“It’s All True”
If pop music is indeed a kaleidoscope and you are making pop music, then your work will inevitably bend and blend, creating something new while touching something that came before. The best parts of the fourth album from Canadian duo Junior Boys come from those over-folds of history — specifically synth-pop history — and are enough to compensate for the disc’s occasional stagnation.
“It’s All True” provides stylish, brooding updates on a wide variety of keyboard-driven music, but when Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus overlap into the sashaying sound of ABC’s iconic 1982 debut “The Lexicon of Love” on songs like “You’ll Improve Me” and “A Truly Happy Ending,” they sound as delectable as anything you’re going to find on the radio during the long, hot summer to come.
Using an age-old formula, the Boys pair bittersweet, cynical lyrics (“It’s All True” is very much an end-of-a-relationship record) with percolating beats and sumptuous tones. “Second Chance” is a slow-burn hip shaker punctuated by Greenspan’s declaration that “nothing ever lasts.” The aforementioned “Happy Ending” makes the argument (over a bubbly synth river) that one doesn’t exist.
The glacial “Playtime” and the nine-minute closer “Banana Ripple” are both ponderous and world-weary, and any kid with GarageBand and a Casio could have made “Kick the Can.” In fact, leaving those three tracks off would’ve made “It’s All True” a fantastic six-song EP, which would have been very 1982. Which, come to think of it, would have been pretty appropriate.
— Patrick Foster
Recommended tracks: “Truly Happy Ending,” “Second Chance,” “You’ll Improve Me”
“All Things Bright and Beautiful”
Adam Young, the one-man band from Owatonna, Minn., who goes by the name Owl City, recorded his major-label debut, “Ocean Eyes,” in his parents’ basement in the late ’00s, emerged briefly to become a platinum-selling pop sensation, and then retreated to the basement to craft a follow-up — the sugary, wistful “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
“All Things,” like its predecessor, is an exercise in guileless emotronica. Young, 24, has a poetry major’s fondness for metaphor (“Downy feathers kiss your face and flutter everywhere,” he sings on the burbling synth-pop song “The Real World.” “Reality is a lovely place but I wouldn’t want to live there”), a sentimentalist’s view of the world and a teenage girl’s view of love. On “Deer in the Headlights,” one of several tracks that suggest the theme song to a long-lost ’80s sitcom, you can practically see the hearts dotting the lyrical i’s.
Young brings as much variety as he can to these dreamy, fluttery songs. There are guest rappers, brief adventures in techno, indie and Euro-pop, and even a Ronald Reagan sample: “January 28, 1986” serves up Reagan’s Challenger address on a bed of oohs, aahs and synths. Young sounds uncannily like Postal Service/Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, and at its best “All Things” resembles the Postal Service for tweens.
Young wrote, produced and played almost every note himself, and the insularity works in his favor. It’s tempting to wonder what kind of album he might make with a chamber pop ensemble and a steady diet of Brian Wilson records. It would probably be better, but it wouldn’t be the same.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended tracks: “Plant Life,” “The Real World”
Patchwork is the word that’s often used to describe this transcontinental ensemble’s heady mix of pop, jazz, funk, hip-hop and rock. Fronted by Bosnian singer and MC Adisa Zvekic, the group has members from everywhere from Macedonia to Jamaica, a geographical diversity that, much as it does with the band Gogol Bordello, accounts for the exuberant Balkan, dub and Middle Eastern modalities that course through their music. And as with their Gypsy-punk counterparts, La Cherga’s music packs not just a sonic but a moral wallop.
In “One,” rhyming over a chugging metal guitar riff, Zvekic affirms the unity of struggling people everywhere. “Sing on, sing on / There is something true beyond all that’s fake / Look on, look on / There is something within you nobody can break,” she exhorts. In “Resolve & Evolve,” spurred on by Eastern European brass and staccato funk guitar, she urges listeners to “never stop questioning why.”
As the album’s title suggests, revolutionary messages abound in “Revolve,” but they wouldn’t be half as compelling were they not set to such irrepressible melodies and grooves. “Sufi Dub” is echo-laden dervish music, “Last Temptation” features riffing horns and a ska hiccup, and “Voda” is built on an atmospheric bed of electronics and saxophone. “Rise Up,” meanwhile, could double as a description of what it’s like to experience La Cherga’s enthralling music. “Change arrives when you least expect it and the waves overwhelm your heart,” sings Zvekic over a reggae- and Gypsy-inflected arrangement. “It’s the everlasting diversity of life.”
— Bill Friskics-Warren
Recommended tracks: “Resolve & Evolve,” “Rise Up,” “One”