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REVIEW: Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo

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Phillipe Roberts

For two records now, Khruangbin have delved deep into a brand of cosmic funk whose proudly professed global influences have stuck them with the loaded, woefully illogical “world music” label. Digressions on the validity of the term aside (why does the “world” start where the English speaking world ends?) the Houston-to-London trio is perhaps one of the few to actually embrace its universalist implications. Their Spotify account shouts their influences from the rooftops, touting “certified Persian bangers” and “heat from Nigeria, Ghana and more” in carefully curated playlists that connect the dots right back to their own work.

First album The Universe Smiles Upon You leaned heavily on '60s and '70s Thai funk and rock records, but on Con Todo El Mundo they absorb new influences, collecting musical passport stamps, mostly from Iran and Nigeria, with abandon. Some tracks highlight specific influences more than others, but overall, the blend is an unrecognizable and immensely satisfying hybrid. If a revamp of the Voyager Golden Record is ever in the works, with only enough room for a split single, Con Todo El Mundo will be a fitting starting point for extraterrestrials building an “Earth” mix.

No matter how you slice it, the Frankensound assembled by Khruangbin on Con Todo El Mundo is primarily funk. Bassist Laura Lee brings a radiant, chunky tone that clings loosely to the backbeat, powering the punchy shuffles of drummer Donald Johnson through the seemingly endless web of rhythmic scrapes and psychedelic slides dreamed up by guitarist Mark Speer. The three are a magnificent working band, and many of these tracks feel like they could go on forever, squeezing in and out of tight grooves like it’s nothing. Small instrumental flourishes and occasionally vocals enter the mix, particularly on “Evan Finds the Third Room,” but the focus never drifts away from the smooth cohesion they build into the jams. Over the course of the record, the effect is that of a perfectly sequenced funk DJ set.

While this tendency towards impeccable roundness may leave those hungry for the jagged edges of psychedelia a bit out in the cold, the trio do produce some standout moments that linger heavy on the mind long after the set comes to a close. The rapidfire acceleration into the initial pirouetting guitar riff on “Maria También” is mirrored brilliantly by the bass. Enough cannot be said about Laura Lee’s playing on this record; song after song, her warm melodies are a highlight, particularly on penultimate track “Rules,” where her weeping lines surge to the front with invigorating confidence, and “Evan Finds the Third Room,” a proper disco sendup with a bit of Donna Summer call-and-response thrown in. On the whole, however, Con Todo El Mundo is perfectly happy to hang back, playing to the room and allowing you to provide your own context—if instrumental doesn’t quite cut it, you might call it post-funk.

On the aforementioned “Shades of Man,” Khruangbin turns a field recording of two Iranian women working out how to pronounce their name into a skit, played out over ocean sounds. “You say that’s a K-H-R-U,” one woman’s voice cautiously begins. She shoots. “Crewangbin?” Light chuckles around the room. “Crungbin,” a voice corrects. Bless a band with a pronunciation guide.

Dead air. A long silence.

“No…”

And back into that effortless groove, punctuated by a repetitive, chanting “YES.”

REVIEW: Dream Wife - Dream Wife

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Phillipe Roberts

Cursed with admiration for the well-written hook and burdened by a crippling obsession with separating themselves from the pack (via varying degrees of over-intellectualized "experimentation"), indie rock bands have always found themselves performing a high-wire act. This writer included, the critical establishment often pushes a canon of bands that, to their ears, have managed to strike some idyllic balance between opposing forces, some burying that undeniable knack for pop beneath clouds of noise, and others slicing catchy riffs into irregular time signatures. Ironically, the fear of appearing to seek popularity through instantly recognizable songcraft has squeezed the life out of many a blossoming performer.

But Dream Wife don’t have time for pop pessimism, yours or mine. They’ve been too busy cramming wave after wave of stadium-sized, fist-pumping melodic goodness into every square inch of their long-awaited debut. In a sense, the London-based trio evolved in reverse. Starting as an art school project to create a fake girl band, the three women discovered an unexpected chemistry and ditched highbrow artifice in favor of near-religious dedication to hook-fueled rock and roll. Their first proper LP is 35 minutes of mania, a commanding collection of pop-punk tracks bristling with riotous energy. Dream Wife don’t waste time hiding their melodic gifts, and why should they when the results are so damn fun?

From beginning to end, the band operates within a well-defined universe, rallying around linear, palm-muted riffs, strutting basslines, and yelping choruses determined to pull wallflowers like you onto the dance floor. Dream Wife know their lane and stick to it, but they find enough wiggle room within that paradigm to keep you thoroughly entertained. Opener “Let’s Make Out” leaps right into the fray with rabid abandon—a few reverb-drenched “oohs” and you’re slammed into a throat-shredding chorus, with all credit to vocalist Rakel Mjöll for bringing the bravado in spades. Under her thumb, potential slow-burners like “Love Without Reason” turn into theatrical blowouts that call to mind The Killers at their arena-conquering best, and scuzzy dirtbombs like “Hey Heartbreaker” take on a winking mischief courtesy of her bratty, hiccuping delivery.

The raw power behind Mjöll’s vocals finds a worthy foil in guitarist Alice Go, who howls alongside her partner in crime with a roaring tone that fills in the spaces with a satisfying squeal. Center stage on the album’s best track, “Fire,” is hers entirely. Alternating between seasick bends that ramp up the distortion and metronomic pulsations, the riff explodes off the drums in a flash of garage-rock brilliance.

For every minor moment on the album that seems to skew towards the formulaic (the penultimate track, “Spend the Night,” doesn’t quite break free of its clichés), Dream Wife turn in five massive hooks that muscle their way into the back of your mind with ease. Most of these hew close to the classic rock antics that make up the majority of the record, making final track “F.U.U.” all the more mysterious. A completely blasted, fuzz-fried banger featuring the chant “I’m gonna fuck you up / I’m gonna cut you up / I’m gonna fuck you up,” the track skips along with a hip-hop groove, an update of “Kool Thing” with a modern swing. It’s like nothing else on the record, but there’s a real joy to how Dream Wife turns the tables on you one last time. A sugar-coated fist to the brain, this album hurts too good to ignore.

REVIEW: Arrows of Love - PRODUCT

Will Shenton

It's probably an understatement to say that London five-piece Arrows of Love's latest record, PRODUCT, opens on an ominous note. Embracing its unvarnished title, "Theme Tune To A Japanese B-Movie Horror" features a single, heavily distorted guitar that winds its way through unresolved dissonance before fading slowly into a screeching echo. It's a simple but effective way to set the tone of the album, serving as a sort of airlock between our world and the cacophonous, anarchic one we're about to enter.

Like all great post-punk, grunge, and metal (the three genres from which Arrows of Love most heavily draw), PRODUCT is loud. With the exception of a few tracks that quiet things down for the sake of pacing or building atmosphere, shrieking distortion and propulsive drums comprise the album's backbone. The result is an aesthetic that casts our world in a foreboding pallor, as if malicious forces conspire and lurk around every corner—perhaps most literally on "Signal," as the lyrics describe fighting off a monster with a dwindling supply of bullets.

At times dark and sludgy ("Beast," "Come With Me"), and at others melancholy and introspective ("Desire," "Parts That Make the (W)hole"), PRODUCT maintains an unrepentant catharsis throughout. Even the most downtempo tracks (a decidedly relative classification) build to explosive climaxes, seemingly framing the album's subtitle, Your Soundtrack To The Impending Societal Collapse, as something to be resisted with indignant rage.

It's that refusal to sit back and accept the hand you're dealt that really defines Arrows of Love's attitude. Their blunt, often spoken-word lyrical delivery is approachable and candid, eschewing frills and melodies in favor of visceral urgency. It's easy to imagine the band standing on their table in a pub, delivering half-shouted polemics against the status quo to a room full of fed-up regulars.

One of the standout tracks on PRODUCT, "Beast," embodies this more directly than the rest of the album. Something of a thesis in its own right, the breakdown before the final, frenzied chorus indicts us for our passivity in the face of injustice:

"We've seen the shit that's going on out there / It's fucked! / So be depressed, you've every right to be / It would not be normal if you weren't / But the question is / If it's gonna knock you down / Are you just gonna lie there / Or are you gonna get up and throw some stones?"

After spending the better part of an hour with Arrows of Love, that should be an easy one.

REVIEW: Moderate Rebels - Proxy

Kelly Kirwan

Moderate Rebels' name is something of an oxymoron, suggesting a nonchalant sort of insurgency against the norm. The London-based four-piece operate under the doctrine of simplicity, the negative space created by silences and curt sentences easily more intriguing than any tell-all. Their latest EP, Proxy, is rife with monotonous, chant-like choruses and a chugging percussion set alongside hypnotic, sweeping guitar riffs. Their lyrics are minimal and often repetitive, feeling like spoken word offered up in an underground bar, or a rallying call to lead a lethargic, tight-lipped march on the mainstream.

The opener, "Liberate," fits with the subcultural aesthetic they’ve adopted, the vocals taking on an almost automated feel: “See the deserts inside and outside / Made of glass / Hit you on the blindside / In your face … The dead and the living / We liberate.” The twangy guitars and backing chorus of ahs paint the melody in a warm hue that stands in counterpoint to the lead vocals' cooler delivery, their pitch unaffected until the line “We liberate” grows into a hypnotic command.

Then there’s the quickly-paced "Good For Business," which has a fairly sunny beat considering the morbid opening line, “Spreading and selling death every day / Don’t tell me there’s another way … And it’s good for business.” The song’s title (true to Moderate Rebels’ style) serves as the track’s thesis statement, frequently reiterated and wriggling into our heads to take hold, an undeniable earworm. The word "business" becomes increasingly elongated, its final consonants hissing over the clanging melody, as biting descriptions of the market bring the song to a petering close, “Ever-increasing business / Staggering amounts of business / Visionary new business.” 

Moderate Rebels' sound feels like a natural descendant of krautrock, experimental with swirls of punk and traces of the psychedelic, and their stylish approach makes for a unique and a refreshing listen. With the longest track stretching just over three minutes, Proxy is a sparse but formidable EP that’ll quickly burrow its way into your head.

REVIEW: Faye Meana - Nothing's the Same

Kelly Kirwan

Faye Meana. The name is melodic, with a half-rhyme hiding in its syllables, the two words rolling off the tongue with a certain easy lyricism. More often than not, a name is just a name (cue the obligatory Shakespeare reference), but in this instance it hits the mark in capturing the artist it belongs to.

Faye Meana is an up-and-coming, London-based songstress whose soulful croon simultaneously prompts heart pangs and a compulsive sashay to her R&B melodies. Earlier this year she released her four-track EP, Nothing's the Same, which stands as a poignant piece of work, diving into the inner turmoil and glints of hope that so often become entwined in relationships (particularly ones that were never able to find steady ground).

The song "Patience" shuffles with a light chime of cymbals, as deep notes bleed across the melody, played in rich, broad, vibrant strokes. Faye Meana’s voice flies into a head-turning soprano, eventually leveling out into a smooth pitch, as if she were merely murmuring her passing thoughts: “Wishin’ that you would take me home tonight, home tonight / Home tonight, with you / Wishin’ that you would make me yours tonight / Yours tonight, maybe.” The chorus drifts around us, its repeated phrases lulling us into the same craving for human connection. “Spoke for a while then I gave you my number / Texted a bit but then it faded out again,” she recalls, her voice moving from a subdued, confidential tone to high, heartsick notes.

Then there’s "Move On," with its pronounced, idiophonic percussion keeping the pace amidst a gleaming melody. Faye Meana’s voice is always smooth as satin, but it’s also impassioned, and it delivers moments of realization that are bit coarser then what you might first expect. “Now we have become those people that we didn’t want to be / And we’ll have to do our best to get back where we want to be … Did you ever wish we stop this shit and move on?” The song then fades into a conversation among a group of people, speaking of life’s hurdles with a blend of humor and resilience, reminiscent of Lauryn Hill’s finish for her 1998 smash "Doo-Wop."

In all, Nothing’s the Same is an album that touches on heartbreak without drowning in it. The melodies are mesmerizing, the grooves easy to slip into, and the lyrics contemplative. Faye Meana's latest is well worth your time.