Friday, 18 April 2014

The Vinyl Frontier - The Cure, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Bruce Springsteen, Kirsty MacColl, Bob Dylan

The USR music fair at the Rivermead in Reading (UK) on Friday 18th April (Good Friday) was too good to miss this year... one of six biggest UK one-day events and a huge selection of records on offer.

First up, an album I've been waiting for... the limited edition gatefold of Automatic by The Jesus And Mary Chain. By no means the band's finest work, this is the transition between the feedback-strewn gloomy shoegaze of Darklands (and the mighty Psycho Candy début before) and the brilliant Honey's Dead. Fans loved this album, while the critics hated it (Q Magazine struggled to award 2 stars) and I remember listening my cassette copy over and over until it fell apart. And it still sounds great on vinyl today, especially Blues From A Gun and UV Ray.

I've always been a big fan of The Cure but never a big collector...until recently. I keep seeing copies of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me but never The Head On The Door - an album I've been seeking for ages. Boasting one of the band's most creative collection of songs, and the brilliant singles Close To Me and In Between Days, for me this has always been the prelude to their finest work, Disintegration. On side B, A Night Like This and closer Sinking are both the sound of a band coming of age.

I'm always on the lookout for records by Bruce Springsteen and Nebraska was high on my list. A truly challenging record of sparse, dark songwriting - a stopgap between The River and Born In The USA and an album that may have never existed. Springsteen originally recorded it with the E Street Band and then decided to release the 'demo' version. The result is haunting and desolate with piercing vocals and harmonica - Springsteen's folk album, made better by the occasional crackle and blip on the record. The production and songwriting are both superb.

A rose between two thorns, Kirsty MacColl's Kite is still one of my favourite albums of the eighties and a perfect example of an artist doing their own thing in time when so many musicians weren't. This is an eclectic mix of sounds and styles including the cover Days and turns from Johnny Marr and David Gilmour, and Steve Lillywhite on production. This is filled with witty observations, sharp and poignant lyrics, all brilliantly delivered by an artist who left us well before her time.

And last, but not least...the find of the day. For as long as I can remember I have been trying to find a decent copy of Blood On The Tracks. So when I spotted a 'VG' copy for a modest price, I had to investigate. Easily the best thing Bob Dylan has ever made; an album with so much poetry, poise and power doesn't come along too often. From opener Tangled Up In Blue to the vitriolic Idiot Wind, to Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts and the mighty Shelter From The Storm, this is now one of the best in my collection. And for a record that is nearly as old as I am, it sounds wonderful.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Music Chart - March 2014

Another great month yields three new albums by three great artists: Julie Fowlis weaves her vocal magic and mystery on Gach Sgeul (Every Story), Elbow continue to charm and captivate with The Take Off And Landing Of Everything, and The War On Drugs return with Lost In The Dream - a wonderful follow-up to Slave Ambient (and another early contender for album of the year). Elsewhere St. Vincent pushes the aural boundaries, Blood Red Shoes bring the trash-noise and The Hold Steady prove they are still as intense and focused as ever.

  1. Lost In The Dream by The War On Drugs
  2. Augustines by Augustines
  3. Rave Tapes by Mogwai
  4. Morning Phase by Beck 
  5. Gach Sgeul (Every Story) by Julie Fowlis 
  6. The Gloaming by The Gloaming
  7. Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles by Suzanne Vega
  8. You Chose These Woes by Model Village
  9. Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady
  10. Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen
  11. The Take Off And Landing of Everything
  12. Word Of Mouth by Seth Lakeman 
  13. So Long, See You Tomorrow by Bombay Bicycle Club
  14. Into The Lime by New Mendicants
  15. In The Silence by Asgeir
  16. Blood Red Shoes by Blood Red Shoes
  17. Echoes by Emily Smith
  18. Croz by David Crosby
  19. Benji by Sun Kil Moon 
  20. St. Vincent by St. Vincent
  21. Cursing The Sea by September Girls
  22. High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen
  23. Songs About This And That by Karin Krog & John Surman
  24. Waking Lines by Patterns
  25. Wig Out At Jagbags by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
  26. Total Strife Forever by East India Youth
  27. Too Much Information by Maximo Park
  28. Warpaint by Warpaint
  29. Eagulls by Eagulls
  30. The Crystal Method by The Crystal Method
  31. Kid Face by Samantha Crain
  32. None The Wiser by The Rifles
  33. Oh My Sexy Lord by Marijuana Deathsquads

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Album Review 2014)





The War On Drugs has been, and will always be, a band of one... Adam Granduciel has taken his labour of love further into his own mind on third album Lost In The Dream, to explore his conciousness, his life and his emotional state. It was always going to be tough to go one better than previous album Slave Ambient, a swirling vortex of prog-rock, subtle floating soundscapes and brilliant guitar-led pop songs - all washed with Granduciel's Dylan-like vocals. So, given the inward, self-indulgent nature of The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream, a new album of material written mainly while touring, undergoing many rewrites and reworks, was never going to be as good.


But it is. Lost In The Dream is a different album than Slave Ambient, subtly different in its approach and delivery. While the previous album is big, bold and wide-eyed, Lost In The Dream is closed, introverted and personal. From opener Under The Pressure, it is clear that Granduciel wants to share his pain and anxiety of being in the spotlight and living up to expectations. At nearly nine minutes, this is the longest song on the album; it ebbs and flows with lifts and falls before the only truly weak point: instead of dropping into a quiet, ambient lull for a minute before returning with shining guitars and pounding drums for the big finish, absolutely nothing happens. A deliberate ironic statement about not following predictable convention? Possibly...but the lack of inspiration right from the start is a real surprise.

Red Eyes provides the early 'pop' song, blending ethereal synths and guitars with racing drums. The effect is not too far from Razorlight (back in their prime), Granduciel punchy and with purpose - even throwing in an over-exuberant woop before the guitars rain-down. In contrast, Suffering is light yet melancholy, slow-paced and beautifully sublime. The gorgeous piano arrangement in the second half contrasts the oddly-random guitar work. Then the album takes a more ambitious turn with the beguiling An Ocean In Between The Waves, which could be the Dire Straits song that never was; Granduciel more Knofler than Dylan while exquisite guitars and thumping drums lead to a frantic peppering of vocals in the second half.

Continuing the lighter feel of Lost In The Dream, Disappearing provides a superb centre-piece - shining like a magnificent 80s soft-rock influenced interlude between what has come and the second act. This starts with Eyes To The Wind, one of the best songs Granduciel has written - his vocals are exposed and the arrangement unwinds with a supreme elegance; the vocal delivery a nod toward former band-mate Kurt Vile. All this is blended with more guitars, drums and the most wonderful piano. What makes this so good is that Granduciel is not hiding behind a massive stadium-filling sound. This leads to the album's only return to a trick from its predecessor: the three-minutes of The Haunting Idle gives a brief Floyd-esque reprise, but without the original song, before the final trilogy...

...begins with another album highlight and superb pop song, Burning. This feels heavily Springsteen-fuelled with ever-present organ (circa Darkness On The Edge Of Town) and driving drums. And then the title track, with delicious (never-overused) harmonica, brings another moment of class to build like a lost Neil Young classic. Obvious influences aside, this is reinvention and reinterpretation of the tried and tested and not mere copycatting. To close, In Reverse is delivered as the quiet reflection after a turbulent, cathartic, and often painful journey, never overstated and fading delicately into a soft aftermath instead of unleashing the explosives. A perfect end to a near perfect-work.

Lost In The Dream is a slow-burner...it doesn't grab your attention and sweeps you along for the ride; it draws you in, further into the inner world of Adam Granduciel on each listen. He hasn't done this all on his own of course, and the 'band' play to their strengths throughout and new boy Patrick Berkery is supreme with the sticks. But the songwriting and song-craft is every bit as strong as the new standard we now expect from The War On Drugs and ultimately Adam Granduciel has opened his heart, poured out his soul, and made another brilliant album.
-- CS

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Mogwai - Usher Hall (8th March 2014)

As part of the centenary celebrations of Edinburgh's magnificent Usher Hall, bringing together contemporary and classical music, and comedy across five nights, I was drawn to the great city to see Mogwai. Not only a Scottish institution and much maligned 'cult' band, Mogwai are in the highest echelons of musical greatness, and the chance to see one of the best bands in the world was too good to pass up.

So, armed with train tickets, a guest house booking and gig tickets for the upper circle, I ventured north of the border via London for a weekend of culture and music. I took the opportunity to see Edinburgh's sights - the Castle, Palace, Royal Mile, Cathedral, Arthur's Seat and National Monument, the pubs and restaurants, and the hoards of French descended on the capital for the 6 Nations rugby. But the highlight was Saturday Night at Usher Hall, at 7pm. Waiting for the doors to open, to be escorted up the stairs and through the corridors and bars to the concert auditorium with its rows of seats looking down on the stage and stalls - the excitement quickened.

Mogwai's support for the night were two other Scottish bands: Remember Remember and The Pastels. Both did much with the limited time they had - two half hour sets flew by. It would be easy to describe Remember Remember as 'Mogwai-lite' but they bring their own personality to their music - delicate xylophone, keyboards and interesting electronic flourishes. The Pastels added vocals and a more organic depth, but kicked off with Slow Summits, a blistering 6-minute instrumental, before more typical songs from the full-on Baby Honey to the delicate Summer Rain. Both bands seemed to enjoy and relish the experience.


But it was Mogwai's night. A stage packed with amps, keyboards, a huge drum-kit and guitar stands awaited Stuart, Dominic, Martin, John and Barry, complete with 'Rave Tapes' themed lighting rig and graphics looming above. The set for the night wasn't entirely dominated by the latest album - no bad thing but there was barely room for the best of the rest - and the Mogwai back catalogue is extensive and impressive in any live environment. This was the full set:

Heard About You Last Night
Rano Pano
Helicon 1
Take Me Somewhere Nice
Master Card
I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
Deesh
Hunted By A Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan
How To Be A Werewolf
Remurdered
We're No Here
---
The Lord Is Out Of Control
Ithica 27/9
Batcat


The best of the set was the trio of Hunted By A Freak, the epic Mogwai Fear Satan (complete with fantastic explosive reboot) and the swirling guitars of How To Be A Werewolf. The mighty We're No Here completed the main set before a subdued encore climaxed with the awesome ferocious noise of Batcat. Within the venue, the sound slicing through the crowd and echoing from the rafters, reflected back into the stalls, the immense force of guitars and drums were amplified beyond belief. I could feel the music pounding in my chest as much as in my ears, even from my lofted vantage point (a brilliant view down on the stage). The loud became louder. The delicate melodies were somewhat lost in the noise at times but even the set's weaker songs were given a new dimension - most notably Master Card had a much needed lift, and the new songs sounded brilliant live. It would have great to hear more from The Hawk Is Howling...and in a set designed to showcase the new material (obviously), there was no Friend Of The Night, Auto Rock, You Don't Know Jesus or R U Still In 2 It. They were never going to create a set to please everyone.

So my first experience of Mogwai live was a unique and overwhelming experience. As we left the Usher Hall, still shaking from the acoustic-battering (both the crowd and the building), I overheard someone say they had seen Mogwai live many times but that was one of the loudest. They set out to do the venue and their kin proud, and they really did bring the noise.
-- CS

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Album Chart - February 2014

New albums this month from (among others) the stadium-bound Augustines, with their brilliant eponymous follow-up to Rise Ye Sunken Ships, the ever-wonderful Suzanne Vega - back after a reworking sabbatical with new material Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles, and the beguiling Beck who has released his most serene, sublime work of his career: Morning Phase. Elsewhere, Mary Chapin Carpenter is cinematic, Seth Lakeman is genre-redefining, and Sun Kil Moon is autobiographically challenging.

  1. Augustines by Augustines
  2. Rave Tapes by Mogwai
  3. Morning Phase by Beck
  4. The Gloaming by The Gloaming
  5. Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles by Suzanne Vega
  6. You Chose These Woes by Model Village
  7. Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen
  8. Word Of Mouth by Seth Lakeman 
  9. So Long, See You Tomorrow by Bombay Bicycle Club
  10. Into The Lime by New Mendicants
  11. In The Silence by Asgeir
  12. Croz by David Crosby
  13. Benji by Sun Kil Moon
  14. Cursing The Sea by September Girls
  15. High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen
  16. Songs About This And That by Karin Krog & John Surman
  17. Waking Lines by Patterns
  18. Wig Out At Jagbags by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
  19. Total Strife Forever by East India Youth
  20. Too Much Information by Maximo Park
  21. Warpaint by Warpaint
  22. The Crystal Method by The Crystal Method
  23. Kid Face by Samantha Crain
  24. None The Wiser by The Rifles
  25. Oh My Sexy Lord by Marijuana Deathsquads

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Suzanne Vega - Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles (Album review 2014)


Since 2007's Beauty & Crime, Suzanne Vega has revisited her own back catalogue for the 'Close-up' series - a quartet of albums sub-titled: Love Songs, People & Places, States of Being and Songs of Family. With varied results, these form an interesting and intriguing retrospective (making the 1998 and 2003 'best of' compilations largely redundant), both a celebration for fans and much needed inspiration and reflection for Vega; not to mention income and 'ownership' - to reclaim her prized work from major labels. Now, seven years since her last studio album of new material, Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles brings new life to Vega's music. The title is a reference to the Tarot card representing fertility, or impending motherhood - but also a double-meaning of youthful maturity, artistry and wisdom.

It would be difficult to suggest that the 'Close-up' work has had no effect on Suzanne Vega's approach to music. On one hand, she could have ignored her past completely and continued the thread started with the deep, painful and beautiful Songs In Red And Gray, but Vega - in collaboration with producer/musician Gerry Leonard - has injected a much needed sense of fun and adventure into her storytelling. The vocal delivery of opener Crack In The Wall may be uneasy and lack the precision of, say, Penitent, but this only forms the first half of the song, as the vibrant guitar-work shines throughout. Lyrically, this is a series of beguiling metaphors while Fool's Compliant is a good a single as Vega has produced, a punchy folk-pop lament filled with jangling guitars and a superb chorus. Some gorgeous backing vocals lift the arrangement further. In contrast, I Never Wear White is pure character, Vega inhabiting a darker soul - 'Black is the truth... of my situation, and for those of my station...' is the Gothic refrain before harsh, edgy guitars kick in. The two are conjoined for the angst-driven finish.

It is now clear that Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles is a blend of styles and substances... On Portrait of The Knight Of Wands (another Tarot card - this time referencing a man of ideas and invention, and a time of travel and progress), Vega sings delicately of a struggle and strange imagery - 'His mission, a transmission... of technology'. The final minute is an odd juxtaposition of guitars and electronic flourish to fade. Don't Uncork What You Can't Contain takes this approach to another level, with sampling meeting Eastern rhythms for a mythical tale of curiosity and misadventure. This is the most divisive song on the album, mixing different styles and sounds but ultimately failing to deliver - a rare weak drop in form. Likewise, the constant distracting hand-claps underpinning Jacob And The Angel plague an otherwise interesting song, which glides beautifully into an instrumental string-filled finale.

Further into the second half of Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles, Silver Bridge is wonderful. Simple, measured and perfectly executed. 'All those nights when you can't sleep...your heart and mind is racing. Are you standing on that bridge? Which way are you facing?', sings Vega, with wide-eyed optimism, in one of the album's best moments. Song Of The Stoic take the album into different territory, a tale of abuse, fighting control and ultimate flight, as the music meanders from acoustic folk to epic soundtrack. The second half brings in vocal experimentation, somewhere between Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and (dare to say) Mumford & Sons. The second part of this story, Laying On Of Hands / Stoic 2 is a funk-folk fuelled tribute to Mother Theresa (yes, really), an odd choice of styles with no hint of irony, before the song accelerates in a completely different direction to a soulful soup of vocals and thumping drums. Sublime. To close, Horizon (There Is A Road) is an elegant finish, even with the unexpected trumpet solo and Vega's vocal excursions (the attempt at falsetto just about works).

Suzanne Vega, as the title of this album suggests, is both an artist and a provider; a women of knowledge and wisdom. Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles is a rebirth, and has recaptured her youthful energy and enthusiasm via the process of examining her own songs through reinterpretation. She has survived the ruthless music business that made her a star and has come back fighting, smarter... and the result is new, risky, often brilliant, always compelling and above all, relevant. Much of the album is unexpected, yet familiar - not quite a reinvention (the albums 99.9F degrees and Nine Objects Of Desire are a world away from the humble New York poet beginnings) but this is certainly a reinvigoration and a chance to experiment and expand. What emerges is the most challenging and exciting Suzanne Vega album in fifteen years. And possibly one of her best.
-- CS

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Vinyl Frontier - Sugar, Carter USM and New Order

Another record fair today, this time in sunny Guildford at the wonderful (yet small and cold) Guildhall. It was the usual mix of old and new, boxes of ragged dog-eared Beatles and Rolling Stones, plenty of poor-quality Bob Dylan and Bowie, and a smattering of 'newer' music.


And for me, a real find: Sugar's Copper Blue, one of my favourite albums which kept me sane on many a bus journey to university in the early 90s. Like many records of this time, the pressing isn't perfect and slightly 'treble' heavy but in good condition. Two other albums caught my eye: 101 Damnations, the début from Carter, The Unstoppable Sex Machine - again, for an album that's 25 years old, it plays very well. This is a real angst-driven album of frustration and social-political songwriting which still sounds new and relevant today (and yes, Sheriff Fatman is forever magnificent). To complete the trio, Joe Jackson's Night and Day. I'm not a huge Joe Jackson fan but this is a great album; a deft blend of rough and smooth, paying homage to Cole Porter and New York City. Stepping Out is the undisputed classic but elsewhere there is astute observations and commentary.


I don't usually buy 12 inch singles these days but I couldn't let these go. I've always wanted a copy of New Order's Blue Monday and the FAC73 'seven and a half minute' original single (the 12" backed with The Beach) is the grandfather of all versions since ('88 and '95'). And it plays wonderfully. From the same year is Lovecats by The Cure, another brilliant song, and the 1998 re-issue 12" of Wild Wood by Paul Weller, originally released to promote the Modern Classics greatest hits, this is backed with The Sheared Wood (Portishead) remix and Science (with The Psychonauts - Lynch Mob remix). Try and find these on Spotify :)

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Album Chart - January 2014

Another new year and another new album chart. A slow start to the month has picked up in the last two weeks and three great albums from Mogwai, Model Village and The Gloaming.


  1. Rave Tapes by Mogwai
  2. The Gloaming by The Gloaming
  3. You Chose These Woes by Model Village
  4. In The Silence by Asgeir
  5. Croz by David Crosby
  6. Cursing The Sea by September Girls
  7. High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen
  8. Waking Lines by Patterns
  9. Wig Out At Jagbags by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
  10. Total Strife Forever by East India Youth
  11. Warpaint by Warpaint
  12. The Crystal Method by The Crystal Method
  13. Kid Face by Samantha Crain
  14. Oh My Sexy Lord by Marijuana Deathsquads

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Mogwai - Rave Tapes (Album Review 2014)


The musical chronology of Mogwai can be defined as three acts. The début masterpiece Mogwai Young Team with its epic triplets Like Herod, R U Still In 2 It and Mogwai Fear Satan, the difficult and inconsistent but often brilliant Come On Die Young, and the textured ground-breaking keyboard-infused Rock Action, form act one. Added to these are the band's early EPs, collectively released as EP+6. Act two is one of the best trilogies of albums by any band: Happy Songs For Happy People, Mr Beast and The Hawk Is Howling are the combined sound of a band ascending to greatness; if anyone wants to own a near-perfect example of 'post rock', they should look no further than these. This era also includes the first adventurous steps into film scoring, something Mogwai were born to do: Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is a dark, ambient and subtle soundtrack. And now, seventeen years after the band's début, Mogwai are expanding their horizons in act three: the live album Special Moves, the Earth Division EP and 'upbeat' studio album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (in spite of the harsh title this is one of Mogwai's lighter and more liberated albums, including the wonderful Music For A Forgotten Future), then another wonderful soundtrack: Les Revenants to accompany an extraordinary series of French television (The Returned in the UK) followed a slightly disappointing remix album A Wrenched Virile Lore. An impressive body of work, now complimented by Mogwai's eighth studio release, Rave Tapes.

From the opening song, Heard About You Last Night, it's clear that Rave Tapes is an electronic-infused artistic return to The Hawk Is Howling; a typical Mogwai introduction: building slowly as a soundtrack fragment before the guitars glide in, to provide the melody, then joined by strings and synthesizers. The loose, lumbering arrangement is held together with Martin Bulloch's sublime percussion. This fails to translate into momentum (in the same way as Mr Beast's Auto Rock dives into Glasgow Maga-Snake and Batcat arrives early on The Hawk Is Howling to drive the album forward), as the fuzzy production and slow-pace of Simon Ferocious makes for a subdued start. Again, the drumming is superb. It is not until the start of Remurdered that Rave Tapes shows its teeth - the dark, menacing dread of a 'bass line' and creepy atmosphere juxtaposed with fragmented drums and guitars. Three minutes in and the keyboards and drums arrive, like the soundtrack to a movie in which 8-bit machines take over the unsuspecting world. The song builds as more layers of guitars add to the threat, while the electronic threads march to the cold, calculated finale.

Hexon Bogon is a flash of brilliance; a rare two-and-a-half-minute swathe of guitars, drums and epic production before the beguiling wonder of Repelish, an uneasy mix of start-stop guitar melody and spoken word - talking of the dangers of demonic subliminal messages in rock music. Easily the most eclectic song on any Mogwai album; unique, compelling and unexpected. Master Card is back on course, a furious staccato guitar-led piece building to a messy and abrupt finish, before the magnificent Deesh provides another highlight: a gorgeous blend of guitars, drums and keyboards used to construct a melodic arrangement of hope and despair. Mogwai at their supreme best. The final trio of songs on Rave Tapes add more vocals to an otherwise, and typical, instrumental world. Blues Hour reworks Cody beautifully with added muddy guitars and stirring piano, the soft vocals creating a new instrument instead of talking centre-stage, while No Medicine For Regret is the late highlight, with its breathtaking vibrato melody washing over the dense brooding backdrop. To close, The Lord Is Out Of Control is a lazy, droning, vocoder-filled non-entity which feels like an unnecessary distraction.

It isn't clear if Rave Tapes is the end of act three or the start of act four for Mogwai. What is clear, is a return to safety as if the band need to revisit their most creative and productive period. This makes the album a predictable and unsurprising experience, which is no bad thing - when listening to the new Bob Dylan you wouldn't expect 80s electro-pop. Mogwai's signature and unique personality is all over Rave Tapes, a thoroughly enjoyable hybrid of past and present, safe yet edgy, different but the same - exactly what you would expect from a band consistently redefining their post-rock world.
- CS

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Vinyl Frontier - Crosby, Stills & Nash, Throwing Muses

My first record fair of the year (Southampton Solent University Conference Centre, Saturday 18th January), uncovered some interesting gems. First up is the début Crosby, Stills & Nash album, with gatefold sleeve featuring slightly out-of-focus photos of the band and lyric sheet, and is now the oldest vinyl recording I own (1969). It plays well on my Pro-Ject carbon, Kenwood amp and Q speakers, although the bass fights to come through and the production sounds a little fuzzy. It's a great album that hasn't aged too well in terms of song-writing but the combined vocals of CSN are without question, beautiful. Likewise, a German release of Harvest by Neil Young is equally lovely, the follow-up to the brilliant After The Goldrush and is always in its predecessor's shadow.


I am always looking out for 'cult' bands and artists from the 80s and 90s and whenever I frequent fairs and new record shops, I am instantly drawn to any boxes labelled 'punk/new wave' or 'alternative' (if there are any). One band's recently re-discovered catalogue is Throwing Muses (their album Purgatory/Paradise from late last year is a masterpiece) but I have never found any decent vinyl...until now. I wait years and two come along at once: Hunkpapa and Limbo - neither are the best Throwing Muses albums but great nonetheless, both in good condition and sound like they have hardly been played.


Three more to finish: Midnight Oil's breakthrough mid-eighties tribute/protest album Diesel and Dust (picked up at a new record shop I found on the way home from the record fair) - this has been well-played but has enough huge arrangements to hide any imperfections. The Echo & The Bunnymen singles collection Songs To Learn & Sing has plenty of great songs, although not a rarity. And lastly, the début Happy Head from The Mighty Lemon Drops - a band always second to The Teardrop Explodes for me but another great addition to my growing collection of vinyl.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes (Album review 2014)

Revisiting old material isn't always easy, but if anyone can pull it off, it's The Boss. Given that in recent years, Bruce Springsteen has lost two of his closest friends and long-serving members of The E Street Band: Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons, it's fitting that he should give them one final walk on stage (they each appear on two songs and together on one). High Hopes comprises many reworks, two covers and studio recordings of tour favourites, with the former Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello (who toured as part of The E Street Band in 2008/9) instrumental (pun intended) in bringing this album to life. His presence and skill is (almost) ever-present.

To say this doesn't feel like a proper Springsteen album would be wrong; if you didn't know High Hopes is a collection of covers, re-recordings and 'rejects', most wouldn't know or case. Obviously even a passing fan would pick up on The Ghost Of Tom Joad but as a cohesive work, it stands alone. Not all albums have a strong narrative and a central 'story' and the last few Springsteen albums (Wrecking Ball and Magic most notably) are good examples. The title track (originally from the Blood Brothers EP - and not written by Springsteen), complete with brass flashes and odd arrangement, is a solid, attention-grabbing opener, followed by The Rising cut Harry's Place, a song better than half of those that made the album. This is a running theme in the world of Bruce...as The Promise shows.

The two covers on High Hopes almost steal the album. Just Like Fire Would, originally by The Saints, is wonderfully faithful to the original but sounds very 'Springsteen', with added organ, denser guitar work and, of course, the trademark rasping vocals. And Suicide's cold, stark Dream Baby Dream is given a warmer interpretation with softer keyboards, stronger vocals and a fuller sound. A brilliant reworking. To complement this, Hunter Of Invisible Game wouldn't be out of place on the marvellous Devils & Dust, perfectly produced with delicate strings and guitars, Springsteen on top vocal form delivering his poetry. But the two stand-out moments have to be twin seven minute epics of American Skin (41 Shots), brilliantly recorded to capture the spirit of the live recording, and the legendary masterpiece The Ghost Of Tom Joad, complete with Morello's manic impossible guitars filling out the second half.

High Hopes is far from ground-breaking and not beyond criticism - after all if you are one of the most famous musicians in the world you better live up to it... and even here, Bruce Springsteen can make an album that is engaging and warm. It's not all good news as songs like the obvious Heaven's Wall, the hapless Frankie Fell In Love and the Celtic-infused This Is Your Sword drag the middle of High Hopes down but the gorgeous balladry of The Wall is another understated gem - Springsteen at his best when he just tells a story, plain and simple; especially poignant when it's a story close to your heart. The trumpet solo to finish and organ from the late Federici, are breathtaking. This album is more a labour of love than a statement of intent.
-- CS

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Sam Smith wins BBC Sound of 2014

Congratulations to 21 year old Sam Smith for winning this year's BBC 'Sound of' poll. In a longlist that was shamefully low on guitar bands and heavy on urban acts and solo artists, Smith pipped fellow dance vocalists Ella Eyre and BANKS to the top spot. Sadly, no place for the wonderful Luke Sital-Singh, but George Ezra grabbed fifth place behind the equally enigmatic Sampha. A top five of soloists.

Smith is best known for the Disclosure song Latch...an acoustic version (arguably better than the original) can be found on his Nirvana EP and is easily the best thing he's recorded. His voice is magnificent yet subjected to massive over-production (Safe With Me is particularly baffling). So, the world may be out in front of him but an album is in the waiting to test his talents.

I'm all in favour of the BBC promoting and showcasing young British talent but the absence of bands this year is a real worry. Haim won last year so I can't complain too much...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

BBC Sound of 2014 - The Longlist

The BBC Sound of 2014 Longlist has been announced and the top 5 artists will be revealed in the next couple of days.

The longlist is:
  • Banks
  • Chance The Rapper
  • Chloe Howl
  • Ella Eyre
  • FKA Twigs
  • George Ezra
  • Jungle
  • Kelela
  • Luke Sital-Singh
  • MNEK
  • Nick Mulvey
  • Royal Blood
  • Sam Smith
  • Sampha
  • Say Lou Lou
The list is heavy on solo artists with only one 'band', the duo Royal Blood. Arguably Say Lou Lou and Jungle can be tenuously added but that is about it...2014 is all about 'individuals'.

The stand-out talent in this year's fifteen is the brilliant Luke Sital-Singh with a trio of impressive EPs: Tornados, Old Flint and Fail For You. His vocals and songwriting skills from 2013 are clear to see. The gorgeous angelic soundscapes of Say Lou Lou also impress although their back catalogue is limited, while Sampha shows promise with Dual. Sam Smith is an incredible vocalist but the songs have yet to appear.




Royal Blood, George Ezra and Nick Mulvey stand-out as everyone else falls into the same category: over-produced, unemotional R&B. Banks adds a dark edge and Chloe Howl brings the ladette charm (No Strings is excellent) but it's all very uninspired this year.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Music Chart - December 2013

The end of the year is upon us and a few late entries made it into the Underwurld chart, some more recent than others. New albums from Billie Joe and Norah, Salt House, Swearin', Factory Floor, British Sea Power (again), Small Black, Martin Simpson, Public Service Broadcasting, Josephine Foster, Courtney Barnett, Burial, Toy, Disclosure, Daniel Avery, Caveman and Lisa Knapp.


So the top five albums of 2013 (from the 162 that made it into the chart) are The National, Kurt Vile, Laura Marling, Biffy Clyro and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
  1. Trouble Will Find Me by The National
  2. Wakin On A Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile 
  3. Once I Was An Eagle by Laura Marling 
  4. Opposites by Biffy Clyro 
  5. Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 
  6. Reflektor by Arcade Fire
  7. Corsicana Lemonade by White Denim
  8. Purgatory / Paradise by Throwing Muses
  9. The Ghost Of The Mountain by Tired Pony
  10. Waiting For Something To Happen by Veronica Falls
  11. Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
  12. Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails 
  13. Days Are Gone by Haim
  14. Drone Logic by Daniel Avery
  15. From The Sea To The Land Beyond by British Sea Power
  16. Kveikur by Sigur Rós 
  17. Seasons Of Your Day by Mazzy Star
  18. AM by Arctic Monkeys
  19. A Sea Of Split Peas by Courtney Barnett
  20. Innocents by Moby 
  21. Pure Heroine by Lorde
  22. Tales Of Us by Goldfrapp
  23. Inform - Educate - Entertain by Public Service Broadcasting
  24. Tomorrow's Harvest by Boards Of Canada
  25. Caveman by Caveman
  26. Rival Dealer by Burial
  27. Nepenthe by Julianna Barwick
  28. ...Like Clockwork by Queens Of The Stone Age 
  29. Sticky Wickets by The Duckworth Lewis Method 
  30. Heartthrob by Tegan And Sara
  31. Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You by Mark Mulcahy
  32. Impossible Truth by William Tyler
  33. Antiphon by Midlake
  34. The Beast In Its Tracks by Josh Ritter 
  35. Slow Focus by F Buttons 
  36. I'm A Dreamer by Josephine Foster
  37. More Light by Primal Scream
  38. Lunch. Drunk. Love. by Bowling For Soup
  39. Vagrant Stanzas by Martin Simpson
  40. The New Life by Girls Names 
  41. Regardless by Thea Gilmore
  42. Nocturnes by Little Boots
  43. Hidden Seam by Lisa Knapp
  44. Join The Dots by Toy
  45. Limits Of Desire by Small Black
  46. Join The Club by Lucy Spraggan
  47. Yes, It's True by The Polyphonic Spree
  48. Long Way Down by Tom Odell
  49. Lay Your Dark Low by Salt House
  50. Standards by Lloyd Cole 
  51. Warp & Weft by Laura Veirs
  52. Surfing Strange by Swearin'
  53. One Breath by Anna Calvi
  54. Modern Vampire Of The City by Vampire Weekend
  55. Settle by Disclosure
  56. Crown Electric by Kathryn Williams
  57. Welcome Oblivion by How To Destroy Angels
  58. Les Revenants Soundtrack by Mogwai
  59. Paramore by Paramore 
  60. Moon Tides by Pure Bathing Culture
  61. Factory Floor by Factory Floor
  62. Until The Colours Run by Lanterns On The Lake 
  63. Stars Are Our Home by Black Hearted Brother
  64. Foreverly by Billie Joe and Norah
  65. Imitations by Mark Lanegan
  66. The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles
  67. The Weight Of Your Love by Editors 
  68. MCII by Mikal Cronin 
  69. Where You Stand by Travis 
  70. Later... When The TV Turns To Static by Glasvegas 
  71. Shamrock City by Solas
  72. Let It All In by I Am Kloot
  73. The Bones Of What You Believe by CHVRCHES
  74. Bloodlines by Barbarossa
  75. Where The Heaven Are We by Swim Deep 
  76. Loud Like Love by Placebo
  77. The Sun Comes Out Tonight by Filter
  78. Spectre At The Feast by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club 
  79. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
  80. Lightning Bolt by Pearl Jam
  81. Slave Vows by The Icarus Line
  82. Palms by Palms
  83. You Belong Here by Leagues
  84. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here by Alice In Chains 
  85. Soft Will by Smith Westerns
  86. Black Pudding by Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood 
  87. Rewind The Film by Manic Street Preachers
  88. Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner 
  89. To The Happy Few by Medicine
  90. Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO by Besnard Lakes 
  91. Electric by Pet Shop Boys
  92. Howlin by Jagwar Ma 
  93. IDIOTS by The Electric Soft Parade
  94. Silence Yourself by Savages
  95. People, Hell & Angels by Jimi Hendrix
  96. Fade by Yo La Tengo
  97. Wolf's Law by The Joy Formidable
  98. The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars
  99. Vicissitude by Maps
  100. Heart Of Nowhere by Noah And The Whale 
  101. Big TV by White Lies
  102. The Graceless Age by John Murry 
  103. Elba by Laura Jansen
  104. Tales From Terra Firma by Stornoway
  105. Electric by Richard Thompson 
  106. Oblivion OST by M83
  107. AMOK by Atoms For Peace
  108. Wonderful, Glorious by Eels
  109. In A Perfect World by Kodaline
  110. Immunity by Jon Hopkins
  111. A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart by Bill Ryder-Jones
  112. Volume 3 by She & Him 
  113. Hubcap Music by Seasick Steve
  114. Wait To Pleasure by No Joy
  115. A Long Way To Fall by Ulrich Schnauss 
  116. Machineries Of Joy by British Sea Power 
  117. Flourish // Perish by Braids
  118. Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant 
  119. Performance by Outfit
  120. All The Little Lights by Passenger
  121. Tooth & Nail by Billy Bragg
  122. Sound City - Real To Real by Sound City - Real To Real
  123. Disarm The Descent by Killswitch Engage
  124. The Messenger by Johnny Marr
  125. If You Leave by Daughter
  126. Pollen by Wave Machines
  127. Sistrionix by Deap Vally
  128. Mosquito by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  129. Back Into The Woods by Ed Harcourt
  130. Clash The Truth by Beach Fossils
  131. Country Sleep by Night Beds 
  132. The Next Day by David Bowie 
  133. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action by Franz Ferdinand
  134. Rules By Passion, Destroyed By Lust by Asphodells
  135. Blood Oaths Of The New Blues by Wooden Wand
  136. Centralia by Mountains
  137. In Love by Peace
  138. Ores & Minerals by Mazes
  139. Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit 
  140. Shangri La by Jake Bugg
  141. The Invisible Way By Low
  142. Lysandre by Christopher Owens
  143. English Rain by Gabrielle Aplin
  144. Monomania by Deerhunter
  145. California X by California X
  146. Field Of Reeds by These New Puritans
  147. Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy
  148. 180 by Palma Violets
  149. News From Nowhere by Darkstar
  150. Almanac by Widowspeak 
  151. Bloodsports by Suede
  152. Graffiti On The Train by Stereophonics
  153. Wash The Sins Not Only The Face by Esben And The Witch 
  154. Comedown Machine by The Strokes
  155. The Moths Are Real by Serafina Steer
  156. {Awayland} by Villagers
  157. Out Of Touch In The Wild by Dutch Uncles
  158. Lost Sirens by New Order
  159. Girl Talk by Kate Nash
  160. Beta Love by Ra Ra Riot
  161. Early Rocking by Paul Simon
  162. Collections by Delphic

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Music Chart - November 2013

Another great month at Underwurld Towers and some real challengers to shake-up the top ten. New albums from Anna Calvi, Arcade Fire, Lorde, Black Hearted Brother, White Denim, Midlake, Boards Of Canada, Bowling For Soup, Throwing Muses, Jake Bugg and Kathryn Williams.

As expected, The National hold top spot from Kurt Vile and Laura Marling.

  1. Trouble Will Find Me by The National
  2. Wakin On A Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile 
  3. Once I Was An Eagle by Laura Marling 
  4. Opposites by Biffy Clyro 
  5. Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 
  6. Reflektor by Arcade Fire
  7. Corsicana Lemonade by White Denim
  8. Purgatory / Paradise by Throwing Muses
  9. The Ghost Of The Mountain by Tired Pony
  10. Kveikur by Sigur Rós
  11. Waiting For Something To Happen by Veronica Falls
  12. Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
  13. Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails 
  14. Nepenthe by Julianna Barwick 
  15. Seasons Of Your Day by Mazzy Star
  16. Regardless by Thea Gilmore 
  17. Innocents by Moby 
  18. Pure Heroine by Lorde
  19. Tales Of Us by Goldfrapp 
  20. Tomorrow's Harvest by Boards Of Canada
  21. Lunch. Drunk. Love. by Bowling For Soup
  22. ...Like Clockwork by Queens Of The Stone Age 
  23. Sticky Wickets by The Duckworth Lewis Method
  24. Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You by Mark Mulcahy
  25. Impossible Truth by William Tyler
  26. Antiphon by Midlake
  27. The Beast In Its Tracks by Josh Ritter 
  28. Slow Focus by F Buttons 
  29. Days Are Gone by Haim
  30. AM by Arctic Monkeys
  31. The New Life by Girls Names
  32. Nocturnes by Little Boots
  33. Heartthrob by Tegan And Sara
  34. Join The Club by Lucy Spraggan
  35. Yes, It's True by The Polyphonic Spree
  36. Long Way Down by Tom Odell
  37. Standards by Lloyd Cole 
  38. Warp & Weft by Laura Veirs
  39. One Breath by Anna Calvi
  40. Modern Vampire Of The City by Vampire Weekend
  41. Crown Electric by Kathryn Williams
  42. Welcome Oblivion by How To Destroy Angels
  43. Les Revenants Soundtrack by Mogwai
  44. Moon Tides by Pure Bathing Culture
  45. More Light by Primal Scream
  46. Until The Colours Run by Lanterns On The Lake 
  47. Stars Are Our Home by Black Hearted Brother
  48. Imitations by Mark Lanegan
  49. The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles
  50. The Weight Of Your Love by Editors 
  51. MCII by Mikal Cronin 
  52. Where You Stand by Travis 
  53. Later... When The TV Turns To Static by Glasvegas 
  54. Shamrock City by Solas
  55. Let It All In by I Am Kloot
  56. The Bones Of What You Believe by CHVRCHES
  57. Bloodlines by Barbarossa
  58. Where The Heaven Are We by Swim Deep 
  59. Loud Like Love by Placebo
  60. The Sun Comes Out Tonight by Filter
  61. Spectre At The Feast by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club 
  62. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
  63. Lightning Bolt by Pearl Jam
  64. Slave Vows by The Icarus Line
  65. Palms by Palms
  66. You Belong Here by Leagues
  67. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here by Alice In Chains 
  68. Soft Will by Smith Westerns
  69. Black Pudding by Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood 
  70. Rewind The Film by Manic Street Preachers
  71. Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner 
  72. To The Happy Few by Medicine
  73. Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO by Besnard Lakes 
  74. Electric by Pet Shop Boys
  75. Howlin by Jagwar Ma 
  76. IDIOTS by The Electric Soft Parade
  77. Silence Yourself by Savages
  78. People, Hell & Angels by Jimi Hendrix
  79. Fade by Yo La Tengo
  80. Wolf's Law by The Joy Formidable
  81. The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars
  82. Vicissitude by Maps
  83. Heart Of Nowhere by Noah And The Whale 
  84. Big TV by White Lies
  85. The Graceless Age by John Murry 
  86. Elba by Laura Jansen
  87. Paramore by Paramore
  88. Tales From Terra Firma by Stornoway
  89. Electric by Richard Thompson 
  90. Oblivion OST by M83
  91. AMOK by Atoms For Peace
  92. Wonderful, Glorious by Eels
  93. In A Perfect World by Kodaline
  94. Immunity by Jon Hopkins
  95. A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart by Bill Ryder-Jones
  96. Volume 3 by She & Him 
  97. Hubcap Music by Seasick Steve
  98. Wait To Pleasure by No Joy
  99. A Long Way To Fall by Ulrich Schnauss 
  100. Machineries Of Joy by British Sea Power 
  101. Flourish // Perish by Braids
  102. Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant 
  103. Performance by Outfit
  104. All The Little Lights by Passenger
  105. Tooth & Nail by Billy Bragg
  106. Sound City - Real To Real by Sound City - Real To Real
  107. Disarm The Descent by Killswitch Engage
  108. The Messenger by Johnny Marr
  109. If You Leave by Daughter
  110. Pollen by Wave Machines
  111. Sistrionix by Deap Vally
  112. Mosquito by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  113. Back Into The Woods by Ed Harcourt
  114. Clash The Truth by Beach Fossils
  115. Country Sleep by Night Beds 
  116. The Next Day by David Bowie 
  117. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action by Franz Ferdinand
  118. Rules By Passion, Destroyed By Lust by Asphodells
  119. Blood Oaths Of The New Blues by Wooden Wand
  120. Centralia by Mountains
  121. In Love by Peace
  122. Ores & Minerals by Mazes
  123. Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit 
  124. Shangri La by Jake Bugg
  125. The Invisible Way By Low
  126. Lysandre by Christopher Owens
  127. English Rain by Gabrielle Aplin
  128. Monomania by Deerhunter
  129. California X by California X
  130. Field Of Reeds by These New Puritans
  131. Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy
  132. 180 by Palma Violets
  133. News From Nowhere by Darkstar
  134. Almanac by Widowspeak 
  135. Bloodsports by Suede
  136. Graffiti On The Train by Stereophonics
  137. Wash The Sins Not Only The Face by Esben And The Witch 
  138. Comedown Machine by The Strokes
  139. The Moths Are Real by Serafina Steer
  140. {Awayland} by Villagers
  141. Out Of Touch In The Wild by Dutch Uncles
  142. Lost Sirens by New Order
  143. Girl Talk by Kate Nash
  144. Beta Love by Ra Ra Riot
  145. Early Rocking by Paul Simon
  146. Collections by Delphic

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise (Album Review 2013)


Throwing Muses, now officially a three-piece of Kristin Hersh, Bernard Georges and David Narcizo, seem to have broken-up and reformed more times than most, but this could not be further from the truth. The band reformed ten years ago after disbanding in 1997, when Hersh went solo (her début Hips And Makers is astonishing and always reveals something new on repeat listens), but Throwing Muses has always been 'her' band and her passion. The early nineties began with the last album to feature Tanya Donelly, The Real Ramona - easily one of the best Throwing Muses albums, before Red Heaven and University complete the impressive trilogy. Since then, music has been sparse and uneven. It's been ten years without material and the release of 2003's eponymous album (released to coincide with the Hersh's more interesting solo album The Grotto) and reuniting with Donelly got fans hoping for a full reformation. Hersh has continued her solo work but has now returned to Georges and Narcizo to make Purgatory/Paradise.

Purgatory/Paradise is twenty-four songs, eight in two parts and scattered (seemingly) randomly across the album in thirty-two fractured pieces. This lack of 'album structure' and apparent chaotic nature of the song order is frustrating but this creates a quirky charm as familiar reprises and sounds re-emerge at different points, throughout over an hour of music. The songs are dark and atmospheric, moody and thoughtful with highs and lows, and ebbs and flows. What else from such a unique and compelling band lead by a singer who feels that she doesn't write music and lyrics, she channels them from some higher power. This isn't ego-tripping so much as an inability to accept her genius. And to complement this, Purgatory/Paradise is both unique and compelling, and quite brilliant.

The early highlight is the superb guitars and vocals of Sunray Venus. Hersh is magnificent, as she reveals the land 'where no-one remembers to pray', as are the guitars to finish. Opiates, with rushing verses, then slower, repeated refrain: 'that's no way to bring a body down', is either a stark warning or a guide to cold turkey; the acoustic guitars and drums magnificent throughout. And a good example of a Throwing Muses pop song, Freesia, has more great guitar-work, while Lazy Eye is more riff than content with raw emotional vocals from Hersh. But the best of the 'complete' songs is the powerful Slippershell - Hersh sings 'Hard to say it's hard luck, when you're so happy. Hard to say it's hard luck, when we had it coming...'. Then Milan blends more of the same, but building to a delicate finish.

Within these highlights are eclectic shards, like pieces of a stained-glass window smashed across a stone floor. Film is all big vocals and piano, Hersh sneering. Triangle Quanitico is piano-led 'jazz', Bluff is a slow piano ballad with Hersh's fragile vocals, and Walking Talking is the start of a much longer song that fades before it starts. Terra Nova adds strings and beautiful vocals, and Hersh asks: 'what kind of loser chooses a swan-dive over a swansong?'. Static brings together multi-vocals and guitars while Speedbath starts like the middle of a 35 minute Neil Young and Crazy Horse solo, with dark and muddy guitars, and a slow fade.

And of the split songs, Morning Birds is a fuzzy guitar break from start, crashing drums and cymbals, layers of circular vocals form the intro and then a fragile start-stop vocal melody. Part 2 continues, more robust and structured. Dripping Trees is gorgeous vocals/harmonies and guitar work, in two parts, and the chaos of Blurry mixes wonderful guitar work, obscure provocative lyrics to a multi-vocal ending, and part 2 continues with lighter guitars but louder voice. Smoky Hands starts with delicate guitars, then lazy drums, while part 2 adds a short guitar solo. And with Sleepwalking, part 1 (appearing near the end of the album, after part 2) is hard, fuzzy guitars and harsh vocals, yet part 2 (the third track) is completely different.

Purgatory/Paradise is a reminder that Throwing Muses are still here, with very nearly a perfect return. It's a challenging listen; just as you get hold of a song, it drifts away or ends abruptly to move on to the next idea. The effect is like a dream within a dream in which the dreamer is switching channels constantly and even within the same songs, the arrangements start and stop, head in a different direction, or do something unexpected. This is strange, even by Throwing Muses standards, but it works beautifully as an idea and a collection of songs. And the stand-out 'complete' songs emerge magnificently from within. Purgatory/Paradise is frustratingly fragmented, brilliantly beguiling and weirdly wonderful.
-- CS

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Bowling For Soup - 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' (Album Review 2013)


Inspiration is a funny thing. It can arrive in many forms and when you least or most expect. But sometimes it comes to you. Bowling For Soup decided that new album 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' should be fan-funded using the music promotion website pledgemusic.com. Whatever you think about the state of the music industry and if bands should be 'taking the power back' and going it 'alone', and whether well-established bands should be using such projects as pledgemusic, this has obviously worked for the mighty BFS. With promises of backstage passes, handwritten thank you cards, autographs, Skype sessions, and house concerts - all at a price of course, BFS launched the 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' campaign. But the headlines of shameless self-promotion and money-making are obfuscating the true nature of this project. The band's intention was that fans would be involved in the album-making process, being with the band for the journey; revealing new songs, artwork and video shoots to get immediate feedback from those who pledged, with 5% of all pledges going to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

It took ten days for BFS to reach their goal (not surprisingly they were halfway within 24 hours) and 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.', the band's twelfth album, was underway. And the 'inspiration' seems to have worked. Since the early 2000s and the brilliant Drunk Enough To Dance and A Hangover You Don't Deserve, BFS have been in something of a rut musically. Previous album Fishin' For Woos is the band going through the motions but without the sharp wit and pop punches - all the ingredients are there but the recipe is bland and uninteresting. Sorry For Partyin' is better, but horribly inconsistent, with wonderful songs mixed with flat fillers, while The Great Burrito Extortion Case is one of BFS's worst albums. So, what about 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.'? Does it live up to the hype, the pledges and the power of independent music-making?

As expected, 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is a blend of what BFS do best... Songs of personal friendships, love and relationships, break-ups, make-ups, drinking and fighting. As the Texan quartet of Jaret Reddick, Chris Burney, Erik Chandler and Gary Wiseman grow older, their music has become more reflective - even if some of it tries to hold onto the impetuous attitude of youth, with limited success. In recent albums, this balance hasn't worked but 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' proves BFS can find it. Opener Critically Disdained is heightened self-criticism, with an acoustic start before Burney's guitar kicks in for an attention-grabbing introduction. Since We Broke Up is the early punk-pop anthem, deftly punchy and melodic, with Reddick recounting the aftermath, then building to an explosive vocal. To complete a great trio, the 80s soft-rock of Real is another highlight.

From The Rooftops is a wonderful departure from the formula - an open-hearted celebration of love with a stadium-esque gloss, but the huge surprise is Circle, the Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians cover from the magnificent Shooting Rubber Bands At The Stars album. Reddick and the band treat this with the upmost respect and the delivery is poignant and note-perfect, highlighting the beautiful bitter-sweet song-writing. Reddick even resists the temptation to mimic Brickell's oddly upbeat ending, instead bringing the song to an abrupt powerful end. Then back to the formula for the name-dropping Normal Chicks, rewinding the clock somewhat but with added social commentary. Reddick attempts to rhyme 'Scarlett Johansson' with 'Romancin'. Enough said.

Into the second half and 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' struggles to maintain the momentum of the first but brings it together for a strong finish. I Am Waking Up Today owes much to Green Day's Minority, a blistering blast of shouty rock while Couple Of Days is middle-of-the-road and forgettable. In contrast, And I Think You Like Me Too is light-airy pop; comic storytelling with a perfect cheesy arrangement. Showing that BFS can switch between styles and moods in an instant, Envy brings back the rock but again, it adds nothing new to the party. One thing BFS do well is the big ballad and How Far This Can Go is a welcome addition, showing yet another side to the band, before Right About Now - a delicious slice of punk-pop. Closing song Kevin Weaver is another surprise, starting as a solo biographic performance from Reddick arranged as three parts in the form of three letters to the family, before the rest of the band join for the heavier ending.

'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is a fan-fuelled return to form for Bowling For Soup. The band sound back to their best, as if the last ten years never happened. Providing the album as both clean and explicit is also respecting the fans who made the album happen (and in most cases, the clean versions work better - Right About Now is the noticeable exception - putting more emphasis on smart humour without the shock factor). While 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is not the best BFS album, it is far from the worst. The new approach (to the band) has given them a much needed lift and again the quartet sound energised, motivated and fun.
-- CS

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Arcade Fire - Reflektor (Album Review 2013)


Sometimes even the coolest bands on the planet take risks. Canadian indie multi-instrumentalist sextet Arcade Fire already have an impressive award-winning trilogy of albums, taking the journey from death and family (Funeral), through dark oppression and doubt (Neon Bible), to tales of social angst and community (The Suburbs). The follow-up Reflektor continues this momentum. What began as a short collection of songs (believe it or not) has become a 75 minute double album of ambitious self-indulgent electronica-infused bombastic brilliance. Almost.

From the opening title track, it is clear that Reflektor is the ubiquitous 'new direction'. James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) adds his skills as co-producer, and his vital presence is elsewhere, most evidently here. This is smooth indie-disco with Win Butler and Régine Chassagne sharing vocal duties (Chassagne in French and English), a wild juxtaposition of quiet verses and explosive chorus, with electronic flourishes building to a muddy mesh of sounds and vocals to the halfway point. The affect is startling with brass, guitars and ever-present 'Murphy' drums; then David Bowie appears on vocals for a cameo. Then the final few minutes, builds to an equally evocative climax. We Exist, while not as stylised as the title track, uses many of the same elements with added Butler intensity and drive.

The dark, mysterious Flashbulb Eyes echoes Primal Scream's Swastika Eyes, while the Rara infused Here Comes The Night Time glides into an explosive section featuring a plethora of sounds and rhythms, vocals and drums, before settling for a sedate ending. In contrast, Normal Person fuses piercing guitars with fuzzy bass and pounding drums, before an unexpected choral finale. This is Arcade Fire's statement of identity: 'If that's what's normal, I don't want to know', then 'I've never really ever met a normal person... like you...how do you do?'. Explosive and brilliant songwriting. The first moment of weakness arrives with You Already Know. Absurdly framed with ego-boosting Jonathan Ross samples, this is staple upbeat sweet and sour Arcade Fire. Likewise, Joan Of Arc stumbles into a well-intentioned but clumsy pop song, with more Chassagne and an odd, disjointed arrangement.

Part II brings the second part of Here Comes The Night Time, and a calmer feel to the album,  continuing with the enchanting pair of Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) and It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus) - check your Greek mythology for more information. The former has a beguiling arrangement, melodic with gorgeous backing vocals, acoustic guitars and choral outro. The latter is built from harsher guitars and drums, with an electronic skeleton and punchy vocals, like a song in negative - soft, quiet choruses and big, brash verses. This is Arcade Fire at their most adventurous. And with 23 minutes to go, the final trio fails to disappoint. Porno is dark and menacing, tinged with stark cold keyboards and sharp strings. Butler delivers a superb vocal, all range and strength and the ending is a magnificent transformation from the song's beginnings. Afterlife is also impressive, with driving drums, obscure backing vocals and pulsing keyboards, with the vocals blending to create new instruments and sounds. And closer Supersymmetry belies its 11 minute running time as a subtle, soft, delicate ballad with a five minute ambient, barely audible, outro. Right at the end of the album this feels like a missed opportunity to fill the album with a massive stadium-rocking finale.

Reflektor isn't so much a risk, as a calculated and inspired move to embrace something different. And not one of those albums that is easy to 'get' immediately but its main strength is Arcade Fire managing to retain a unique, compelling identity within a musical shift - something many have achieved with considerable success, most notably U2 with Achtung Baby. While the songs here are quite different, and do not always deliver, the similarities and results are apparent. Naturally, reviews will describe Reflektor as brave and audacious (which will earn some empathy) or that it's just previous albums given the electronic treatment. It is neither. This is planned and focused, the sound of order within chaos, stylish and crafted. Reflektor is the sound of Arcade Fire remaining both cool and ambitious.
-- CS

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Music Chart - October 2013

New albums this month from CHVRCHES, Mazzy Star, Placebo, Haim, Moby, Lanterns On The Lake, Pearl Jam and Lucy Spraggan.

  1. Trouble Will Find Me by The National
  2. Wakin On A Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile 
  3. Once I Was An Eagle by Laura Marling 
  4. Nepenthe by Julianna Barwick
  5. Opposites by Biffy Clyro 
  6. Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 
  7. The Ghost Of The Mountain by Tired Pony
  8. Kveikur by Sigur Rós
  9. Waiting For Something To Happen by Veronica Falls
  10. Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
  11. Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails 
  12. Seasons Of Your Day by Mazzy Star
  13. Regardless by Thea Gilmore 
  14. Innocents by Moby
  15. Tales Of Us by Goldfrapp
  16. ...Like Clockwork by Queens Of The Stone Age 
  17. Sticky Wickets by The Duckworth Lewis Method
  18. Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You by Mark Mulcahy
  19. Impossible Truth by William Tyler
  20. The Beast In Its Tracks by Josh Ritter 
  21. Slow Focus by F Buttons 
  22. Days Are Gone by Haim
  23. AM by Arctic Monkeys
  24. The New Life by Girls Names
  25. Nocturnes by Little Boots
  26. Heartthrob by Tegan And Sara
  27. Join The Club by Lucy Spraggan
  28. Yes, It's True by The Polyphonic Spree
  29. Long Way Down by Tom Odell
  30. Standards by Lloyd Cole 
  31. Warp & Weft by Laura Veirs 
  32. Later... When The TV Turns To Static by Glasvegas
  33. Welcome Oblivion by How To Destroy Angels
  34. Les Revenants Soundtrack by Mogwai
  35. Moon Tides by Pure Bathing Culture
  36. More Light by Primal Scream
  37. Until The Colours Run by Lanterns On The Lake
  38. Imitations by Mark Lanegan
  39. The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles
  40. The Weight Of Your Love by Editors 
  41. MCII by Mikal Cronin 
  42. Where You Stand by Travis
  43. Shamrock City by Solas
  44. Let It All In by I Am Kloot
  45. The Bones Of What You Believe by CHVRCHES
  46. Bloodlines by Barbarossa
  47. Where The Heaven Are We by Swim Deep 
  48. Loud Like Love by Placebo
  49. The Sun Comes Out Tonight by Filter
  50. Spectre At The Feast by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club 
  51. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
  52. Lightning Bolt by Pearl Jam
  53. Slave Vows by The Icarus Line
  54. Palms by Palms
  55. You Belong Here by Leagues
  56. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here by Alice In Chains 
  57. Soft Will by Smith Westerns
  58. Black Pudding by Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood 
  59. Modern Vampire Of The City by Vampire Weekend
  60. Rewind The Film by Manic Street Preachers
  61. Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner 
  62. To The Happy Few by Medicine
  63. Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO by Besnard Lakes 
  64. Electric by Pet Shop Boys
  65. Howlin by Jagwar Ma 
  66. IDIOTS by The Electric Soft Parade
  67. Silence Yourself by Savages
  68. People, Hell & Angels by Jimi Hendrix
  69. Fade by Yo La Tengo
  70. Wolf's Law by The Joy Formidable
  71. The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars
  72. Vicissitude by Maps
  73. Heart Of Nowhere by Noah And The Whale 
  74. Big TV by White Lies
  75. The Graceless Age by John Murry 
  76. Elba by Laura Jansen
  77. Paramore by Paramore
  78. Tales From Terra Firma by Stornoway
  79. Electric by Richard Thompson 
  80. Oblivion OST by M83
  81. AMOK by Atoms For Peace
  82. Wonderful, Glorious by Eels
  83. In A Perfect World by Kodaline
  84. Immunity by Jon Hopkins
  85. A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart by Bill Ryder-Jones
  86. Volume 3 by She & Him 
  87. Hubcap Music by Seasick Steve
  88. Wait To Pleasure by No Joy
  89. A Long Way To Fall by Ulrich Schnauss 
  90. Machineries Of Joy by British Sea Power 
  91. Flourish // Perish by Braids
  92. Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant 
  93. Performance by Outfit
  94. All The Little Lights by Passenger
  95. Tooth & Nail by Billy Bragg
  96. Sound City - Real To Real by Sound City - Real To Real
  97. Disarm The Descent by Killswitch Engage
  98. The Messenger by Johnny Marr
  99. If You Leave by Daughter
  100. Pollen by Wave Machines
  101. Sistrionix by Deap Vally
  102. Mosquito by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  103. Back Into The Woods by Ed Harcourt
  104. Clash The Truth by Beach Fossils
  105. Country Sleep by Night Beds 
  106. The Next Day by David Bowie 
  107. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action by Franz Ferdinand
  108. Rules By Passion, Destroyed By Lust by Asphodells
  109. Blood Oaths Of The New Blues by Wooden Wand
  110. Centralia by Mountains
  111. In Love by Peace
  112. Ores & Minerals by Mazes
  113. Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit 
  114. The Invisible Way By Low
  115. Lysandre by Christopher Owens
  116. English Rain by Gabrielle Aplin
  117. Monomania by Deerhunter
  118. California X by California X
  119. Field Of Reeds by These New Puritans
  120. Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy
  121. 180 by Palma Violets
  122. News From Nowhere by Darkstar
  123. Almanac by Widowspeak 
  124. Bloodsports by Suede
  125. Graffiti On The Train by Stereophonics
  126. Wash The Sins Not Only The Face by Esben And The Witch 
  127. Comedown Machine by The Strokes
  128. The Moths Are Real by Serafina Steer
  129. {Awayland} by Villagers
  130. Out Of Touch In The Wild by Dutch Uncles
  131. Lost Sirens by New Order
  132. Girl Talk by Kate Nash
  133. Beta Love by Ra Ra Riot
  134. Early Rocking by Paul Simon
  135. Collections by Delphic

Sunday, 27 October 2013