Archive | July, 2011

Foster the People ‘Torches’ – Review

29 Jul

Foster the People get called the new MGMT on a daily basis for very obvious reasons. They’ve had this summer’s indie-pop crossover hit, the song you can’t escape from for better or worse – ‘Pumped Up Kick.’ Like ‘Time to Pretend’, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ is an irresistible slice of feel good fun that strikes a perfect balance between indie, pop and electro. But unlike MGMT, Foster the People only have ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, they don’t have a ‘Kids’ or an ‘Electric Feel’ to follow it up with, and this debut album is no ‘Oracular Spectacular’. When MGMT weren’t aiming for the charts they were aiming for outer space, which made for a thrillingly diverse album that struck a balance between catchy, in your face pop songs and freaky psych outs. Foster the People however try replicating ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ formula at every turn and it makes for a pretty one-dimensional album. And the thing is that they don’t even come close to matching (let alone bettering) their, frankly brilliant, first single.

But this is still a fun summer album. There are ten songs, all of them likeable, and the band are consistently interesting and usually contiguously upbeat.  ‘Life on the Nickel’ is the closest Foster the People come to making a dance number (check out the far too knowing synth breakdown in the second half) but it lacks originality. ‘Houdini’ will probably be the next single, it has a nicely infectious falsetto melody and a memorable hook. ‘Miss You’ is an unashamed attempt to tug on your heartstrings, and although it’s far too obvious and clichéd it kind of works. My favourite song that isn’t called ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ is the opener ‘Helena Beat’, an uptempo, quirky number. Whilst only one song is what you’d call a hit, there aren’t any that particularly miss either. It gets a bit repetitive in the middle but that is forgotten thanks to a strong opening and euphoric ending with the fabulous ‘Warrant’.

Many bands have emulated (to put it nicely) MGMT’s sound recent years; ‘Torches’ is a better than, say, ‘Passive Me, aggressive You’ but not as good as ‘Walking on a Dream’ (if you don’t get any of these references then this album probably isn’t for you). It is a thoroughly enjoyable, if slightly repetitive, in one ear out the other type of album. It’s hard to dislike. Foster the People know their way around a good melody and a catchy hook, now they could become a genuinely great band if they develop their own identity, instead of borrowing so liberally from other bands (one in particular!).


New Music Blast!!!!!!

27 Jul

Neon Indian – ‘Fallout’

Kanye West and Jay Z – ‘Otis’

Vivian Girls – Take It as It Comes

Noel Gallaghar – ‘The Death of You and Me’

M83 – ‘Midnight City’

Laura Marling – Sophia’

Real Estate – ‘Barely Legal’

Bon Iver ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ – Review

26 Jul

Sometimes it’s hard to articulate why you like a song or even more simply, what a song is about. Bon Iver’s debut album, ‘For Emma Forever Ago’ charmed everyone who heard it, but you couldn’t really say what it was that made it brilliant, why it connected so widely, or what the guy was even going on about. But what was not in doubt was its beauty – it was obviously a beautiful record. It was equally obvious that Justin Vernon was pouring his heart out, it just wasn’t so obvious what was making him pour his heart out. But certain clues were dropped that told us what we already half-suspected – Justin’s heart had been broken. It was there in the stark arrangements, his whispering falsetto, his painfully unguarded lyrics, the album title etc. Through the fog we felt his pain.

‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’, the sort of self titled follow-up, is somehow even more mysterious than the debut. Here, there isn’t an overriding theme, a single subject, there are many themes and many subjects. Musically as well this is a diverse and scattered record. When the debut album was released, Bob Iver was essentially a pseudonym for Justin Vernon as a solo artist, but now Bon Iver are a proper, fully functioning, and incredibly ambitious band. Justin appeared on Kanye West’s hugely acclaimed and hugely extravagant album ‘My beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and whilst few would have predicted the rapper’s style would rub off on him, it clearly has; this new album has a similarly wide musical range, and Bon Iver have clearly given every instrument in the box a work out.

This is obvious from the off, with ‘Perth’ a song that is a world away from anything on the debut in many respects, and yet is curiously similar. ‘For Emma…’ was of course recorded by Justin, alone in his wood cabin in the middle of nowhere over a six month period. He recorded most of the instruments himself, and he multi-tracked the vocals which gave the album its unique, ghostly sound. As his 2008 -10 tour progressed Justin seemed to pick up musicians at every city he stopped off at, and now the band consists of about ten different people. ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ features a wide range of performers, and not to mention instruments. Songs often start with Justin and his guitar before building into musical epics with string and horn sections, slide guitars, synths, percussion and all kinds of other sounds. It’s progressive, it’s ambitious, it’s experimental and maximalist but it’s never over the top or indulgent. For all the bluster it’s remarkably subtle, even restrained. The quieter songs (such as ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Wash’) come at exactly the right moments, as do the odd throwbacks to the starkness of ‘For Emma (such as Towers’). There is even the epic finale in the form of a proper 80’s soft rock ballad ‘Beth/Rest’. The song could have been a massive disastor, but it’s executed in a stunning way, and it’s the perfect end to a perfectly structured album.

You couldn’t talk about ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ without mentioning the lyrics, which are (at any given time) impressionistic, poetic, nonsensical, grammatically incorrect, beautiful, vague, deeply revealing and at times utterly frustrating. The songs are built like puzzles that take time to crack, but when the meanings do reveal themselves it gives you a wonderful feeling. Take ‘Holocene’ for example; after many listens it struck me that it was a song about coming of age, about realizing how small and unimportant you are in the grander scheme of things, and each verse tells of a different personal revolution, whilst the chorus is the euphoric declaration ‘At once I knew I was not magnificant…I could see for Miles, miles, miles.’

‘Calgary’ is about the challenges of growing old and keeping a relationship going, whilst ‘Michiant’ and ‘Towers’ are about the innocence, the naivity, the pain and the ultimate let down of young love. Some of the other songs are still puzzling me; ‘Wash’ is a complete mystery, although it’s another emotional weepie with a key line being ‘Claire, I was too sore for sight.’ ‘Minnesota, Wi’ is equally strange/impenetrable (‘armour let it through, borne the arboretic truth you kept posing’) although the key line that gets repeated is ‘Never Gonna Break’ which speaks for itself.

On the cover of the album is a painting of an imaginary landscape (different landscapes crop up a lot on the album, as demonstrated by the song titles which are all place names). The painting is a good metaphor for the album; it depicts a beautiful, green landscape filled by nature as well as signs of nature’s destruction. In the centre of the painting is a single log cabin, representing perhaps the place where Justin recorded his debut album on his own. For whilst ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ is an ambitious, destructive, beautiful album at its heart is Justin Vernon, always alone in the middle, with his guitar and stunning voice. The album is fascinating for all the things that are going on musically and lyrically, but it’s a classic album because of what’s at its heart; Justin Vermon, his guitar and his voice.


Mercury prize alternative list

25 Jul

The Mercury Music prize nominations were announced last week and I noticed that a lot of great albums were left off the list. To compensate I have created an alternative list, featuring albums I feel got overlooked (rules are the album had to be released between July 2010 and July 2011). It’s not that I disagreed with all the official nominations (although how Everything Everything made it is beyond me!) it’s just that I don’t believe that the list fully represents the best British music of the past twelve months (however a few of those albums deserve the recognition as much as any of the below). You can see the original list HERE and view my alternative selection (i.e albums that didn’t make the official nominations) along with an example of the artists work, below.

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Suck It and See’

British Sea Power – ‘Vallhalla Dancefloor’

Cats Eyes ‘ Cats Eyes’

The Horrors –  ‘Skying’

Jamie xx – ‘We’re New Here’

Magnetic Man – ‘Magnetic Man’

Miles Kane – ‘The Colour of the Trap’

Radiohead – ‘King of Limbs’

Rose Elinor Dougell – ‘Without Why’

The Vaccines ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’

Wild Beasts – ‘Smother’

Yuck – ‘Yuck’

The Horrors ‘Skying’ – Review

21 Jul

The Horrors change their sound more than they change their clothes (which is saying something) so it’s no surprise to find that third album ‘Skying’ is quite a bit different to its renowned predecessor ‘Primary Colours’. Having emerged in 2006 as garage rockers, they found more success once they traded in their organ for a synth. The resulting album was an astonishing blend of prog, shoegaze and synth pop and it made them the Susan Boyle of indie – ‘Primary Colours’ was the amazing album that nobody saw coming. As I say, third album ‘Skying’ is a different beast altogether, but it feels like a natural progression rather than another grand departure; It’s brighter, it’s bigger, and it’s more ambitious.

Track one, ‘Chainging The Rain’, opens with a baggy drum beat and shaking maracas – from the off it’s clear that this album has a lot to thank the early 90’s for. Baggy is the word that keeps cropping up when I think about ‘Skying’, and though it’s not a genre that gets a lot of love these days, The Horrors remind you why it was so popular in the years before britpop. Here the rhythms are funky and high in the mix whilst the vocals are heavy with effects and low in the mix. At first it’s a little jarring, records aren’t really mixed like this nowadays (especially albums that go in at number 5 on the album chart) but after a while you get used to the sound.

Track two, ‘You Said’, begins simply with a seductive keyboard and Faris in whisper mode; earlier this year his side project Cats Eyes released their excellent debut album and whilst there is little to connect the two records, Faris has clearly learnt the art of restraint and composure from his other band. ‘Primary Colours’ was at its weakest when Faris reverted to shouty mode, and thankfully he never makes that mistake here. In fact the whole band are much more restrained and composed, something that I like but also slightly regret – only the excellent ‘Monica Gems’ (a Villiage Green era Kinks tribute) gets loud and dirty, which is a slight shame as The Horrors used to be a brilliantly ferocious live band.

But the transition may just be worth it as it leaves us with numbers like ‘Endless Blue’, which begins with (dare I say it) a space jazz intro before bursting into a Joy Division-esque, post punk rocker where Faris’ slightly distorted vocals hover below feedback and horns. Speaking of which, the horn section makes a reappearance on first single ‘Still Life’ which sounds like the obvious next step on from the likes of ‘Who Can say’ and ‘Whole New Way.’ For all the backward guitar loops, trance bass lines and hazy vocals, this is essentially synth pop at its finest. But whilst The Horrors have clearly moved on there are still hints of where they come from. With its loud/quiet dynamic and organ riff, ‘I Can See Through You’ sounds most like The Horrors of old, indeed it’s possibly the only song they’ve ever recorded that would sit comfortably on any of the band’s three albums to date.

One member of the band (I forget who) is the elder brother of Freddie from The Vaccines. When commenting on the difference between the two bands, Freddie said something along the lines of  ‘They start with sonics and we start with songs.’ It’s an obvious distinction to make; ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines’ was a minimal pop punk album, but even at their most minimal, The Horrors layer their music with effects and reverb. Just occasionally this results in songs that aren’t fully realized as songs – it’s as if they said ‘how can this song benefit the sound’ rather than ‘how can this sound benefit the song.’ Therefore we are left with the technically ambitious but rather lightweight ‘Dive In’, and the even more pondrous ‘Wide Eyed’, both of which are essentially mid-paced psychedelic jams.

But then Skying is a typical psychedelic record; when it’s good it’s very good and when it’s bad it’s downright bizzare. The lyrics on ‘Skying’ are generally quite strange, vague and unmemorable (lots of talk about floating, seeing vivid colours and loosing touch with reality) save for two or three excellently executed songs about longing and nostalgia (one of which is the epic eight minute finale ‘Oceans Burning’, the album’s best moment). Musically as well they sometimes skirt a bit too close the edge of what is acceptably trippy and indulgent, which leaves me feeling that overall ‘Skying’ is not as successful as ‘Primary Colours’ (an album rooted more in reality). But such is the way with bands that push the boundires, you win some, you loose some, and in fairness The Horrors win a lot more than they lose. I guess it was always going to be hard to follow-up one of the best albums of recent years and the band certainly haven’t let anyone down; ‘Skying’ is an accomplished, ambitious and at times stunningly well made album.


New from Girls and Dum Dum Girls

20 Jul

It’s been a good couple of weeks for old bands returning with new music;  today, Girls (one of my favourite groups of recent years) have unvield a song from their new album ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, which is out in September. Over at onethirtybpm you can hear the song, the rather off-puttingly titled ‘Vomit’. Here is the Link

Also this week, Dum Dum Girls have previewed a song from their second album ‘Only In Dreams’. The track is called ‘Coming Down’ and it can be heard below.

Funny to think that both of these bands used to drench their songs in distortion and feedback, these new ones are very polished and presentable. Have they lost some charm as a result?

The Kooks ‘Is It Me’

19 Jul

New single from The Kooks. Not sure what to make of this one. Good chorus, rubbish verses.