Bloc Party — Intimacy – Vice Records

After falling victim to the sophomore slump with last year’s A Weekend in the City, Bloc Party boldly set themselves on a new path with the electronic backbone of their one-off single “Flux.” The details of their third LP Intimacy were even more of a surprise, as they announced the completion of the album and a digital release at the end of August. Intimacy picks up where “Flux” left off, with Bloc Party sounding less like a rock band and more like house music. A wall of electronic beats clashes with deep, chanting backing vocals on “Zephyrus” and “Ion Square,” as singer Kele Okereke painfully laments romance gone wrong, his voice drenched in effects. After a number of uninspired ballads dragged down their last album, Intimacy offers hope that Bloc Party are making the slow songs work. A twinkling xylophone highlights the haunting “Signs” despite Okereke’s brutal lyricism, and Okereke and lead guitarist Russell Lissack make their axes race on “Halo” and “Trojan Horse,” in a similar fashion to the band’s propulsive debut. Intimacy boldly announces itself as a successful departure wherein Bloc Party wisely destroy the mold and refuse to be typecast.— ROB DUFFY

Rating: VVVV

Elliott Brood — Mountain Meadows – Six Shooter Records

The pounding sounds of Torontonian alt-country trio Elliott Brood conjure the ghost towns of Nevada in the days of the American Old West. Sounding like a whiskey-soaked 1930’s prospector, singer Mark Sasso belts out fierce ruminations amid banjo licks and distorted guitars on their sophomore album, Mountain Meadows. They’re not without some modern touches (a gun-slinging Jeff Tweedy comes to mind), but Elliott Brood trades on historicity— the namesake of their LP, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was a terrifying 1850’s slaughter of 100 pioneers at the hands of a Mormon militia during the Utah War. It’s the type of gruesome imagery that would do Cormac McCarthy proud, as the band broods over the final resting place of their bones on the visceral opener, “Fingers and Tongues.” Other highlights, like “Write It All Down For You” and “Without Again,” showcase the band’s storytelling ability and grand melodic theatrics. Like the belly of a beer-swilling rancher, the album sags a bit in its mid-section, but it rebounds with “Miss You Now,” which mimics the bounce of a horse’s trot across a desert terrain. Just like the old west, Elliott Brood is manifestly destined to knock your spurs off, so put down that jug of malt whiskey and allow this band of bumpkins to gun you down. —JUSTIN BEAUBIEN

Rating: VVVV

Underoath — Lost in the Sound of Separation – Tooth & Nail Records

In the interest of full disclosure, I kind of enjoyed Underoath’s breakthrough album They’re Only Chasing Safety—if only for the earnestness shining through their catchy, Christian-themed screamo. The band’s follow up, Define the Great Line, saw the Tampa-based six piece thrown headlong in a post-hardcore direction. Perhaps this dramatic shift was wrought by a text message from God telling them they were going to hell for pandering to innocent 16-year old girls. Underoath returns this fall with Lost in the Sound of Separation, adding textbook experimental flourishes to their heavier sound. The production by Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and Matt Goldman (As Cities Burn, The Chariot), invites itself to a reverb party and never leaves, making for meandering passages of tremolo strumming and electronic samples that feel much more pointless than nuanced. Lyrically, the album charts familiar territory as vocalist Spencer Chamberlain employs trademark spiritual references that come off as borderline sententious. Overall, this collection of songs accomplishes very little other than fulfilling Underoath’s self-aggrandizing prophecies. Here’s hoping that next time the big man upstairs decides to alter the outcome of a sporting event instead. — JP KACZUR

Rating: VV

Saint Alvia — Between the Lines – Stomp Records

This upstart Burlington mall-punk outfit scored a Juno nomination for their self-titled debut, but have since dropped the “Cartel” from their name with the release of their sophomore album. Rising from the ashes of southern Ontario underground legends Jersey and Boys Night Out, the guys in Saint Alvia are veterans who know what it takes to win over legions of suburban teenagers. Yet it never seems like they’re having any fun. There are cheesy tactics galore, be it surf-punk vibes (“Trouble Keeps Me Busy”) or annoying falsetto vamping (“Roll With It”), that consistently reach for the most obvious hook. They add predictable ska touches on “Decadencia de Civilizacion,” which also includes a pathetic Facebook reference (“His status switched to ‘It’s Complicated’”). But the most unforgivable misstep is “Americafioso,” which rails against Canada’s Security and Prosperity Partnership with the United States, including embarrassing overdubs of a speech by anti-SPP advocate Gordon Laxer, who is name dropped in the outro. Through sheer lack of personality, Between the Lines should be considered an encyclopedic document on how to make a generic pop punk album.— RD

Rating: Vv

Okkervil River — The Stand Ins – Jagjaguwar

Suffice to say that Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff is no longer “listening to Otis Redding at home during Christmas.” Four successful albums later, Sheff is on to bigger things, dwelling on rock n’ roll politics on 2007’s The Stage Names instead of girl trouble. This month’s The Stand Ins serves as 2007’s follow-up, preoccupied with what a musician means to the audience. Sheff is plenty self-deprecating, and the results are rarely sunny: on “Pop Lie” the man accuses himself of being “the liar who lied in his pop song.” Eschewing acoustic guitar for glockenspiels, harpsichords, and bouncy percussion, the band seems to have moved on from the orchestral grandness of 2005’s nearly flawless Black Sheep Boy. Sadly, no track can match the poignancy or flat out-catchiness of “Black,” the band’s now semi-infamous ode to incest victims and vengeance. With his perceptive eye focused on his indie-rock star self, Sheff’s self-flagellation is almost winning. And if he wants to accuse his fans of “lying when you sing along,” can you blame us?


Rating: VVVV

The Chemical Brothers — Brotherhood – Virgin Records

The Chemical Brothers’ new singles collection, Brotherhood, has appeared at a time when electronic music is morphing into the kind of mainstream genre no one ever anticipated it could become. Consequently, the disc functions as a welcome reminder of big-tent style electronica. For me, it all comes down to the fifth track on this collection, “Believe,” a massive attack of sequenced whistles and “huhs,” as the band’s signature wah-wah synth churns behind a vocal track that proclaims, “I needed to believe in something/I needed to believe.” The singles spanning the Brothers’ decade-and-a-half long career echo a dancing-in-the-moonlight kind of free love. And in a scene full of guest lists and cool clothes, it’s refreshing to see such a flood of fun memories come back to electronic music. —DAN EPSTEIN

Rating: VVVV

The Varsity