We Were Flying Kites

by Stripmall Architecture (2009, Self-Released)

I’ve been writing about music for more than a decade now, and I’ve seen a lot of artists come and go (honestly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it turned out that 80% of the artists I’ve reviewed over the years are now defunct). But there are some artists who continually stick around, who might go unheard from for a year or two, but then always get back onto my radar for whatever reason.

Ryan and Rebecca Coseboom are two such artists. I became aware of the Cosebooms via their first project, Anymore, which I discovered via a sampler that was offered on an old 4AD e-mail list that I once subscribed to. Then came Halou, their more electronica-minded outfit, which survived and transcended such terms as “trip-hop” and “downtempo” thanks to impeccable programming, plenty of 4AD-esque atmospherics, and Rebecca’s lovely vocals.

But Halou came to an end in 2008 while the group was touring with Bob Mould and the Cosebooms subsequently began Stripmall Architecture. It was originally an outlet for more experimental music than might’ve been associated with the Halou moniker, with live shows incorporating everything from “typical” electronics and guitars to typewriters and toy organs. But with the release of We Were Flying Kites, the Cosebooms have returned a little closer to the fold, so to speak—in many ways, We Were Flying Kites picks up right where Halou left off.

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Truelove’s Gutter

by Richard Hawley (2009, Mute)

As has been said many times, our’s is a cynical time—one in which something that has even the slightest whiff of sentiment is instantly eviscerated with as much snark and vitriol as possible. But Richard Hawley doesn’t really seem to care.

On Truelove’s Gutter, his sixth solo album, he has the guts to lyrics like “Never say goodbye/You’re the apple of my eye” and “I just want to make you smile/And maybe stay with you awhile”. He sings of domestic pleasures, watching the sun rise over washing lines, lamenting the old hometown, running into cinemas to avoid the rain, and finding solace in watching his lover sew.

That’s right: sew.

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Pillar Of Salt

by Kissing Cousins (2009, Velvet Blue Music)

Longtime readers of Opus will know that when it comes to female vocalists, I prefer mine to be otherworldly and ethereal (e.g., Lisa Gerrard, Elizabeth Fraser, Rachel Goswell, Mimi Parker). Now, the ladies in Kissing Cousins can evoke an otherworldly air with their songs—particularly when they slip into an old time-y spiritual mood—but most of the time, they’re raw, rough around the edges… and quite exhilarating.

Kissing Cousins don’t pull any punches: right from the get go, with its stomping rhythms and writhing, tortured fuzz guitar, “Close To The Fire” grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. Meanwhile, Heather B. Heywood’s echoing vocals manage to be both sexy and eerie, like P.J. Harvey if she were a roller derby girl—or The Shirelles if they were into switchblades and drag racing.

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Tuned To Love

by The Loose Salute (2007, Graceface Records)

A friend recently gave me a bit of a ribbing because we’re in the middle of the summer, and here I am reviewing all of this ambient music (such as my recent fixation on Dreamland Recordings’ output).  To their mind, ambient music falls more under the category of “winter music”, and is not at all suitable for warm summer evenings.  So I offer up for them The Loose Salute’s Tuned To Love, which, if nothing else, is a considerably more July-minded collection of songs.

If you want to get a good idea on where the band is coming from musically, just look at their pedigree.  The Loose Salute was formed by Ian McCutcheon, drummer for Mojave 3—which, as you might know, have expressed a considerable affection for the likes of Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, and Neil Young throughout their discography—and Lisa Billson, who was discovered by McCutcheon while singing Dylan covers.

Suffice to say, there’s nary a wintry wash of ambient sound to found anywhere in Tuned To Love, the group’s debut full-length.  However, neither is it consistently super-sunny, up-tempo, lighter-than-air sort of album, the sort that people normally think of when they hear an album described as “summery”.

Instead, you’ll find a batch of homespun, country-inflected ballads that straddle the line between folk and rock musically, while lyrically spends as much time having good times with good friends as it does lamenting over past relationships and broken hearts.  While it comes off as somewhat clichéd at first, it becomes increasingly comfortable upon repeated listens—like that chair out on the porch you always find yourself returning to on warm summer evenings, hanging out until the wee hours of the night with friends, sharing smokes and beers.

And yet even as comfortable as it might be, some delightful surprises pop up here and there.

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Neon Bible

by Arcade Fire (2007, Merge Records)

Three years ago, the Montreal-based Arcade Fire released Funeral (my review), an album that would garner an avalanche of critical acclaim and appear on countless “Best Of” lists, mine included.  And now, Win Butler and the rest of the Fire have returned with Neon Bible.  Though less bombastic and fiery than Funeral—you won’t find anything quite as driving or overwhelming as “Wake Up!” or “Neighborhood #3”—their latest is no less powerful.

Indeed, its relatively subdued nature makes it even better at getting under your skin, and penetrating to the heart of the matter, than its predecessor.

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, Butler claimed the album’s central theme is “this idea that Christianity and consumerism are completely compatible, which I think is the great insanity of our times.”  An audacious statement to be sure, one that could even be considered blasphemous in our modern, all too superficial society.  And yet, time and again, the Arcade Fire peel back the veneer, revealing the world for the ugliness that it is—even as they hope and yearn for something better.

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