Son Lux finds transcendence on the eclectic Brighter Wounds, while Dashboard Confessional’s Crooked Shadows, though undoubtedly polished, is just… fine. These, plus Franz Ferdinand and The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon in this week’s notable new releases.
Son Lux, Brighter Wounds
Although Los Angeles composer Ryan Lott formed Son Lux as a solo project, in recent years he’s added a pair of core collaborators, guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang. This expanded lineup suits the ambitious scope of Brighter Wounds, a kaleidoscopic record ruminating on loss, memory, time, and rebirth, with nods to spiraling chamber pop (“All Directions”), skittering electro (“Surrounded”), fractured R&B (“Slowly”), and theatrical synth-rock (“Forty Screams”). Lott isn’t afraid to combine disparate styles on the same song, which often leads to transcendence. On the tender “Aquatic,” which boasts a whirring percussive underbelly, he sounds stricken as he sings, “We may all begin aquatic / But we leave only dust from our bones.” Immediately after that line, strings crescendo and then cease, adding a wistful bit of sonic punctuation. Brighter Wounds poses more questions than answers—but that uncertainty only makes the record more absorbing.
RIYL: Shearwater. Dirty Projectors. Post-2010 Björk. Post-In Rainbows Radiohead. Röyksopp.
Start here: “Dream State” is a disjointed pop song about embracing new realities—and reconciling the present with painful memories—that’s buoyed by Coldplay-esque howls, classical flourishes, and grinding electronic bursts. [Annie Zaleski]
Franz Ferdinand, Always Ascending
After the departure of guitarist-keyboardist Nick McCarthy in 2016, Franz Ferdinand regrouped, enlisted new members Julian Corrie (keyboards) and Dino Bardot (guitar), and eventually decamped to the studio with Philippe Zdar (Cassius, The Rapture, Phoenix). The goal, according to press materials, was an album “as energetic and exciting as their very first.” Sixteen years and five albums in, that’s an impossible task, but Always Ascending does a capable job. It boasts hooky dance-floor bangers (“Always Ascending,” “Glimpse Of Love,” “Feel The Love Go”) and a wealth of catchy songs that should please longtime fans. It also has moments of irritating repetition, as in “The Academy Award,” where Alex Kapranos sings, “The Academy Award for good times goes to you,” over and over. Although that’s less obnoxious than the (frequently repeated) chorus of “Huck And Jim”: “We’re goin’ to America / We’re gonna tell ’em about the NHS / When we get there, we’ll all hang out / Sippin’ 40s with Huck and Jim.” Despite that, Always Ascending has its moments, even if it’s not the musical rebirth Franz Ferdinand sought.
RIYL: The Strokes. Arctic Monkeys. Blur. The early ’00s.
Start here: The title track begins with a quiet, slow build that explodes into throbbing disco around a minute and a half. It hits all the marks, with ’80s-sounding synths, machine-like drums, disco guitars, and Kapranos’ smooth croon blending into one of the album’s standouts. [Kyle Ryan]
Dashboard Confessional, Crooked Shadows
Almost a decade after his last album as Dashboard Confessional, Chris Carrabba returns as a king, emo no longer a slur but a movement, a tradition, a brand, a scar. He’s guested with rap-rockers, he’s hung out with Taylor Swift, he’s received a moody profile in The New York Times. Now firmly into his 40s, how does this avatar of teenage angst sound, returning once more to the well? Enh, fine. Of all his very short albums, this is his shortest, and where he once packed his songs with knotty chord changes and shout-along confessions, here he tends toward conventional structures and lowest-common-denominator couplets (“I wanna hold you a little tighter / Hold you up like a lighter,” goes one hook). The drama comes not from high-flying, heartfelt specificity but from the much more adult realm of “instrumentation,” here roping in new wave (“Catch You”), Swift-style pop (“Belong”), and vest-wearing banjo-rock (“Heart Beat Here”). They’re undeniably polished but bland tracks that he nevertheless sings his heart out on, which is, in a sense, all that matters for a man in his unique position. On the title track, he seems to tease himself for chasing the ghost of youth—“Only a fool would even try for this / We’ll be the ones that get away with it”—which suggests that he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Start here: Nothing here is going to change the mind of anyone who doesn’t already want to listen to this, and even if you are interested in it, you’re better off listening to the stuff you already have memorized—but, fine, start with the Mumford-aping “Heart Beat Here,” which you will probably hear again at a regrettable wedding someday. [Clayton Purdom]
Brian Fallon, Sleepwalkers
If Brian Fallon’s first solo release, Painkillers, was his Tunnel Of Love, the new Sleepwalkers is more his The River—rougher and ramshackle-sounding, and in love with classic pop arrangements, which is all for the better. He’s settled into a comfortable retro-rocker groove, blending his Springsteen sensibilities in a pastiche of Motown grooves and ’50s-basic backbeats, aided by the occasional veer into Americana and countrified ambles. (Those detours are the weakest parts of the record, especially “Proof Of Life,” which sounds like a damn Lumineers song.) But mostly, he acts like the past 30-plus years of pop music never happened, concentrating on swaggering soul stompers like “My Name Is The Night (Color Me Black)” and “Little Nightmares,” the second of which pumps up the album’s use of organs to provide an almost honky-tonk vibe. There are ballads as well, like the Joe Cocker-esque “Etta James,” but overall the album nimbly threads together his greaser-meets-girl sensibilities with a melancholic longing borne of age. It’s a record about being in love with the idea of love—dreaming of someone to hold or mourning the lack thereof, but savoring every painful moment of both—and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a regret or a hope. Both hit the same recurring theme: not wanting to be alone, but not necessarily needing a particular person to stave off that loneliness. Instead, it’s just Fallon and his microphone, crooning and crowing over these rhythm and blues-focused rave-ups, holding court over an old-school rock revival to match his restless mood.
RIYL: The Gaslight Anthem. Mid-period Springsteen without the shitty production values. Sock hops. Living in 1970s Detroit.
Start here: “My Name Is The Night” kicks off with a dirty, bluesy riff, something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Stones record, but segueing into a more West Coast, Social Distortion vibe—or like an oldies version of Rancid. It’s simultaneously one of the goofier and more unabashedly joyous tracks on the record, and nicely emblematic of the entire affair in that regard. [Alex McLevy]
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