New Music Tuesday: She & Him • Deerhunter • Savages • Mikal Cronin

She & Him - Volume 3

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

She & HimVolume 3

2-BamsTop Tracks:
“I Could’ve Been Your Girl”
“Never Wanted Your Love”
“Somebody Sweet To Talk To”

Album Highlights: Consistency is the key to this band’s success, but it also might unintentionally be it’s downfall. The first volume She and Him put out in 2008 was a welcomed breath of fresh air, but not much beyond the production value of their recordings has shown growth from their debut. Zooey Deschanel’s vocals remain at the forefront in their staple Motown throwback stereo. M.Ward’s influence can mostly be seen this time around within the advanced arrangements of tracks like “Never Wanted Love” and “Somebody Sweet To Talk To”. His role, undeniably, is playing second fiddle to the spotlight Deschanel’s mainstream celebrity casts upon the outfit. Although, this album opens itself up to M. Ward’s musical creativity more so than the previous two volumes. While maintaining the Deschanel songwriting template, she definitely crafted these tracks with Ward in mind. And the strongest cuts are the ones he was allowed a bit more free reign on.

Album Lowlight: Embarking upon a musical career during the same time you’re typecasting yourself as an actor can be tricky. Especially when both roles will inherently be effecting your overall branding as a performer. If Deschanel had been given a chance to establish herself as one or the other, chances are she would have been successful in either pursuit. However, since fame came coincidingly, she as well as the work she produces creatively suffers. Whereas enlisting the help from veteran singer songwriter M. Ward proves beneficial, neither of them are fully able to establish their voice in this recording. Efforts made on “Volume 3” are by far the most graduated of the previous two full lengths, the songs still seem reserved and too careful. This even shows when covering Blondie’s “Sunday Girl”, a somewhat tame song compared to the rest of the band’s post punk catalogue. Instead of embracing the energy behind Deborah Harry’s spitfire lead vocals, Deschanel plays it safe with a watered down version of the classically sassy song.

Takeaway: The She and Him dynamic obviously isn’t broken and many may agree that it doesn’t need to be fixed, however if Volume 3 is any indication, there is room for expansion beyond the standard formula. The third album in this duo’s history, conceived at a crucial time in their poster girl’s career, is one that fails to take several creative risks – yet at the same time it offers promise for their future as a band. Stepping away from their typically stripped down compositions and kicking it up a notch in the studio, listeners get a glimpse of what the duo can achieve and hopefully will trend to in future years. Much more than a doe eyed naivete, Deschanel has great vocal capacity and a knack for saccharine, sweet songwriting. M. Wards’ collaborative track record, success as a solo artist and innate production skills are proof in itself that this band unfiltered could be something great. Branching out on tracks like “Together” and “I Could’ve Been Your Girl (reprise)” allude to a possible shift in direction, that if embraced could elevate She and Him to the next level effortlessly.

~Molly Kish


3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“The Missing”
“Neon Junkyard”

Album Highlights: Deerhunter’s follow-up to their 2010’s classic Halcyon Digest is decided more garage-rock than exploratory or psychedelic, as indicated by the interesting choice of “Monomania” as the lead single. There are more cohesive noise-pop tracks on Deerhunter’s 5th LP Monomania that would play to a wider audience. Take “The Missing” and it’s catchy lyrics over chord-progressive guitar picking from Lockett Pundt, who has mastered single-note electric guitar melody-making with Lotus Plaza. But that’s no fun, because Bradford Cox is punk rock. Monomania is defined as a single pathological preoccupation to the point of partial insanity, and Cox channels this literally in the song by singing “in my head there is something rotting dead”, followed shortly thereafter with the repetitive chanting of “mono-monomania” mid-song, and it continues through until the track is over. And it ends with a crashing minute long outro that is led by a chainsaw. That tells you everything you need to know about Deerhunter’s desire to “go mainstream”; this desire apparently does not exist, and that’s fine. Cox’s unpredictable nature, and subsequently Deerhunter’s seemingly random musical directions, provide surprises that can be thrilling. And it’s Cox’s addiction to constantly creating music with Deerhunter and his solo moniker Atlas Sound that is his monomania, and we appreciate his problem.

The hallmark of a Deerhunter album is the duality of chaotic, noisy garage-psych tracks and simple, shoe-gazey peaceful songs. And often the best Deerhunter tracks somehow unite this order and chaos into a cut that becomes transcendent music – see “Helicopter” or “Coronado” from Halcyon Digest. This contrasting nature of songs, often in alternate track progression, one after the other, is one of the most appealing aspects of Deerhunter record. This time the abrasive, purposefully muddled tracks mostly bookend the LP (except for “Nitebike”), with “Neon Junkyard” and “Monmania” being the most successful high-stress tracks. The “order” songs are smushed into the middle of this sandwich, providing most of the meat. “Sleepwalking” provides hypnotic lyrics that parallel the equally entrancing guitar work. “T.H.M.” is a delightfully unsettling track that sounds like looping, simple Atlas Sound track until they end up layering in a repetitive wheezing sound to the the beat during the outro. The song needed a little more dirt on it.

Album Lowlight: “Nitebike” just doesn’t take flight, and since it’s just Bradford – acoustic guitar and muted vocals – it probably should have been saved and improved for the next Atlas Sound record. “Leather Jacket II” is all shock value, daring the listener to finish it in order to break through to the inversely peaceful subsquent track “The Missing”. “Pensacola” seems out of place, like an odd take on Americana. Overall there are plenty of contrasting moments, but they are sometimes more jarring than awe-inspiring…and that’s most likely intentional.

Takeaway: The drums and bass are gritty, the guitars are distorted and the vocals are high in the mix. These are classic attributes of punk rock, and this raw, loose album could be partially classified as such. In this context, Monomania is a success. The final track of the LP “Punk (La Vie Antérieure)” hints at being punk in a previous life – and Cox seems to have a bit of monomania in regards to the idea of “being punk”. After his striking performance of “Monomania” on Jimmy Fallon, where he wore a wig and walked off stage mid-song into the halls of 30 Rock like a zombie (see lead photo above), Cox was told by the head of his record label that the performance was “great” (via P4K). Cox responded, “I don’t care if it was great…Was it punk?” Bradford Cox later explained, “My idea of punk is not being interested in what other people think of punk.”

This album gets better and better the deeper you get into it, but the triumph is not akin to the success of the last four tracks from Halcyon Digest. But the lofty heights Deerhunter found in Halcyon Digest are not even attempted to be rediscovered here. It felt safe before hearing Monomania to think it might be even more accessible or pop-oriented. But more than ever, Bradford Cox is blazing his own manic path, destroying everyone’s expectations and boggling them into something unexpected.

~Mike Frash

SavagesSilence Yourself

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Shut Up”
“I Am Here”
“She Will”

Album Highlights: Savages, the all female post-punk rockers from London who have been generating significant buzz at big name festivals like SXSW & Coachella, have finally released their debut album and its quite impressive. The opening track “Shut Up” starts with a nasty bassline played by Ayse Hassan, who seriously knows her way around the bass. I really enjoyed her work throughout the album. Gemma Thompson on guitar is no slouch either, but really it’s all about Jehnny Beth’s voice. She is a force to be reckoned with and had me constantly thinking of a punked out version of Grace Slick.

Album Lowlight: “Hit Me” doesn’t need to be on the album – it feels like it was thrown in to fill out the record. It starts off extremely aggressive and just turns to noise by the end of the song. There’s a reason why it’s the shortest song on the album. It’s not very good.

Takeaway: Savages are gonna be around for long time if they keep producing music like Silence Yourself. The album really flows nicely except for the one minor hiccup. The band shows their range with the piano driven final track “Marshal Dear”, which leads way to a disoriented horn solo that sends us off quite nicely. This album has so much energy and sheer force, instead of drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, throw on this album. You’ll wake up.

~Pete Mauch

Mikal CroninMCII

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“See It My Way”
“Turn Away”

Album Highlights: The self-titled LP release by Mikal Cronin some two years ago was another arrow in the quiver of San Francisco garage rock. Yes, his take on the sound leaned more towards a pop sentiment, and now with MCII he further polishes off the reverb and fuzz. Vocals are also another strong suit for Mikal, as demonstrated on the power psych-pop track “Turn Away”, especially when coupled with an infectious beat, perfect for head bopping and hip shaking. He also digs deeper into the rock-pop sounds that put English music on the map in the 60s. Lastly, closing track titled “Piano Mantra” shows off a new-found knack for song arrangements and composition, combining strings, piano and sludgy guitar.

Album Lowlight: Having grown up playing with Ty Segall and Charlie Mootheart (Fuzz), one might wince at the overt pop sound that permeates this release. However, as a still-young performer he is striking out on his own accord to a sound that fits him more than the thrash and grind of his early contemporaries.

Takeaway: The singer-songwriter side of Cronin truly is one of the most striking aspects of this album, and it’s apparent that when on his own he deviates from the San Francisco psychedelic equation to try his hand at acoustic power chords rather than heavy pedal use. The recent college graduate is one exciting local act to pay attention to, and as he finds a voice and sound all his own. One can only be thrilled for what comes next.

~Kevin Quandt

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