White Hinterland, Kairos (Dead Oceans)
According to White Hinterland’s Casey Dienel and Shawn Creeden, winter’s still the season. Kairos, the group’s sophomore release, combines feelings usually reserved for SKYY Vodka commercials, Bjork and "mellow as fuck, bro!" snowboarding videos. Best exemplified on tracks "Icarus" and "No Logic," Creeden’s production and musical accompaniment weave lush gusts and reverb landscapes. Dienel, on vocals and guitar, melodically hovers, flutters and occasionally skis straight down. Albeit chilly, Kairos is not frostbitten. It’s an enjoyable electronic sojourn to Iceland without Yetis, avalanches or Shawn White mucking up the slopes, and definitely worth a listen.
Various Artists, Stroke: Songs for Chris Knox (Merge)
Chris Knox, New Zealand’s forefront alternative, punk and lo-fi pioneer, suffered a stroke June 11, 2009. Through projects with his Flying Nun record label, Knox brought music to the States that would have otherwise gone unheard. So in order to honor a man as prolific as he is respected, Merge records has gathered its roster to release Stroke: Songs for Chris Knox.
Though the back story’s tragic, Knox’s songbook is primarily cheery. On this two-disc, nearly 40-track compilation, contributing artists include greats like Jeff Mangum, Stephin Merritt and Jay Reatard. However, some artists — Ghengis Smith, Jordan Luck and The Bleeding Allstars — have no feel for Knox’s tightly structured compositions, making the entire project uneven.
Of the two records, the first is superior with its high concentration of sweetness. Knox’s lo-fi, poppy, even Beatle-esque music thrives with minimal technology and is ruined when over-produced. Though this is a valiant, altruistic effort, the original recordings far surpass Stroke. Having said that, buy this one to assist the man’s recovery and give back to someone who’s given so much of himself.
Stroke: Songs for Chris Knox is now out on Merge Records. For news updates, audio and other information go to Chris Knox’s official website.
Shout Out Louds, Work (Merge)
If there is a genre scrawny, rich, white, suburban folk can call their own, it’s indie rock. Although the genre’s hatched some brilliant gems, a truly original contribution is hard to find, and Work is no diamond. If The Shins, Arcade Fire and The Cure went out for a rainy day picnic, Work would already be the background music. With "1999," "Fall Hard," and "Show Me Something New," their strummy, melodic and taciturn nature makes for catchy, head-bobbing indie pop, but that’s it. Plus, each song tries to open and close the record, making for these awkward, "Oh, it isn’t done yet?" moments. The album’s not bad. Each song is . . . satisfactory. It’s the Friday Night Lights meets Garden State soundtrack. Overall, sort of neutral. Zach Braff will love it.
Work is now out on Merge Records. Go here for Shout Out Louds updates, tour info and exciting Internet adventures.