Archive | February, 2013

Foxygen ‘We are the 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic’ – Review

23 Feb

There’s a bit of a 60’s psychedelic revival going on at the moment, led by the terrific Tame Impala and groups such as Toy, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Pond and Temples. Of all the bands lumped into this emerging genre, Foxygen have received more flack than most, seemingly because they wear their influences more proudly on their sleeve than some of those other bands. It could be because Foxygen started out as a covers band. They rolled through the big hitters – one day they’d pretend to be The Beatles, the next day it could be The Stones. They admit to starting out as little more than impersonators and to their detractors that is what they remain to this day. Impersonators.

Now, I love ‘We are the 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic’ (and breathe!), but I can see where their critics are coming from. The album opener sounds like an outake from ‘Sergent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’, with a strikingly similar horn fanfare and jubilantly multi-tracked harmonies. On ‘San Fransisco’ they take on The Kinks at their village Green best (the title is a sly nod to that album as well), right down to the music video which finds them dressed in pin striped trousers and velvet jackets. On ‘No Direction’ they channel Bob Dylan’s electrified 1966 ghost whilst on the title track they answer the question ‘what would 13th Floor Elevators sound like if they were fronted by Elvis?’ The answer? Pretty damn good.

So yes, Foxygen will remind you of a few bands. But (as you may have noticed) the bands they reference are all classic groups, so if  Foxygen sound a bit like them, well, who really cares. If you’re going to copy anyone it may as well be the best. The melodies here are all excellent, the arrangements are smart and the songs are dripping with passion. It’s just a brilliantly executed pop record.

It’s witty as well – and funny. On ‘Shuggie’ the singer exclaims ‘I met your daughter the other day, that was weird / She had rhinoceros shaped earrings in her ears’. Elsewhere he is poignant (‘I hate to say I miss you cause you don’t need me anymore’) and biting (‘there’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore)’. What they lack in originality they make up for with personality, and that shines through on every one of these nine songs.

Ok, this isn’t a classic album in the same vein as the ones I just mentioned. Those records were all inovative – this is clearly not. And while Foxygen may share the humour, and nostalgic musicality, of Tame Impala, they lack the pulsating emotional heart (though one does beat gently). However ‘We are the…’ is a fun little album that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and doesn’t ask you to take it too seriously either. As their 60’s idols once said (probably) ‘open your minds Man and enjoy’. Or something.

8/10

Biffy Clyro ‘Opposites’ – Review

14 Feb

Biffy Clyro are great with big ideas – big ideas to fill stadiums with. Their best album to date, 2007’s ‘Puzzle’, explored death at some length, and ironically it was the album that propelled them into a majestic reign of rock. They make BIG music as well; skyscraper riffs, stacked up harmonies, choirs, bagpipes and orchestras are all sparingly used to bolster their sound. Music made like this is usually awful – even the masters of the genre Muse have become unstuck recently –  but Biffy Clyro keep getting better and better.

A lot of stadium bands design music to fill stadiums but you never get the impression that Biffy go about it in this way. Rather, it feels like these songs were crafted in the garage and ‘epic’ is just the way they came out. Biffy don’t fall into the sinking sand most tedious ‘rock’ groups do either – their solos are never to showy, their songs are never too long and their rhythms are never predictable. Biffy have an edge and a personality that other groups must surely be envious of. In their early ‘indie’ days, Biffy flickered between Math-Rock, Pop-Punk and Screamo, and these elements combined to make them a unique proposition. You can still here the influence of these genres in their sound, along with a big dose of Power-pop. It’s an intoxicating mix.

‘opposites’ is band’s grandest statement to date, and their most refined. Most double albums are bloated but ‘Opposites’ isn’t; two discs feels necessary rather than excessive, there is no obvious filler and there are no radical departures. Rather Biffy Clyro acknowledge what they’ve done well in the past and better it. The Storm Thorgerson designed cover (not one of his best) shows a tree being battered by the wind. It’s leaning towards the ground but because of its strong roots it is still standing. This is a metaphor for the group, who have experienced their fair share of problems since the release of ‘Only Revolutions’ in 2009.

The title track is a poignant ode to a couple who are drifting apart: ‘you are in love with a shadow / who won’t come back’ Simon croaks sadley in the second verse. It could be a reference to the child his wife miscarried during the making of this record, just one of the many ghosts that haunt these fractured songs. Elsewhere he screams ‘I’m in love with somebody else’ over and over again like a battle-cry, while on ‘Modern Magic Formula’ he bleats ‘I’m tired of being exposed/ and I don’t know how much more of this I can stand.’ You believe him. The whole record feels extraordinarily real and fraught.

Simon’s lyrics have never shied away from difficult subjects, but here everything feels zoomed in, brought to focus in a very knowing way. He sings about distance between lovers and friends and he writes tellingly about misleading appearances (‘everybody cares, but nobody knows’). The music matches the emotion ounce for ounce. ‘Biblical’ is a belter of epic proportions; a song with three choruses that fight to outdo each other. At the end it breaks down to just a voice and guitar as he asks ‘baby if you could would you go back to the start / make any fresh steps or watch it all fall apart, again.’

The two halves of the record follow a loose narrative. The songs on the first disc are more melancholy, pessimistic and reflective as Simon gravitates to the past. The second disc sets its sights on the future with a more positive and inspired outlook. There are moments of light relief (‘Pocket’ is an old fan favourite, finally getting an official release – it’s very Blink 182) but the mood is pretty sobre throughout. Which isn’t to say the music is anything less than engaging, enjoyable and utterly exciting. They may be on a downer lyricaly but the tunes have edge and passion which makes this an ultimatley uplifting, almost spiritual record. It ends with the mantra ‘we’ve got to stick together, we’ve got to stick together’, sung in unison by all three members of the group. As a chant it out-does the various ‘I just can’t take it anymore’s that pop up in various contexts over the course of the album. ‘Opposites’ ends with hope for the future. That said, Biffy will surely struggle to top this. It’s their defining moment so far, and all things considered ‘Oppossites’ is the best stadium rock record since ‘Black Holes and Revolutions’. Mon the Biff.

9/10

New Music Feb 2013

11 Feb

Christopher Owens ‘Lysandre’ – Review

8 Feb

A couple of years ago Christopher Owens featured in a video interview discussing his desire to release a concept album about a French woman he fell in love with During Girls first tour of Europe. He performed a couple of the songs from the record, the cryptically titled ‘7’ and ‘8’, and that was that. At the time I assumed this was one of the many things that artists promise to do (or should that be threaten) but never deliver. I was wrong. ‘Lysandre’ is that album he talked about in 2010 and it’s exactly as he described it – although ‘7’ and ‘8’ are now tracks ‘8’ and ‘9’. (While I’m on this subject, In another interview from the same time Owens said he wanted to release a Spanish classical guitar album. Lets hope that doesn’t also transpire!) The big difference between what Owens Intended and what has actually been released is the name behind the project. Owens probably intended this as the fourth Girls album, in fact it’s now coming out as a solo record.

I wasn’t too surprised when Girls broke up; I saw the band live last October, and they were an astonishingly accomplished group but the other musicians were relatively faceless compared to the spotlight hogging frontman. They stood in the background, motionless, producing brilliantly understated accompaniments to Owens’ guitar and voice but adding little of their own personality. It was natural that at some point Owens would venture out under his own name. It felt right. And ‘Lysandre’ couldn’t have been released under the Girls banner anyway – it’s too personal. Of course, the band’s music was often intrusive personal as well but here Owens takes things to a new level – it reads more like an autobiography than a traditional pop record, with intimate factual details about his life and loves rippling at the surface.

But despite the apparent heaviness of the subject matter and the almost voyeuristic glimpses into Owens’ world, ‘Lysandre’ isn’t actually all that deep or intense. It basically follows the age-old premise of ‘boy moves to the city, forms a band,  falls in love and gets his heart broken’. There aren’t any twists or major turns, and I won’t spoil the ending, but as Girls fans can probably work out it isn’t a happy one. The story is told in a straightforward and fairly un-involving way: this happened and then this happened and then this happened’, is how Owens often relates things. There is little analysis here, and a couple of notable songs aside, Owens is too distracted by the narrative and when he’s going to hit the next plot point and not concerned enough with the emotion he ought to be conveying. It makes songs like ‘Ear of the Listener’ and ‘Here We Go Again’ feel a bit lacking compared to his previous work.

Despite being longer than Girls e.p ‘Broken Hearts Club’, this feels like the slightest thing Owens’ has produced to date. The album is 11 tracks long (and two songs are almost identical with slight variations) and most clock in at around 2 and a half / 3 minutes.  Musically it feels precious and a bit twee, with gentle guitar picking, flutes, jazzy saxophone and consistently light and breezy arrangements. Sometimes this style works well (the title track is a great little tune) and sometimes it doesn’t (‘New York City’ feels very misjudged) but it always makes the album listenable and usually enjoyable.

However, it’s no surprise that the greatest moments on here occur when Owens strips back to just his voice and guitar. ‘A Broken Heart’ recalls the melancholic closer of ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, the beautiful ‘Jamie Marie’. The chord progression is virtually identical (as is the song’s subject matter come to think of it) but it feels almost naked and confessional in comparison. ‘Nothing like a memory to open up a broken heart’ he sings, describing a chance encounter with a former lover. On final song ‘Part of Me’ he croons ‘oh you were a part of me but that part of me has gone.’ It’s a particularly sad ending to an album that flits between these kind of stark confessionals and twee genre experiments like ‘Riviera Rock’ and ‘New York City’. If the whole album had more of the former and less of the latter, this would be a devastatingly good record (and you suspect Owens has it in him to make this very soon). As it is this is an enjoyable but not essential listen. However, as an opening statement of intent, independence and ambition it’s an impressive start to what will no doubt be a long and varied solo career.

7/10

New Music special 2013

5 Feb

So every January (or in this case, Febuary) I compile a list of the new acts I’m most excited about for the forthcoming year. Every year a few bands deliver on the promise (e.g. The Drums, James Blake, The Vaccines), a few don’t (Willis Earl Beal, Friends) and a few disappear into oblivion (Remember Brother or Egyptian Hip Hop?). I suspect that this list will be no different, but right now all of these acts are sounding great and I can honestly say this is one of the best times for new music I can remember. Enjoy the videos below and I strongly encourage you to check out more.

1. Palma Violets

2. Swim Deep

3. Jagwar Ma

4. Savages

5. Childhood

6. Alunageorge

7. Laura Muluva

8. The Strypes

9. Peace

10. Disclosure

11. Joey Bada$$

12. Cheatahs