April always seems to be a good month for alt-rock releases, no matter what year it is. I think this probably because festival season is right around the corner and most bands need material to tour under at Bonaroo, Lollapalooza, et al. And so, I’ve put together a round-up of noteworthy alt-rock releases from last month for you, in hopes that maybe it’ll save you some of the time I lost to these albums:
“New Glow” by Matt & Kim
The brooklyn synth-pop duo return with their most diverse full-length yet. Buzz leading up to this album paid a lot of attention to the (somewhat) more personal songwriting and the types of synths used. Personally, I really enjoyed this album like I enjoy any other Matt & Kim album: as 40ish minutes of pointless fun. I like Matt & Kim the most when they’re being outrageously simple and irreverent, and there is plenty of that here. “Make A Mess” is one of the most childishly catch (in a good way) songs you’ll hear this year. “Get It” is an absolute blast both live and on-record. However, the striking track here is the closing ballad, “I See Ya”. Here Matt sings about the interpersonal damage that six years of non-stop touring can cause. And for the first time, I actually really empathize with and am moved by a slow song on what would otherwise be a non-stop party of an album.
“Kindred” by Passion Pit
It’s 1985! How can I tell? Well, besides the literal subtitles of some of these tracks, the synth leads throughout this album feel like they’re as old as most of the members of Passion Pit. A lot of people are probably going to call this album a pastiche or unnecessary nostalgia. And that was my first impression too. However, much like their 2013 album “Gossamer”, “Kindred” packs a hidden sadness into its lyrics that can be extremely effective at times (“All I Want”) and a bit sappy at times (“My Brother Taught Me How To Swim”). This album packs some emotional punch for a summer alt-rock outing, but I do somewhat question its overall staying power.
“The Magic Whip” by Blur
Full disclosure: I’ve never liked Blur enough to listen to one of their full-lengths before now. I had a copy of their greatest hits for a while, and I’ve enjoyed Damon Albarn’s solo/collaborative work, but I just couldn’t really bring myself to dig Blur. So, when they reunited I promised myself I’d at least try out their new album, “The Miracle Whip”. Lo and behold, I enjoyed it for about five songs and then got bored, just like I have with every other Blur album.
I don’t know what it is about them. By any and all standards I should like this band. They’re playing in genre I really enjoy, and I appreciate their musical talent. I even really enjoy Albarn’s songwriting (at times). There’s just something about them that feels extremely bland to me. It could be that they established the type of alt-rock they’re playing in the late 90s and early 2000s, and I’m just used to their imitators. I don’t think that’s what it is though. I think Blur just live up to their name. All of their songs blur together, and result in a mediocre hour of generic guitar based rock music.
“New Year” (EP) by A Silent Film
Though they’re not a huge group on the scene by any regard, I’m always excited when A Silent Film put out something new. I typically describe them to people as “Coldplay with more cred.” They play a similiar sort of piano/synth driven symphonic alt-rock with very catchy poppy song-structure. Their latest EP sees a slight improvement in their songwriting, but the focus here seems to be more on instrumentation. There are lot more electronics and synths on these tracks than we heard on previous releases. And that’s not a bad thing. I just do sort of miss the pounding strings of their first record (see “Julie June”) during some of the more repetitive pre-choruses here. All in all, a nice set of songs to hold us over until the next full-length.
Various Singles by Brandon Flowers
If Passion Pit hasn’t convinced you that this summer will be an eighties revival, then Brandon Flowers absolutely will. The Killers’ front-man’s new solo effort looks like the sort of thing you’d expect Rex Manning or Rick Astley to put out, and that’s just talking about the cover art. We’ve gotten three singles from “The Desired Effect” so far, and if that desired effect is a strange nostalgia for a decade you didn’t experience then he’s definitely achieving it. These are some catchy tracks. There’s no doubt that Brandon Flowers can write a powerful chorus or a crescendoing verse. The creative direction here (or lack thereof) is just a bit confusing. I get the feeling that this album, much like his last solo record, will be a bunch of tracks just outside of The Killers aesthetic that all feel like they written years apart from one another. I like a couple of them individually, but I don’t think they’ll cohere well as an album.
Various Singles by Twenty One Pilots
Twenty One Pilots, being an Ohio band, have a special place in my heart. And when their lead-off single for “Blurryface” was a banger (as much of one as they can write anyway) titled “Fairly Local” I was already sold. Geographic allegiances aside though, we now have three tracks from this record available online and I’ve been impressed by all of them. The duo’s breakthrough album “Vessel” felt extremely earnest and a bit sloppy at points, but these tracks feel a bit more polished without sacrificing their trademark angsty energy. I’m impressed by how these two manage to make such passionate music in an accessible format around some fairly intense themes. “Stressed Out” sounds like something I’d hear coming from car windows this summer, even though its about an identity crisis. I’m pumped for this record, and I’m excited to see the band live for the first time in June.
Various Singles by Mumford & Sons
After seeing a fair amount of pop-chart success with their sophomore LP “Babel”, it isn’t very surprising that Mumford & Sons are transitioning to a less folk-inspired sound for the new record. We got three singles from “Wilder Mind” this April, and each of them has been more electric and poppy than the last. The anthemic “Believe” sounds like a track Coldplay would have made last year, were they not on tour. “The Wolf” has driving electric guitars and bass that still manage to feel a bit boring, despite their fast tempo. Even the ‘ballad’ of these three tracks, “Snake Eyes”, has more electric than acoustic guitar on it. Mumford & Sons are obviously trying to make a bold statement about their new aesthetic as quickly as possible. This isn’t surprising, given the negative critical reception they’ve received recently for staying at the surface level of a trend they helped to establish. I’m honestly not convinced that shifting styles was a great move for them either though. These songs aren’t bad, but they stay close to the surface. Marcus Mumford is a talented songwriter, but he and his band seem to be more concerned with commercial radio success and iTunes sales figures than doing these songs the creative justice they deserve.
Those are the releases I spent the most time with this April. What did you think of these albums and singles? Who are you excited to see on the festival circuit this summer?