Archive for the ‘Album’ Category

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AU62: Snow Patrol album review

April 4, 2010

Yeah, I don’t like them much these days…

SNOW PATROL
UP TO NOW
FICTION

Speaking to Gary Lightbody for this issue’s cover feature, it’s striking just how sure he is that Snow Patrol are getting better and better all the time. It just isn’t true. If anything, it’s been downhill ever since Final Straw, and this compilation is aural proof. Take the new single ‘Just Say Yes’, one of three brand new songs among the 27 other singles, album tracks and rarities jumbled up for your delectation. Put simply, the band sound like a lobotomised The Bravery. It’s limp, phoned-in rubbish and the attempt to whack a load of synths onto it in the apparent belief that it makes them sound relevant and edgy is outright laughable.

Then consider the band’s recent singles – ‘Crack The Shutters’, ‘The Planets Bend Between Us’, ‘Take Back The City’ (okay, kudos for managing to fit in two different choruses on that one). Can anyone honestly, with a straight face, claim that these songs, slick as they are, hold a candle to the classic ‘Starfighter Pilot’ (a sister song to Ash’s ‘Angel Interceptor’ and a close cousin of ‘Teenage Kicks’), ‘Ask Me How I Am’, or ‘On/Off’? And that’s just the early tracks that made it onto this compilation – whither ‘One Night Is Not Enough’, ‘Wow’ and the sumptuous ‘If I’d Found The Right Words To Say’?

And before you start moaning, this isn’t about snobbery or jealousy. The career-making Final Straw deserved its success, and it’s represented by three very good songs in ‘Spitting Games’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Run’ (two versions). But, as much as Lightbody denies it (and he does), you can’t shake the notion that the runaway success of ‘Run’ has mapped out the rest of the band’s career for them. Suddenly, Lightbody finds himself capable of writing glossy, radio-friendly anthems, and the crunchy rockers and scratchy indie-pop of old – full as they are of wit, charm, subtlety, heart and soul, can get stuffed. Hence, the execrable ‘Chasing Cars’.

Hearing all of this gloop mixed in among the best of their work makes for an entirely dispiriting experience, and that’s before you even consider all the great songs that have had to make way for the likes of ‘Hands Open’ (in which it sounds like they literally can’t wait to wheel out the chorus) and ‘Signal Fire’. Up To Now can only be recommended as an entry point for people that think the band formed in 2004. But it’s best avoided, really. Chris Jones

4/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘SET THE FIRE TO THE THIRD BAR’ (AS PROOF OF A GOOD LATTER-DAY SONG), WHEN IT’S ALL OVER WE STILL HAVE TO CLEAR UP.
FOR FANS OF: COLDPLAY, KEANE, MAROON FUCKING 5.

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AU61: tUnE-yArDs album review

January 4, 2010

TUNE-YARDS
BIRD-BRAINS
4AD

Merrill Garbus recorded this debut album herself in the most lo-fi way imaginable these days (a digital voice recorder and free software) and doesn’t it just show? It’s scratchy, hissy and rough, and sometimes the bass interrupts with a blast of unintended distortion, but the miraculous thing is that Garbus’s songwriting survives it. And then some. She signed to 4AD and was picked to tour with the Dirty Projectors, and things like that don’t happen by chance. Highlights like the ass-shaking Afro-pop of ‘Hatari’, the eerie nursery rhyme ‘Lions’ and the dancehall-infused ‘Jamaican’ show just how far you can push such a simple set-up. The singing is heartfelt, the cut-up arrangements often ingenious and the songs frankly wonderful. What we have here is a pop maverick, and if you can stomach the bargain-basement sound and the 54-minute runtime, then you’re in for a bit of a treat.

8/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘HATARI’, ‘SUNLIGHT’, ‘LIONS’.
FOR FANS OF: MICACHU & THE SHAPES, DIRTY PROJECTORS, RUBY LIONS.

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AU61: Ben Frost album review

January 4, 2010

BEN FROST
BY THE THROAT
BEDROOM COMMUNITY

What kind of perverse Australian ends up living and working in Reykjavik, Iceland? Exactly the kind that would make bleak, desolate music like this, I guess. Ben Frost runs the Bedroom Community collective/label with former Björk cohort Valgeir Sigurðsson and classical composer Nico Muhly, and this aptly titled third album is a sonic experience like few others. It’s arresting, forbidding stuff. Frost operates on the boundary between modern classical (à la Jóhann Jóhannsson) and electronic noise/drone, and for fans of Fennesz and Tim Hecker, By The Throat will be manna. The stormy ‘Killshot’ and the seriously unsettling ‘Ó God Protect Me’ – which samples what sounds like the snatched gasps of a hospital patient – outline Frost’s mission from the beginning. If this is a window into his soul, then you have to fear for him, for the whole album is dripping with a sense of creeping dread. And it’s a physical experience as much as an aural or emotional one – Frost uses gut-punching bass pressure and ear-splitting noise as sonic punctuation amongst the synthesisers, field recordings and classical instrumentation. There are guest appearances from Sigur Rós collaborators Amiina, Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara and the aforementioned Muhly, but this is no-one’s vision but Frost’s. It’s fearless and it’s frightening and it demands to be heard shit-your-pants loud.

9/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘KILLSHOT’, ‘Ó GOD PROTECT ME’, ‘THROUGH THE ROOF OF YOUR MOUTH’.
FOR FANS OF: FENNESZ, TIM HECKER, JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON.

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AU61: Gentle Friendly album review

January 4, 2010

GENTLE FRIENDLY
RIDE SLOW
UPSET THE RHYTHM

Grimy, scuzzy, lo-fi pop music has been the sole preserve of the States for the last couple of years, but Nottingham’s Lovvers and now south London duo Gentle Friendly are holding the British end up rather well. And quite right too – it wouldn’t do to let the Yanks get too far ahead, now, would it? However, although Lovvers are fun and great live, they aren’t doing much that Jay Reatard or No Age haven’t done already. Gentle Friendly, on the other hand, appear to march to the beat of their own drum.

For a start, their line-up is devoid of stringed instruments of any kind, as they rely solely on drums, a keyboard and an organ to make their playful racket. Secondly, as much of a hipster magnet as they undoubtedly are, they sound too individual to be accused of ripping anyone off. Thirdly, and most importantly, they write some weird and wonderful songs when they rein in the obviously breathless experimentation. ‘Lovers Rock’ is a swaying lilt that recalls Clinic’s ‘Distortions’; ‘Vincentt’ is a mysterious little pop song, sung hazily over the organic drone of a synth and an insistent drumbeat; and ‘NO808ON’ plays Dan Deacon at his own frantic game and nearly wins. Ultimately, though, the impression that lingers is that of an exciting and creative new band, one that is going to be fun to follow.

7/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘LOVERS ROCK’, ‘RIP STATIC’, ‘VINCENTT’.
FOR FANS OF: CLINIC, DAN DEACON, THE MAE SHI.

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AU60: Why? album review

November 17, 2009

Biggest disappointment of the year, hands down. 😦 It does, however, contain one of my favourite songs of 2009 in ‘This Blackest Purse’. Give it a listen down at the bottom of the post.

WHY?
ESKIMO SNOW
TOMLAB

Forgive me for diving headlong into the first person here, but I wanted to love this record so much. Maybe too much. Why?’s last album Alopecia was my favourite of 2008 – it was pure perfection, full of charm, wit, intelligence, raw honesty, unforgettable lyrics and the best marriage of hip-hop grooves to slacker-pop songwriting since Odelay. So when I discovered that another record was to be plucked from the same sessions, my expectations for Eskimo Snow became unattainably high Or so it has proved, because unfortunately there are only a few songs here good enough to have made it onto Alopecia and that, while acknowledging that the two albums are strikingly different in style, mood and tone (Eskimo Snow is dark and introspective, almost an alt. country record), constitutes a real disappointment.

Yoni Wolf is incapable of writing poor lyrics and his unique style, heavy on arresting imagery and dextrous wordplay, is fully intact here, but for large parts the songs are not. In deciding which ones went where, Wolf appears to have overplayed his hand, overloading Alopecia with his best stuff. It’s not all bad news, mind you, because penultimate song ‘This Blackest Purse’ is gorgeous, affecting and one of Wolf’s best, while bookends ‘These Hands’ and the title track are almost painfully tender and ‘One Rose’ and ‘Against Me’ have much to recommend them. But although the two albums share the same genes, it’s clear which one is the black sheep of the family.

6/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘THIS BLACKEST PURSE’, ‘THESE HANDS’, ‘ONE ROSE’
FOR FANS: SILVER JEWS, BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY, GRANDADDY.

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AU60: Lightning Bolt album review

November 17, 2009

LIGHTNING BOLT
EARTHLY DELIGHTS
LOAD

I think we all know what to expect from Lightning Bolt by now, and their formula of bass + drums + extreme volume – subtlety has barely changed one iota on this, their fifth album. As usual, the two Brians from Providence, Rhode Island spend a brisk 50 minutes attempting to kick the shite out of you, the listener, with satisfyingly brutal results. It is possible, though, that the band peaked with their last two albums, Wonderful Rainbow and Hypermagic Mountain, especially the latter, because as an overall experience, Earthly Delights is marginally less thrilling. But there’s not a lot in it.

Of interest to the hardcore are the few interesting new ideas scattered about, like the weirdly country-ish twang to ‘Funny Farm’, the sludgy, stoner-metal feel of ‘Nation of Boar’ and ‘Colossus’ and the positively jaunty (these things are relative) ‘The Sublime Freak’, which rejoices in some unusually playful drumming – i.e. not completely bludgeoning – from Brian Chippendale. The main selling point, however, is the monstrous 12-minute closer ‘Transmissionary’, which is utterly breathtaking in its audacity and sheer sustained power. It will grind your face to dust. In essence, the message here is that if you like the band and want more, you’ll be delighted. If you’ve never heard Lightning Bolt but you’re partial to a bit of ear-splitting insanity, start with Wonderful Rainbow or Hypermagic Mountain. The rest of you, move along now and leave the rest of us to our deafening fun.

7/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘TRANSMISSIONARY’, ‘COLOSSUS’, ‘SOUND GUARDIANS’.
FOR FANS OF: HELLA, BORIS, BLACK SABBATH.

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AU60: Girls album review

November 17, 2009

This was the lead album review in this issue, superbly illustrated by the excellent Mark Reihill. Seriously talented dude – he’s doing all the lead reviews now and the section is all the better for it.

GIRLS
ALBUM
FANTASYTRASHCAN/TURNSTILE

By now, you may well be familiar with the backstory of this San Fran duo (and if not, get thee to our Incoming piece on p. 19), but while it’s a ripping – and harrowing – yarn indeed, it doesn’t deserve to cast too large a shadow over the music on this splendid debut, already dubbed “a lo-fi Pet Sounds” by The Guardian. The pair are led by one Christopher Owens, a quintessential Californian longhair that bears ample resemblance to one of Wayne and Garth’s mates in Wayne’s World. He also has the faraway look of a man who inhabits a different world to the rest of us, which makes sense when you discover where he came from – a childhood stolen from him by the Children of God cult, before escaping to spend his late teens cultivating a fearsome drug habit in Texas, then being taken under the wing of a rich philanthropist who put him on the straight and narrow before he decamped to the bright lights of San Francisco, formed a band called Curls with his then-girlfriend, and then, when she left him, Girls with best bud and recording whiz Chet ‘JR’ White.

All of which would suggest that Owens and White are now fine, upstanding young men, perfect role models and pictures of sobriety. Not a bit of it. Their MySpace page lists the band’s official website as Drugs.com’s handy pills identifier, where you can input the code of whatever disco biscuit is in your clammy hand and instantly find out what’s in it. And in interviews, they’re not shy about their genuine love of prescription drugs, even going so far as to complain that they were stuck with ketamine during their first trip to the UK. Stoned slackers they are, and stoned slackers they sound, but to good effect.

Album wears its influences on its sleeve, jumping about from sun-kissed Californian pop to fuzz-drenched shoegaze and from Beach Boys-style surf to nervy nerd-rock, a comparison that’s helped no end by Owens’ Elvis Costello-style vocal tics – though he couldn’t look more different if he tried. Opening track ‘Lust For Life’ is a classic, happy-sad pop song in which Owens’ deals with the lack of a father figure in his childhood, declaring that “Now I’m just crazy and totally mad / Yeah, I’m just crazy and fucked in the head.” There are also references to the end of a relationship – probably the one that ended before Girls began – but it’s not a maudlin song. The melody is exquisite and the arrangement weightless, skipping along on a bed of tambourine and handclaps. The nostalgic, hedonistic video is a treat, too.

‘Laura’ and ‘Lauren-Marie’ are gorgeous, yearning love songs, but the very first single, the awkwardly titled ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ is the real jewel in the crown, a seven-minute epic that starts off at a gentle strum before exploding into life as a glorious, life-affirming hymn to sucking up your problems and getting on with enjoying life. Spiritualized, with their Royal Albert Hall-sized, narcotised take on gospel, loom large. Elsewhere, ‘Morning Light’ would sit well on The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s album with its frantic, soaring shoegaze, while ‘Big Bad Mean Motherfucker’ and ‘Headache’ are straight out of the early Sixties, the former a fuzzed-up ‘Surfin’ USA’ and the latter a rich croon, complete with wall of sound backing vocals.

Although defiantly lo-fi and a touch scattershot, the whole thing sounds gorgeous. White, whose brief it is to commit Owens’ songs to tape and silicon, has worked wonders – though Album is never quite sure what type of, er, album it wants to be, there is a measure of cohesion here. It sounds rich and aged, like it could scarcely have been made anywhere but San Francisco – all sunshine, warm breezes and the sweet smell of weed smoke. But if it does fall down, it’s in a few overlong songs and the constant flitting between genres. This is a debut and it sounds like it – the aesthetic and songwriting chops are there, but the vision and focus haven’t turned up yet. If they do, then we really could have a successor to Brian Wilson on our hands. Until then, enjoy a promising debut.

8/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘LUST FOR LIFE’, ‘HELLHOLE RATRACE’. ‘LAURA’.
FOR FANS OF: ELVIS COSTELLO, THE BEACH BOYS, THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART.

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