Archive | March, 2010

LCD Soundsystem – New Single!

26 Mar

We have been waiting for new LCD Soundsystem material for what feels like ages. ‘Sound of Silver’ was, in my opinion, the best album of 2007 and at long last it’s follow-up is nearly here. The album is still untitled  but the track listing is below as is first single ‘Drunk Girls’. The song is very much in the same vein as ‘North American Scum’ or ‘Daft Punk is Playing At My House’ and even has an identical bass line to one of their older songs, I can’t put my finger on which one though. Still it’s a pretty solid return.

1. Dance Yrself Clean
2. Drunk Girls
3. One Touch
4. All I Want
5. Change
6. Hit
7. Pow Pow
8. Somebody’s Calling Me
9. What You Need

She and Him ‘Volume Two’ – Review

25 Mar

She and Him are a dream proposition. Silver screen pin-up teams up with an indie legend to create charming, retro folk-pop to the delight of music lovers everywhere. Who would have thought that Zooey Deschanel, star of Elf and Almost Famous, would have such a magical voice or that she could write such pretty songs?

Twee is a word that is thrown around a lot when this couple are mentioned; sickly, sweet, delightful. They are almost too much to take for some people, something I can understand but can’t relate to. It’s true that they look and sound like something from 40 years ago but if you find that disturbing then maybe you should stop reading now. personally I think it’s fine. Better than that it’s great; And She and Him’s first album ‘Volume One’ was not only one of my favourite records of the year, it was one of my favourite of the decade. It’s fair to say then that I was looking forward to hearing ‘Volume Two’, and the good news is I wasn’t disappointed.

If you put this on directly after hearing ‘Volume One’ and weren’t told where one began and one ended then you probably wouldn’t be able to tell. In most respects this sounds almost identical to the first album. Despite this there has been a clear progression in consistency and production. Whereas ‘Volume One’ had some real highlights there was the odd moment where the quality dipped. This time the album runs a lot more smoothly over the 13 tracks. The production is also a lot stronger this time around and M. Ward is clearly a lot more use to his partner’s capabilities. Each song sounds like a mini symphony, Ward brilliantly weaves Deschanel’s vocals around a bright array of instruments, some simple and some dazzling.

This is an album with both eyes on the past, whether it’s AM soft rock from the early 70’s, the folk revival of the 60’s or blissful Beach Boys pop. Opener ‘Thieves’ has a country tinge that fans of the first album will be used to, and the rest of the album sticks with the retro vibe. Whilst each song is weighted in pop history this still sounds like a contempory album which just goes to show that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Things never really get too adventurous or experimental, only the last song ‘If You Can’t Sleep’ raises the stakes in terms of innovation and even that is basicly a new version of Brian Wilson’s ‘Our Prayer’. Still, when things are this good it doesn’t really matter how new the ideas are.

What they lack in forward thinking they more than make up for with the sheer quality of the music. ‘In The Sun’ was the first single (you should watch the brilliant video) and if anything it betters ‘Why Do You Let Me Stay Here’ from ‘Volume One’. Like the first album the first half is definitely the strongest but as I mentioned earlier the consistency is a lot better this time around and there are gems scattered around this album, with track ten ‘Sing’ being one of my favourites.

‘Volume Two’ will not be for everyone, but everyone should at least give it a go. Deschanel’s voice is truly unique and she writes some amazing songs. Once again M. Ward gives the tunes his magic touch to create an old-fashioned, back to basics classic pop record. They haven’t progressed much, and it will take time to decide if this is actualy better, as good as or worse than ‘Volume One’. Whatever the case, once again She and Him have struck gold.

8.5/10

Joanna Newsom ‘Have One On Me’ – Review

24 Mar

How can you possibly sum up such an ambitious, sprawling and daunting album in a 800 word review? Well you can’t effectively. To try to write about this three disc spectacular is in itself a pretty daunting task, and one I’m not even sure I can attempt yet as I’m not sure I have quite got my head around ‘Have One On Me’.

You see this is an album that spans three discs, many songs pass or approach the ten minute mark and all are stuffed with poetic lyrics that tackle vast amounts of themes and ideas. To truly understand this album, if it’s possible, would take years. Which raises the valid question – is it worth the investment of time?

The simple answer is yes. ‘Have One On Me’ is loaded with sublime moments that jump out at you all over the place. In the middle of the ten minute long title track there is a little moment where a simple acoustic guitar is all that backs Newsom’s lovely voice. It is even more effective as it follows some trumpets, flutes and other more obscure instruments. Moments like this are scattered around the eighteen tracks, and many only reveal themselves after repeated listens.

The legendary Van Dyke Parks arranged Newsom’s last album ‘Ys’  but this time she has handed the task to Ryan Francescon. Francescon does an equally brilliant job but in an entirely different way. His arrangements give the songs room to breath, they are less in your face than Van Dyke’s work on ‘Ys’. Because the instrumentation is less fussy, Newsom’s voice and harp are allowed space to move about, and as a listener you end up concentrating on the essential aspects of the music. It also means that you can recognize elements as subtle as a handclap which were often lost on ‘Ys’.

As jaw dropping as this piece of work is, it is one that is to be admired rather than truly loved. The musical sophistication on display here, not to mention the literary prowess of the lyrics, is surely unrivalled in popular music of recent years. However Newsom is almost too accomplished, to the extent that you feel a bit alienated from the music. Rather than being invited in by Joanna Newsom, I constantly felt distant as I was listening. The words are abstract and secretive and the music is just so ornate and fragile. If it were a physical object you would hardly dare touch it for fear of breaking it. The end result is that I never really conected with this on an emotional level.

I also started to wonder whether I liked it because I felt I should or whether this is genuinely an exciting, captivating record.  Not everyone can play the harp, or sing this well, or write such imaginative lyrics – the list of accomplishments could go on and on. So in a way it’s easy to belive that criticism is below her because this is such a technically accomplished record. How can you criticize someone so creative and talented? Surely you have to admire her? Well I did, but only at arm’s length. For all her skill Newsom still lacks the common touch, and the emotional impact of an artist like Joni Mitchell.

One area Newsom clearly is not talented at is editing. The majority of the songs on this album are far to long. That is not to put down her ability to create long, flowing numbers but too often these songs do not justify the great length. I would also argue that three discs is too much to intake as a single piece of work. At two hours long this album feels, quite predictably, too long. The sheer depth of the arrangements and lyrics simply wear the listener out far too quickly, and it would be a brave person who listened to this from start to finish. It’s much easier to be creative when there are no boundaries but it’s harder to make a concise, ambitious piece of work when there are limitations and I think this is something Newsom should recognize. There is no doubt at all that this would have been a much better album as a single, or even double disc.

Despite concerns about the length of the songs and the album itself, there are few songs you would call filler. Highlights include the opener ‘Easy’, the title track and the wonderful ‘Jackrabbits’. Each song is like a mini epic with no real choruses or traditional structure. Many of the tracks have a similar tone, and explore similar themes but each one has a distinct personality thanks to the variety of instrumentation.

“All these songs, when you and I are long gone, will carry on.” There is definitely a strong possibility that these songs will stand the test of time, and that this album will be remembered as a pretty special one. ‘Have One On Me’ is quite like no other album I can think of, at least not one that has been released in many years. It is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who require their music to be immediate. The delights of ‘Have One On Me’ are revealed over repeated listens, and during intense concentration.

Because of the delicacy of the sound it is easy to just listen to this as background music, and it would certainly make pleasant background music, but you would be missing out on its real joy. This is something to be savoured, sipped on like a nice wine. This would easily be a 9 if Newsom had got an editor because whilst her fans would welcome as much new material as she can provide, it is off-putting to newcomers to listen to something as long as this. Still, this is quite an amazing work of art.

8.5/10

The White Stripes ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ – Review

15 Mar

(Note: This is a review of the CD, not the film – which I’ve heard is great but haven’t got round to watching yet)

The sooner Jack White realizes that people don’t care about The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather or any other solo album or side project the better. Sure, ‘Steady as she Goes’ was a great single, and both Raconteurs album had their moments but Jack White operates best when he is thrashing his guitar with the help of his ‘big sister’ Meg. He’s doing no-one any favours by flooding the market with so-so albums when he could be making the follow-up to ‘Icky Thump’. The Dead Weather are good enough but The White Stripes are one of the best groups around, and ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ reminds you why.

This is a live album made up of the best moments from the band’s most recent Canadian tour. It begins in spectacular style with a frantic version of their debut 7 inch ‘Let’s Shake Hands’. If any song represents what the band do best then it is this, complete energy, rawness, feedback and shouting. Things don’t slow down much for a stand out track from ‘Elephant’, ‘Black Math’ which is in turn followed by one of their more unusual songs, ‘Little Ghost’, and live favourite ‘Blue Orchid.’ Meg can barely control her pace, and Jack stumbles along with her in brilliant style. They have always understood that the flaws in rock n roll are more important than making everything sound neat and tidy. If you are lucky enough to see White Stripes more than once then you will know that you never get the same experience twice.

It’s not a perfect live album by any stretch of the imagination, many of the band’s best songs are notable by their absence – ‘Hotel Yorba’, ‘The Hardest Button to Button’, ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’ and ‘My Doorbell’  are all missing. They don’t do any favours to ‘Fell in Love With a Girl’ either by slowing it down to half pace, and the album lulls a bit in the middle as they run through album tracks. despite this ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ is pretty consistent throughout although not everything can match ‘Lets Shake Hands’ for sheer brilliance.

You know exactly what you’re getting with a White Stripes album – stripped down manic blues rock that could have just as easily been released 40 years ago. I was hoping for something a bit more unique from this live album but there are few surprises – The album begins with bagpipes but this is as weird as the disc ever gets. Even talking is kept to a minimum as the emphasis is placed on the songs rather than showmanship. That does make it difficult to understand quite what the appeal of this album is, afterall most White Stripes albums are recorded live anyway. The songs have been cherry picked from an entire tour so this doesn’t accurately represent a White Stripes show nor are the songs selected greatest hits, rather this is a strange collection of early singles, album tracks, a cover and a few usual contenders. I guess you could argue that the album is just plain fun, and that is enough to justify it’s release.

As a whole ‘Under White Northern Lights’ is a great listening experience but it falls short of classic live album status as it lacks anything truly magical or unique. I can’t help but feel the band have a better live record in them than this but until that (or a greatest hits) come along then this will do as a pretty good summary of a great band’s output.

8/10

Earth Vs The Pipettes – Coming Soon

11 Mar

To begin with let me say that The Pipettes are no more The Pipettes than The Sugababes are still The Sugababes. Both bands ceased to exist the moment all the original member left. Now the name simply provides a shelter for whoever want to use it, much in the same way a doorway provides shelter for any tramp that wishes to use it.

With The Pipettes this is more acceptable because the group have always been a post-modern twist on the traditional girl group, a mirror held up to both the manufactured girl groups of the last decade and the skinny indie boys with guitars. They were a glimpse into an alternate reality where The Beatles never arrived in America and Girl Power instead ruled the charts. In charge of it all was a man named Monster Bobby who held the strings in the same way that Berry Gordy made The Supremes or Phil Spector controlled The Ronnettes. And just as Gordy saw fit to replace Diana Ross with Jean Terrell,  so Monster Bobby relishes in continuing The Pipettes without Riot Becki and Rosay.

‘We Are The Pipettes’ was one of my favourite albums of the decade – it was everything a good pop record should be, witty, catchy, easily digestible, fun to dance to and a pure delight on the ears. It’s taken them four years to make a follow up (when I say them, I don’t actually know who I’m talking about cos I don’t actually know who sings on the album) but at long last it is nearly here. ‘Earth Vs The Pipettes’ is out on June 28th and it’s accompanied by first single ‘Stop the Music’. It is a better song than ‘Our Love was Saved by A Spaceman’ which was released as a free download a few weeks ago. Well I think it is, at least that song had something catchy about it, even if you only remembered it for the horrible synth and the tacky lyrics. ‘Stop The Music’ is just a bit bland and boring, something The (original) Pipettes never were.

I still have high hopes for the album, other tracks previewed live seemed to be in the older style rather than the new, synth based direction. Fingers crossed that ‘Earth Vs The Pipettes’ will be worth the four year wait.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’ – Review

10 Mar

Were Black Rebel Motorcycle Club ever important? If you believe some people then they were, but only in the way Jet were important or The Vines were, if you can remember any of them. Are they still important? No, and this is the sound of a band rolling about in their own unimportance. It’s the sound of a band content to simply be. They exist to exist and they make music to please themselves. Respectable in a way but equally shameful.

‘Beat The Devil’s Tatto’ is BRMC’s sixth album, their second since they left RCA, and It’s passed most people by. This is a lazy record. It begins with a typically mid pace trot that declares to the listener that it has no interest in being interesting. It’s a traditionalist ‘Rock’ record that is so clichéd it has a song called ‘War Machine’. If an album is going to be this backwards then it damn well better be good. The White Stripes haven’t done anything original in their career to date and yet they do it so brilliantly that people don’t care. But this is not a good album. There is not an obvious single on here, there isn’t even a stand out track. The first melody of note doesn’t arrive until track five and by then it’s too late. I’ve already lost interest.

For the sake of saying something positive I’ll point you in the direction of ‘Sweet Feeling’ and ‘Evol’, two songs that at least have some get up and go about them. But buried as they are in the middle of a fifteen song album, there’s no way you would trek back into this forest to find them again. Feedback drenched blues rock is not something the world should be without, but when it’s done in such a middle of the road way – well why bother finishing the sentence? Why bother with anything?

If your going to rock at all you better rock on or you roll. BRMC are rolling so fast that I doubt they will make it to album number seven. Just know that this is not a bad album. It’s a mundane, so what, who cares ROCK album – and isn’t that so much worse?

3/10

MGMT ‘FLASH DELIRIUM’

10 Mar

MGMT have released the first taster for their new album ‘Congratulations’, a song called ‘Flash Delirium’. The album is one of my most anticipated of the year and this song is as good as I hoped it would be. It’s a weird, mini epic that features mind bending lyrics and several different sections (my favourite part is the glam rock bit about 1/3rd of the way through). The song is a free download from MGMT’s website or you can hear it below.