by Nicky DePaul
Over the past few weeks, three bands released very different albums. The Presets returned with their third studio LP,Pacifica, The xx released Coexist, and Animal Collective released Centipede Hz.
As Top 40 radio is increasingly flooded with manufactured electro-pop, crossover country and similar-sounding rap, these albums offer an intellectual and personal experience that snaps listeners out of the manufactured lull into which modern popular music has fallen.
The Presets are an Australian electronic duo that burst onto critical radar with 2005’s Beams, an album combining vocal pop sensibilities with dark, late-nite rave instrumentals. “Are You The One” offered a hint of things to come, but Apocalypso, the band’s second album, brought them out of the underground when it was released in 2008.Apocalypso’s lead single, “My People”, attracted fans of electronic music, while delicate ballads like “If I Know You” brought a different set into the fold.
Pacifica is decidedly more polished than their past releases, but still maintains their trademark tension, with rising buildups that never drop and a lecturing vocal style that forces a listener’s attention. Lead singer Julian Hamilton shows off impressive pipes which had not been fully showcased yet, but are brought to the fore on songs like “Ghosts.” The Presets are a tour de force as an entity, and their catalogue is worthy of attention.
The xx, a British quartet, made a splash with their eponymous debut in 2009. They have been something of a crossover hit — surprising based on their stripped-down, minimal sound, adored by frat boys and emo girls alike.
Their producer, Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx, has been a hit in his own right, releasing well received electronic singles (“Far Nearer” is not to be missed!) and an album of Gil-Scott Heron remixes. “Coexist” was highly anticipated by fans and critics alike, and while critics have been fairly rough on its failure to expand on the band’s past work, fans will appreciate a new round of lonely guitars and longing whispers.
Animal Collective has been at this game for some time now, with ten records released over a dozen years. If you haven’t heard of these guys yet, wake up! They are experimental, and have been known to infuriate fans by not playing any known songs live and switching styles from album to album. Centipede Hz is a hectic mosh through an alien world of radio signals, filled with squiggling synth lines and tribal, cascading beats. The wailing vocals of occasional frontman Avey Tare lend a yearning tone that sucks the listener in. If you know the band from their hit single “My Girls” off of their last release Merriweather Post Pavilion (yes, they are from Md.), prepare to be jolted by new songs like “Monkey Rage” and “Wide Eyed,” which take a sharp turn from the euphoric tone and easy quality of that earlier album.
I will note that each of these bands presents a unique live experience. The Presets bring the roof down and inspire rabid dancing and moshing (best at festivals). The xx require silence and intimacy, and are best seen in small venues in small cities (like Baltimore! They will be appearing at Rams Head Live on Oct. 30). And Animal Collective … well, its an experience all right, and one you probably won’t soon forget, for better or worse..