Much as New York bands from Interpol to A Place To Bury Strangers have tried, the American indie scene’s taste for music that aesthetically favors Europe seems insufficient to challenge the guileless, rumpled Americana dominating the airwaves. Still, this spring’s music release schedule is chock-full of some of the strangest, most deliciously enigmatic masterstrokes from those across the Atlantic.
Firstly, now that Finland has snagged top prize in Newsweek‘s 2010 Best Countries survey, perhaps the cognoscenti will come to see Helsinki as more than a flight connection on the way to Moscow — even spend a day or two soaking up its design and music scene. Hot export Rubik release the unashamedly proggy Solar this spring, and that distinctly multifarious Finnish spirit makes it a consistently startling listen. The Sgt. Pepper horns of the album’s intro lead into the soaring, jubilant strains of “World Around You,” which then lead on to the magnificently bizarre Medievalism of “Sun’s Eyes.” Radiohead’s stamp is all over it, especially in the eerie anxiety of “Not A Hero,” and the pretty, melancholic “Storm In A Glass of Water” sounds rather a lot like Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” — that estimable chap also apparently an overriding influence. It’s wonderfully, singularly madcap.
Both members of The Raveonettes might call America home now, but their latest and tellingly titled album, Raven in the Grave, is like all your favorite 4AD bands gathered for a summit on the ethereal possibilities of sound. With the guitars set to “Slowdive” rather than “J&M Chain,” rock & roll’s sexiest Danish duo glide through eerie, echo-drenched elegies and mystical, gossamer love serenades (“Can’t I fall awake now?” they earnestly but mysteriously entreat on “Forget That You’re Young”). Easily the most romantic, proudly gothic record ever given a springtime release, if you’ve ever thought of picnicking amongst the spires of Elsinore Castle, this is your soundtrack.
Emilie Simon isn’t goth, but she certainly holds no small amount of appeal for those who’ve spent time navigating the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Enormously popular in France but currently residing in Brooklyn, the Kate Bush comparisons have likely become tiresome to her. But, with her affected, beautifully operatic trill and staccato piano attack, they’re pretty much unavoidable. Yet where Bush was probably more of a harm to herself, psychologically, Mlle. Simon just might be a danger to the rest of us. In fact, her astonishing voice is perfectly suited to the anxiety ridden tales on her astonishing new album, The Big Machine. When she howls “Welcome to Chinatown!” you’d think she was the gatekeeper of Hell itself; and at the conclusion of “Cycle,” as she sighs, “No one came to me and took my soul,” you wonder if she’s expressing relief or daring you to be the one to do it. A riveting album by a truly magnificent eccentric, her live show, where she dons a “bionic prosthetic” is also strongly recommended for a full dose of her brilliant outlandishness.
Finally, no one would ever mistake a song by The Horrors for a lost Wilco track. So that Le Chef L’Horreur Faris Badwan would take a break from his grimly fiendish bandmates to do the musical mating dance with Italo-Canadian soprano Rachel Zeffira (who has already graced the stage at Milan’s La Scala) seems perfectly reasonable. A singular marriage of 60’s girl group pop and Mitteleuropa etherea, their new duo Cat’s Eyes (debut album due in May) is sort of like Martha & The Vandellas by way of the Cocteau Twins. Badwan proves, like Nick Cave before him, that behind every gruesome murder balladeer, there’s a hopeless, dark-hearted romantic. They’ve already played (would we kid you?) The Vatican in Rome–so check your local church listings for tour information.