Today: music that demands exclamation marks.
The Woods, Sleater-Kinney
Seven albums into a career made on a melodically punkish sound carried by duel guitars and female vocal harmonies, Sleater-Kinney's sound on The Woods disintegrates into something altogether darker, knotted, and primeval. Formerly clean and crisp sounds push past the red line and fuzz louder than, it seems, modern sound equipment is meant to go. Lyrics fight to be heard over wailing cacaphony. Hooks unspool into blurry instrumental breaks. This is a loud, loud record. If I just said that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah rocked like some freaks at a circus, Sleater-Kinney here is a two-story jetliner, wings flaming, crashing the fuck into the tent. The album's a triumph of excess - carefully controlled, maybe, but always about to snap undone, flip off of the rails, spin out and lose a hubcap. It's also running away as one of the best albums of the year to date. Medically declared corpses will feel their hearts beating faster after this record. If you buy anything reviewed in today's column, buy this. No joke. This is the sound of three girls so good it's a kick in the balls to every rock god ever.
In Case We Die, Architecture in Helsinki
There are a fair number of really good indie rock albums out there trying to fight off mortality with lo-fi blurps, grand orchestration, and vocals that are acts of defiance themselves, from Arcade Fire's Funeral to The Unicorns' Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? Architecture in Helsinki, eight kids brandishing toy instruments and sweetly sung nonsense, join up this year with kitchen-sink songs laden with more ideas and hooks than the Harvard adjunct faculty on a bass fishing trip. Horns bleat. Saxophones sneak in through the window. Things whir and clack. Bass and drums push everyone out the door as male and female vocals duel and choir up. The entire apparatus shudders to a halt and starts up again. It's danceable, in that thin indie kid kind of way, and joyful, and even childlike, until after a few listens the pale undercurrent to it all sinks in and you start to think that maybe dancing is the only thing keeping us all upright. And so it's as happy as you can get while being as sad as you can take. It's carpe diem in a clear glass bottle with three X's.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
With the kids in the trenches proclaiming this album a second coming of the indie rock messiah, the suspicious among you are probably wondering if the world needs another hand-illustrated lo-fi piece of obscurist cachet. Would it surprise you, then, to learn that the answer is God, yes? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah rocks like a chainsmoking yodeler backed by the Walkmen covering Sly & the Family Stone. It rocks like a dancing bear beating the shit out of a left-handed guitar while a carnie plays harmonica. Check album highlight “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth." Let it sink in. It's a grower. It grows like stop-motion thunderheads. Pretty soon you’ve got a shit-eating grin on your face and you’re dancing out the door to join that choir singing gospel on the bandwagon. Swallow your pride. You might as well give in now.