Band Of Horses – Mirage Rock (2012; Columbia Records)

Ever since landing their 2010 “Best Alternative Album” Grammy nomination for their third studio album, Infinite Arms, Band Of Horses has changed. They are no longer the melancholic indie rock band they once were. Instead, the Seattle-based quintet are embracing a change of record management from indie to major with Sony-owned Columbia Records, penning a track for the third installment of the Twilight franchise, Eclipse, and enlisting the aid of legendary producer, Glyn Johns (noteworthy for his work with Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, to name but a few). The latter does little to erase the proverbial “SELL OUT” label from their foreheads.

Mirage Rock is the musical equivalent of trying on hats. “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” sounds like a reject Fleet Foxes track, while “Dumpster World” would be more at home as a B-side for The Moody Blues. This album is boring, forgettable and lacks any sort of artistic direction. Band Of Horses needs to focus less on vanity and concentrate on re-discovering what drove them to play music in the first place.

Trial track: “Dumpster World”

Rating: 3.5/10

-Paul Traunero


Grizzly Bear – Shields (2012; Warp Records)

New York-based indie rock band Grizzly Bear is probably most famous for their second album, entitled Veckatimest, which received widespread critical acclaim, including a thumbs up from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood.

In Shields, the band continues to impress with their songwriting and unique take on art and psychedelic rock. The only thing that seems to act as a drawback is the growth time of songs. Unlike their previous effort, it takes a couple of listens before the themes and lyrics echo and reverberate through your brain. Hooks aren’t catchy, but are instead carefully crafted with the lyrics to complement the entire album, so that each individual song sounds good as a collective part of the album.

The album will please the casual music aficionado and will delight ardent fans of Grizzly Bear, as they continue their strong trend of solid, well-written music.

Trial track: “Yet Again”

Rating: 8.7/10

-A.J. Cordeiro

Stars – The North (2012; ATO Records)

Just weeks before their free, headlining POP Montreal gig at La Tulipe, Montreal’s most infamous lovesick pop-rockers dropped their sixth full-length studio album.

The North is hardly a departure from Stars’ signature soothing, affectionate indie-pop ballads. If anything, it seems as if the band has relaxed and given way to commercial inspiration. This is obvious in “Theory of Relativity,” a catchy, fast-paced electro tune with synthesizer a plenty and vocalist Amy Millan’s self-professed favorite track off the album. In “Do You Want To Die Together”, the group put a modern-pop twist on motown by pairing Millan and Torquil Campbell’s swinging, call-and-return duet with hard-rock guitar. Chances are this shift towards edgier, electro-pop-rock is due to the welcoming of their new guitarist, Chris McCarron.

Stars has been together for over twelve years. And through any and all strife, not one of their albums have been a ‘flop.’ They know what their listeners want. The North will further inspire an already dedicated fanbase and even allow it to blossom, but it’s nothing special.

Trial track: “Do You Want To Die Together”

Rating: 6/10

-Elizabeth Mackay


The xx – Coexist (2012; Young Turks)

With the release of their second album, London’s The xx mark a whirlwind three years. In 2009, the group released their first record, xx, to incredible critical acclaim. A few months later, guitarist/keyboardist Baria Qureshi left the band, and in 2011, band member and producer Jamie Smith gained his own praise with the remix album We’re New Here. With heaps of success emanating from a three-year-old debut album, Coexist, the band’s second full-length effort could be only one of two things: an outright flop – a victim of the sophomore jinx – or a protraction of the band’s, and its individual members’, fortunes.

What a few listens of Coexist reveal is a confident, yet conservative, group. Allowing only minor tweaks to their idiosyncratic sound, The xx effortlessly set the mood, open up spaces, and decorate the dark. Sure, there’s no song quite like “Intro,” but when Coexist’s finale arrives – the brilliant “Our Song” – try to feel anything but amazement.

Trial track: “Swept Away”

Rating: 8.4/10

-Andrew McNeill


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