Music Reviews: Chromeo, Coldplay, Michael Jackson, Sharon Van Etten, The Sunshine Underground
Frontiers Staff

White Women

Canadian duo Chromeo are stuck in a huge late-‘70s, early-‘80s timewarp, where the neon is switched on 24/7, synthesizers and keytars are on a non-stop loop and Day Glo leg warmers are required attire. In a world of droning, hipster indie rock and generic techno tarts, Chromeo remains adept at crafting infectious ditties with prismatic melodies and stick-in-your-head lyrics. On the group’s fourth effort, they are still equally and unashamedly influenced by Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, Prince and Chic (and the Flashdance soundtrack?), but not in an annoying “Oh, look how ironic I’m being!” way. Tongue-in-cheek? Absolutely. But ironic? Nope, these boys mean every lick, and their chops prove it. Their songs always feel organic, funky and admirably laced with referential respect. As a bonus, some cool guests like Solange, Toro Y Moi and Ezra Koenig hop aboard for this Solid Gold dance party. Chromeo sits poised to carry Daft Punk’s torch with the perfect #TBT soundtrack for Summer ‘84—er, ‘14! Prime cuts: “Jealous,” “Frequent Flyer,” “Lost on the Way Home”. —Paul V.

Ghost Stories

Any review of the new Coldplay record will inevitably state the obvious: it’s pretty much singer Chris Martin’s manifesto after “consciously uncoupling” from Gwyneth Paltrow. That sets the tone for many predictable “Coldplayisms”—the chiming guitars, the subtle electronics, the elegiac string arrangements and falsetto vocals. These songs have emotional pain slathered all over them, but does all this melancholy make for a compelling listen? While it’s a beautifully produced effort (thanks mainly to Paul Epworth), most of the songs are beatless ballads that barely break a sweat. While the raw honesty is admirable, it remains to be seen if fans will find it captivating or just pleasantly underwhelming. Personally, I find myself falling in the latter category. Prime Cuts: “Magic” “True Love,” “A Sky Full of Stars” —Paul V.

Michael Jackson

I tried to keep an open mind, really. Posthumous releases are fraught with all kinds of traps—nostalgia, revisionism, melancholy. So the best thing about this second, from-the-vaults release by Michael Jackson is that the eight songs retooled and reimagined are better than you’d expect. The Justin Timberlake duet on the single “Love Never Felt So Good” would have fit perfectly on Off the Wall. Song by song, the collaborators—Timbaland, Babyface, etc.—pay homage to Jackson by recreating some of his best tropes. Yet each time a track reminds me of a past glory, I’d rather listen to Off the Wall or Thriller. And one spin of the original tracks—before modern meddling—and you understand why they were never released. Prime Cuts: “Love Never Felt So Good,” “Xscape” —D.L.

Sharon van Etten
Are We There

Is it wrong to envy Sharon Van Etten for the terrible breakup that occasioned the 11 wrenching songs of her fourth release? It’s doubtful anyone would want to go through that hell, yet if the results would be these ripped-from-the-heart songs, who knows? It just might be worth it. Up to now, Van Etten has been a promising, fascinating indie songwriter, better with each new release, growing in leaps and bounds. Now she’s top of her class—her smooth contralto and controlled phrasing detonating the tension in the bloodied soul of her intense heartbreak. It joins X’s Wild Gift, Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights and Joni Mitchell’s Blue in the canon of relationship post-mortem masterpieces. Prime Cuts:  “Afraid of Nothing,” “Your Love Is Killing Me,” “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” —D.L.

The Sunshine Underground
The Sunshine Underground

It’s been four years since the last Sunshine Underground album, and in that time it appears the group has discovered synthesizers. All three TSU albums sound wildly different with one common through line—lead singer Craig Wellington’s belting voice. While the band’s sound has gone from punk to indie rock to dance, his portentous voice still effortlessly finds hook after hook. While the band now sounds more Cut Copy than Killers, the songwriting has improved exponentially. The band crowdsourced funding for this album, and with that in mind, it’s clear they wanted to give fans something special. Fans of Passion Pit or Metronomy will find plenty to love here. Prime Cuts: “Finally We Arrive,” “The Same Old Ghosts,” “Here Comes the Storm” —Dominik Rothbard

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