Coming on like the big-eared, drooling lovechild of some unholy union between New Order and Gang of Four circa 1982, the Rapture may be the cure to indie rock's current malaise.
The New York City quartet was just another struggling art-punk group before The DFA production crew descended upon them and the "House of Jealous Lovers" 12-inch was released (20 years too late). A huge 2002 hit on the indie charts and the dance floor, "House" was all small-child-strangling guitars, enough bass to lift a 747, semi-literate lyrics, and one hell of a (cowbell) dance beat.
"House" is featured on Echoes, but the Rapture is by no means limited to this pure of a fusion. Dance music (opener "Olio") is followed by arty punk rock ("Heaven") is followed by near ballad ("Open Up Your Heart") in a DJ-worthy mix of styles and BPMs. The extended middle portion of the disc -- "The Coming of Spring"/"House"/"Echoes"/"Killing" -- is a thrilling, multidimensional regurgitation of post-punk history, but it also reveals a relative lack of original ideas. Singer Luke Jenner steals outright from Robert Smith, John Lydon and Jon King to such a degree that it's almost difficult to enjoy the brilliance of the Rapture's pastiche.
Still, this represents the band at their best, being played like pawns by The DFA, who add a glorious shine to the drum tracks and a thick layer of grime to the guitars. The Rapture are at their worst when they insist on their autonomy: the slower songs that clutter the album distance the band from The DFA and all that makes them interesting.
That said, preoccupations with abstractions like "authenticity" and "originality" in today's indie rock have led to some rather boring music, and if anything should be given to the Rapture, it's that they exploit old ideas for fresh thrills. The best thing about this band just may be how close they come to being the Backstreet Boys, then barely escape by the thinnest shred of faux punk credibility.
Track to burn: "House of Jealous Lovers"
Grade: B -- Jesse Steichen
The meter glows
Rarely does a band emerge from the womb artistically whole, and rarer still is it for them to wear their influences as comfortably as second skins.
But the members of Philly-based National Eye show a lot more maturity than their previous recording experience -- none -- would suggest. They certainly made a wise choice when they recruited producer Thom Monahan (Pernice Brothers, Silver Jews, Beachwood Sparks) to mix The Meter Glows. The veteran knob-twiddler excels at tweaking familiar sounds into strange new contexts, and the five-piece Eye creates a spacey bed of surreal, quasi-ambient effects to comfort their oddly shaped tales of pathos.
Sound-checking Wire ("Friday Afternoon Theem"), Pavement ("Corridor"), Grandaddy ("Big Animals") and (early) Neil Young ("Just A Dream"), among others, the Eye effortlessly mixes varied styles -- more than once within the same song. The culmination of this alchemy is the sublime six-minute adventure "Husk & Kettle," which lopes along for two minutes at a country amble before veering left into a Syd Barrett-like drone for 90 seconds, then emerging for air in a brief Television howl before slipping back into the cozy canyons of vintage So-Cal country.
Done without a trace of self-consciousness, The Meter Glows is what most debuts only aspire to be -- interesting.
Track to burn: "Friday Afternoon Theme"
Grade: B-- John Schacht
The Rain chronicles the duo Ghazal, comprised of Shujaat Husain Khan (sitar, vocals) and Iranian Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh -- a four-stringed, bowed Persian instrument), in a live, improvisational concert melding Hindustani (North Indian classical) and Persian traditional music. Percussionist Sandeep Das (tablas) accompanies them as the trio step back five centuries to a time when musicians from Persia, accompanying the Islamic invasions of North India, converged with Indian classical music. The resulting influences were absorbed, to an extent, by Hindustani music.
The Grammy nominated recording consists of three intertwined, yet stand-alone tracks called "Fire," "Dawn," and "Eternity." This is evocative world music that can put the listener in a trance while keeping the essence of the two traditions intact. The somber kamancheh is stroked, plucked, and made to cry and sing along with the mood-altering sitar, while the tablas tie up loose ends into a swirl of sound. The combination works well due to the ancient paths crossed by the two traditions, and although they evolved into more distinct styles over the last few centuries, the bonds remain and are here reawakened.
Track to Burn: "Fire"
Grade: A-- Samir Shukla