Somewhere the putrid, zombified remains of Buffalo Springfield are stumbling happily along, expecting to fly once again now that the Skygreen Leopards have re-reanimated Cali folk-rock consciousness. Hesitant tambourines wash up in the tide as boyish harmonies ebb and flow. Their words carry stony, lonely dreams of natural bliss, carefree country daze, and holy fool transcendence.
San Francisco's Leopards come to their psyche-pop the roundabout way, through the wilder backcountry: Blithe Sons/Thuja vet Glenn Donaldson cofounded the Bay Area microlabel collective Jewelled Antler about six years ago, upon which he released a slew of CD-Rs of field recordings, among other experimental dispatches. Side projects like the gorgeous Ivytree hinted at the songcraft buried beneath the atmospherics of this six-song shortie—though those endeavors didn't aspire to the self-consciously awkward, otherworldly sensations in Donovan Quinn's airy vocals and 12-string fingerpicking. Together, Quinn and Donaldson reach for an uneasy enchantment, filtered through layers of distortion. Their music requires a certain endearing amount of trust—that we'll catch them as they reach for those high notes and fall for the possibly cornball sentimentality and hackneyed forms last reverently visited by '80s-era Paisley Undergroundlings. These skyward-gazing felines dare to show a soft, vulnerable underbelly here and that very shaky courage, along with these quietly insinuating tracks, bodes perhaps godly rewards in their future. KIMBERLY CHUN
Under an Hour
The notion of this all-instrumental album may scare off some potential listeners, like the multitudes that tapped into Menomena's respectable but blatantly pop-indie sensibility on 2003's I am the Fun Blame Monster!. Those that are immediately not deterred by the 54-minute running time on a three-track album will be well rewarded—as the incredibly skilled "orchestrations" of Under an Hour outdo any previous Menomena endeavor. Besides, few would claim that the group's strengths are in the vocal department. Masterfully recorded, Under an Hour features layer upon disparate layer of crystal-clear sounds that range from Sufjan Stevens' symphonic complexity to Four Tet's electronic minimalism.
"Water" undulates between fierce organ/piano and delicate relief, through the signature twinkling sounds that decorate almost every Menomena song. The most engaging and distinctive track, "Light," opens with hovering, austere strings, and concludes with deliberately grave ghostly howls and warm arpeggioed piano echoes.
The absence of lyrics helps to accentuate a structure that resembles symphony movements. If they were labeled this way, there would be about 10 that could gracefully stand alone—but the continuity is imperative to the emotional, cinematic quality that make each song so heart-wrenchingly mesmerizing. JENNA ROADMAN
The Mouse and the Mask
The Mouse and the Mask is one of those dream collabs about which music geeks like to speculate, thinking they'll probably never happen. Well, whoop, here it is, and it's all that and a box of anime porn.
On The Mouse and the Mask, MF Doom continues his beguiling self-mythologizing over Danger Mouse's abundant samples of zany library music and '60s TV game-show themes. Some of the productions here recall DM's work on Gorillaz's Demon Days: a whimsical funkiness that flirts with kitsch, but narrowly avoids bedding it. With brilliant cameos by Ghostface, Cee-Lo, and Talib Kweli, The Mouse isn't as classically indie-backpackerific as DM and Jemini's Ghetto Pop Life, but the unusual production touches (gorgeous, avant-garde violin on "Crosshairs"; an exotic Far East wind instrument on "Mince Meat") provide great contrast between textural delicacy and rhythmic ruggedness.
Unfortunately, incidental chatter from various Adult Swim cartoon characters appears throughout the disc. But it's excusable if this annoying "corporate synergy" results in greater sales and enables these talented cats to pursue stranger creative avenues. DAVE SEGAL
To forecast the eventual unfurling of Ladytron's third full-length—stuck in nearly three years of label turmoil—one would only have to listen to the Liverpool-formed quartet's 2003 compilation, Softcore Jukebox. With a cover referencing Roxy Music's Country Life—and featuring songs by My Bloody Valentine, Wire, Lee Hazlewood, and Fat Truckers, among others—Ladytron positioned their next release as smelting smoggy guitar to vamping synths. Witching Hour lives up to that potential, using icy vocals, palling guitars, and motorik roil to conjure a chromatic bleakness and the yearning glamour of a sagging starlet.
Witching Hour is a dense album of steely sediment; yet some lines that might have been played previously on keyboard have been transposed to guitar. This allows for androgynous swoons to buoy hook-infused filigree on dusky songs such as "WhiteLightGenerator," "Soft Power," and "Beauty*2." Witching Hour marries the analogue grit of Ladytron's debut 604 and the digital gleam of sophomore release Light & Magic with some of Siouxsie Sioux's crepuscular majesty. What once was some plasticine, disassociated posturing is now pneumatic rhythm-grafted on songs such as "Destroy Everything You Touch" and "International Dateline." Angular and brittle is now multi-beveled, and Ladytron are as commanding as they are melodic. TONY WARE