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Bad Rabbits – American Love album review

With track titles like “Dirty”, “Doin’ it” and “Take it Off”, American Love leaves little doubt as to its prevailing subject matter. In fact, not once during the album’s half-hour duration do Bad Rabbits take their their eyes off the bootylicious prize, and the resulting orgiastic whirlwind will irritate those genteel listeners who fail to greet it with venereal enthusiasm.

Frustration stems from two sources. First off is the sheer depth of the opening groove; as far as aural seduction goes, “We Can Roll” is less likely to sweep you off your feet than blow your socks off. In the carnal mess that follows, not one track matches the engulfing funk of the opener. Sure, “Can’t Fool Me” provides as good a platform as any for Fredua Boakye’s silky croonage (my god what a range!), but behind the soaring strains of the vocalist, the band does a better job of portraying the potential for virility than the actual thing.

The second, more insidious problem lurks in the lyrics’ nasty streak. If American Love has a subplot, it’s the narrator’s penchant for lovin’em and leavin’em. Perhaps to counterbalance the main focus on sexual heat, Boakye delivers a selection of breakup lines that start to seem distinctly cold-hearted by track 4 and straight-up assholish by track 10. All else aside, the decision to end the album with the lyric “you were my disease” leaves listeners with a taste more of Tiger Woodsish douchebaggery than Gagaesque tainted romance.

The record’s final moment exemplifies the phenomenon plaguing the preceding tracks: in American Love, Bad Rabbits have crafted a series of single-worthy songs which, while united either by thematic design or their lyricist’s singular obsession, do not willingly cohabitate. The same unrelenting energy that keeps partygoers pumped at live gigs ultimately bites the band as they attempt to corral their creations into one record.

Even when the album-craft seems phoned-in, however, Bad Rabbits retain the singular claim to having invented their sound. In addition to skyrocketing the band’s career, the seminal 2009 EP Stick Up Kids constituted a new fusion of funk, hip-hop and electronica, and after arriving at such a winning formula, a group can be forgiven for coasting on past successes. That the band has more potential than their current output is a given; what remains to be seen, however, is whether they will eventually feel inclined to make records based on more than some beefy synth patches and the sensual pipes of one world-class frontman.

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Northcote – Northcote album review

Northcote’s eponymous third record is not so much an album as a single theme and variations. It’s an appealing theme, to be sure, filled with jangly guitar and confident tenor voices, and bedecked with the brass riffage so fashionable among this decade’s indie-folk records. So perhaps the band can be forgiven for neglecting the ‘variation’ part of the equation.

It’s records like these, relying on the mainstream staples of thumping beats and ‘wooah’-ing backing vocals, that make one question the meaning of the word “indie”. Because when it comes to serving up comfort food, Northcote more closely resembles a McDonald’s franchise than an independent burger joint – the fare is not only rich, but interchangeable with anything else served up under a big ‘M’ (conveniently also the first initial of ‘Mumford and’…). So don’t go looking to Northcote for much more than bimboish ear-candy: frontman Matt Goud demonstrates the extent of the album’s lyrical potential when he advises his audience, on “Hope the Good Times Never Die”, to “Try not to take it in a bad way / If life ever gets you down.”

Whatever Northcote is, it is not front-loaded. Only at track 5, “Burn Right Past Them All”, does the band begin to deviate from the systematic churning-out of two-to-three-minute bouncy guit-box pop in favor of something sparser and more expansive. When “Drive Me Home” trundles around, the group begins to unfurl some real talents, exploding from strummy folk into an atmospheric post-rock climax. Track 8, “Knock on My Door”, turns sharply inward, a slow, intimate guitar-driven groove struggling to push genuine emotion through the frustrating gritlessness of the production.

With that, the record’s journey toward originality collapses in a wheezing, chest-clutching heap. Yes, there are indeed four more tracks to go, and no, listeners are not especially advised to press the ‘play’ button on any of them, least of all the gooey fadeout-marred closer, “Only One Who Knows My Name”. The culprit of Northcote’s sugar-plastered demise? Not the harmony, whose obstinate smoothness makes the principal case for the band’s competency. Not the production, whose prudish clarity at least manages to stay out of the performers’ way. Rather, the lyrics, in all their platitudinous glory, prove to be the start and unfortunate un-end of the band’s troubles. Not since 30 Seconds to Mars’s This is War has a troupe of experienced musicians pumped out so many clich├ęs with so little self-consciousness. So, for those wondering how far neo-sincerity must go before overstaying its welcome, the answer is: this far. In the absence of other achievements, Northcote’s Northcote will at least leave listeners starved for irony.

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Pretty and Nice – Golden Rules for Golden People album review

It takes Golden Rules for Golden People ten seconds to establish its creators’ songwriting talent. Ten seconds later, when the record leaps out of a soundworld familiar to fans of Fun and into the angular territory of Vampire Weekend, a distinctly un-pop vision begins to assert itself.

There is enough material jammed into Golden People’s thirty-two minutes to fill three average indie records (or five albums from Mumford and Sons). Not a single song follows a conventional verse-chorus-verse template, and in this formal wilderness, the very idea of a returning chorus is something of a novelty. Even the saccharine intro to “Stallion and Mare” reoccurs only as a tacked-on fadeout at the end of the number, although the opening lyric “we are all instruments” eventually hacks its way into the fray midway through the climactic eighth track, “Money Music”.

Golden People’s density goes some way to explaining the long wait for its release. Between 2008’s LP Get Young and the 2012 EP Us You All We, scarcely a studio yip yap or yop emerged from indie rockers Pretty and Nice. Appetites barely whetted, the band’s acolytes had to wait more than a year for the followup full-length – and now, here it is, in all its candy-coated Ritalin-deprived glory.

It wouldn’t be Pretty and Nice if it wasn’t at least a little nasty, however. Lest their songs be perceived as the gems they are, the band plasters each one with alienating devices by turns irritating, sardonic and downright twisted. Take “Critters”, for example, a chiptune odyssey that, halfway through, pretzels itself into a ticking gift from Hypnotize-era System of a Down. Or how about the pornographically- (pornauditorily?-) punctuated gallop of New Czar, a track which, in addition to tossing a chorus or two in the general direction of prettiness, also serves up the band’s closest approximation of romantic fervor with the declaration “you are my Czar!”? Judging by the vitriolic anti-sexiness that follows in “Q_Q”, Pretty and Nice see themselves as ‘your Bolsheviks’.

By the time the pace slows at “Golden Fools”, sensory overload has begun to set in, and the fog of battle clears just long enough for some thematic lucidity to peep through. Then, with “Yonkers”, the production line sputters back to life, making a short-lived acoustic dipsy-doodle at the opening of “Golden Rules” before hammering home its disenfranchised thesis.

Golden Rules is a frenetic album for a frenetic time. Anyone who thinks that Mindless Self Indulgence would be better off trading some of their obscenity for poetry or Of Montreal could use a dose of metal-black coffee will be left googly-eyed with ecstasy by Golden Rules for Golden People.

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Dexter – Pictures EP review

His first major release since 2010’s Jazz/Hip-Hop mashup (The Jazz Files) sees veteran beatmaker Dexter veering in a direction more Moby-esque than Madlib. The three tracks from the Pictures EP serve as appetizers for the upcoming full-length Trip, although only Pictures’ opening number will occur on both records.

The reasoning behind the choice is obvious; the first is unquestionably the most sculpted of the three tracks. Enlisting the help of self-described “laptopfolk” singer Josa Peit, Dexter unfurls layers of psychedelic alt-rock over a downtempo backbeat. Trading rap samples for guitar lines seems also to have affected the composer’s prevailing attitude, since in “Pictures”, vulnerability has overthrown the watermark-laden sardonicism of the Files. As though sucked into his own alt-history period piece, the DJ sings in restrained octave-harmony with his featured artist amid the crackles and pops of a dusty record, relaying in relative clarity a simple song about separated lovers. (Film aficionados beware, however: the song’s video, released by 16 Bars TV, conjures little of the audio’s fuzzy nostalgia, preferring instead to revel in the sort of effects that might trigger post-traumatic stress in survivors of The Star Wars Holiday Special.)

Psychedelia blooms on “Church”, where a sampled male chorus punctures the intimacy of the opener. As laid-back groove builds into double-time break, the number reveals its true nature as a prelude to EP’s third installment.

“Shroom Travels” could vaguely be called a remix of Gandalf’s 1969 track “Can You Travel In The Dark Alone”. The opening sample poses the eponymous question, after which Dexter gives the listener a swift Sparta-kick into a spacious pit of droning raga rock. Occasional isolated sitar-licks provide moments of levity, but mostly our intrepid DJ seems intent on dragging the listener past one dingy exhibit after another; by the time a gravelly-voiced narrator gets around to asking his (apparently bound and gagged) audience “what color is the rainbow of passion? The fragrance of madness?”, things have rolled over into camp, and Dexter has the good grace to cut the piece off – albeit with a distorted death-scream.

Pictures shows Dexter’s burgeoning talents extending beyond the realm of collaged jazz. Although still evidencing its creator’s default tendency to kick back amid the comforts of pastiche-land, the EP bears witness as well to the structural elegance of a careful songwriter. Fans of the Files can await something new – and altogether tasty – from Trip.