Feist – Metals (Cherrytree/Interscope; 2011)
Feist manages to marry indie and pop in a way that hipsters don’t feel like they’re selling out, and top 40 fans feel like they’re getting the best of the indie scene. But she pushes Metals further into experimental folk than previous hits like “1234.” Using the kick drum with obvious enjoyment to stomp out an in-your-face beat, “Undiscovered First” has attitude and is about as loud as Metals gets.
In contrast, “Cicadas and Gulls” is an underrated star with its slow, meandering acoustic riff that makes for a beautifully pensive track. Nature is a strong theme throughout the album that ties it all together to give us anthems for long bus rides home and late night campfires. The only drawback is the lack of a standout track, making each song blend into the other with little distinction. Metals is all about the growth of Feist as an artist.
Trial track: “How Come You Never Go There”
– Lindsay Rempel
Ohbijou – Metal Meets (Last Gang; 2011)
After a brief hiatus, baroque-pop ensemble Ohbijou return with their third studio album, Metal Meets. Recorded at Breakglass Studios in Montreal under the enchantment of the “wizard of sound,” The Besnard Lakes’ Jace Lasek, this record benefits from a maturity and focus that were lacking from the band’s previous releases.
Audio effects and grandiose soundscapes lend an almost ethereal quality to frontwoman Casey Mecija’s delicately innocent vocals. Lyrically, “Balikbayan” explores migration and Mecija’s family’s history in the Philippines, an inspiration that, until now, has remained untouched by the band. Metal Meets is a beautiful album, full of lush melodic moments and an overall thoughtfulness that is sure to land it on many top ten lists.
Trial track: “Turquoise Lake”
– Paul Traunero
Bruce Peninsula â€“ Open Flames (Hand Drawn Dracula; 2011)
Like 2009’s A Mountain Is a Mouth, Bruce Peninsula’s long-awaited second album, Open Flames, speaks to genres long forgotten, like the hearty gospel choirs and porch-dwelling folk-blues southern artists of the ‘30s. Songs like “Warden,” lead by the deep, rustic vocals of Misha Bower, seem to begin in another decade and end somewhere in the contemporary, albeit niche, indie scene.
Although typically known as having a very old-fashioned feel to their music, listeners will be delighted to hear Bruce Peninsula’s strong influence of world music beats, guitar riffs and backing vocal techniques. Lyrically, the songs are contemplative and often suggestive of an ongoing struggle or challenge. However, most songs can be equally interpreted as having a clear uplifting edge, like the immediately accessible “In Your Light.”
Trial track: “Adrenaline”
– Katelyn Spidle
R.E.M. – Murmur (I.R.S. Records; 1983)
R.E.M., after 31 years of awards, peaks and gutters, called it quits on Sept. 21, 2011. Go back to April 13, 1983 and check out their first EP Murmur. Ranked 197 on Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums of all time, Murmur does not blast at you, it does not shock you but, if you are wise and discerning, it will find you. “A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends,” Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry found the style that would exemplify R.E.M. in this record. The abstract, cryptic lyrics, twangy Rickenbacker guitar, melody, poetry, ballads, politics and storytelling that return again and again in R.E.M.’s many albums are all seeds in this album. Track six, “Perfect Circle,” is an apt metaphor for the band’s arc. R.E.M. started off humbly, built carefully, got huge, and then retreated to a dignified, low-key end; the perfect circle. “Heaven assumed, shoulders high in the room,” Murmur introduced R.E.M. to the world.
Trial track: “Perfect Circle”
– Daniel J. Rowe