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Charlotte's Guest Reviews
Charlotte Lang-Bush worked in P&P’s children’s section while in high school. She is now entering her sophomore year at the University of Virginia, concentrating on theatre, playwriting, and medieval studies.
The XX , XX (XL Records, $14.98)
Imagine scenes of a Rear Window voyeur in a cold, Blade Runner future. The soundtrack to that deceptively quiet movie would undoubtedly be made by British trio, The XX, whose debut album is as cold and sharp as a chrome blade. Its two core members, twenty-somethings Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, write lyrics late at night, over iChat, never discussing their meanings. This purposeful opacity is the reason why some lines (“better to resume, I’ll see you August, see you June”) are like intercepted correspondence between two spies. Their youth is also reflected in the angst and sexual awkwardness (“I’m burning to impress/it’s in the middle of me/I can be fantasy”), sung on the eerily reverb-heavy “Fantasy.” The way the two sing, trading off lines, gives a listener the feeling of observing an intimate conversation, set to the sparsest guitar, synth, and drum machine beats.
Sleigh Bells, TREATS (Mom & Pop Records, $12.98)
Meant to be played loudly or not at all, the spiky, noise loving sounds of Treats are not for the faint of heart. It may take a few listens for their powerful marriage of noise-pop and electronica to fully cohere, but when it does...wow! The confrontational basslines and ethereal vocals are the perfect antidote for the twee direction of recent indie efforts.
A Brooklyn twosome, Sleigh Bells, may share roots in rap, pop, and pure noise with indie troublemakers like M.I.A., but musically, they far outstrip her. With oblique lyrics (“click click saddle up, see you on the moon then”) sung over fuzzed out guitars, synth noise, and drum machines, a listener can hear the aimlessly confrontational nature of both rap and the more circumspect subgenres of indie pop, like shoegaze. “Kids,” with its stomping beat and confrontational delivery, is just asking to be sampled by the likes of eclectic rappers like Wale and Li’l Wayne. Tracks like “Rill Rill” counterbalance the more noisy tracks on the album, sounding like low-fi, loose-limbed reincarnations of indie darlings, Beach House, but with Sleigh Bells’ trademark electronic fierceness.
Robyn, BODY TALK, PART 1 (Island, $12.98)
Robyn, the Swedish songstress turned electro-balladeer, has been recording for a decade and a half, undergoing constant reinvention. In her current incarnation, Robyn has never been catchier. Like Lady GaGa (with her futuristic sparkle), Robyn is the voice of club kids. On “Cry When You Get Older,” a rousing club anthem, Robyn sings that “back in suburbia, kids get high and make out on the train/then endless incomprehensible boredom takes a hold again....” “Fembot” has a bouncy backbeat that manages to improve on the jazzercized bassline favored by modern FM pop, and her conceit -- that she’s a robot looking for love -- is delivered with all the commitment of a dramatic monologue. “Dancing on my Own” shows Robyn’s gift for making poignant songs that still get people to shake their butts. It’s clear that she’s captured the sense of neurosis on the dance floor that seems to characterize this generation. Body Talk, Part 2 comes out in September.
Janelle Monae, THE ARCHANDROID (Atlantic, $13.99) The ArchAndroid
Janelle Monae is anything but easy to classify. She, like Lily Allen, the Pipettes, and Kate Nash, is a pop-star whose sensibilities are delightfully anachronistic, but unlike Allen and Nash, Monae’s throwback-ing interests lie not with girl groups like the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las, but, more interestingly, with big-bands and old-time soul vocalists. There are notes of funk and hip hop, and on songs like “BaBopByeYa” there’s a subtle hint of Afrobeat that would make both Erykah Badu and Vampire Weekend jealous. Monae throws lyrical nods in every possible musical direction -- on “Tightrope,” she coos, “now this is what we call some classy brass” after a particularly sweet interjection from the horn section, balancing out the rapper-like delivery. On “BaBopByeYa,” Monae shows off her a soaring set of pipes that even Irma Thomas would be proud of. On “Faster,” listen to her lyrics in the bouncy vintage-soaked beat: she drops a Phillip K. Dick reference as she “dreams of electric sheep.” Monae doesn’t try to play the musical ingénue or the femme fatale; by bringing modern-day rap and funk sensibilities to soul, Monae creates a blissfully eclectic hybridized form of pop that’s a joy to listen to in any era.