Archive | August, 2010

Superball – Magic Kids

31 Aug
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Klaxons ‘Surfing the Void’ – Review

26 Aug

Klaxons were once nu-rave but not anymore – at least that is what they keep telling us. That genre (if it can rightly be called a genre – it probably can’t) had serious potential but rather than take it seriously critics made the scene a laughing-stock, and most bands quickly shook off the tag. In the end Klaxons debut album had more in common with the space rock operatics of muse than anything from rave’s golden age. It was in retrospect a disappointing album, its best songs were all reworked versions of older (and better) demos and the new songs lacked much magic.

But for a while I was convinced (as were many others) that Klaxons and their friends were the future of pop music. Those kind of expectations were probably too much for the band to handle, and it may be a reason why it has taken them so long to release the follow-up. ‘Surfing the Void’ has finally arrived and the first thing that strikes you about it is the great album art, a cat in a space suit. It’s simple, it’s unexpected and it’s interesting and I hoped it would be a signal of what to expect from the music.

Unfortunately ‘Surfing the Void’ sounds a lot like ‘Myths of The Near Future’ without the great singles and without the sense of humour. Say what you want about Klaxons but there was always a tongue in cheek element to the band’s music. Here the absurd lyrics and epic riffs are taken all too seriously, only the brilliant album art would suggest the band have a grain of humour left in their system. It’s a dry, epic and claustrophobic album that finds the band loosing sight of the thing that made them so interesting to begin with.

‘Echoes’ begins the album, and it’s also the first single. It hardly blew me away when I first heard it but it’s grown on me and it actually works very well as an album opener, bridging the two records quite successfully. The song sums up the mood of ‘Surfing the Void’ as well and gives you an idea of what to expect from the next 40 minutes or so – nonsense lyrics, heavy guitars, chiming pianos and psychedelic harmonies. In a sentence It’s an unfortunate move from pop refinement to rock excess.

One of the positives about the album is that it’s a pretty cohesive and conceptual record. It’s been well sequenced and  it peaks and dips in just the right places. The songs all sound pretty similar but there is just enough different about each track to make this a well-balanced and enjoyable listen. Highlights include ‘The Same Space’ and ‘Surfing the Void’ and the song to avoid would be the yawning closer ‘Cypherspeed’. Overall though there is nothing that bad on here, it’s just a shame that there isn’t anything that great either. It is really lacking something as fierce as ‘Atlantis to Interzone’ or as surprising as ‘Two Recievers’, because by the album’s halfway mark it becomes pretty predictable.

‘Surfing the Void’ is pretty much the album I guessed Klaxons would make, it’s essentially their debut sapped of the spontaneity and energy that made it so successful. Four years on from Nu-Rave’s peak the band have definitely lost the spark that made their early singles so influential, I can’t see many bands citing this as an influence in five years time. Klaxons originally wanted their second album to be a mind bending blow out but once the label heard that album they flatly told them to go back to the drawing board and write some more songs like ‘Golden Skans’. It’s a shame that in the end ‘Surfing the Void’ sounds like a compromise between the two, there is nothing truly crazy and nothing that sounds like a hit. Klaxons are still a very important band but right now it sounds like they are in a state of flux.

6.5/10

NEW SUFJAN STEVEN!

26 Aug

It’s been five long years since Sufjan Stevens released the phenomenal ‘Illinois’, his last full length ‘song based’ album. In those five years though he has been working pretty had, he’s put out a box set of christmas songs, a movie and soundtrack, a reworked version of his second album, a outakes collection and an e.p. Still it’s nice to know that on October 12th we will finally be able to hear the proper follow-up to ‘Illinois’. According to his website the album will not be a concept album and it will instead deal with love, loss, and the apocalypse. It also sounds like the album will be more electronic than his older material  with Sufjan saying ‘acoustic guitars give way to drum machines and analog synthesizers.’

If you can’t wait till October Sufjan has just released the e.p ‘All the delighted People’, you can order it now and listen to a track below

The Magic Numbers – The Runaway

23 Aug

The first time I heard ‘The Runaway’ I got an overwhelming sense of disappointment. As the final track drew to an end I couldn’t remember one highlight from the past 50 minutes. The Magic Numbers aren’t cool (and they certainly aren’t pretty) but up until now they have had a pretty flawless run. Their debut was one of the most overlooked albums of the last decade, and it’s follow-up (whilst being a bit hit and miss) was another winner. To find, on first impressions, that their new album was such a middle of the road, wishy-washy mess made me truly miserable. I couldn’t remember one melody of note, the harmonies seemed completely lacking and the lyrics came across as just plain awful. I wanted to put the cd away in a draw and forget it existed, go back to the brilliant debut and pretend it was 2005 all over again.

Except I didn’t – I went back and gave it another go. It helped that on my second attempt to get into the album the sun was shining and I was in a more relaxed mood. I turned it up loud, determined to pay attention to every little detail, hoping that something magic would pop out. And really it sounded a lot better. I listened again, a third and fourth time, determined that I would discover some of the band’s old charm and songwriting power – and eventually I did. It turns out that ‘The Runaway’ isn’t the bland, muddy mess I initially had it pegged at (well some of it is, but more on that later), it’s actually a pretty lovely album which thankfully defines the term ‘a grower’. First let’s get the bad over and done with…

The album takes far, far too long to get going. It begins with ‘The Pulse’, a mid pace ballad that would work well as a closing track rather than an opener. Then comes ‘Hurt So Good’ which is a fine album track, but again feels misplaced at the start of the record. ‘Why Did You Call’ is as middle of the road as they come, with a sickly disco beat that feels horribly out-of-place, and frankly nonsense lyrics. ‘Once I Had’ is notable only for the fact that it’s slightly more uptempo and makes fine use of an electric guitar but it’s still pretty throwaway. Then at last comes something to be happy about, a song with a discernible, hummable melody. ‘A Start With No Ending’ is easily the sweetest thing on here, and whilst it is insubstantial in almost every respect, it’s fleetness and simplicity is a welcome relief from the bombastic over production that preceded it. But then comes ‘Throwing My Heart Away’, which is essentially Why Did You Call part two – a bit better perhaps, but that isn’t saying much.

Luckily the second half of the record is its saving grace.Tthere is a run of four or five songs that equals anything in the band’s back catalogue. After the interesting, but still boring, ‘Restless River’ comes the fantastic ‘Only Seventeen’ which is the album’s standout track, and in terms of lyrics it’s far and a way the best thing on here. It morphs gently into ‘Sound of Something’ which is the song most reminiscent of old school Magic Numbers (more of that in the future please!). ‘The Song That No-one Knows’ and ‘Dreams of a Revelation’ make glorious use of the late great string arranger  Robert Kirby, and here the band sound like the mature group I had expected them to grow into. The album ends with the subtle and atmospheric ‘I’m Sorry’ which fades out with an unexpected horn section.

The album’s’ second half is not immediate and it isn’t breathtaking, but it does have a lot of personality. Thinking about it, this should be the second half to a great album, the subdued conclusion to a first half packed with melody and radio friendly hits – only they forgot to write those songs. Still, If in the past they were often accused of playing it too safe, here they aren’t afraid to experiment or indulge in the unusual. On these four or five songs their sense of adventure pays off handsomely. lyrically there isn’t the same progression though. Whilst their songs have always been rooted in a sense of heartbreak and melancholy here they seem to have lost all sense of perspective. The smart details and sharp observations that made songs like ‘Long Legs’ and ‘Love Me Like You’ so powerful are non existent now, instead the lyrics pile on vague metaphors, rhetorical questions and irritating clichés. Even the best songs suffer because of the lazy lyrics.

I had unfair expectations – I was hoping for a masterpiece, and I got an album that at best can be described with words like ‘pretty’, ‘nice’ and ‘easy going’. The frustrating part is that the band keep repeating the same old mistakes – songs that go on to long, bad sequencing and seemingly no ability to distinguish the good from the bad. The same criticisms that have stalked the band from the beginning are their undoing here. Whilst in some ways ‘The Runaway’ shows great progression for the band, in other ways they seem to be going backwards. Their lyrics, melodies and harmonies (their three greatest traits) are seriously lacking. Overall though there is just enough that works to make this a more than decent album – how you eventually view it depends on a) how much time you’re willing to give it and b) how much you already like the band. If you aren’t a fan to begin with then don’t even bother listening to this one. If however you are a fan, then give it some time and it’s charms will unveil themselves.

7/10


Summer Camp news

22 Aug

The very fantastic Summer Camp are releasing their debut e.p ‘Young’ on September 6th, on Moshi Moshi records. The track listing is below, as are a couple of band videos

  1. Round The Moon
  2. Was It Worth It
  3. Veronica Sawyer
  4. Why Don’t You Stay
  5. Ghost Train
  1. Jake Ryan

The Arcade Fire ‘The Suburbs’ – Review

3 Aug

Can you imagine living in a world without the internet or mobile phones? I’m 20, and for at least half my life I survived without either but it’s almost unimaginable now. How would I stay in contact with old friends? How would I find new music? What would I do if I broke down in the middle of nowhere? Instant access to anything, and instant communication with anyone – these are both great things but at the same time it is easy to romanticize what we have lost.

‘We Used To Wait’ is the lead single from Arcade Fire’s new album and it deals with this exact subject. ‘We used to write letters’, win sings with a sense of sadness, ‘it seems strange how we used to wait for letters to arrive’. It is a song about the lost art of waiting – we are so used to having everything ready at the click of a button that we have forgotten how to wait. We even have to wait for the chorus to arrive, and when it eventually comes after a good couple of minutes it’s more than worth it – this is classic Arcade Fire. ‘Our Lives are changing fast, hope that something pure can last’ – he ends the song by deciding he will write a letter to his true love and again experience the pain of just sitting and waiting. It’s nostalgic, it’s romantic and it’s ‘The Suburbs’ in a nutshell, an album that takes issue with the modern world.

Arcade Fire’s first album, ‘Funeral’, arguably changed the indie landscape when it was released in 2004, and their second, ‘Neon Bible’ propelled them into the mainstream (it reached number 2 in both the UK and US). In many ways The Suburbs serves as a bridge between the two albums. It retain’s the former’s emotional intensity with the bird’s eye scrutiny of the latter. ‘The Suburbs’ is a grand and sweeping statement, just like their last album, but it’s much easier to relate to than ‘Neon Bible’, which was a slippery and slightly self-righteous record – this time around the tone is less political and less preachy and the whole album is much more consistent. Yes it’s very long, but it feels epic and not at all ill-conceived.

To see how the songs link together is a constant pleasure, and something that will keep me coming back to the album time and time again. ‘Half Light I’ surges into ‘Half Light II’ and it continues with the former’s theme of location, destination and home. It also links the first half’s AOR style with a second half that adds 80’s pop to the list of influences. I honestly wasn’t expecting the synths to be so blatant on ‘Sprawl II’ and yet it sounds so natural and glorious. ‘The Suburbs’ and ‘The Suburbs Continued’ bookend the album and set the tone for the record’s musical atmosphere, which is less doom and gloom than ‘Neon Bible’ but less euphoric than ‘Funeral’. It’s still classic rock music with an indie edge and orchestral sophistication but somehow it feels less ornate than their previous work, it feels more instinctive.

Key words and themes keep reoccurring as well – if you had a penny for every time kids or the suburbs were mentioned you would be a very rich man indeed. The general mood is one of longing for a past that has disappeared.  On the title track Win talks about how he wants a daughter whilst he’s still young so she can see some of the beauty that’s still left in the world. On ‘The City With No Children’ he looks back to a summer where he broke his arm, but talks of his regret. This is an album that is nostalgic for a wasted youth and yet bitter (or seems to be) with modern teenagers and the modern world. Overall it’s a dense and provoking album, its questions don’t give easy answers but they will keep you intrigued.

I had my doubts about ‘The Suburbs’, I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be this good. In the three years between the release of ‘Neon Bible’ and this, I had forgotten how much I love Arcade Fire. I’d forgotten the excitement of seeing them on Top of the Pops, destroying their instruments as a confused audience looked on, I’d forgotten how chaotic and bewitching they were at Reading and Leeds, I’d forgotten how deeply their music resonated with my own concerns and feelings. Basically I’d forgotten that Arcade Fire are amongst the best bands in the world, but after this album I won’t forget again in a hurry.

9/10