Initial Reactions (2011): Real Estate, Cults, My Brightest Diamond, Memoryhouse, Washed Out

Real Estate – Days – [!!!!!]: Different packaging, same great taste. Band upgrades from one room flat to spacious loft. No matter how you put it, this is a band destined for great things. One thing I tend to insist is on is that I don’t care how great your band name or image is, if you don’t write great songs who really cares? And that’s why I love Real Estate. No sense of a well cultivated image (but not anti-image either, more like image-agnostic). This is a band that exists to make beautiful, chiming surf guitar love pop. You MIGHT find their equals, but where are you going to find tunes BETTER than "It’s Real" or "Out of Tune" this year? I defy you. ("Easy", "Green Aisles", "It’s Real", "Out of Tune")

Cults – Cults – [++]: I was going to say something snarky about how this is 2011’s version of 2010’s obligatory producer/voice combo Sleigh Bells, but there is a tunefulness and a soulfulness here that I didn’t expect and I like this much better than what I heard from Sleigh Bells. I think that’s owing to 2 things, the first being the no so subtle influence of 60’s girl group pop and the second being Madeline Follin’s voice which is certainly up to Brian Oblivion’s arrangements. So instead, I’m going to say that I really wish they’d re-hashed "Fire Woman", cuz I really love that song (honestly, I do). But yeah, think of the idea of Sleigh Bells, but the tunes of She & Him. That’s more like it. ("Abducted", "Walk at Night", "Rave On")

My Brightest Diamond – All Things Will Unwind – [++]: That Shara Worden sure is a talented lady. In some sense, I don’t really think I’m worthy of reviewing this. After all, I’m used to reviewing obvious, accessible pop music, not complex and challenging pseudo-classical compositions. What I’ll say though is that I really appreciate her work. I like it better than I expected, and one extremely positive thing I want to say is that she transcends the "hyper-pop" model that has become so popular and, if I may say so, somewhat cliche. There’s nothing cutesy about this. So musically, I have to acknowledge a certain greatness on Shara’s part. The problem is with me; her style just isn’t my cup of tea. So while I probably won’t be spinning this a great deal, I can wholeheartedly commend it to anyone who’s musical tastes go beyond that of a guy who watched way too much MTV growing up. ("We Added It Up", "She Does Not Brave the War", "I Have Never Loved Someone")

Memoryhouse – The Years EP – [ind]: I have to say, it’s a bit disappointing for the band to essentially "revamp" their self-released EP from last year as their debut proper. Whatever, it’s not like they owed me anything, but I will say that if you can get your hands on the original version of The Years, the versions of those songs are superior. Also, why did they ditch the Enigma-esque cut? I loved that one. Anywho, I’ll pass on this, but I am really looking forward to their debut LP. Oh, and the 7" they released earlier this year ("Caregiver" b/w "Heirloom") is most definitely worth seeking out.

Washed Out – Within and Without – [++]: I can appreciate this. It’s romantic, passionate, warm as a night on the French Riviera. However, what I really like about it is the density. My only touchpoint is Enigma (and maybe a few tracks on comps here and there), but what Washed Out seems to do differently is take those Eden-esque melodies and adorn them to a degree that would make Brian Wilson feel young again. Shades of IDM (you know, Four Tet, Boards of Canada), but more like Ecstatic Dance Music. Call it exotic dreamscapes to drown out the fridge buzz? ("Eyes Be Closed", "Far Away", "A Dedication")

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.