, and his morose baritone matches Xiu Xiuâ’s darkly pretty sensibility. Some of the songs are so ethereal they feel like they might disappear before theyâ’re done (â“I Do What I Want When I Wantâ”); others are bright, compact verse-chorus-verse gems (â“F.T.W.,â” â“No Friend Oh!â”). Smart, melancholy, and relevant. (Matthew Everett)

Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend (XL) What happens when you drop an Afro-pop beat underneath a Franz Ferdinand song? Vampire Weekend, thatâ’s what. These four recent Columbia University graduates cop from Talking Heads, The Police, and Paul Simonâ’s Graceland on their acclaimed debut. Itâ’s a pleasant enough record, tight at 34 minutes and marked by consistently inventive rhythms. But the discâ’s smug Ivy League atmosphereâ"the dorm-room seduction â“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,â” the arch and didactic â“Oxford Comma,â” the rich-kid travelogue â“Walcottâ”â"is overpowering. Itâ’s like the first third of Carnal Knowledge or a Whit Stillman movie, oblivious to its own privilege and prematurely nostalgic. If you think the soundtrack to Rushmore has too much of The Creation and not enough harpsichord, check it out. (M.E.)

The Mars Volta The Bedlam in Goliath (Universasl) Written language can scarcely do justice to the manic musical scrawl of The Mars Volta, the Long Beach acid-prog collective steered by vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. And The Bedlam in Goliath, TMVâ’s fourth studio album, is as inscrutable as anything in the bandâ’s catalog to date, if not moreso, brimming with chaotically orchestrated ensemble passages and Rodriguez-Lopezâ’s epileptic guitar frenzies, and driven lyrically by a storyline that has something to do with the exorcism of a rogue oiuja board that reportedly rained vengeful destruction on the bandâ’s Bedlam recording sessions.

If that sounds daunting, then maybe youâ’d best introduce yourself to Volta by listening to one of the bandâ’s previous studio releasesâ"maybe De-Loused in the Comatorium from â’03, or â’05â’s Frances the Mute. While those earlier platters are no less technically accomplished or thematically dense than Bedlam, they at least offer up a few more of those elegantly melodic hooks that intermittently leaven the craziness on TMV records, like so many eyes in a storm.

For the rest of us, Bedlam in Goliath offers more of what we crave from The Mars Volta, that peculiar, and peculiarly inexplicable, stripe of unhinged genius, a combination of instrumental virtuosity and complex musical arrangements and loopy metaphysical underpinnings that always seemed fuck-all silly in the hands of old-school prog rockers like Yes and Crimson and Rush. How much longer can Volta milk that trick without it sounding like rehash orâ"worse yetâ"self-parody? I dunno. But itâ’s all good through Bedlam, possessed ouijas be damned. (Mike Gibson)

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