Music lovers, our cup runneth over. The past few weeks offered a veritable onslaught of new material from a variety of artists, in preparation for a deluge of exciting new albums set to drop in the spring. This past Monday alone revealed a host of new singles. Two Argus writers sorted through the offerings and examined the work from the artists that most excite them.
Passion Pit, “Lifted Up (1985)”
Passion Pit’s 2012 LP Gossamer is the sort of record that threatens to ruin an artist. An album so powerful, nuanced, open, and compassionate casts a long shadow, and in many ways Gossamer seemed like the record that Passion Pit was created to make. Its combination of hypermanic instrumentals and intimately dark lyrics brought all of the group’s strengths to the forefront. “Lifted Up (1985)” is not a Gossamer track. Whether or not it is representative of Passion Pit’s upcoming album Kindred remains to be seen, but in many ways it feels like the natural successor. Unabashedly gleeful, the track races forward unashamedly radiating the sort of joy that Gossamer seemed to long for. It’s impossibly danceable, piercingly genuine, and brimming with a healing electricity. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.
Twin Shadow, “I’m Ready”
George Lewis Jr., whose third album under the Twin Shadow moniker, Eclipse, will be dropping in March, has been killing it over the past few months, releasing single after single, each one somehow bigger, bolder, and more generous than the last. “To The Top,” which debuted in April of 2014, felt like a one-in-a-million piece of pop songwriting: grand, emotive, and dynamic. “I’m Ready” seems to take a similar tack, especially in its chorus, which blooms effusively from the churning verses. It’s a wonderfully theatrical moment, but one that feels frustratingly ephemeral and unsustainable. Whereas the explosive heights of previous singles have felt expansive, “I’m Ready” feels strangely cramped and suffocating. It’s a disappointing addition to a slate of fantastic new material.
Sufjan Stevens, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”
Sufjan Steven’s “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” is the first single off his upcoming release Carrie & Lowell, ending an agonizingly Sufjan-less four years. Sufjan is one of my all-time favorite artists. He’s a genuine weirdo with an ear for composition that occupies the space between Kanye West and Leonard Bernstein, the voice of a dusty spiderweb, and a Whitmanesque prowess with language. In this new song, however, only the first two are on display. The instrumental consists solely of gently layered and strummed acoustic guitar, a return to folk sensibilities from an artist whose last album was filled with techno-doom-folk ruminations on schizophrenia. There’s a calm and tranquility to this track that, coupled with abstract and fatalistic lyrics, feels unexpected and powerful. However, at a slight 2:30 track length, this feels like a relatively minor track from an artist who revels in big. It’s nice, pleasant, interesting, and, most importantly, it is new Sufjan Stevens. Worth a listen.
Modest Mouse, “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box”
Modest Mouse, too, has unveiled a new single, from its upcoming album Strangers to Ourselves. This band, too, is responsible for some of my favorite music. When Modest Mouse is on point, the songs are rife with loose, kinetic power, vulgar poetry, and explosions of emotion. “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box” on first listen doesn’t quite have the rough charm that Modest Mouse exuded in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but it does make use of some really nice, polished studio trickery. Jeremiah Green’s lockstep funk beat complements consistently plucked strings, and Isaac Brock’s harmonic-laden, stuttering guitar lines surge high in the mix, giving the album a sense of purpose that some of the previous singles lacked. The song definitely brings something new to the table; the raw, bleeding, thick, lisp-ridden vocals for which Brock is so famous seem oddly clean and precise. I do not know for sure, but I suspect the vocal take has been filtered, strangely, through Auto-Tune. I definitely don’t know how I feel about this one. The most important thing is that, despite the vocal upholstery, this still sounds like a Modest Mouse track. After eight years of silence, it’s good to hear from this band again.