Archive | August, 2009

R.E.M ‘Reckoning’ – Classic Album Review

19 Aug

What is R.E.M’s best album? some may say their stunning debut ‘Murmur’, that did for American music what The Smith’s debut did for British music in the 80’s. Their slightly later, more sophisticated triumph ‘Document’ might also get a shout for being the album that introduced them to a larger audience whilst staying true to their indie sound. Their major label successes ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Automatic for the People’ are also recognized as classics, abeit shinier, happier classics.

My choice however (if I had to choose) would be their second album, ‘Reckoning’, and luckily it’s just been re-released.  It came out shortly after Murmur, and it’s certainly in the same vein, though more polished, slightly more cohesive, slightly more enjoyable. It also includes my favourite ever R.E.M track ‘Don’t go Back To Rocksvile’ which demonstrates a looser, softer sound that the band would come to call their own in the 90’s. The Song’s country tinge also shows the band’s new varied sound that they would go on to develop. The lyrics here are also magnificent. The song’s story is touching and yet cryptic as if you are veiwing the scene through a foggy window. Yet it is a lot clearer and more listenable than their debut’s lyrics which were so hard to understand that there was little point trying. The mix here is a lot better which helps (there is a meatier, more vibrant sound) but the lyrics throughout are generally a lot better.

It kicks of with one of the best opening sides I can think of. First the blurry, out of sync pop of Harborcoat, then the equally dynamic, equally mysterious 7 Chinese Bros. These two tracks bristle with energy and magic but the next couple of songs demonstrate their newly found confidence; The confidence to slow down and let the listener hear Stipe’s wonderful lyrics. ‘So Central Rain’ is built around the simple refrain of ‘I’m sorry’ and it’s as moving as any other song in the band’s back catalogue.  The comes ‘Pretty Persuasion’, which is just as touching as So Central rain and just as crazy as Harborcoat, it is another classic. The side ends with the more subdued and Tender ‘Time after time’. The Indian leanings here point to the band’s love of 60’s music (particuarly The Byrds and The Zombies), something that can also be heard in the tingling Rickenbackers heard throughout the album.

The Second side clearly isn’t as good as the first side (how could it be) but it is the more varied and perhaps interesting side. ‘Camera’ is the most touching song on the album (about their recently departed friend, a photographer) whilst ‘Second Guessing’ keeps the pace at a frantic post Punk level.  The final song, ‘Little America’ sends the listener away convinced they have just heard one of the most important albums of the 80’s – and they would be right. Today Reckoning still sounds as fresh, as vital, as groundbreaking as it ever did. The recently released deluxe edition makes it even more vibrant. The mix is brought to life and the packaging is typically brilliant. ‘Reckoning’s’ legacy is now guaranteed.

The Temper Trap ‘Conditions’ – Review

18 Aug

The first time someone described The Temper Trap to me, he called them ‘Rock’. And indeed they are ‘Rock’; the type of mind numbing, mid tempo, sludgy, arena size rock that is hard to stick. The type of rock aimed at the biggest (and dumbest) audience possible. The type of Rock I can’t stand.

It is big on echo and low on subtlety, just take the bombastic opener ‘Love Lost’ – they clearly have one eye on Coldplay and the other on U2. It’s not that the album is terrible, there are some genuinely pretty melodies and some nice vocals, but everything that comes with it that is the problem. It’s the album equivalent of finding an attractive and fairly nice woman who comes loaded with debt, a three year old child and an ex with an axe to grind – no thanks. The production is overbearing  and too full on, and you’re not so much swimming in echo as drowning in it. It’s this that lets down the decent first single (and best thing on here) ‘Sweet Disposition’ and makes the rest of the album too much hard work. Just listen to the hideous chants on the Muse meets Bee Gees ‘Resseuection’. Yuk. The stadium sized riffs are derivative, their lyrics are slandered stuff that rarely enhance the dreary music. The songs blur into each other with no definition or attitude, and so the album drags throughout.

The worst is saved till last with the laughable ‘Drum Song.’ Who ever decided to put a drum centric instrumental as the album’s closing statement should be fired. It sums up the album’s lack of direction and tendency for the bloated. This album has one gear and it’s unfortunate because there are hints of something better (Dougy Mandagi’s has a pleasing set of lungs and a knack for a good melody). As it is this album will be forgotten very quickly indeed but the band may go onto better, but I pray not bigger, things.


Wild Beasts ‘Two Dancers’ – Review

17 Aug

It’s funky it’s fresh, It’s Wild Beasts! I did not think I would be saying that about the bands follow up to the great debut ‘Limbo Panto’, and it may only be true of a few tracks, but this is a funky record.

It isn’t a bold step forward from their debut (in fact it lacks the spontaneity of that album) but it is a much more rounded, enjoyable listen. Musically it is dense yet streamlined, super serious but with a sense of fun. If you had to you could draw a line between them and Foals but they share more in common with Talking heads and even the likes of Prince  than with any contemporary act. They are a band you would more easily locate in America but not so much Yorkshire.

The seriousness of the music is nicely offset by some humorous and playful words, although they are equally prone to pretentiousness. This is a highly stylised and sophisticated (not to mention sensual) record, but the words are often deliberately hard to decipher. There is a brilliant part on one track that goes ‘This is a booty call / My boot up your asshole / This is a Freudian slip / My slipper in your bits’ – it’s fantastic but easy to miss as the singers voice goes up and down like a bungee rope.

And so I come to the obvious element that will determine how you rate Wild Beasts – Haydon Thorpe’s voice. It is either a classic falsetto or the most annoying thing in indie, depending on which side of the argument you are on. It shares more in common with Kate Bush than anyone else and there is simply no getting around it. For my money he is a classic singer, abeit a slightly over the top and dramatic one (listen to the stuning opener ‘The Fun Powder Plot’.

‘Two Dancers’ is a very acomplished second record, the band have progressed nicely from their debut without deviating too wildly from the gameplan. It isn’t a classic but it is a nice stepping stone and one of the more surprising albums of the year.


New Radiohead e.p?

15 Aug

The question on everyones lips at the moment is what will be Radiohead’s new move? We know they are playing Reading and Leeds in two weeks time, and they have more European shows before theb But the big buzz is around the new songs that have leaked in the last few weeks. First we had a preview of a new song at Lattitude; It was an acoustic number and though hardly a classic it was a nice surprise. Then came a tribute to the late Harry Patch that was built around a stunning score written by Johnny.  This was an offical track released to raise money for charity – what wasn’t official was the leaking of ‘These are my twisted words’ . The track (that would have sat comfortably on Kid A or In Rainbows) got good reviews when it previewed last week and now it could be joined by an official EP if internet rumours are to be believed. The likes of NME and Pitchfork media are reporting that a new E.P called ‘Wall of Ice’ is going to be released on 17th August online. Of course Radiohead aren’t new to springing things on us (see In Rainbows) and last year Bloc party rush released their new album before thier Leeds performance, so this isn’t as crazy as it may seem. More Radiohead is only a good thing, so fingers crossed that this is all true!

The XX ‘XX’ – Review

15 Aug

The XX is a cool name for a band. Unfortunately their name makes them very difficult to find on-line. Therefore very little is known about the band, which makes them even more of a bolt out of the blue because their debut album is stunning.

Their sound is simple, dynamic, restrained and classic. It’s the post Kid A album we have been waiting for, the pop interpretation of dubstep (it’s even more brilliant than Burial’s ‘Untrue’). One thing known about the band is that this is self produced by their leader and multi instrumentalist Jamie Smith. Smith inhabits a dark dream scape, yet to his credit he holds back from the nightmarish vision that would be easier to shape with the sound. It is pretty at times and hopefull throughout. The bass may be low and heavy but it is melodic like the Cure whilst the drums share a lot in common with Timbalands beats, especially on the fabulous ‘Intro’ which sets up the album perfectly.

The singing is shared between two members, one female, one male. It’s a breathtaking mix here, especially when combined with the restrained beats and melting guitars. Tracks such as ‘VCR’ and ‘Basic Space’ in particular sound great with the breathy vocals and catchy lyrics. It’s an album from the streets of London and it is obvious throughout, I can imagine hearing it on the underground at night passing the buildings – it’s no coincidence that Smith is from the same suburb as Four Tet and Burial.

The album rarely diverts from it’s winning formula but this is not to complain about when it is done so well. Like Kid A and even Pet Sounds before it, XX is a concept album about the heart from the heart – through both lyrics and through feel. The conviction of this band is extraordinary and a breath of fresh air in this Myspace culture. It’s hard to knock, especially as you suspect it is exactly how they wanted it to be. What can be criticised? Well nothing really. It may not be everyones cup of tea, but it’s hard to fault an album as perfectly conceived as this. I suspect if this is your thing you will love it. The combination of pretty melodies, sophisticated harmonies, dubstep and hip hop is a delight through out, and an unexpected one. ‘Crystalised’ and ‘Islands’ sound like the best things you will hear this year and they probably will be. It sounds like a real contender for debut album of the year.