Album Reviews: Crooked Colours, Alaskalaska, Prettiest Eyes, Ada Lea…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:30 pm September 5, 2019

by Tim McMahan,

I sometimes wonder if I’ve lost the ability to review recorded music. Reviewing live shows is easy, it’s like reporting a crime scene. Reviewing recordings is like studying pictures or paintings or trying to interpret poetry, which I never did very well in college. When it came my turn to explain a poem in class, I’d take the imagery too literally, describing the scene in my mind or the people or animals, and then the professor would say, “No, what the writer was doing here was expressing grief for his/her loss of innocence, not describing a hunting accident.” And so on. 

So as I was flying back from New York, I thought I’d tackle a handful of albums sent to me for review, albums I’ve been listening to for the past two or three months. No notes, no one-sheets, just nuanced opinions. Here we go. 

Crooked Colours, Langata (2019, Sweat It Out!)

Crooked Colours, Langata (Sweat It Out!) – Very clean, very crisp electronic dance music sung by a guy whose flat, atonal voice is cross between Robbie Robertson and Tricky. Immensely clean trip-hop beats, electronic handclaps lie beneath mainly talk/singing, rhyming whatever sounds best with the beat. “Just breath…” Easy to listen to; but somewhat forgettable. The kind of music you’d hear while shopping in an H&M.

Alaskalaska, The Dots (2019, Marathon Artists)

Alaskalaska, The Dots (Marathon Artists) – There was a band I used to love in the ‘90s called Hooverphonic. They played great big-beat electronic rock songs that quickly found a hook. I thought they sounded amazingly modern at the time, and wondered why they never blew up. Over the years, however, Hooverphonic songs would sneak up in commercials and soundtracks, whenever a director wanted to set a modern tone or give whatever was on screen a sense of motion.

Alaskalaska has that same quality both in sound and lyrics, a deceptively simple melody swaddled in layers of synths, beats and the occasional saxophone (When did the sax come back in vogue? or has it?). The woman on leads, Lucinda Duarte-Holman, reminiscent of Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne, is cynical, sassy, sometimes snotty, often too honest for her own good. Quick and quippy, she sounds like she knows more than you or me. And she probably does. 

Highlights: “Moon,” with its fantastic horn part; “Sweat,” sinister sexy, slow; and the bracing “Happyface” with its questions you don’t want to answer. 

This is my favorite of the bunch. Totally obscure. Find it. 

Prettiest Eyes, Volume 3 (2019, Castle Face)

Prettiest Eyes, Volume 3 (Castle Face) – Brad Smith at the late, great Almost Music pointed me toward these guys and their last album, Pools. I bought it on vinyl, of course. Funny thing about Brad, he’s always right. Pools was post-punk crunch; and while Volume 3 continues along that same path, it’s not as dirty. Songs like “It Costs to be Austere” are like a carnival ride gone out of control, big wonky organs and fuzz bass and drummer/vocalist Pachy García singing like a maniacal clown. By contrast, “I Don’t Know” sounds like a midnight lounge massacre and “Mr. Presidentis Gang of Four post-punk blare: “Mr. President / Say my name / It don’t matter / Where I’m from.” It’s loud, buzzing, in-yer-face synth rock that never lets up. Exhausting fun. 

Ada Lea, What We Say in Private (2019, Saddle Creek)

Ada Lea, What We Say in Private (Saddle Creek) – Of the recent Saddle Creek signings, this one seems to be flying the deepest below the radar (Well, maybe not as deep as Young Jesus), because it’s the most different of the recent bunch. Not straight-up singer/songwriter fare, Lea writes complicated, proggy art rock songs that aren’t afraid of odd time-changes or awkward key shifts. It’s the most experimental act Creek has signed since the old days. That said, Lea knows her way around a melody, and her voice is warm, breathy, velvet butter. Songs like the moonlit “The Party;” the evocative, shifting “The Dancer,” and standout “Wild Heart” often start simply, quietly before going everywhere at once, while Lea lets you in on one of her little secrets. Mesmerizing.

More reviews to come…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2019 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.