Deerhunter, Monomania (4AD)
Any and all pronouncements from Bradford Cox come laden with more than the usual amount of rockstar bushwah, but promo kit claims that this garage-sleaze move’s secret inspiration was none other than Bo Diddley seem right on. Not that there’s a trace of Diddley’s semi-patented rhythms. It’s more the refined primitivism, the spooky repetition, the supposed simplicity, the insistence that rock might be more primeval than the blues from which it burst forth. Art-garage, then, less avant and more glam than Pere Ubu, with a band so theatrical and sloppy they make the garage competition sound like geezers swapping 45s at an oldies convention, whether detonating scuzzdrone guitars on “Leather Jacket II,” dropping Farfisa organ into “The Missing,” or lurching through a frazzled hoedown on almost-a-road-anthem “Pensacola”. Lording over everything are the compressed and tweaked mannerisms of Cox himself, John Lennon cut with a dash of Sky Saxon, funnier than he needs to be and once in a while even smart: not sure there’s been another 2013 lyric quite so droll as “For a month / I was punk”. Plus, a “Sleepwalking” that owes nothing to Santo & Johnny.
The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
Although few will agree, the weak link here remains the drummer, who knows exactly two beats: “I’m Waiting For The Man” and a dirge. But there’s no denying the beats suit the band’s temperament, which traffics almost exclusively in melancholia, if not sad sack mush. That’s why it helps to view their ethos as more mood than philosophy, nighttime highway music rather than chronicles of paranoia. Figure Matt Beringer is sorta kidding when he claims “careful fear and dread devotion” are his only two emotions, because otherwise you’ll miss his wry detachment and reasonable pessimism. “When I walk into a room / I do not light it up,” “I survived the dinner,” slurping pink rabbit cocktails, “I Should Live In Salt” - this is John Cheever territory. So it comes as a pleasant surprise every time Beringer drops a coded reference to youthful immersion in alt culture, simply because it’s nice to be reminded this murmuring depressive was once young. Quoting the Violent Femmes or admitting “if you want to see me cry / play Let It Be or Nevermind,” he skirts sentimentality by allowing each stray detail to add background heft to every subtle hook. And since he’s an Ohio guy, you know the Let It Be he’s thinking of is the right one.
Savages, Silence Yourself (Matador / Pop Noire)
The best point of comparison for this all-female post-punk London spectacle isn’t Joy Division or Patti Smith or Bauhaus or even Siousxie Sioux. It’s The Doors, with all their Dionysian nonsense and nocturnal odes. And like nearly every other outfit pursuing the proto/quasi/nuevo-goth path, they’re not as scary as they think they are - a line like “they have no idea / what we do at night / and how for you and I / the hour never strikes” suggests bar-hoppers more than the undead. Still, several unique characteristics can’t be denied, among them bass lines that are pure heaven and guitar squalls that actually menace. Notable missing ingredient: humor, although the stretch-mark and crow’s feet-praising “City’s Full” finds Jehnny Beth griping “so many pretty girls around” with convincing distaste. A more worrisome missing ingredient: songs.
Dirty Beaches, Drifters / Love Is The Devil (Zoo Music)
A double album “influenced by the cinema,” in which Alex Zhang Huntai manages to cram 37 minutes of music onto each disc, apparently hoping everyday consumers will be too awestruck by such titles as “I Dream In Neon” to add up simple math. But while you’re rifling through that French-to-English dictionary to plumb the depths of the auteur’s multilingual poesy (cheat sheet: “Goodbye my face / it is nothing”), keep in mind the man has spoken glowingly of Bukowski’s influence even while decamping to Berlin under the production guidance of noted deep thinker Anton Newcombe (of Brian Jonestown Massacre fame, you cretins). Which is to say this is pretension par excellence. Somebody should use their press credentials to ask Huntai where the inspiration for “Dirty Beetchis” came from just to witness that stony visage compose itself.
30 Seconds To Mars, Love Lust Faith + Dreams (Virgin)
How bad could Jared Leto-helmed prom-prog really be? Pretty bad, and not only because the vocalist/songwriter leans hard on the “concept” outlined via album title, by which I think he means “things that happen to most people at various points in their lives”. Not sure where “Pyres Of Varanasi” fits into this masterful cycle-of-life tapestry, but so long as Leto continues to confuse Bono with Thom Yorke, narrative continuity won’t be anybody’s major stumbling point.