Un Chien’s Where We Belong (Hand Drawn Records)
Un Chien isn’t afraid of a little reverb. Or a lot. The indie-rock quintet is following up its 2013 self-titled EP with more polished production and sleeker songwriting. On Where We Belong, frontman Stephen Beatty’s thoughtful and brooding lyrics are set against a backdrop of ethereal, psychedelic guitars, but the songs never stray too far away from their charming pop sensibilities. Effects-heavy shoegaze elements complement grungy references. Leadoff track “Slow” is anything but. Its driving pulse and urgent delivery give the album an energetic start.
A lot of Beatty’s lyrics are about sifting through his own romantic rubble. “Amarillo,” with its infectious chorus and compelling harmonies, tells the story of reconciling a dissonant and distant relationship. The contagiously catchy, ’60s-guitar-pop-laden “She’s Got It All” is about coming to grips with a self-involved relationship partner. “I Won’t Die Alone” is a lesson in self-reliance in the wake of emotional uncertainty.
The musicianship and songwriting throughout is polished and tightly wound, and it steers clear of clichés. The group reads like a local music all-star team, with Beatty (formerly Stella Rose) plus rhythm guitarist Rachel Gollay (Gollay), keyboardist Kris Knight (Handclaps and Harmonies), drummer Jarrett Lyday, and bassist Taylor Craig Mills (Mills & Co.) filling out the roster.
This is the band’s first release with Dallas label Hand Drawn Records (Exit 360, Bad Mountain, Cut Throat Finches). Fittingly, the album was recorded at Dallas’ Ferralog Studios and produced by Nathan Adamson (Jack Kerowax, The Backsliders, Whiskey Folk Ramblers), whose methods hark back to the hand-made aesthetic of the ’60s.
Where We Belong comes out on January 13, and there will be an album release show on Sat, Jan. 14, at Lola’s Saloon, with label-mates Cut Throat Finches and Dreamy Life Records’ War Party. – Will Reynolds
The Crystal Furs’ The Crystal Furs (Self-Released)
If you didn’t already know this band has fans in Europe, you might imagine how they’d win listeners over across the Atlantic. A lot of the Crystal Furs’ sound recalls Belle and Sebastian, at least when the long-running Scottish chamber pop group steps out of its cold-weather mopes and cranks up the tempo. the Crystal Furs might not have the layered orchestration and arrangements that Belle and Sebastian are known for, but they channel a similar knack for crafting buoyant, articulate pop.
Oddly, while songs like “Weightless” are clad in a ’90s-nodding, indie-pop sheen (which probably looks like a cardigan sweater from Goodwill), the songs are not shameless throwbacks. For a DIY record, there’s certainly a lot of polish, and even when lead vocalist and co-writer Amanda Hand is feeling crazy or sad, her songs bounce and shimmer with her clean, jangly guitars and songwriting partner Kevin Buchanan’s keyboard and organ runs that purr and murmur like a catnipped feline playing in a sunbeam — the effect on your ears and brain is similar to what happens when you start to give into massive, mainstream hits like “Happy” and “Everything Is Awesome.” But just before your teeth start to hurt from the pair’s sugary melodies, the album darkens just past the midpoint with a song called “Nobody Walks,” in which Hand laments the ever-spreading encroach of pavement across the cherished places of her past. She has a subtly plaintive cast to her voice that is neither dour nor sour, but effective in making you want to kick a rock in the direction of the construction equipment turning your favorite pool hall into a 7-Eleven
The Crystal Furs’ eponymous debut is a quick burst of sunny hooks that recall the most triumphant parts of ’90s college rock and alt-radio – the lead guitar line in album midpoint “Tunnel Vision” might make you think about the first time you heard Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock,” for example — and the tracks’ brevity still pack a lot of lyrical punch. It’s the kind of record that’s refreshing to hear in a world that feels increasingly angsty. If life makes you feel like staying inside, stay on the couch and cozy up with the Crystal Furs. – Steve Steward
Starbass Laboratories’ Starbass Laboratories (Dreamy Life Records)
A famous movie poster once reminded theatergoers that in space, no one can hear you scream. It’s a good thing that Starbass Laboratories’ self-titled EP produces a groove you can feel – you know, because of all that time people spend floating in space checking out bands on Bandcamp.
Kidding aside, in their debut recording, the electro duo capture the original live set they’ve been performing for a couple of years ago, committed to digital memory by Starbass at Eagle Audio Recording with producer GW Childs IV at the helm. The result is five tracks of out-there, cosmic dance music.
Starbass Laboratories’ sound is based on an array of vintage synths, drum machines, and sequencers. Superficially, it mines the sonic ore of European sci-fi disco ideas from late the ’70s and early ’80s – if you ever have to entertain a traveler from the Berlin or Milan of 1983 (or 2083, I suppose), this is a good soundtrack for zipping around town with a European time-travler. The music’s pulsing beats and vocoder-shrouded vocals make this a good facsimile of a bygone era. Under the right circumstances – a nice THC brownie or something similar – the random bloops and bleeps will make you feel like you’re inside a game like Defender or Dig Dug.
Unfortunately, the five songs sound not same-y, because the chords change often enough, but sometimes the ideas (most notably in opening track “Digital Age,” which goes on for seven-and-a-half minutes) don’t work when they are stretched thin. Still, Starbass Laboratories’ robotic grooves are hypnotic enough that even when the songs seem to lose steam, you still find yourself nodding along until the end. It’s a good precursor for future space odysseys. – S. S.