Rolling Blackouts (The Go! Team) (2011)
Though they run the risk of not being taken serious, the fact is that after all the fun subsides in your listening of this album, The Go! Team has presented a pretty good album. Several tracks underperform in terms of lyrics but the production is vibrant and booty-shaking (see Voice Yr Choice). They haven’t managed to shake their British textbook pop approach but there is more natural brilliance in The Running Range than in half of the new North American releases this year. Plus the band has grown to cover more ground: the title track is cavernous and grows with each couplet. All this while retaining their core playfulness.
The King is Dead (The Decemberists) (2011)
After the prog disaster that was the Hazards of Love, I seriously wondered if Colin Meloy could recover. Now I can worry no more because his band has hopped upon their Michael Stipe fetish once again and returned to form (or uniform) with the excellent The King is Dead. The music here is so lush and deep—from the glorious guitar work providing the backbone of This is Why We Fight to its wise minimalism on Rise to Me. Meloy is more than a mere Stipe clone however and the album proves his own dramatic rebound even if it overreaches a few times and features R.E.M. drummer Peter Buck on a few cuts. The aforementioned Rise to Me is melodic yet not sappy. It’s a rustic album, one that encompasses Americana and this is Meloy’s forte even if he claims not to be taking it all on as stated on the epic opener, Don’t Carry It All.
Fluorescence (Asobi Seksu) (2011)
One of the problems I have with Xiu Xiu is that they’re a band stubbornly clinging on to an initial idea and refusing to delve deeper than what they’ve unearthed. I feared the same fate would pass down to Asobi Seksu because they’re so in awe of everything Jaime Stewart does. Fluorescence, thankfully, manages to slightly challenge out perception of this band. Yes, the same minimalism that has guided them in the past is still here but there’s more focus now and the music production doesn’t feel as aimless as before. Tracks like Pink Light and Counterglow are mere noise but damn if things aren’t slamming on them. Of course a lot rests on lead singer Yuki Chikudate and her vocals but unlike their last album (Hush) she finds solid ground here, the type that indicates the band is stepping up their game. RATING: 7.75/10