Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Suburbs - Hey Muse! (2017)

Written by Michael Saulman, posted by blog admin

Few acts from their generation ever successfully married the New Wave and punk rock genres as seamlessly as Minneapolis’ The Suburbs. The band first formed in 1977 and established themselves as one of the creatively vibrant city’s most powerful live acts, a band with genuine presence in the studio, and one of the better overall then-modern rock acts. Despite two decades on the backburner before their 2013 return with a full length album entitled Si Sauvage, The Suburbs’ latest release Hey Muse! sounds like they never took even a year off and crackles with the same imaginative energy distinguishing them throughout their history. The band’s lineup is anchored by two original members – vocalist/keyboardist Chan Poling and drummer Hugo Klaers – but they’ve surrounded themselves with top notch collaborators who give the music a signature sound and capture all of the spirit and daring defining the band’s seminal recordings. Hey Muse! is far from sound and fury signifying nothing. There are commercially minded tracks on Hey Muse and more than a little intelligent artistry that’s far more nuanced than what many of their younger peers are brewing for music audiences.

The title track makes the case for that in memorable fashion. This is one of the album’s best moments from a writing point of view and excels both lyrically and musically. Poling’s delivery makes the most of the exceptional words and emphasizes both the specific and nebulous qualities in the lyric with equally dramatic effect. The guitar work is particularly effective, but it gains a lot from playing off against imaginative drumming that sets quite a pulse for the performance. “Lost You on the Dance Floor” is a much different number, nominally more simple, and the no frills drumming complements the remaining instrumentation while setting a tone from the first. Poling’s vocal is especially good here – he makes a lot of emotional hay from some relatively limited lyrics and his phrasing is key to that. These are the areas, among others, where older singers have a leg up on their younger peers – voices might change or increasingly fail with age, but great singers find ways to compensate for diminishing power. They invariably improve their phrasing, seemingly drawing closer to the emotional experience behind each track, and Poling is no different. His interpretative powers are substantial.

Brass plays a big role on the track “Can’t Take You Back” and spikes its uptempo pace with added color. It’s a no frills track, as are many on Hey Muse, that applies the band’s different musical parts to the composition in a tasteful manner that, nonetheless, pumps and percolates with great energy. The guitar takes on a less dominant role during the penultimate tune “Butterfly” and, instead, colorful keyboard textures and assertive drumming make this number go. It’s arguably the gentlest moment on Hey Muse and makes for a satisfying prelude to the closer. “When We Were Young” has an appropriately elegiac air for a band first formed forty years ago and has a great amount of sonic force while still exhibiting a lot of finesse. It ends Hey Muse! on a strong note and the album, as a whole, hangs together in a way few releases ever do.

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