Archive | February, 2011

Radiohead ‘King of Limbs’ – Review

26 Feb

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past week you will probably be aware that Radiohead are back. Last Friday morning I can guarantee that music lovers everywhere were downloading ‘King of Limbs’ in unison, devouring and judging it almost simultaneously. This is a throwback to the days before leaks and downloads when people would que on sidewalks, waiting for the record store to open so they could hear their favourite band’s new album. It’s ironic because with all due respect to Radiohead and this album, ‘King of Limbs’ is about as far from ‘event music’ as it’s possible to get.

To begin with, it nudges away from big ideas at almost every turn. They’ve not released a single, there’s no real theme (just as you think one might be developing they switch lanes) and musically this is a subdued and laid back affair. Every member of the band seemingly wants to hide in the shadows; there isn’t a guitar riff of note, Thom’s lyrics are even more cryptic than usual, Phil’s drumming is jazzy and understated – only Colin’s Bass playing really jumps out as classic Radiohead. But somehow out of these elements they make a quietly brilliant little album.

But If you were expecting another landmark release, then this just isn’t it. ‘King of Limbs’ feels like a bridge between two islands, just as ‘The Bends’ paved the gap between the grungy rock of ‘Pablo Honey’ and the more serious ‘OK Computor’ or ‘Amnesiac’ cleansed the pallate before the rather epic ‘Hail to the Thief.’ But then again we don’t know where this bridge is taking us – we may be waiting for an album that will never come. Radiohead have often talked about ditching the album format and it could be that this is just the first in a longer line of mini albums, perhaps released at shorter intervals than the four years we’ve waited for this release. If that’s the case then ‘King of Limbs’ may ultimatley leave us underwhelmed.

Anyway, what about the actual songs? Well it’s a decelerating ride, getting quieter and more personal as it progresses. Beginning with an intense electronic jam that feels like a leftover from ‘Amnesiac’, a couple of spidery guitar based tracks and a dubstep influenced semi-instrumental, the first half passes by in a slightly anticlimactic way. That’s not to say that this side is week as such, it’s just that it’s a bit too familiar, more familiar than we would have expected. Out of these four songs only the opener, ‘Bloom’, is what I’d call a classic Radiohead moment whilst ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ and ‘Little by Little’ never really take off at all.

The second half gets increasingly more intimate and increasingly fantastic; there are two songs in particular that sit alongside Radiohead’s gentler classics such as ‘Nude’, ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack and ‘Last Flowers’. ‘Codex’ is a gorgeous piece of piano playing and ‘Giving Up The Ghost’ is a pastoral, folktronica style track  that feature some stunningly evocative lyrics. The second half ends with ‘Separator’ and I doubt you will read a review that doesn’t end mentioning this track’s coda where Thom repeats ‘if you think this is over then you’re wrong’. That’s because reviewers and fans will hope that this line (and the song’s title) is a hint that this album is merely the first part of something bigger. We will see…

Radiohead’s clean sheet has been maintained here and twenty years on the band are still at the top of their game in many respects, although not every respect. So how will ‘King of Limbs’ be remembered in the long run? It’s hard to judge until we know their next move because so much rests on what exactly comes next. In the cold light of day it is their weakest album since their debut but to give it that title is sort of doing the band a disservice, because this certainly isn’t a bad album. I feel it’s the calm before the storm; Radiohead are far from done and I can’t help but presume that this is another one of their stepping-stones. Still, as stepping stones go it’s a pretty beautiful one.

8/10

New Songs I Can’t Get Out Of My Head

23 Feb

So just a bried round up of some new music that has me excited, starting with a cool band called Bass Drum of Death (best band name ever!)

Young Pros by Bass Drum of Death

Wade in by Joy Orbison (at last a new song by Joy, woooop!!!)

Someone Like you by Adele

If You Wanna (New Single Version!!) by The Vaccines

Garden by totally extinct Dinosaurs

Punching in a Dream by The Naked and Famous

I Knew it Was Over by Cat’s Eyes

Get Away by Yuck

Yonkers by Tyler the Creator

Frankie and the Heartrings ‘Hunger’ – Review

19 Feb

Last Year I spent an awfully long time trying to decide if Frankie and the Heartstrings were brilliant or just down-right annoying. On the one hand they released one of the year’s best pop songs (‘Tender’) and a couple more that came close to stealing that title. On the other hand the singer’s over the top, theatrical style and his irritating way of twisting words with his Geordie accent really grated on me. It was all resting on this album, a record I was expecting to either love or hate. Strangely though It isn’t the divisive album I suspected it would be, it’s actually a straight down the line enjoyable listen – nothing more, nothing less.

‘Hunger’ has been built around the singles which is no bad thing as they are the undisputed highlights here. ‘Ungrateful’ is a call to arms for the indie faithful – ‘I Wrote this song with you in mind’ – whilst the title tracks stretches that idea even further – ‘It’s about time that we made a stand and started together in our own band.’ The Album’s opening guitar Jangle also sounds like a rally cry, although one seemingly written for an ice cream van, such is its vibrancy and catchiness. It announces the band as an ambitious and energetic group and this momentum is sustained for the first four songs, each one trying to out do the one before in terms of excitable energy.

But this album isn’t the landmark, self-important indie album it is set up to be and it isn’t long before the band relax into a more reflective and heart wrenching mood. The majority of the songs deal with being young and in love or being young and heartbroken and at times they recall 50’s doo wop or 80’s new wave pop. ‘Fragile’ is their slowie and the version here is a lot better than the slightly more pompous performance of the song I’ve seen live. As I mentioned at the beginning, Frankie has a tendency to be melodramatic and hysterical at times, but luckily there is restraint and subtlety to his performance on this song and indeed across most of the album.

The only time that newfound restraint holds the band back is on the re-recorded version of ‘Tender’. The single they released last year has been sapped of its energy and punch on this re-recorded version, It just sounds too produced, too over thought and musically too dense. That it’s still the best thing on here says a lot about just how addictive that melody is.

There are ten tracks on ‘Hunger’ and a consistency is upheld for all 40 odd minutes, rarely does the quality dip too low. occasionally however it is noticeable just how few tricks Frankie and co have up their sleeves, at times you wonder ‘haven’t I heard that before?’ especially as the album reaches the conclusion. They also have a tend to drag the songs out for longer than needs be, and final track ‘Don’t Look Surprised’ becomes a bit of a boar which is something that the producer should have sorted out. Orange Juice man, Edwyn Collins produced ‘Hunger’ and whilst he’s done a good job of capturing a live sound I can’t help but think that he’s let the side down a bit in some respects. Generally the newly recorded songs don’t hold a candle to the demo versions and there are small annoyances that make the album feel a bit scrappy and unfinished.

Overall ‘Hunger’ is an entertaining listen and although it wont win any prizes for originality it is sure to appeal to a certain type of indie popster. Surprisingly I don’t feel like I’ve learnt anything new about the band – ‘Tender’ is still their best song by a country mile (even if they have done their best to scrub it of its charm) and Frankie still winds me up a fair bit; that I like the album in spite of that probably speaks volumes.

7/10

New Avi Buffalo! (‘How Come’)

17 Feb

The band that made my favourite album of 2011 have just put a mysterious new song on their soundcloud page. It’s pretty jazzy and quite different to anything on the debut album (sadly it’s missing Rebecca Coleman’s sweet vocals; she left the band late last year) but I really like it.

The Strokes ‘Undercover of Darkness’

11 Feb

So the band that defined a generation are finally back after a five-year break. The Strokes will release their fourth album, ‘Angles’, on March 21st and ‘Undercover of Darkness’ is the first single to be released from it. It’s like the band put all the best bits from their previous albums in a massive blender; The neon guitars from ‘Room on Fire’, the killer melodies from ‘Is This It’, the ambitious structures from ‘First Impressions of Earth’ – this song sounds like a summary of everything we loved about those albums.

But there is something new as well – it sounds so less self-conscious than much of ‘Room on Fire’ and ‘First impressions’, albums where the band struggled with how to move on from ‘Is This It’ whilst retaining what made that album successful. Here they just sound like they are having fun, from the witty lyrics to the hair metal, dueling guitars and what sound like four different choruses. I don’t hear a band under pressure when I listen to ‘Undercover of Darkness’, I just hear the best band on the planet having a great time.

James Blake ‘James Blake’ – Review

9 Feb

It’s hard to think of another artist who has covered so much ground before even releasing their debut album. From his acclaimed  remixes of dub-step pioneers to the sampled based ‘CMYK’ e.p and the piano-centric ‘Klavierwerke’ e.p, James Blake has been consistently interesting and quietly ground breaking. Obviously that means a lot is riding on this debut album and it’s probably bound to disappoint some people who think they know what to expect. If there is one thing I learnt about James Blake from those e.ps it’s to expect the unexpected.

Firstly I was surprised at how song centric the album is; the second third of the record barely features any production wizardry at all and there is an abundance of humable tunes. ‘Give Me My Month’, ‘To Care Like You’ and ‘Why Don’t You Call Me’ are short piano pieces that will make or break the album for many people. Personally, they are the album’s highlights but to many dub-step purists who enjoyed the ‘CMYK’ e.p these tracks may come as an unwelcome change of direction. ‘I Mind’ comes the closest to sounding like the James Blake of old but that song aside there really isn’t that much here that could be considered dub-step. Still, the genre’s influence is all over the album, from the cut and paste editing to the click track beats, James Blake knows where he’s coming from but he knows where he’s going as well.

Blake brilliantly captured a sense of tension and paranoia on the song ‘CMYK’ through his blending of high pitched r&b samples and jittery beats. Here he tries to re-capture that tension on ‘I Never Learnt to Share’ by using his own vocals as the sample. It works to an extent; the song basically revolves around the line ‘My Brother and my sister don’t talk to me and I don’t blame them’ which is sung by Blake with resonating sincerity and heartbreak. Over the course of the song the line gets diced, distorted, and played with in every which way so that at one point there are several Blakes (some electronically manipulated, some authentic) all fighting with each other in a battle between the real and the unreal,the future and the past etc. Your allowed to concentrate on these ideas because basically the song just repeats the same motif for four minutes.

As I say, it works to an extent. Whilst I can see the merits in him playing with the words until all possible understandings and interpretations have been dissected from them, ultimately I think a little more depth would have been beneficial. What has the singer done for his brother and sister not to talk to him? Why doesn’t he blame them? These are questions Blake deliberately leaves unanswered, and I don’t have a problem with that, but I do wonder if the song is just underdeveloped rather than understated. ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, Measurements’ and ‘Unlock’ – actually most of the album – works in the same way, positive repetition is the most notable trait of ‘James Blake’. I think the extent to which you get on board with Blake’s lyrical approach will be determined by whether you believe that less is more and whether you think he is being restrained and concise or just a bit lazy.

‘Lindisfarne’ is more traditionally structured lyrically, as is the album highlight ‘Limit To Your Love’ which is also the most tuneful thing on here. I was never a big fan of the song when I first heard it, the white boy soul and minimal arrangement was a bit too MOR for me, but I like it more and more every time I hear it. Heard through headphones, the rippling bass and heartfelt vocals really jump out whilst the silence inbetween the verse and chorus sounds even more chilling and unexpected in the album’s context.

James Blake has tried to make a sort of  ‘singer-songwriter’ album; a record that is powerful and emotionally resenting in the same way as, for example, Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma Forever Ago’. However, it’s too slight and delicate to work on those terms. It’s also too considered; Bon Iver’s album was so effecting because of the brutal and direct honesty, it was just him and his guitar, whereas you get the impression that Blake has spent months crafting and shaping this album – it kind of sounds simple but it also sounds like he’s spent an awful lot of time and effort making it sound simple. Instead ‘James Blake’ works most successfully as a late night, post-club, mood album; one that is moving yet slightly disarming at the same time. This is a dreamy, ambiguous, haunting, and almost futuristic record that takes the key traits of the singer songwriter style and places them in a new context.

We have now established that not only is James Blake an accomplished DJ, producer, pianist and singer but he’s also a pretty snappy tunesmith as well. This album is a slightly confused amalgamation of all these things, which means it’s a great album but a sporadically great one. ‘How full on to watch you grow’ he sings at one point – James Blake is an artist who has grown up musically in public over the past couple of years and this album suggests he still has a lot of growing to do. He is one of the brightest young talents to emerge in recent years and I have no doubt he will grow into a spectacular musician.

8.5/10


10 For 2011 – #1. The Vaccines

5 Feb

There was never going to be anyone else at the top of this list; The Vaccines will surely own 2011. ‘Wreckin Bar / Blow It Up it’ was the best debut single by a British band since Arctic Monkeys released ‘Fake Tales Of San Fransisco’ in 2005. Their live shows have been phenomenal, they’ve sold out everywhere they been, picking up rave reviews. Every sign so far suggests that ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’ will be a sensational album when it’s released in March.

The Vaccines are genuinely captivating in a way that no British guitar group has been for years. Partly it’s because they are so young, eager and excitable; they strut around the stage like they’ve been practicing in their bedrooms for years. But mainly it’s the actual songs which blend (semi) lo-fi production, pop hooks and punk attitude in a way that sounds familiar but brand new at the same time. Their songs rarely last more than two minutes (a couple are considerably less than that) but that gives them more than enough time to leave an impression.

It’s possible that the album may eventually disappoint (Glasvegas and Klaxons were similarly hyped and also released some exceptional singles before failing to build upon that early promise in the long-term) but something tells me this won’t happen with The Vaccines. Personally, I think they will inject indie with some much-needed energy.

http://www.myspace.com/thevaccines