Kristi Kates 8/31/09
Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires - XL
With such diverse influences as The Thompson Twins, M83, and Prince, electro-popsters Friendly Fires snagged the production skills of Bloc Party/Maximo Park producer Paul Epworth for their first single, Jump in the Pool, a catchy and near-calypso tune, producing the rest of the album themselves. This isnt a bad thing, although Epworth did give the band a narrower focus - a few of the other songs seem a bit wayward in their arrangements - but 80s-inflected tunes like the synth-y Lovesick and the multi-grooved On Board will still get plenty of attention.
Noah and the Whale - Peaceful the World Lays Me Down - Universal
As the albums title might indicate, this set from indie-folksters Noah and the Whale, while sometimes quite peppy, is overall a gentle, almost placid effort, blending heartworn lyric phrasings with layers of eclectic instruments to craft an album that, strangely, can actually be called cute. Singer Charlie Fink takes on the bewildered-nerd role, with his appealing and earnest vocals guiding the way through songs like 5 Atoms in a Molecule, the pretty and simple Give a Little Love, Rocks and Daggers, and the summery (and super-singalongable) first single, 5 Years Time.
Maximo Park - Quicken the Heart - Warp
Post-punk band Maximo Park turned to Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Talking Heads producer Nick Launay to guide their latest effort - their first in four years - and as a result, the new songs are slightly less poppy and a little more funky than their previous sets. Concise in their arrangements and also more forboding than one might expect from this band, songs like Wraithlike with its machine gun-like guitar precision; Overland, West of Suez with its grumbling bass and keytar sounds; and In Another World with its 80s feel definitely make an audio impression.
Portico Quartet - Knee Deep in the North Sea - Vortex
It was up for the Mercury Music Prize alongside a plethora of hipster indie and pop bands, and still managed to garner plenty of attention even though its definitely jazz, albeit more unusual jazz than what youre probably used to hearing. Most of the songs are based around the Hang (similar to a marimba, with a more steel-drum-like sound), over which the quartet paste bass guitar, saxophone, and other well-played elements; a classical feel can be heard on tracks like Pompidou and Cittagazze, while Kon Tiki... and Steps... add a nifty modern jazz-pop sound.