Seattle prog-pop barons Minus the Bear hadn’t deviated much from the script of their 2001 debut, This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic, until the quintet consciously took a right turn on OMNI, their most recent effort produced by Joe Chicarelli (My Morning Jacket, Counting Crows, Manchester Orchestra). The leap made sense from both an artistic and a practical standpoint, as the Grammy-winning producer could help the band refine and edit a complex sound into something more palatable for a wider audience. This goal was achieved almost to a fault: OMNI is less a cohesive progression of MTB’s melodic sense and technical prowess than it is arguably a safe attempt to appeal to a different body of listeners altogether. And though some critics have been downright derisive in the wake of the shift, likening it to a Maroon 5-esque power grab (let’s be honest, touring with Incubus only strengthens their argument), I’m not willing to go that far. OMNI might not be the band’s most exciting work, but growing pains shouldn’t be confused with a vile wish to sell out.
A late-night bar scene travelogue, the Constellations’ debut Southern Gothic seethes with seedy atmosphere and sultry grooves. The creation of singer-keyboardist Elijah Jones and producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley), the sextet survey a grimy rhythmic expanse that incorporates soul, psych, pop, rock and smoky cabaret strut that owes an obvious debt to Tom Waits. The Waits influence is particularly prevalent on the carnivalesque, cowbell-banging electro-funk of “Step Right Up,” where Jones recites tales of a closing-time freak show that features “a black angel named Blondie who recites her poetry while crushing cans of tall boy Pabst Blue Ribbon in between her titties.” This decadent irreverence imbues the album with a playful insouciance. Cee-Lo appears on the slinky soul-pop “Love Is Murder” and his musical eclecticism inspired Jones, a longtime Atlanta scenester. There’s plenty of well-observed nightlife detail and the sonic adventurousness to keep the party going even if the air’s already thick with dissipation.