September Music Reviews: Ra Ra Riot, Of Montreal, Klaxons

Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard (Barsuk) It would be easy to dismiss the music of Ra Ra Riot as frothy chamber pop, but some serious heartache is folded into their optimistic harmonies. On The Orchard, their second album, that darkness is more pervasive than ever. Recorded in upstate New York, it’s clear the quintet was influenced by their pastoral surroundings: “Boy” and “Too Dramatic” bloom with dizzying simplicity, and “Shadowcasting” sounds more sunny than somber. But idyllic images of oaks and soothing coldwater streams are offset by lyrics that outline feelings of lust, resentment, and mortality, like the discovery of spilt blood in the title track. Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla mixed 9 of the album’s 10 tracks, but the remarkable “Do You Remember” comes courtesy of Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, vocalist Wes Miles’ partner in their Discovery side project. —Cayte Grieve

Klaxons, Surfing the Void (Polydor) When Klaxons’ Mercury Prize–winning first album, Myths of the Near Future, debuted in 2007, it was hastily categorized as a subgenre neologistically called new rave. Three years later, the British foursome’s sophomore effort strays even further from conventional musical taxonomy. Kaleidoscopic, echoing vocals are staggered between distorted guitars, resulting in an anxiety-ridden, 10-track odyssey reminiscent of Muse’s Black Holes & Revelations. While a number of the songs sound like sci-fi anthems (“Extra Astronomical,” “Valley of the Calm Trees”), there are also more pop-minded inclusions (“Same Space,” “Twin Flames”) and even a relatively tranquil ballad (“Future Memories”). Still, listening to the album on ’shrooms is not recommended. —Eiseley Tauginas

Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now (Warner Bros.) Jenny and Johnny are the 2010 reincarnation of early-career Lemonheads with a dusting of Ben Kweller and Mutations-era Beck. This is a good thing. Rilo Kiley frontwoman and Saddle Creek icon Jenny Lewis flexes her muscles on this scrappy side project with boyfriend and longtime collaborator Johnathan Rice. On their eminently listenable debut, I’m Having Fun Now, the pair nails the mix of humor and emotion achieved by Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando on It’s a Shame About Ray, with 11 playful songs on topics as varied as running with scissors, the duplicitous nature of pet snakes, and the couple’s resemblance to a New Yorker cartoon. On the beautifully twee “While Men are Dreaming,” Lewis sings about the seductive utopia of our unconscious lives, while “Animal” finds Rice musing on the fine line separating man from beast. Clever, thoughtful, and romantic, it’s an album that reveals something new with every listen. —Victor Ozols

David Andrew Sitek, Maximum Balloon (Interscope) TV on the Radio’s David Andrew Sitek is a master multi-tasker. When the Baltimore-born instrumentalist and songwriter isn’t busy producing albums for Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars, he’s working on his own projects, like his new solo album, Maximum Balloon. With hints of TV on the Radio’s psychotropic flavor, this explosion of buzzy, borderline-disco dance tracks will be equally at home in Brooklyn basements and on fashion runways. Vocals courtesy of Karen O, Katrina Ford, and rapper Theophilus London pepper the diverse blend of rock and electro beats. —Kelly Johnstone

Of Montreal, False Priest (Polyvinyl) Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal’s unhinged frontman, has rocked in his birthday suit in Vegas and frolicked with the fuzzies on Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba!, but never has he led the Georgia-based band to a studio other than his own Apollinaire Rave—until now. False Priest, Of Montreal’s tenth album, was rerecorded, mixed, and engineered at legendary Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, and it’s masterfully complex. With analog equipment, geeky tweaks, and Freddie Mercury falsetto, it marches—like a baton-twirling majorette—across rock, disco, and R&B’s turf with upbeat, psychedelic purpose. It sounds, quite possibly, like “unicorns eating baby meat,” a choice lyric from their song “Like a Tourist.”—Megan Conway

Blonde Redhead, Penny Sparkle (4AD) Since the release of their 2007 album, 23, Blonde Redhead has made nary a blip on our radar. But after a three-year respite, the atmospheric rock trio is back and more mesmerizing than ever. Twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace coax listeners into a heavy-hearted dreamscape, transporting their already ambient sound closer to Freudian realms. Whereas tracks like “Here Sometimes” feature nearlypalpable drum beats and tender vocals, the title track is rife with My Bloody Valentine–inspired reverb. Kazu Makino’s entrancing voice continues to find the humanity in all that synth. —Hillary Weston

Land ofTalk, Cloak and Cipher (Saddle Creek) In early 2009, Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell underwent surgery for a hemorrhagic polyp on her left vocal cord. While we have no idea what that means, it was serious enough to silence the singer for months. What a difference a year makes. On Cloak and Cipher, the Montreal trio’s second LP, Powell’s voice smolders with newfound warmth. On songs like “Swift Coin” and “Color Me Badd,” aggressive guitars and precision drumming guide her to a cathartic crescendo. On the album’s slow-burning final track, “Better and Closer,” Powell coos repeatedly, “I need you,” and we believe her. Traces of Canadian indie rock confederation Broken Social Scene abound (Powell is a member), but the real credit goes to her surgeon—a genius, clearly. —Ben Barna

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