Review Roundup May

28 May

The Knife ‘Shaking the Habitual’

Ugh. Isn’t this the kind of nonsense three Ramones died trying rid the world of? Pretentious, proggy, anti-music? I’ve heard a lot of talk about gender studies, Western responsibility and queer theory in the lead up to this much-anticipated release but not much about the music. So what of it? Well, if 19 minute ambient drones are your thing then you’re going to have a whale of a time with ‘Shaking the Habitual’, otherwise your luck is out. And here’s something Dee Dee Ramone’s mates The Clash could have could have told them: If you want to use pop music to make political statements then you have to play to the art form’s strengths. Make it direct, intense, confrontational, immediate and catchy as the plague so it infiltrates the mainstream. 19 minute ambient drones are a no-no. It’s a shame because some of these songs hint at something much more engaging. The opening duo of ‘Full of Fire’ and ‘Tooth For an Eye’ make for a lively, arresting opening and ‘Without You My Life Would be Boring’ shows that they still have a knack for innovative production sounds. Elsewhere though they truly disappoint with evasive melodies, strange lyrics and tunes that fail to leave a mark. Their fans will no doubt lap this up but nobody else will be listening – we have lives to lead. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to waste on this.

3/10

Savages ‘Silence Yourself’

A few weeks ago a video was put online which showed British Sea Power performing their 2003 track ‘Apologies to Insect Life’ with Jehnny Beth from Savages on vocals. From my perspective It was spookily apt, as Savages music has always reminded me of that one particular song – dark, raging and charged with energy. However, rather than a make direct comparison between Savages and the uncool British Sea Power, It’s been fashionable for critics to put Savages directly, and prematurely, in the company of Joy Division, Sixouse and the Banshees and Wire. But while Savages certainly have things in common with those bands, they are without question a product of the 21st Century. Their songs are anxious but self-assured, modern and confrontational…

..but lacking in magic. The eleven songs on ‘Silence Yourself’ melt into one brooding, often tedious dirge and many of the tunes lack any discernible hooks or stand out lyrics. Instead, the band rely on their sheer guts and anger to grab your interest. It works to a certain extent. ‘Shut Up’ makes a demand that you stop listening to the ‘constant distraction’ of too many voices and noises – ironically over the sound of a lot of static, screeching and buzzing guitars. ‘She Will’ is a typically angsty statement which describes a woman who will ‘get hooked on loving too hard, forcing the slut out’. It’s typical of the band’s direct approach to semantics. Despite their best attempts though, only first single ‘Husbands’ is truly memorable and we’ve heard that before.  Savages headline grabbing interviews, admirable feminist agenda and stunning live shows have made them critical darlings – but beneath the hype this is actually a fairly standard, even generic, post-punk album.

6/10

She and Him ‘Volume Three’

‘Volume Three’ is (unsurprisingly) M. Ward and Zoeey Deschanel’s follow-up to the twee-tastic ‘Volume One’ and ‘Volume Two’. And as the name suggests, this is a direct continuation of the musical and lyrical concerns of those records. If I told you that ‘Volume Three’ was released at some point between 1963 and 1973 you would probably believe me; Spector Strings, Beach Boys harmonies, Patsy Cline melodies and an Ellie Greenwich cover. If you were expecting anything else then you’re probably a bit silly (it even tells you that it’s in stereo on the front-cover, y’know, as oppose to mono). But where their previous work  felt a little shy and quaint, ‘Volume 3’ is so much braver and more accomplished. The arrangements of songs like ‘I’ve Got Your Number Son’ and ‘Somebody Sweet to Talk to’ are stunningly expansive and ambitious, and Zooey’s vocals are drenched in what sounds like ancient studio reverb. These are no bedroom recordings. Their lyrics are equally brilliant; deceptively simple, the images are actually quite poetic. On the break-up ballad ‘Fade to White’ Zoeey sings in a beautifuly rich croon, ‘I am stronger than in the picture you took before you left / in the light it faded to white.’

Here Zooey features on the cover of a She and Him album for the first time, which reflects the confidence exuding from these songs. Before she was happy being represented by a cartoon caricature but on ‘Volume Three’ she’s definitively shown that she’s a living breathing artist, and wants to be represented as such. This is probably the duo’s weakest album to date (It’s a bit too long, the covers are too obvious and the song-writing isn’t quite as strong as on previous albums) but it’s also their most confident and ambitious. Call it twee if you want but there is no denying the talent on display.

7.5/10

 

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