Music Spotlight: Quick hit reviews

By Kevin Romanchik

The year promises exciting music as artists reinvent their sounds and record with unlikely collaborators. Music Spotlight’s review roundup covers Vampire Weekend, Blakroc and Metric.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND: On Jan. 12 indie pop band Vampire Weekend released “Contra,” their anticipated follow-up to 2007’s breakout self-titled album.

This past November, Vampire Weekend released a music video for “Cousins” from the Contra album along with a free download of “Horchata.”

“Cousins” is full of the same purebred pop that made their big hit, “A-Punk,” such a great song, with its fast drums and catchy harmonies. On the flipside, “Horchata” brings harder drums, xylophones and synthesizers, while still maintaining a laid back, almost mellow sound.

Their track “White Sky” strays from vocalist and guitarist Ezra Koenig’s past work by incorporating a combination of sounds, including traditional African music and synth beats.

While “Contra” is still the quintessential Vampire Weekend that made them popular, don’t be surprised by their new musical direction. It shows a quick maturity by a relatively young band.

BLAKROC: Since 2002, blues-rock duo, The Black Keys, have been paying homage to blues greats like B.B. King and Junior Kimbrough. In late 2009, Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash reached out to vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer/producer Patrick Carney to collaborate under the project titled Blakroc.

Blakroc features new sounds that combine the blues sound and rough vocals of the Black Keys and the acclaimed talent of hip-hop artists like Mos Def, Jim Jones, RZA, Ludacris, Q-Tip and others.

In “Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)” Auerbach lays down hard blues riffs and background vocals, setting the foundation for Mos Def and NYC’s famous Jim Jones.

Ludacris and the Ol’Dirty Bastard also bring strong verses to “Ain’t Nothing.” The song does a stellar job showcasing drummer Patrick Carney’s diverse talents, yet distinct sound.

When Blakroc pairs with Nikki Wray (Make it Hot), the result is powerful; “Why Can’t I Forget Him” is a dark, soulful ballad about longing.

The project is a refreshing change of pace for hip-hop collaborations, a genre that’s seen its share of copycats and rehashes. Mainstream music hasn’t seen a group containing this much talent in awhile.

Although their self-titled album has been out for a few months now, expect it to pick up speed and become one of the most talked about projects of 2010.

METRIC: Sometimes it takes months for an indie album to gain hype; Metric is the exception. The Toronto-based indie rock band, Metric’s 2009 release “Fantasies” is moving fast.

While Metric has been gaining popularity and radio play in the US, they already have an established fan base in their home country, Canada. They’ve been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize’s Canadian Album of the Year and a Juno Award nomination for Best Alternative Album.

“Fantasies” was released in April 2009 and is their fourth studio album.

Metric’s music has been featured on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, Entourage and in the movie Zombieland.

“Fantasies” is an upbeat alternative album with a poppy influence like that of The Killers. Lead vocalist and synth player Emily Haines (also of Broken Social Scene) brings catchy harmonies and personality to consistently good music.

“Gold Guns Girls” is a fast drum and vocal-driven track with minimal guitar riffs that really showcases Haines’ offbeat voice.

Metric’s popularity will only rise if they continue making music that sets them apart from other bands like Shiny Toy Guns and The Sounds.