Album reviews: The Civil Wars, BT, Travis

Travis returns with Where You Stand. Travis returns with Where You Stand.

The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars/Columbia Records

After going on hiatus last year due to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition,” Joy Williams and John Paul White have a new album that begs the question: How could something so beautiful have come from two people who don’t speak to each other anymore? The longing and regret that permeates the gritty Americana rock single “The One that Got Away,” and the wistful country ode “Same Old, Same Old”’s story about a relationship ending are filled with autobiographical possibility. The raw, earthy “I Had Me a Girl” and the swirling, ominous rocker “Devil’s Backbone” are reminiscent of 2011’s Barton Hollow, and the way the duo carries a tune is still nothing short of rapturous. There’s a haunting cover of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm,” but the album’s most difficult moment might be in the genial-sounding, laid back closer, “D’Arline,” in which there’s no indication of strife. The album is fantastically bittersweet, and we can only hope that it’s not the final effort from The Civil Wars.


A Song Across Wires/Armada Music

Technologist/composer/DJ Brian Transeau, a.k.a. BT has fused dance with rock, pop, hip-hop, and jazz for years, and created technology that allows him to do things with music that were previously unimaginable. He is back with his first club record in some time, A Song Across Wires, and it is beautiful. BT demonstrates his skill by creating epic, echoing instrumental dance tracks like “Skylarking,” and takes things to a rave-worthy level with hypnotic beats and dubstep pyrotechnics on “Tomahawk.” He deftly switches gears on “City Life,” mixing in synthesized, Asian-style percussion just to keep you on your toes. BT shines as a lyricist and singer on “Love Devine,” taking the track beyond its instrumental foundation, and his all-star list of guest vocalists—including Jes, Emma Hewitt, Nadia Ali and Aqualung—turn in solid performances. BT is still leading the in the genre of original dance music.


Where You Stand/Red Telephone Box

2008’s Ode to J. Smith, was a disaster of a release for the Brit rock band Travis. Taking five years to complete the follow-up, Where You Stand, seems to have paid off, because it ranks among the band’s very best. The echoing piano pop shuffler “Boxes” quietly laments commercialism, while on the piano ballad “The Big Screen” singer Fran Healy sings about how insignificant he sometimes feels. The mid-tempo rock of “Moving” bemoans inevitable continuity despite some of our best-laid plans, and “Mother” lets out glorious piano pop strains. Singer Fran Healy’s delicate, sometimes cracking falsetto juxtaposes wonderfully against the troubling content. The album feels significantly lighter and more upbeat than previous releases, and is organic, subtly engaging, and absolutely gorgeous.