Monday, June 11, 2012

New releases: The Tallest Man on Earth; Hot Chip

Posted By on Mon, Jun 11, 2012 at 11:28 PM

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The Tallest Man on Earth

There's No Leaving Now

(Dead Oceans)

A new Tallest Man on Earth album is something akin to opening a box of trinkets you weren't aware you had -- his music can generate impossible nostalgia for sights and sounds unknown. Four years after the Swedish singer-songwriter's excellent debut LP Shallow Grave, he's dug his heels ever deeper in the ageless folk sound that's made his name. The progression on this latest ten-song collection is something of a quiet paradox: as Kristian Matsson's voice grows more ragged and full of dramatic range, it's wrapped around ever gentler and more uplifting material. Lilting melodies like "Wind and Walls" and the title track gather into a hyperemotional fireball with a tantalizingly unbroken tension (no electric guitar burst here) while finding Matsson break increasingly into falsetto and some pop-worthy belting (he's known to cover Sade and Paul Simon in concert).

But that's all academic. Really, There's No Leaving Now showcases the things Matsson has always been best at, and it's no slur to point out that it's not a major divergence from the baseline appeal of his earlier work. He does Americana better than almost anyone anywhere, turns a good phrase ("There's a story for every wrong / I won't be around in the morning / Can only pray there's no harm in me moving on"), is a distinctive but warm and felt guitarist, and is simply one of the most compelling solo artists working today. Keep "1904" and "To Just Grow Away" on hand for your next long road trip; you'll need 'em.

***

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Hot Chip

In Our Heads

(Domino)

This is a disappointment but not a catastrophic one, if you're judging it on the basis of Hot Chip's triumphant preceding album One Life Stand, a multifaceted pop-disco effort that bubbled over with emotion and sincerity. Only one cut, the blissful wet-streets romance "These Chains," can stand up to OLS peaks like "Alley Cats" and "Take It In." (The tricky and mindbendingly catchy "Flutes," a unique concoction in their catalog, comes close.) At their best, this wonderful band can make you throw your head back and lose yourself like the best of their ancestors, but they're content here to lean back and exercise their nostalgia-meters -- Alexis Taylor begins the record by asking "Remember when the people thought the world was round?" -- and thus present a fun record that seldom slides into true oblivion.

Yet In Our Heads is also a relief, if you found yourself fearing that the advance single "Night and Day" -- surely the most annoying track they've released since the pre-Coming on Strong days, a cluttered mess that rhymes "Zappa" with "jibber jabber" -- was a sign of their new direction. Hot Chip's still evolving positively, but most of the evidence is buried on the second half. The circular rhythm and sheer relentlessness of "Flutes" shepherds in the awkward but noble and ambitious "Now There Is Nothing," a skittering variation on the band's 2010 anthem "Brothers," followed by two atmospheric, lush pop productions ("Ends of the Earth" and "Let Me Be Him") as familiar and comforting as the traditional synthpop earlier on but far more rewarding of repeated exposure. It's nice that these guys have managed such consistently quick turnaround time between albums, but it seems this one could have been far more impressive if they'd left a bigger gap and waited to conjure up more of this shady, layered material rather than coating it with potential b-sides like "How Do You Do." But the good news is here, as long as you're willing to listen closely.

More by Nathan Phillips

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