This week, please reacquaint yourself with three eccentric indie acts, all of whom have been soldiering on for at least a decade and demonstrate, to varying degrees, the value of persistence. And then there’s the fourth, which just doesn’t know when to quit.
Ezra Furman—Transangelic Exodus
With Gaslight Anthem front-emoter Brian Fallon’s solo joint Sleepwalkers unexpectedly as chill and jangly as a Gin Blossoms album, fans of chest-puffy goodolrockanroll fist-pumpers as predictable as porn clips will have to get off on Dashboard Confessional’s Crooked Shadows—track after track of strenuous exertion building to noisy climax. But if you prefer your conventions upended, this breathless Chicago troubadour’s “queer outlaw saga” offers all the swooping and swooning of a rock opera while connecting the old dots in unpredictable new ways. Furman’s plot invokes the transformation of humans into angels as a metaphor for gender fluidity and the threat of a tyrannical government that’s as literal as tomorrow’s headlines, but I’m still too awash in his specific phrases and noises to scour the libretto for specifics.
Furman rifles through musical styles like they’re outfits considered and dismissed before a night at the club: "Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill" ironically scores a shopping epiphany to disjointed Gang of Four funk, “Love You So Bad” puns off the title's final word in all directions as an ELO-as-girl-group chorus echoes in support, and on “Come Here Get Away” a sidewinding Morricone homage is interrupted by what sounds like a warped Paul Whiteman 78. The production is lovingly distorted and scuffed throughout as Furman frantically clambers to the top of each scrapheap (imagine a Gordon Gano who was actually violent and femme) to unspool declarations like “I lost my innocence/ To a boy named Vincent/ Box of Girl Scout thin mints/ And a pack of Winston’s.” And if that all seems too much, now you’re catching on—Furman’s the rare rock hero whose pretensions are as thrilling as his achievements. “We’re off the grid/ We’re off our meds/ We’re finally out on our own”? Bruce Springsteen didn’t have tramps like this to sing about. GO
MGMT—Little Dark Age
Too smart for the mock-tragic rock star fate “Time to Pretend” prophesied a decade ago (or maybe just too smart for their own good) Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser got experimental instead of famous. As the blog-rock boomlet they chronicled with such self-aware charm went bust, they soon sounded like they just wanted to be left alone with their synthesizers, and eventually fans obliged. Which makes their re-emergence as fine comic electro-miniaturists so unexpected, especially since their jokes are broad enough to get a groan outta Bazooka Joe: One relationship ends because “She Works Out Too Much” ("Should've gone with my gut"), and “When You Die” opens with the wimp-voiced declaration “I’m not that nice/ I’m mean and I’m evil.” The keyboards, which swirl and phase and careen as they knowingly evoke the duo’s betters (from the Pet Shop Boys to Prince) and their equals (from Men Without Hats to Roxette) are often even funnier than the lyrics, but also sometimes moving and evocative. Maybe it is better to nerd out than to fade away? SLOW
Franz Ferdinand—Always Ascending
2004 was a weird time, when a credo like “people should dance to rock bands” could make a revolutionary avatar of a fledgling pop star. With Alex Kapranos striking a swishier pose than white Jack White and flirting in a plummy croon more expressive than blank Julian Casablancas, a postpunk groove no less retro than Stripes or Strokes could feel something like a genuine forward thrust. That moment, like so many, has passed, but the persistent Scots (down one original guitarist) still turn the key that unlocks indie hips, with producer Philippe Zdar of Cassius french kissing their basslines on album five and those snare rat-a-tattoos still seeking the missing link between “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “The Reflex.” The lyrics can be archer than ever (collaborating with Sparks will do that to a lad) but we do get to hear them renew their vow of indolence from “The Dark of the Matinee” on “Lazy Boy,” promise “We’re going to America/ Gonna tell ‘em about the NHS” (yes, please continue), and report back from “the over-30s singles night”: “It’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak, it’s bleak.” SLOW
The Wombats—Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
Among the few small pleasures Twitter has offered this year is the spectacle of loyal Current listeners pleading unsuccessfully with their beloved station to stop playing the Wombats’ dippy “Lemon to a Knife Fight,” which sounds like the work of some yobs what’d slipped into a collective coma while recording a track for an iPod commercial in 2006. In fact, these indefatigable pros have spent 12 years doling out the warmed over quirk you hear here. Where were you haters when I was wincing at “Techno Fan” in 2011? And how big a pledge do we have to cough up to keep 89.3 from adding "Cheetah Tongue" to its playlist? NO
Go Slow No is a weekly survey of new and overlooked album releases. The rating system is pretty self-explanatory: GO means listen to this now, SLOW means check it out when you get a chance, and NO means run screaming from the room if you hear so much as a note of it.