Archive | November, 2011

Michele Stodart ‘Take Your Loving Back’

29 Nov

Michlle Stodart is the bass player in one of my favourite bands, The Magic Numbers, and I’m pleased to hear that before the release of their fourth album, she will release one on her own. Anybody familiar with the group’s work will know she’s quite the singer, and if further proof were needed then listen to her debut single, ‘Take Your Loving Back’, below. Also, go over to her youtube page to hear more live recordings – http://www.youtube.com/user/MicheleStodartBand?feature=mhee#p/u/2/x2RJ1eWgb4s

I look forward to the album’s release in the new year.

 

 

Mystery Jets announce ‘LP4’

23 Nov

I love Mystery Jets – this is no secret. So I’m i’m pretty chuffed that we wont have to wait too long for album number four. According to a fairly fauge post on their website, ‘LP4’ (I doubt that’s the final title) will be released in April 2012!!!! Check out the full statement below

“Winter has bestowed itself upon us and once again the weatherman warns us that we will soon be brushing snow flakes from our faces. We have returned from texas with dirty boots, a family member heavier (a beautiful young lady by the name of odessa) and a quiver of new songs. Admittedly less than we went out with (such are the worlds’ ways) but damn me if they aren’t some of our favorite yet.”

Early reports suggest the album will have a radically different sound to the group’s excellent 2010 album ‘Serotonin’ and there are even suggestions that the band have ditched pop in favour of country (this wouldn’t be too surprising a twist, they have tried prog and disco in the past afterall).

For now, remind yourself why you love them

 

M83 ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ – Review

21 Nov

I’ve never been a fan of double albums, they’re a victim of the trait I dislike most in pop music – indulgence. They only ever came to exist in the first place because drugged up rock stars of the 1960’s were too high and too arrogant to edit their albums. They stuck about because those rock stars became prog rockers, and the songs became too long to fill two sides of vinyl. Then Punk rockers saw it as a form of rebellion against record labels, and grunge rockers saw it as the ultimate form of artistic expression. In the age of downloads and unlimited space, the idea of sticking to a 45 minute rule that was created through need rather than want, may seem ridiculous (Flaming lips have just put out a 24 hour song) but personally I think the old LPs were the perfect length, and I get bored if an album is much longer.

More to the point, I’ve yet to hear a double album that hasn’t been overlong, overwrought, over ambitious and completely hit and miss; come to think about it, that’s actually what I like about the double albums I am a fan of. At their best (The White album obviously, also ‘Sign o the times’, ‘The Wall’, and ‘Blonde on Blonde’)  they are worlds to get lost in, landscapes to explore, and things you can dip into here and there. It’s about taking the good with the bad and enjoying the quirks and ambition. So whilst double albums aren’t may favourite in any particular act’s back catalogue, they’re often the ones I listen to most (just not from start to finish). Still, they fail more than they succeed.

M83’s stab at this rock staple is all of the above. It contains some of their best songs, it contains some of their worst. It’s strange and captivating, it’s strange and bewildering. It’s poppy but experimental. It’s got a small world point of view with a cinematic vision. Songs of youth told from the perspective of an adult. In a nutshell ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’, is M83’s best album yet and their worst. I loved the singular vision they had for ‘Saturdays =Youth’ and that record was the perfectly nostalgic take on synth/dream pop. The difference here is that, whilst they explore the same themes and styles, they do so by putting them in a larger context, by zooming out, and by surrounding the direct pop songs with ambient seas of synth. At its heart are M83’s boldest attacks on the mainstream to date, absolute tunes like ‘Midnight City’ and ‘Steve Mqueen’, but intriguingly (and slightly frustratingly) they do everything to make this a difficult album to digest in one sitting, even for a fan.

Still, lets concentrate on the positives for now. As I say, there are some belting tunes; everyone’s probably heard the brilliant ‘Midnight City’ already, but it’s not even the catchiest song on here. ‘Reunion’ is pure drivetime rock gold, featuring an epic chanting chorus and the now traditional M83 spoken word bridge. ‘Wait’ is an authentic power ballad that builds and builds like a tidal wave before washing over, and somewhat flattening, the next two tracks (the downright bizarre ‘Racone-moi Une Historie’ and the atmospheric but forgettable ‘Trains to Pluton’). Maybe best of all is ‘Ok Pal’, which sounds like another golden oldie from the decade time forget (the 80’s obvs); it’s bursting with dodgy synths and colourful harmonies.

Vocally, this is a very different record to its predecessor. That album relied on girl/boy trade offs and half whispered melodies, but on ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’ Gonzales tackles lead vocal duties on his own, and his voice is more powerful, and higher in the mix. It makes for a less dreamy listen, and it means you can now actually hear some, although not all, of what he’s saying. That’s the main difference here, otherwise this actually feels like a very slight development from what they were doing on ‘Saturdays = Youth’. It’s more ambitious obviously, but musically the core tracks are very much on the same page. The instrumental interludes have their purpose in tieing the album together but honestly there are far too many of them, and none are essential listens. A part of me thinks it would have been better if they’d gotten rid of the interludes altogether and selected the best 12 songs, but then it would be an entirely different record altogether, and it wouldn’t be half as interesting.

M83’s goal was apparently to create something ‘very, very, very epic’ and, fair play to them, they’ve succeeded. At what cost, is the question – could this have been a better album if it was shorter and more carefully selected? Whatever the case, this is a worthy addition to M83’s catalogue, and if every great band needs a double album to their name then at least they can cross this off their list. I’m not convinced on its merits just yet, but like all double albums this will be one to come back to in years to come; I’m sure there are songs I’ve overlooked, or sparks of lightning buried somewhere in the middle of this monster. It’s one of the most breathtakingly ambitious albums that has been made in years, and the fact they manage to channel this ambition into something that is relatively cohesive, radio friendly and odd is something to be applauded.

7.5/10

Surfer Blood ‘Tarot Classics’ E.P – Review

18 Nov

Nearly two years on from the release of their acclaimed debut, ‘Astro Coast’, Surfer Blood are back on a bigger label and with a bigger sound. Signing to Warner Brothers was a gutsy move and this ambition is reflected on this new four track e.p. It’s hard a hard record to judge – we don’t really know if these songs are a farewell letter from the past (before they take us down a completely different path) or a sign of what we can expect from the full length. One thing we can say with certainty is that they’ve cleaned up their sound considerably; they’ve stripped away the fuzz that muddied the debut and replaced it with glitzy, expensive production. It really compliments the group’s songs, which have always been built around bright melodies and poppy harmonies, just as much as distorted riffs. The tunes are still riff heavy, but now they wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a radio playlist.

‘Classics’ begins with the song most closely related to the ‘Astro Coast’ numbers and ends with the one that sounds most like a change in direction. Track one is a sludgy rocker called I’m Not Ready’, a song notable for sounding  like it was  influenced just as much by The Smiths as it was by prominent early influences, Weezer and The Beach Boys. The fact that they still sound like they’ve been sitting on a Californian beach for the past six months, working on their tan, betrays the fact that, yes, we’re still listening to Surfer Blood. ‘Miranda’ comes next (It’s a song that’s been floating around for a while) and it really ups the ante. The catchy hook might be their best yet and the production really lets you hear the perfectly arranged instrumentation. 

‘Voyager Return’ is denser than anything they’ve released before but it’s layered in a really interesting way – You don’t feel like they’re plodding along during these slower moments, an impression I got on their debut. Pitts voice (once a delicate and quivery thing) is now deeper and more steady, he is able to hit the right notes more capably and there is ambition in where he takes the melodies. ‘Drinking Problem’ closes things, and it might be the best song on here. Just as ‘Astro Coast’ closed with ‘Catholic Pagan’, a tender ode to sobering up for the girl you love, ‘Drinking Problem’ also deals with putting past indulgences and past mistakes to one side. It’s as if Surfer Blood are cleaning out their closets, preparing us for their inevitable charge on the mainstream.

I hate the word mature, and what it implies; Yes, Surfer Blood have made a more sophisticated, complicated, diverse and…grown up record, but they certainly haven’t lost their sense of fun. They made their name with the blog friendly anthem ‘Swim to Reach the End’, in which they combined distorted, reverb heavy verses with a stadium sized chorus and a bridge breakdown that was frankly ridiculous, but amazing, in this context. ‘Tarot Classics’ retains that mixture of indie cool, ambition and sheer laughs. At four tracks long, and clocking in under 15 minutes, this is hardly a substantial statement of intent, but its a nice reminder that one of last year’s best new bands are more than capable of outliving the hype machine.

8/10

The Maccabees ‘Pelican’

16 Nov

The Maccabees are back with the first single from their forthcoming third album ‘Given to the Wild’. The song is called ‘Pelican’ and you can hear it below.

Noel Gallagher ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ – Review

10 Nov

Critics have always had trouble knowing how to receive the Gallagher brother albums. When the now legendary ‘What’s the Story Morning Glory’ was released it got quite a muted reception, so to compensate, ‘Be Here Now’ was greeted like it was the best thing since sliced bread, when in reality it was more like mouldy bread. Since then critics have been totally unsure which side of the fence to set up camp in – reviews of the last few Oasis albums either proclaimed them to be ‘their best since morning glory’ or the one where they finally jumped the shark. In truth, their post millennium output was rarely anything more, or anything less, than just plain average. But this confusion still haunts critics; Liam’s debut album with his new band Beady Eye, ‘A Different Gear, Still Speeding’, was unanimously praised on release, but a few months down the line (after tepid sales and a lack of public enthusiasm) the backlash has already begun. Noel will no doubt be put in the same boat if his long anticipated debut ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ fails to catch the public imagination.

And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it won’t catch the public’s imagination. Through no fault of his own, Gallagher is a relic from a bygone age – the type of classic rock he writes, just isn’t popular right now. Of course, songs like ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t look back in anger’ are never exactly out of fashion, and if ‘High Flying Birds’ had songs of that calibre then i’m sure he would still get played by radio 1 and he would shift units by the bucket load, but frankly, Gallagher hasn’t written a TUNE in over half a decade.

I was hoping that a solo album would allow Noel the chance to be a bit more introspective, to write songs with personal lyrics – stuff more like ‘Talk Tonight’ or ‘Half the World Away’ – that would be a great album. Actually, he’s just gone and made another Oasis album, without the frontman and without the attitude. admittedly, this is the most ambitious and creative record he’s put out since the mid 90’s, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best since that golden age, cos it isn’t. However, it would be churlish to deny that he still knows his way to a stadium crowd’s heart, and with an opening chorus like ‘you’ve got to hold on, you’ve got to be strong’, this album is practically begging to be chanted along to by tipsy lad rock fans.

My favourite Oasis songs were always the big ballads, the more overblown and soppy the better (‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and ‘Champagine Supernova’ obviously, but also the overlooked ones like ‘Whatever’, ‘Little By Little’ and ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’.) Here there isn’t anything of that quality but ‘If I Had a Gun’ is the one that comes closest. Apparently it was going to be the lead single but Noel thought it sounded too similar to his Oasis material (as if the other 9 songs don’t?) – it was a mistake as it’s far better than first single proper, the dreary ‘Death of You and Me’.

Noel is at his best when his music can safely be described as ‘uplifting’ or ‘majestic’ – ‘Stop the Clocks’ is one such song. It’s been on the Oasis back-burner for the best part of a decade, and it even lent it’s name to the title of a 2006 greatest hits collection, but this is the first time it’s had an official airing. It was never going to live up to expectations I know Oasis fans had for it, but it’s really quite a fitting closer with a soaring chorus and a stirring string section. The album opens with an even louder bang, in the form of the completely overblown but still enjoyable ‘Everybody’s on the run’. Thankfully Noel has shown signs of restraint elsewhere; at ten tracks long and with no song over 5 minutes this is probably the most concise and cohesive Gallagher record to date, and that really is something to applaud. Occasionally though the tacks drag on for a minute or two too long and it’s usually on the more melancholic numbers. I’ve never liked Moody Noel, and songs like ‘stranded on the Wrong Beach’ and ‘Soilder Boys and Jesus Freaks’ remind me why; they’re way too minor and downbeat to work to Gallagher’s strengths.

So as for that inevitable question – is it his best since ‘Morning Glory? Well, no, but to be honest, the real question on fans lips will be whether this is better than Beady Eye’s surprisingly enjoyable debut. Again the answer would be, surprisingly, no, but truth is, if you took the best bits from both albums you really WOULD have the best Oasis album since ‘Morning Glory’ – combine the grittier rock n roll songs of Beady Eye with the stadium ballads of this album and you would have a very fine record indeed.  As it is ‘High Flying Birds’ feels like it’s missing an important limb; It’s a good album that sounds a bit lost in the woods. The shocking revelation in all this is that Noel needs Liam more than Liam needs Noel.

5/10

Review Roundup

4 Nov

Sinners Never Sleep by You Me At Six

Last month I reviewed Blink 182’s new album and praised their influence on a generation of young bands. What I declined to mention was that their influence, whilst far-reaching, hasn’t always been positive. Pop-punk is a genre more than capable of producing repulsive bands and repulsive music, and of all the strands of rock, Pop Punk is perhaps the most distinctly and grossly American – the type of ‘American’ that gave us hamburgers, cheerleaders, skateboarding and Hollywood. Therefore I’ve always been annoyed by British punk-pop bands that just copy our oversees cousins in a straight-faced way without adding any British charm. You Me At Six are a perfect example of what I don’t like; a group of fairly posh English lads who put on horrible west coast accents and sing about stuff stolen from every terrible high school rom-com you’ve ever tried to avoid.

This album, like most contemporary pop-punk (or emo, as the genre’s now melted into) is compressed and processed to within and inch of its life. All the instruments blur into one heavily polished mess that lacks any personality, attitude or originality; Layers upon layers of horrible, poppy noise. On top of the music you have the cringe worthy vocals I described earlier; their faux American accents can’t disguise the lack of anything meaningful or interesting to say. Sure, Blink 182 were rarely deep or meaningful but they were always interesting, or at the very least funny – You me at six take themselves way to seriously and they follow the rule book far too closely. One of the reasons Blink-182 worked is that you believed them, they were sincere and therefore we liked them. Youmeatsix are as fake and shallow as groups come.

In spite of all that is horrible about this band, this isn’t a bad album. There are twelve songs and only three of those are dire, the others are really quite catchy and somewhat irresistible – irresistible in the same way that a macdonalds is irresistible maybe; you know it’s not really that tasty and you know it’s bad for you, but it fills a hole all the same and you find yourself eating till you want to be sick. YMAS are better when they calm down (their attempts at hardcore and screamo are embarrassing to behold) cos the power ballads here, like ‘Crash’ and ‘The Dilemma’ are really very good. Some of the more upbeat numbers work as well; ‘Jaws on the Floor’ being a particularly enjoyable track.

I found myself humming along to some of these songs hours after I had finished listening to ‘Sinners Never Sleep’, so I had to take a long cold shower and remind myself just how much I hate YMAS. But still… on the surface they might be terrible, and they don’t have any kind of heart, but somewhere in between their skin and internal organs there is something quite likeable about this group of wannabees. There I said it.

4.5/10

Life in Monochrome by Kai Fish

Mystery Jets have made some of the best (and most overlooked) break up songs of recent years, so when I heard that bass player Kai Fish was going solo to create a whole album dedicated to his broken heart, I was pretty excited. unfortunately ‘Life In Monochrome’ is a bit of a disappointment; rather than vent his heartbreak through the simple, direct pop songs we’ve come to expect from Mystery Jets, he has created an album of  meandering, melodramatic prog-pop. It means that ‘Life in Monochrome’ has some interesting ideas (a clever guitar line here, some odd instrumentation there, that kind of thing) but doesn’t really impress as a whole.

The lyrics were written on a single train journey from North to South England, and it shows in the lack of refinement; he writes the kind of stream of consciousness lyrics that sees him occasionally stumble upon a worthy line or two but more often than not feels like sixth form poetry. However that isn’t the problem musically, in that respect these songs don’t feel underdeveloped at all, it’s just that they really aren’t all that captivating. The album has a bit in common with the Mystery Jets 2006 debut, but it’s darker and a lot less quirky – basically I’m trying t say it’s a bit boring. As I said earlier, there are some interesting ideas, and some actually work really well, but overall it’s a tad too dreary and middle of the road. When he brings the hooks, as on singles ‘Cobalt Cheeks’ and ‘My Anima’, Fish presents himself as a promising solo musician, but for the most part he comes across as just another frustrated bass player from an excellent group.

5/10

Forget by Oupa

Oupa is Daniel Blumburg’s (of Yuck fame) side project; it’s where he flexes the melancholic, insular muscles that weren’t given much room to move on his day job’s excellent debut. There Bloomsburg’s lyrics were of secondary concern, in fact he regularly told interviewers that he didn’t even think about the words until the last minute and even then he didn’t give them much thought. Here the lyrics are pushed more into focus as the fuzz and grime are stripped away. The title of the ‘album’ (there are only seven tracks and it hasn’t been physically released yet as far as I’m aware) is ‘Forget’ and that is the theme  – it’s about the art of forgetting, or not forgetting as the case may be. On the title track he sings ‘I can’t go back a year/ I’ll be natural/ you can’t forget me now’ and most of the tracks reference past events in this sadly nostalgic tone.

The songs are all performed with minimal instrumentation, usually just voice and piano, occasionally alongside an organ or drum machine. It makes for a slightly repetitive, slightly monotomous sounding album but for the most part the intensity of emotion keeps you hooked. Ok, so ‘Physical’ really doesn’t sound all that different from ‘Driving’ which sounds a lot like Windows,but at least it’s cohesive. The melodies are logical, the piano playing is basic and the lyrics verge on clichéd, but the songs are performed with such brutal intensity that you can’t help but be effected by them. As a listening experience this is as miserable and pessimistic as anything I’ve heard all year but it’s rarely as depressing as it logically should be and that’s entirely down to the honesty of Blumsberg’s writing and performance. ‘Forget’ is a moving debut that tops off an already impressive year for the 21 year old.

6.5/10