Archive | January, 2010

Beach House ‘Teen Dream’ – Review

31 Jan

There have been some brilliant coming of age albums in recent years. My favourite would probably be M83’s fantastic ‘Saturdays = Youth’ but now it has a close competitor. ‘Teen Dream’ is Beach House’s third album and it plays with the themes of youth, regret and longing.

Beach House are on the same American and English labels as Fleet Foxes (sub pop and Bella Union), and they would be a familiar band to compare them to. Both share an interest in harmonies and brooding lyrics and both have a retro charm that also sounds very 21st century. I think there is something a bit deeper about Beach House though. Their music isn’t as pretty or catchy as Fleet Foxes – it is darker and more intense. In a way they also sound like a more accessable, more dreamy Grizzly Bear. There is an intimate sparseness to this record that is very reminiscent of both Grizzly Bear and also The XX. ‘Teen Dream is a much more traditional album than those two but it is no less interesting.

As I said at the beginning, I interpreted this album as being about longing and regret. Their lyrics are often annoyingly vague or cryptic but you just need to hear the vocals or the winding keyboard to understand the sense of loss on this record. ‘It’s incomplete without you…It’s happening again.’ We aren’t told what’s happening or what’s incomplete but it sounds pretty brilliant. And in fairness I suspect the band were after that dreamy, snapshot effect in their lyrics. The subject matter is personal and nostalgic – you pick up the pieces and and some will make sense to you, some you guess only make sense to the singer.

Beach House’s albums have always been a bit distant and nicely experimental. That’s still true of ‘Teen Dream’, but musically the sparseness has developed into a more straightforward and warm atmosphere. The album even sounds intimate to the point of being slightly claustrophobic, but all things considered it’s a lovely, comforting and very old fashioned type of record. ’10 Mile Stereo’ and ‘Real Love’ almost break down with emotion, it feels at times like the cheap drum machine won’t be able to hold the other instruments together, such is the power coming out of the speakers.

Enough can’t be said about the power of sequencing and post production. My Biggest complaint with Grizzly Bear was that the track listing was not consistent or cohesive enough. Here Beach House have made a much more concise and thought out record, that doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of ‘Veckatimest’ but does work better as a unified whole. ‘Zebera’ is a powerful opener that introduces the listener to the band’s trademark style, and this is followed by the more sombre ‘Silver Soul’ and then the familiar ‘Norway. The moments of darkness sit well next to the moments of light largely thanks to the track order and the consistent simplicity of the instruments.

‘Walk in the park’ is a real highlight. It is memorable for a repetitive organ cycle, a simple drum beat and some sadly nostalgic lyrics. There is a great warmth to both the sound and lyrics.On Norway the keyboard swirls and moans like it’s got seasickness – it adds to the otherworldly feel of the song. Eventually the album drifts away with the closer ‘Take Care’, the fade out is slow, you hear the end coming before it arrives.  The whole album really does feel a bit like a dream, the music is out of focus and the meanings are just out of reach.

‘Are you not the same as you used to be?’ This is from the album’s standout track ‘Used to be’ and it sums up the record nicely. No they aren’t quite the same as they used to be, but this album isn’t a huge step away from their two other very solid albums. ‘Teen Dream’ is an album that works well if you listen to it at the right place, right time. It certainly isn’t an album for all tastes or moods but there is no faulting the band at what they do. This is the record that will take them to bigger and better things.

8.5/10


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Surfer Blood ‘Astro Coast’ – Review

29 Jan

Surfer Blood implies anger. It implies danger. It implies surfing. actually ‘Astro Coast’ is neither angry, dangerous or about surfing (though it is mentioned once or twice in the lyrics). ‘Astro Coast’ is in fact a rather straight-forward and enjoyable alt-pop debut that plays with your preconceived expectations.

If you’re aware of this band at all it will probably be for their single ‘Swim’ that featured on many end of year lists in December (including mine). The song is a Weezer-esque, reverb heavy TUNE (capital letters essential) that is still easily the best thing the band has done. The song that comes closest to matching ‘Swim’ in brilliance is the album’s closing statement ‘Catholic Pagen’. There is a lot less feedback on this song and it has more of a traditional indie sound with hints of doo wop in the guitar.

Other highlights include ‘Floating Vibes’, ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Fast Jobroni’ (it’s brother ‘slow jabroni’ is a bit of a slog). These tracks all display a knack for melody and a massive riff that is a bit unusual nowdays. Their lo-fi rivals are all making fairly simple pop songs, whilst their touring buddies The Drums (who they have been compared to) are nowhere near as in your face. Surfer Blood have the confidence to turn out guitar songs with attitude.

The album flows well despite touching upon many genres and sounds. At moments they really let loose with the feedback and reverb whilst they aren’t afraid to use strings and synths to add colour to each song. At times they let the music drag and when this happens things become a bit stale. ‘Anchorage’ is six minutes of nothing that shouldn’t be on here whilst a handful of these tracks could benefit from a bit of editing. ‘Slow Jabroni’ gets brilliant in the final couple of minutes, but to reach the climax you will have to listen to four minutes of barely audiable vocals and droning guitars. It makes you wonder if it was worth it.

Surfer Blood’s debut arrived in America last week but as of yet it isn’t available in this country (although it can be downloaded from Digital7). The album is slightly unambitious yet very well executed, a bit dreary in parts yet gloriously euphoric most of the time. The riffs are a bit predictable, the lyrics are traditional fare and the reverb is a bit to try hard. But overall ‘Astro Coast’ is a pleasing, memorable debut. They may not set turntables alight just yet, but this is a warm slice of indie fun for the cold winter months.

8/10

She and Him return – In The Sun

25 Jan

How do you follow-up an album like ‘Volume One’? Simple – you make ‘Volume Two’. She and Him’s debut was probably the most unexpected delight of 2008 and now the duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward will be releasing their new album on April 5th via Double Six records. The first single, ‘In The Sun’, is available to preorder on 7 inch today, backed by a cover of The Ronettes /The Beach Boys ‘I can hear music. The song is great so lets hope the album is just as fab. You can hear it below.

Vampire Weekend ‘Contra’ – Review

23 Jan

For as long as there’s been pop music there’s been a tension between the artistic and the commercial. By it’s very nature pop aspires to be popular but that shouldn’t mean selling out or restricting your sound to what is radio friendly. Every now and then a genuine band will become successful on their own terms; it happened with New Order, Blur, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys to name but a few. Now with a number one album under their belts Vampire Weekend can join those ranks.

Although it feels like they never went away it’s been two years since Vampire Weekend released their debut and ‘Contra’ picks up nicely where that left of. First single ‘Cousins’ led me to believe that this would be a similar record to the first, but in fact there has been a lot of progress. It still sounds undeniably like Vampire Weekend (Ezra Koenig’s unique vocal style, the clean guitar sound and the African inspired rhythms are still prominent) but a new and better Vampire Weekend.

The band combine their traditional instruments with new and unexpected ones. A drum machine features heavily as does a squeaky synth almost as retro as the cover art. Yet It all feels somehow cohesive and logical, which is probably because the songs are all of such high quality. There‘s no ‘Oxford Comma’ on here, sure, but then again the band clearly aren’t going for simple hooks this time around – complexity is the name of the game. Accessible complexity at that.

‘White Sky’, ’Holiday’ and ‘Cousins’ share the same happy vibe as a number of tracks from the debut but they also present a glimpse of the new, polished sound that defines the record. At times it can feel like these tracks have been produced to within an inch of their lives, they are so clean you could eat a meal of them, but that has always been Vampire Weekend’s way and any fan will be used to the precise style by now (even if I was slightly longing for some feedback or grit). Elsewhere the band play with samples and hip hop beats on ‘Diplomat’s son’ whilst retaining that ‘New York meets Africa meets Oxford’ charm that has become truly theirs.

Other highlights include their first ballad  ‘Taxi Cab’ and what sounds like a real hit in the making, ‘Giving Up The Gun’. The album ends with a subtlety that even the most ardent fan would have to admit is somewhat lacking on the rest of the album. ‘I Think Ur A Contra’ is awash with acoustic guitars and falsetto vocals that compliment the song perfectly.

‘Contra’ is an accomplished second album that confirms Vampire Weekend’s position as one of the best bands around. This isn’t as enjoyable as their debut and it’s a bit of a hard nut to crack, but it gets better with every listen. Not since ‘Kid A’ has there been such an experimental and ambitious album to hit number one in America – yet at its heart this is a pretty perfect pop album.

8.5/10

TEN TO WATCH IN 2010 – #1 THE DRUMS

22 Jan

The Drums are hardly brand new on the scene, they released one of last years best records ‘Summertime’. However that ep was only six tracks long, and this is the year that will see the release of their debut album and first substantial tour of the UK. If you aren’t familiar with their sound yet then just think of The Cure referencing preppy American culture and with surfer lyrics. Apparently their new stuff will be darker and deeper but I think we would all feel a bit let down if they left the fun out entirely as they have been known for their summery melodies and energetic gigs. This band are everything a new band should be – fun, high energy, intelligent, good-looking, well dressed, cool, catchy and fresh. They sound like nothing else out there right now and in short are the most promising new band of 2010.

http://www.myspace.com/thedrumsforever

TEN TO WATCH IN 2010 – #2 MAGIC KIDS

21 Jan

Here are a very exciting young band from Memphis who make fantastic, traditional pop songs. Magic Kids have only released one single so far but Rough Trade called it the best song of 2008, and I wouldn’t argue. ‘Hey Boy’ is an infectious sing along anthem in the style of Phil Spector or The Beach Boys. The other song, ‘Superball’,  is just as good.  Magic Kids are currently touring with Girls, and they have played shows with The Drums and Smith Westerns. As of yet they haven’t played in England but hopefully that will change this year. Lets also hope we get to hear more music from this brilliant new band.

http://www.myspace.com/themagickids

TEN TO WATCH IN 2010 – #3 BEST COAST

20 Jan

Best Coast are a lo-fi pop band who sound a bit like The Ramones playing The Shangri-las or the Ronettes. There are a lot of bands doing exactly the same thing as Best Coast (you seemingly can’t move for a hip ‘no-fi’ band in the USA), but these songs are much higher in quality than most, probably because they rely on melody and joy over gimmicks and feedback. It will be fun to see if this singles driven act can come up with an album as brilliant as a song like ‘The Sun Was High and So Was I’.

http://www.myspace.com/bestycoasty