Tag Archives: Revie

Animal Collective ‘Painting With’ – Review

25 Feb

Animal collective personified blog buzz back in 2009, when indie-rock bands put away guitars, started digging The Beach Boys and dialled up the ambition. Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter and Dirty Projectors were all big but none received quite so much hype as Animal Collective. In ‘Merriether Post Pavillion’ they had an album that deserved the acclaim.

Seven years later and the muted response that has greeted ‘Painting With’ is emblematic of just how far (this particular flavour of) Indie Rock’s stock has fallen. The genre has reverted to type; it’s back to being insular, lo-if, scene based and rooted in punk values. Nothing wrong with that, but it does make the expansive, ambitious, melodically and harmonically driven sound of Animal Collective seem out of place. Seven years later, indie rock has far more modest aims. In its confusion, bizzare singularity and skewed targets ‘Painting With’ typifies this deflated mood perfectly.

The group’s last album, ‘Centepiede HZ’, was a messy and overwhelming collection that could easily be the worst follow up to a classic album that I can recall. The good news is that while ‘Painting With’ still has some of that album’s less pleasant traits, it’s not quite as over the top and busy. It’s not rammed to the rafters with layers and layers of noise. It’s not drenched in reverb. The songs aren’t long and dirge like. These, at least, are positive steps in the right direction.

And in ‘Floridada’ and ‘Golden Gal’, they possess two positive singles. The two tracks bubble along with an irrepressible enthusiasm that is infectious rather than annoying. They’re busy but not so crammed with ideas that you can’t tell one hook from another. The melodies are highlighted and not overwhelmed by what is happening in the margins. But these are the exception. For the most part the tracks on ‘Painting With’ are restless and lacking in space for quiet contemplation. Listening to it from start to finish is akin to being repeatedly whacked around the head by a hyperactive child with a rubber mallet. It is an irritating, headache inducing experience.

The group have a increasingly disruptive attitude which steers them towards disorientation. The sounds are there to dazzle you in to a state of confusion, whilst the lurching, grasping rhythms seem perfectly designed to trip you up. Take album closer ‘Recycling’ as an example. The song starts with a blaze of beeps and burps including a sound mimicking an alarm going off to one imitating a gurgling tap left to drip overnight. Then bells start ringing low down in the mix as synths fade in like a rising sun. At 38 seconds a kick drum starts keeping time but the synths, which now start bending, pay no attention to this and continue to warp in and out of tune to their own invisible beat. Suddenly you realise a clock is ticking in the background, also to its own rhythm. When Avey and Panda Bear enter the scenario at the minute mark they are lost in their own world, oblivious to the crazy soundscape we’ve been landed in. They trade syllables, in the now customary way, in perfect alternation but somehow completely oblivious to one another. There is no emotional or spiritual connection. They say things but who knows what – their singing style and the dubious mix makes the words inaudible. And ‘Recycling’ is the prettiest, most soulful song on the album

As impressive as the vocals, on a purely visceral level, can sometimes be, the songs exist with an utterly hollow core. In the place that it matters, Animal Collective are lacking. There is also a distinct lack of groove; for all their love of exotic sounds and world music, Animal Collective remain the whitest group in all of human existence (musically, not racially). As technically accomplished as the group undoubtedly are, you have to wonder – to what end? Their syllable swapping is impressive but ultimately unmoving. The strange musical sounds are curious but hardly unprecedented. In the end It’s a thoroughly exhausting album to listen to. Animal Collective know some tricks, sure, but what good are these skills if they don’t implement them in a credible way? Like a Brazilian footballer who dribbles and nutmegs his way around the pitch so artfully but shoots the ball in to the rafters when staring at the mouth of the goal. The group’s daunting reputation prevents widespread criticism but this mess surely deserves nothing else?



We Are Scientists ‘Barbara’ – Review

17 Jun

We are scientists are funny guys – if you know anything about the band then it’s probably this. Their on stage banter has become more legendary than any of their albums, and their funny music videos have received more attention than the songs they were representing. On their breakthrough UK album they were featured on the cover clutching cats, on it’s follow-up they put on their finest suits and fell asleep for the camera. The new album’s front cover is merely a sword on a red backdrop. This may be a sign that the band are ditching their antics in favour of something more serious – or more deadly.

Of course the actual musical side of things has always been taken seriously by the band. They made a great string of early singles, which led to a well received album that surfed the wave of British indie landfill in 2005/06. The follow-up album, ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’, was their attempt to break into the mainstream but it was largely unsuccessful. The addition of strings and synths sounded quite forced and in the end the album was a bit of a bomb. It is pretty obvious then why Barbara finds We are Scientists reverting back to their original sound of choppy riffs, catchy choruses and loud guitars.

‘Rules Don’t Stop Me’ and ‘Nice Guys’ are the first singles and they are probably the best songs on here, both stick to the ‘WAS’ formula and they work for exactly the same reasons the band’s early singles worked. Of course WAS have always been more of a tricky prospect when they have slowed down, or tried experimental. It’s a terrible thing to say but We Are Scientists are at their best when they make the slightly brainless, frantic indie pop that comes easiest to them. It seems to be a realization they’ve come to as well, as they sing on ‘Ambition’ – ‘So Long ambition, it’s not a competition, I Can’t Win Anymore’.

All things considered it seems the band are content to be a second tier group for the rest of the lives – the guys playing the NME stage at Reading and Leeds, the guys always just missing out on that top ten chart position, the guys always supporting the arena band but never being them, the guys always getting 7 out of 10. ‘Barbara’ shows no progression and no ambition, but it’s an enjoyable and occasionally thrilling album that will please fans who were alarmed by ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’.


The Strange Boys ‘Be Brave’ – Review

6 Mar

There seems to have been a little rebirth in Garage rock this year. The Soft Pack finally released their debut last month and this month see’s the return of The Archie Bronson Outfit, Black Keys and The Strange Boys.  The Latter are on Rough Trade Records and released their first album a couple of years ago.  Whilst I’d heard of them, I hadn’t heard them but that changed once I saw the brilliant album art for record number two ‘Be Brave’. The psychedelic throwback band shot is just the kind of thing that I like so I decided to listen to what was in the sleeve.

It instantly strikes you that the music is just as retro and of kilter as the album art. The ramshackle garage sound is a throwback to the famous nuggets compilation, just enough hint of weirdness alongside some old school rock n roll. The title track, and first single, is the best thing on here and showcases just what this band are great at. From the group chants, the Rickenbacker strumming and the excellent saxaphone solo at the end, this is a great single.

I don’t know how the album was recorded but it sounds live and it sounds analogue. The drums are amazing, just enough depth and echo, and the organ flourishes are perfectly implemented, such as on ‘Friday in Paris’. This is definitely a band who know their stuff and know how they want to sound.

When they really rock out The Strange Boys sound electric but when they slow it down as they do too often towards the end, they lose a bit of steam. One acoustic interlude never goes amis on an album like this (something The Soft Pack could learn) but the final third of ‘Be Brave’ is riddled with drunken confessional type songs and the album looses momentum as a result. There is humour to the lyrics as well but that often gets lost in translation. The singer of the band has a slurry Bob Dylan type of voice that suits the type of music they play but makes the words hard to decipher. It isn’t the strongest voice in the world either and every now and then it gets annoying, as on ‘Da Da’.

‘Be Brave’ is a nice album to hear in 2010. It demonstrates just how much fun pure rock n roll can still be when done right. It’s very refreshing to have a band who don’t insist on throwing the Kitchen sink in but rather concentrate on getting the simple stuff right. That seemed to go out of  fashion a couple of years ago but The Strange Boys prove that less can be more.