March Music Reviews: Bright Eyes, Toro Y Moi, PJ Harvey

Katie Costello, Lamplight (Tiny Tiny) Ignore the sudden sensation of being thrown into an iPod commercial, because the feel-good, piano-heavy melodies on Katie Costello’s sophomore album are instantly offset by quirky lyrics and rich, reverberating vocals. Costello’s first record, Kaleidoscope Machine, which she released independently at the age of 17, was a collection of sing-along anthems tailor-made for histrionic teen dramas like One Tree Hill and 90210. With all that CW-approved angst now out of her system, Costello has crafted a more mature, evolved sound, drawing likenesses to Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple. But with her fresh point of view, Costello has carved out a space all her own. —Nadeska Alexis

Acrylics, Lives and Treasure (Hot Sand/Friendly Fire Recordings) On their full-length debut, Acrylics’ Molly Shea and Jason Klauber retread the same sonic terrain—’70s soft rock and ’80s new wave—they first explored to dreamy effect on their 2008 EP, All of the Fire, which was produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. Slow, oozing harmonies and sinewy synthesizer beats form a backdrop for tales of sticky August nights spent with a lover. The album’s most successful moments find the Brooklyn-based duo sharing vocal duties on tracks like “Counting Sheep,” where Shea, a smooth and hypnotic presence, makes room for Klauber’s folk-tinged voice, creating an unpredictable amalgam of oddball sounds. —NA

The Go! Team, Rolling Blackouts (Memphis Industries) The Brighton collective’s third album—their breakthrough, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, was released in 2004—is a field study in genre. Hopscotching between styles and eras, often on the same track, Rolling Blackouts is a jubilant journey through the land of Nostalgia. From the girl-group sheen of “Ready to Go Steady,” to the boogie-down, brassy rap (courtesy of in-house emcee Ninja) on album opener and lead single “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.,” the Go! Team remains committed to a retro aesthetic that sounds new. The album’s strongest track, “Buy Nothing Day,” features vocals from Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, and recalls the best summer you’ve ever had. —Ben Barna

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant) PJ Harvey has left Brooklyn rooftops behind and returned her focus to Britain. The UK looms large in Let England Shake, a haunting collection of 12 songs that trade introspection for an outward-looking take on the fog, graveyards, and ghosts of her homeland. The seminal indie songstress has produced an album—which she recorded in a 19th-century church in Dorset—that defies comparison, both with other artists and her own earlier work. On “The Glorious Land,” the sharp strains of a bugle give way to lyrics praising fields of wheat, while “England” strikes a more personal note, with Harvey singing of “withered vines reaching from the country that I love,” a possible allusion to her prolific two-decade career. Harvey is at her best with “Written on the Forehead,” a ska-influenced track that evokes a hopeful counterpoint to northern austerity. Inscrutable, engaging, and endlessly satisfying, this is pure Polly Jean, through and through. —Victor Ozols

Bright Eyes, The People’s Key (Saddle Creek) After settling on a roster of permanent musicians in the once-revolving cast of Bright Eyes players, Conor Oberst insists that his seventh studio album will be the band’s last. It’s appropriate, then, that The People’s Key is all about time—time travel, specifically. Instead of building on the Gram Parsons influences heard on Cassadaga, Bright Eyes’ last offering, The People’s Key embraces the opulence of Bowie glam and psychedelic rock. Carla Azar from Autolux and the Faint’s Clark Baechle are among the many guests who join in on an album that Oberst says was heavily influenced by dystopic literary icons, from Kurt Vonnegut to Margaret Atwood. —CG

Toro Y Moi, Underneath The Pine (Carpark) We’ll never understand why recording artist Chazwick Bundick felt he couldn’t use his real name to release his sneakily addictive music, but Toro y Moi, the moniker under which he prefers to put out his lo-fi tunes, will do just fine. Underneath the Pine, the South Carolina native’s second effort with Carpark records, finds 24-year-old Bundick returning to chill-wave, a controversial mini-genre that seems to undersell the record’s smart layering and instrumentation. Siphoning from a depthless reservoir of disco nostalgia on tracks like “New Beat,” and fellow halcyon rockers like Neon Indian and Animal Collective on others, Toro y Moi’s songs mix and master everything from European house to Ennio Morricone. —Megan Conway

Darwin Deez, Darwin Deez (Lucky Number) They say the devil is in the details, which is perhaps why Darwin Deez’s self-titled debut sounds so heavenly—it eschews minutiae. Quick-clipped melodies and a drum machine are all Deez needs to ignite his pared-down sound, bubbling with chipper lyrics that are neither affected nor adolescent. Deez, a native New Yorker, is a nerdier Devendra Banhart, his cheerful façade lessening the blow of “The Bomb Song” when he sings, “I heard about 6,900 people have died.” Along with critical acclaim, the ringletted singer-songwriter’s straightforward manner and scratchy guitars have earned him comparisons to the Strokes’ Albert Hammond, Jr. and Adam Green. They should all jam together and bring a whole new meaning to the term “hair band.” —Cayte Grieve

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