Espresso, cheese, soccer, drugs -- there are some things that Europeans just do better. Among those things is that sort of breezy, electronic pop rock branded by Coldplay, Doves and, in the case of the French, Phoenix. You might have caught them on the Lost in Translation soundtrack, or even heard the poppy "Everything Is Everything" off their album Alphabetical. Mais non? Well, if you haven't heard them yet, get off your derriere.
Alphabetical is a pleasant conglomeration of intelligent pop, something very foreign to most of us here in the good ol' U.S. of A. It's not "math rock," and it's not emo. Phoenix works in absolute collaboration -- Thomas Mars' smooth tenor-toned words of bittersweet love and devotion skate over the group's Beta Band-like sound. Phoenix intelligently keeps Mars' vocals from being the focus here, drawing listeners into each song with a veritable alphabet soup of sound before bringing in any vocals. The best example appears on "Victim of the Crime." Here insecurity drips from Mars' lyrics -- but before it gets too saggy, Phoenix drops the vocals altogether and lets the band talk. That's a good thing. Phoenix has mastered the art of talking without saying a word. -- Leah Sottile
Guided by Voices
Half Smiles of the Decomposed FOUR STARS
This is the end, beautiful friend. After
20 years and more albums than I can count, Guided by Voices, that band of ragged rock renegades from Dayton, Ohio, is packing it in. Where does one begin to assess the end of something so consistently terrific and rock-affirming? With a worthy last album, that's where. With Half Smiles of the Decomposed (Matador), front man and guiding light Robert Pollard has chosen to take the band out, not with a whimper but a bang.
"Girls of Wild Strawberries," "Gonna Never Have to Die," "The Closets of Henry" and others are as transcendent and as sparkling as any exalted standard in the massive GbV playbook. Like classics from the band's middle period, where Pollard's jagged, lo-fi masterpieces seem to fall together with the casual grace of ice crystals forming astonishing patterns on a cold window pane, Half Smiles' best moments are those in which child-like wonder collides with a scholarly grasp of what makes good rock. It is, in fact, a glorious swan song, a fitting end cap to a body of work that contains nothing less than some of the greatest rock of the modern era. -- Mike Corrigan