XXL (XIU XIU LARSEN)
This spring, Xiu Xiu made good on a promise to collaborate with the experimental Italian art/noise band Larsen. The resulting recording—Ciautistico!—seems an impossibly natural handshake between the two bands. Glockenspiel, synth, accordion, and theremin all remind you that Xiu Xiu are present, but their usual glaring, forward sound is burnished by a gentle Mediterranean pace. Impulsive electronic beats and xylophone flourishes pepper a cauldron of instrumental drones, dissonant chord clusters, and on occasion, impassioned hollers. On "Minnie Mouseistic," Caralee McElroy recites a broken monologue in phonetic Italian over treacherous guitar tones and the dry heaves of a harmonium. But there are truly gorgeous, expansive tracks, too; "Distorted Duck" plays like a five-minute instrumental serpent uncoiling in the late afternoon sun.
It's difficult to proceed into fall without feeding regret for not having lived it up more during the summer. XXL provide a way out, though. Put on Ciautistico!, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in your happy place (a villa on Lake Como, perhaps). You'll be warmed and ready to face everyone the next day. NICK SCHOLL
Descended Like Vultures
My first impression of Rogue Wave: Man, I love the Shins! Those sweetly harmonized vocals, those lovely poppy melodies, that sense of gently optimistic melancholy....
Okay, that's unfair. Rogue Wave ain't the Shins, and it's kind of dicky to make that comparison right off the bat. Still, there are similarities, the major one being that both seem content to fill that populist indierock groove with music that's pleasant enough to bob your head to, yet never punctures through to any deep-rooted emotion.
It's not that Rogue Wave isn't trying; Descended Like Vultures is a slick, comfortably familiar affair that makes a few stabs at greater impact, and the disc's heightened tempos and soaring instrumentation separate Rogue Wave from their wash of fellow O.C. soundtrackians. The band's better, more autonomous, and subdued tracks—"California," "Are You on My Side"—highlight frontman Zach Rogue's voice. But overall, there's never any impetus for a second listen or prolonged analysis; blending into one more grayish band in the muddled indierock tapestry, Rogue Wave's greatest contribution seems to be unintentionally prompting kind of a dicky question: When's the Shins' next album coming out? ERIK HENRIKSEN
Rogue Wave play Thurs Nov 17 at Berbati's Pan, 10 SW 3rd
Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Summer in the Southeast
It'll fool you, sneaking up behind you like it's alt country or some bullshit. Bonnie "Prince" Billy (AKA Will Oldham) starts off with "Master and Everyone," a low-key, acoustic joint that initially sounds like it'd be appropriate for a coffee shop's open mic. But then the song bends into sharp electric guitars and a fairly stiff backbeat; with Oldham's vocals building in intensity, it's somewhere past the first few deceptive minutes that you realize the live-recorded Summer in the Southeast is a hell of an album.
Following that unexpected yet organic trajectory, the album only gets more interesting and emotional. From the catchiness of "Blokbuster" to the poignant "Wolf Among Wolves," it's all a bit rough around the edges, a set of solidly written songs that are just sloppy enough to be heartfelt and fun. Even in the more muted tracks, there are hints of heady, rambunctious rock gurgling beneath Oldham's incisive vocals and strummed arrangements—and, during the album's best moments, it busts out, be it in the smart, off-putting lyrics, or at the startling twitch of a classic rock-y chord, or with a whole song, like the electric guitar-driven "O Let it Be," or the slow burn of "Death to Everyone." The cumulative result is a record crammed with bitterness, sarcasm, humor, smarts, and enthusiasm, and it's a blast. EH
The Loneliest Punk
In Spike Jonze's DVD collection of music videos released last year, viewers were treated to a pair of overlooked masterpieces. "What's Up Fatlip?" was the name of both a music video and documentary about the ex-Pharcyde MC. In each, a portrait emerged of an immensely likable, self-deprecating rapper who realized that his unchecked ego, drug use, and lack of foresight took him from sold-out arenas to the "where are they now" specter.
His first solo release, The Loneliest Punk, will appeal to hiphop fans of the mid-to-late '90s, when there were more options than joining either the gangsta bling camp, or the pretentious backpack underground scene. Fatlip's lyrical delivery is charmingly choppy, and fits perfectly with the carefree funkiness of the beats. His rhymes are personal and direct—in "Writer's Block," he wishes that he had either been shot or put in jail at some point, so that he could have something to write about; in "The Story of Us" he tells his ex that everything is cool between them, but admonishes her that "When I slide by to see my kids/I want to see nutritious food in the fridge/Fresh juices, fruits, and veggies/Not McDonald's or old-ass spaghetti." As corny as the lines are, their lack of pretension and bravado are among the most endearing lines any rapper has spoken in years. CHAS BOWIE
Dr. Tobias Fünke