Burial – Rival Dealer
For much of his career, Burial (William Emmanuel Bevan on his driver’s license) has had a reputation for making music that evokes a very specific emotional palette. His sound is abrasive, and in the past has made me feel cold and scared. There is a particular mood for listening to Burial, usually a solitary one.
With Rival Dealer, his newest three-song EP, Burial attempts to reinvent his music and try something different. All of the echoing gloom fans loved him for is still there, but for the first time his sound is uplifting and more hopeful. Vocals take the stage in this EP with prominence like never before, some of them exploring themes of LGBTQ-based bullying.
The first song and title track is a traditionally Burial-sounding song. The urgency of “Rival Dealer” is unmistakable and there seems to be a sort of battle between the airy vocals and the beats, each terrified of the other. “You are not alone,” a haunting echo, is heard often in all three songs. The last two minutes of the title track peel away to a synth lullaby, segueing flawlessly into the melodic “Hiders.” This ballad slowly rises into a heartbreaking ode to loneliness, repeating “you don’t want to be alone” in a pained voice.
The third and final song, “Come Down to Us,” is the climax of the album. It begins with a hollow church chorus and transitions within the minute into a psychedelic sitar loop blended with an auto-tuned gospel voice. Burial’s soft, muddy beats resonate subtly and add a sonic depth to the song, creating a warm and quieter atmosphere. “Come Down to Us” changes yet again and becomes a strong, twinkling sweep of synth, yet still remains deeply rooted in the ground.
Burial ends this masterpiece with one final statement, though this time non-musical. He samples The Matrix and Cloud Atlas co-director Lana Wachowski’s Human Rights Campaign speech from last year, “Without examples, without models I began to believe voices in my head […] that I will never be lovable,” bringing the EP to a close. The emotional progression of the songs – from fear to isolation to acceptance – almost resembles a concept album. With experimentation, Burial has widened his range while maintaining his classic sound. It pays off, and Rival Dealer gives listeners a newfound intrigue for his future work.
Frankie Cosmos – pure suburb
Described by lead singer Greta Kline as “the pride soldiers show when they are returning home from battle victorious,” Frankie Cosmos returns after 45 digital albums (many of which consist of six to ten tracks, some of which are as short as 18 seconds) with pure suburb. The release of pure suburb is an exercise in setting vulnerability and honesty to music.
The backbone of the album is the stripped-down quality of the vocals and the revealing honesty in her lyrics. The album opens with “ballad of freedom” as Kline croons in multitracked third person “She feels in between/feeling and nothing.” Each track that follows is a raw narrative of Cosmos’ love for her dog, New York, and Ronnie Mystery (a pseudonym for Kline’s bandmate and partner Aaron Maine). The instrumentation takes a back seat to the vocals – quietly strummed guitar, purring organ, almost no percussion. It follows a tradition of twee indie pop, somewhat precious, but at least emotionally true. Most of these tracks would be right at home on the Juno soundtrack. Closing with “your name,” Kline reflects on the candid nature of musicality with “Your name is so great, I make the mistake of making it known,” then proceeds to burst into a chorus chanting, “oh Ronnie, oh oh oh Ronnie.”
The only flaw in the short and addictive tracklist of Frankie Cosmos’ pure suburb is that 17 minutes of audio leave you craving more. The songs evoke a connection with the listener that can only be reached through hearing such sincerity in narratives set to soft acoustics, such as in “bottom lip.” Kline’s personal character is so present in every track, and with lyrics like “Talk to me, I’ll tell you a gooey never ending story,” it even feels as though she’s singing directly to you. The melodies are simple but reverberate with deliberation as Kline gently nudges the boundaries of the minimalistic indie rock genre.
The Venetia Fair – Basically Just Does Karaoke
On their Facebook page, Boston hardcore combo The Venetia Fair claims that they aim to make music that is “theatric, chaotic, catchy, and sometimes a little silly but not too silly because it’s also serious business.” This translates to a sound not unlike a messier, less-ambitious Panic! At The Disco.
Well, maybe just a different kind of ambitious. Where Panic! makes frequent attempts at sonic evolution like their classic-rock forebears, The Venetia Fair seems content to record a cover album that invites unfavourable comparisons to those same musical giants. The first three tracks are unassailable classics of pop music: “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners, and “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s; all venerated and overplayed, fixtures on the sort of “100 Best Songs of All Time According to Baby Boomers” countdowns that VH1 used to air.
But apparently The Venetia Fair wants to hear them again. Unsurprisingly, they’ve got nothing to add to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Their take on “Lobster” is weirdly dark, somehow managing to keep the song’s original campy feel, but siphon out the fun.
The back half of the album consists of slightly less venerated source material, but little improvement. Their cover of Green Day’s multipart pop-punk suite “Jesus of Suburbia” lacks the drive and dynamics of the original. “Camouflage, Camouflage,” originally by post-hardcore favourites The Blood Brothers, is short of a credible sense of urgency and mania.
Strangely enough, it’s “Come on Eileen” that’s served the best by The Venetia Fair’s puckish spirit. The original already had a bit of messy, bar-band energy to it, and isn’t hurt by a little extra volume. Not that this is a new revelation: the Dropkick Murphys have been doing celtic folk-via-hardcore punk for close to two decades now. Maybe that’s the problem with The Venetia Fair: they’re not selling anything you can’t buy better down the street. If you’re looking for a hardcore pastiche of Queen, there’s Foxy Shazam, and dramatic, kitchen-sink emo is far from rare these days. Basically consists of the worst types of cover: not bad, but exactly competent enough to make a listener long for the original.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings is an 11-piece band whose fifth album, Give the People What They Want, does just that. Press “play” and snappy, toe-tapping tunes pour forth, peppered with Jones’ smooth, soulful, and strong vocals. The first of the ten songs on the album, “Retreat!,” contrary to its title, surges forward into this melodious and fun retro-chic musical world. Saxophones, drums, trumpet, electric guitars, and tambourine complement Jones and her backup singers’ peppy interjections.
The second track, “Stranger to My Happiness,” features Jones’ reprimands to the person who “stole [her] heart away.” This turned out to be bitterly ironic, as the song itself stole my heart away by really bringing the soul. Here’s a challenge: don’t dance, I dare you. The total 1960s-influenced ditty “Making Up and Breaking Up Over Again” is absolutely repetitive and catchy. You’ll feel like a co-conspirator with “Get Up and Get Out,” as Jones croons, “No one can know that you are here” to her on-again, off-again lover. The ninth track, “People Don’t Get What They Deserve,” brings the cool with its punch, staccato sax riffs, building crescendos, and a chorus that almost reads (or, in this case, sings) like a line from Queen’s anthemic “We Will Rock You.” If the proverbs have taught us anything, it’s that “Cheaters never prosper,” a lesson Jones reiterates in this ninth song.
If you haven’t picked up on this yet, Jones has a really powerful and supple voice. The album experience is like listening to The Supremes circa 2014, but much, much richer timbre-wise, and more tonally satisfying. Soulfully warm and comforting, like the aural equivalent of a deep dish of mac and cheese, this funky album is the perfect antidote to the dreary days of January. So what are you waiting for? Get the funk onto your feet.
– Reba Wilson