Michael The Blind

We get a lot of records sent to us here at The A.V. Club, and a lot of it’s too good to ignore. In Playlisted, we spotlight new music that’s slightly off the beaten path.

Album: Are’s & Els by Michael The Blind (out now on Alder Street)

Press play if you like: Ragged Euro-folk; the moodier side of The Gaslight Anthem; drunken sing-alongs; parties that last about two hours too long; disillusionment

Some background: Portland-based folkie Michael Levasseur recorded three albums prior to his latest, Are’s & Els, but the new record shows “Michael The Blind” embracing a full rock-band sound, with swift tempos and rapidly strummed electric guitars. An odd consequence of this jolt of energy? Levasseur’s voice sounds more than ever like Placebo frontman Brian Molko’s, and his songs have acquired a texture that’s more British post-punk than Americana. Are’s & Els gets rowdy at times, but it’s also darkly shaded, with melodies that seem to take shape on the fly, guided by Levasseur’s trembly, angsty vocals. Even with the record’s toe-tapping qualities, Levasseur keeps bringing the songs back around to feelings of exhaustion and dogged perseverance, as on the album-opener “Another Circle Of Fifths,” where Levasseur sings, “I want to quit but every time I’m at the end of my rope, I find there’s another rope.”

Try this: “Sympathies” is, on the surface at least, a little different than the rest of Are’s & Els; it’s quieter, and more of a gospel-tinged torch song than a rocker (and Levasseur’s vocals are more Michael Stipe-like than Molko-like). But as Michael The Blind is joined by a chorus of other voices, and as the drums kick in halfway through, that sense that the song is building to something momentous is very much in keeping with the album as a whole. “Sympathies” keeps threatening to explode, either in rage or joy.

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