Archive | April, 2011

Hunx and his Punx / Cats Eyes – Review

27 Apr

This month two excellent new albums have been released that, in their own unique way, update and revitalize the ‘girl group’ sound as pioneered by the likes of The Shangri-Las, The Ronettes and The Supremes. Firstly I look at ‘Too Young to be in Love’ by Hunx and his Punx and then the self titled debut from Cats Eyes

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Too Young To Be In Love by Hunx and His Punx

A few years ago The Pipettes successfully updated the girl group formula,  giving the style a 21st century feminist makeover. In a similar way Hunx and his Punx are breathing new life into the traditional girl group song structures, chord progressions, arrangements and lyrical themes. the big difference is that Hunx is a flamboyantly gay, larger than life rock star and this informs every song on the album.

Hunx flaunts his campness (this is the guy who held his penis as a microphone in Girls ‘Lust For Life’ video) with his exaggerated and somewhat whiney vocal delivery, the hilarious puns contained in the lyrics, and (live at least) his slightly extravagant showmanship. It all makes this debut album a hugely enjoyable rollercoaster, where we are guided through the typical trials and tribulations of young love by a unique and distinctive voice. Lyrically It’s all very old-fashioned but the material is given a fresh twist by Hunx’s unique personality.

It would all be for nothing if the songs weren’t great in the first place but they are. All ten tracks on here are pure ear candy, once you’ve heard them you will be humming away all day. ‘Keep Away From Johnny’ and the title track are the two stand outs for me but there really isn’t a weak song on here. At the same time there is nothing truly knock out, nothing that could make this a classic album. I feel it’s lacking some serious reflection as Hunx skims across the surface a bit too often without getting too deep. Until he does I can’t see him fully unlocking his potential.

‘Too Young To Be Into Love’ is an impressive album that builds on Hunx’s  slightly sillier ‘Gay Singles’ comp released last year. The group are one of the most individual bands to emerge over the last few months, there is no one else like them as far as I’m aware and whilst this album wont be everyone’s cup of tea, I have certainly had a great time listening to it.

7.5/10


Cats Eyes by Cats Eyes

Faris Baldwin is not somebody who can be easily pigeonholed. Educated at the renowned Rugby school, he left to pursue a life as a semi-gothic singer in a garage punk band. The Horrors exploded onto the scene, appearing on the cover of NME before they even released a single, but the hype had somewhat fizzled out by the time of their debut album – a shame as it was excellent (if somewhat rough around the edges). The hype  excelerated once again when early reviews of the band’s second album ‘Primary Colours’ declared it to be a classic in the making. For that album the band ditched the raucous garange-punk for a more considered sound built around synths and My Bloody Valentine levels of loudness. Cats Eyes are a different proposition once again, far more than merely a side project this is a substantial album in it’s own right.

The act’s sound is lovely and laid back, Faris sounds more like a crooner than a screamer and he is accompanied by opera singer Rachel Zeffira, who has an equally beautiful voice that adds to the boy/girl dynamic. Musically Cats Eyes stick to familiar pop melodies and lyrically they stick to familiar themes of love and heartbreak, but it doesn’t feel overly familiar – there is great depth in the arrangements, which are quite complex at times. There are also strange sounds hidden in the mix, some of which sound like they have come straight out of Joe Meeks big box of weird. ‘The Best Person I Know’ sounds a bit like The Carpenters with seriously spooky undertones and the choral harmonies on ‘I Knew It Was Over’ give the song a sophisticated and unusual bent.

The duo’s first public appearance was at the vatican (yes, I mean the vatican) which is probably the last place you would have expected Faris be performing, and yet after listening to the album that couldn’t feel like a more appropriate place for this heart wrenching music to be performed in. This is a quiet joy, an album that shows its hand gradually over repeated listens and yet manages to be immediately loveable. Overall It’s one of the best records released so far this year and I can’t wait to see what The Horrors have to offer in a few months time.

8.5/10

Tribes ‘We Were Children’

25 Apr

One of my favourite songs of last year has, rather unnecessarily, been re-recorded as some kind of larger than life rock song. Perhaps not uncoincidently, Tribes have now signed to Island records and are releasing their first major label ep – or there first ep on any label as far as I’m aware, pretty swish.   HERE is the info about the e.p.

Last Week’s BIG News in Album Art

24 Apr

I was away on holiday last week but that didn’t stop some BIG things going down – like this

Yep, that’s the cover for ‘Suck It and See’ by Arctic Monkeys. I reckon this is a cover people are either going to love or hate, and I’m kind of undecided at the moment. I like the simplicity, especially after the excess of ‘Don’t sit Down Cos I’ve Moved Your Chair’ and it’s video, and I suppose it fits in nicely with the title (which I have finally decided is terrible), as it asks you bluntly to give the album a go, not to judge the book by its cover so to speak. The more I mull it over the more I like it.

Bon Iver has revealed far less divisive album art for his highly anticipated self titled second album. It’s pretty lush…

The tracklisting for said album, as well as an interesting bio, can be found here.

Finally, Lady Gaga has unveiled the artwork for her second album ‘Born This Way’ and it’s pretty strange. The image shows Gaga as some kind of futuristic motorbike. In related news check out this week’s NME for an excellent feature on Lady Gaga written by POPJUSTICE writer Peter Robinson. If like me you have missed the likes of Smash Hits then this feature will make you very happy (check out POPJUSTICE for more funny and intelligent takes on the pop world).

oooooh, whilst I’m here I should say that Washed Out, who released the excellent e.p ‘Life of Leisure’ a year or two ago, has signed to Subpop and will be releasing his debut album this summer. Check out the details here and watch the video for the song ‘Feel It All Around’ below.

New Arctic Monkeys video / Lady Gaga Single / Shins Update

15 Apr

Below is the video for new Arctic Monkeys single ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ – anyone else feel like the band are waterskiing awfully close to a shark?

Also below is the new single from Lady gaga, the track is called ‘Judas’ and it’s quite a bit better than ‘Born this Way’, but it’s still far from brilliant. Catchy though.

And last but not least, The Shins have announced their first live date for two years (somewhere out in America) and a live video of a new song has also surfaced. Encouraging news, I’m sure you’ll agree!!

Glasvegas ‘EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\\’ Review

15 Apr

I should have predicted that the new Glasvgeas album would be rubbish, afterall the early signs weren’t good.  First there’s the title – ‘EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK\\\’ – (I will not be saying that again believe me), then there’s the fact it’s been produced by Flood, a man who seems to destroy all that he touches (see my recent reviews of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart or The View for more in that vein). Then there are all the bizarre stories circulating about the band – the fights, the overdoses, the relocation to Los Angeles etc. And what is with lead singer James’s decision to wear white and only white? Has he lost all self-awareness?!

The band’s debut hasn’t dated well; in many ways Glasvegas were carried through 2008 on the strength of their first two singles, as exciting and revelatory as anything released that year or any other last decade. Those two songs (and a couple more moments of semi-genius) made you overlook the blandness, and occasional awfulness, of some of the other tracks. The album, whilst very well recieved at the time, was let down by a stadium sized production that didn’t cater to the band’s needs. As time rolled on I started to suspect that those early singles may have been flukes and unfortunately this new album has confirmed that. There isn’t one ‘Daddy’s Gone’ on here, nothing that even comes close.

There’s so much wrong with the record that it’s hard to know where to begin,  but the main thing, the most damning thing, is that its soooooooooo boring. There is no energy, no spikes of emotion or attitude, no shift in tempo – nothing to make your ears prick up. The band obviously have their eyes on U2 (hence Flood producing) but they just don’t have the tunes to back up their bravado. ‘Shine Like The Stars’, ‘You’ and ‘Euphoria Take My Hand’ achieve the same monotone vaugness that U2 strive for thanks to heavy handed, all-inclusive lyrics but fail to provide the hooks and massive choruses. First single ‘The World Is Yours’ comes closest but it’s still an epic fail. befitting of this extravagance, the songs feel like they’re never going to end – listening to ‘Shine Like Stars’ reminded me of watching Pirates of the Caribbean 3 – at one point I thought ‘thank god we’re near the end’  but it turned out it wasn’t even halfway through.

I’d like to know what happened to the socially aware, observational lyricist who penned ‘Flowers and Football Tops’. There is nothing to grip onto here, no emotional resonance, no stories worth listening to. On their debut when James sang about Geraldine, a caring nurse from his hometown, you believed in the character and the song meant something because of it, but here when James puts himself into other people’s shoes it sounds fake and insincere. He gets closer to conveying something on a couple of the slower songs (‘Lots Sometimes’ and ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night’) but he rarely sounds comfortable.

You know what, I’m not even going to waste anymore of my time telling you why this is a bad album, I’m going to let the song titles do the talking. ‘Pain, Pain, Never Again’, ‘The World is Yours’, ‘Stronger than Dirt: Homosexuality part two’, ‘I Feel Wrong: Homosexuality part one’. Let me just repeat that one for you – ‘I Feel Wrong: Homosexuality part one’.  Enough said.

This album with that title verges on being a big budget, backfiring disaster, and the fact that it’s dropped out of the top 40 after only two weeks suggest that for all the stadium sized bombast, Glasvegas have failed to translate their sound to a wide audience. I’d love to say it’s a shame but honestly the public aren’t missing anything. Glasvegas worked best in tiny venues with the crowd chanting back ‘here we fucking go’, they worked best when they sang small town tales about real life issues, they worked best when they were aiming big but dealing with no budget, rubbish instruments and Scottish weather. Next time how about more Glasgow and less Vegas?

3.5/10

New Arctic Monkeys and more…

13 Apr

You’ve probably heard ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’ by now, but in case you’ve had your head in the sand for the past couple of days you can check it out below. I’m still undecided – whilst I’m positive that I like it, I certainly don’t love it and I have reservations about a few aspects of the sound and style – and I’ve never had any reservations about an Arctic Monkeys single before. The album ‘Suck It And See’ (yet more reservations about that title) will be out on the 5th June, it also includes ‘Brick by Brick’ (which I like) and ‘Piledriver Waltz’ (which I love!).

Also below is the new single from ex-Busted and Fightstar frontman Charlie Simpson, a song inspired by Jackson Browne and The Beach Boys. It’s yet another interesting change in direction for Simpson, someone I’ve always admired, and I look forward to hearing the album.

Then there is a new song from the recently deceased LCD Soundsystem, covering ‘Live Alone’, a stand out from Franz Ferdinand’s 2009 album ‘Tonight’.

Finally, Mellowhype (of Oddfuture) popped by to some American Tv show to give a performance of ’64’. Interestingly they are backed by another brilliant new band, ‘Bass Drum of Death’, and you can also check out their new single below.

Panda Bear ‘Tomboy’ – Review

11 Apr

I saw This is Spinal Tap for about the millionth time the other day, and I watched it with somebody who hadn’t seen it before. This guy really didn’t like it – he didn’t hate it either but he only chuckled a couple of times during the entire movie. I guess I took it for granted that Spinal Tap is a classic film that everyone just loves, but obviously that isn’t true, there must be loads of people who don’t like it, or haven’t even heard of it. Panda Bear is in a similar position, beloved by many, disliked by many, unknown to the majority. His influence is far greater than his commercial impact and yet it’s easy to forget that there are those who don’t consider him to be the musical messiah, or don’t even consider him full stop. Still, his output over the past ten years has been pretty untouchable, all things considered.

They say the only way is up but what if you’ve gone as far up as you can go? Where do you go next? That was the question posed to Panda Bear, an artist who arguably changed the course of Alternative music with his 2007 album ‘Person Pitch’ and then once again with Animal Collective’s 2009 album ‘Meriwether Post Pavillion. It was always going to be difficult to better those records, and Panda Bear shies away from doing so by attempting something more understated and ambiguous. It may not be a masterpiece but the man they call Panda Bear has created yet another expansive and at times wonderful musical experience.

And yet, like This is Spinal Tap, it’s easy to see how people would be put off by ‘Tomboy’; Panda Bear is a love him or hate him kind of guy and all the marmite staples of his back catalogue have made a return – the pretty harmonies, the eccentric synths, the trippy samples, the constantly accelerating rhythms, the frantic chants etc.But whilst it’s very obvious who’s behind this, Panda Bear hasn’t made a clone of his previous albums and there are things that make ‘Tomboy’ a unique piece of work in the Panda cannon.

Ever the master of wetting fans appetites slowly, he has been drip feeding singles and live tracks from ‘Tomboy’ for the best part of a year, which means that the content of the album isn’t going to shock anyone with a fast internet connection. Overall It’s a more straightforward  record than it’s predecessor, but whilst the songs are all quite simple they are still cluttered with a variety of textures and sound effects, meaning that listening to the album in one go can give you a bit of a headache. Once you get used to the range of effects you notice where they work and where they don’t work.

On opener ‘You Can Count On Me’ everything seems to slot together nicely and despite being an incredibly busy song it feels quite effortless. The title track is an example of where the different effects seem to clash with the music; there is a squelchy keyboard part way to high up in the mix, and the various bomb/percussion samples distract from the gorgeous harmonies. Sonic Boom mixed this album and on the whole he can’t get enough praise for the jobs he’s done . The album versions of the singles released last year sound so spacious and dynamic in comparison to Panda Bear’s mixes and whilst songs like ‘Tomboy’ still have too much going on, Sonic Boom has done a good of finding space and peace in the chaos.

The album’s tone is dark and anthemic, in contrast to ‘Person Pitch’s’ summertime party atmosphere. Melodies and harmonies still rule the roost (see ‘Last Night at the Jetty’) but there is slightly more emphasis on rhythm and instrumentation rather than samples, whilst Panda Bear’s vocal delivery seems to be more stabby and impressionistic than before. Lyrically he continues to be concerned with growing up and themes include deserting friends, looking after the family and just generally reflecting on the past. It’s an album filled with rousing anthems, in both a lyrical and musical sense. A couple of times he even samples football terrace cheering, an example of how, this time around, he is using samples that aren’t the focus but rather form the background of the songs.

After a four year gap between albums and coming off the back of some of the most acclaimed musical experiments of the past decade, ‘Tomboy’ was always at risk of being a disappointment – but it isn’t. Panda Bear will still be beloved by some, disliked by some and ignored by the majority. It isn’t a masterpiece, nor is it a failure, it’s not his ticket into the mainstream but nor is it an impenetrable, chin stroking, modernist mess. Overall it’s a really good album, nothing more and nothing less.

7.5/10