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Sound Check

August 16, 2012
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By Chad Taylor


‘Darkest Dreams’

Junior’s Motel Records

Let me get it out of the way now — this is one of the best pop albums I’ve heard all year. The first and most obvious driving force behind the band is vocalist Heather Kelly and that arresting, enchanting voice. But there’s also the work of bassist Kirk Kaufman. He not only anchors the rhythm section throughout the album, but Kaufman’s also the owner and engineer of Junior’s Motel, an outfit that has played host to everyone from Slipknot to Brian Wilson. These two combine their efforts with Melvin James and Dave Hearn to create an album that’s catchy and extremely listenable. “Darkest Dreams” has a throwback feel throughout that alludes to everything from Roxette-style ’80s pop to Jefferson Airplane psychedelia. Top-notch guitar work, tight songwriting and impeccable production, combined with Kelly’s attention-demanding vocals come together to create an album that is unabashedly pop, but pop of the very best variety. CV

(HipKnosis plays the Bill Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 18 at 4 p.m.)

Cains & Abels

‘My Life is Easy’

Whistler Records

Cains & Abels bill themselves as a folk-rock outfit, but “My Life is Easy” comes off sounding more puckish and indie than anything else. Cue up “Grow Me Home” and close your eyes, and you’ll probably see a quirky movie trailer play through your head. Maybe something starring Zach Braff and/or Zooey Deschanel. Even if you don’t like that kind of movie, I swear that’s not meant as a slight. Cains & Ables has put together an album that’s full of emotion and purpose. It’s cinematic and expository. It may not be the most daring thing I’ve ever heard, but “My Life is Easy” is an album that goes to great lengths to make small ideas feel big, and the result is satisfying and effective. CV

(Cains & Abels play the Vaudeville Mews on Aug. 18 at 4:30 p.m., $5)

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