Sound advice: BDN Staffers write about new albums from across the musical spectrum

Posted Aug. 05, 2010, at 6:34 p.m.

Best Coast
“Crazy For You”
(Mexican Summer)

Bethany Cosentino, singer and songwriter for Los Angeles indie-rock duo Best Coast, prefers the direct approach with her music. Her debut album with multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno as Best Coast is short, sharp and sweet, with every track clocking in at three minutes or less and sticking to the classic pop music themes of love and longing. “Crazy For You” follows in the footsteps of a number of recent indie bands, led by Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, who are deeply indebted to the girl groups of the ’60s, but Best Coast have a knack for creating stickier hooks than most of their contemporaries; one listen to opening track “Boyfriend” will leave the chorus lodged in your brain for days. It’s perfect music for a day at the beach or swimming in the backyard pool, but a closer listen reveals a few hidden depths, as well. That “I wish he was my boyfriend” chorus in “Boyfriend” is preceded by Cosentino’s harsh self-examination: “The other girl is not me, she’s prettier and skinnier, she has a college degree, I dropped out when I was 17.” The gorgeous jangle of “Our Deal” masks a dysfunctional relationship: “I wish you would tell me how you really feel, but you’ll never tell me, ’cause that’s not our deal.” These little touches of painful realism make the heartache in Cosentino’s lyrics feel earned and not merely a cheap genre exercise, and help “Crazy For You” feel like something a little weightier than carefree summer fun (although there’s plenty of that here, too).

— TRAVIS GASS

Arcade Fire
“The Suburbs”
(Merge)

The Arcade Fire’s debut album “Funeral” was a soaring, alternately dark and uplifting paean to love, loss and everything in between. Their follow-up album, “Neon Bible,” traded those huge themes for a more overtly political, rocking style. Their third album, “The Suburbs,” focuses on inner turmoil — not the life-or-death kind, but of the day-to-day desperation of living in the wired 21st century world.

There is plenty of grandiose statements — this is the Arcade Fire, after all. If there’s one thing this band aims to do, it’s to move you, whether it’s emotionally or physically. Singalong choruses and heart-stirring melodies are rife throughout the 16 tracks, creating an expansive, Springsteen-esque sound that owes as much to classic rock as it does to experimental indie rock. Lead singer and songwriter Win Butler manages to sound both sad and angry at any given moment, providing a solid core to the compelling melange of pop, folk, album-oriented rock and even a bit of electro. Songs such as “Modern Man” bring an accessible kind of guitar-heavy sound to the table, while the two-part “Sprawl” songs span the gamut of styles, showing just what a mature, gifted group of musicians that band really is.

Though they cemented their place in the pantheon of great contemporary bands six years ago with “Funeral,” the Arcade Fire only further prove with “The Suburbs” that they are truly a band that matters. This sounds like an album informed by decades of rock music — but firmly entrenched in 2010.

— EMILY BURNHAM

M.I.A.
“Maya”
(Interscope)

Sri Lankan-by-way-of-London rapper, singer and-all-around provocateur Maya Arulpragasam has been beloved by the indie rock community since the release of her stellar debut album, Arular, in 2005, but the unexpected mainstream success of her “Paper Planes” single in 2008 launched expectations for her next record into the stratosphere. Her third full-length, “Maya,” at times feels like an attempt to ditch her new, larger audience; it’s willfully difficult, full of crunching digital distortion and industrial noise, and mostly lacking the singalong hooks of her earlier material. The one truly commercial song, “XXXO,” is a catchy electropop ditty about texting that feels weirdly generic; it’s not bad, but it seems like it could have been sung by anyone, which is something you could never say about any previous M.I.A. track. For better or worse, M.I.A. seems much more at home on songs like “Steppin Out,” a murky track that buries her boasting rap deep in the clattering mix and is periodically interrupted by what sounds like a blast of power drill noise. “Maya” is full of fascinating production touches and auditory experiments, but it’s wearying; the songs just aren’t strong enough to warrant the attention given to them. The attitude, the swagger, the simple but captivating tribal electronica of “Arular” is sorely missed on unfocused, rambling tracks such as “Teqkilla” and “Story To Be Told.” There are a few solid songs: frequent collaborator Diplo gives “It Takes A Muscle” a breezy reggae feel, “Born Free” is a bratty blast that samples NYC electropunk duo Suicide, and the airy psychedelia of “Space” represents a promising new direction for M.I.A. But overall, “Maya” feels like a misstep by an artist who previously seemed as though she could do no wrong. Let’s hope she hasn’t abandoned mainstream pop for good; the music world desperately needs M.I.A.’s brand of defiant creativity.

— TRAVIS GASS

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