Archive | October, 2011

Washed Out ‘Call It Off’

31 Oct

a new song from Washed Out, taken from their new single ‘Amor Fati’

The Vaccines ‘Tiger Blood’

23 Oct

A few weeks ago we found out that The Vaccines had been working with Albert Hammond Jr on some new material, and you can hear the result of this meeting of minds below. ‘Tiger Blood’ will feature on a double A side along with album track ‘Wetsuit’ (the seventh song to be released from that amazing debut album!) and it’s out in December. Just listen to how Strokesy those guitar sound…

R.E.M release final single

21 Oct

and it’s the best thing they’ve done in years – 8 years to be exact (I loved ‘Leaving New York’!) You can listen to ‘Back Where We Belong’ over at Rolling Stone.

Ryan Adams ‘Ashes and Fire’ – Review

20 Oct

By anybodys standards Ryan Adams is prolific. The man once released three albums in a year, and one of those was a double! Contrary to common wisdom, I actually think he’s been remarkably consistent over the past decade, only his last album, 2008’s ‘Cardinology’ failed to impress me, although admittedly he came close to over staying his welcome once or twice before then. You would therefore think that after an unprecedented three-year break (a lifetime in his world) he would return with something pretty special – but he hasn’t, for better or worse ‘Ashes and Fire’ is his least substantial album yet.

Which isn’t saying it’s his worst yet, it’s an improvement on ‘Cardinology’ for sure, and his time away has certainly made this release more of an event (it’s his highest charting album to date), but Adams’ sounds too tame, too relaxed and too sober this time around; ‘Fire and Ashes’ is just too…nice. His best records have been the ones where he’s poured his (broken) heart out – his classic debut was called ‘Heartbreaker’ for a reason. The underrated ‘Jacksonville City Nights’ and ‘Cold Roses’ also confirm that Adams is at his best when he’s an emotional wreck. And therein lies the problem with ‘Ashes and Fire’ – he’s grown up and matured as a human being, and apparently found happiness, but this means that his main source of inspiration artistically has run a bit dry.

There is a constant feeling that he’s straining for something to say. This manifests itself in lyrics that shy away from the little details and specifics that defined his best songs and go more for vague and wide-reaching sentiments. ‘Save Me’ and ‘Come Home’ are as cliched as their titles would suggest; there isn’t enough personality stored in the lyrics and I just don’t believe that he means it, not in the same way he meant it when he sang ‘Oh Amy I love you, do you still love me’.

If there is a theme wrapping the songs together then it may actually be getting old and forgetting about the past. ‘Lucky Now’ is certainly about this; ‘I don’t remember, were we wild and young? All that’s faded into memory’. On the album opener he says he is ‘looking through the rubble, trying to find out who we were.’ Throughout he is looking backwards rather than looking inwards, taking inspiration from the ghosts of his past.

Adams has been playing up this theme in press interviews, he told the guardian that “the record is obsessed with time. I’m passing through my own life as a ghost, and looking at these pieces and places in my life. I’m looking at California, and the idea of being lost and found at the same time.” This is evident in lines like ‘I think about those days…I’ve got nothing but time’. It’s also telling that Adams at one point seems to acknowledge the fading of his artistic powers, when he sings ‘Used to have the goods, back when I couldn’t use them’.

To be honest it’s not really too important to have something interesting to sing about when your voice is as expressive and luxurious as Adams’ is, and it helps when you’ve got a producer as capable and knowledgable as Glyn Johns. The arrangements are simple and pretty, mainly acoustic, and they leave most of the leg work to Adams majestic melodies, that may not be as memorable or passionate as they once were but still sound brilliant, esspecially on the slower songs. And whilst there may not be anything on ‘Ashes and Fire’ to rank alongside his best work, it’s still a very consistent record, there is barely a duff note on here.

On the closing track ‘I Love You But I Don’t Know What to Say’ he sings ‘When I met you the clouds inside me parted and that light came shining through.’ What is apparent, listening to ‘Ashes and Fire’ is that to create truly great art, Adams (like so many songwriters) needs that darkness. It’s a fact he seems to acknowledge on album stand out and first single ‘Lucky Now’ when he sings ‘the night will break your heart but only if you’re lucky now’. I guess he’s lucky that he’s found stability and happiness, but it’s unlucky for his audience that this new-found stability seems to have knocked his ability to pen music that’s as emotional and effecting as it once was.


Kiss Me Where The Sun Don’t Shine…

18 Oct

…the past was your’s but the future’s mine, you’re all out of time. The Stone Roses are back! Check out for all the info you need, and watch the video below to remind yourself why this news is so amazing


Larna Del Rey on Jools

13 Oct

A couple of months ago I posted ‘Video Games’ by Lana Del Rey, an up and coming singer-songwriter who is generating a lot of internet buzz. This week she performed that song on Jools Holland, in the process blowing more established acts like Peter Gabriel and Noah and the Whale out of the water. Check it out below.

Dum Dum Girls ‘Only In Dreams’ – Review

11 Oct

The first couple of times I heard ‘Only in Dreams’, the follow-up to the Dum Dum Girls 2010 debut ‘I Will Be’, it went in one ear and straight out the other. I enjoyed it, but my first impression was that this was (like the debut) a breezy, feel good rock n roll record that didn’t require my full, undivided attention. As It turns out there is more to it than initially meets the eye. Sure, you can take it at face value if you want and it’s still a worthwhile listen, but dig a little deeper and a whole world of pain, grief and heartache will reveal itself. During the making of the record, (group Leader) Dee Dee’s mother passed away in tragic circumstances; this haunting fact informed how ‘Only In Dreams’ was created but it doesn’t define how it has to be heard.

Despite the weighty subject matter, it begins in a fairly nonchalant manner. ‘Always Looking’ is an insubstantial opener to an album that deserves better; it’s not a bad song, it’s just unexciting, unoriginal and thematically disconnected from the other songs. The same goes for the forgettable ‘Just a Creep’, but these two stumbles aside, this is a remarkably consistent and thoughtful album. In a well planned decision, the really emotionally heavy stuff is saved for the second half, whilst the first half of the album deals with slightly less agonising (but still fairly heart-wrenching) scenario of being separated from your partner on tour. On ‘Bedroom Eyes’ Dee Dee struggles to sleep without her husband by her side, and on ‘Heartbeat she sings ”I recall your face, now there’s nothing in its place, cos you’re gone.’ Musically and melodically it’s the familiar Dum Dum Girls sound; a steady bass heavy beat, distorted guitars and sugary girl group harmonies – all good, but it’s the lyrics that stand out.

One of the reasons the lyrics will resonate with everyone is that they don’t have to be read as being about death – Dee Dee’s sentiments could also apply more simply to heartbreak. When she sings ‘I close my eyes, I see your face and I want to scream…Id rather waste away than see you only in dreams’, you don’t need to know she’s singing about her departed mother to be able to relate. And whilst her lyrics are inclusive that doesn’t mean she is being vague or elusive, in fact she directly and emotionally confronts her specific personal issues at several points on the record. On ‘Wasted Away’ she sings about finding her mother’s sweater that still smells of her, and in ‘Caught In One’ she turns the clock back to when she could see death whilst looking into her mother’s fading eyes. “This year’s been a drag, who knew it’d be so sad,’ she says at one point –  but it’s to her credit that this doesn’t become a ‘drag’ of a record, it sparkles with energy and brightness even if the themes are dark and mournful.

When talking about the production I could pretty much copy, word for word, what I wrote in my review of Washed Out’s ‘Within and Without’ last month. Both acts made lo-fi debuts that were brimming with personality, and steeped in atmosphere – and for album number two both bands have cleaned up the sound, improved as musicians but undoubtedly lost a little of that personality somewhere in the process. ‘Only In Dreams’ is a more adventurous album than ‘I Will Be’, it’s more musically accomplished and it has a cleaner and more radio friendly sound, but it ditches some key ingredients that made the debut so much fun. In a nutshell there’s less excitement, less friction, fewer contrasts and a lot less grime and fuzz. It’s a strategy that inevitably had to be taken at some stage by this ambitious group, but I’m not sure how successful the change is. That said, Dee Dee’s voice has been pushed up higher in the mix, which is one change I am in favour of; she’s an amazing singer and that is now blindingly obvious (as it always has been to anyone that’s seen them perform live), just check out her fabulous performance on ‘Coming Down’ for evidence.

‘Only in Dreams’ is the title of the album and dreams link many of the songs. On ‘Hold Your Hand’ Dee Dee writes about being comforted by dreams, only to awake and remember that her mother is gone.  Dreams are less pleasant on ‘Wasted Away’ where Dee Dee wishes she could chase her lost one out of her dreams as the memories are too painful to recall. On ‘Bedroom Eyes’ she invites her husband to come and join her in her dreams as ‘there is no hope for sleep if you’re not here.’ Those two figures (her mother and husband) haunt this album as clearly as they haunt Dee Dee’s dreams, here her memories are in turn a source of comfort and agony, opportunities to be reunited with lost ones and opportunities to be reminded of what’s been lost. Likewise, this is an album that on one level engages with some pretty meaningful and emotive subjects, but equally can be listened to as a damn fine rock n roll album that never outstays its welcome and never looses sight of what’s important in a pop record. With this album Dum Dum Girls have become real contenders.