Archive | January, 2011

Tennis ‘Cape Dory’ – Review

30 Jan

The story: Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy buys a boat and goes sailing around the American coast. Girl quits job and joins boy sailing. Boy and girl run out of money and are forced to return home. Girl gets depressed and relives her time on the boat by writing songs about their experience. The rest of us would have brought a photo album, tennis made a record.

It’s a nice story isn’t it? But nice story a good album does not make and ‘Cape Dory’ is not the success many hoped it would be. You see, Tennis were to 2010 what Best Coast were to 2009, a group that steadily released a series of impressive 7 inch lo-fi singles, toured the country picking up great reviews at every town, and ended the year promising a ‘cleaned up’ full length that would set the bar even higher. They were one of the cult hits of the year and the fanbase anticipating this album must be bigger than the group had ever anticipated. I was one such fan, in fact their single ‘Marathon’ was one of my favourite songs of last year. I loved ‘Marathon’ for it’s melody, the unusual storytelling and it’s concise pop charm. But that concise pop charm has been stretched to breaking point on this album, in fact ‘Cape Dory’ itself is basically an extended version of Marathon; therefore, a charming 2 minute pop song becomes a slightly tedious 30 minute album.

The repetitiveness is my first complaint, my second is the muddy production. The album has a slightly more polished sound than the singles but it has been recorded on a very cheap budget and it shows. This is mainly a problem because the group place such an emphasis on those dreamy lyrics, and when those lyrics are hard to decipher then you aren’t doing the songs justice. The guitar, bass and Keyboards also blend into each other in an unsatisfying way and the drum sound is a bit too harsh in comparison with the poppy melodies. I think the group would obviously have benefited from a seasoned producer and a bigger budget but perhaps those weren’t options they had, we don’t know. Whatever the case ‘Cape Dory’ is let down by poor production.

A good producer would also have attempted to squeeze more ideas out of the group. I’m more than willing to get on board (Excuse the pun) with the nostalgic storytelling but there really isn’t enough diversity here to hold my attention. As I mentioned earlier, ‘Marathon’ is the key track and it neatly summarizes the group’s concept of songs about sailing, but over the course of ten tracks this theme wears itself out. Musically as well they never move beyond a pleasant, mid-tempo swing that has signifiers of all the great 60’s sounds – Wall of sound reverb and ‘Be My Baby’ drum beat etc – without any of the memorable hooks.

To be fair I am probably moaning a bit too much. I’m a fan of nostalgic, sunny melodies and Tennis are clearly capable of writing them. Plus, the lyrics that I can work out are very well written and the band know how to tell a big story in a couple of minutes, which is much harder than it looks. The best songs are the singles and they sound better than ever. Opener ‘Take Me Somewhere’ is nearly as good as ‘Marathon’ whilst ‘South Carolina’ and ‘Baltimore’ remind me why I liked the band so much in the first place. Of the new tracks there is nothing bad here – there is nothing great either, but the songs themselves are solid if heard in isolation (listened to in a row it’s hard to distinguish one from another). If I did have to pick a highlight from the new ones then it would probably be the title track which most strongly evokes the sense of nostalgia that the group were aiming for.

‘Cape Dory’ is an enjoyable record with a few great singles, but the concept doesn’t stretch to an album, and people were expecting this to be a great album. Tennis are like that couple who go on an awesome holiday, and then never shut up about it when they get home. They show you their photos and they are all the same – the couple stood in front of some landmark or other, smiling blankly at the camera. Sure, the odd photo makes you envious and at least it takes your mind of the greyness outside your window, but in the end you just want to strangle them. And as I said at the beginning, Tennis made a record rather than a photo album. It gets a 7 because I like the band, I like the concept and I love the singles, I just wish it worked better as an album.

7/10

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10 For 2011 – #4. Tribes

30 Jan

It’s been sooooooooo long since we’ve had a great British Rock band emerge; I’m talking about a grungy, heavy, Rock band that aren’t afraid to knock out sleazy solos but equally aren’t afraid of melody and hooks. Tribes seem to fit that description. You’ll hear the best of the rest on this list proudly declare themselves to be ‘pop’ through and through, and that’s fine, but Tribes are here to send Rock back to the top of the charts.

The demos they put out last year, particularly ‘We Were Children’, are genuinely amazing and even though they were recorded by just one man and his electric guitar (on terrible equipment) you could tell that these songs were meant to be huge. The full band recently stopped by maida vale to do a session and I was pleased to see that the proper live versions are even more impressive than the demos. Last year they supported Mystery Jets on their UK tour, and they are looking for a label as we speak (apparently they want the biggest deal they can get) so if things carry on in this direction then Tribes will be having a very good year.

http://www.myspace.com/tribesband

10 For 2011 – #5. Two Wounded Birds

28 Jan

They’re signed to Holiday Records and we’ve seen what they can do, with their excellent e.p ‘Keep Dreaming Baby.’ If Two Wounded Birds can build momentum then they may well be one of more succesful new British bands this year; I think there is a real appetite for this kind of retro guitar pop right now. Alternatively they could hide away, spend 12 months making a debut album and then release it on some tiny indie label before drifting away, it happens all too regularly. I just hope Two Wounded birds take advantage of the fact that right now a lot of eyes are on them.

The Smith Westerns ‘Dye It Blonde’ – Review

27 Jan

The Smith Westerns self titled debut showed a lot of potential but it was simply too distorted and sonically poor to be taken seriously. They clearly possessed a knack for melody but, whether through choice or a lack of other options, the songs were recorded very poorly. I mention this so early in the review because it is the big difference between ‘Dye it Blonde’ and the debut – simply, this new one is a fantastically produced record.

It’s still quite raw, certainly a bit rough around the edges, but this time those choices enhance the sound rather than detract from it. The vocals, which are average at best, swim just below the other instruments which is a wise choice as it give the songs a shoegaze quality that reminds me of the early britpop groups. In fact Britpop is the keyword when it comes to The Smith Westerns influences this time around. Check out the British Invasion jangle on ‘Only One’, the T Rex crunch in the guitars on ‘Imagine Pt.3’ and the stadium size ambition of ‘Weekend’.

Lyrically it contains all the melodrama of being young and in love – ‘her tears are never ending’, ‘It’s the end of the night, are you going home,’ ‘spend my time thinking if you’re falling in love with me,’ ‘every night I wanna do it’ – you get the idea. You will already know whether this is your cup of tea or not, personally I think they pull it off because they are the real deal, they are only teenagers and this is reality. Plus if you really wanted to you could tune out of what they are actually saying, the singer has a pretty nondescript voice and he emphases only the big lyrical hooks.

The Smith Westerns are part of what they refer to as ‘The Holy Trinity’, alongside Girls and Magic Kids (two bands that I absolutely love). If their first album didn’t come anywhere close to matching the brilliance of those other bands debuts then ‘Dye It Blonde’ certainly does. secondly, If a Britpop revival is going to happen anytime soon then the music press would do well to choose The Smith Westerns as the revival leaders because they possess more wit, charm and hooks than any other group I’ve heard who have been thrown into that scene (*cough* Brother *cough*) – despite being American. And amazingly the band are still teenagers, if you give them a couple of years and if  they hook up with a bigger label then I see no reason why they won’t be massive. This is an ambitious, well produced and fantastically enjoyable album.

8/10


10 For 2011 – #6. The Neat

27 Jan

Post Punk has been absent from the British Rock Scene for a couple of years now. These New Puritans garnered a lot of praise last year for the complicated, ambitious, and frankly overrated album ‘Hidden’ whilst Wild Beasts, Foals and The XX could all cite Post Punk as a big influence. However the more energetic strain of the genre looked like it had disappeared down its own black hole; but The Neat could be the band to rescue it.

So it’s time to dust off all those terms you put away in 2007 – spiky, angular, ‘the new Wire’, ‘the new Fall,’ ‘the new Gang of Four’ etc – yep, The Neat are all those things. Maybe. If you don’t believe me just listen to ‘Fruits’ or ‘In Youth is Pleasure’. Just don’t listen to their new single ‘Hips’, cos it’s rubbish. Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing more from them, they look like a great live band.

http://www.myspace.com/uptheneat

Kisses ‘The Heart of the Nightlife’ – Review

26 Jan

What a shame ‘The Heart of the Nightlife’ is being released in January because it’s a summer record through and through. I was only drawn to the album because the band’s name and the album art, with the connotations of romance and sunshine, really stood out all amongst all  the dull, usual suspects who release their records in the cold chill of Winter

This is music to be played at some late night disco at a foreign holiday resort (perhaps the one featured on the cover – apparently the singer is a travel writer, which makes sense). I can visualize the scene; the dirty tiled dance floor, the sparkly disco ball reflecting the dancers holiday dreams, and the shy teenagers sitting with their drunk parents, perhaps stealing sips from their cocktails. In fairness, no holiday park DJ I’ve ever met would put this on the playlist – maybe they would have in 1985, and that’s kind of the point. This album is the dream of a dream of a half remembered, faded holiday snap of a dream, from 25 years ago. The reverb and cheap production lends a sense of mystery and dreaminess that is complimented by the lyrics which are so predictable you find yourself singing along on the first time of hearing. You could swear that you’ve heard many of these tracks before – perhaps in another life, or again, in a dream.

Obviously nostalgia is the key card in Kisses deck, even if you weren’t alive in the mid-80s this album will make you nostalgic for that time. At one point they even sing ‘I found a better life in memory’. It’s not that this is a deliberately dated or ‘retro’ album, because it isn’t, Kisses aren’t pretending it’s 1985, and they definitely aren’t trying to make an album that sounds like it was made in 1985 – they are remembering that era from the vantage point of the 21st century. So the album has all the right signifiers of a funky, synth-pop classic from that time but the songs themselves are slippery and vague.; historical accuracy is thankfully not a real consideration. Lyrically as well this is very much about looking back to the past, about remembering and analysing; the mood is often regretful and whilst there are blissful love stories here they are often told in the past tense.

It’s far from a perfect album thought – ‘Midnight Lover’ is approaching terrible (you could probably have guessed that from the title), it’s the only track that feels like a pastiche, and a corny one at that. The organ and acoustic guitar on ‘Women of the club’ are also a bit too cheesy and we could do without the instrumental title track. Also whilst the songs individually go on a bit too long (average length 4 and a half minutes, with too much repetition) the album itself is a bit too short and is perhaps lacking a couple more songs as good as ‘Bermuda’ and ‘Kisses’.

Like Neon Indian and Washed Out, Kisses are presenting their version of  a half remembered 80’s euro-disco album, but it’s very much an album made in 2011, an album that sounds familiar but mysterious. I would argue that it’s more than a mere homage and actually there is  a lot going on underneath the shiny, sexy surface. ‘Heart of the Nightlife’ is a lot of fun for what is essentially quite a twisted and dark party record.

7/10

10 For 2011 – #7. Jai Paul

26 Jan

There is always one, elusive act who pops up on these type of lists; the type of act that hasn’t released anything and has experienced strange levels of hype based only on a couple of home recordings posted on Myspace. Jai Paul is that act for 2011. Nobody seems to know that much about him but what we do know is extremely interesting.

For one thing, his song ‘BTSTU’ is a pretty amazing mash up of pop, r&b, techno and dubstep (as well as just about every other genre) that had me hanging onto his every beat at the end of last year. Secondly, and quite impressively, he has just been signed to XL recordings, home of Vampire Weekend, Dizzee Rascal, M.I.A, Radiohead, The XX and The Horrors – in other words the most cutting edge and impressive indie label out there and a label that only signs a couple of new artists every year. So put simply, Jai Paul must be excellent. If his other songs are as impressive as ‘BTSTU’ then this guy is going to have a massive year.

BTSTU