Archive | June, 2012

Citizens! ‘Here We Are’ – Review

29 Jun

A few years ago Citizens would have been eaten up by a major label and spat out for a ravenous public. Adjectives like ‘angular’ and jagged’ would have been tossed about at any given opportunity, and indie clubs would have been full to the brim of skinny boys and girls pulling shapes to the sound of ‘True Romance’. Tastes change quickly and now Citizens can count themselves lucky that their debut album is being released on Kitsune, a tiny but highly respected French indie. It’s a shame, in a sense, that you won’t hear these songs on the radio because, above all else, Citizens make cracking pop songs. These are tunes rich with melody, wrapped in a steely cool production and dripping with indefinable cool. Citizens would look great on the cover of NME.

So concerned are they with image that even their songs sound like photographs; they capture a feeling or emotion and play with it for 3 or 4 minutes. Structurally there is little movement, the tunes are relatively static, but they are colourful, bright and detailed. The band make a point of collecting and combining sounds that don’t usually go together to create a wholly unique end product. This is fine, except the end product sounds a whole lot like Franz Ferdinand, which isn’t surprising given that Alex from said band produced this record. You can hear that group’s influence in the elastic basslines, the have your eye out guitar riffs and disco inspired drum beats. But Citizens are more considered than Franz, they have none of that group’s spontaneous energy, and you get the feeling that every second on this album has been carefully rehearsed and polished time and time again.

The album opens with ‘True Romance’, which, If you are tuned into the right channels, you should have heard a billion times already over the past 6 months. ‘Reptile’ and ‘In Love With Your Girlfriend’ have also had a fair bit of exposure recently and, whilst they aren’t quite as addictive, they’re still great examples of finely produced, minimalist indie pop. The group lay it on a bit thicker at times, such as on ‘Let’s Go All the Way’ and the ipod-advert-soundtrack-in-waiting ‘Monster’. Out of the 11 songs there were only a couple that I wasn’t taken by and it’s perhaps no surprise that they were the two slow songs; Citizens haven’t yet got the talent to keep you hooked when the tempo is turned down and the spotlight is on singer Tom Burke.

Burke has a rather slippery, nasal voice that is slightly cold and off-putting. He sings ‘Reptile’ like he’s the lizard in question, and this distant delivery makes it hard to connect with what he’s singing. It doesn’t help that his lyrics, whilst romantic in nature, are clinical and sharp – intelligent, no doubt, but elusive rather than insightful. I never get the feeling that I’m glimpsing into Burke’s heart and soul, nor do I feel that he’s revealing anything I haven’t heard before. These are just nice words that are easy to sing but hard to remember in the long term. At times this steeliness works in the band’s favour, it compliments their slick playing/clothing/haircuts, but when EVERYTHING is so straight faced… well, I just think everyone would have a better time if they cracked a smile once in a while, or alternatively, let their guards down more. That’s one thing Franz Ferdinand knew – yes they were cool and collected, but they never took themselves too seriously and you always got the feeling that Alex was being sincere and revealing.

Citizens are not the fully formed package then; they look great, and they know how to write catchy songs that sound great, yet they aren’t quite able to take it to the next level, there just isn’t any emotional resonance. But lets not forget that this is only a debut album, and not everyone is capable of making an album as perfect as ‘Franz Ferdinand’ first time around. If Citizens open up a bit more, work on acquiring some personality and stop taking themselves so damn seriously, I have no doubt that they will develop into a brilliant band. Alex knew what he was doing when he agreed to produce this – what’s that old saying? Keep your friends close but your enemies closer? Franz certainly have competition in the form of Citizens.

7.5/10

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The Vaccines Come of Age

29 Jun

The Vaccines have released details of thier second album, which will be called ‘The Vaccines Come of Age’. Check out the art work and tracklisting below.

1. ‘No Hope’
2. ‘I Always Knew’
3. ‘Teenage Icon’
4. ‘All In Vain’
5. ‘Ghost Town’
6. ‘Aftershave Ocean’
7. ‘Weirdo’
8. ‘Bad Mood’
9. ‘Change Of Heart pt.2.’
10. ‘I Wish I Was A Girl’
11. ‘Lonely World’

Muse ‘Survival’

27 Jun

Muse are back with the first single from the next studio album, ‘The 2nd Law’. The song is called ‘Survival’ and it will serve as the Olympic’s official song, which means you can expect to hear it a lot over the summer. It might just be the most excessive thing Muse have ever done (which is saying something) but then with Muse it’s always been a case of the more bombastic the better and it would be hard to imagine them doing anything else these days. Listen below.

The Hives ‘Lex Hives’ – Review

25 Jun

“What you want as a band is to have people saying: “Oh, that band is like the Hives,” not, “Oh, the Hives, they’re like that band …” And in order to get to that point you have to have an identity. And to have an identity you have to be consistent.” The Hives, The Guardian, 2012.

“They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. DOO WACKO!”  The Hives, ‘Try It Again’, 2006.

The Hives know about the importance of consistency and they also know that consistency isn’t exactly appreciated in 2012 – in fact it’s shockingly unappreciated. Today bands are expected to ‘do a Radiohead’ with every album in order to survive, and groups that don’t are considered static and boring. But some of the greatest bands in the history of rock n roll have made a living by being consistent – just look at The Ramones, The Beach Boys, Iron Maiden, Oasis etc. The Hives have forged an identity through consistency in spite of the naysayers.

They also know that, having basically made the same album four times in a row for a largely disinterested mainstream audience, they aren’t going to breakthrough with their Fifth studio album, ‘Lex Hives’. Despite what they claimed on ‘Try It Again’, and despite the perception of the mainstream music press, The Hives are NOT mad. They won’t be expecting different results this time around; ‘Lex Hives’ is going to be lovingly gobbled up by their loyal fanbase, but this is not an album that is going to win them any new fans. Thankfully, after a couple of years on a major label, pandering to a non-existent audience, this is something The Hives no longer don’t give a damn about. The thing about being consistent is, if you aren’t popular at the beginning, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be popular at the end.

On this sort of self titled album, The Hives are shooting straight at the hearts and minds of the true believers, and it’s all the better for it. In this fickle industry they are one group we can trust to make the album we want and expect. They may take years and years in-between records but you know that when they do release an album, it will be worth the wait. In the gaps between albums The Hives tour the world, cementing their position as the greatest live band on the planet. In all fairness, they have so many classics that are already guaranteed a place in their setlists to begin with that only 3 or 4 songs from any new album could possibly have a chance of being squeezed in. In that respect ‘Lex Hives’ succeeds by providing a handful of new tunes that will fit in very nicely thank you very much!

Case in point number one: ‘Go Right Ahead’, a blistering attack on the state of modern rock music that is so far ahead of anything else released by five guys with guitars this year, it’s not even funny. Case in point number two: ‘1000 Answers’, a blink and you’ll miss it punk number that recalls ‘No Pun Intended’ from ‘Taranasarurs Hives’. Case in point number 3: ‘Wait a Minute’, a doo-woop song with a bit of an edge, not dissimilar to the stuff The Ramones did with Phil Spector 30 years ago. Case in point number 4: ‘These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics’, a tune that eats The Vaccines for breakfast and then goes back for Spector. These tracks will sound great live, filling the spaces between ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’, ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ and ‘Tick Tick Boom’.

Speaking of ‘These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics’, it’s  about bands who can’t take their eyes of the rearview mirror. Howlin’ Pele has to be delivering these lines with a nod and a wink, doesn’t he? It’s hard to read much of anything into his Swedish accent, but I’d happily bet that he’s having a laugh with the critics who miss the point and bang on about The Hives being stuck in the past – as if music this energetic and vibrant could be stuck in any way shape or form! The Hives know how to rock. They rock like it’s 1966. They rock like it’s 1977. They rock like it’s 2002. They rock like it’s 2012. They just ROCK, and that doesn’t go out of style.

But they also know how to roll, which is important; these songs have an energy that makes you want to jump up and down at speed, but there are also pauses, comedowns and finely nuanced moments of clarity. This is a well-balanced and finely produced album (you would hope so after the amount of time it’s taken to make). They realise that to have the desired effect you don’t need many ingredients at all, so fittingly this is quite a minimalist record. ‘Go Right Ahead’ and ‘Midnight Shifter’ add some tastefully mixed horns, but otherwise this is The Hives stripped back to basics after the excess of the vastly underrated ‘Black and White Album’. There they flirted with disco, jazz and power pop, all the  while delivering the songs in a way only The Hives are capable of. For better of worse, the diet here is bass, guitar, drums and vocal (with the occasional stab of organ or honky tonk piano).

The formula is the same as before; a couple of slow-ish songs, some fast songs, some faster songs and some songs that would make The Ramones loose breath. It’s the same formula that worked so successfully on ‘Your New Favourite Band’ and ‘Barely Legal’, but 15 years on from that debut there’s no doubt The Hives glory days, on record at least, are slightly behind them. One or two of these songs (I’m looking at you ‘If I Had a Cent’ and ‘I Want More’) sound a bit stale and lethargic, and a couple of times they recall past tunes too intensely, but mostly The Hives are still on fine form. So whilst ‘Lex Hives’ isn’t their best album, or even close to being their best album, it’s still a breath of fresh air in 2012 – which kind of says a lot about the state of modern music, considering this is such a triumphantly old-fashioned album. No longer our new favourite band, The Hives are now just our favourite band.

8/10

Happy Birthday Macca

18 Jun

To celebrate Paul Maccartney’s birthday here are my ten favourite Macca songs that he released after The Beatles called it a day. Enjoy these classics…

1. Maybe I’m Amazed

2. Uncle Albert

3. Let Me Roll It

4. Every Night

5. Live and Let Down

6. Wonderful Christmas time

7. Girlfriend

8. Say Say Say

9. My Love

10. Temporary Secretary

Best Coast / Tennis / Frankie Rose – Review

16 Jun

Usualy Lo-fi recordings are born out of necessity rather than choice, but it being lo-fi has its benefits. It’s anti-mainstream and therefore has instant cool. Lo-fi blurs or distorts the sound which hides the singer or musician’s flaws – more to the point, flaws are part of the appeal of Lo-fi. It’s a production style that’s anti-perfection. It extenuates the rough edges and doesn’t iron them out. Many bands start off recording on the cheap for practical reasons, but they quickly find that the style suits their music. What to do when they suddenly have the money, support and equipment to record properly is a question that many groups have struggled to answer? Stick or twist?

There is no straight answer; In the recent past bands have gone down each route and some have successfully made the transition from lo-fi to hi-fi (Washed Out spring to mind), some have been less successful (The Strokes) whilst some have stuck firmly to their guns (The Drums). Best Coast, Tennis and Frankie Rose started off making distinctly and notoriously ‘Lo-fi’ music and each act has answered the question of whether to clean up for album number two with varying degrees of success.

BEST COAST have gone the full hog and recorded ‘The Only Place’ in a Lush, expensive LA studio. If you stretch your mind back to the band’s earliest releases you’ll remember that songs like ‘The Sun Was High and So Was I’ and ‘Make You Mine’ were trashy and cheap but dripping with raw personality. On their excellent debut ‘Crazy For You’ they cleaned up their act a fair bit but retained enough of the grime to stop their Alternative fanbase shouting ‘Sell Outs!’ However, on second album ‘The Only Place’ this is exactly what the fans have started chanting, and that has a lot to do with the album’s clean sound.

‘The Only Place’ was produced by the world-renowned John Brion and it was recorded in Capital Studios, famously the musical home of  Phil Spector and The Beach Boys. There is Zero fuzz, feedback and distortion here, it’s all clean lines and immaculately produced pop songs, which, it turns out, is a problem for some people. Negative reviews, written by people who praised the debut, are in no way justified. So Pitchfork gave the debut 8.4 and the new album 6.2? But why? Their reasoning that the ‘messy production bumped the lazy lyrics and rote melodies around just enough’ last time around simply doesn’t make sense. Are they saying that bad production actually made what they thought were average songs good? Best Coast have never had the best lyrics, and their melodies are slightly predictable, but I don’t see how sloppy production redeems those features.

Indeed, the qualities that Pitchfork praised two years ago, including Beth’s singing voice her sunny hooks, sound even better on album number two and in my opinion the polished production shines attention on these improvements. The title track in particular has a lovely jangly sound that is a vast improvement on the fuzzy guitar work of the debut. Songs like ‘No One Like You’ and ‘Up All Night’ also make use of a broader palette, featuring strings and impressive basslines. On ‘Crazy For You’ it sounded like Beth had purposefully restrained from adding unnecessary instrumentation, but whilst that worked effectively on her strongest material, the songs that couldn’t rely on great melodies felt lacklustre. Here though the weaker songs (and there are a lot more on this album) have elements that keep you interested even when the melody or lyrics are lacking – whether it’s the guitar interplay, the string arrangements or maybe something a bit kookier, the band are no longer as reliant on catchy hooks to get them through.

Whilst ‘The Only Place’ is masterfully recorded, all things considered it isn’t an improvement on ‘Crazy For You’, and that’s because the songs just aren’t as good. Also, whilst there’s progression here in terms of lyrics there isn’t enough progression to truly satisfy. The songs are more confessional but there’s still a lack of personality, which is strange considering how much personality Beth brings to her performances and interviews. This is the one area where the improved production doesn’t work to the group’s favour, as you can now here every dodgy syllable clearly, whereas before they would have been covered by the sludgy sound. There is still a level of predictability to the lyrics, you can see the rhymes coming a mile off, and unfortunately this is true of the chord progressions and melodies as well. At least three songs here use the same basic chord progression as the song’s basis and in all three tuness the melodies and thematic concerns are similar as well. If Best Coast push themselves harder on album number three then they have potential to make a truly classic album, but whilst ‘The Only Place is an improvement on ‘Crazy For You’ in many respects, it’s still obvious Best Coast (typical stoners as they are) are being a bit too lazy and laid back at the moment.

(7/10)

Unlike Best Coast, TENNIS have decided to stick to their lo-fi guns – a brave decision considering that, unlike Best Coast, the production values of their debut were criticised more than they were praised. The detractors (I was one of them) said that the home recording style didn’t play to singer’s Alaina Moore’s biggest strength, i.e her voice. It’s all very well having an average vocalists singing into a rubbish mike but when you hear a singer with an expressive, not to mention impressive, range limit herself, well,  its frustrating. If It’s purely financial restrictions that are the problem (which is a possibility) then that’s fair enough, but when Alaina hits high notes here, or just gets a little loud, the sound becomes distorted and tinny.

But what about the music? If you remember, Tennis’ debut album was all about the duo’s Atlantic sailing adventure, and it was the musical equivalent of a postcard sent by your honeymooning neighbours. On ‘Young and Old’ they’ve returned back to the mainland and they’re back to their boring day jobs – at least that’s how it sounds. It’s evident in the comparative lack of colour and joy in the songs which are sadly un-memorable. This is a nice album that (production aside) rarely trips up, but nothing on here lives up to the promise of the group’s early singles. ‘It all feels the same’ gets the record off to a great start but slowly things start breaking down, and on the second half of the record all the songs mesh together into one fairly enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable, jumble. The melodies are still pretty and nostalgic, the lyrics are still lover lorn and relatable and the jingly-jangly guitar playing still sounds great, but coming so soon after the debut, this is a case of too much too soon.

(5/10)

Then we have FRANKIE ROSE, who has always been the bit part player of the lo-fi scene. Drummer for Vivan Girls and then leader of Frankie Rose and the Outs, her self-titled debut album was very distorted and intermittently interesting. I’ve forgotten most of the songs excpet for one – the beautiful  ‘Little Brown Haired Girls’, which has stuck out in my memory. That track alone made me listen to her second effort ‘interstellar’ and unfortunately there is nothing on here that comes close to matching the brilliance of that song. Rather than drill the same mine of punk-pop that was quite forgettable on the debut, Rose has now gone down the dream pop route. ‘Intersteller’ is heavily indebted to ‘Disintegration’ era Cure, and one song ever features an identical beat to ‘Close to Me’; the synths are floaty, the guitars are soaked in reverb, the basslines are dark – you get the idea. Honestly, it’s hard to separate the music from the influences and at the end of the day there isn’t anything that is good enough or different enough on ‘Intersteller’ to warrant a recommendation. Frankie Rose is certainly a talent, she just has to choose a path that hasn’t been trodden relentlessly before.

4.5/10

 

The Beach Boys – ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio’ – Review

10 Jun

The Beach Boys have always been about opposites; art vs commerce, creativity vs commercialism, fantasy vs reality. One of the most interesting things about the group is the way these opposites have collided, on their albums, but especially in how different people remember the band. It’s entirely plausible that somebody will be aware of the group as a nostalgia act singing songs about surfing and California girls but likewise it’s plausible that someone else could remember them exclusively as the groundbreaking psychedelic pioneers. This is why bands as diverse as Maroon five, Flaming Lips, Foster the People, The Smiths, Stone Roses, Fleet Foxes and Red Hot Chili Peppers can claim the Beach Boys influence – they’ve all been listening to the same band, but no doubt different incarnations of the band.

So in 2012 how do these conflicting ideals play out on the group’s first album in over 25 years? Traditionaly, In the red corner, representing the nostalgic, surf rock version of the group, we’ve had that dastardly villain Mike Love. In the blue corner, representing the artistic, psychedelic side of the group, is the triumphant underdog Brian Wilson. After decades in the ring, slugging it out over naming rights and other tedious matters, the two have finally kissed and made up, and on the awkwardly named ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio’ both incarnations of the group are represented, and somewhat fittingly, they melt into one united front. Here the contradictions and conflicts are as obvious as ever, but perhaps for the first time the two versions of the group are comfortably represented on the same record and occasionally in the same songs.

When I read the track listing and saw that there were songs called ‘Spring Vacation’ and ‘Beaches in Mind’, I got quite worried that I would have to listen to a bunch of OAPs getting nostalgic about teenage girls and the like, which, lets face it, nobody wants to hear. Whilst a couple of these tracks do feature some cringe worthy lyrics that really shouldn’t be sung by men eligible for the free bus pass, for the most part this is a wonderfully thoughtful and nuanced album about getting old. Yes it’s nostalgic, but not in the way you might suspect. On one of their most famous hits, 1968’s ‘Do It Again’ they sang ‘California girls and a beautiful coastline / with warmed up weather let’s get together and do it again’, which, coming only a few years after they were at the beach with beautiful women, wasn’t too unrealistic a proposition. But in 2012 they realise that they are too old to ‘do it again’ and their new songs sadly acknowledge this fact. At one point Mike sings ‘If I had my way I’d be back again, where the good times never end’ but in his voice there is resignation that this won’t ever be. He can’t go back to the good old days, and coming from the always positive Mike Love, this is quite heart wrenching to listen to.

Here they ask questions like ‘Do you remember me and the way we used to be?’ and ‘Why don’t we feel the way we used to anymore?’ They are questions asked standing by the shore looking out into the sunset, in Southern California, where once they would have surfed. The music is as sweet and warm as it always was but the tempos are slower and the instruments are more textured. There is depth and restraint and consideration to the music (along with a whole lot of unnecessary reverb),and the youthful swagger has disappeared. The final three songs combine to make a beautiful suite that addresses the subject of aging and longing directly: ‘Sometimes I realise my days are moving on, and I want to go home’ Brian croons on the tender ‘North Pacific Highway’, which recalls the similar sentiment he expressed in 1965 on ‘Sloop John B’ – ‘I feel so broke up, I want to go home’.

Whilst I want to focus on the many (quite surprising) positives, this is not a perfect album (very few beach boys albums are). The group aren’t as vocally strong as they once were and this is unfortunately compensated for by some awful auto tuning. So obvious and transparent is the digital tinkering that it rather spoils one or two of the songs (in particular the otherwise gorgeous ‘There and Back Again’). The production in general is pretty good but it’s been recorded by a Hollywood studio hack and this reveals itself in some dodgy AOR arrangements and cheesy instrumentation. It also lacks the wall of sound production that Brian gave to the group’s best music; here the instruments are given too much room to breath and the result is a mix so shiny and polished that you can almost see your face in it. The dodgy production is complimented by one or two lapses into corny songwriting; ‘The Private Life of Bill and Sue’ and ‘Beaches in Mind’ are almost unlistenably bad, but as I said at the start of this review, this cheesy element has always been a part of the group’s story and it would almost be strange if this side of the band wasn’t represented on the album.

The record ends with the sound of rain, and the wisdom that ‘Summer’s gone away with yesterday, old friends have gone their separate ways’. It’s a depressing end to an album from a band known for their eternal optimism. But lets not forget that this is the group that released some of the most poignant songs about heartbreak and youthful worries, it should be no real surprise that they are able to transfer that feeling in to a different type of heart ache – that of growing old. The boxing metaphor I used earlier is, in retrospect, inappropriate; yes, the group have spent decades fighting in court and the media but on ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio’ I am reminded of what the group are best known for, and what they shall be remembered for – their harmonies. Not only are they now singing in harmony for the first time in decades, but more poignantly, they are living in harmony.

8/10