If you’re an original indiehead, then put down your kale smoothie and take a seat because this week is gonna blow your socks off. Two of indie’s favorite darlings, Franz Ferdinand and MGMT are all set to drop their new albums this Friday, on Feb 9 - so mark your calendars.
Both acts shot to mainstream success in the early 2000s and judging by how their singles sound, their sound seems to have evolved quite a bit from their early days or even their heydays for that matter. First up is Glasgow’s very own Franz Ferdinand, whose new album Always Ascending is being released via British indie label Domino records.
Franz Ferdinand made one of the greatest debuts of all time back in 2004 with their self-titled LP – 11 tracks of flawless dance-punk that could’ve passed off as a less capable band's greatest-hits package.
It even won them a Mercury prize - the highest honor for an album released in the UK. Three more albums followed after that, all well received, each one defining their unique sound more and more.
Always Ascending is the bands fifth studio album, their first without departed guitarist Nick McCarthy, and with new member Julian Corrie, better known by his stage name Miaoux Miaoux. As their three released singles so far suggest, Corrie’s influence might translate to a less-guitar-more-synth-heavy sound, with plenty of dancey synth hooks strewn all around.
But before all that, we have to talk about something impressive and new for the band - the lyrical depth and poetry in the songs seems to have reached a new height, while being stripped down to as few words as possible to accommodate for pop-hooks. The music is also more self aware and chock full of meta-references. Have a listen to the titular single from the album below:
If you notice carefully, you can hear a seemingly constantly rising pitch on the synth in the background through most of the song. This is because the band has sampled something called the Shepard Tone - an auditory illusion, whose pitch sounds like it’s "always ascending", yet never seems to get any higher. Hence the name of the album and the title track. Nice touch!
The lyric goes: 'Always and always and always ascending / The Shepard misleads so you think you’re transcending.’ Clearly a self referential verse and also, a word play on ‘shepherd' who, like the Shepard tone, as a spiritual leader can trick his herd into believing they are reaching a higher spiritual place by following him. That’s heavy stuff for a band that came up with the line: ‘No you girls will never know, oh no you girls will never know / how you make a boy feel’!
Two other singles, ‘Lazy Boy’ and ‘Feel the Love Go’ are also out and going by the first taste of the singles, it seems like Franz Ferdinand is celebrating the bane of modern existence, hollow religious promises and fleeting love with dance music! It has been four years since the band’s last album. "It's still us," says frontman Alex Kapranos, talking about their new sound, "but it's maybe trying to do some new things,” in conversation with Rolling Stone. Kapranos also added in the interview that the producer for the album, Phillipe Zdar, has a strict prohibition against over-focusing on any one song, so expect a well rounded album without too much emphasis on the singles. You can check out the singles below:
Next up is Connecticut’s unlikely indie-psychedelic stars MGMT who are due to release their new album Little Dark Age also on Friday after a three year hiatus since their last release, the self titled MGMT. The album will be launched through Columbia records just like the band’s previous albums. MGMT’s story is quite different from Franz Ferdinand’s. It has been 10 years since the duo’s debut Oracular Spectacular which swept the indie world off it’s loafer-clad feet.
It was practically impossible to be alive in 2008 without coming across MGMT’s three fresh new singles from the album - ‘Time to Pretend’, ‘Kids’ and ‘Electric Feel’. From dance clubs to movies to TV shows to videogames, MGMT was all over the place and underwent a meteoric rise to indie stardom. They were even nominated for two Grammys and the remix of ‘Electric Feel’ even won Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical in 2009.
But ever since their debut, after they signed on with Columbia records, MGMT’s music has been getting less and less accessible, instantly polarizing fans and wiping their name off the list of usual suspects from the indie mainstream. 2010’s Congratulations was a discordant medley of acid-jazz that baffled fans. 2013’s MGMT was even more inaccessible, such a far stretch from their debut sound that they all but disappeared from the radar.
But there’s a little known secret about Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser - founding members of the band - that might explain this decline. The two-man band was initially formed in 2002 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut as a parody of modern pop sounds and culture. In fact their very name, MGMT is short for ‘Management’, everything the band despised about the music industry’s built-to-sell model. So the record deal with Columbia was a strange, ironic tryst with destiny for the band. But instead of doling out more of the same parody-pop stuff, they decided to make use of the big opportunity to tap into their most honest, sincere sound and the result was weird, to say the least.
In April 2015, the band’s percussionist Will Berman said in an interview, "We've been taking a little break I guess. We've been at it for years at this point. There's more to come," and the band went underground. In an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, MGMT admitted that their two previous albums were so poorly received that they thought they could never have reached peak popularity like they had with the release of their first album.
Since their separation, the two core members of the band began working long distance on the album via e-mail. Little Dark Age was in part shaped by this unique, distanced relationship between the two musicians. The titular single from the album came out last November. You can listen to it below:
The new album is different for two primary reasons. For one, it seems like the band is finally compromising between radio-friendliness and their original, earnest sound. Secondly, and more importantly, MGMT has admittedly gone political with the album, something they’ve never attempted before. 'Little Dark Age’ is both an expression of surprise and dismay to the current political and social climate with an occasional reference to the bandmates' own personal lives.
The triumph of Donald Trump being elected as President of the United States is where the inspiration apparently came. Of the election, founding member VanWyngarden stated, "We were like, 'Wow, is it actually possible for the most impossible thing to happen? [...] Apparently, we were more inspired to write pop music after evil took over the world!”
Two other singles from the album, ‘When You Die’ and ‘Hand it Over’ are also out. You can check them out below:
So brace yourself for an indie feast this Friday as indie’s giants and estranged underdogs both share the airspace for their new albums. Both albums are available pre-release on Apple Music. They will also be released via streaming services Spotify and Google Play Music.
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