CD Reviews: This Week’s Releases

Detective Agency, Detectius Privats EP (out now, self-released, Voted Seattle Weekly’s “Best New Band of 2012,” this four-piece returns on the heels its last release, Daggers, with this five-song collection of infectious, garage-pop excellence. In the short pause between releases, Detective Agency managed to master the shorter EP format, as each song on the record, from the sludgy minor-key meltdown of “Reject” to the guitar-laden power-pop tune “My Ride,” is equally eclectic and devastating in its shimmering simplicity. The heart and soul of the tunes here is the vocal interplay between lead guitarist Nate Kruz and rhythm guitarist Amy Jean. Kruz nominally takes the lead, and his voice could be a dead ringer for that of a Velvets-era Lou Reed. Combine that with Jean’s sweet upper register and you’re left with something truly special. Their guitar interplay is equally impressive, and the rhythm section, featuring Katie Martin on bass and Ulrika Larrson behind the drum kit, is a well-oiled machine driving each number along. While the beats and progressions themselves aren’t very complicated, so much is happening between the in-your-face guitar play and great vocal work that Kruz and Jean keep things well-grounded and down to earth. On the whole, Detectius Privats is a well-constructed, nicely executed package of great down-and-dirty pop-rock—and a much-needed kick in the ass for the well-worn cliché that is “garage music” these days. With nearly two years of hindsight, our Best Band distinction still stands.

Dark Hip Falls, Seventy Four (out today, self-released, Formerly known as Sad Face, the band garnered some local recognition before ditching the moniker when its music took it into a new direction. Dark Hip Falls is one of those rare bands that can make sparseness interesting; the key, as displayed here on its debut under the new name, is to provide an eclectic array of sonically diverse instrumentation set over tight, simple pop melodies, and the whole package comes alive with the addition of lead vocalist Tim Mendonsa’s staggeringly beautiful delivery. In the pop and rock aesthetic we’ve become conditioned to, the big, over-the-top chorus has been a fixture since Bill Haley rocked around the clock; even more jarring on Seventy Four is the utter lack of such a moment. You wait, but it never comes. In critical moments, the guitars don’t do what they’re “supposed” to (i.e., play a straightforward melody). This is most notable on “Path of the Crow,” where by song’s end the standard pentatonic scale is thrown out in exchange for odd, twisted noise-guitar fills. The group cites the band Low as an influence on its clean, spacey guitar sound, a quality that shines most prominently on “Lam 1: Swing Dog,” “Lam 2: Red Hands,” and “Bring Me Home.” That’s not to say Dark Hip Falls can’t rock out: “In My Eye” is a pulsating, industrial-flavored powerhouse that could easily be mistaken for a Nine Inch Nails cut, and “Cocaine Design” is fuzzed-out cacophony with a wallop of off-the-wall feedback for good measure. (Wed., Dec. 4, Tractor)

Golden Gardens, Bellflower EP (out now, self-released, When this local dream-pop act released its EP Narcissus this past summer, the duo seemed to be going for a more lighthearted, few-cares-in-the-world approach. That’s why Bellflower, which the group released this fall after cutting ties with local label Neon Sigh, seems such a departure. From the opening notes of “The Ghost of a Total Stranger,” it’s evident that this collection of songs is much darker than the last, with vocalist Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble adapting her dreamy soprano into something a little more urgent, a little more eerie. The murkier approach is also felt in the noticeably more haunting production; sparse arrangements, simmering electronic beats, and rumbling percussion create a somber backdrop for Bramble’s creeping vocals. As a whole, Bellflower is a welcome mixture of mystery and magic—some sort of love child of Phantogram and Purity Ring—and it results in an audio sensation that’s equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking. Yet the highlight of the four-track EP may come in the closer, “In Dreams I Roam the Petaled Gloom,” a vibe-y slow-roller that finds Bramble’s words weaving in and out of bandmate Gregg Alexander Joseph Neville’s fuzzy guitars and springy synths. The result is an audio experience that will leave you wanting to hear more and more with every listen. And while the limited-edition physical CD is already sold out, you can find a digital copy through the band’s website (yay for the Internet!)

J. Tillman, The History of Caves (out now,, Sub Pop) There are few surprises in the world of Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, these days. In September, the erratic singer quietly married filmmaker Emma Elizabeth, and this soundtrack, which accompanies her directorial-debut short film, is the couple’s first collaboration. The mostly instrumental score resembles the J. Tillman of years past, well before Fear Fun, when the songwriter was experimenting with various acoustic styles. Suspension-inducing crescendos and bleak acoustics provide a beautiful canvas for the movie (which was filmed at the same location as the video for “Hollywood Forever Cemetery”), but if you’re a fan of Fear Fun, this album is not comparable; it’s a fitting accompaniment to the trailer for Caves (which follows a widowed watchmaker whose womanizing leaves his three children struggling to cope), but if you seek something more melodious, keep an eye out for Tillman’s forthcoming album in the new year.

Tonight Sky, Tonight Sky (out now, Sunstrom Sound, The eponymous debut of Jason Holstrom’s latest project. Unlike his more in-your-face bands (United State of Electronica, Aqueduct, Wonderful), Tonight Sky finds Holstrom taking a warmer, more ambient musical route. The album opens with “Solstice,” which begins relatively simply, then builds into something a bit otherworldly. “Cloud City” features several layered vocal lines, lots of synth, and various effected instruments. “Flight of the Falling Star” finds Holstrom pondering a star’s path (“Could it be that/That a star is falling?/Did it hear us calling/Calling loud?”) and its existential implications (“Is it true that we go on forever?/Will we shine together in the air?”) over upbeat synths and supporting percussion. Later, Holstrom calls to mind Coldplay’s Chris Martin on “Size of Paradize,” and the album ends on a very ethereal note with “The Cold & Clear.” With hardly a beat of silence between one track and the next, the mind never really has a chance to wander, as if Holstrom designed Tonight Sky to keep the listener precisely attuned to his next move. Various samples throughout, mostly of distant birds and rushing water, anchor the 15 tracks to earth, but for the most part, Tonight Sky is close to the sonic equivalent of stargazing. I suspect that’s intentional.

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