By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
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By Nathan Smith
The husband-wife duo of James and Brea McAnally books live bands and art installations at the Luminary Center for the Arts and curated this summer's Post Performances series at the Old Post Office Plaza. But with US English (formerly known as the Mirror Stage), the McAnallys put their own estimable talents on display in the form of found-sound samples, glitchy drumbeats and inventive, evocative vocal interplay.
The four-song What Frontier is the first in a planned series of three EPs from the duo. It conveys a worried tone even amid hand claps and Postal Service-like keyboards. James takes the opening title track, his vocals coming through a collage of clanging anvils, radio static and his wife's chopped-and-screwed vocals. "Headlines like clouds/Come quickly, help, come now," he sings, and his dread is both global in scope and local in execution, with its references to suburban ennui and malaise. The EP-closing "News!" adds a coda to this millennial fear, with synth-brass fanfare and clicky drum-machine beats harkening news of body counts and the post-apocalypse (which is either on our doorstep or already here, depending on how you interpret the lyrics). The EP's best moments juxtapose the couple's vocals with traditional harmonies and a remixer's scalpel. On "Miser," Brea's voice sways from operatic to soulful as the song builds on Atari-like drum bursts and square-wave synths; it builds toward the collection's prettiest and most hopeful moment.
Your enjoyment of What Frontier may depend on how many times you've spun Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, but US English's aim is less about waking up "the kids" and more about hastening personal awakenings and quelling internal turmoil.
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