Spring highlights in music
This spring has been particularly fruitful with regards to musical output. The bluesy members of Alabama Shakes have skillfully combined gritty rock music with soul, folk, and indie influences in their newest record, Sound & Color. The ever-eclectic Mountain Goats likewise draws influence from various alternative and folk outlets.
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
The Alabama Shakes’ first album, Boys & Girls, received overwhelmingly positive reviews when it was released in April 2012. The group’s brand-new sophomore release is a masterfully crafted amalgam of traditional American rock, punk, and R&B; it outshines even its predecessor.
“Sound & Color” serves as a lovely introductory piece to the record. Its psychedelic ambience is reminiscent of the late-’60s Beach Boys records Wild Honey and Smiley Smile.
The title track accelerates into “Don’t Wanna Fight,” which features a heavily distorted disco groove. The band channels the Bee Gees, Aerosmith, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, particularly in the urgent and powerful vocal performance of frontwoman Brittany Howard.
Various indie acts are also channeled throughout the record; most notably, Arctic Monkeys (“Do I Wanna Know?”) in “Dunes,” and Spoon in “Guess Who.”
“Future People” sports exceptional guitar parts, and vocals much akin to those of Janis Joplin.
Despite the record’s numerous outstanding cuts, “Gimme All Your Love” is undoubtedly Sound & Color’s standout track. Howard’s vocals here provide an amazingly cathartic release for listeners, and it acts as the album’s climax. By alternating between smoky soul and punky jabs, “Gimme All Your Love” is one of the best songs released thus far in the year.
Alabama Shakes are sure to attract music fans from all genres. Sound & Color is a comprehensive musical catalogue that indicates the group’s potential for success.
The Mountain Goats, Beat the Champ
The Mountain Goats – the 24 year old project of indie rocker John Darnielle – released their fifteenth studio album on April 7. Beat the Champ, a concept album loosely centered around pro wrestling, serves more as a collection of thought-provoking poetry than a collection of music.
“Southwestern Territory” opens with operatic vocals reminiscent of Styx’s “Best of Times,” but with a jazzier & swankier twist. “Fire Editorial” is another jazz number, accentuated by terrific piano and percussion parts.
Beat the Champ’s first single, “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero,” hearkens back to the punchiness of early Mountain Goats tunes. “Choked Out” is similarly a frenetic, gaspy, angst-ridden tune.
John Darnielle’s dark comedic sense comes out of the woodwork in “Foreign Object,” complete with saxophones and a wide range of musical diversity.
The more subdued vocals in “Animal Mask,” a piece of folky nostalgia, may entice more musically conservative listeners. “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan” is a spooky spoken word piece that would sound complete if it only had a theremin.
Ultimately, John Darnielle’s talent lies in poetry rather than in musical virtuosity. His lyrics provide deep insight into the human psyche, while maintaining their ironic and comical twists.