Glee: The Music, “Journey to the Regionals” (Columbia)
In yet another collision of pop music and television, “Glee” is taking up where “American Idol” once reigned. Whereas we used to talk around the water cooler about so-and-so Idol’s rendition of that Aretha song, we’re now talking about the “Glee” take on Madonna.
In tonight’s season 1 finale, the cast will take on Journey — among others. In couldn’t-be-better timing, the cast’s “Journey to the Regionals” EP also comes out today, documenting the kids’ end-of-season music.
As with most “Glee” arrangements, these songs are fun, bombastic, familiar and never, ever afraid of a chord change. The bravest attempt here is the six-minute “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an emotive, if silly, take on the epic Queen classic by cast member Jonathan Groff.
Of the three Journey songs, “Faithfully” comes out on top with a tasteful, piano-led arrangement. “Don’t Stop Believin’” starts with a carefully crafted a cappella intro, but it later devolves into a heavy-handed rock epic that outperforms the sweet-voiced cast. — Ricardo Baca
Delorean, “Subiza” (True Panther Sounds)
This Spanish electro-pop quartet — not to be confused with whispery slowcore devotees Doloreon — grabs trendy indie tricks (giddy, Beach Boys-style harmonies and mountains of reverb in the style of Animal Collective) and grafts them onto tinny dance tracks that wouldn’t sound out of place in a ’90s Barcelona nightclub.
It’s an improbable-sounding operation, but it mostly works thanks to singer Ekhi Lopetegi’s high, bright vocals and the general propulsion of these tunes. The album trips over itself at times, often layering too many chipmunk-high vocal samples or knitting same-y songs back-to-back in a string of undifferentiated beats and choruses.
But the band’s efforts to meld techno, house and melody-soaked indie pop, as antithetical as that could sound, mostly succeed. It’s too soon to tell if Delorean will inspire a new wave of neon-minded, house-happy kids, but the best “Subiza” tracks (“Real Love,” “Stay Close”) make good on the sugary promise of summer soundtracking. — John Wenzel
Crystal Castles, “Crystal Castles” (Fiction)
There’s a lot to like about Crystal Castles’ second release — if you liked their first record.
This CD, like the glitchy electronic duo’s first record, is eponymously titled. Also similar to its debut, the record is full of natural dance floor fillers with the focus on heavy beats, unintelligibly digitized vocals and unique electronic sounds.
It’s a solid piece of production and a challenging listen, but its similarity — in more than name — to the debut is also a bit of a let down. Everything that broke the band to the indie dance-loving masses makes an appearance here.
What’s new in this “Crystal Castles?” Well, not a lot. Is “Baptism” this record’s “Crime Wave?” Sure, “Baptism” is a great new song. But “Crime Wave” is one of the best dance tracks of the last decade, and given this group’s highly experimental nature, you’d hope for something of a departure for album No. 2. This isn’t much of a departure, but it’s still a rewarding listen. — Ricardo Baca
Hot Hot Heat, “Future Breeds” (Dangerbird Records)
Back in 2002, Hot Hot Heat was a burgeoning band full of potential that made hipsters swoon with their quirky, keyboard-driven, vintage rock sound.
Fast-forward through eight years of uncomfortably contrived pop albums and the band finds itself on “Future Breeds,” trying to recapture their once-unique sound. As “Future Breeds” is not a complete return to form, it demonstrates that Hot Hot Heat is still capable of channeling the upbeat energy of their debut, “Make Up the Breakdown.”
“Future Breeds” comes out of the gate quickly as if trying to make the statement that things are going to be different, but at times it feels a bit forced. The album starkly contrasts the band’s past couple as the playing sound pleasantly less polished.
“Future Breeds” features a few memorable tracks, but Hot Hot Heat never sounds completely comfortable and the most disconcerting element is the absence of keyboards — a key to the band’s early success. Oddly enough, the final track, “Nobody’s Accusing You (of Having a Good Time),” sounds like one that could have appeared on Hot Hot Heat’s debut. Maybe this is a sign of better things to come. — Greg Stieber
Sleepy Sun, “Fever” (ATP Recordings)
A relentlessly creative and restless band, Sleepy Sun has — over the past two years — somehow found the time to record two fantastic albums in the midst of constant touring. Last year’s “Embrace” was a psychedelically fuzzed-out collection of Sabbath meets Airplane-inspired rock that announced the band’s arrival as one of the best new American acts around.
On “Fever,” their second LP, the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based outfit continues to bring the distortion and feedback, but spreads its focus by adding more acoustic and folk sensibilities — along with the heavy riffage and blissed-out guitar solos.
Additionally, the record wisely brings the vocal capabilities of dynamo singer Rachael Williams to the fore. Williams, along with equally impressive co-vocalist/guitarist Bret Constantino, bring a melodic and harmonic originality to tracks like album opener “Marina,” which begins with a guitar-hazed heaviness then segues wonderfully into a trippy California daydream before changing up again to an infectious percussive rhythm.
Following this are a range of tunes, like the folksy duet “Rigamaroo,” the rocking “Wild Machines,” and “Desert God,” which starts out as a slow and druggy dirge before settling into a harmonica-led Zeppelin styled stomp topped of with a killer guitar solo. The album closer — an amplifier-destroying blues freakout called “Sandstorm Woman” — simply burns the speakers as three guitar lines fizzle and churn around Williams, who cranks her lovely voice from a melodic cry to an overdriven wail.
Like their previous disc, this is an absolutely fantastic collection of rock ‘n’ roll created by a band that’s not afraid to mix things up and has the chops to do so. Check out Sleepy Sun live this Sunday (June 13) at the Hi-Dive. — Michael Behrenhausen
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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post. He is also the executive director of the Underground Music Showcase, Colorado’s premier indie music festival. Follow his whimsies at Twitter, his live music habit at Gigbot and his iTunes addictions at Last.fm.
John Wenzel is the co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning A&E reporter for The Denver Post. His book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” was recently published by Speck Press. He also maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles.
Greg Stieber is a Denver freelance writer and regular contributor to Reverb.
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock and roll.