Archive | October, 2010

Warpaint ‘The Fool’ – Review

30 Oct

I can’t remember such a rich year for female acts, some of the best albums this year have been made by women. Following on from Beach House, She and Him, Best Coast, Rose Elinor Dougall, Dum Dum Girls, Joanna Newson, Sleigh Bells, The Like, Marina and the Diamonds etc etc is the debut album by Warpaint, a young group from LA whose early e.p was produced by Red Hot Chili Pepper, John Fruiscante.

Warpaint have a very unique sound that combines strange harmonies with psychedelic production. Early singles including ‘Billie Holiday’ and ‘Elephants’ set the template but those songs aren’t on here, instead there are nine brand new tunes. ‘The Fool’ is familiar and yet exotic at the same time, almost like a collection of recently discovered songs by your favourite band. The excellent ‘Baby’ features a nod to ‘Long, Long, Long’ by The Beatles and it’s impossible not to hear Jefferson Airplane on a couple of these tracks. Overall the songs are more mellow and soothing than I was expecting, particularly in the second half, but this is very welcome as the songs are so strong (some of these have been in the works for a few years so you would expect them to be up to scratch).

The melodies and lyrics have hidden textures and meanings that only reveal themselves over repeated listens, so whilst a track like ‘Majesty’ may seem simple enough, it’s actually quite complex. There isn’t much instant value in this music, I can’t see any of these songs translating well to radio (even the brilliant ‘Undertow’), this is an album that requires your concentration. Therefore this is a fairly tough album to like at first, the band have a tendency to make sharp turns just as you’re getting into a song, and occasionally it all gets a bit too indulgent and spaced out. Given time though these tunes really set up camp in your head and they are impossible to evict.

Overall this is a traditional ‘album’ in the real sense of the word, nine songs that sit alongside each other very well, played by four musicians who know each other inside out. Warpaint have built up a lot of hype and I never really got why, but now I do. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this so much but consider me pleasantly surprised, ‘The Fool’ is an excellent debut and if it keeps growing on me at the rate it is doing then it could be a favourite by the end of the year.

8/10


James Blake ‘Limit To Your Love’

29 Oct

James Blake is a very exciting artists in the world of electronica, and his new single ‘Limit to Your Love’ more than lives up to the hype. Turns out he isn’t just a great producer but he’s also a great singe. Check out the video plus an older track that I really like.

The Drums ‘Me and the Moon’

28 Oct

New video for The Drums next single ‘Me and the Moon’.

Magnetic Man ‘Magnetic Man’ – Review

27 Oct

So apparently Magnetic Man are leading Dub-step’s assault on the charts, they are banging on the doors of the mainstream demanding to be let in. Columbia are releasing this album which in itself is a pretty massive deal, if you had told me a few years that the hottest underground genre of the noughties would be represented on the biggest label in the world I would have laughed. But then this debut album doesn’t really sound like the dub-step that so excited me and others back then.

The thing that originally interested me about the genre was that it sounded like the 21st century. If you think back to early releases by Burial, Benga or Skream the sounds being produced were dark, futuristic, alienated, paranoid and very intense. Benga and Skream are two-thirds of Magnetic Man but this is to dubstep what stadium rock is to punk, and it doesn’t completely work. There is the odd moment of genius, such as the two singles ‘Perfect Stranger’ and especially I Need Air’, but a lot of this material fails to hit the mark.

As an album ‘Magnetic Man’ flows uneasily, jumping from some obscure, jittery beat to a bona-fide pop song to a fast and furious dance number. It opens with an orchestral, oriental instrumental and 13 tracks (and over an hour) later it closes with the John Legend featuring ‘Getting Nowhere.’ In between there seems to have been uncertainty over whether to go down the more accessible path or whether to stick to their dubstep roots and rather than deciding on one they seem to jump back and forth like a nervous child. It keeps you entertained but it isn’t the cohesive success they probably were hoping for.

As for what works, there are a few songs that stand out. As I have said ‘Perfect Stranger’ and ‘I Need Air’ are two of the best singles released all year, and the other Katy B song ‘Crossover’ is nearly as good. Of the instrumentals ‘Mad’ is the my favourite although ‘Ping Pong’ would be better if it didn’t go on for so long. In fact that is true of the album as a whole, the ideas are stretched out to infinity and honestly there probably isn’t enough diversity to justify the great length. A lot of these songs sound quite similar and too often they fail to progress in a positive way. ‘Anthemic’ is a good example, it feels like it should build and take you on a journey but it never sets off.

Ambition is a wonderful thing and Magnetic Man have it in spades – this is a more interesting and important album than most you will hear this year but success comes at a cost and I can’t help feeling that in jumping towards the mainstream dub-step has lost something quite essential. Most underground genres have to poke their head into the daylight one day and Dubstep has been trying for a long time, ‘Magnetic Man’ contains the singles that will give it the final push but the genre has better albums out there and there will be better albums to come. Still it’s worth buying for ‘I Need Air’ alone.

6.5/10


Paul Smith ‘Margins’ – Review

26 Oct

Maximo Park have been a non-event for a while now, they haven’t released anything exceptional (bar one or two singles) since their debut album in 2005. But although they have been stuck in a rut they haven’t tarnished their name with anything truly dire – well until now.

‘Margins’ is lead singer Paul Smith’s first solo album and it stinks. The songs themselves aren’t too bad, they’re quite melodic, often dark and intriguing and a few of these tunes genuinely have something about them. However two key aspects let the record down, namely the lyrics and the production. The lyrics are typical broken heart fare but there is a candour and embarrassing intimacy to them that makes this a very awkward listen. He is blatantly letting us read his diary and the content is clichéd, over sentimental and often plain creepy (there is a song about him wanting to watch his girlfriend through a keyhole as she is in the bath – keep it to yourself pal!). This oversight in judgment is all the more surprising as Maximo Park have shown great restraint and eye for detail with their lyrics, there was nothing to suggest that this would be such a clumsy record.

The production is the other major downfall of ‘Margins’, from the echo laden atmospherics of ‘The Crush and the Shatter’ to the squelchy vocal effects of ‘Improvement/ Denouncement’, to the cheap double tracking on ‘Strange Fiction’ this is a dreadfully produced/mixed affair. I think he was going for a homemade feel but it’s an absolute fail, it sounds tacky and bland throughout, particularly as it goes on. There is a distinct absent of angular riffs, snappy drums and catchy hooks and instead the mood is dreary and the sounds are claustrophobic. I think there is some attempt to be folksy and intricate and that pays off every now and then but most of this material is too heavy and introspective and any kind of perspective seems to have been lost. Most of these songs fade into each other and if puddles could sing they would surely sound like ‘I Wonder If’ or ‘The Tingles’.

So ‘Margins’ has made me reevaluate my feelings about Maximo Park. Before hearing this album I thought they were a band capable of greatness and I thought it would only be a matter of time before that genius manifested itself again. Now I’m not so sure, it seems ‘A Certain Trigger’ was a one-off, a fluke, ‘Margins’ certainly doesn’t suggest that Paul Smith is capable of great things. It would be a forgone conclusion were it not for the fact that the album ends with the best song on here, a nice little ditty called ‘Pinball’. Maybe there is some hope after all…

4/10