April showers bring May flowers – and new albums from four of indie rock’s heavyweights. On The Download has your essential rock rundown.
The Band: Broken Social Scene
The Album: “Forgiveness Rock Record” (Arts & Crafts, out now)
The Details: After a trio of albums with longtime producer Dave Newfield, the Toronto collective headed to Chicago for the more subtle sonic guidance of John McEntire (The Sea and Cake, Tortoise). The result is a strong collection sparkling with studio polish, led by the Kevin Drew-sung throaty guitar anthems “World Sick” and “Forced To Love,” and showcasing lovely vocals from new member Lisa Lobsinger, who gets flirty on “All To All.” The band may count Feist and members of Stars, Metric and other Canadian luminaries among its contributors, but they’re at their best together – “Forgiveness Rock Record” requires no apologies.
The Band: The Hold Steady
The Album: “Heaven Is Whenever” (Vagrant, out now)
The Details: The Minneapolis band, whose lyrics and music are more intricate than a season of “Lost” and as anthemic as Springsteen and the E Street Band in their prime, have mellowed a bit on their fifth album. The power chords and soaring solos the band is known for appear proudly on tracks such as “The Weekenders,” but elsewhere, nasal-voiced frontman Craig Finn’s boozy narratives take a softer tone – “We Can Get Together” name-drops underground acts from Heavenly to The Psychedelic Furs and is as much an ode to loving music as it is to falling in love: “Heaven is whenever / we can get together / sit down on your floor and listen to your records.”
The Band: The National
The Album: “High Violet” (Beggars Banquet, out May 11)
The Details: The Brooklyn five-piece first turned heads with 2005’s “Alligator” – a dark, moody guitar effort that landed at the top of this writer’s best-of-the-decade list – and “High Violet” finds them finessing the more expansive arrangements they showcased on 2007’s “Boxer.” The rising band found itself on the front page of The New York Times’ Web site in advance of the album’s release, and not without good reason. Songs such as “Terrible Love” and “Afraid of Everyone” are among the group’s most hypnotically paranoid, and while more of the songs could use the jolt of energy they’ll certainly get when the band plays them live this summer, the closing run of “Conversation 16,” “England” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” finds the album ending on a “High” note indeed.
Definitely Download: “Bloodbuzz Ohio” MP3
The Band: The New Pornographers
The Album: “Together” (Matador, out now)
The Details: Another Canadian supergroup – and a very different album. While Broken Social Scene favors spacey, high-fidelity arrangements, the New Pornographers (which includes Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar) made their name on keeping their bouncy power-pop simple, short and sweet. Though recent albums “Twin Cinema” and “Challengers” found them slowing things down and turning to new sounds, “Together” brings back the band’s early energy while still embracing the addition of instruments beyond the rock basics of guitars, drums, bass and keyboards. It’s hard to find a bum track here, but the surprising best moment comes not from frontman Carl Newman or the band’s other stars, but from singer Kathryn Calder, who lives up to the title on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk.”
Definitely Download: “Your Hands (Together)” MP3