Melody’s Echo Chamber pushes its warped psych pop to new lands on Bon Voyage, while Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever debuts with the dreamy, mature Hope Downs, and Chromeo strikes the right balance on fifth LP Head Over Heels. These, plus Immersion and The English Beat in this week’s notable new releases.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Hope Downs
You might have to go as far back as the Jason Isbell–era Drive-By Truckers to find a rock ’n’ roll band that showcases three singer-songwriters as talented as Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Like the Truckers, Rolling Blackouts CF’s Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, and Joe White paint small portraits of angst and aging using the natural pigments of their region. Hope Downs more than delivers on the promise of the Melbourne quintet’s two early EPs, doubling down on the melancholy pop it forged on 2015’s Talk Tight and last year’s The French Press while also polishing its sound. It still sounds distinctively Oceanic—anyone with more than a passing interest in the Flying Nun Records catalog will find a lot to love here—but Keaney, Russo, and White bring a new sense of order to their guitar attack, resulting in a dreamy, mature collection of songs.
RIYL: The Clean. The Replacements. Having to wear a sweatshirt at the beach.
Start here: Early single “An Air Conditioned Man” offers pity for the office drone from The National’s “Mistaken For Strangers,” its manic rave-up settling into a flickering coda that would’ve fit in easily on My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves. [Marty Sartini Garner]
Chromeo, Head Over Heels
Chromeo specializes in upbeat, retro-embracing synth-funk—but, unlike others in a similar vein, the Canadian duo exists in an area somewhere between a come-hither wink and a seduction parody. On Head Over Heels, the group strikes a perfect balance between these extremes. Credit for this goes to the roster of impressive special guests—to name a few, The-Dream, Raphael Saadiq, Rodney Jerkins, and Pino Palladino—and the earnestness baked into Chromeo’s pastiches. Head Over Heels lovingly dabbles in ’80s Minneapolis funk (“Count Me Out”), outer-space booty calls reminiscent of Parliament-Funkadelic (“Bad Decision”), soul-funk shimmies (“Juice”), and frothy ’80s top 40 (the Amber Mark-featuring “Just Friends”). Plus, it’s hard not to love the exuberant album closer “Room Service,” throughout which Chromeo celebrates the glamorous life: “Go ahead and steal the shampoo / It’s all about you—this weekend!”
RIYL: Things that keep Prince’s memory alive. Bruno Mars. Retro-soul dance nights.
Start here: The squiggle-funk dance-floor igniter “Don’t Sleep” is a classic romantic boast featuring Stefflon Don and French Montana, as well as lyrics sung by a narrator pleading for someone to give him a chance: “You’ve been sleeping on me.” [Annie Zaleski]
Melody’s Echo Chamber, Bon Voyage
On her sophomore album as Melody’s Echo Chamber, the aptly titled Bon Voyage, Melody Prochet pushes her warped psych pop to wholly new lands. Not just figuratively: A chance encounter with Swedish musicians Fredrik Swahn (The Amazing) and Reine Fiske (Dungen) inspired Prochet to move to the woods of Solna, where the three worked in “an explosion of creativity” crafting songs that don’t evolve so much as metamorphose throughout. Midway through opener “Cross My Heart,” scintillating psych textures and sweeping pop strings suddenly give way to a jazzy hip-hop breakdown, before finding a new state in between; the unclassifiable “Desert Horse” melds unlikely elements like Eastern-influenced string arrangements, heavy psych bass, vocoder, beat box, and even full-body screams into an enchanting odyssey. Lyrically, Bon Voyage searches for healing and “some kind of light to come,” and the chemistry Prochet found with Swahn and Fiske seems to deliver it; this album is as freeing to listen to as it must’ve been to create.
RIYL: Broadcast. Stereolab. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Beck-produced albums. Traveling without a map.
Start here: “Cross My Heart” best represents Bon Voyage’s kaleidoscopic, anything-goes approach, a mélange of styles that shouldn’t work on paper but that Prochet and company craft into a thrillingly weird noise-pop experience. [Kelsey J. Waite]
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Married couple Colin Newman and Malka Spigel—separately the driving forces behind, respectively, Wire and Minimal Compact—make their most straightforwardly beautiful music together as Immersion, where the two post-punk veterans indulge a mutual love for sprawling electronic instrumentals. There’s far more of head-tripping 1970s West Germany in the duo’s fourth album than the gray-hued ’80s textures the two are individually known for, with opener “Microclimate” riding a gentle, Future Days-era Can groove under slowly oscillating synth tones and sparkling-seaside guitars, and the classic motorik drive of “Propulsoid” (supplied by Holy Fuck’s Matt Schulz) buttressed by thick organ chords to hit a hypnotic flow akin to Neu! or Stereolab. The anxious, sci-fi hard-bop of “Manic Toys” and the dystopian drones of “Seeing Is Believing” break up the mood a bit, though Sleepless as a whole is not especially varied—and not every song justifies its four-plus-minute runtime. Some, like the preset pings and warbles in “MS19” and “Io,” will also test just how much kitsch you take in your kosmische. Still, there are frequent spacey pleasures to latch onto, and an evident, infectious joy in its creation.
RIYL: Tangerine Dream. Neu! Cavern Of Anti-Matter. 1980s science documentary soundtracks. Korg synths.
Start here: The title track derails Sleepless’ restive forward motion with, ironically, its most soothing moment, a bluesy, Blade Runner-esque interplay of slow-burn saxophone countermelodies with a digitally decaying soul. [Sean O’Neal]
The English Beat, Here We Go Love
The classic ska band known as the English Beat has spun off into two separate factions, decades after its (only) three albums in the ’80s: The Beat Featuring Ranking Roger and The English Beat Featuring Dave Wakeling. The latter leader has pulled together his seven-piece band to release his first new album in many moons. The definitive high point is the title track and the one that follows it, which function as a pair of relationship bookends: “Here We Go Love” is a deceptively boisterous dive into a new romance, but it’s backed by some sinister sirens and oddly profanity-laden lyrics. The dissonance is then explained by “Never Die,” a stirring tribute to the end of a relationship, as Wakeling’s still-imminently appealing voice emotes over sobbing violins. Unfortunately, the rest of the record lacks this much spark, with many tracks running together in a chirpy, insipid ska hodgepodge.
RIYL: The ’80s. General Public. Frantic dancing.
Start here: “You’re Stuck” ramps things up with some sorely needed guitar rants and appealingly familiar vintage organ. [Gwen Ihnat]
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