Most years the Album Analyzer could hibernate through January and not miss a notable project, but that’s not the case in 2015.
Releases by Belle and Sebastian and Panda Bear disrupted the usual mid-winter music slump where only corny Christmas compilations and awkward duet albums hit the market.
“Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance” by Belle and Sebastian
The content of a story matters little if the storyteller tells it well enough.
“Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance,” Belle and Sebastian’s ninth studio album, combines the unforgettable melodies of chart-topping pop stars with storytelling only music’s best lyricists could deliver. These contrasting characteristics make the collection accessible for large audiences but also intellectual enough for those seeking more than just a catchy tune.
“Intellect and ambition fell away and locked me up for my own good,” lead singer Stuart Murdoch sings on the album’s opener, “Nobody’s Empire,” setting up the character’s inner conflict over jangling chords.
And the album features turmoil throughout.
With “The Party Line,” track three, Belle and Sebastian incorporate unrest in the song’s subject reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Like that classic, the narrator bemoans the character and shows no hesitancy in pointing out his or her faults. The upbeat instrumental creates a strange clash with dark, tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
The album’s last half, however, takes strange turns that detract from the band’s vivid stories.
“Enter Sylvia Plath’s” disco-driven keyboards drown out the song’s characters and their life lessons; “Play for Today” sounds like the worst attempt at a Phoenix song since, well, Phoenix’s last album.
“Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance” treads a divide between providing listeners with well-developed snippets of humanity and also over-relying on self-indulgent, out-of-place instrumentals. Take a listen to this LP because of the beginning’s lyrics — but don’t be surprised when Murdoch’s words become inaudible, hiding under a mess of horns and synths.
Three out of Five Suns
“Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” by Panda Bear
Just when it seemed like Animal Collective-esque, psychedelic sounds faced extinction, Panda Bear removed them from the endangered species list with his latest LP.
“Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper,” Panda Bear’s fifth studio album, stands out as 2015’s best release so far. The collection maintains unity, but all tracks exhibit concepts that make them more than just pit stops leading to the final destination.
“Sequential Circuits,” “Mr. Noah” and “Crosswords” usher in the album with organic sounds and layered keyboards under Panda Bear’s stretched-out syllables. However, in sections where “Sequential Circuits’” rhythm stalls, “Mr. Noah’s” instrumental drives forward through the verses, refrain and instrumental break. And “Crosswords” takes contrasting aspects of both those songs, meshing them into an up-tempo yet dark track.
Like with these three songs, listeners hear similar snippets throughout “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” — but never in the exact same way.
Panda Bear’s eclectic collection demands attention because each song achieves what people strive to do: have the ability to work with others in the larger scheme of things but also stand out as individuals.
Song six, “Boys Latin,” embodies this idea as well as any of the album’s tracks. Here, listeners can probably pick out motifs from all five songs prior to it. Panda Bear expands on them, though, and the finished product sounds like a mix of ‘90s British bands like the Verve and Animal Collective albums like “Merriweather Post Pavilion.”
Unlike other cohesive albums, you can listen to “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” in order or on shuffle, and that’s one aspect that makes it an early candidate for 2015’s best album.
Four and a Half out of Five Suns