Archive | October, 2009

Mr Hudson ‘Straight No Chaser’ – Review

21 Oct

Mr Hudson and The Library’s debut album passed the world by without making any major impact. I remember really liking the cover, I remember listening to it once and being as impressed as I was repulsed by certain garish aspects of it. The level of musicianship was high, certain songs were catchy but the lyrics were cringe worthy at times and his singing voice was off putting if brilliantly English. I didn’t listen to it again.

So when I heard that Kanye West had adopted Mr Hudson as a protege, I was extremely surprised. This was more than random, it was absolutely bizarre. What did Kanye West see in this slightly out there, slightly old fashioned indie act from England? Obviously he saw something because Mr H has now become part of Kanye’s hip hop elite, working with the likes of Jay Z, Kid Cudi and Kanye himself. Now, at last, we can hear his much anticipated second album ‘Straight No Chaser’.

Obviously much has changed from last time round – most noticeably The Library have disappeared leaving Mr Hudson out front on his own – and this is very much a solo album. The natural sounds of the debut have also been replaced by more hip hop beats, vocoders and 80’s synths making this a much more contemporary album than ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’. It fits in quite snuggly with the more laid back trend of hip hop in the last two years heading in a similar direction to Kanye’s own ‘808 and Heartbreak’, with less satisfying results. Mr Hudson was going for a mass market pop album and for the most part he succeeds.

First single ‘Supernova’ is one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard all year, even if it doesn’t quite sound as epic as the title suggests it should. New single ‘White Lies’ is another very enjoyable pop song that may have you singing along, as will ‘Knew We Were Trouble’, easily the best thing on here. And when Mr Hudson gets the formula right, as he does on these songs, this can be a very enjoyable, very English modern pop album. unfortunately there are far too many moments when the formula goes stale, when he repeats himself such as on the title track or the insipid ‘Instant Mesanger’. All the songs sound essentially the same, which is a shame after the last album’s eclectic nature. The best songs are the ones Kanye had a direct role in, and Kid Cudi also brings some class to ‘Everything is Broken’; its moments like this when you think Mr Hudson is worthy of all the attention he has received.

‘Straight No Chaser’ is a very satisfactory and enjoyable pop record, featuring some brilliantly catchy songs. Mr Hudson combines some English wit and humour with very American beats to good effect. However It is very hit and miss and I’m not sure if many songs will stand repeat listens. You can guarantee that many of these songs will be played on the radio for months to come, so if you buy this album expecting familiar, fun songs you will have a good time – if you expect anything deeper, in the mould of his last record, you may be disappointed.

6/10

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The Flaming Lips ‘Embryonic’ – Review

18 Oct

The Flaming Lips have always been one step out of sync with their contemporaries – one step ahead of the game in many respects, curiously old fashioned in another, and way out to the left in yet another. But to me they have always been a pop band at heart, a band with catchy melodies, breezy harmonies and a unique identity. Yet this pop heart has always been well hidden under layers of psychedelic glam and space rock lyrics, so commercial success hasn’t always accompanied the critical praise.

But since their last album (‘At War With The Mystics’) there has been an influx of bands labelled ‘Neo Psychedelic’, bands who are clearly indebted to The Flaming Lips, and in touch with their adventurous spirit. Bands like MGMT, Animal Collective and Star Death are all making great music, as well as achieving in the charts. Flaming Lips once again have everything to prove but suddenly have less obstacles in their way thanks to these younger groups.

Embryonic is the band’s twelfth album and their first double record, with 18 songs spread over two discs. But this is not really a sprawling double in the spirit of The White album. They don’t use the extra space to dive into a Jazz odyssey or commit acoustic suicide, it all feels very cohesive and very Flaming Lips. But that’s not to say there are no problems with the double disc format – in fact this album suffers from the same troubles that all double albums do. They could easily have fitted this onto one CD and it would have been a much better album for it.

To add to the great length this is also their craziest and most experimental album in a decade, no bad thing, but by the end of the record you feel exhausted and tired. MGMT made an accessible, modern psychedelic record that managed to be fun and intelligent. ‘Embryonic’ feels just as intelligent but lacks the joy of ‘Oracular Spectacular’ and the pop power of Flaming Lips better albums.

Nonetheless there is much to get into here, if you let the madness sink in. Highlights include opener ‘Convinced of the hex’ which makes them sound like a 21st century Jefferson Airplane and the bleak but beautiful ‘Evil’. Elsewhere there are guest appearances from the likes of MGMT (on the disappointing ‘Worm Mountain’) and Karen O (the brilliantly weird ‘I can be a frog’).

‘Embryonic’ is a sporadic, overlong, overwrought, overwhelming, yet madly fascinating album that re-establishes The Flaming Lips as one of the most interesting and eccentric bands of our generation. This is no easy listen, but if you invest your time in it, ‘Embryonic’ may well blow your mind.

8/10

The Drums ‘Summertime’ – Review

17 Oct

The Drums haven’t being going for long – count in months, not years. In spite of this fact they have already gotten a mad live following and intense media coverage, not to mention some brilliant songs under their belt. The former is probably down to where they live (New York), how they look (pretty damn good), and who they know (people in high places I bet) but the brilliant songs are all of their own doing. ‘Summertime’ is their debut mini album – a slightly different version to the one out in America – and it is a wonderful introduction.

The band’s sound can probably be best defined by the album’s sleeve. In the USA the band appear on the front of the record in T Shirts and shorts, jumping up and down on a sunny beach. interestingly in the UK they are being marketed as more of an 80’s Factory records throwback with a typically downcast cover, black and white photo and pale backdrop. The difference in marketing perfectly exemplifies how the band unify two seemingly at odds musical styles into one succesful blend. And as such they can be sold as both a  super serious Joy Division style band and a 1960’s fun surfer group.

One one hand the band go for the late 50’s early 60’s preppy look and their lyrics reflect the surf culture of that period. They sing songs about girls, the sun, surfing and having fun. The doo wop vocals also owe a debt to the likes of The Shangri-las, and live they incorporate a female backing group into the act. The other style they fuse with this surfer chic is Factory record gloom. The Cure and Joy Division, seemingly at odds with surfer pop, loom large over this album from The Cure’s catchy synth lines to Joy Divisions heavy bass sound. That The Drums manage to successfully combine these two sounds in such an interesting and innovative way shows that a truly gifted group of people are at work here.

The highlight is ‘Submarine’, the record’s heartfelt centrepiece, but honestly there isn’t one dud on here, and the band never stray into self-indulgence which is quite remarkable considering that this is the bands first ep AND it’s self-produced. And how well produced it is too – each song offers something fresh and different, from echoey synths on the aforementioned ‘Submarine’ to the Spector-esque drum beat of ‘Make You Mine’ and the Barracudas melancholy of ‘Down by The Water’. Elsewhere they channel everyone The Wake to Blink 182. This is a fascinating ride, and nothing sounds out-of-place.

It’s hard to pin The Drums down, which makes them true originals in this day and age. It’s also hard to pin the record down – it’s not a full blown debut album nor is it an ep, and the songs, the cover and track order vary from The UK to The US. However you want to describe it, ‘Summertime’ is the best fun I’ve had listening to a record in ages and the band promise great things in the future. I’m sure this will be remembered as one of the last great albums of the 2000’s from a band who will almost certainly go on to bigger things.

9/10

Big Boi – ‘For Your Sorrows’

14 Oct

Outkast may have been absent for almost half the decade but when they were active they put out two of the best albums of the last ten years. Stankonia is arguably the definitive hip hop album of the 21st century, featuring the classic ‘Ms Jackson’ and ‘BOB’. It’s follow up was the crazy and unpredictable ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ – essentially two solo albums sold as an Outkast album. Both records still sound unbelievable today. Although we may be waiting a while for a new Outkast record we should expect a new Big Boi solo album soon – although it has been in the works for absolutely ages.

The fantastically titled ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty’ has been close to release for what seems like years and a few songs have been leaked or been previewed including ‘Royal Flush’, ‘Ringtone’ and now ‘For Your Sorrows’ and ‘Shine Blockas’. The songs are certainly classic Big Boi in style if not quite content, they lack a certain magic Andre may have added. It seems like the album may finally be close to release with more news and songs being released every few weeks and when we finally get a release date you can guarentee that this will be one highly anticipated album.

This is It

13 Oct

The lead single off the soundtrack to the movie ‘This Is It’ was premiered last night via Sony records. The song will be the first of no doubt many posthumous releases from the Jackson camp although this one in particular is not a new recording. The song’s history is fairly unknown with most sources suggesting that it was recorded in 1991, although judging from Jackson’s voice I would say 1981 is a much more realistic date.The Jacksons provide backing vocals and that combined with the soulful melody make it sound more like the 70’s Michael than anything released since. Whenever it was originally recorded, It is known that the song was considered for ‘Dangerous’ and for whatever reason was not chosen, but the version that appears on the new soundtrack has been given a 21st century production upgrade.

The song can most easily be categorized as the sort of ott ballad that Jackson used somewhat as a crutch in the 90’s. Like ‘Will You Be There’, ‘Heal The World’ and ‘Man in The Mirror’ the song makes the most of inspirational lyrics, an anthemic chorus and slick production. Of course this song is not as strong as the aforementioned and lacks a certain smack, bang and wallop. However In terms of production this is one of his better offerings since the early 90’s as unlike most of ‘Invincible’ it hasn’t be computerized and polished to within an inch of its life. The song has a funky baseline, motown-esque strings and pretty background vocals from Michael’s brothers. These details help to make this one of the better Jackson songs of recent times.

Despite not being entirely new, and by no means a classic, ‘This Is It’ is a very welcome addition to MJ’s cannon and hopefully it will be joined by more songs in the coming months. Listen below.

New Vampire Weekend song!

5 Oct

Vampire Weekend have certainly been building up the anticipation for their new record nicely. First we had that weird viral campaign that got every one talking (the Polaroid of the girl), and now they have given us a very early sneak peak of the album in the form of ‘Horchata’. This is the album’s opening track and it is available to hear and download for a limited time from this website…

http://www.vampireweekend.com/

It is a cool song with some interesting instrumentation and typical witty lyrics about an obscure drink, winter coats and a sidewalk. It has a synth that reminds me of the band’s side project ‘Discovery’ and a drum machine that gives the song a pounding beat. It definitely feels different to anything on their debut album, although it still sounds very much like the Vampire Weekend we love. I can’t wait to hear the whole record now.

Pearl Jam ‘Backspacer’ – Review

5 Oct

How are Pearl Jam really viewed in the UK? To be honest I think they are one of the most overlooked bands performing today as many people don’t know they exist and the many that do seem to think they are grunge relics – still living in the shadow of Nirvana. Well hey, I’ve got news for you: they have sold over 60 million records worldwide, their recent UK shows sold out in seconds, their last album was greeted with five star reviews and according to some statistics they were the biggest selling rock band of the 90’s in the states. Surely if anything Nirvana are the ones who should be in Pearl Jam’s shadow.

Though the heady days of grunge, and that seminal debut ‘Ten’ are long gone, the band remain strong still selling out stadiums worldwide. It’s a credit to them that they remain such a must see act, and that they have not put out a duff record yet. The good news is this hasn’t changed with their ninth LP ‘Backspacer’. It’s already become thier first number one album in the US since ‘No Code’ and has been greeted by rave reviews across the board. For my money this is Pearl Jam at their most energized and exciting; their most enjoyable record in over a decade.

The opening trio of tracks are a great demonstration of why this band are so fantastic live. ‘Gonna see my friend’ is their most electric start to a record since ‘GO’ memorably opened ‘VS’. It also builds the listener up brilliantly for the excellent singles ‘Get Some’ and ‘The Fixer’. If you’re already a Pearl Jam fan then you need to think along the lines of ‘Worldwide Suicide’ and ‘Spin The Black Circle’ to get an idea of how angry these songs are, they rock harder than anything from ‘Ten’ and move at a blistering pace. Other songs like ‘Supersonic’ aand ‘Johnny Guitar’ also storm along at a mad pace but as per any PJ album there is a fair number of slow songs. Here, like the faster songs, they are simpler and more fun than anything Pearl Jam have done in years. They definitely lack the challenging edge that songs from their more recent albums had and they don’t stand up as well as the classics (‘Black’, Off He Goes’ etc), but when they are this enjoyable I can’t really complain.

Pearl Jam have always been the best storytellers in rock and this still remains true, even if the songs feel more personal and less interesting than older records. ‘Just Breathe’ has a very pretty melody and some uplifting lyrics about being thankful and mellow and all that. ‘Johnny Guitar’, ‘Unthought Known’ and ‘Gonna See My Friend’ attempt slightly more ambitious lyrics about the likes of drug dealers, rock stars and the human condition but overall there is nothing as biting or as moving as we have come to know from Pearl Jam. disappointing in a way, but the more hopeful tone to the likes of ‘The End’ are certainly a nice change of pace from one of the more pesamistic and political bands of recent times. In their later years Pearl Jam finally seem at peace with the world – a change that is not coincidently coinciding with Barack Obama’s presidency.

Once again, on ‘Backspacer’, Pearl Jam demonstrate why they are one of the best bands in the world. The sheer quality of their craftmanship is now simply staggering, both in lyrics and in music Pearl Jam know all the tricks in the book. ‘Backspacer’ may not be as political as their self titled album, it may not be as complicated and challenging as the two that preceded that, and it certainly won’t be considered a classic in the same breath as ‘Ten’ and ‘VS’. But compare this to recent albums by U2, R.E.M, Metallica or any number of ‘older statesmen of rock’ and it sounds more alive (excuse pun), more exciting and more interesting than anyone. Pearl Jam have still got something, and they’ve got some to share.

8/10