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

Girls News

25 Oct

Girls released one of last year’s best albums and now they have revealed details of a new e.p entitled ‘Broken Dreams Club’. Follow the link to NME to read all about it and download the amazing ‘Heartbreaker’ right here. Below is the tracklist, an acoustic rendition of the e.p’s title track and ‘Substance’.

‘The Oh So Protective One’
‘Heartbreaker’
‘Broken Dreams Club’
‘Alright’
‘Substance’
‘Carolina’

Kings of Leon ‘Come Around Sundown’ – Review

20 Oct

There is a moment when you realize a band have become part of the furniture, they are no longer essential or awe-inspiring – a moment when you start to describe them as dependable, a moment when you realize they haven’t surprised you in a while and they probably wont again. You still love them but it’s a different kind of love. A moment that you reach in any long-term relationship, whether it’s one with a woman or one with a band. With Muse it was their last album, Oasis it was ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’, R.E.M it was ‘Around The Sun’ etc. None of these albums are bad, but it’s the point when the band settled into their groove and didn’t look like wanting to change. With Kings of Leon ‘Come Around Sundown’ is that moment for them.

In many ways ‘Only By The Night’ sold less like an album and more like a must have household accessory – everyone had to have one, just to keep up with the neighbours. I really liked that record and I absolutely disagree with anyone that said the band sold out, It really wasn’t a huge departure for the band and I believe them when they say they aren’t too bothered about sales. And I’m sorry but why do you stop liking a band just because they become massive? Ok, so I was a little uncomfortable with my Mum knowing the words to ‘Sex On Fire’ and I didn’t much like hearing the band’s songs being used on X Factor, but that was simply a reflection of how great the tunes were and how suited the band are to mass appeal. There was undeniably a backlash though and I know a lot of people are ready to slate this album before they’ve even heard a note. The band know this as well and they have been unusually cagey and defensive in interviews surrounding the release.

First signs were good if not great. ‘Radioactive’ has that instant, sing along vibe that ensures it is already being used over match of the day highlights. It certainly isn’t the best thing the band have ever done, it’s a very inoffensive and middle of the road kind of rocker. It gave an indication that the album would see the band employing gospel choirs and epic riffs but these were ultimately red herrings as this is actually the group’s most laid back and simple album yet. ‘Beach Side’ was originally a B-Side (hence the name) because the group originally thought that it was too basic to appear on the album, but it’s a really nice song with some shimmery guitars and a nice organ sound. The second half of the album in particular is very sweet and enjoyable which slightly hides the fact that it actually isn’t that impressive, none of the songs towards the end of the album particularly stand out but it’s a nice listen. At the end of the day Kings of Leon albums have always had their fair share of filler, it’s something we’ve come to expect.

The album’s first half is where we expect the hits to be, but they never really come. ‘Radioactive’ is decent but it was never going to be as big as ‘Sex on Fire’, ‘Pyro’ sounds like a retake of ‘Use Somebody’ without the same emotional punch and anthemic chorus and ‘The End’ sounds like ‘Closer’ but less impressive. Of the early tracks ‘Mary’ is the only one to really knock you out, it’s the kind of power pop stunner that Phil Spector may have produced, it is something genuinely new for the band. ‘Back Down South’ is also quite impressive although it’s country tone sounds a little bit confused, as if the band were trying to revisit their roots but got a bit lost on the way.

It’s hard to work out the album’s niche – it isn’t as edgy as ‘Youth and Young Manhood’ it isn’t as indie as ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’, it isn’t as dark as ‘Because of the Times’ and it isn’t as classy as ‘Only By The Night’. In some ways it takes elements from all of the above and waters them down into an easy listening brew. One thing that really lets it down is the lack of a great rock song, every other KOL album has had at least two but ‘Come Around Sundown’ has none – the band don’t even attempt one, only ‘No Money’ picks up the pace but this is hardly brilliant.

‘Come Around Sundown’ is the sound of a band Sunday driving, despite all the pre-release talk there aren’t any brave new directions explored here and this isn’t a return to their country-rock roots. Most of these songs are mid-tempo chuggers that sound good on a car stereo but they don’t get the pulse racing and they don’t hold up to close inspection either. There is nothing with the tension of ‘Crawl’ or ‘Black Thumbnail’, nothing with the spirit of ‘Red Morning Light’, nothing as moving as ‘Cold Desert’ and nothing as anthemic as ‘Sex on Fire’ or ‘Use Somebody’. Everyone I know seems to have a different favourite KOL album but I am pretty certain that this wouldn’t  be anyones. It isn’t that they have gone backwards, it’s just that they haven’t moved forward at all – actually they seem to be going sideways. Kings of Leon are nearly a middle-aged band and unless they do something to spice things up soon they could find this romance going a bit stale.

6.5/10