Playlist.jpg

Fans of Northern Ireland’s Two Door Cinema Club could be excused for thinking the group had disbanded. Recent releases like 2019’s False Alarm seemed lackluster, driving the band to promote the new Keep On Smiling (Glassnote) as a return to the exuberance of yesteryear. The pledge to have fun often is successful, as in the Talking Heads-inspired “Everybody’s Cool” or the single “Lucky,” with hints of Sparks and New Order. Too often, though, songwriter Alex Trimble’s forced optimism seems injected with a turkey baster.

At least Trimble doesn’t have the angst façade of British singer Yungblud (Dominic Harrison). On his third self-titled album (Geffen Records), Yungblud displays a polished ability to write memorable pop tunes like “Tissues” and “Sweet Heroine,” but his presentation resembles an exaggerated Billy Idol, if Idol were a goth zombie with meth-laden eyes. It’s maddening that Trimble and Harrison are mining good themes in these new albums, but they’re all but overwhelmed by marketing technique.

Also New & Noteworthy

Son Little, Like Neptune, (ANTI-) – Aaron Livingston’s stage name recalls blues legends like Son House, but Son Little’s story has only a hint of blues. The Philadelphia singer’s R&B is centered on memorable lyrics, with hints of everyone from Marvin Gaye to Bill Withers. He’s known for collaborating with Mavis Staples, though his solo albums have harbored a good shot of dread. During lockdown, Livingston confronted his sexual abuse as a child and paradoxically ended up with a joyful album of release. Songs where he harmonizes and overdubs, including “inside out” and “deeper” are particularly strong.

Cass McCombs, Heartmind (ANTI) – McCombs always foils any attempt to be shoehorned into Americana, with the complex rhythms and backup singers coming in at odd moments that he demonstrated recently at Lulu’s. A standout example here is “Unproud Warrior,” using stream-of-consciousness lyrics of the type favored by Bill Callahan, but with specific memories of 2017. Sometimes, McCombs travels in befuddling directions, as in the repeated lines of “Blue, Blue Band,” or the improvisational instrumental title track. But fans wouldn’t want McCombs to sound normal anyway.