Album reviews: Heron & Crane, Vivian Girls, G Flip, Ikebe Shakedown, and Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney's "The Center Won't Hold" is a bit of a letdown. Publicity image. Sleater-Kinney’s “The Center Won’t Hold” is a bit of a letdown. Publicity image.

Heron & Crane

Firesides (Hibernator Gigs)

Denizens of Charlottesville’s indie scene know Dave Gibson from power-pop exponents Borrowed Beams of Light and Weird Mob, plus synth soundscapers Personal Bandana. Here, Gibson and Columbus, Ohio, buddy Travis Kokas split the difference, with sweet results. The mostly instrumental Firesides is a fetching mélange of melody and texture, nature and geometry, as delicate guitar figures intertwine with murmuring keyboards while drum tracks rustle underneath (becoming the motorik backbone of the Byrds-meet-Delia Derbyshire “Stars Over Nara”). Firesides
is hypnotic yet sociable, and well worth hanging with. [8.8]

Vivian Girls

Memory (Polyvinyl)

Following their 2008 debut, the Vivian Girls’ aesthetic—surfy post-punk with girl group cuteness and gothic brooding—seemed to crop up everywhere, and while the band’s spinoffs (La Sera, Best Coast, Babies) carried the ball in different directions, the Vivian Girls’ DNA was always detectable. On Memory they revisit their classic style with a squall of sound that’s aggressive and protective at the same time, obscuring intimate lyrics behind feedback. And although “Waiting in the Car” closes the album in a poppier mode, the Girls’ moodier side prevails on Memory. It isn’t an apotheosis of all that put the Vivian Girls on the map, but it’s nice to have ‘em back. [7.0]

G Flip

About Us (Future Classic)

With her giant glasses, baggy tees, and stringy hair, Melbourne’s G Flip does Taylor Swift’s nerd character better by a mile. But it’s still a character—Flip’s a pop diva who specializes in The Big Ballad, especially of the “I’m soooo screwed up but will inevitably triumph” species. Flip’s got a potent voice, mixing Lorde and Camila Cabello, and she can turn a phrase. But the songs are Hallmark-card lame, all bombast and wide gestures, and not even the sprightly, funky beat on single “About You” can hide the plodding and plotting on top. [6.1]

Ikebe Shakedown

Kings Left Behind (Colemine)

Members of New York septet Ikebe Shakedown have played with Sharon Jones & the
Dap-Kings, so you kinda know what to expect, and you get it right from the top. “Not Another Drop” opens with solid funk from the trap kit and congas
before a pair of guitars enter,
one ringing out tremoloed chords, and one chunking away, while a snaky bass line insinuates itself. And then, the horns…they enter, playing an unremarkable melody in unison, and over the course of the album they never stop; they just rest, fitfully. However each song starts, you know the horns are crouching, waiting to unleash their staccato barks to squelch whatever psychedelic guitar solo or evocative harpsichord might be fighting for daylight. The only relief comes on the brief closer “Not Another Drop (Reprise),” featuring a tasty slide guitar that makes you wonder what else you missed. [5.9]


The Center Won’t Hold (Mom + Pop)

The third Sleater-Kinney album since their post-Woods hiatus (and apparently their final outing with drummer Janet Weiss), The Center Won’t Hold begins with some lumbering, retro-industrial percussion, and the classic S-K punk throttle that emerges feels like it’s fighting out of tar pits. Sadly, this is a portent. There are hooks on The Center Won’t Hold, but in pumping up the band’s razor-sharp grooves, producer St. Vincent dulls them. The lower-key “Restless” is an exception, and the band’s always-bracing vocals come close to saving the day elsewhere. But the only joy I find is the breezy, danceable “LOVE,”—a little rock ‘n’ roll fun, and a tantalizing taste of where this album could have gone. [6.1]

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