Golden Shoulders -
California indie-rockers Golden Shoulders are another of those bands that have flown under the radar for much of their 7-year existence. Their third album, Get Reasonable, has received more attention than their previous work, and for good reason, it's a solid rock record with slight retro leanings and an almost punk attitude that provides some undeniably great tunes. First single and opening track "Mountain" (available below) is a fine introduction that fits squarely in the middle of the band's sound. It's driven and rockin' one moment, then jangly and soulful the next, with singer/songwriter Adam Kline's scruffy tenor voice (like a rougher Brendan Benson or maybe that guy from SR-71) leading the way. In fact, Kline is really the only permanent member of this rotating cast - which at one time included the great Joanna Newsom - though it seems as if the band has congealed somewhat lately. But that hasn't stopped Get Reasonable from being an enjoyable varied selection of songs in which Kline shines brightest, creating unassuming yet compelling highlights like the spacey ballad "Golden States" and the power-pop track "Unconcerned Is Not Impressive Anymore."
Ólafur Arnalds -
I recently discovered Icelandic artist Ólafur Arnalds at almost exactly the time when I found out about fellow Icelander Ólöf Arnalds (who I featured recently over at In Review Online). The two names were so similar I did a double take, but the musicians have very differing styles and both are excellent. Ólafur Arnalds is a multi-instrumentalist that has apparently been involved in a variety of projects over the years, but currently creates beautiful instrumental music under his own name. His latest, a short album entitled Found Songs, was released a song at a time on Twitter with artwork from fans contributed through Flikr, a neat gimmick but one that isn't nearly as impressive as the music itself. Arnalds' intricate yet mostly simple neo-classic arrangements are striking, with delicate piano and stirring strings serving as his primary compositional elements, at least on this album. From the solitary piano of opener "Erla's Waltz" to the hopefully-hued violin duet "Ljósið," Arnalds casts a spell of quiet contemplation that consistently conveys more emotion than you might expect possible from such a restrained style. Truly beautiful.
Listening to the latest album from General Elektriks, Good City for Dreamers, it's not immediately clear that the project is the work of one man named Hervé “RV” Salters, a French national with a thing for vintage keyboards and danceable pop tunes. His sophomore effort is an eclectic mix of synth-rock, funk and R&B that sounds like it would have of necessity been inspired by more than just one man's musical influences. A look at his list of favorite albums - ranging from The Beatles' Revolver to The Beastie Boys' Check Your Head to Marvin Gaye's Here My Dear - may give his far-reaching approach some context, but the breadth of styles RV comes up with on Good City is head-spinning. There's groovy white-boy funk ("Take Back the Instant"), drowsy psychedelic ballads ("Cottons of Inertia"), and bits of dark retro-pop ("Rebel Sun") that somehow combine to form a whole that's still consistently satisfying. In addition to RV's signature keyboard playing, he uses string and horn arrangements, electric guitars, and even - on "Helicopter" - a children's choir to give life to these fun, fresh tunes. Definitely recommended for those indie kids who prefer the more dance-inspired side of the genre.
Take Back the Instant (MP3)