albums - aug 2011
What did we call that sort of Libertinesy guitar pop that so many bands were wrapping their vowels around 4 or so years ago? Did we call it Mockney? Whatever it was known as, it hasn't quite gone away, as The Vickers (no connection to Diana Vickers so far as I can tell) are here to show everyone. Questions of style aside, ther are some quite good tunes on 'Fine For Now' and the production has an agreeably uncomplicated tone which adds rather than detracts from the songs. 2nd track 'You Think I'm Playing' is a quality pop song and both I and The Vickers are wondering why it hasn't already torn a swathe across our top 40, and 5th track 'These Things Come To An End' is only one click of a foot pedal away from an actual Arctic Monkeys hit.
Across the rest of the album, there are partially recognisable riffs
a plenty as the Vickers give the nod to all sorts of indie guitar
types, including Vampire Weekend, Mercury Rev, and yes, even the Libertines.
As far as originality goes, The Vickers might not win very many prizes
but for enthusiasm, ability and actual talent, they probably deserve
more of a hearing from our radio and media than they've had and in
a less crowded music scene they'd probably get one.
After series of lauded solo albums, Mike Scott brings us the first Waterboys album since 1993's 'Dream Harder', and time has dimmed neither his musicianly ardour nor his literary scope. The songs on 'An Appointment' all take their lyrics from the writings of Irish poet W.B. Yeats, and the Scots folkster best known for writing 'The Whole Of The Moon' might appear to have come a very circuitous route to this song collection, indeed the first of these interpretations can trace their origins back around two decades, while the sound of the album really does go some way towards recapturing the melancholy glories of the Waterboys at their 80s peak.
So, something here for both folk rock enthusiasts and literary types,
not to mention those Waterboys fans who've waited for around eighteen
years for a new album. Karl Wallinger isn't present here, in fact
it's 'Mike Scott's Waterboys' so far as I can make out. The instrumentation
verges into full-blown prog on more than one track, with keyboard
parts that hark back to Uriah Heep and Deep Purple, while Scotts'
instantly recognisable adenoidal vocal declaims Yeats poetry with
as much enthusiasm as if he'd written it himself. As actual songs,
opposed to just musical interpretations of Yeate's writings, 'Sweet
Dancer', 'Let The Earth Bear Witness' and 'September 1913' are the
real highlights, but to say that the other ten tracks are just poetry
put to music doesn't quite give them their due. 'An Appointment ...'
is more than just a brave experiment.
You've probably seen and head a number of european bands that style
themselves as Spanish/German/Italian sort of 60s mod types, playing
retro instruments and putting together posters and sleeve art that
look like adverts for schlocky late 50s exploitaition flicks, and
The Jumpin' Quails started off on that circuit, one that has just
as many aficianados in Turin as it does in Barcelona, Zurich and just
about every other big european city you can name. This is only where
they started though, and after several years of redefining their influences,
their second album is a sort of summation of their combining 60s and
80s influences, going a bit angular and blending everything into a
cohesive (their word) whole.
From Atlanta, Ernest Greene is the actual Next Big Thing in electronic
songwriting, working alongside Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Gnarls
Barkley producer Ben Allen on this album, so we are led to expect
a work of transcendent near genius, if not actual pyrotechnics from
a composer whose work very much resembles that of another musician
working in a similar area, and that is Brothertiger, whom I reviewed
I think here and definitely at US webzine www.adequacy.net last summer.
The songs on 'Within And Without' do sound a lot like those on the
Brothertiger EP, right down to the synth percussion, the touch of
phasing, the languid arpeggios, even the vocal sounds near identical.
An idea that some US songwriters are putting a lot of work into perfecting,
that's what the silky smooth synth pomp ballads on 'Within And Without
' are, and I only hope that they don't overwork it because the best
moments here are near masterful exercises in sophisticated electropop,
my enjoyment of these not exactly exactly soured but slightly undermined
by their similarity to Brothertigers music.
I'm unsure exactly which box I had the Hazey Janes filed in, but
it wasn't the one they're inhabiting now. Formed over a decade ago,
the biggest thing from Dundee since The View are to all intents and
purposes full on stadium rockers, heirs apparent to the laurels of
Simple Minds and U2, leaving their edgy skinny indie roots behind
and transforming into a band whose most obvious influences are the
widescreen FM Rock of those still remembered US bands of the late
70s, Boston, Foreigner, Toto et al. Now, there was a time when a band
like the Hazey Janes would've found themselves met with a near deafening
cry of 'sell out' when laying their talents fully at the service of
the mainstream, forgoing the basement bar 500 print run CD circuit
for a support slot next time Bon Jovi visit Murrayfield and a car
advert or two, although after twelve years together who can really
blame them for wanting to take things a bit more seriously? Well,
if you're going to aim for the very heights of the music industry,
then you need the songs to do that with. The right noise isn't really
enough on its own, and the Hazey Janes can congratulate themselves
on producing an album whose songs and musicianship contain the kind
of resonance and scope that really could gain them the kind of exposure
they're not too obviously aiming for.
Debut album from London four-piece produced by Harry Birrell. Frontman
Carle Rocca takes the craftsman’s approach to his songwriting but
ultimately after a number of listens, “Landscapes…” turns out to be
an unengaging album that does little to draw you in. The banjo dominated
opening track “Lucille” pretty much sets the tone; a tightly played,
mid-paced alt-country song lacking somewhat in spunk. The music is
neither bleak, nor beautiful, it’s just…there. The choice of Birrell
to produce was an interesting one given that he is generally better
known for his work with bands who generally have a bit more get-up-and-go
about them (Buzzcocks, Senseless Things and Therapy?) but the lack
of pizzazz is as much down to the pedestrian material rather than
anything else. Admittedly, “Head in the Sand” takes things up a notch
but it is the nearest they come to kicking up a gear and somehow it’s
not enough. Nothing on this album is particularly bad; it’s well recorded
and competently written, but ultimately a little spartan in terms
of holding your interest. 4/10
Ladies Who Lunch, an alternative rock four-piece from London, proves well the shift in the music scene that’s going on at the moment. When front man Rocca describes his songs as sculptures made of clay, wood and riverbed stones, he of course has the wide deserts and wild woods of the American Middle West in mind; not as one might expect from a London band, a sculpture made of red brick standing in front of a terrace house. LWL’s sound resembles American alternative rock. “Lucille” is standing out, as its banjo reflects more a combination of Americana and crunchy Decemberists. The rest of their songs have the essential components for an alternative band, but their problem is they are too well-behaved to keep your ears listening. Voice and sound frame are good, but there is much need for a riper sound. A touch of more lunacy would suit them well to explore their strengths and deepen their songs. The rough power pop of the brilliantly written “Head In The Sand” is one of the rare songs with a real hook, and “Picture On A Wall” breathes the spirit of a true 90s grunge revival. “Sudden Morning” ends the mediocre album with a voice that this time reminds one of Liam Gallagher and not Billy Corgan (“Currents”). That proves, LWL remain more British than American. No question, the current heroes of the British-American crossover unrivalled are: Yuck.
Given that this is an unashamedly gleeful EP chock full of garage/psych
rock, it is somewhat fitting that the band initially met at a Brian
Jonestown Massacre gig in 2006. The Liverpool three piece cheerfully
pilfer T Rex riffs on “There’s a Bomb in The House” and trade licks
with MC5 and Mudhoney on the fantastic “Horror Scope”. They also have
a refreshing sense of humour that makes some of their forebears (stand
up BJTM and BRMC) seem a little stiff in comparison. “A Little Taste
of Home’s“opening couplet, “steady as a stone as it rolls down a hill/you’re
going to die here son and I probably will as well” gives us a wry
spin on a well-used cliché. All in all, a bit of riot really.
So, given that. What have we got? Heavily flanged bass trickery, glacial Daniel Kessler style guitars and amphetamine fuelled drums, that’s what. Running a gamut of influences from Tubeway Army and The Chameleons, to Psychedelic Furs and Interpol, they manage to inject enough of themselves into it to make a rammy of their own without sounding too much like a slavish tribute. Naturally, Joy Division would also normally loom large in any such inspirational list but interestingly they look to an embryonic New Order instead – a fiver says that “The Beasts are Brave” is the upstart cousin to New Order’s “Cries and Whispers”.
As you’d imagine, the song titles indicate a preference for studying the darker side of human nature (“Contradiction” and, er, “Human Nature”) and the Soviets have also chosen to record the songs in English so occasionally the syntax on the Numan-esque vocals sounds a bit weird. OK, what it really means is that I have no idea what the singer in blithering on about so don’t expect me to conduct any sort of investigation into the meaning of the lyrics. I have to admit though, rather than sounding clumsy though, if anything it adds a sense of mystery to the music, especially a song like “Princes, Prostitutes”, which zips a winter chill through this summer heart.
Not yet firing on all thrusters, but a decent listen all the same.
It’ll be interesting to see what this lot come up with in the future.
One of Ninja Tune's latest talents is that of Jono McCleery, the down-tempo crusader. This is his second release following up 'Darkest Light' in 2008. The album opens with 'Fears', a stunning track with groovy jazz 5/4 vibes; acoustic strings meet a modern beat, funky bass and McCleery's soulful voice ambling over the top. It's a real beauty.
The track is followed up with 'Garden' with pacey rhythm, a disjointed guitar and that distinctive voice. Everything about this is Ninja Tune – it's the kind of voice you would find featuring on a Bonobo track. Or compare it if you will to that of Fink, but with an octave or two thrown in for good measure. 'Garden' hears McCleery trail off into wailing soundscapes much like that of Thom Yorke.
It is easy to get lost in the album, losing yourself in a daze as the gentle beats roll along and the soothing vocals, strings and bass. But this isn't the kind of album of singalong classics. An album like this is all about the whole package, just under an hour of immersive down-tempo glory to revel in. As well as the aforementioned references, track five 'It's All' features a Cinematic Orchestra-esque breakdown, another Ninja Tune artist. If you're a fan of the label for the most part then this shouldn't let you down, and whilst the second half of the album isn't quite as enjoyable as the first, it's still rather good. 8/10
The most striking thing about this album at a glance is that it was once called “Kevin Spacey” - but the superstar wasn't too happy about that and subsequently the album became “Evinspacey”, with the all-important K simply blotted out with a magic marker. But this wasn't his first court run-in; in 2008 his mash-up of Ludicrous and GnR's Chinese Democracy got him into a bit of a pickle. So what was this album going to be all about? I was expecting some serious mash-ups, but what I heard was something else.
Cassettes Won't Listen aka Jason Drake opens his new album with 'Friendly Float', a pleasant enough synth led tune with a really nice analogue feel about it and an altogether good set up for the album. Something a bit RJD2, Wagon Christ, you know. But then that goes completely out the window as we are shunted unwillingly into a dream-pop shoegaze showcase. When the vocals arrive on the scene they are somewhere between Hot Chip and generic shoegaze, and proceed to flutter over a synth sound-scape; an enormous amalgamation of sounds all subtly working together. Square leads, crunchy tones, blips, blops and don't forget the blaps. There are a few tracks that are musically promising (Friendly Float, Harp Darkness), although they are also coincidentally tracks that feature no vocals. For me, putting my gripes with the lifeless vocals aside, the album is just a little too difficult to get on with. It is hard to decipher whether the main issue is that there's too much going on at once, or whether out of everything happening none of it is very interesting. But either way, it's not for me. 5/10
A nine-track indie rock album that lasts 51 minutes? Whatever next? Unless CD text is lying to me of course, and this isn't indie rock... ...this isn't indie rock. It just about scrapes indie, it's got the pace and rhythm of a band like Two Door Cinema Club – but it's got far too many electro bubbles bibbling throughout to qualify as rock. 'Itchy Fingers' is the opening track which for the initial ten seconds could be mistaken for the soundtrack to a seventies porno, and then the pace arrives, the jittering synths and the Spandau Ballet vocals. By the latter statement I'm not suggesting this song will get roomfuls of people chanting along, but there is something distinctively dated about the vocal style. Thankfully there are just enough modern pulsating wobbly electronic interjections to save this from the realm of seventies tributism – and the breakdown chorus has a bizarre Flight of the Conchords edge; not in an amusing way but just that over the top breathy style, you know.
The next track, 'Playtime' is nearly seven minutes of extremely slow repetitive keyboards and faint 'arty' murmours. 'You'll Improve Me' is a bit Princey, and it isn't until “Kick The Can” that we are greeted with a song that doesn't appear to have its roots deep in the past. The only vocals featured appear to repeat the title over and over again while the song bimbles off with analogue synth tones fluttering off like a Luke Vibert track.
All in all it's quite a confusing mixture of sounds and whilst it isn't my thing, I can't really seriously fault it. Just imagine if Hot Chip and Calvin Harris were at the height of their fame twenty-five years ago, that's what we're dealing with. 6/10
This is Sawhney's ninth album, would you believe. The latest instalment in his critically acclaimed career as a musician, songwriter, composer and producer; and the follow-up to London Undersound a couple of years back. Similar to his previous release, Last Days of Meaning has subtle political vibes and focuses around one main character voiced by John Hurt. The cover (which you could easily mistake for a Biffy cover from the Puzzle era) sees Hurt sat in front of a tape-deck, and the album consists of a series of songs (a mixtape from his ex-wife played off of the tape-deck) and separated by Hurt's spoken word reflections. The album is once again rich with collaborations, some of which (Tina Grace, Natty) also featured on London Undersound.
“The Devil And Midnight” opens the album, with soulful vocals from Yolanda Quartey. Initially the music sounds a bit country break-down with a cheeky mouthorgan, but this is soon superseded by a piano. Then the mouthorgan returns and brings a simple beat with it. The first reflection is simply the ramblings of a lonely bitter man.
The album continues in this way – a (usually) subdued track followed by angry mutterings. As the album continues Hurt's reflections start to become marginally more positive, but I can't help but feel that these interruptions ruin the flow of the album. They usually last over a minute, are much quieter than the songs, and don't really offer much in terms of story or opinion. It could, of course, all be going over my head though.
As for the songs, they're nearly all gentle tracks, featuring the breathy vocals of various individuals over beat-less instrumentation which is tricky to immerse yourself in but, despite the song's style, Sawhney's Asian heritage shines through.
Compared to his other releases this is certainly a lot calmer and all in all I'm a little disappointed, but perhaps it's just not for me. It could probably work fairly nicely as background music for a variety of settings if it wasn't for the spoken word reflections. In terms of the statement the album is trying to make about “entrenchment and dogmatism”, hats off, but I won't be back for a second listen. 5/10
Sultry and sexy are this Norwegian/Belgian outfit that go by the name of Bix Medard. An eerie gothic overtone rides amongst the bobbing electro pop that encases everything. Songs such as ‘Take a Deep Breath’ and ‘Sur Les Marches’ have a beautiful echo surrounding the vocals whereas ‘Are You Ready?’ has a more robotic ambience that takes a dark turn when teamed with a Dracula-esque organ. The fact that a lot of the vocals are in French also adds to the gloriously humid atmosphere as well as adding a slight exotic slant to my English ears.
Although new and exciting, I have to say that you wouldn’t want to listen to this alone too often, as more sinister quality takes over, sounding like a bizarre arthouse horror film. I must admit that I did just lock all of the doors. Nevertheless, in terms of invigorating the experimentalists, this album has rather done the trick.
I have a feeling that I was meant to be overwhelmed by Devonté Hynes latest side project. Alas, put bluntly: I am not impressed at all. I was promised something new, exciting and most importantly different. However, all I am getting is a watered down, more Americanised Lightspeed Champion.
Don’t get me wrong, this album is still astounding and a real treat for the ears as we glide through a stealthily sexy ‘Sulphin Bouvelard’ and into the brights of up-beat guitar led romps such as ‘I’m Sorry We Lied’ and ‘The Complete Knock’. However, sometimes there is just a little something missing. A little twist that is not present to pleasantly surprise such as a time signature or key change or harmony or choral lift. The problem is, without his English eccentricity he just is not as exhilarating.
Is it due to their mother’s milk, the town’s groundwater, or is there something special in the local Sheffield ales? ‘Suck It And See’ shows that there must be something in the Sheffield rain that makes Arctic Monkeys one of England’s most acclaimed bands. The Monkeys return to where they started, and accomplish what they tried on their two last experimental records. Fans who demand the same power and youthful unconcern of the debut only can do them wrong. After the constrained ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ and the experiments on ‘Humbug’ comes ‘Suck It And See’, an album that proves that the four South Yorkshire men found adult straightness, and furthermore that Alex Turner is Britain’s most talented songwriter. “Black Treacle”, “She’s Thunderstorms”, as well as the two singles “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I Moved Your Chair” and “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” showcase Turner’s new grounded easiness. The swine rock of “Brick By Brick” could be seen as the only blackout on the album, but it still takes a lot of talent to write a piece that rocks forward with such a passion.
It’s not only Turner who seems grown up and earthed now. The instrumental parts know how they can turn the songs into the atmosphere they were looking for. The youthfulness of the first album could be preserved to some degree, as well as heavier influences from the second and third record. The pop pearl “Suck It And See” and “Reckless Serenade” work with whirring guitars that prefer to set a course than to strum through the songs; the guitars make space for Turner’s Scott Walker songwriting. Also “Piledriver Waltz” expresses this very 60s melancholy, and makes you think you can hear the rain fall over Sheffield.
But be cautious and don’t have too high expectations. This album gets by without any obvious hits. It is no masterpiece. But that’s not what makes ‘Suck It And See’ so good. Turner’s songwriting and the band’s instrumentations made their way from the stormy beginnings, through their experiments, and finally to an album that could give directions for a forthcoming masterpiece. The closer already leers at it: “That’s Where You’re Wrong”. I’m sure they are not.
There is no rule that summer hits need to be fluffily easy feel good music. They also work with ambition. That’s what Florence proved two years ago. Now in 2011 we have the Canadian trio Austra with its “Lose It” providing the hit of the season; and the untypically fey “Uh uh oh oh oh ohh” chorus is the only typical pattern for a summer hit. This figurehead of a song is symbolic for Austra’s ambition. Darkness and inner conflicts, interpreted with dreary Kate Bush vocals. Shimmering goth songwriting like on “Darken Her Horse” and singer Katie Stelmanis’ unsettling sweet and strong voice on “The Future” are outstanding this summer. Always underlined with an army of synthesizers and gothic electro beats (“Beat And The Pulse”). Despite the success of writing a summer hit, Maya Postepski (drums), Dorian Wolf (bass) and Stelmanis never see themselves on the bright sight of life. Inner disruptions, sexual identities (Postepski and Stelmanis being queer) and threatening coolness are tangible the whole album through (“Hate Crime”, “The Villain”).
Wow. This versatile offering by Comet Gain challenges the listener with a combination of different styles, rarely heard in this variety. To anticipate the conclusion: This intelligent mix works out for David Feck and his companions. It’s hard to define what represents Comet Gain’s influences most, because they are so numerous. The very good opener “Clang Of The Concrete Swans” starts as Americana Folk Rock in the spirit of Okkervil River and happy Bright Eyes, and misleads the listener who expects further songs in this very American tradition. “The Weekend Dreams” already disabuses this idea with a powerful 60s influenced girl pop-punk. “An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls”, however, cites 80s New Wave drive and Synth-pop tunes, whereas Comet Gain play around with mean Fall-esque rumpling punk on “Working Circle Explosive”.
The song-writing cores on this record are made up by the souly “After Midnite, After Its All Gone Wrong”, where Feck comes close to a desperate, but poppy Conor Oberst, the destructive melancholy of the perfect “Ballad Of Frankie Machine” that also would have suited Michael Stipe, and last but not least followed by the forgiving pop of “Some Of Us Don’t Want To Be Saved”. Coincidence that Feck claims that “music will save you” on “Thee Ecstatic Library”?
Taking all the differences between the post-punk influenced fast songs and the perfectly written pop song-writer pearls, there is one constant: The spirit of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan in Feck’s melodies. The Go-Betweens not only saved one life. “Some Of Us Don’t Want To Be Saved/ Ever Again”. We already are. Thank you, Mr Forster, and Mr McLennan! Now also heaven is saved.
The cover of Two Is A Crowd by Isaac’s Aircraft shows a chimp sitting on a… right, aircraft. We don’t know if the Cambridge four piece sees themselves as chimps. However, the cover painted in the style of Leo Rauch, suggests a very good portion of humor and style. And also the debut’s name Two Is A Crowd shows subtle thoughts. Sadly, the cover is the most interesting part of this acoustic album. Mostly underlined with a dynamic piano play, it must be clear that Ben Folds is far far away. “My Baby Did Me Wrong” starts as an interesting Queens Of The Stone Age piano pounder, but falls into an unnerving funk. “Good Man” changes the piano into an annoyingly nervous guitar strumming hanging on bland repetitive lyrics. These components remain for the rest of the album, stomping funky piano rhythms, as bad copies of The Zutons, alternated with uninspired acoustic song-writing. The lead vocals grouch along emotionally with the piano drive, but never come close to the big American piano-writer Folds. Only on “Too Many Kiss” the band is able to prove their talent with classy lightness and a decent instrumentation. Apart from this bright sport, the cover’s carefreeness cannot be observed on the record, sadly Isaac’s Aircraft couldn’t save their humor for their music.
For someone like me who does not care about details like names of the people behind the controllers, the fact that Gareth Jones - who already mixed Depeche Mode - also was responsible for the very minimal mix of Sons & Daughters’ third full-length album was designative for the sound. Creating a very rough up-to-date punky 60s rock album ‘This Gift’ under the direction of Bernard Butler, S&D move one decade further, to 79s post-punk and 80s dark wave. This 2011 conception of old wave picks up the old recipes, and mix them with a contemporary breeze. “Silver Spell” gets along with a threatening beat and the confrontational voices of Adele Bethel and Scott Paterson, and only where it’s appropriate chirping and cheeping of electronic attachments rarefies the atmosphere. “This Model” walks along as souly post-punk and casts its feathers to dark dance music. The rumpling and threatening post-punk of “Breaking Fun” reminds of dark wave hymns in the spirit of Pere Ubu, The Fall and Psychedelic Furs.
The question whether this black-white minimalism that copies the 70s/80s waves still is legitimate in 2011, 5-7 years after the heyday of the latest post-punk revival, does not even arise. The success of The Kills proves that highly polished electro and glam pop are not the only promises of the very popular 80s. And S&D’s talent to create special moments in any atmosphere proves that ‘Mirror Mirror’ is a very good album that braves the pop mainstream.
The very angry breath in Bethel’s voice creates unsettling moments (“Bee Song”), the enchanting spooky drive through the rain on “The Beach”, as well as the Gang of Four contaminated bass play on “Don’t Look Now” bring it to light: This pure post-punk album is the anti-thesis to the shiny glam pop world.