Archive | May, 2017

Kasabian ‘For Crying Out Loud’ – Review

31 May

2016 was an insane year ’round these parts. For a few glorious months, Leicester was transformed from a fairly ordinary Midlands city in to the home of the greatest sporting triumph the world has ever seen, as Leicester City defied odds of 5000-1 to be crowned Premier League champions. This feet was simply unprecedented – it had been 20 years since a team of underdogs had convincingly challenged for the title (Newcastle United) and longer still since a team outside the traditional top tier of English teams had won the title (Blackburn Rovers). It was rendered more peculiar as Leicester had fought relegation in the previous season and had given little indication that they would amount to anything even remotely impressive. Their team was made up of journey men, youngsters, rejects and even a couple of non-league signings.

Kasabian have been devoted Leicester City fans from an early age. They have their own box at the stadium, they danced with Captain Wes Morgan at Jamie Vardy’s Wedding and have even had conversations with the club’s reclusive Thai owners. At the start of every game City walk out to Kasabian’s ‘Underdogs’ and every time they score a goal ‘Fire’ reverberates around the stadium. In a post match interview, city’s manager Cloudio Ranieri once praised the band and said ‘when you go on the pitch and you hear Kasabian, that means they want Warriors’. Kasabian have become to Leicester City what Oasis are to Man City. Like their football club, the band have found dizzying success against the odds. Of the crop of ambitious young guitar bands to emerge at the start of the last decade, only Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon are still shifting albums in higher numbers. Who in 2005 would have put money on Kasabian outlasting and outselling Razorlight, Kooks or Franz Ferdinand?

It’s fitting then that the band soundtracked the jubilant celebrations that took place in Leicester last May. They performed at City’s trophy parade and shortly after hosted their own two night residency at the King Power Stadium. With no album to promote, the gigs essentially became parties devoted to celebrating the club’s success. They dedicated the sole new song to departed friends who couldn’t be there; ‘Put Your Life On It’ was a perfectly uplifting moment in the set list – the lights aloft anthem that the band had been missing. A banner behind the band read ‘For Crying Out Loud’, which summed emotions up perfectly. That motto has become the title of this, the band’s sixth album (For Crying Out Loud is a favourite saying of Kasabian’s roadie, whose ugly mug also adorns the album art). The record takes Leicester city’s joy, wonderment and odd-defying success and translates it in to an album of upbeat, feel good rock n roll songs.

Kasabian’s blend of anthemic melodies, crunching riffs and rave ‘vibes’ has fallen so far out of favour that the album immediately sounds, in the best sense, like a relic from a prehistoric age. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a rock album as blatantly far reaching as this one. It would be easy to be cynical – this style of music may be out of favour now but it was rinsed to death as far back as the ’90s – but the band pull it off with such enthusiasm that you’d have to be miserable indeed not to fall under their spell. The hooks in ‘Comeback Kid’ and ‘King For A Day’ don’t so much worm their way in to your ears as batter you sideways around the head from the off. No element is subtle but each one is very finely wrought – from the saxophone break in the Blondie referencing ‘Are You Looking For Action’ to the vocal chant in ‘God Bless this Acide House’ – nothing here is unprecedented but feels expertly implemented nonetheless.

Kasabian’s music is smarter than they are given credit for. Critics love to label them as Lad-Rock, pin point their audience as blokey and basically diminish their output and patronise their fan base at any given opportunity. It makes me wonder if these people have actually bothered to listen to their albums or if they’ve just heard ‘Fire’ used in a match of the day compilation, put two and two together and got ‘meat and veg indie’ (to quote The Guardian). Their albums have always been more daring and diverse than even the most generous critics seem to grant. ‘For Crying about loud’ continues this trend whilst also being the band’s most guitar heavy effort to date. It dials back on the synth experiments of ‘48.13’ and the psychedelic genre hopping of their early albums but still manages to sound a little kooky (thanks to savvy production) at the same time as sounding totally tuneful. From top to bottom the emphasis is on water tight hooks, clear choruses and sky scraping riffs, all executed with utter expertise.

The lyrics are usually thoughtful and often funny (‘I’m like the taste of macaroni on a seafood stick’), if rarely making any serious point or emotional connection. But It would be a futile exercise in ‘well duh’ pointlessness to list the other, mostly obvious, faults of this record or highlight the inevitable filler, because ultimately this music is a means to end – the end being the live arena. So the pertinent question really is will the album’s best songs slot nicely in to the band’s setlist (as ‘Put Your Life On It’ did so wonderfully in the summer) or will they merely provide ample opportunity for toilet breaks? The answer is assuredly the former. it’s in the live environment that you can imagine these songs thriving. It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture mass sing-alongs to ’24/7′ or mosh pits sprouting to ‘Ill Ray’. While they will probably never come close to matching the undeniable ssuccess of ‘Club Foot’, ‘LSF’ or ‘Fire’ the fact that they repeatedly come close, six albums in to their career, is better than most bands could manage. Eye rolling cynics be damned, Kasabian fans are in for a treat next time the band roll in to town.

7.5/10

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Harry Styles ‘Harry Styles’ – Review

16 May

Harry Styles is easy to root for. Whether he’s dating his way through Hollywood, buying pizzas for the homeless, modelling for fashion mags or staring in a big budget war movie – everything he does, he does with effortless cool. He’s one of the more loveable heart-throbs of his or any other generation, as countless teenage fans will attest to. But all that is rendered insignificant if the music doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. This debut, self titled album will be the true test of whether Styles has a shot at longevity and serious artistic integrity.

In the same way that One Direction diverted from the boy band cliches of matching outfits, lip synching and dance routines, they have also dispensed with break up tropes as well. When going solo, artists have typically trod one of two paths; the one pioneered by Robbie Williams, of the disgruntled bad boy wishing to unleash their inner rock star via unkempt power ballads; or the one created by Justin Timberlake, that of the formally angelic frontman wishing to unleash their inner sex God via slinky r&b. Not 1D though. For a start nobody, except the rather tiresome Zayn (who released a brooding and hook-averse album last year), seems bitter or unhappy with the One Direction brand. Secondly, each member seems intent on following their own path, not some stereotypical idea of what a pop star should do. Niall has hooked up with indier-than-thou singer songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr for a couple of smooth, acoustic jams that are pitched more for the mums than directioners themselves. Louis seems to be going in an EDM direction whilst, in the most unlikely turn of events, Liam Is readying a migos inspired trap album. Whatever the others get up to, there is unlikely to be any crossover with ‘Harry Styles’.

On his debut album, Styles primarily utilises simple, unfussy arrangements to highlight and compliment his soulful vocals. It’s remarkable how thoroughly he has progressed since enthusiastically but unconvincingly belting out ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ on an X Factor audition seven years ago. His range is impressive, whether tackling the falsetto chorus of ‘Sign of the Time’, the Jagger-isms of ‘Kiwi’ or the breathy croon of ‘From the Dining Table’. This voice is undoubtedly the star here but that effortless, timeless cool I described earlier is also important. Harry, who was in an Arctic Monkeys influenced school band when he auditioned for X Factor, grew up in an era of British music when the guitar, black skinny jeans, Chelsea boots and thoughtful, observational lyrics were in vogue. These are traits that he’s admirably stayed true to, even as they have fallen dramatically out of fashion. Because of this, ‘Harry Styles’ has the benefit of being so out of step with the times that it may actually sound new and unfamiliar to a young audience.

Considering that lead single ‘Sign of the Times’ had all the subtlety of Be Here Now era Oasis, it’s surprising how understated the other songs on ‘Harry Styles’ are. The album opens softly, with an acoustic balled called ‘Meet me in he Hallway’, which features only vaguely proggy background noises as accompaniment to Harry and a guitar. The album ends on a similarly sparse note, with ‘From the Dining Table’, a laid back moment of unguarded vulnerability where Harry pines ‘maybe one day you’ll call me, and tell me you’re sorry too…but you never do.’ ‘From the Dining Table’ is one highlight, as is ‘Two Ghosts’, which coyly references Taylor Swift’s ‘Style’ in both its lyrics and gorgeously heartbreaking vocals. The gentle percussion, and Harry’s fondness for warm, memorable melodies, suggests that he has less in common with a young David Bowie (as the pre-release hype hinted) and more in common with vintage Cat Stevens. No bad thing.

But before we get ahead of ourselves (and Cameron Crowe’s frequent references to the likes of Bowie, Queen, Beatles and Rod Stewart, in his recent Rolling Stone cover feature, was definitely that) we do need to remember that Harry Styles is still a young man of 23, and the sessions for ‘Harry Styles’ marked his first sustained stab at songwriting (helped, it should be noted, by seasoned pros like Kid Harpoon and Jeff Bhasker). That inexperience reveals itself in the flimsy choruses at the centre of ‘Only Angel’, ‘Woman’ and ‘Carolina’, not to mention the juvenile lyrics that will cause sensitive eyebrows to raise. It’s a miracle that in these hyper-aware times, nobody at Columbia warned Harry that opening one song by telling the female subject to ‘open your eyes and shut your mouth’ before telling her he couldn’t take her home to his mother ‘in a dress that short’ might not be the best idea. This is only one example of too many lyrical mis-fires to excuse.

It’s also exemplified in the way he liberally borrows from classic songwriting. The best tracks here are the ones where you can sense an influence, without being bashed over the head by it. The Beatles inspired riff and backing vocals on ‘Carolina’ are cute but the Blackbird inspired ‘Sweet Creature’ is a little too knowing for its own good. The Coldplay-esque melody of ‘Ever Since New York’ is moving but that central guitar figure is photoshopped directly from Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue’. Then there’s the ‘Beenie and the Jets’ piano chords of ‘Woman’ and, perhaps most blatantly of all, the mimicking of ‘Amy’ by Ryan Adams – here repurposed as ‘From the Dining Table’, in which chords, melody, mood and even the prominent double tracked vocal technique are lifted wholesale (in spite of, or perhaps because of this, it’s my favourite track on the record).

‘Harry Styles’ is a flawed album, but show me a debut that isn’t. All these faults betray an undiluted enthusiasm and wonderment for the possibilities of Rock n Roll, glimpsed by a young man obviously unencumbered by any post-modern cynicism or hunger for a contemporary notion of trendiness (take note Zayn, Justin Beiber and Drake). We’ve all heard that the guitar is dead, well nobody told that to Harry Styles. (Without wishing to fall victim to Rolling Stone level overstatement) He may be an unlikely saviour but I think Styles has just beamed a smart and vibrant pop-rock album into millions of homes around the world. Who knows who’s listening, ready to pick up the baton. So yes, Harry has certainly passed the musical part of the test – and of course, he remains effortlessly cool and easy to root for.

7/10

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Review Round-up

8 May

Vagabon ‘Infinate Worlds’

Vagabon, AKA Laetitia Tamko, has received wild acclaim for this, her debut album, but the hype is decidedly premature. Whilst there are glimpses of promise, mostly in the sparse, observational lyrics and pretty melodies, there is little about the record that feels necessary or inventive. Her style of indie rock is disappointingly whimsical in spite of the dark themes that often underpin the songs. Which is a shame because when the album punches out, it bruises. As the title ‘Infinite Worlds’ suggests, many of these songs are about spaces and finding your own place somewhere, anywhere. Almost every song clearly locates the narrator, or subject, in a particular place, at a particular time, in a particular mood. This specificity is interesting but rarely capitalised upon. Occasionally, as it’s likely to in 2017, politics creeps in to the edge of the picture. ‘What about them scares you so much? My standing there threatens your standing there?’ It’s in these brief moments of bite that the hype around Vagabon doesn’t feel so unwarranted.

6/10

Wild Pink ‘Wild Pink’

Wild Pink’s sky scraping anthems find the sweet spot between soaring post-rock, spacey folk and indie sophistication. Add to that mix the near emo levels of sincerity and you have a fairly unprecedented sound. John Ross Is an astute lyricist who balances a naturally pessimistic outlook with a healthy dose of humour and skepticism. It means he’s capable of evocative turns of phrase like ‘dark rain clouds like bruises in the sky’ and somber reflections such as ‘Riding out some psychotropic In the shadow of the World Trade/ Trying hard to understand the culture in my face’ while calling songs things like ‘Wanting Things Makes you Shittier ‘ and ‘Playing Through a Dip Related Injury’. Their unique formula does start to feel a little repetitive in the final third, where the hooks shine less brightly and the melodies become somewhat indistinguishable from one another. But ‘Wild Pink’ is a promising debut, rich in drama and raw emotion, amplified to the heavens.

7.5/10

Charly Bliss ‘Guppy’

Charley Bliss have made the type of sickly sweet pop-punk album that’s so addictive it should come with a health warning. But like all sugary confections, having too much at once can leave you feeling a bit unwell. Eva Hendrick’s shrill, piercing vocals are certainly distinctive but won’t be to everyone’s taste. These vocals, and candy floss melodies, are emphasised, which exasperates the marmite quality of the songs. One thing it emphasises is the band’s enthusiasm and enjoyment, which really is infectious – for a bit. Hendrick’s has a similar knack to Alex Turner for pithy couplets and funny, isolated observations that bounce in to one another when lined up in a row. ‘Forced fun, ill at ease/All I eat is bread and cheese’ she observes at one point; one of many amusing lyrics. ‘Guppy’ is a an enjoyable alt-rock debut that doesn’t take itself seriously and asks that you don’t either.

7/10