MisterWives – “Reflections”

(Photo Credit: fistintheair)

Grade: A-

I had to choose wisely on which review should start off 2014. I couldn’t start with just anything. For a while, I’ve had a note in my phone that just says “MisterWives.” I’ll come across it occasionally and sometimes I can’t even remember what it means. But I had the pleasure of seeing MisterWives, kind of by chance. A Manhattan Fitz & the Tantrums concert was being reviewed for a paper I was writing for, and the promoter threw in tickets to see the band Pyyramids. It was a 21+ show, so I had to go in place of the usual reviewer. So it was like a bonus concert to a bonus concert. I found them inherently intriguing in a way most opening bands can only strive to be.

MisterWives, and their new EP “Reflections,” are in the same realm as Grouplove. Their music is soulful and fun, combining many influences at once. The result is a very complex sound made out of relatively easy parts. Each of the six tracks on “Reflections” is centered around easy rhythms on conventional instruments. But while one song sounds soulful, the next is more electro, and when one is vocal heavy, the next is focused on guitar. It’s a surprising balance for an EP of only six songs. They maintain a relaxed, fun and folksy sound throughout the balance.

The standout of the EP is the title track, which relies on some strong vocals. It has a resounding pop vocal harmony over a slightly funky guitar, and it sounds primed for crossover radio. Each track on the album, in it’s own way, sounds ready for radio – it’s telling that all six songs range from 3:06-3:33. But they stand out enough to make for a promising debut. I’m a little ashamed I didn’t get to see their full set now, so I’d like to highly encourage you to seek out MisterWives yourselves. “Reflections” is a fun and carefree release with some genuinely original songwriting.

If you like this, try: Grouplove, whose song “Shark Attack” was #20 on my 2013 list. (Incidentally, Pyyramids also made the list, with “Don’t Go” at #28. That was a productive concert for me.)

-By Andrew McNally

Grouplove – “Spreading Rumors”

(Photo Credit: grouplovemusic.com)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Ways To Go,” “Shark Attack”

When Grouplove’s first three hits – “Colours,” “Itchin’ on a Photograph” and “Tongue Tied” – emerged two years ago, they were getting fairly graded as another folksy indie band, one that added enough outside elements to be separated from bands like Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, but didn’t add enough to be overly interesting. I, for one, expected their sophomore album to be focused on diversifying a couple of potential singles that are cemented amongst some average folk tunes. This was generally what their debut, “Never Trust A Happy Song,” was. But this album is radically different, embracing as many influences as possible. The band shifts away from folk, adding synths and volume. For the most part, it all blends well.

Christian Zucconi, the primary singer for the band, has always seemed to have a little grit or edge to his voice, that other indie-folk singers try not to have. It’s what made their early hits sound unique (plus “Tongue Tied”‘s rapping), and it’s one of the driving forces behind this album’s welcome diversity. His voice is strong, and the very unique sound of it never really gets tiring. Fellow singer Hannah Hooper gets some more moments, too. “Didn’t Have to Go” gives her a whole electro-ballad to shine as Christian takes a backseat.

Musically, the album is far more diverse than expected, and it rarely wallows in its ideas. The band wasn’t experimenting for the sake of it, these are carefully planned songs. The opener, “I’m With You,” is a mid-tempo song that’s got enough to stand on its own, but is really there to reinforce the loud and electric follow-up, “Borderlines and Aliens.” This is the song where the band really shows it’s change from their first album, with a fast and heavy song. Lead single “Ways to Go” features a prominent synth rhythm, which sounds unexpected at first until the next track, “Shark Attack,” goes into full EDM mode. Luckily, the band keeps up the diversity instead of letting the album’s first half carry the second.

There are some weak spots, some less than memorable songs and one track made uncomfortable by some awkward profanity. But overall, “Spreading Rumours” is a delight, and a fulfilling listen. It’s better than their debut, though it’s tough to compare the two. Grouplove seems even more like an anomaly in the indie-folk world, gleefully going to places other bands have vowed never to go to. That is, if we can still refer to Grouplove as “indie-folk.” It’ll be interesting to see where the band goes next, but for now, we can enjoy “Spreading Rumours.”

If you like this, try: The Bravery. The band was overshadowed by the meteoric rise of the Killers and unfairly forgotten. Through three albums, they drastically changed their sound and approach, like Grouplove does here.

-By Andrew McNally