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BEST IN THE WEST
Mark Nelsen is a singer and a songwriter, but he’s hardly a singer-songwriter. The Electric Shepherd frontman is by no means a bad lyricist, but on his solo debut Childish Songs, he’s still writing rock-band songs, full of crypticisms you don’t have to even remotely understand to dig the music. His strong suit is as an arranger, and the arrangements on Childish Songs are consistently inspired and vital. On songs like “Saluka & I” and “Oh! Romance,” Nelsen treates pop history as a hip-hop producer would, adding a dash of Beck here and a dash of Wayne Coyne there but keeping on the better side of the thin line between influence and pastiche. The result is an album that’s unpretentious without being middle-of-the-road, one that borrows from the past but never once sounds nostalgic or retro.
Out Of The Mayhem EP
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Solwave pride themselves on their inability to be categorized, and while this claim has plenty of truth, it’s primarily due to the band’s willingness to experiment with different sounds and genres rather than their making music that’s actually uncategorizable. On their second EP, Out Of The Mayhem, the San Francisco quartet maps out a defined space within the pop music spectrum and proceeds to explore every nook and cranny of it. “Fire It Up” and “Voodoo At High Noon” are sweaty arena rock, with titanic drums and omnipresent Hot Fuss synth buzz; “Ride” is a dance-rock rave-up; “Shuffler” is heart-on-sleeve power pop. The band stumbles on the former two songs, particularly “Voodoo At High Noon,” which sounds like the ‘70s and the ‘00s put in a blender with the lid off. But on the latter two tracks, they sound completely in their comfort zone, suggesting that just like their heroes the Killers, they may just be a goofy pop band at heart.