Part of the mystique behind Karin Dreijer Anderssonâ€™s superlative 2009 solo release under the moniker Fever Ray is that we have no way of knowing if weâ€™ll ever get another full-length dose. Dreijer Andersson rejoined her bro Olof Dreijer with day-job band the Knife to release 2013â€™s challenging Shaking the Habitual. Since 2010, after accepting an award for Fever Ray decked out in a melted-faced mask and speaking only in guttural noises, her solo work has been exclusively on theatrical and film scores. Which is appropriate. Fever Ray achieves brooding atmospherics on a more cinematic and accessible scale than the Knife.
Fever Ray often acts as an extension of the Knife’s 2006 Silent Shout. While not as icily intense as that crowning achievement, it’s just as dark. Opening track and lead single â€śIf I Had a Heartâ€ť perfectly encapsulates Dreijer Anderssonâ€™s hauntingly multi-tracked and warped vocals, only to give way to the shrill intonations of â€śWhen I Grow Up.â€ť The precarious balancing act between the two poles of the artistâ€™s vocal work makes Fever Ray still compelling five years on. With more stripped-down electronics, Fever Ray is positively minimal in contrast to the Knifeâ€™s cacophonic flourishes. With other gloomy songstresses like Zola Jesus and Chelsea Wolfe rising up around the same era, Fever Ray stands out as the achievement of an artist in full command of her craft, one who manipulates her voice just as she would any other electronic effect in her arsenal. – Josh Goller
The Girls’ two albums quickly traced the duo’s artistic growth from an eclectic debut of the year to a dynamic outfit disbanded too soon. Their debutAlbum is still a fresh surprise five years later. Fortunately, the intrigue of Christopher Owens’s cult family history has worn off along with all that justified hype, letting the merits of Album stand out even more clearly. JR White and Christopher Owens’s San Francisco heritage comes out in the simple skater-punk meets Beach Boys vibe, invoking a sound reminiscent of ’60s and ’70s pop as much as snotty garage. Most of these songs are about girls, many written following a nasty breakup, and Owens’s sentiments reveal a broken man garbed in a comfortable, sunny exterior. Girls jumps between a range of touchstones within their relaxed style, matching them all equally well, a tribute to the strength of White’s compositional skills. More immediately notable are Owens’ performances. At least as varied as White’s arrangements, Owens lithely adapts his voice to turns nasal, raggedy and croaking, languid or cool, frequently sung in a manner that suggests a wry grin and cheeky wink. The result is a string of standout tracks; the resigned hope for friendship in â€śLaura,â€ť the shimmering pulse and delicate twang of â€śSummertime,â€ť the optimistic saunter of â€śLauren Marie,â€ť the buzzing surf and giddy vocal on â€śBig Bad Mean Motherfucker,â€ť the splintered atmosphere on the bongo-propelled â€śGod Damned.â€ť Still, â€śHellhole Ratraceâ€ť is positioned as the Album centerpiece for a reason, highlighting all of the production details and emotional weight that make the Girls’ debut such an enjoyable and revelatory experience many listens in. – Michael Merline
Veckatimest might be the most gorgeously terrifying album ever made. For the gorgeous side, itâ€™s surprising that the record was made in little over a year; every note seems precisely placed, and even the moments of ambiance are polished to a warm side. As for the terror, well: â€śWeâ€™ll drop her down to the bottom/ Weâ€™ll drop her down like sheâ€™s nothing.â€ť Thatâ€™s the paradox of Veckatimest; it still stands as Grizzly Bearâ€™s most striking work, in a catalogue full of breath taking moments, but even a cursory look under the surface reveals a nightmare inducing darkness.
Grizzly Bear were fully aware of it, of course, and used the contrast to their advantage. The pristine pop of â€śTwo Weeks,â€ť the chugging locomotion of â€śReady, Ableâ€ť and the dusty strumming of â€śHold Stillâ€ť are all fed by the tension between the albumâ€™s two faces. The same goes for the strange, lurching rhythm of â€śCheerleaderâ€ť or the aforementioned watery doom in â€śDory.â€ť Veckatimest also held two monumental bookends â€śSouthern Pointâ€ť and â€śForeground.â€ť The former was some strange amalgamation of prog and folk with Daniel Rossen proving heâ€™s one of the finest guitarists of the modern era, playing a shimmering lead as the song refuses the usual verse-chorus-verse structure, working on its own strange logic. â€śForegroundâ€ť was perhaps the simplest song on the album, but also the most captivating. A shining piano, Ed Drosteâ€™s wavering tenor and three minutes was all Grizzly Bear needed to make an absolutely devastating album closer. Itâ€™s no wonder they followed the same formula for Shields with the opener-closer combo of â€śSleeping Uteâ€ť and â€śSun in Your Eyes.â€ť
Grizzly Bear made a peculiar mix of folk-pop-rock-experimental and the kitchen sink that was common in the late ’00s. But, with all due respect to Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective, no one did it as well as Grizzly Bear. – Nathan Stevens
Thanks to this 2009 album, Animal Collective went from being a band beloved by music critics and people who arenâ€™t much fun at parties to being indie-rock stars on the level of Arcade Fire and The Shins. Exactly why this is the case is anyoneâ€™s guess. Maybe Deakinâ€™s departure gave the band a different focus, maybe Panda Bearâ€™s summery pop experiments on Person Pitch turned the heads of everyone else in the group. Maybe they wanted to make an accessible record just to see if they could do it. Whatever the case, Merriweather Post Pavilion seems like a flash-in-the-pan moment of utter pop brilliance that may never be replicated.
Animal Collective had begun to peel back the layers of noise in their music as early as Strawberry Jam, but this album nearly erases the schizophrenic collage that had previously been the bandâ€™s trademark. In its place were beautiful melodies and lyrics that evoked a sunny outlook and contentment with domestic bliss, as recounted on â€śGirlsâ€ť and â€śSummertime Clothes.â€ť Thereâ€™s a sharp focus from Panda and Avey Tare here; their happiness is such that they canâ€™t help but express it in the most direct way possible. Now, it seems as if Animal Collective have retreated back into the noise, which is a shame. There was something gorgeous hidden underneath the din, something that affirmed that theyâ€™re as skilled as they are daring. – Kevin Korber
Everybody loves an underdog. Five summers ago, London’s The xx were the saviors of pop music, fighting overproduced and market-driven entertainers with the bleak, lean sound of their debut album. Under a new wave filter with a touch of R&B, the group delivered lyrics not unlike those of other emotionally inexperienced twenty-somethings. “I find shelter, in this way/ Under cover, hide away/ Can you hear, when I say?/ I have ever felt this way.” Romy Madley Croft bemoans this during “Shelter.” Without the depressed ambience, including roaming crickets provided by Jamie Smith and the brooding basslines of Oliver Sim, those lyrics could be from Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez. No disrespect to songwriters like Lorde or Lykke Li, but The xx appeal to us slightly more tormented individuals. The power of these lovelorn verses are heightened when Sim and Croft break into their breathy vocal tangos, exemplified during the latin-guitar arrangements of “Infinity.”
Despite the string of late night and festival appearances that followed their well-acclaimed debut, The xx have remained relatively shielded from the public eye, their careers free of the digital drama that plague many of their pop contemporaries in the age of social media. As they quipped in “VCR,” it is just about doing. In that spirit, they gave voice to the entrepreneurial pursuits of so many bright young adults. The xx isn’t worried about being a little odd, and they will continue to add needed eclecticism to the radio. – Derek Staples