The Earlies caught the ears of discerning listeners with the 2004 EP collection These Were The Earlies, a bewitching combination of lo-fi sounds and hi-fi ambitions. They had a bigger budget for The Enemy Chorus (Secretly Canadian), but they never quite grow into their expanded scope. Sure, the horns and strings are nice, but they don't really add anything to the already too-busy song structures. As an experiment in texture—synths meet sitars, etc.—it's worth a listen, and nerds will appreciate that the album's best song—"Foundation And Earth"—shares its name with an Isaac Asimov novel… B-
Similar problems plague Centuries Before Love And War, the debut from Stars Of Track And Field, which gets the big, Snow Patrol-y latter-day Britpop sound down pat (though Stars hails from Portland) but doesn't really do anything novel with it. And if any sound needs a twist to be interesting, it's Britpop. "Movies Of Antartica" is probably blasting out of an Urban Outfitters dressing-room speaker right now… B-
Australia's Love Of Diagrams has a familiar ring, too. Its 21st-century post-punk sound—all crisp rhythms, insistent bass, neurotic vocals, and guitars that start off high and bright, then fade into distortion—is a few years too late to sound entirely fresh, but the group's self-titled, Matador-released EP confirms that freshness doesn't always matter. The four tracks here bode well for the full-length to come… B+
Two kinds of retro come into play on 8-Bit Operators: The Music Of Kraftwerk Performed On Vintage 8-Bit Video Game Systems (Astralwerks), which taps into a surprisingly vibrant bitpop scene for a tribute to Kraftwerk's venerable electronic performers. The only trouble: Most of the musicians here are so good at simulating Kraftwerk that it's too easy to forget the primitive instruments they're working with. The most compelling tracks let familiar video-game sounds slip into the mix, but there aren't enough of those. Still, for novelty value alone, it gets a B.