Robyn Hitchcock’s best work is about love versus death and how that battle plays out eternally, clocked by a mechanism we have no control over but keep referring to anyway. Hitchcock’s new record The Man Upstairs continues to melodically illustrate this surreal walk through the graveyard. As a train passes mournfully by, he speaks to lost friends, lovers and animals as if they were still there. Hitchcock’s signature vocal style and ornate sense of melody remain as creakingly beautiful as when he was rocking out in The Egyptians on Globe of Frogs, but here he turns the volume down a bit. “The Ghost in You” and “Trouble in Your Blood” are units of psych-pop purity. Hitchcock may be a depressive eccentric, but his songs never give in to resignation. Instead, they celebrate the void that others spend a lifetime trying to escape or fill.
The New Pornographers' Brill Busters has a triumphant power-pop-conquering-the-universe tone that's impossible to dismiss. More importantly, their new album demonstrates this is a band clearly unbound from the wan wickedness suggested by their moniker, searching for a path to a new, glorious iteration of rocanrol. On the title track and throughout this recording, they find it—innocently rooted to Earth like a summertime flower. “War on the East Coast” could have been written by Ziggy Stardust (before his chain-smoking desperation set in), but this work is not derivative. Glittering keyboard flourishes, zooming guitars, impeccable vocal harmonies and A.C. Newman’s confidence as a singer/songwriter add weight to the argument that this ensemble of indie stars, banded together as a supergroup, are the best band working in rock and roll today.
Combining Euro-electro digital instrumentation with West Coast hip-hop conceits results in something called left-field. That’s something Scottish producer and musician Rustie (Russell Whyte) knows more than a little about. Whyte’s second full-length Green Language careens manically from track to track, emphasizing its sonic output by refusing to settle on a particular tone or organizational pattern. While this tendency can be disturbing or disorienting upon initial listen—don’t even think of listening on mescaline—the psychic, perceptual effects induced by Green Language are cumulative; the more you listen, the more you may “get” where Rustie is coming from. In a world of slow-motion strobes, adult-sized pacifiers and tubes of Vicks VapoRub, Green Language stands in front of stacks of speakers and simply stares. If you don’t buy that analogy, try on “Raptor” and “Attak” before daybreak at high volume with only faraway streetlights for illumination.