Arne Van Petegem, the Belgian musician behind Styrofoam, produces glitchy indie-pop electronica. His vocal stylings can be described as a) plaintive, b) fragile, or c) like the whimpers of a 12-year-old getting his ass kicked for busting out a My Little Pony collection on the playground.
From its opening bars the music draws inevitable comparisons to emotronic superstars The Postal Service. Then, a few songs in, sure enough, The Postal Service’s vocalist Ben Gibbard’s distinctive whine can be heard rising above the bleeps and blurps. Gibbard, most famous for his band Death Cab for Cutie, is kind of like the madam of this particular musical brothel, and his contribution gives the album an all-in-the-family feel that ought to warm the hearts of many a fan.
So what does it sound like? Melodic to the extreme, well-arranged, carefully mixed and sweet as bubblegum, featuring xylophones, squelchy drums, synthesizers, tender singing and occasional Anticon-flavored rapping. The music lacks the grist craved by hairy-backed, knuckle-dragging music lovers—the sort who may, for instance, find indie-rock/electronica fusion as blasphemous as rapmetal and best suited to shopping malls.
But, curmudgeonly complaints aside, fans of The Postal Service should be pleased with Nothing’s Lost. (Adam Fangsrud)
Styrofoam plays the Elk’s Lodge Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 10 PM. $7.
The Blue Bee EP
Bridget Martin’s voice is like a Long Island Iced Tea—sweet on the tongue, easy going down, and the more you have the bigger punch it packs. The debut release from the Billings-born former Missoulian who now lives in Vermont (after a stint in New Zealand, where she hooked up with the Powertool label) is a simplified folky showcase for her pipes, often accompanied only by her guitar and studio-layered harmonies.
Highlights include “This House is Not on Fire,” featuring amped-up production values and Colin Corbett on mandolin; “Loving Tree,” with violin from Anya Groner; and the dramatic opening ballad “The Dreamers of Lost Causes.” Despite the titles, there’s nothing particularly poignant in Martin’s lyrics. Her writing’s at its most digestible when she drops the weighty topics and falls back onto casual conversation, like in “Xmas Song”: “I just keep playing Yahtzee and shooting the shit/with one of my cousins who thinks I’m a free spirit.”
Martin’s stripped-down styling works because she sings like a chain-smoking Edie Brickell. I keep going back to her sustained vibrato in “House”—it’s the sort of evocative, edgy delivery that provides a quick and easy buzz. (Skylar Browning)
Bridget Martin’s The Blue Bee EP is available locally at Ear Candy Music.
Fires in Distant Buildings
The recent popularity of psych-folk, as typified by artists like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, is a bizarrely fascinating cultural phenomenon. With neo-luddite trappings, homemade instruments, droning ragas and Appalachian primitivism, these musicians offer a welcome alternative to today’s hyper-commercialized pop.
Nick Talbot, the musician behind Gravenhurst, is no exception. His first two releases, Flashlight Seasons and the Black Holes in the Sand EP, were creepy forays into mystical murder-ballad territory, with minor-key acoustic guitar work, minimalist analogue synthesizers and Talbot’s signature unearthly tenor. With a timeless quality that much psych-folk tries for yet fails, Talbot’s output has been more heathen than hipster.
Fires in Distant Buildings marks a distinct evolution in Talbot’s songwriting. While retaining much of the acoustic sound of his previous work, Talbot has added distorted electric guitars and groovy cyclical bass. The influence of “krautrock” bands like Neu! and the prototype synth-pop of Joy Division can be heard, but Fires in Distant Buildings is anything but derivative. Talbot’s ability to morph delicate folk into pulsing rhythms, caressing both into crescendos of psychedelic noise, really has to be heard to be believed. The disturbing moment when an apparent love song emerges as a hymn to death-by-strangling is also quite extraordinary. (Adam Fangsrud)
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
The blatant clutch and grab at British rock nostalgia enveloping the latest Black Rebel Motorcycle Club album is enough to make even the biggest classic-rock fan roll his eyes in contempt. The packaging is an unapologetic rip-off of vintage Rolling Stones, from the solicitous prose that fills the back cover to the moody black and white snapshots that plaster the liner notes; it’s clear what BRMC aspires to even before the CD hits the speakers. But while this sort of hero worship makes some drool with cynicism, there’s just one problem: the music’s pretty darn good, especially if you consider the roots of the band.
BRMC’s first two albums were in-your-face, testosterone-heavy efforts in the vein of Love & Rockets. Howl could conceivably come from that same gene pool (it still carries the aroma of Boddingtons, body odor and black leather jackets), but if that’s one parent, the other is a gospel-reared bluesman. Tunes like “Devil’s Waiting” and “Gospel Song” are countrified acoustic strums. “Ain’t No Easy Way” is a front-porch foot-stomping Southern jam. “Still Suspicion Holds You Tight” features a harmonica on overdrive.
The songs don’t completely dispel the band’s former edge, but there’s no doubt this release signals a more refined (not to mention more retro) direction. (Skylar Browning)