Archive | August, 2018

Miles Kane ‘Coup de Grace’ – Review

28 Aug

Miles Kane sounds like a man who still hasn’t figured out who he truly is, yet has made a career out of demonstrating the long list of people he’d like to be (starting with Paul Weller and ending with Mark Boland). On third solo album ‘Coup de Grace’ the flaws in that strategy become abundantly clear. The problem isn’t necessarily that imitation reaps limited rewards (Miles has proven throughout his career that he can be a very successful impersonator in the right circumstances), it’s that his imitations are so obviously rendered that the listener is left with no discernible role. Everything is spelt out in big, bright letters. Every note, every lyric, every cliche is delivered so predictably that you end up becoming a passive participant, not trusted to think for yourself. There’s little fun in that.

‘Coup de Grace’ was allegedly composed in a fortnight, and it shows in the scrappy, barely there opener ‘Too Little, Too Late’, a song apparently inspired by the Dammed and The Fall. But there’s more to punk rock than turning up and stringing the right three chords together over a strong backbeat. The faster numbers all suffer from a similar lack of understanding. ‘Cold Light of Day’ has an infuriatingly simplistic hook, repeated ad-nausium and mirrored almost identically by the melody. It’s bargain bin riff rock. ‘Cry on my Guitar’ is just a bit more slinky, Miles’ heavily affected snarl imitating T-Rex whilst name checking Sweet.

Kane has called this his ‘Adele album, and I think he means that it was inspired by a break up (certainly, he can’t conjure up the same level of vulnerability, let alone sense of power that Adele has). Indeed, the best songs are the ones that cut most closely to the bone. The ones where the swagger and tomfoolery is kept (mostly) at arms length. ‘Since you’ve been gone, left the tv on / let the milk go sour, let the bills pile up / but I swear I’m a funny guy’ he croons mid way through ‘Killing the Joke’, which comes as close to a revelation as you’re likely to get on ‘Coup de Grace’. You see, In certain quarters Miles Kane has built a reputation as something of a sleaze, in part down to a bizarre series of interviews given to promote the last Shadow Puppets record, and particularly one unfortunate joke made to a female reporter on said press circuit. However real or unreal, offensive or otherwise Kane’s persona may be, it seems to have cost him at least one relationship as well as any lingering critical credibility. That lyric is as close as he gets to unpacking this reputation.

I think that when people say they dislike Miles Kane, what they really mean is that they dislike what he represents – rather than what he presents. ‘Coup de Grace’ is a totally inoffensive collection of sprightly rock n roll songs that surely wouldn’t agitate a soul anymore than it could stir up a flame. It’s reasonably short and listenable from start to finish. But to many critics, Kane is as clear a representation of toxic masculinity as any – he’s your moderately talented white male, almost entirely influenced by and reflective of other (often inexplicably) successful white males, who was granted opportunity because he was cousins with the guy from the Coral and best mates with Alex Turner; a sleaze ball who ditched his friends in The Little Flames and The Rascals to put his own name up there under bright lights, who, to paraphrase Pitchfork, always happens to be in the right place at the right time whether he’s welcome there or not. Of course this is an ungenerous perspective that misreads the winking humour of Kane’s personality, and undersells the difficulty of remaining in the indie cosmos for over a decade. After all, one could argue, there must be a better reason for his continued success, when so many of those indie landfill bands from 2003-08 fell by the wayside, than ‘he’s Bessie’s with the singer from Arctic Monkeys.’

Kane is one of the best showmen left in Rock n Roll, and has a dynamic stage presence that belies the mundanity of his solo material. On stage his talents are far easier to ascertain – his style, his charisma, his fierce vocals, his banter – on records those traits are concealed. Then again, I don’t see any discernible reason why Kane has to prove himself as a songwriter at all. Some of the best performers – Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Englebert Humperdink and of course Elvis – were ultimately at the mercy of other songwriters, for better or worse. I’d like to see Miles wrap his lips around an album of rock n roll standards. Or what would happen if he truly gave himself over to other writers? Not an ambitious or alluring career progression perhaps, but one that would suit his particular set of talents. Because the truth is, no matter how many friends he has in high places, an album as average as ‘Coup de Grace’ is nothing to sustain a career on.

5/10

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Rolling Blackouts C.F ‘Hope Downs’ – Review

27 Aug

Rolling Blackouts C.F make the type of indie rock – all shimmering, twelve string guitar jangles and generously melodic bass lines – that we are almost predispositioned to associate with a certain type of longing and heartbreak. I’m thinking of Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Feelies or more recently Alvvays and Real Estate. Yet on ‘Hope Downs’ the band subvert our expectations by making an album almost entirely divorced from that particular strain of heartbreak. Rolling Blackouts C.F instead dive in to far more weighty topics head on.

‘Mainland’ is one shining example. This, perhaps the most frantic and energetic song on the album, is written from the perspective of a refugee stuck at sea ; ‘winds of fortune shove us where they will/ woke up coughing on the shore..’. It’s more observational than sentimental and a bright exploration of a dark subject. They don’t stop there. On ‘Bellarine’ they sing from the perspective of a father separated from his daughter, while ‘Cappuccino City’ describes an unhappy couple in a trendy cafe drinking coffee whilst referencing ‘Belgians in the congo’. Rolling Blackouts C.F are a literate bunch and this is a lyrically ambitious statement.

The three singer/guitarist/songwriters – Tom Russo, Fran Keaney, and Joe White – trade lyrics and hooks but you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between them such is their synergy. Each sing-speaks, in a droll Australian style that just about delivers the understated melodies in recognisable shape. Each writes impressionistic, vaguely psychedelic lyrics that resemble jigsaw pieces; each perfectly shaped and interesting in its own right but part of a larger picture that’s difficult to piece together. Occasionally they over reach thematically, and their writing style leads to the odd high school Dylanism (‘on closer inspection, it’s just a reflection’) but these are endearing faults that speak to the band’s enthusiasm.

In large part they askew the typical decisions made by jangly indie rock bands – there are a lack of harmonies, arrangements are light in reverb and choruses come and go without much actually developing. This leads to a simplicity that cuts through a lot of the noise and distraction that currently buzzes around the genre. Opener ‘Air Conditioned Man’ establishes the tone – get to the point quickly and don’t look back. Every song rattles at a moderately fast pace – even the slower numbers ‘Cappuccino City’ and ‘How Long’ make a point of their steady, straight ahead beat (no time for drum rolls or fills here). Initially this all feels a little one dimensional, and even somewhat academic and dry. But after a few listens the warmth of the arrangements, and delight of the cryptic lyrics, reveal themselves. From Fran Kearney’s chugging, acoustic guitar that underpins the propulsive rhythms down to the twanging solos that come and go, they’ve truly mastered this particular type of indie rock song. It will be interesting to see if, and how, they move things on next time around.

8/10

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Tony Molina ‘Kill the Lights’ – Review

15 Aug

Life is short, people are busy and distractions abound. Tony Molina gets it. He knows that our attention spans are shortening by the minute, and a lot of people no longer listen to albums. With this in mind, Molina carefully crafts songs for his generation; songs that are short (almost every track on ‘Kill the Lights’ lasts between one and two minutes) but feel perfectly constructed, with no real reason to be any longer. Molina packs in fingerpicking, bluesy solos, harmonies, and killers choruses. The arrangements are generous and the melodies tight – all of which is to say that these songs are short by design, not through carelessness, laziness or a lack of ambition.

Molina has turned his back on the grotty guitar anthems of his debut, and headed firmly for warmer, lighter air. The chords are brighter and the production now allows the little details to pop. Despite clocking in at only fifteen minutes, ‘Kill the Lights’ is a varied and wide reaching collection. Molina wears his influences very clearly on his sleeve; ‘Nothing I Can Say’ mines similar ground to early Teenage Fanclub, perhaps because Molina and The Fanclub both cite Big Star as a looming influence. On the gorgeous ballads ‘Wrong Town’ and ‘Before You Go’ he nods to Simon and Garefunkel, whilst the more expansive ‘Jasper’s theme’ (over 2 minutes!) more subtly recalls Weezer. These are somewhat familiar references but Molina’s enthusiasm is infectious and his execution flawless.

Most importantly, Molina hits his emotional marks at nearly every turn. ‘Kill the Lights’ is a fifteen minute long break up album that is at once romantic and relatable. ‘Nothing I Can Say’ opens the album with the narrator struggling to end an unfulfilling relationship, a decision he spends the next nine songs seemingly regretting. At many different points he asserts his loneliness, helplessness and general anxiety about being lost in a gorgeously understated whisper of a voice. It’s a thematically cohesive set of songs that does occasionally feel repetitive and simplistic, making you wish that Molina would sometimes stretch past the easy hanging fruits of monosyllabic rhymes and cliched metaphors. But its naive simplicity is very much part of the appeal, and Molina knows it.

Through the twanging twelve string guitars and wash of gentle harmonies, a true personality is quietly revealed, one that in the lineage of indie rock puts Molina next to Christopher Owens. Like Owens, Molina’s lyricism is deceptively simple and unadorned, his sentiments hopelessly soppy and naive but inexplicably affecting. And like Owens, Molina is a brilliant guitarist with roots in Punk and Hardcore. Though he never shreds, there are some subversive bursts of noise and anger that hint at darker sounds and themes to be explored in the future. ‘Kill the Lights’ is an unassuming gem of a record, one that you could happily listen to four times in the space on an hour and still find yourself going back for more.

8/10

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