Review Round-up

22 Mar

My Bloody Valentine ‘MBV’

Some people have been waiting for ‘m b v’ for decades. Not me. I only got around to hearing ‘Loveless’ for the first time a couple of years ago. That said, I’d felt its influence (without knowing it) on some of my favourite bands and albums. For sonic adventurers ‘Loveless’ is a peak but I’d be lying if I said it was a favourite of mine. Guitar effects have never really moved me and ‘Loveless’ doesn’t move me either. However, I can see why people were (and are) moved by it. Equally, I can see why people will be moved by ‘m b v’.But again, I would be lying if I said I am.

Lets get the bad news out-of-the-way first. This album was 20 years in the making and some songs sound incredibly (INCREDIBLY) dated; in particular ‘Nothing Is’ is a horrible mesh of mid-90s drum sounds and squealing shoegaze guitars. Sorry fanboys but it really is the worst thing I’ve heard all year. Album closer ‘Wonder 2’ is marginally more interesting, but not much – It’s got a gushing aeroplane hoover racing over a relentless Drum n Bass beat (so low in the mix it’s barely there) that is horribly annoying.

The album’s not all bad though, ‘Only Tomorrow’ and ‘New You’ are as good as anything on ‘Loveless’ and there’s enough sonic variation here to keep even the most ardent, nervous fan satisfied. ‘m b v’ could have been released in 1991. It could have been released in 2013. It’s darker than ‘Loveless’ with more of a dance bent, but otherwise they sound pretty identical.  This  deserves an epic review by an epic fan but (as you can probably tell) that isn’t me. ‘m b v’  isn’t a life changing record for me, not even a life enhancing one. But a couple of mini-disasters aside, I like it just fine.

6/10

 

Youth Lagoon ‘Wondrous Bughouse’

Youth Lagoon’s 2011 debut ‘Year of Hibination’ was all heart and no frills, which is why I’m surprised and disappointed that the follow-up ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ is all frills and no heart. It’s a strange album from the cover art to the song titles (Attic Doctor, Pelican Man, Daisyphobia etc) and that’s before you even hear the music. It has all the hallmarks of producer Ben Allen’s sound (‘Merriwether Post Pavillion’, ‘Within and Without’) but without the cohesion or innovation he usually brings to a project. Most songs exceed the five-minute mark and run out of steam after two; each one builds in a claustrophobic and overbearing way that makes you long to reach for the skip button. Youth’s vocals, once fragile, now sound weak in this context; in such a bombastic setting he comes across as lost and scared.

His voice is very much a minor part of the album though, Mostly he lets the music do the talking, and to be fair there are some interesting arrangements of unusual instruments. Where the debut relied mainly on garage band style synths, on ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ there’s a whole host of sounds to indulge in. As I say though, everything is so busy that it’s hard to find a centre or focus. ‘Dropla’ and ‘The Bath’ do the best job of conveying emotion in the chaos but elsewhere Youth genuinely sounds like he’s struggling to get a grip on things. Most of these songs spiral out of control after the second chorus which is a massive shame as there are some interesting ideas here. The record isn’t without its charms but ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ feels like a badly misjudged follow-up to a promising debut.

4.5/10

Keaton Henson ‘Birthdays’

Keaton Henson presents me with a rather small moral dilemma. In confessional singer-songwriting there’s a very fine line between sincerity and creepiness, and Henson is sometimes in danger of tripping over that line, as when he sings ‘i’d kill just to watch you sleeping’ or ‘I sit and stare at you.’ You also have to question somebody who says his heart has ‘had enough pain to last the rest of his life.’ After a week of being bombarded by tragic images of starving children for Comic Relief this type of ‘woe-is-me’ misery from a middle class Westerner is slightly hard to swallow. The best heartbreak albums are smarter and more thoughtful than ‘Birthdays’ but then that’s also a part of Henson’s charm. He say’s exactly what he feels, when he feels it, and you genuinely feel like there’s no barrier between you and him.

In a broken, battered whisper Heaton pours his heart out time and time again without a hint of irony or objectivity.You can be in no doubt that as self-obsessed, pessimistic and indulgent as these lyrics sometimes are, Henson means and feels every single word on this record. It would take a heart of stone not to melt upon hearing the beautiful ‘Lying to You’, especially when Henson’s voice cracks during the line ‘Babe I’m not in love with you.’ Ahh yes, that pro-noun. ‘You’ is an important word on ‘Birthdays’, it gets used and rhymed with on pretty much every song – we never find out who Henson is referring to and that’s also part of this album’s success. It allows the listener to transplant their own experiences onto Henson’s and indulge alongside him.

‘Birthday’s’ isn’t quite the success his debut was – the arrangements are more loaded (some tracks even make use of a full band!) and I think this lessons the impact of these quietly gorgeous songs. That said, this is still one of the most impressive singer-songwriter albums I’ve heard in ages. Just remember to engage with your heart and not your head; to over-think his lyrics is to spoil a magic trick.

8/10

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