Daft Punk caused a stir earlier this year when its members announced that they'd recorded their new album, Random Access Memories, without drum machines or computer programs. Thomas Bangalter recently told All Things Considered's Audie Cornish that he'd wanted to glorify the "magic of human performances and possibly do a little bit of dance music at the same time."
The British beat-making duo Mount Kimbie takes a similar, if less publicized, approach on its second album, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth (out May 28). Dominic Maker and Kai Campos fell in love with performing live during the past two years and wanted to record an album that would transfer to the stage more easily than their critically acclaimed Crooks & Lovers. (Though those songs did work pretty well at the Tiny Desk.)
The first thing that stands about Cold Spring Fault Less Youth is the traditional drum kit. Sticks, snares and cymbals pop up in several of these tracks, usually in a low-key fashion that recalls Four Tet's early post-rock act Fridge. The addition of languid vocals, including two appearances by young British crooner King Krule, is even more jarring yet works nicely, particularly in the album's first single, "Made to Stray." Of course, given Mount Kimbie's objective — a sound that translates live — the full effect of all these traditional instruments won't be felt in these parts until the band embarks on its upcoming North American tour.
Listening to a new Tricky album for the first time can be a, well, tricky experience. Anyone who lived through the '90s trip-hop bubble is going to spend that initial spin comparing it to Maxinquaye, the Bristol producer's canonized collaboration with Martina Topley-Bird. Obviously, that's setting the table for disappointment — nothing released today is going to hit as hard as that album's nascent perfection.
So, once you've made your first pass through False Idols (out May 28), go back to the beginning and listen to the album again on its own terms. You'll be surprised how contemporary Tricky's signature mix of menace and seduction sounds after his more than 20 years in (and out of) the spotlight.
With help from young British vocalists Francesca Belmonte and Fifi Rong, Tricky deftly balances sexy sighs and dub-influenced basslines. Each time through the album, different highlights surface. First, it might be "Nothing's Changed," the quasi-cover of his own "Makes Me Wanna Die" from Pre-Millennium Tension. Then the timpani and pungi vibe of "Tribal Drums" stands out. The third time through, the refrain from "Does It" is a grabber: "I wouldn't be caught dead in love."
Tricky's best album since the halcyon days of the mid-'90s, when he could do no wrong, False Idols is one of 2013's most pleasant musical surprises so far.
Laura Marling has accomplished an awful lot at 23 — four strong albums, armloads of awards — but what's more remarkable is the way the U.K. folksinger has gotten to this point. Marling's songs dig well beyond the everyday, with each sung in a wise, dusky, brooding voice that always seems in control of its surroundings. She can perform ornate ballads about dashed romance, but Marling sounds equally comfortable posturing confidently in "Devil's Resting Place," whose words could just as easily fuel a stomping Jack White jam. (Seriously, he should cover it just to prove the point.)
The devil pops up several times in Once I Was an Eagle (out May 28), but Marling views him a peer as often as he's a tormentor. He represents only one of the recurring threads woven into the fabric of a hypnotically pretty record that's not easily unpacked: Its first four songs flow together so seamlessly, in word and sound, that they appear at first to belong to a single shimmering 16-minute relationship postmortem.
All of Marling's vocal and guitar parts on Once I Was an Eagle were recorded in a single day — especially remarkable, given how frequently they remain in the spotlight throughout the album's 63-minute running time. But the singer takes a longer and more important journey along the way: As these 16 subtly inventive songs unfold, her fearless, blood-and-guts earthiness makes room for warmth and openness that's even more complex and rewarding.
In the playfully faux-autobiographical "Kicking Me Out of the Band," Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson closes his solo debut by painting a comical portrait of a deluded former frontman whose hedonistic exploits get him booted from the band he'd founded. It's a stinging, clever bit of satire — the sort of song Nelson ought to trot out at a key moment in the stage musical he was born to write one day — but it also draws a sharp contrast to the singer's own story.
Unlike the subject of "Kicking Me Out of the Band," Harvey Danger followed its own tremendous success — in the form of a smash single called "Flagpole Sitta" back in 1998 — with a pair of lovely records, neither of which did much of anything commercially. But Nelson never seemed to chase another chart-topper: His band's second album, 2000's King James Version, was a lush, thoughtful, sonically ambitious flop, and Harvey Danger self-released a near-perfect power-pop record (Little by Little...) five years later, before slowly winding down operations by the end of the decade. The group disbanded amid no apparent animosity, and Nelson has kept busy as a writer, actor and occasional musician ever since.
Now, eight years after Little by Little..., Nelson returns with Make Good Choices, a wonderfully catchy and quotable solo album to which he'd devoted years of intermittent tinkering. Recorded with an assortment of sure-handed all-stars, including R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla, Make Good Choices fits perfectly on the irregular-but-unimpeachable Harvey Danger continuum. The title track even serves as a sequel of sorts to the group's last song, "The Show Must Not Go On," as Nelson looks back on a failed relationship through the lenses of temptation and bitterness, only to wisely conclude that the past is best left where it belongs.
True to virtually every piece of music Nelson has ever written, Make Good Choices (out June 4) is fueled by a cocktail of quotability and charm — not to mention a gift for gorgeous ballads like "Advance and Retreat" — but also clearly informed by the unlikely career that led him to this point. In all, it's a fine new beginning for Nelson, a singer who's all the wiser for the endings he's faced.