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.



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