Hear Me Out
Published Thursday, 01-Apr-2010 in issue 1162
You won’t understand much of what Jónsi Birgisson, the gay bandleader of Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós, sings on his solo outing. But here’s the gist of it: Life is beautiful. Live it. Feel it. Make out. All that credo is fed into the invigorating and cartoony “Animal Arithmetic,” a stream-of-consciousness musing that’s aurally like a bunch of exclamation marks bouncing off clouds to the syncopated sounds of his flamboyant debut. Go ostensibly feels like the emotion-conjuring of a Rós record, but decidedly drifts into a sea of newfound curiosity and optimism. It’s a wild vision that gets off the ground with “Go Do,” a chirpy, ebb-and-flow whiff of a ditty that’s driven by Jónsi’s fluttering pre-pubescent falsetto and a cacophony of instruments that elicit hope and renewal. That’s the vibe throughout, without much help from the elusive lyrics – the words, sung in almost-inaudible English, add to the album’s mysterious self-interpretive winsomeness. Nico Muhly, best known for his work with queer-led Grizzly Bear and queer-loved Björk, super-powers the painterly production in Magic Marker colors – elaborate strings, whispering woodwinds and clashing drums. Those hues bleed through “Boy Lilikoi,” one of the best Disney songs never made. Life, though, isn’t just rainbows and talking teacups, and neither is Jónsi’s triumphant masterpiece: “Tornado” and “Hengilas” will melt you to mush.
The prog-folk violinist might remind you of Cyndi Lauper in her retro glam-goth-chic promo shots, but don’t be fooled: Girls don’t just wanna have fun. Especially not after a split with “L Word” actress Daniela Sea, the spark that ignited Bitch’s second solo LP, her grab-baggy follow-up to “Make This/Break This.” Heartbroken and weary, she poured whatever was left of her into this, a majorly melodic and rewarding disc that musters songs mirroring her torn self, like “The Rain is the Only Thing That’s Clear” – one of her best moments based on its sheer vulnerability and the power of her almost-lone voice. She keeps it real throughout, but augments the production – all DIY, mind you – with a feverish bed of her self-proclaimed “theatrical punk,” a brand that serves a total kitsch-pop catch with “Kitchen.” Much of that quality is the result of her eminent electric violin-playing, a talent Bitch flashes like she’s the Jimi Hendrix of her instrument. The strings on “Lost You” weep, and then ferociously fire up on “Afghanistan.” But it’s not all downer fare. She walks out of her own personal war with a new attitude and a Bee Gees song – “Staying Alive,” a cover that might sound ridiculous in theory, but proves to be a ukulele-played power anthem without the disco dancery. It’s bitchin’.
The Bird and the Bee
Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates
Oh, oh, here they come with a celebration of Hall & Oats music. They, meaning the indie duo of Inara George (“the bird”) and Greg Kurstin (“the bee”), who buzz back to the ’80s and lacquer some of the greatest pop nuggets – “Maneater,” “Rich Girl” and “Kiss on My List” – with their synth sheen. They even include a delicious throwback gem of their own, “Heard it on the Radio.” Regardless of your feelings on man-eating, this laid-back charmer’s hard not to adore for nostalgia’s sake. It’s just too easy to forget.
How I Learned to See in the Dark
This Northampton folkie knows gloom like the strings of her guitar. That, the androgynous musician’s go-to instrument, is given ample backing on her venturesome third full-length with brazen electric guitar (from funky-folk queer Erin McKeown on the frantic “Wrecking Ball”) and the omnipresent porch board. Ditties, from the weeping “Barn Song” to the foot-stomping “Lowlands,” taste like sawdust and feel like sandpaper, but simmer before they cook. Let this light in anyway.