Archive | May, 2010

New Kanye West

28 May

Kanye West has been out of the spoghtlight for a long time now, his Taylor Swift outburst was one step too far for many people so it’s probably for the best that he’s been keeping his head down.

But now he’s back and later on in the year he will release his fifth album,  ‘Good Ass Job’.  The first single from it is called ‘Power’ and it leaked earlier today. The song is a return to Kanye’s traditional hip hop sound after a brief flirtation with downbeat electro on his last album. I’m sorry to say that it isn’t that original or mind-blowing, but it’s a catchy tune nonetheless. Youtube keeps removing the video so you can listen to it at HypeM below – see what you think.


The Return of Arcade Fire

28 May

If there is a band people are really looking forward to hearing new material from, it’s Arcade Fire. The good news is that the album has now got a release Date and a title – ‘The Suburbs’ will come out on August the 7th, and two songs from it can be heard below, plus you can also have a look at the album art. ‘The Suburbs’ sounds like an old-fashioned Arcade Fire song whilst ‘Month of May’ sounds much angrier and more energetic than anything they’ve done before. I can’t wait to hear more.

New Klaxons (at last!)

26 May

Klaxons originally planned to release their second album in 2008 – now at last we get to hear the first taster from it. Over at you can hear fashover, a song that ditches their dance leanings for a heavier sound. Truth be told this isn’t great stuff, certainly not worth a three-year wait – and news that it has been produced by Limp Bizkit producer Ross Robinson doesn’t ease any fears. Still, have a listen below and see what you think

Foals ‘Total Life Forever’ – Review

24 May

‘Total Life forever’ is such a typical second album that in a future encyclopedia of rock under the heading ‘Second Album’ they will just have a picture of this. Foals have corrected the faults of their debut, ‘Antidotes’, and in the process they have made a record that is more consistent but less distinctive, more experimental but less radio friendly, less filler but fewer stand out moments – not any worse or any better, just different. If you want comparisons from recent years see ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’, ‘Sam’s Town’, ‘Empire’ or more recently ‘Contra’ and ‘Congratulations’.

The main criticism I had with their debut was the lack of emotion. Everything was so considered and dry, and whilst the lyrics were articulate and interesting they just didn’t connect with me. This is the first fault that they have corrected. Whilst the band are never going to be heart on the sleeve types, ‘Total Life Forever’ is a lot warmer and more inviting in both the sound and the lyrics. ‘Blue Blood’, the album’s opener is a good example of this as is first single ‘Spanish Sahara’. The lyrics are less ambiguous and more personal and this is also change for the better.

The second biggest criticism of the debut was that their complicated time signatures, rectangular riffs and spiky chants got in the way of just letting the listener have a good time. They are an Oxford band and this was definitely music for some intelligent university mathematician. This fault (if you saw it as one) has also been fixed, as ‘Miami’ shows with it’s bouncy rhythms and almost funky guitars. That they have loosened up with out loosing their unique charm is entirely to their credit.

The third criticism with the debut was that it didn’t flow very well. It’s highlights all came very early on, and I had lost patience after about track six. This is still a minor problem with ‘Total Life Forever’ but less so. This time they do save some of the highlights for the second half even if there is still a small unbalance in terms of quality.

Overall ‘Total Life Forever’ is a very solid second offering from the band. The front cover shows the band immersed in water – appropriate as the album takes a while to sink in. After a few listens the album really does sound fantastic though. There is no real highlight that you would mention above any other which is a sign that they have made a real album that unfolds over eleven tracks. At the same time there isn’t anything even approaching the genius of ‘Cassius’, ‘Balloons’ or ‘Mathletics’, although I would suggest that is the price we pay for the new, more consistent Foals.


Revew Roundup

20 May

I’ve been busy with exams recently so I haven’t had time to review much but there have been some good new releases. Here is a brief roundup of a few, look further back for my reviews of LCD Soundsystem and Crystal castles, which I heard ages ago but have only just come out.

Race Horses – ‘Goodbye Falkenburg’

Wh0 were the last truly great band to come out of Wales? I don’t wish to generalize about an entire nation’s musical output but there haven’t been that many good groups emerging here in recent years. Los Campesinos, perhaps, but they only went to college in Cardiff, and don’t really count. You’d be even harder pressed to find a Welsh band singing in their native tongue and doing it successfully, you’d probably have to go back to the mid 90’s to find one.

That is why Race Horses are so exciting. Not only because they are a Welsh band who sound Welsh but also because they do it so well. Their debut album ‘Goodbye Falkenburg’ is a psychedelic rock record that bends the mind in all kind of unusual ways. The first single is a song about Cake – ‘She was the one that first turned me on to it’. It’s a mental mix of backward guitars, organs, horns and harpsichords and of course there is humour involved, this is very much tounge in cheek.

‘Goodbye Falkenburg’ manages to sound both traditional and refreshingly innovative at the same time. The ideas are certainly borrowed in places but the band place them in a very 21st century context. This is an album that spans languages, and crosses both cultural and musical borders. This ambition and self-confidence is infectious and very admirable. You hope they will get the recognition they deserve and early signs are promising,  they have received rave reviews both locally and as far afield as America (Pitchfork gave the album an 8).

This is a debut of starting intent, it is ambitious and yet never takes itself too seriously. Race Horses may have fallen slightly short of greatness but that isn’t for lack of trying – the fact that they very nearly get there with their debut suggests that we have a lot to look forward to with this band.


The National – ‘High Violet’

The National’s new album ‘High Violet’ entered the UK album charts at number five, quite an achievement for a band that have been steadily releasing records for over a decade with no help from a major label. Everything that made their last album, ‘The Boxer’, a cult favourite returns on ‘High Violet’. This is a brooding, dark and introspective album that joins the dots between Joy Division, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. There is also a grand scale to these songs that reminds me of Elbow or Arcade Fire, but the thing that makes The National stand out are the lyrics and Matt Berninger’s delivery of them. Anyone who has seen the band live will be aware of how much heart and soul goes into Berninger’s performance, and his lyrics are personal and literate. ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ is the standout track with the haunting line ‘I never married but Ohio don’t remember me’ set alongside some epic arrangements. This is an intense and powerful record, and it will certainly catapult The National into the mainstream.


Band of Horses – ‘Infinite Arms’

The big theme of American rock music has to be home, leaving home and then trying to find it again. Band of Horses are the typical American rock band so it makes sense that home is a major theme of their new album. The former sub-pop band have signed to major label Columbia and the result is Band of Horses most focused and polished album to date. This line-up is almost an entirely different one to the band that made ‘Everything All The Time’ a few years ago, but essentially they remain unchanged in their sound.

Band of Horses stick to the belief that if it aint broke don’t fix it, they make good old-fashioned Americana that could have been released in any decade. That’s fine but it makes them hard to really recommend, especially as this lacks the delicacy of Fleet Foxes, the guts of Ryan Adams and the innovation of Wilco. The band do have charm though, even if it does sometimes get lost in the pristine production. Highlights include ‘Blue Beard’ and ‘Compliments’.


The Dead Weather – ‘Sea of Cowards’

Sea of Cowards is the dirtiest Jack White record since ‘Elephant’, and whilst it isn’t the best since that seminal 2003 album, it’s certainly playing to White’s strengths. I like complaining about Jack White’s side projects, their output has just been so slight and inconsequential (with the exception of the first Raconteurs album) and in a way the second Dead Weather album is exactly the same. The difference is that ‘Sea of Cowards’ is that way by design – it sounds like it was written whilst the band were sleeping and recorded in one drunken night. Rather than trying to be ambitious or even innovative, the band have made something that is the equivilant to a one night stand.

Their debut ‘Horehound’ got a hard time from the press and fans alike, and in retrospect people were probably a bit too harsh about it. I guess we were just angry that White thought it better to start another band rather than work on a new White Stripes album. This time anger has given way to an acceptance that Jack can’t sit still for more than a few minutes, and I think the public will give more of a chance to ‘Sea of Cowards’. They should do as this is a much better record, it’s more focused, more grimy and sleazy. Whilst it wont give Meg any sleepless nights, fans can just be happy that White seems to be back on form, and he’s playing with some great musicians.


Woods – ‘Suffering Season’

Not content with making one of 2009’s surprise indie breakthrough’s, Woods are back in a rush with their second album in as many years. ‘Mornin’ Time’ is the stand out track here for its whimsical melodies and breezy vocals. But don’t underestimate this bands fiercer and more experimental side, just as you think the record’s settled into a comfortable groove something will happen to disarm you, like ‘From the Horn’, a freak out instrumental jam.  All things considered this is quite an underwhelming follow-up to ‘Songs of Shame’ – it’s a slight album that doesn’t sound like it will stand up to repeated listens. There is also little to differentiate it from their older work, it’s a bit more focused, a little less lo-fi but it just hasn’t got the same magic. Good but unfortunately not great.


Green Day – ‘American Idiot the Musical’ – Soundtrack

It was inevitable that eventually Green Day would make a musical for ‘American Idiot’. It was one of the more ambitious albums of recent years made by a band known for playing it safe. The album was bursting with story ideas that didn’t make much sense, you could tell the band wanted the album to have a cohesive narrative but other than name a few characters you probably couldn’t work out the story. Still, it had enough potential to make us want them to work on it.

Work on it they have and now they’ve got the narrative ironed out they are back with the show and the soundtrack album. I haven’t seen the musical yet but I’ve heard it’s great – the soundtrack isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, this is what it is – a cast of stage school kids singing Green Day and sounding like Paramore. It improves on the original only in the sense that you can actually hear the lyrics (they’re great) but this is only because the production is so clean it would make Malcom Mclaren spin in his grave. Seriously, this could be the cast of Glee and nobody would spot the difference. The arrangements differ slightly from the original tracks but they are rarely an improvement, only on during the ballads do you feel the band achieved what they were attempting – ‘Last Night on Earth’ and ‘Wake me up when September Ends’ sound like how you imagine they did in Billie’s head to begin with.

I am not going to curse the band, call them sell out’s or anything as trivial as that, this is American Idiot’s natural conclusion and in the context of the show I have no doubt these songs will work. But you definitely wouldn’t put this on over the studio album, which is still an amazing album. And if this record does anything worthwhile, it’s reminding you of that fact.


Sleigh Bells ‘Treats’ – ‘Review

15 May

The American music press love to criticize the British music press for over hyping new bands. It’s true that in the likes of NME give ridiculously over the top coverage to ‘the next big thing‘, but it has to be said that American scribes are just as bad.

Take for example Sleigh Bells. This band have been getting unbelievable amounts of attention in the US, from the blogosphere, to pitchfork right up to the major news networks. But for once the hype might actually be worth it. These aren’t a group of rockist, nostalgia peddling Strokes rip offs, Sleigh Bells are a genuinely original band, unlike anything I’ve heard before.

The group is made up of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss; the former used to be a guitarist with Poison the Well (a post-hardcore rock band), the latter used to be in a manufactured girl group. They met whilst Derek was serving Alexis at a restaurant and the rest so they say is history. It may seem like a bizarre paring, but ‘Treats’ sounds fresh and exciting, exactly how you hoped a mixture of pop and metal would sound.

This is heavy, it’s loud, it’s in your face and at the same time it is sweet and melodic. Alexis’s vocals are insanely sugary, and they mesh really well with the wall of distorted sound coming from Derek’s guitar. The combination of sweet and sour is something chefs have been utilizing for years, and it’s something Sleigh Bells also know the power of. ‘Tell Em’ is the opening track and it’s also the best example of the duo’s distinct personalities blending together – actually blending is probably the wrong word, the duo are more like two armies facing up to each other, this album being the onslaught when the two armies meet.

Yes, it’s a violent sound. It’s so loud at times that you think your ears are going to explode, and I’ve heard they can give My Bloody Valentine a run for their money live. The brilliance of this album though is that the track sequence really makes this a smooth ride. The first three or four songs are extremely brutal, but they know just when to turn it down with the album’s more mellow tracks ‘Run the Heart’ and ‘Rachel’. It peaks in just the right places, the singles are perfectly positioned and each song brings something new to the party.

Despite the ferocity and loudness ‘Treats’ is genuine pop music. The best pop has always taken extreme sounds and genres and glued them together in one three-minute long song, and this is what Sleigh Bells do. They take the drum patterns of hip hop, the riffs of hardcore and the sensibilities of dance. Plus there is a lightness of touch and a simplicity that makes this a very listenable album, despite what you may think. On ‘A/B Machines’ Alexis sings ‘Got my A Machines on the table, got my B machine’s in the drawer’. She proceeds to repeat this for the next two minutes until the words start to shift shape in your head, they become one with the music. It makes no sense but then neither did the lyrics to ‘Louis Louis’ or ‘Wannabe’.

‘Treats’ is not for everyone, and there is a distinct chance you won’t even get past the first song if this isn’t your cup of tea. The noise is their trademark but it also has the potential to turn people off, or at least make them want to turn it down. But it’s definitely worth a listen, and even if you don’t fall in love with it, you won’t have heard anything else like it.


/\/\ /\ Y /\

12 May

It’s official, the new MIA album will be called /\/\ /\ Y /\ – pronounced Maya, which is MIA’s real name. This is kind of a logical title seeing as he last two albums were named after her mother and father. Anyway, in more exciting news Zane Lowe played her new single for the first time last night and it’s pretty special. You can hear XXXO below

In other M.I.A related news, the debut album from Sleigh Bells was available to stream today (Sleigh Bells are on M.I.A’s label). I will review it some time this week, so keep your eyes peeled…