Death Cab for Cutie reached the pinnacle of prettiness with 2003’s “Transatlanticism” and 2005’s “Plans.” “Codes and Keys,” on which DCFC loses some of its foothold, gets off to a lovely start with “Home Is a Fire” and keeps the flame burning on the title tune, “Unobstructed Views,” “Underneath the Sycamore” and “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” But “Codes and Keys” is lacking in something new, and instead finds the band safely plying its trade without taking unnecessary chances.
On “Some Nights,” fun. lives up to its name, slicing into a different side of the pretty pop pie, topping it with a generous dollop of whipped nostalgia. The Queen influence is front and center, beginning with the “Some Nights Intro” and continuing through the title track and hit single “We Are Young” (on which they are joined by Janelle Monae). But that doesn’t mean fun. gets lost in the shuffle. On the contrary, the group firmly establishes its identity on “We Are Young,” “It Gets Better” “All Alone” and “One Foot,” making “Some Nights” a thoroughly satisfying album.
Vacationer, aka Kenny Vasoli, is joined by an assortment of musicians for the 11-track disc “Gone.” The subtly beat-powered opener “Everyone Knows” makes for even more hip-swaying cuts, such as “Good As New” and the aptly titled “Trip.” Like fun., Vacationer incorporates a hip-hop vibe throughout, most audibly on “No Rules” and “Farther,” while “Dreamlike” lives up to its title.
Lost in the Trees’ fittingly mournful “A Church That Fits Our Needs” is a 12-song cycle about the life and death of the mother of LITT’s Ari Picker. The work is both tragic and triumphant. LITT remains true to its “orchestral folk” roots, incorporating percussion and stringed instruments to create a timeless effect, as immediate as it is nostalgic. Dramatic without being draining, each song is as strong on its own as the whole is woven together. Standouts include “Red,” “Icy River,” “Garden,” “An Artist’s Song” and “Vines.”
String ensembles interpreting contemporary tunes are nothing new. The Section Quartet did it with songs by The Postal Service, Radiohead and David Bowie, to name a few, while 2Cellos did the same for songs by U2, Nine Inch Nails, Kings of Leon and others. Portland Cello Project shifts its gaze to hip-hop, with covers of songs by Lil Wayne (“She Will”), Jay-Z and Kanye West (“That’s My Bitch”), Outkast (“Hey Ya!”) and Talib Kweli (“Get By”), finding beauty in unexpected places.
Boldly wearing their Cocteau Twins-influences on their polka-dotted sleeves, Beach House continues to blossom on the Baltimore duo’s fourth full-length CD “Bloom.” Victoria Legrand’s lyrics are more comprehensible than Elizabeth Fraser’s, and her voice is more earthy than ethereal. But songs such as “Myth” and “Wild” sound as though they could have been discovered tucked away in a Cocteau Twins vault. That’s not to say that Beach House gets swept away. Their mark is as strong as ever on “The Hours” and “On the Sea.”
Modern pop music doesn’t get much prettier than the Americana-inflected music of Seattle sextet Fleet Foxes. “Helplessness Blues,” the band’s second full-length disc, is a glorious recording that could have been released 45 years ago. The 12 songs, especially “Battery Kinzie,” “Montezuma,” “The Cascades” and “Grown Ocean,” sound fresh and familiar at the same time.