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New releases cross-pollinate emo and electronica 

click to enlarge Death Cab for Cutie
  • Death Cab for Cutie
Ever since guitarist Chris Walla parted ways with Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie in 2013, fans have feared that singer Ben Gibbard’s synthesizer obsession could yield a soulless album akin to REM’s Around the Sun. No worries. Thank You for Today (Atlantic) offers tracks such as “Autumn Love” and the anti-gentrification “Gold Rush” that feature the band’s crispest guitar riffs ever. Yet the album’s real genius is to weave electronica and sound experimentation (including a Yoko Ono sample) into a mélange that aligns perfectly with a new movement toward emo/electronica hybrid sounds.

Combining elements of the two schools involves a delicate balancing act. Modern dream-pop bands can be passionate, but few sport the lyrical earnestness of 1990s-era emo bands. The British duo Let’s Eat Grandma offers the best such example in its second album I’m All Ears (Transgressive). Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth distinguish themselves from other UK electro-emo duos like Trailer Trash Tracys through the sheer originality of their arrangements. It’s not enough to wail through electronic ambience; Let’s Eat Grandma recognizes you have to craft memorable songs like “Donnie Darko,” too.

There’s also the danger in weaving the two styles with an excess of pop in the mix. Lauren Mayberry of the Glasgow band Chvrches honestly intended to bring her music to a wider audience. The 13 tracks comprising Love Is Dead (Glassnote/Goodbye Records) represent a distillation of Chvrches’ best themes, but the lyrics too often rely on repeated phrases lacking Mayberry’s strongest convictions. If the new emo/electronica sound is to gain a wider audience, it will be due to old masters like Death Cab showing the way.

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