Listen Up!: Arcade Fire, Foster The People, Declan McKenna, The Pet Shop Boys, Vera Blue

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday August 1, 2017

Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire releases their fifth studio album, and it's white hot! Foster the People releases their third studio album, 12 tracks of their beat-driven indie pop inspired by the '60s psychedelic influence. The Pet Shop Boys set loose a landmark series of three reissues of their Parlophone studio albums from 1985 right up to 2012, featuring dozens and dozens of songs. English singer/songwriter Declan McKenna parlays his prestigious success as winner of the 2015 Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition into his first studio release, following two 2016 EPs. And Australian electro-folk artist Vera Blue (Celia Pavey) releases her debut album, 14 songs arranged in three chapters that chronologically trace the development of the songwriter.

"Everything Now" (Arcade Fire)

Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire -- the husband and wife team of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, with Win's younger brother William Butler, plus Richard Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Jeremy Gara -- releases their fifth studio album, 13 tracks of varying lengths -- many riffs off each other. It was co-produced by Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter, with Steve Mackey, Geoff Barrow and Markus Dravs. And man, is it good! They kick things off with "Everything Now," the intro and cut, which has the vibe of an inspirational soundtrack from an '80s teen movie. Ironically, they also end the album with this track. Sirens and clap-tracks open "Signs of Life" is a funky tune that sounds a lot like the song you'd use to psych yourself up for a night at the club. "Creature Comfort" features some intense introspection about body image, fame, and the perils of suicidal ideation, as they sing, "Some boys hate themselves, spend their lives resenting their fathers/ some girls hate their bodies, stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback, sing 'God make me famous/ if you can't, just make it painless.'" The thumping "Peter Pan" urges you to "Come on baby, take my hand/ we can walk if we don't feel like flying, we can live while we feel like dying." The pacing of "Chemistry" reminds one of the Oingo Boingo hit "Dead Man's Party." Two short tracks with a double-play on the title make up the complete cut of "Infinite Content"; one a fast-moving cut about a never-ending supply of material, and the other a slow strummer about being happy forever, i.e. 'infinitely content.' "Electric Blue" is an electronica-studded, medium-paced song with echo falsetto vocals. "Wanna get messed up, when times get rough?" opens "Good God Damn," a song rooted in frustration, with a vibe of an old Rolling Stones cut. "Put Your Money on Me," sing Butler and Chassagne, saying, "there was a race, race for your heart, it started before you were born." In "We Don't Deserve Love," they "can't see the forest for the trees." They end things where they began, with "Everything Now (continued)," only it's a slowed down, but not defeated, song they sing. The band will embark on their Infinite Content tour across Europe and North and South America to promote their new album. Check them when they come to a city near you!
(Columbia Records)

"Sacred Hearts Club" (Foster the People)

Foster the people releases their third studio album, 12 tracks of their beat-driven indie pop inspired by the '60s psychedelic influence. They also shared a new documentary-style video of their rehearsals to go along with it. Front man Mark Foster said, "With this record, it's like I felt like every morning I woke up, you know, and I would look at the headlines in the news, and there was just something catastrophic that happened... I felt like on this record I really just wanted to make something joyful." They bring the fire right out of the gate with "Pay the Man," with its rap-style delivery of lyrics like, "the deaf man heard what the mute man said/ then they all followed where the blind man led." They're "calling all the poets in the battle" in their next cut, "Doing It For the Money," a song about not being afraid to step into the fight. "It's all right" in "Sit Next To Me," a song about growing up a little and going after the girl you really wanted all along. The title track is an electronica-enhanced dance cut that moves fast as Foster sings, "You are our secret, it's worth keeping/ And now I'm keeping my mouth shut." His friends are on all vacation blowing their paychecks, but even though they're a disaster, Foster asserts, "I Love My Friends." They go for an instrumental interlude with "Orange Dream" and slow things down a bit for the sing-song cut "Static Space Lover," a sad tale of a pair who keep trying "to make it together," but discover, "it's too long, we could die, just hanging here forever." The theme moves into "Lotus Eater," a hard rocking song about a party he never wanted to go to, to meet a girl that could never be 'the one.' They build up a dubstep beat in "Loyal Like Sid and Nancy," a reference to the iconic punk couple at the heart of the Sex Pistols. They capture an R&B vibe in "Harden the Paint," with rapid-fire lyrics, "Been living in another fall/ Trash caught me tripping out/ Love, please open up/ I've been gone too long." They finish up their dirty dozen of catchy songs with "III," a tune about not being afraid of the future, or of getting older. The band will set off on a North American tour in early September, ending in at Austin City Limits in October.
(Columbia Records)

"The Pet Shop Boys/ 1985-2012" (The Pet Shop Boys)

The Pet Shop Boys release a landmark series of three reissues of their Parlophone studio albums from 1985 right up to 2012, with three albums, each featuring three discs. You do the math; any way you add it up, that's a ton of music! The box set features dozens and dozens of songs that are digitally remastered and accompanied by "further listening" albums of master-quality bonus tracks and demos created during that same time period. There's also Pet Shop Boys remixes of their tracks, many released for the very first time. The box set comes with an extensive booklet in which Neil Tennant and Chris Lower discuss each song, illustrated with archival photographs. The first album, "Nightlife," (1996-2000) looks at the collaboration with producers Rollo, Craig Armstrong and David Morales. Further listening on that album includes unreleased cuts like "Tall Thin Men" and "For All of Us," as well as sweet demos of "Vampires," "Call Me Old-Fashioned," and "Radiophonic." They even feature Elton John on the B Side cut of "Believe/Song For Guy." Fans will enjoy the fan club remix of "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas" that's included. The second set, "Release," (2001-2004) features Johnny Marr on guitar, and entered the top ten UK charts in 2002. Highlights include the John Peel versions of "A Powerful Friend" and "If Looks Could Kill." There's also a previously-unreleased cover version of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again," also featuring Elton John. Other unreleased cuts on this set include "Motoring," "Run, Girl, Run," and "Reunion." The third album, "Fundamental" (2005-2007) features their Trevor Horn-produced album that made the top ten in 2006. It's excellent remastering, as well as 22 tracks of 'further listening' materials including unreleased demos of "Ring Road," "One-Way Street" and "Dancing at Dusk." You'll groove along to familiar favorites like "Psychological" and "I'm With Stupid" while enjoying the remixes of "Fugitive," "No Time For Tears," and "Integral." They even have a few featured ringtones, for you hardcore Pet Shop Boys fans. If you've got the brains, and they've got the brawn, it's time to shell out lots of money for this magnificent gift set. Better yet, the remastered original single albums will be reissued on 180gm heavyweight vinyl on July 28, perfect for that analog-head who still insists on records over digital.

"What Do You Think About the Car?" (Declan McKenna)           

English singer/songwriter Declan McKenna parlays his prestigious success as winner of the 2015 Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition into his first studio release, after two 2016 EPs. He's a talented young thing, even if his edges are a little ragged, and it doesn't hurt that he writes his own songs, plays most of his own instruments, and is pretty easy on the eyes. He kicks his 11-song debut off with "Humongous," with a clever intro of a child talking, then seems to wrap up before becoming re-invigorated toward the end of the long cut. His single "Brazil" has excellent guitar chops, paired with a serious message criticizing FIFA for awarding Brazil the World Cup in 2014 without addressing the nation's deep poverty. Many sports commentators also read it as a commentary on the FIFA corruption scandal. "He got eyes but he can't see/ well he talks like an angel but he looks like me," sings McKenna. Ironically, the fast-moving, introspective "Isombard," another single on the album, made it onto the soundtrack for FIFA 17 video game. He's working out how things are going to be in the waffling "The Kids Don't Wanna Come Home," singing, "I guess it's bad advice for someone so upstanding, so maybe just ask him twice or be a bit demanding." McKenna sounds very early-Beatles in his slow paced "Mind" as he rolls up the scales to ask, "why do you keep changing your mind?" He's awake, but it's all too much to take in "Make Me Your Queen," and in "I Am Everyone Else," he wonders if you're sick of your friends yet. "Bethlehem" is another introspective strummer, while "Why Do You Feel So Down" has a radio-ready pop sound. McKenna sings about suicide, abuse and the state of the world for youth in his new edit of "Paracetamol," with the lyrics, "there's a girl, fifteen, with her head in a noose/ Because she's damned to live, well she's damned to choose." He ends a strong debut effort with "Listen to Your Friends," another song about the evils of the world, from the youth perspective. You have to give this young singer credit for tackling the social ills of the day, where many his age are just singing about partying. If you like McKenna, you'll be able to catch him at Lollapalooza and the Glastonbury Festival this year.
(Columbia Records)

"Perennial" (Vera Blue)

Australian electro-folk artist Vera Blue (Celia Pavey) releases her debut album, 14 songs arranged in three chapters that chronologically trace the development of the songwriter. She said she named it "Perennial" after the plants that come back year after year, just like the cyclical nature of relationships. Even the cover image seems to reflect this disjointed vibe, as she is featured with the arm of another person that appears to be cropped out, like a photo you've ripped your ex-lover out of. She starts things at her "First Week," away from you, when she doesn't yet have "a lot to say, or do" but sees you everywhere she goes. Blue's in the "middle of a heartbreak song that I'm writing for you" with a catchy arrangement that features an interesting blend of strings and drums. In "Give In," Blue is still dealing with the fallout of her relationship, admitting that "the sight of you does things to me that I can't explain." She sings a tune of female empowerment in "Regular Touch," speaking up for that girl who always feels like she needs to be dating someone, anyone. She really shows her powerhouse vocals in "We Used To," a song about coming to terms with our past mistakes, and relays her pain about the breakup through melancholy acoustic guitar in, "Said Goodbye To Your Mother," the woman who "always treated me like a daughter/ She doesn't know the reasons why it's over/ sometimes you lose a lot more than love." The song "Private" is a sleek fantasy with an intro that turns the mind toward those classic James Bond theme songs. It's a strong contender for whatever 007 has in mind next, as Blue sings, "sweeps me off my feet when I sleep, when I wake I remember we can never be." In another pro-woman anthem, Blue says she shouldn't have to use her "Lady Powers" to keep you in line, singing, "I know that you think I'm going crazy, but I'm not gonna settle for anything short of amazing." She won't beg for your respect, or be defined by you. In "Magazine" she's dreaming she's in that red dress at that fancy party, just like she read about you going to. She's trying to take things seriously but is surrounded by "Fools," and in a following track, is an "Overachiever." The deep organ intro of "Pedestal (Cover Me)" has Blue putting herself "up on your shelf" where "no one can live up to these high expectations." She wraps up her excellent debut album with the mellifluous tune "Mended," singing, "Looking back I don't know who lost or won/ Tell me now." Blue's a newcomer, but she's got a strong voice and something to say. She'll be touring down under through the end of the summer.
(Universal Music Group)

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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