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Tag: Arcade Fire

"This might be a mess." "Let's do it anyway."

“If there’s no grand cultural war left for you to wage, how are you supposed make friction? Indie rock responded by fanning out into a thousand sub-genre deltas, each with their own set of reference points. The best stuff, every year, is the stuff that somehow leaps across those gaps, like a firing synapse.” -Jayson Greene, Pitchfork, “Making Overtures: The Emergence of Indie Classical

I’ve been quoting this paragraph copiously in conversation and text since it was published, because it perfectly frames the situation in which indie rock currently sits. Should you be really, really good at one genre? The answer as an extension of this paragraph is “Probably not”: the genre already has a hero (or heroes), and you’re just going to be appropriating heroes if you aspire to greatness in a genre. You should mix and match, because that’s the stuff that gets applause these days: Bon Iver abandoning pure folk for a confluence of acoustic and ’80s synthscapes, Arcade Fire adopting a wiry ’80s touch for “Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains.” If we’ve heard it all before, we must repackage it in new ways. (This is why we have “new” lawyer dramas every year.)

I disagree that there is no room for purists; folksters The Low Anthem immediately come to mind as a great example of forging forward in a historically-established sound, as well as singer/songwriters like Brianna Gaither. Still, it’s true that the hip and cool stuff right now is interdisciplinary. (The technically appropriate term would intergenrenary, but that’s a clunky, made-up word.) Everything in the world is becoming interconnected; why not music?

Gabriel and the HoundsKiss Full of Teeth is the sound of a band working hard on its interdisciplinary mix. The basic elements of the sound are stark folk in the For Emma vein, The National-style gloomy indie rock, and a composer’s sense of symphonic instrumentation (more Firebird Suite, less “Eleanor Rigby”). Like my late grandfather’s attempts to recreate Bailey’s Irish Cream from his own personal brewing and mixing, the results aren’t perfect—but they still taste great.

“Lovely Thief” is the most memorable track of the album, both for its successes and head-scratching excesses. The first minute consists of a grooving, lightly distorted guitar rhythm and comfortable tenor vocals. Trumpets, horns and oboes arrive without warning, colliding with the rhythmically solid guitar in erratic foxhunt calls. The guitar and foxhunt end simultaneously, giving way to an elegant symphonic break. Drums and guitar are then introduced on top of the continued symphonic elements. It’s a beautiful tune, especially in its final, fully-realized minute.

However, its abrupt switches show either a desire to rupture normative ideas of modern songwriting or an unfamiliarity with the delicate balance between all the song’s moving parts (or both!). The first is admirable, the second understandable; both show that they’re trying stuff. When the band sticks to one genre, they make very consistent songs that are less dynamic and interesting that their experiments: “The World Unfolds” uses strings as a support element to a straight-forward indie-rock tune; “What Good Would That Do” is Tom Waits for electric guitar.

So it’s pleasing that Gabriel and the Hounds try more ambitious tunes than standard ones: the very pretty “When We Die in South America” uses an unexpected entry point of strings to disrupt usual songwriting structure, while “Wire and Stone” sets an orchestra as the grounding point instead of traditional rock instruments. The swelling, building “An In-Between (Full Where You Are)” provides even more emphasis on symphonic composition—Colin Stetson listeners will nod and smile. “Who Will Fall on Knees” sets the symphonic arrangement against a pensive folk piece, using the strings as the forceful element in the piece.

Gabriel and the Hounds’ Kiss Full of Teeth is a wildly interesting piece of work packed with vitality and thought. The unique ideas shine, even if the pieces don’t come together in a completely unified way. It’s like listening to Regina Spektor’s Soviet Kitsch: It’s clear that she is either purposefully ignoring conventions of songwriting or isn’t yet skilled enough to write proper songs she hears in her head—regardless, Soviet Kitsch is wonderful. (Based on the markedly less erratic quality of her later output, I’d bank the latter idea.) Put another way: formal success does not ensure quality. Sometimes the half-baked mistakes are far more interesting and vital than the fully-formed, conventionally-sound work, and that’s the case for Gabriel and the Hounds. Hopefully more bands follow their lead and risk putting out this sort of genre-bending, might-be-a-mess-but-who-cares work.

Afterlife Parade's Rebirth is a successful one

J. Quinn Erwin is the first Horizon artist to drop the tag, and he’s done so with impressive speed. It was just July that I was wondering where Afterlife Parade would go from its impressive but scattered debut, and three months later he’s clarified his position — with an exclamation point.

Erwin has gone the anthemic route over the subtle track on Rebirth, and it’s a bit of a revelation. There are strong suggestions of U2, Kings of Leon and Springsteen here, but Erwin makes the markers point to his tunes instead of away to those other guys’ works by meshing the easily categorizable elements with unusual, complex arrangements. That is exactly how you play those cards. High five.

The title track appropriates new-millennium U2 excellently, underlying the “woah-ohs” and terse melodic action with a rumbling energy that connects it to the other seven tunes here. “Black Woods, White Beach” is where Erwin really gets going, however. He deftly meshes raw emotional power via the vocal tone and melody with triumphant, Funeral-era Arcade Fire crescendos in a way that was missing from Death.

Erwin shows shades of his exuberant songwriting ethos throughout, whether in the giddy “Sequoia,” the clever minor/major pull of “Devil’s Dirt” and the fitting closer “Maypole.” These songs are bursting with interesting things to talk about, but that would strip the joy of discovery from you. Yes, it is that good.

Rebirth truly lives up to its title. Afterlife Parade now has a recognizable sound and the makings of a distinct songwriting vision that’s more than a gimmick. There are no clunkers on Rebirth; furthermore, there are no easy picks for “best tune.” They all have their own treasures. I expect big, big things from Afterlife Parade. I also expect you to go check out this album.

Restorations gets it

I love the emotive power of music. I listen to music so I can be transported out of this time and space. I go to shows to hear someone else play my heart. If it doesn’t have life running in and out of it, I’m in and out of there.

That’s part of the reason I grew out of pop-punk; I lost my connection to its heart. I still find a punk band every now and then that gets it, and I love it. Restorations, however, is a totally different animal. These guys sound like they have the same story as me: loved that punk, grew out of the four-on-the-floor charge, and started relating differently to everything. Not less passionately, but differently. Lots of people quit music at this point in their lives. Restorations didn’t, and I’m super-excited that, instead, this is where their story starts.

The band can really crank it out – be assured of that. This is a rock band. But this is the type of rock band that builds to earns your trust. Opener “Nonlocality” doesn’t blow the hinges off the door: they ease in before kicking the door down with “West River.”

The rolling snare and harmonies of “Nonlocality” make it clear that these guys have the patience and maturity to realize that the shiver-inducing first vocal entry is worth the effort. When the bass-end-heavy guitar comes swooping in 3/4ths of the way through, I wanted it there. It was a cathartic moment.

The rest of the songs have similar traits. The gruff vocals and punk energy of “Neighborhood Song” fit because the band has earned my trust. I want to know why they feel like the charging guitars are necessary (and they do reveal it). “Broken Vacuum” has a latent energy about it that makes it a joy to drive to. I can’t even explain to you how powerful “When You’re Older” is. Just go hear it.

Restorations’ self-titled album has a mature power that leaves an impact. Their restraint makes a bigger bang than other “louder” bands, because they’ve set up the big moments better than straightforward ragers. It’s like if old-school Arcade Fire had a heavy guitarist, or if Appleseed Cast let things loose a bit. It’s an incredible album, and it just keeps growing on me.

This is the sort of band that sings people’s lives. There is life after age 23, and Restorations plays it.

James Murphy never lost his edge

We all knew it would come to this someday. If a guy starts out his band by announcing, “I’m losing my edge,” there must come a point where he feels he’s lost it. If he’s smart, he feels the final slide before everyone else and gets out early. James Murphy is a very smart man.

I mean, how many people go out by playing a show throwing a party in Madison Square Garden? No one does that. I couldn’t steel myself to quit while the number of people necessary to fill MSG still cared deeply about my band. People flew in from other continents to see this spectacle, because James Murphy is an incredibly brilliant musician.

And if that musicianship isn’t necessarily the point of the Madison Square Garden show, it’s at least on display by proxy. Other than an adrenaline-spiking drum solo in the amazing version of “Yeah,”  Murphy’s contribution to the music during the show consists of vocals* – except that he wrote or arranged everything in the nearly three-hour set.

Even that seems ambiguous to me. How much does a gajillion-piece band contribute to a sound? How much do they bring to the table? How does the indie-rockin’ “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” turn into the dance-punk fiesta that it was at that show? I know The London Sessions significantly transformed it, but this is something else again. I never saw James Murphy live, so I’ll never know how the transition happened – because not enough people in Oklahoma like LCD Soundsystem for the band to have ever stepped foot in this state.

Transformation aside, the songs here are transcendent. These songs are the epitome of a band on top of its game: from “Home” to “Someone Great” to “Dance Yrself Clean” to even “45:33,” every era of LCD sounds more vital than it ever has. I would say the band was killing it, but they’re not: they’re bringing life to all of it. “Tribulations” appropriates the most timeless elements of the early 2000s dance-rock movement (catchy bass lines, perky drumming, squelching synths) and discards the pretension and mock aggression for a sober look at a relationship and a nation. How do you do that, James Murphy?

But if you’re a LCD fan, you already know the brilliance of his lyrics and songwriting; you’d like to know about this time, this way, this show. And rightfully so. If you haven’t heard LCD yet, here’s a recommendation: this was one of the best dance bands that ever existed. And I’m not saying that ’cause they’re gone. I was saying that while they were happening. I was there.

(Somewhere, Murphy is laughing that all we can say about his band now is what he already said about his band. There’s another clear indicator that he was the cleverest songwriter of our generation – and I am obsessed with The Mountain Goats.)

So, this time, this way, this show: the band sounds laser-guided. The bootleg is of astonishingly good quality, which could be a tribute to the taper (Pitchfork, in some way or fashion), the massive MSG sound system or both. Murphy doesn’t lose an ounce of energy or voice quality in 25+ songs (depending on how you count the massive “45:33”). This sounds like a band doing a victory lap on a huge tour, not a final gig. Just check the swagger of “Us vs. Them,” which was not really there in the original recording, or that of “All My Friends,” which is once again a revelation. And that’s because Murphy is victory lappin’. Right off into the sunset of performing.

Because no matter how much the band makes the Madison Square Garden show just rip, the last LCD Soundsystem gig will always be about Murphy. He does all the talking and almost all the freaking out, except when Arcade Fire gets in on “North American Scum,” and when the band sings magnificently on the high point of “Losing My Edge.”

And that’s the moment: as the band members sing “LA!!” at the top of their lungs, Murphy starts the signature move of screaming out band names. At first, you can’t even really hear him due to the volume of the “background” singers. The kids are coming up from behind, indeed.

The crazy thing about this show is that it does an end-run on mortality: we are always losing our edge. We are always rushing toward our end. We have our bright, shining moments, and then our edge is dulled until we are gone. Murphy is severing the fall; before he can dull, he disappears. That’s what is being documented here. There will never be a regrettable LCD Soundsystem cash grab release, as others have noted. That’s an incredible legacy to leave on a musical front.

But the legacy to leave on a lyrical front is an even more lasting and impressive one. Not only did James Murphy observe culture well, he observed himself well. He knew when the gig was up. He invested what we thought was everything in LCD Soundsystem. But he apparently didn’t; LCD is gone, and Murphy’s still kicking. There was something else that drove him, something deeper than LCD that made LCD tick. Perhaps is just purely a love of music. (Given his decision to keep DJing and rumors of him producing records, this is a fair guess.) Perhaps it’s something else.

But I know that as I head toward my mid-twenties, the concept of “Losing My Edge” will dawn on me. And I’ll have to deal with it. Maybe not for xx more years at that point, but I’ll have to start thinking. I pray that I’ll keep a firm grasp on that which grounds me outside of music. Because we are all losing our edge, and we need to deal with it. We can’t stay sharp forever, but James Murphy quit trying to be sharp while he is known for it. There’s proof of it now; when mortality comes for him, no one will be able to knock how sharp his edge was.

*and I think cowbell, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t see who’s doing it; and there’s no way I’m torturing myself with video of this event.

The Lonely Wild’s Spaghetti Western indie rock has vast potential to be realized

Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks to Spaghetti Westerns are iconic and oft-parodied.  But the theme to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” isn’t itself the butt of jokes; it is more often the punchline.

Morricone’s works are majestic examples of structural music: you can’t appreciate them by themselves. They are incredible soundtracks, but they are simply that — something must be happening for them to make sense. You can put anything in the frame that the Italian’s scores create; just think of all the different places you’ve heard the classic “wee-ooo-wee-ooo-woo” opening. The humor comes when the situation in the frame doesn’t live up to the (exaggeratedly) high tension associated with the original scenes. It’s an easy and endless joke. It’s also why The Lonely Wild is great.

The Lonely Wild is a band that appropriates the sound of Spaghetti Westerns and puts indie rock in the frame. The band creates pieces with incredibly high drama by taking social cues (clip-clop rhythms, distant reverb) for Spaghetti Westerns and stapling indie rock to them. The songs on their five-song EP Dead End naturally acquire the sort of odd tension that Spaghetti Westerns themselves have. If you buy into the whole piece of art, the drama has reached a breaking point; if you haven’t, it just seems a bit overblown.

I’ve always bit on white hats vs. black hats, much to my sophisticated self’s chagrin. (Not every movie can be an ethical dilemma like Crash or Do the Right Thing.) Similarly, I’ve fallen for The Lonely Wild’s crazy idea. That’s why “Hail” (trumpets, guitar tone) and “Right Side of the Road” (Whistling, faux horsebeats, plodding rhythms) are my favorite tunes here. The members sell the shtick hook, line and sinker. It’s so completely melded together that “Dead End,” which features almost no distinctly Spaghetti markers, feels like it should be from some other band. The swooning pedal steel doesn’t count.

On the other hand, it could just be that it’s a lesser tune. “Out of My Mind” doesn’t have a whole lot of Morricone influence either, but the wry melody is so infectious that you’ll remember it regardless (again, the pedal steel doesn’t count towards its Italian-ness). The shared male/female vocals are another element that make “Out of My Mind” (and the whole EP) stand out.

There’s still room to grow here; none of these songs are the total knockout that this band is capable of. The songs are well-thought-out, the performances are tight, and the recordings are immaculate — but there’s no Arcade Fire “Wake Up” here. This is a band that I feel is capable of a “Wake Up”-type smash, so I’m holding it to nothing less than that.

Definitely check The Lonely Wild’s Dead End out. They’ve been relentlessly self-promoting their DIY ways, and that’s always to be lauded. But in addition to that, they’re vastly creative and entertaining.

Ghost Heart's American tribal melodies melt brains

I have never heard anything like Ghost Heart. For starters, there are no snare drums on their album The Tunnel. There are shakers, cymbals, three million tom hits, bass drum and more, but not a single snare. Most of the vocals are modeled after soaring tribal chant style, but with a distinctly Western melodic bent. The guitars range from indie-rock to mathy patterns. The bass guitar is about the only normal thing in this whole album.

It sounds glorious. It’s really confusing and convention-busting, but it’s a good confusing. The tunes are very long, too; the eight songs here run forty minutes, with one outlier at 1:29. Surprisingly, their unique uncategorizable genre encompasses several different moods; “Salty Sea” is indeed a sea shanty, while “No Canticle” is something Sufjan could write if he spent a week or two in South Africa (Sufjan’s Graceland would be a thing to behold). “Whoever You Are” is an odd, Pontiak-esque mellow rumination. After forty seconds of weirdness, “Black Air” turns into an incredibly surprising indie-rock tune featuring the aforementioned mathy guitar work.

Again, The Tunnel is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Also, The Tunnel is brilliant. It’s bands like these that test reviewers’ moxie: can this incredibly original sound be translated to text well enough to convince unsuspecting listeners to check it out? I don’t know if I have succeeded. But here’s a list of RIYL bands: Funeral-era Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, Fleet Foxes, American Football, Coldplay (any album except Parachutes), American Football, Journey, yodeling. No, for real.

Really.

Get this album.

Quick hits: Alcoholic Faith Mission

Denmark’s Alcoholic Faith Mission plays a Beirut/Arcade Fire-style indie-folk that rides the fine line between style and substance. On first listen it seems that the band is all bark and no bite; the moods are solid and the instrumentation is strong, but no song jumps out and demands attention. There are choirs, acoustic guitars, horn sections, et al., but as an overall whole, And the Running With Insanity EP takes a very unassuming stance.

But as more listens follow the initial impression, these songs wormed their way into my head. A few weeks after I got this EP, “Running With Insanity” popped up on a shuffle list. While I was hard-pressed to remember who wrote the song or what it was called, I knew I liked it and could hum along. When I looked down at the title, I decided I liked the EP. Not because it stands out for virtuosic instrumentation or immediate tunes, but for the fact that I really like this EP for an almost inexplicable reason. It’s like enjoying The National. No matter how many times I disliked High Violet, I kept being drawn to it. Now I go to it as comfort music. I have no idea when I started liking that album; it just happened somewhere in there.

So it is for Alcoholic Faith Mission and its And the Running With Insanity EP. I really like it, because it’s a part of my brain now. I can’t explain how or why it got there, but I’m relatively certain this sort of thing will happen to you too if you listen.

Josh Caress vaults forward in his songwriting skill with Perestroika

My love of Josh Caress is extremely well documented on this site. Ever since Letting Go of a Dream, I have been in his musical thrall. I have liked some of his albums more than others, but I have eagerly awaited each of them.

Perestroika, his latest and maybe last solo album for a while (nooooo!), contains the seven best songs that Josh Caress has ever written. There is a slight issue with this (there are twelve songs on the disc), but that’s still an incredibly high percentage of powerful tunes.

While his rate of success is somewhat astonishing, his formula is not that surprising: Caress has taken the best parts out of each of his last four releases and made a cohesive sound. The dramatic, sweeping, romantic pop soundscapes of Letting Go of a Dream form the core of the tunes. The inventive, complicated, Sufjan-esque instrumentation of The Rockford Files layers on top of this, bringing a depth to Perestroika‘s songs not present anywhere else in his catalog. The distorted guitar oomph that first appeared on Wild Wild Love lends an Arcade Fire-esque bombast to the tunes. The insightful lyrics of Josh Caress Goes on an Adventure! cap off the entire experience, lending meaning to the moving musical proceedings.

Add in the mix the unique voice of Josh Caress, and you’ve got a distinct set of songs that ranks highly in my top albums of the year.

While Caress splits the album into two sides of six songs each, I find it easier to analyze the album is in three parts: tracks 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12.

Tracks 1-4 take the Jayhawks-style Alt-country of Wild Wild Love and replace the twang with an epic indie rock flair. Each tune is an anthem in their own right, and I mean that in the very best possible way.   In the opener and title track, he’s yelling “Perestroika! On! My! Mind!” as suitcases thump and bells ring. “Is That What You Want?” sees the pulsing guitar line making the song into an epic instead of the vocal line. “We Will Fight” features a choir yelling/singing its way through the whole song, culminating in the chorus: “We will fight! We will fight! But not with violence! We will fight! We will fight! We will fight to strengthen the things that we’ve made!”

The final song of the suite is “You Are the Light,” which sounds like a lost Joseph Arthur song on uppers. The chorus is a glorious singalong. It is a blissful cap to this set of tunes. There are literally no parts to complain about in these songs. They are nigh on perfect.

Tracks 5-8 are a bit of a headscratcher, as Caress takes a sharp turn into Radiohead sounds. There’s some Kid A electronic work (“Deconstruct”), some Hail to the Thief/In Rainbows-style rock (“Searching at the Edge of the Real Thing”), and more. They’re not bad at all; he appropriates their sound nicely. Even his vocals, which have always been a bit wavery and high, fit well in context.  They’re good tunes, but they make little sense in the context of the album, and they’re just not as good as tracks 9-12.

While it is somewhat disappointing that the middle of the album turns away from the formula he spends two-thirds of the album perfecting, there is an upside. Josh Caress has gotten better by testing out sounds before incorporating them fully into his songwriting. If considering the melancholy electronica and rock as a potential future inclusion to Caress’ sound, this becomes a less frustrating suite of songs. Imagining his current powerful sound with electronic underpinnings helps me get over the fact Perestroika would be an incredibly cohesive album if not for the middle.

The last third of the album returns to the sound that Caress established in the first third. While “Everything I Wasn’t Meant To Be” is probably the least engaging of the eight folk/indie tracks, “Pulling the Curtain Back” is one of my favorites. It grooves hard, has a great melody and includes a stylistic throwback to Letting Go of a Dream. But the cascading guitar riff doesn’t revisit the style near as much as “Prodigal Son,” which uses the heavy reverb that was the trademark of Letting Go. The very specific mood it creates (and recalls) makes the track one of my favorites.

The closer, “By the Light of the Lantern We Go,” is true to its name, as the track is a nearly eight-minute-long journey. From the glockenspiel at the beginning to the full-on roar that occurs at the end of the tune, Caress takes the listener through all of his styles, motifs and ideas in one symphonic burst. It is a fantastic way to cap off a brilliant album.

The lyrics of Perestroika are relentlessly optimistic in the first and third acts, which matches the sound neatly. They include some of the most poignant that Caress has penned, especially in  “Perestroika On My Mind” and “You Are The Light.” The middle third’s melancholy and conflicted verses match the sound. Again, the middle isn’t bad; it’s just not near as good as the rest.

If this review seems disjointed, it’s because I feel that way about Perestroika. If this had been an eight-song album, or if something else had happened in the middle, I would be hailing this as the album of the year. It’s still going to be in my top ten for sure: the songs are just that good. Heck, the first four tunes alone constitute the best EP of the year. It’s my favorite JC release since Josh Caress Goes on an Adventure, certainly.

Josh Caress is edging ever closer to his masterpiece, and Perestroika is an enormous step in that direction. Do yourself a favor and get this CD.

Italian Japanese restrain the rock, yet suck listeners in for a ride

With a goofy name like Italian Japanese and an even goofier title of The Lush, Romantic Weirdness, it was hard for me to take this album seriously at the onset. Both of those sins were forgiven by the end of the first song, though. Italian Japanese know their stuff.

Italian Japanese appropriates the moody anthems of Silversun Pickups, sprinkles in the punchy riffs of Cold War Kids, then tops off the mix with the insistent melodies of Interpol.  The eerie, minor keys are lightened by the vocal tone and melodies, which are instantly memorable. The vocalist has a smooth, inviting tone that draws listeners in. Then he keeps them with infectious melodies.

When I listened to this album a second time, I felt like I was listening to it for the hundredth time, because the melodies were that familiar and that lovable. “Jaguar Paw” has a fantastic, “where have you been all my life?” guitar line. “Le Pony” has a vocal melody that will stick in your head. So does “The Knife,” although it is helped along by stellar composition techniques and a firm grasp on mood.  “Ladybird” does the same, as the barely restrained power in the band underscores the calm but passionate vocals. It’s fantastic songwriting on both sides of the ball.

The mood is the slow burner on this album. Yes, the vocal melodies are spontaneously lovable. Appreciation for individual instruments and their performers filters through my consciousness as I appreciate this album more and more. But it’s the atmosphere that The Lush, Romantic Weirdness creates that leaves the longest-lasting impression. Italian Japanese is the type of band that should be scoring movies, because their songs control the feel of whatever room or vehicle I’m playing them in. As Italian Japanese plays pensive, somber, thoughtful indie-rock, and I live in a house of dudes, changing the entire mood of my room/house toward that end of the spectrum is quite a feat indeed.

Italian Japanese’s The Lush, Romantic Weirdness is a thoroughly endearing record. Its ability to suck in listeners and not let them go makes it a fantastic album to put on when you just want to chill. The distortion isn’t too heavy, the melodies aren’t too saccharine, the performances are restrained but not stripped of passion, and the overall product comes together perfectly. If you’re a fan of Silversun Pickups, Smashing Pumpkins, Arcade Fire, the Small Cities, The Fire Theft, or other minor-key-but-not-especially-angry indie rock bands, you’re going to love Italian Japanese. I guarantee it.

La Strada makes energetic folk-infused indie rock with a small orchestra in tow

I came into an appreciation of folk music at about the same time the folk revival was beginning to gain prominence (roughly four or five years ago). I was finally lucky enough to catch a thing at its peak; it seems I always go back and discover the goodness of a thing after the fact (point: I saw Death Cab for Cutie on their Plans tour, the Mountain Goats on their Get Lonely tour, Coldplay on its X&Y tour, and Guster on its Ganging up on the Sun tour; all of which were one album after their best album). But this time, I’m on the edge with the rest of the people rocking out to Mumford and Sons, because folk finally reclaimed energy.

La Strada’s New Home does Mumford and Sons one better. Instead of just being a folk band on speed (which, as M+S’s immense popularity shows, is quite alright), they’re a folk band on speed eating an indie band. It’s like gentler Beirut with a guy who can sing; it’s like Arcade Fire with acoustic guitars. This album is so incredibly hip and current that I’m afraid I’m not cool enough to review it. But I reject that notion, because the songs are brilliant. These songs aren’t just for the cool; they’re for people who like anything related to pop music.

“The Traveler” features a bouncy drum line, a mini-orchestra and a jaunty vocal line. The smooth quality of the vocals is immensely reassuring from the beginning of the album; he has the best elements of many different vocalists. His ability to convey emotion without oversinging recalls Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard; his effortless delivery recalls people with gifted voices like Novi Split’s David Jerkovich. The fact that he meshes so well with the band makes me think of the National, even though their voices seem separated by (several?) octaves.

The ragged yet gentle rhythms of “The Traveler,” plus the immensely reverbed guitar solo, strings, trumpets, tubas, and keys make for a richly ornamented, impossible-to-dislike song. There’s tons going on here, but as in an Anathallo song, it all works together. Even when they kill the beat, punch up the accordion and turn the song into a Parisian street waltz (not kidding), it sounds amazing.

Then they kick into “Wash On By,” which brings a indie-rock surge of energy to their still-instrument-heavy mix. This song will make you move, as well as yell and cheer with the band. The rhythms, which are distinctly foreign but not exactly easy to pin down, simply bring the house down. I wish I could be in the audience for a performance of “Wash on By.”

Then there’s the title track, which for once is appropriately chosen. I hate it when bands don’t choose the right title track, but this one is far and away the most memorable track of the album (and you thought I’d lavished all the exuberant praise I had in me? naaa). The song is sparse, but it’s not sparse in the lack of instruments; they use the instruments sparingly, locking them in together to pull a distinct and certain mood out of the tune. The word masterful is not an exaggeration of this tune’s quality.

The whole thing is held together by the vocals, again, which are glorious and command several beautiful melodies. The brass band and strings contribute significantly to this tune. You will be singing “Hello strange familiar, you’re my new home; oh, wha-o, wha-o wha-o.” Trust me, it looks goofy there, but you’ll know exactly what I mean when it happens. You will be powerless to resist it.

My highest praise for an album is “I could write a small book about this album.” And it is very, very true of New Home by La Strada. I didn’t even get to talk about the lyrics, the art, the rest of the tunes (and seriously, that’s a tragedy to me, because “Baptism” and “Where You Want to Go” and “Go Forward” are all wonderful and worthy of covering). All I can say is, for your own good, buy this album. It will improve your mood for weeks.