Thursday, 31 December 2009

Songs of 2009

Behold! The top 50 songs of the year, taken from albums featuring on Underwurld Music, in order of greatness.
  1. Daniel - Bat For Lashes
  2. Little Lion Man - Mumford & Sons
  3. Cornerstone - Arctic Monkeys
  4. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  5. Death - White Lies
  6. Treat Me Like Your Mother - The Dead Weather
  7. Amongst The Waves - Pearl Jam
  8. United States of Eurasia - Muse
  9. Sugarcoat - Jason Ward
  10. Our Most Brilliant Friends - Slow Club
  11. New Fang - Them Crooked Vultures
  12. Hysteric - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  13. Weighty Ghost - Wintersleep
  14. Keep It All - Lisa Hannigan
  15. Meddle - Little Boots
  16. I Gotchoo - Bowling For Soup
  17. You Are The Blood - Sufjan Stevens
  18. Turn It Off - Paramore
  19. Lua - Conor Oberst & Gillian Welch
  20. Know Your Enemy - Green Day
  21. I Don’t Know - Lisa Hannigan
  22. The Depression Suite - The Tragically Hip
  23. The Dark House - Lunic
  24. It’ll Be Dark - Grassmarket
  25. I Cut Like a Buffalo - The Dead Weather
  26. Sweet Heart Of The Rodeo - Dawn Landes
  27. The Lou Reed Song - David Cronenburg’s Wife
  28. Scream - Chris Cornell & Timbaland
  29. Love Is A First - The Tragically Hip
  30. Thea Gilmore’s Midwinter Toast - Thea Gilmore
  31. Unfinished Business - White Lies
  32. For What It’s Worth - Placebo
  33. Gunman - Them Crooked Vultures
  34. Atman - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
  35. Unthought Known - Pearl Jam
  36. MK Ultra - Muse
  37. Wait For Me - Moby
  38. A Looking In View - Alice In Chains
  39. Country Day - The Tragically Hip
  40. We’re From America - Marilyn Manson
  41. Idle Blood - Katatonia
  42. Happiness - Jonsi & Alex
  43. Oh My God - Ida Maria
  44. Already Done - Blind Boris
  45. Your Decision - Alice In Chains
  46. London Girl - The Invisible
  47. Ocean And A Rock - Lisa Hannigan
  48. Remedy - Little Boots
  49. Underdog - Kasabian
  50. VCR - The XX

2009 Music Chart - December

A couple of new albums this month but not enough to get to the round 50. I blame some slacking in the last few months (me not the music!). So good albums from The XX and The Invisible.

So Them Crooked Vultures and The Dead Weather hold the top 2 spots. Two albums from two 'supergroups'. And congratulations to Jet for holding the wooden spoon since the day the album was released.
  1. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
  2. Horehound - The Dead Weather
  3. Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons
  4. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
  5. To Lose My Life - White Lies
  6. Welcome To The Night Sky - Wintersleep
  7. Backspacer - Pearl Jam
  8. 11:11 - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
  9. The Resistance - Muse
  10. Wait For Me - Moby
  11. We Are The Same - The Tragically Hip
  12. Black Gives Way To Blue - Alice In Chains
  13. Yeah So - Slow Club
  14. Strange Communion - Thea Gilmore
  15. Almighty Row - Jason Ward
  16. Sorry For Partyin' - Bowling For Soup
  17. Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn Landes
  18. Port City - Grassmarket
  19. Scream - Chris Cornell
  20. Humbug - Arctic Monkeys
  21. Sea Sew - Lisa Hannigan
  22. XX - The XX
  23. Blind Boris - Blind Boris
  24. Battle For The Sun - Placebo
  25. Brand New Eyes - Paramore
  26. Hands - Little Boots
  27. Crazy Love - Michael Bublé
  28. Dark Was The Night - Various
  29. Alpinisms - The School Of Seven Bells
  30. It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  31. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
  32. The Invisible - The Invisible
  33. The High End Of Low - Marilyn Manson
  34. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
  35. Fork In The Road - Neil Young
  36. Not Without A Fight - New Found Glory
  37. Night Is The New Day - Katatonia
  38. Hypnagogues - David Cronenburg's Wife
  39. Riceboy Sleeps - Jónsi and Alex
  40. Fortress 'Round My Heart - Ida Maria
  41. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  42. We're All In This Together - Gabby Young And Other Animals
  43. A Fool In Love - Florence Rawlings
  44. Out Of Ashes - Dead By Sunrise
  45. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian
  46. Lovethief - Lunic
  47. Hey Everyone - Dananananaykroyd
  48. The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
  49. Rockwell - Anni Rossi
  50. Shaka Rock - Jet

Monday, 28 December 2009

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir Update (December 2009)

Another Christmas song this month (well it is December!) called St. Wenceslas, or possibly Dancing With St. Wenceslas - Thea hasn't decided yet.

The song is a reflective quiet acoustic number which would have fitted into Strange Communion alongside the more serious songs. "Everybody wants to burn their heart out in the back of a car. Everybody wants to punch the stars out. I just want to punch too far...", sings Thea before the glorious falsetto chorus.

This is one of the best songs from Thea this year and I'm not sure why it wasn't on Strange Communion. SC has been a real injection of creativity. Long may it continue.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Vic Chesnutt RIP

So sad to hear about the death of Vic Chesnutt. The Jacksonville born singer became an important part of the Athens, Georgia music scene and a huge inspiration for Michael Stipe who produced Vic's first two solo albums.

I must admit I was never a huge Vic Chesnutt fan. But I discovered him through my love of REM and quickly got the albums About To Choke and Is The Actor Happy? and I was instantly hooked by Vic's unique fragile delivery, beautiful and dark songwriting and his strength of character. Later it was Silver Lake and the wonderful Ghetto Bells.

People talk all the time about 'facing adversity' but after a car crash at 18 left him wheelchair bound, just as his career was starting, he fought on. An amazing man. Sadly an overdose left him in a coma from which he did not wake.

Kristin Hersh is leading the tributes. Read her moving reaction here.

RIP Vic.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Thea Gilmore - Strange Communion Album Review (2009)

The dreaded Christmas album. Always risky. Never cool. Even the best barely get away with it once or never try it at all. But there is much to admire for musicians who celebrate the Christmas season, however flimsily veiled it may be as a collection of ‘winter’ songs or just a bit of ironic fun. There is a third option, however. Religion is a tricky subject but not when it’s Christmas; usually an excuse for blatant faith-driven rock and spiritual crooning. It’s accepted. And it’s even better with a slightly sceptical slant; questioning not embracing, pointing a finger at revelry with excess and without thought. There is even more to admire when someone puts pen to paper, gathers inspiration, and actually makes some new Christmas music. The genre is so saturated with cover versions that most simply recycle, very rarely creating anything new and interesting. Not so here. Seven out of the ten songs are original compositions.

Strange Communion is a well-judged juxtaposition of old and new, traditional and modern. There is light and dark (as you would expect from a Thea Gilmore album there is a little more darkness than light), serious when it needs to be and soaked in irony when the mood changes. Throughout the ten song duration, Gilmore asks more questions than gives us answers which always adds to the beguiling and compelling nature of her music. Certainly Strange Communion grabs your attention from the start. Sol Invictus (meaning ‘unconquered sun’ and referring to the Roman God whose festival is tied to the date of December 25th) is a cappella choral poetry aided superbly by the Sense of Sound Choir delivering mystical vocals. It is an atmospheric, beautiful and subdued start.

Thea Gilmore's Midwinter Toast is several songs in one. Exquisite song writing and delicate guitars centred around the lyrics: "It's been a crazy year, But through all the damage done, I have turned and I have learned, To make next year a better one". Gilmore could be speaking personally, metaphorically or about the world in general. After a poignant instrumental break, she goes on to say: "This won't be hearts and flowers, More like tears and sweat and blood. And I could bend these words for hours, Til they sound the way they should, And some will lose and some will win, That's the way it's always been…". This has overtones of conflict and injustice on a massive scale, a very clever protest song about politicians misleading the country and creating war where it doesn’t exist. Jona Lewie would be so proud. When joined by the strings, the song becomes a gorgeous airy arrangement filled with harmonies.

That’ll Be Christmas has all the makings of a great Christmas song. Name-dropping the aforementioned Jona Lewie in the first line, this is a light-hearted tale of spending time with the family, meeting up in the pub, predictable telly and sad memories. “So I’ll join the others in the bar by ten, Peace and Goodwill to men, Me missing you again…” is a great up then down chorus. Gilmore shows her skill at changing the mood in a way only Mark Everett can match: “Hot wine and a Christmas tree, The Sound Of Music and family, Faith hope and gluttony” is another killer line, summing up the uncomfortable hypocrisy of it all. Musically it fuses obvious clichés into a new originality.

The best song writing on the album arrives with Drunken Angel, open honest and heartfelt, it never hides beneath metaphor and subterfuge. This is another end-of-year song, reflective and brimming with nostalgia; and the culmination of all things alcoholic - a constant running theme across the album in which toasts are offered, glasses are raised and wine and whisky flows. The final line: “Baby sometimes the beauty in this world comes from just not knowing, feeling instead” proves yet again that Gilmore is a superb lyricist. This is quickly followed by the best of the two covers: The St Stephens Day Murders, written by Elvis Costello and featuring the vocal talents of Mark Radcliffe, is an immediate injection of energy from the piercing strings, through to the Shane MacGowen delivery. It feels like an attempt to revisit the superb Fairytale Of New York and works thanks to Radcliffe’s enthusiasm, even if his voice is not the best. Completing a strong trio, December In New York is stern, serious and deliberate. The cold piano and icicle strings compliment Gilmore’s voice perfectly. This would not be out of place on Burning Dorothy.

This solid core of songs is complimented by some interesting interludes. Cold Coming is dark, with an underlying brooding menace. This is the unofficial title track. The combination of cello, violin and viola is superb. The Yoko Ono cover Listen, The Snow Is Falling is faithful to the original with thin breathy vocals, and a brave key at times for Gilmore’s lower voice. The problem is the laboured arrangement. Likewise Book of Christmas is an odd choice; a reading from Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice that would work much better as a simple naked monologue. Instead there is a strange musical accompaniment that gives the whole piece a quirky tongue-in-cheek slant. This takes away from what is an otherwise clever, if cynical, take on the subject. The final song Old December closes the album as subtly as it began, simple guitars revealing a vocal melody and open spaces for instrumentation including the much underused recorder.

Strange Communion is not going to shake up the world of Christmas music. And it was never going to be another Avalanche. But Thea Gilmore could have opted for the easy way. Root out some obscure and much neglected Christmas songs, include a few twists on some modern day classics and wrap the whole thing up in a folky pop sound. A kind of Loft Music for Christmas. The fact that this hasn’t happened is praise enough. It is clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into making Strange Communion something unique and personal and not just a soulless collection of reworked covers. Great input as always from Nigel Stonier and a host of other talented musicians ensure that this is another album worthy of the name Thea Gilmore.

Merry Christmas.
-- CS

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BBC Sound of 2010 Longlist

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I haven't heard of a single artist on the BBC 'Sound of' longlist. That's probably not good. I will endeavour to find out more about them.

See the list here.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Rage Against The Machine campaign for Christmas No. 1?

Has it come to this? Seriously?

A RATM Facebook group is urging fans to buy the band's Killing In The Name on the day the X-Factor winner's single is available.

Honest attempt by fans to bedunk the Cowell corporate machine? Or just trying to get a radio-unfriendly song to number one for Christmas?

It seems like the band are not behind this but they will profit from download sales. RATM certainly wouldn't agree with this fight fire with fire approach.

Read all about it on the NME website.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Music Chart 2009 - November

Into the last month and heading towards the top fifty, we have a real gem this month: Them Crooked Vultures, plus the Christmas album Strange Communion from Thea Gilmore. Also a welcome return for Sweden's finest Katatonia.
  1. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
  2. Horehound - The Dead Weather
  3. Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons
  4. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
  5. To Lose My Life - White Lies
  6. Welcome To The Night Sky - Wintersleep
  7. Backspacer - Pearl Jam
  8. 11:11 - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
  9. The Resistance - Muse
  10. Wait For Me - Moby
  11. We Are The Same - The Tragically Hip
  12. Black Gives Way To Blue - Alice In Chains
  13. Yeah So - Slow Club
  14. Strange Communion - Thea Gilmore
  15. Almighty Row - Jason Ward
  16. Sorry For Partyin' - Bowling For Soup
  17. Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn Landes
  18. Port City - Grassmarket
  19. Scream - Chris Cornell
  20. Humbug - Arctic Monkeys
  21. Sea Sew - Lisa Hannigan
  22. Blind Boris - Blind Boris
  23. Battle For The Sun - Placebo
  24. Brand New Eyes - Paramore
  25. Hands - Little Boots
  26. Crazy Love - Michael Bublé
  27. Dark Was The Night - Various
  28. Alpinisms - The School Of Seven Bells
  29. It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  30. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
  31. The High End Of Low - Marilyn Manson
  32. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
  33. Fork In The Road - Neil Young
  34. Not Without A Fight - New Found Glory
  35. Night Is The New Day - Katatonia
  36. Hypnagogues - David Cronenburg's Wife
  37. Riceboy Sleeps - Jónsi and Alex
  38. Fortress 'Round My Heart - Ida Maria
  39. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  40. We're All In This Together - Gabby Young And Other Animals
  41. A Fool In Love - Florence Rawlings
  42. Out Of Ashes - Dead By Sunrise
  43. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian
  44. Lovethief - Lunic
  45. Hey Everyone - Dananananaykroyd
  46. The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
  47. Rockwell - Anni Rossi
  48. Shaka Rock - Jet

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir Update (November 2009)

On the eve of December and with Christmas now looming with all it's soulless, empty capitalism, another new exclusive song from Thea Gilmore. With Strange Communion released last month, this is a song that was cut at the last minute: Atonement. Not sure why as it's a wonderful bitter-sweet celebration of the holidays.

"Deck the halls with broken promise; Drunken angels, TV comics; Tis the season to be honest, dear. And hold your head up, turn your heart round, and drive the Winter underground, each light and hand aloft condemns the years..."

All delivered with purposeful serious melancholy from Thea. Excellent.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Katatonia - Night Is The New Day Album Review (2009)

Great to hear from these guys again even if they are playing it safe and predictable.

For The Music Magazine...

Swedish doom-metal is not everyone's idea of an easy listen. But Katatonia, the five-piece from Stockholm has thankfully evolved from the early days of grinding guitars, growling vocals and a distinct lack of tunes. This all changed in the late nineties with the band transforming from doom to gloom and more importantly from melancholy to melody. As the music got heavier, it has become more diverse; breaking away from the old formula. The best example of this is the glorious Viva Emptiness, an exceptional piece of work that is yet to be surpassed.

It is always interesting to hear what bands do after they release a 'Best Of' compilation, especially if it is only after a few really good albums. This is what Katatonia did next. An odd move, designed mainly to expose the band to a wider audience and showcase later work. The follow-up to Viva Emptiness is The Great Cold Distance, well received in 2006 but not quite pulling in the quality of the previous album. So in 2009, the band still going strong, lead by Jonas Renkse and backed by the dual guitarists of Anders Nystrom and Fredrik Norrman, release an eighth full-length album: Night Is The New Day.

From the outset this is classic Katatonia. Opener Forsaker moves effortlessly from muddy guitars to Renkse's soft listless vocals and back again in the first two minutes, bringing on a soaring solo at the mid point. Renkse delivers a typical downbeat message with "The dark will rise; abandon your freedom. Give up the right to find your true self; forsake your own reason". Drummer Daniel Liljekvist shines in the outro. Another highlight is the remarkably tuneful Idle Blood. Renkse is superb from "You there. Bringer of my despair" to "...But I am turning my back on you; you know I do" recalling a moment of self-loathing or the hatred of a nemesis. Even the song's darkest lyrics are delivered with a light touch into a final dream-like minute.

Throughout the album Katatonia sticks to a now well-established plan. The Longest Year is quiet, delicate and reflective verses bringing a heavier anthemic chorus only twice in the four and half minute running time. Liberation follows the same format, albeit more pronounced and with an excellent added guitar, bass and drum interlude, before the final word from Renkse. The wonderfully gothic Nephilim arrives in a torrent of wicked grinding chords. The dual vocals lift an otherwise arduous trudge through familiar territory. Inheritance is probably the most ambient song Katatonia has produced, flowing into a fragile drifting minimalism. Late on, first (and probably only) single Day And Then The Shade should be the most hard-hitting track, in spite of lacking a memorable chorus but ultimately the whole arrangement is flat and lifeless. This leads to closer Departer, the album's longest song. It is also the most beguiling with breathless ghostly vocals, no obvious riffs, and a very subdued elongated ending to an unsurprising album.

Renkse has described Night Is The New Day as Katatonia's most varied and diverse material on the same album. This is not entirely evident even after repeat listens, and even after that it is debatable. The band's distinct sound and a tendency to create songs within a restricted formula does create a predictability and a safeness, even if they are played with skill and imagination. You know what you are getting and there are few surprises. Within this, musically Katatonia has never sounded more controlled and focused. It is elegant and delicate, full of open spaces and deep breaths, but few really outstanding moments. The big problem is for three albums now, Katatonia has not moved on. It is very much the case of not messing with a safe thing.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Eliza Doolittle - Eliza Doolittle EP (2009)

I tried so hard to like this, but I don't.

Another for The Music Magazine...

Ah Lily Allen, you have a lot to answer for. How were you to know that your unique sound and image would be saturated by swathes of pretenders all scrambling for a chance to sit on your perky, cheeky cockney-pop throne..? For yes, Eliza Doolittle (that cannot be her real name - an obvious pseudonym if ever there was one) is another Allen clone. Like Kate Walsh, Doolittle is trying desperately to do something different but unlike Walsh she shows very few musical skills on her debut four track eponymous EP.

Opener Rollerblades is pure whimsical flimsy as Doolittle's high raspy vocals do a injustice to what is a decent song. All structure disappears in the middle before a predictable rinse and repeat ending. The whole arrangement has as much substance as Jack Johnson spending a wet weekend in Camden. Moneybox is more catchy but has an even more annoying vocal, and obvious sampling. The mix is all wrong with the tinny music a mess over some smart sassy lyrics: "Do me a favour...don't jingle your change sir...". The irony of this is sure to be lost if and when Doolittle becomes a huge star.

Police Car is a sign of hope musically; much more controlled but horribly laboured and a terrible metaphor: "I forget to be cool... I try my best to not get arrested by you...". Seriously? Halfway through and it's already starting to grate and even a weak attempt to liven things with some brass is utterly pointless. At least the song is throwing off the shackles of pretence to do something original. Go Home tries the same and ends up stuck between pop and swing, without the voice or the timing. Into the last minute it disintegrates into more of the same. Sweet backing vocals provide a lift but that doesn't help a complete lack of substance.

The Eliza Doolittle EP tries so much to be liked. Doolittle injects at much of her personally as she can, showing a glimpse of individuality and song writing skills. But the approach is confused, the songs are weak and paper-thin, the delivery is a mess, and there is a complete lack of direction and substance. This is a first effort. Ok, but thousands of singers are trying to make it and very few succeed. That is the harsh reality. To keep things in perspective you need to make a huge impact in these difficult times. You need to make people stand up. You need to be noticed. You need to write smart, interesting and engaging music. On the strengths of this debut, it's not going to happen.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Friday, 27 November 2009

Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures Album Review (2009)

For The Music Magazine...

Supergroups are nothing new. But when a former member of Led Zeppelin and Nirvana form a new collaboration with Josh Homme, you really have to take notice. Love him or loathe him, Homme is like Jack White. He just attracts and exudes musical talent. Fresh from production duties for Arctic Monkeys, he is now a full-time member of three bands and actively involved in other side-projects and collaborations. The third of these is a new venture: Them Crooked Vultures, formed with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones. An interesting idea in theory but can they be more than just a trio of individuals? In a word, yes.

It is clear from the start of the group's eponymous debut that Them Crooked Vultures is driven by Homme. His voice and 'sound' is all over the record, propped up by Jones and the ever energised Grohl. This sounds incredibly disrespectful to two thirds of the musicianship on show but ultimately one vision has to preside over everything. Someone has to be in control. And in most groups involving Homme, it is he. And nine times out of ten, this is never a bad thing. Them Crooked Vultures is three legends creating a new sound, from decades of experience, all learning from one another. It is like the band has always been making music.

The opener 'No One Loves Me & Neither Do I' is an immediate highlight; two songs in one, transforming from sleazy garage-blues to metal stomp after two and half minutes. It sets out the stall brilliantly: this is not going to be predictable, dull and uninteresting. Great lyrics in the first half recount a sordid liaison: "I've got a beautiful place to put your face, and she was right...". Into the second half, the guitars and Homme's vocals becomes heavier and more drawn out. The demand "Use me up..." invites a mad last twenty seconds from Grohl and some truly amazing drumming. This reminds us of why Nirvana always wins over Foo Fighters.

The first of two early 'preview' singles Mind Eraser, No Chaser is a bit more loose and chaotic and gives Grohl a chance to provide backing vocals. This is setting a dangerous precedent as he never gets a another chance to leave the drum kit and it is a rare moment. Again the guitar work is magnificent and the whole song is peppered with electronics. The comedic brass at the end shows that the trio are not taking themselves that seriously. New Fang is even better, a solid guitar-driven rock track from the Black Keys catalogue. A great song with Homme shining on vocal duties yet again. Elephants is a torrent of musical proficiency from the start; a blistering guitar riff, bass and drums all blending to create a wall of music, slowing after the first minute to a stabbing arrangement. When Homme comes in he's like Marilyn Manson should be sounding these days - committed, demonic, possessed, all vocal distortion. The effect is incredible. A melodic interlude with wistful crooning kicks in and the song threatens to transform... before dropping back. This psychedelic moment is repeated again to fill the near seven minute duration.

The first real slice of retro arrives with the Cream tribute Scumbag Blues, but the falsetto vocals are not the star here. Jones's 70s keyboards and Grohl's backing make an otherwise straightforward song much more interesting, enhancing the piercing guitars. Led Zep meets Sparks, meets early Bowie for the wonder that is Reptiles, the album veering dangerously close to prog but returning to a more direct agenda after a brief view over the precipice. In it's calmer moments the song is excellent. The longest track on the album (with the longest title) Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up does suffer from an overlong running time and some glam-esque backing vocals but even this behemoth works thanks to throwing in a number of styles into the mix and the best song writing on the album, including "It's a lovely disguise, with the wandering eyes...I get you have something to look up to...", Homme drawls ironically. The mid-section comes to life with a great guitar-break, speeding up slowly and then transforming into an apocalyptic soundscape complete with distant vocals, grinding guitars and clattering cymbals.

Elsewhere there is nothing that drags the album down. Dead End Friends, with it's eastern sound and rolling vocals, is the most Homme sounding song, yet there is late Nirvana in there, showing the steering hand of Grohl. An incredible mix. Bandoliers (archaic pocketed belts for holding ammo) is an interesting metaphor that doesn't go anywhere. But it is a rare, excusable moment of self-indulgence, especially as Grohl provides some of the best drumming on the album approaching the last minute before things settle down. And Interlude With Ludes is the only song that could easily be removed and no value would be lost. The same could be said of Caligulove if it wasn't for more supreme keyboards from Jones, and the guitars filling the outro.

A late gem is the magnificent Gunman, another superb riff and vocal performance from Homme; a master class in song writing that fills the senses with the juxtaposition of rolling verses and anthemic chorus, before the huge closer Spinning In Daffodils. Jones excels again with the delicate piano intro before Homme, in now familiar gothic tone delivers one last deliciously evil vocal performance. This is the sound that Bowie would have achieved if he had taken Trent Reznor seriously. As a parting shot, the final couple of minutes brings everything together for a glorious conclusion, assaulting and embracing in equal measure, fading into a bizarrely subdued ending to a wondrous expedition.

There is a lot to be said for not over-thinking a record. Not to say that this was thrown together in a couple of days; the 'live' feel and stark production give the songs an illusion that they are 'made in the studio' but repeat listens reveal depth and complexity within the spontaneity. At over an hour it is allowed to flow and ultimately, Them Crooked Vultures is perfectly judged. It may not be the best that either musician has been involved in but this does not include Page, Plant, Cobain, or Lanegan. It is something new and different, to evoke something new and different. The music draws from influences of the past and generates a wonderful new present. Grohl and Jones draw out a vocal diversity never before heard from Homme who is on top form throughout. All of the tightness of Queens Of The Stone Age is removed and he is at ease just letting the vocals happen. The same musical liberation fills the entire album. If ever there was a reason why musicians should work together, Them Crooked Vultures is it. And if Josh Homme ever meets up with Jack White, we would have the best band in the world.

-- CS (For The Music Magazine)

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Music Chart 2009 - October

New albums this month from Mumford & Sons, Bowling For Soup, Paramore, Alice In Chains, Michael Bublé, Gabby Young, and Dead by Sunrise. Great month!
  1. Horehound - The Dead Weather
  2. Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons
  3. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
  4. To Lose My Life - White Lies
  5. Welcome To The Night Sky - Wintersleep
  6. Backspacer - Pearl Jam
  7. 11:11 - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
  8. The Resistance - Muse
  9. Wait For Me - Moby
  10. We Are The Same - The Tragically Hip
  11. Black Gives Way To Blue - Alice In Chains
  12. Yeah So - Slow Club
  13. Almighty Row - Jason Ward
  14. Sorry For Partyin' - Bowling For Soup
  15. Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn Landes
  16. Port City - Grassmarket
  17. Scream - Chris Cornell
  18. Humbug - Arctic Monkeys
  19. Sea Sew - Lisa Hannigan
  20. Blind Boris - Blind Boris
  21. Battle For The Sun - Placebo
  22. Brand New Eyes - Paramore
  23. Hands - Little Boots
  24. Crazy Live - Michael Bublé
  25. Dark Was The Night - Various
  26. Alpinisms - The School Of Seven Bells
  27. It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  28. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
  29. The High End Of Low - Marilyn Manson
  30. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
  31. Fork In The Road - Neil Young
  32. Not Without A Fight - New Found Glory
  33. Hypnagogues - David Cronenburg's Wife
  34. Riceboy Sleeps - Jónsi and Alex
  35. Fortress 'Round My Heart - Ida Maria
  36. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  37. We're All In This Together - Gabby Young And Other Animals
  38. A Fool In Love - Florence Rawlings
  39. Out Of Ashes - Dead By Sunrise
  40. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian
  41. Lovethief - Lunic
  42. Hey Everyone - Dananananaykroyd
  43. The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
  44. Rockwell - Anni Rossi
  45. Shaka Rock - Jet

Michael Bublé - Crazy Love Album Review (2009)

For The Music Magazine...

Crazy Love is the fourth album from Canadian crooner Michael Bublé. As you might expect, it is packed with predictable cover versions, more brass than a Mark Ronson wet-dream and plenty of Bublés sleek vocal swagger. Collaborations are kept to a minimum with Sharon Jones and Ron Sexsmith; a smart and credible move, and the swing formula is rarely diluted, in spite of Bublé's attempt to add his own unique charm. Why expect anything else from a singer who continues to show everyone else how it is done?

Crazy Love gets off to an unsteady and explosive start before settling down for a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable second half. The first couple of songs sound like they are taken from a bad Bond theme tribute album. The dramatic take on Cry Me a River is way too over the top at times and All Of Me goes from intimate bar room to noisy orchestra in a way that would make Dean Martin cringe. Even Georgia On My Mind features a few bars of Monty Norman's classic theme within the more sedate arrangement. The title track is given a more respectful and soulful treatment with sweet backing vocals and cool guitar. It does Van's original justice. But things are still a bit shaky with the first of the two self-penned songs, Haven't Met You Yet. It is ominous perky-pop and features the oddest trumpet solo. And so ends the messy first half.

Thankfully, Crazy Love shows why Bublé is both relevant and unique. All I Do Is Dream Of You is an classic old-school big band number that adds elements of Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Perry Como. The second original song Hold On is instantly brilliant and filled with huge epic strings. The first real surprise is Heartache Tonight, a take on the Eagles 70's rock anthem given the full brass treatment. It works superbly. Dean is back for You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Love You and is more proper swing (Robbie, Jamie and Leon take note) and a perfect rendition. Ok it does nothing particularly new but it is polished and the vocal timing is exquisite. Baby (You've Got What It Takes) with Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings moves unsteadily into dangerous 60's R&B only to emerge unscathed.

Into the final trio, At This Moment is an odd choice and fairly anonymous. Bublé lets his voice get away from him. But the cheesy tones of Stardust, although nowhere near as good as the late, great Mel Tormé, is another solid move away from 'typical' copycat covers. The Ron Sexsmith duet and new version of Whatever It Takes is a sublime closer and completes a fine fourth collection from a musician who is truly untouchable. It's just a shame that Crazy Love doesn't start with the poise and control shown in the second half.

With only two original songs on the album (and both are co-written) it would be easy to dismiss Crazy Love as just another collection of the usual fare repackaged conveniently for the Christmas market. This is the sort of thing you would expect from fading musicians lacking inspiration, or reality TV stars trying to market a quick debut or salvage a thin career when their management has 'moved on to this year's winner'. All cynicism put aside for a moment, Bublé is none of these things. He has a genuine passion for breathing new life into timeless classics and is keeping them alive for generations to come. And he adds personality, depth and quality to everything he does.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir Update (October 2009)

This month's exclusive song from Thea Gilmore for all us wonderful Angels is Love & Whiskey, a dark brooding acoustic piece (from Thea? Really?) and a real gem.

Centred around the concept that affairs of the heart and brown liquor can capture and confine, this sounds like something Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell would attempt.

A wonderful falsetto chorus mixed with lower deeper verses and a stark controlled deliberate and (non-annoyingly) repetitive delivery makes for compelling listening.

Thanks again Thea for another great song.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Dead by Sunrise - Out Of Ashes Album Review (2009)

For The Music Magazine: the debut album from Dead by Sunrise, Chester Bennington's side project.

Sometimes a side project seems like a great idea. Jack White has made an art form out of the practice, as the successful figurehead of The Raconteurs and now The Dead Weather while remaining one half of The White Stripes. Over the years, many well established bands have endured schism and disagreement; staying together but 'doing their own thing' for a while. Chester Bennington, lead singer of American rock band Linkin Park has now fronting Dead By Sunrise. The band has been in existence since 2005 and now release Out Of Ashes as an outlet for songs that "were not right stylistically" for Linkin Park. Strange then that the last Linkin Park album Minutes To Midnight remains the band's most evolved work, showing a more melodic side after playing with remixes, film scores and disastrously collaborating with Jay-Z.

But there is more to Dead By Sunrise than just a side project formed by musical differences. It was clear that Bennington was steering his band in a more accessible direction and on the face of it Dead By Sunrise seems like a convenient place to be creative and diverse. This is important therapy for Bennington, as the name of the album would suggest - a bit disrespectful to draw this analogy toward the band that made his name but more likely directed at the man himself - and musically this appears to make sense. Much of Out Of Ashes is calm and serene, so much so that the harder, more edgy tracks, are lukewarm imitations and at times, out of place.

Too Late is an excellent example of why Out Of Ashes was made. Echoing the direction Minutes To Midnight took Linkin Park, this is a bold soft ballad. And by rights the album should be full of them. Let Down is another attempt at this packed with wonderful backing vocals and a simple no nonsense arrangement. For the same reason, Give Me Your Name has a great Pink Floyd vibe and is proof that Bennington can actually sing, even with the hapless lyrics. The production is drenched in sweet sticky syrup and at five minutes it is about two minutes too long. Into You should work but could be that song from any of Linkin Park's albums, starting soft and building. This has been done many times before. Ultimately there is no point being slightly similar to the band you are trying to get away from. For this reason, parallels are always going to be drawn.

The quality of the harder material is questionable. Fire is a hard hitting opener and at least attempts to deliver some vocal melody through the car alarm guitars but after getting heavy ends up wallowing in self-pity. Not a bad thing, but the momentum evaporates in the last thirty seconds. My Suffering is the only 'fast' song that shows any vibrant creativity. Excellent drums and spiky guitar work hold together the hardcore.

Of the rest, many of the songs on Out Of Ashes find an impressively high level of anonymity. Crawl Back In and Condemned are dull Nirvana impressions, both with decent, if short, guitar solos. Odd then that the former was chosen as a promotional single for an album that finds strength in the 'softer' songs. Inside Of Me is fast, messy and hits that middle ground that plagues most of the album - somewhere between old and new. End Of The World tries to be a bit different, like a bluesy Green Day political statement that is less a march on the Capitol, and more a rain soaked leaflet slapped into a cold hand. Walking In Circles is the right feel but truly forgettable. Out Of Ashes does to try to end on a high with In The Darkness but the opening lyrics of the descent into self harm is as obvious as Dido. Things pick up in a spirited chorus but Bennington just goes through the motions. And it's more old ground.

Out Of Ashes may be catharsis and a necessary channel for the sort of creative purge that cannot be satisfied with Linkin Park but as an album it fails to divorce itself from the sound Bennington is best known for. It's like someone has chucked in a bucket of cold water and left the sound diluted and soulless. As the driving force, Bennington is superb and you can't fault his commitment, but the end result doesn't always hit the mark. The moments of brilliance are spread out amongst dullness, obvious arrangements and incredibly banal lyrics (see "lost and can't be found", "diving into oceans", "feeling pain", "happiness from misery", "learning how to live" etc. Such a shame that a good songwriter and some great musicians fail to come up with anything new. A personal rehabilitation has produced a lack of cutting edge and inspiration. Whether it has worked for Bennington, only he knows.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir Update

We have been given a preview of the new Thea album, Strange Communion.

The track's previewed are:
  1. Sol Invictus
  2. Thea Gilmore's Midwinter Toast
  3. Cold Coming
  4. That'll Be Christmas
  5. Listen The Snow Is Falling
  6. Drunken Angel
  7. St. Stephen's Day Murders
  8. December In New York
  9. Old December
Here is the album cover:

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Bowling For Soup - Sorry For Partyin’ Album review (2009)

An album review....just for this blog. And no one else. The return of Bowling For Soup :)

In 2008, the world’s favourite Texan pop-punk clowns Bowling For Soup released the live DVD/CD Live and Very Attractive. The juxtaposition of vibrant concert and backstage, before-show, and after-show footage makes for muddled, chaotic but ultimately enjoyable viewing, and listening. For the show captured the band doing what they do best. Two years earlier, The Great Burrito Extortion Case was a real let-down after the wonderful A Hangover You Don’t Deserve and Drunk Enough To Dance before that. These two albums are very much a showcase of Bowling For Soup at the top of a very difficult game: mixing emo, pop-punk, crooning melody, cheesy jokes and tongue-in-cheek humour. And Jaret Reddick, Erik Chandler, Chris Burney and Gary Wiseman do it better than anyone.

So it is now time for Bowling For Soup to step back to the plate they left unguarded in 2006. Opener A Really Cool Dance Song is an immediate masterpiece but something of an uneasy misleading start. Proof that four nerdy guys from Texas are completely aware of the world around them, this anti-Timbaland 80s throwback parody is marvellous. In an eclectic electro-synth interlude, Reddick declares, “Who the hell are we fooling? This isn’t really what we do. We had to borrow this keyboard; we only listen to Motley Cru…” before a great Gary Human pisstake. The single No Hablo Ingles is right up there with the best, if slightly offensive, with more hidden moments on each listen. And My Wena is the ultimate double entendre (thanks to some obvious pronunciation) delivered as deadpan Fountains Of Wayne. Puerile yes. But it will have you sniggering throughout. To complete a solid opening stint, Only Young is the big anthemic number. Another great punchy-pop chorus with Reddick on top form.

I Don’t Wish You Were Dead Anymore is more standard fare but more than just a filler. Likewise BFFF is a glorious celebration of straight man-love (“we fart and burp in the same key…and I think your iPod sucks“). Me With No You changes the mood completely back to bold Feeder-esque ballad. Every Bowling For Soup album has a moment like this, whether it is Where To Begin or When We Die, the honest serious side of the band is always there. To complete a trio of jagged edges, Hooray For Beer is another straightforward celebration of man’s favourite beverage.

In a weird moment of misjudgement, America (Wake Up Amy) pulls in the ‘talents’ of Scott Reynolds and comedian Parry Grip. The usual Bowling For Soup bits work fine but the extras that don’t are obvious. It is an odd move. What saves it from being a total disaster is a great final minute of soaring Green Day pseudo-political rally-crying. If Only is a great idea: to mix freaky phone message voice-over with a decent pop anthem. The joke has a rather weak double punch line but it’s probably Bowling For Soup at its most ambitious since 1985. Then I Gotchoo brings back the class with a fantastic emo-rap. It’s so good the band recorded two versions. The main version contains a glorious heavy metal moment with Reddick screaming like Axl Rose (this is replaced with a much lighter interlude on the extra UK version). Another great outro to a great song.

Into the last stretch, Love Goes Boom is a series of obvious references with a limp chorus and a few great ideas. The wordless outro is annoyingly lacklustre. I Can’t Stand LA is a bit of ironic fun theatre and a chance to namedrop just about every town in the US. Some inane chat links to an other slice of genius, yet another version of Belgium, this time with added Polka. Al Yankovic would be so proud. Brave Combo add the spice this time and the ridiculousness works.

Bowling For Soup has always been kind to the UK. Live and Very Attractive was recorded during the UK leg of the 2007 Get Happy Tour in Manchester. And Sorry For Partyin’ has an extra four songs just for the UK. Unfortunately apart from the ‘Other Version’ of I Gotchoo, the remaining three closers add very little to what is otherwise a great album. I Just Wanna Be Loved is dark and edgy, by Bowling For Soup’s standards and contains the immortal opening line, “I just wanna be loved, like the English love their spliffs and curry…”. Music made for the audience. The chorus is up to the usual standard and is complete with a huge belch at the end. But the whole song seems diluted in spite of a strong finish featuring some cool piano and a (staged) “fuck up“. From here the album should probably skip to the final song. Walk Of Shame starts well but goes nowhere, and ends up sounding like a Vanessa Carlton cover. Amateur Night is funny for all the wrong reasons and lives up to it‘s name. But you can’t complain too much about ‘free’ songs. Thankfully the ‘UK’ tailored I Gotchoo (Other Version) brings things to a proper upbeat close.

Sorry For Partyin’ is a return to the glory days of A Hangover You Don’t Deserve and Drunk Enough To Dance, a band having fun, being fun and above all, delivering. The ability to blend cheesy pop croons with witty, intelligent self-aware jokes is an ongoing art for Bowling For Soup. In the hands of four talented musicians and singers who understand melody and harmonies, this is a continuing winning formula. It is a shame that the band are so misunderstood by the media. They don’t always get it right but when they do it’s infectious, enjoyable and will knock the smile on your face.
-- CS

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Alice In Chains - Black Gives Way To Blue Album Review (2009)

A review for The Music Magazine, an amazing return for Alice In Chains.

On July 3rd 1996 in Kansas City, Missouri, Alice In Chains played a final gig with lead singer Layne Staley. On the 5th April 2002 he died of cocaine and heroin abuse, aged 34. With guitarist Jerry Cantrell about to release his second solo album and in spite of his comments a month earlier about the possibility of reforming, Alice In Chains was no more. Until now. Since 2005, the band has flirted with different lead singers and finally settled on William DuVall for a reunion tour. At first drummer Sean Kinney dismissed the idea of recording a new album, still haunted by the ghost of Staley, honouring his memory and that of a band now long gone, but last year Alice In Chains officially reformed. The result is the band's fourth studio recording Black Gives Way To Blue, the first for fourteen years.

Back in 1992, Alice In Chains were just another Seattle band. Not quite Pearl Jam or Nirvana, not quite metal and a bit too goth for grunge, the band filled a hole but never stood out from the crowd. Dirt is a great album, followed by the acoustic Jar of Flies, but nothing like this. Black Gives Way To Blue is the album Queens Of The Stone Age can only dream about. Now, in the same year that Pearl Jam released a short, punchy, resurgent ninth album, Alice In Chains has opted for a completely different approach. Black Gives Way To Blue is massive. With an average song length of five minutes and two around seven, this collection of dark-edged, gloom-rock, guitar anthems is a challenge, but an absorbing and rewarding one.

"A new beginning...Time to start living, like just before we died...". The opening lyrics of All Secrets Known pull no punches. This is a band being up-front and honest about where they are. The single Check My Brain is a glorious distorted guitar-grind with a soaring upbeat chorus about moving to Los Angeles: "California’s alright. Somebody check my brain". Last Of My Kind is Alice In Chains of old, blending churning guitars with dark vocal melodies and an old-school Metallica-esque hook. At nearly four minutes, the guitar-work intensifies for the last two minutes. The first sign of the band's acoustic side is the majestic Your Decision - again more brilliance from Cantrell and bassist Inez. An impressive first half ends with the seven minute epic, and first single, A Looking In View. This is the band at its darkest, all muddy grinding multi-layered guitars, demonic vocals through clenched teeth and strained muscles. Powerful stuff. The DuVall and Cantrell combination is intense and harmonic in equal measures and another great outro sees out the final minute.

When The Sun Rose Again has excellent melancholic vocals from the outset. This is another dark acoustic ballad with a brief blast of electric at the central point. This leads to Acid Bubble, heavy with evil chords on each verse lifting for a lighter chorus. It is one of the only times the album begins to drag, every note is protracted and drawn out. But then it changes, completely. This wouldn't be a great rock album without some 'prog' injected into the rock. After the brief interlude, the song settles down again for more of the same, only to return in the final minute. Lessons Learned is much more interesting with purposeful vocals, driving guitars, and another lifting hook/chorus: "..know when to find it. In your darkest hour, you strike gold..." just about sums up the nature of Black Gives Way To Blue. Take Her Out tries the same thing but feels overdone given all that has come before. More excellent guitars try to liven things but this could easily be removed and the album wouldn't suffer.

Into the final two tracks and Private Hell is exactly what is claims to be. One of the times the obvious references to Layne Staley are revealed, this is a heartfelt and honest tribute. One of the best songs musically. But the tribute is in two parts. The title track brings the album to a close. Featuring piano from Elton John (yes, really), Black Gives Way To Blue is the only way to finish this album. "Tomorrow's haunted by your ghost" becomes "Tomorrow’s forcing a goodbye" and the album ends with the words: "I'll remember you". What could have been a depressing moody ten minute grind-fest ends in delicate controlled lightness and hope.

The decision to replace Staley with DuVall, a singer who has an uncanny likeness to Staley, is both brave and logical. The vocalist in a band is just another instrument, equally as important as every other member of the band pulling equal weight. You wouldn't substitute a cello for a banjo, or add a Gibson Les Paul to a string quartet. It makes no sense to break the sound that defines what you are. Alice In Chains retains its sound thanks to DuVall, but for the most part due to Cantrell, still the core of the band (all but two songs are written exclusively by him). The trademark dark harmonies are ever present thanks to further contributions from Inez. No singer is replaceable. Queen is a perfect example of this - if you have to change the sound, change the band and move on. So, it's hard not to accept this album without some emotion but it is easy to accept it musically. With masterful production from Nick Raskulinecz, and excellent musicianship throughout, Black Gives Way To Blue is a painful grieving process manifesting as a huge triumphant behemoth of a rock album.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Gabby Young & Other Animals - We’re All In This Together Album Review (2009)

A review for Altsounds.

It’s always good to hear a British musician making their way in the world. From Wiltshire and now residing in London, Gabby Young and her wonderful backing band ‘Other Animals’ follow up the Bear With Me EP with the debut album We’re All In This Together. The songs are a journey into twisted and weird 1920’s folk cabaret. And yes, it’s as good as it sounds.

The first big problem with We’re All In This Together is a lack of early focus. It’s fine being ambitious and a little eccentric, flirting with flamboyance and a plethora of multi-instrumentalists but it doesn’t always make great music. Most of the time, the issue is Gabby herself who manages to take a good song, strip out any melody and just throw in loads of random stuff and hope something sticks. But it’s not all bad news.

Opener Umm is a hotchpotch of ideas: old fashioned, smoky vocals becoming falsetto, schizophrenic slow then fast, unnecessary shrieking, to name just a few. As a second song Ladies Of The Lake does little to set off the fireworks and consequently the album takes an age to get moving. Ones That Got Away is also one of the times We’re All In This Together brings the madness together successfully. The horn section, piano and Young herself are all excellent. It’s chaotic but unbelievably genuine, even into the last thirty second when it becomes truly insane. The title track has a wonderful rootsy-country feel. Young’s vocals control and command even in the softer moments. “Delicate and fragile you always were. Like china in his hands…” starts as a cliché before changing direction: “…And broken pieces will lie there forever left in these wounds by this man…” and then “We know that you never wanted to hurt her. We know you had another plan…” as the dark sorry tale unfolds. All this pinned by a simple guitar loop. You can’t fault the crafts at work here. Throughout the songs, the lyrics are well thought out. After losing its way vocally, a great brass solo introduces the multi-layered vocal outro.

The moments that drag the album down arrive in fits of dullness and starts of rambling strangeness. Lipsink is a bit too much of a nursery rhyme. Maybe sounds tired and listless. Whose House could be Laura Marling if she hadn’t left Noah And The Whale, a soaring vocal, wishy-washy melody and glorious collection of trumpet, trombone and tuba. The last minute steps too far ending up as a kitchen sink of sounds and vocals. A few more shining moments pepper the mediocre and fading second half. Sour is another great vocal but the whole song feels a bit too long at just over five minutes. A cool trumpet solo late on breaks the monotony but what follows is more of the same with added backing vocals. A great vibe, solid and controlled but nothing special. Ask You A Question is a female fronted Gogol Bordello, a short blast of gypsy-folk.

Too Young To Die takes forever to get moving but creeps through the first two minutes as a compelling story of self-realisation. The vocals build then fall with a delicate piano and clarinet. The next two does much of the same with a more feeling. What is impressive is the decision not to turn all prog-folk and change direction every thirty seconds. The song steers the same direct purposeful and true course. Progress? Closer Two By Two veers dangerously into middle-of-the-road lounge-pop. Great vocals but the instrumental pieces and the messy vocal ending are tuneless distractions when they should show more of the talented musicianship on show. That would be a no then.

When We’re All In This Together works, it works brilliantly. In this day and age of singers trying to make it, most take the easy way out but Gabby Young is making her own music. In her way. With her sound. That has to be commended but Young has an annoying tendency to howl and wail instead of sing. The two short interludes are utterly pointless. For every moment of brilliance there is another of bafflingly odd mediocrity and another of poorly-judged song writing. A real mixed bag that simply doesn’t know what it is. Over ambition? Probably. But you can’t fault a girl for trying.
-- CS (for Altsounds)

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Music Chart 2009 - September

Wow what a busy month! Lots of great new stuff to add in September including a welcome return for Pearl Jam, Arctic Monkeys and Muse, and great albums from Blind Boris, Rodrigo Y Gabriela and Jason Ward. All storm into the top 20!
  1. Horehound - The Dead Weather
  2. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
  3. To Lose My Life - White Lies
  4. Welcome To The Night Sky - Wintersleep
  5. Backspacer - Pearl Jam
  6. 11:11 - Rodrigo Y Gabriela
  7. The Resistance - Muse
  8. Wait For Me - Moby
  9. We Are The Same - The Tragically Hip
  10. Yeah So - Slow Club
  11. Almighty Row - Jason Ward
  12. Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn Landes
  13. Port City - Grassmarket
  14. Scream - Chris Cornell
  15. Humbug - Arctic Monkeys
  16. Sea Sew - Lisa Hannigan
  17. Blind Boris - Blind Boris
  18. Battle For The Sun - Placebo
  19. Hands - Little Boots
  20. Dark Was The Night - Various
  21. Alpinisms - The School Of Seven Bells
  22. It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  23. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
  24. The High End Of Low - Marilyn Manson
  25. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
  26. Fork In The Road - Neil Young
  27. Not Without A Fight - New Found Glory
  28. Hypnagogues - David Cronenburg's Wife
  29. Riceboy Sleeps - Jónsi and Alex
  30. Fortress 'Round My Heart - Ida Maria
  31. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  32. A Fool In Love - Florence Rawlings
  33. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian
  34. Lovethief - Lunic
  35. Hey Everyone - Dananananaykroyd
  36. The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
  37. Rockwell - Anni Rossi
  38. Shaka Rock - Jet

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Grassmarket - Port City Album Review (2009)

I like discovering new bands. And when they are Canadian folk bands it is even better. This is another review for Altsounds.

The review...

In no way connected to the district of Edinburgh in Scotland, Grassmarket is a trio of folk musicians from Nova Scotia, Canada. Following the seven track EP Waiting, Port City is the band’s first full-length recording combining pop tunes with banjo, guitar and violin driven North American roots. Penelope Jackson, Dan MacCormack and David Bradshaw all share vocal duty and instruments throughout the Jackson/MacCormack compositions; songs that transcend the years, connecting the old with the new, blending fresh ideas with traditional sounds and textures.

Opener Endless Summer is a gliding ballad building slowly to a soft harmonious chorus keeping the consistent feel right to the wordless ending - a perfectly controlled four minutes. Jackson takes lead vocal for the sublime This Is The Life, her voice bringing together elements of Thea Gilmore, Elana James (Hot Club of Cowtown) and Rebecca Taylor (Slow Club) to create a magically evocative voice of clear quality and depth. After a short guitar solo she is joined by the guys for a brief time before they hand her the last word. Miles And Miles is different again, underpinned with a frantic jolly banjo that gives the song an odd urgency, for the vocals are slower and measured, bringing in the trio of voices for the chorus. Into the last minute is the world’s smallest guitar solo. Lyrically, the themes wander into “I’ll trade mine for the life of a Yeti, I’ll be my own disguise. Running free on the frozen Serengeti…”.

The best song on the first half of Port City is the beautiful It’ll Be Dark, again sung by Jackson and a gorgeous melody allowed to glide across the sparse music. Into Good Man, and some of the best music on the album and a much more traditional feel. “As you come across the prairies, leave your trouble in every town, and the next time you climb Kelly’s mountain, you’ll be light enough to float back down…” is more wonderful song writing. Heartful is a sweet minute and a half blast to complete the Jackson trilogy. It should be twice as long but races through it’s brief lifetime, from frenetic verse: “My boy smells of grass and clover, chase a rock and turns it over, intrepid and unsteady rover. Little boy, a heart full of joy…” to a clever chorus of glorious vocal sparing.

A Canadian roots album would not be the same without one song about the country. Bearkill At Quajon Fiord (a coastal area in Nunavut, the largest and newest federal territory in Canada) rattles through its instrumental two and bit minutes like the soundtrack to a silent movie or a cool episode of Wacky Races. Brilliantly played and thoroughly enjoyable. Road Often Travelled brings back the lyrics, the life story of family life and leaving your friends. More sultry vocals are combined with stark harmonica. Another short track, the tongue-in-cheek I’m Gonna Make A Great Fossil follows with more great lyrics “…my footprint in the rock. I‘m gonna be the subject of future Archaeological talks…” then duelling vocals right to the end. But the best is left until last. The whimsical title track closes things in style, changing pace and slowly building the instrumentation into the last minute before a harmonious finale.

Port City delivers exactly what it promises. The musical threesome combine harmonies and instrumentation with talent and charm, juxtaposing the quick and the slow, the old and the new, and different lyrical and vocal styles. A constant joy, this is music to get lost in. If there is a criticism, Port City is just a bit too short. At just shy of half an hour, it is over too quickly but great while it lasts. This music will never change the world. But it will preserve a small yet celebrated part of it for future proud generations.

-- CS (for Altsounds)

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir Update (September 2009)

Time for this month's Angels In The Abattoir news and fantastic news it is!

The signed lyric sheets have been shipped and I got mine last week. Thankfully Thea's handwriting is much better than my own. I haven't got around to framing it yet but I will. Here it is in all it's glory...

And the song this month is the four minute ballad So Long, as always beautifully delivered with delicate acoustic accompaniment. Even in this mood, Gilmore still manages to sound menacing and vindictive as her voice cuts the air. The song stays in the same gear throughout and never threatens to get heavy or show-off. In this world of X-Factor trying to prove that the only way to sing is to show off and yell at the top of your lungs, it is singers like Thea Gilmore who show yet again that a controlled approach always wins. Yes this isn't the best song she's every written in terms of melody but the heartfelt retrospective lyrics are superb. The quiet outro is chilling.

"So Long. We had our time. Broke a few rules. Crossed a few lines...".

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Get Back Guinozzi! - Carpet Madness Album Review (2009)

A review for Altsounds.

Get Back Guinozzi! is a new French band formed a few years ago by Eglantine Gouzy and Fred Landini. After a brief foray as a solo artist in 2004, singer Gouzy teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Landini for this unique collaboration. The band’s debut album Carpet Madness is an interesting ride, blending genres, random concepts, child-like vocals and a plethora of backing tracks.

At it’s best, the songs on Carpet Madness instantly grab your attention. The title track owes much to De La Soul’s Eye Know with its jangly guitars, odd keyboards and simple chorus. I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone is deliciously dark and folky. After a minute it turns into a series of industrial steam-engine beats and animal noises. Sweet guitars and wistful, if creepy, vocals are at the core of Personal Lodger and L.A. is lo-fi electro-pop, very reminiscent of early Stereolab. Opener Where Are You is a good introduction to Gouzy’s charms, which sadly don’t last through the course of the album, and Landini’s tendency to throw in disjointed beats, odd guitar loops and other things to throw the listener off-guard.

Carpet Madness never completely falls apart, it just gets more eccentric. Low Files Tropical sounds like slowed down Shonan Knife doing a reggae cover mixed with old Nintendo sound effects. Gouzy seems to be singing three or four vocal tracks at the same time. Truly mesmerising but utterly bizarre at the same time. Go Back To School is like a rebel anthem for the Cbeebies generation complete with strange giggling samples in the outro. Sick suffers from an out of place expletive that doesn’t fit with the nature of the album. That said, it is wonderful wobbly shimmering surf-pop to the end. Closer King’s Song is not the big upbeat finish the album needs. It ends suddenly with the word ‘disaster’.

Even with the bad ending, the album has some real gems towards the end. Police And Thieves, the Junior Murvin reggae hit covered by The Clash, is given the Get Back Guinozzi! treatment. But what could be a huge mess turns out to be one of the most straight-forward songs on Carpet Madness. Aside from some brief interludes, the version stays true to the original even if Gouzy’s vocals fall a little flat. Baby Baby is wonderfully controlled, given what has come before. It sounds way too fast with garbled vocals, but eventually morphs into a series of layered African choir-like voices. Jungely brings it all together for a decent semi-psychedelic guitar-pop song. Gouzy is enchanting and dreamy, if a little disorganised with her lyrics.

Carpet Madness is extremely challenging stuff that moves from fresh and quirky to annoying and back again. It draws you in then alienates you, then draws you back in. In spite of the band’s French roots, songs are delivered in English which in itself is not a problem (the effect is similar to another French band Arther who sing in English yet retain all of their ‘Frenchness‘). It would too easy to say that you have to be in just the right mood to enjoy Get Back Guinozzi! but repeat listens and the album will begin to get under your skin. Whether this is in a good way, only you can decide…
-- CS (for Altsounds)

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Light Streams - Lost EP Review (2009)

A review for Altsounds.

The Light Streams are the latest young band out of Leeds (Yorkshire, UK) trying to find a unique new sound and stand out from the crowd. Produced by Andy Hawkins who works with The Cribs and The Pigeon Detectives, the Lost EP breathes a fresh energy into familiar territory. Throughout the four songs, the band delivers something different each time, from the safe country-rock of opener Caroline to the more punk-pop Beatles meets Springsteen lad-rock stomp of Whatever Gets Your Through (Gets You Through). There are obvious west coast US influences at work here. Not quite The Thrills, The Light Streams keep their roots on their side of the Atlantic.

The best song on the Lost EP is City Walls, fusing Arctic Monkeys swagger with Cast-like soaring melodies (circa 1997 - Mother Nature Calls). It kicks off with a rousing blast of vocals before the song takes shape. A great chorus and some majestic drumming combine to create a decent slice of shining guitar-pop. Save Me borrows nicely from Del Amitri before taking on a life of it’s own, the guitars kicking in - first heavy then brimming with melody. A nod to Oasis and The Stone Roses using the ‘Sally’ character, this cleverly reintroduces repeated lines into different parts of the song as it recalls the sorry tale of loneliness tinged with hope. “Each generation will fight from the ropes they’re upon…” are lyrics worthy of Currie.

The Lost EP is a promising debut, packed with talent and ideas. It is songs like these that rekindle the fiery passion for new bands just about on the verge of getting noticed. The Light Streams has ever chance of becoming one of those bands that creates a buzz, but only if they continue the consistency shown here. An excellent debut.
-- CS (for Altsounds)

Natalie Imbruglia - Want Single Review (2009)

A review for Altsounds. I was quite excited about this. I'm a huge fan of Natalie Imbruglia and her album White Lilies Island showed the world what she is capable of. Unfortunately her singing career only lead to TV work and by her own admission she got 'lazy'. Her comeback is something of a soft option. I hope the album is not all like this...

The review...

Best known for the big single Torn (let’s get this out of the way early), Natalie Imbruglia is back with a new album Come To Life. The lead single promoting the album is the Chris Martin collaboration Want. He co-wrote the song and provides keyboards and backing vocals but you wouldn’t know from hearing it.

One of the great things about Imbruglia was that at heart she was never drawn into the mainstream dance-pop scene. Both Left Of The Middle and the wonderful follow-up White Lilies Island are honest and heartfelt, down-to-earth song writing and open performance on every song. This is such a massive change in direction. Imbruglia was the antithesis of Australian compatriot Kylie, a more refined Avril Lavigne making indie pop tunes, wearing baggy clothes and never submitting to the enforced stereotypes. Now she is taking the easy option and copying Kylie’s sound. Vocally, there is so many layers of production that it’s hard to connect the Imbruglia of now with the burgeoning singer of the past. The L'Oréal deal and attempts to be a film star finished that. And it’s not even comparable with Chris Cornell’s fantastic teaming up with Timbaland as here there is a complete loss of identity, soul and ideas.

As a song, Want is just a dance chorus and a pounding drum beat. It does nothing lyrically and Imbruglia sounds flat and listless. At the two minute point it does try something new but quickly returns to the repetition. The outro just runs out of ideas completely. It is such a shame that a promising musician has been distracted by outside influences only to come back with something so flimsy and vacuous. Natalie Imbruglia needs to ditch the people around her, take a guitar and a piano, lock herself in a log cabin for a year, write some decent songs and achieve the potential that we all know she can.
-- CS (for Altsounds)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Pearl Jam - Backspacer Album Review 2009

So glad to get this to review for The Music Magazine. A welcome return for Pearl Jam.

Backspacer is the ninth studio album (if you don’t count b-side compilation Lost Dogs) from US band Pearl Jam. In recent years the band has thrown away the shackles of serious polished rock music and returned to the garage days of previous incarnation Mother Love Bone (they so should have kept that name). The band's last release, the eponymous album of 2006 went by largely unnoticed but was well received by those that cared to listen, as was Riot Act four years earlier. Before this, Binaural and Yield attempted (with limited success) to recapture the sounds and production of Pearl Jam’s most popular album, the wonderful debut Ten. But even though Backspacer continues on from the previous album, it throws in a few echoes from the past...

One of the only problems with Backspacer is a difficult early obstacle to overcome. At the core of Pearl Jam is Eddie Vedder. His voice is described as a rough baritone, equally at home screaming out as it is delicately crooning. He does both very well. Or he did. Here, however, and not always, Vedder is either making bad choices or straining to get his voice where he wants it. It is hard to believe that in search of something more honest and open, the band’s singer is compromising a key sound. The first half of the album suffers slightly from 'screechy' vocals. Thankfully this isn't a huge distraction. Johnny Guitar is a real problem and that's only because it's just not very good. The only fault.

Backspacer manages to balance the gritty with the melodic without getting too anthemic. Much of this is down to the reintroduction of producer Brendan O'Brien. There was a time when songs like this would be subjected to layers of production, swathes of guitars and plenty of gloss. Not anymore. The album is tightly edited and has a refreshingly short running time of just over thirty five minutes. It is very much a case of what was taken out over what was left in. The punchy stary-eyed Supersonic is just about right, as is opener Gonna See My Friend, a song seemingly about finding your dealer when things get tough and inevitably finding help. This leads neatly to Get Some, and a similar subject: "I got some if you need it..." but with Vedder ultimately finding music. And a sublime, if short, guitar solo...

First single The Fixer, with its disjointed slow-then-fast verse structure and empty chorus is an odd choice to 'promote' Backspacer but an elegant simplicity results in a decent middle-of-the-road rock track. It covers just about every style Pearl Jam can cope with. This is the best of the first half before a massive mood change. Just Breathe is one of two gorgeous soft acoustic heart-breaking love songs. Again, Vedder's voice is cracking with emotion but the change of pace and direction is startling. Time after time Pearl Jam move between dirty rock and mushy ballad, each time retaining just enough credibility. The sudden ending adds to the heartbreak. But the best is just around the corner. Amongst The Waves is exceptional, up there with the band's best. It's a soaring epic that feels like an outtake from Binaural or Yield given a modern take. A brilliant chorus: "Riding high amongst the waves; I can feel like I have a soul that has been saved; I can feel like I put away my early grave..." of a man being given a second chance lifts the album just when it needs it. More great guitar work pins the centre before Vedder is back, as passionate and committed as ever. If this isn't enough Unthought Known is almost as good, lacking the predictable structure but avoiding the big anthemic stadium moments.

Into the last three songs and Speed Of Sound is another beautifully crafted song, framed with some more excellent guitars and piano. Yes it's bordering on soft rock but most bands who only have this never sound this good. Force of Nature threatens a return to the gritty start of the album but a great vocal melody from Vedder transforms it into another classic. More intimate storytelling about holding a relationship together: "One man stands along, awaiting for her to come home; eyes are closed, you cannot know but his heart don’t seem to roam". Closing with The End, predictability becomes a last surprise. Following on from Just Breathe, The End has Vedder serving up even more emotion for part two: "Slide on next to me, I’m just a human being; I will take the blame, bust just the same; This is not me you see; Believe I’m better than this". More proof that Vedder's song writing is maturing with time. The final words form a sudden finale: "My dear The End comes near. I’m here. But not much longer".

A new Pearl Jam album will always come with certain expectations. Ten was such a great debut, an anti-grunge masterpiece that challenged Nirvana’s Nevermind but lost every time. Fans will always want the next album to capture the wide-eyed intensity of the first few albums. From Ten, through the trials and troubles of Vs. and into the dark menacing Vitalogy (the band’s finest hour) and the wonderfully diverse No Code, Pearl Jam always deliver something special. Backspacer has that something, and it has the intensity and the passion but the band is always held to a higher standard because of the early heights. This is the reason no one wants to trawl through a new U2 album. Nothing will be as good as The Joshua Tree and then Achtung Baby. When you go to a Radiohead gig you don’t want to hear In Rainbows. You want High & Dry and Fake Plastic Trees and you don’t care if the band aren’t into that anymore. Every new REM album is treated with the same level of stomach churning anticipation. Long gone are the days of Life’s Rich Pageant, Green and New Adventures In Hi-Fi. What we now get is Reveal and Accelerate even when we would settle for another Automatic For The People...

So back to Pearl Jam. Success does change bands. They don’t become lazy and complacent. They don’t stop trying. But they do move on, trying something different and challenging each other. So why shouldn’t the same challenges be levelled at the listener? With liberation from a record label, the freedom to do what you want, and the knowledge that fans will still buy your music is what band’s like Pearl Jam now have. The industry is not what it used to be. Pearl Jam will not make another Ten, or a Vitalogy and it's taken three albums, but this is further proof that the band is still a potent force. Backspacer is vibrant, uplifting, emotional and honest. Not bad for a band on the verge of a tenth album.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

David Cronenberg's Wife - Hypnagogues Album Review (2009)

A new review for The Music Magazine.

One of the great things about reviewing music for other people is that often a band comes along that is genuinely surprising. Writing about a favourite artist is always preceded by expectations leading to inevitable joy or ultimate grudgingly accepted disappointment. But the experience is always biased in some way. A band you have never heard before is a rare experience even if they turn out to sound like someone else. Occasionally they don't. The intriguingly named David Cronenberg's Wife is that band. Hypnagogues (which apparently means 'a drug that induces sleep') is the second album from the London art-rock sextet.

Hypnagogues is a weird and wonderful experience that threatens early on to deliver something different on each track. Singer and guitarist Tom Mayne is a sublime mix of Ian Brown, Jason Pierce and Frank Sidebottom. Opener Sweden is a brilliant torrent of monologue John Cooper Clarke lyrics eventually gliding into a dance-induced chorus. Mayne namedrops Ideal Homes, Annabel Croft, talks about downing pints of fish oils and feeling crap but living until he's a hundred and twenty four. That is just a taster of a wondrous trip through a frantic mind. On first listen, it seems like an entire album like this would be a huge breath of fresh air but what transpires turns out to be a smart move. Never holding on to a single idea for too long, David Cronenberg's Wife swiftly move on.

Can't Keep Doing What You Do is less talking and more 'singing', a clanking, stomping, uneasy pop song that's not sure if it wants to let anyone know what it is. The first real highlight on Hypnagogues is the majestic The Lou Reed Song, so unashamedly an homage disguised as a rip-off it finds that sweet-spot both musically and ironically before unfolding beautifully into a blatant finale. It is also home to the best line on the album: "So you're in a good mood, but the party it brings you down; If you don't want to go home barking, then stop acting like such a hound...".

As with all music that tries to do something new and unique, not all of Hypnagogues works. Fight Song is like a bad journey through a budget ghost train ride at a seedy faire. It lacks any form of melody. Likewise In The Limo is a drunken attempt at a Pogues cover - a mean feat but Mayne and the band execute it perfectly. After a minute it gets truly irritating. Even the guitars and the big 'sing-a-long' ending does little to improve things. You Should've Closed The Curtains brings back the style in spectacular form. Playing out like The Stranglers at their most eclectic, this tale of voyeurism brings together sultry vocals, swathes of strings and harpsichord. The racy Body To Sleep With continues the oscillation, a quick blast of disjointed punk-pop.

Desperate Little Man could be Mark Everett at his best, a bitter-sweet slice of storytelling with lost love, stark imagary and honest reflection. The arrangement is exquisite. Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace is dark, creepy guitar-based indie with distant nasal vocals. The instrumentation just before the three minute point is breathtakingly delicate and controlled against the edgy vocal delivery. In contrast Jailbird is too obvious, packed full of tongue-in-cheek metaphor: "I was roughly fingerprinted, there was no chance of bail...She even took my shirt, I had to be strip-searched...". Back to a high for the closer Drawn Again, a slow mesmerising trawl from the depths, again full of wonderful imagery and observations. In spite of Mayne's prosaic tone, he has an oddly tuneful voice. The tumbling guitars and violin dance away into the last minute.

Hypnagogues is twisted, direct, melancholy, uplifting, dark and light. Tom Mayne's vocals are responsible for the unique approach of David Cronenberg's Wife but the band play a big part. The six musicians combine through interesting and brave arrangements to compliment the words of the front man which rarely falter. Mayne's unwavering attempts to ignore structure and convention (if the words don't fit, just say them quicker so they do) is refreshing and compelling. Hypnagogues is far from great. But like all great art it has plenty of delicious faults.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

New Death Cab For Cutie 'Soundtrack' Single

Normally a new Death Cab For Cutie song is cause for celebration. But on hearing that Meet Me On The Equinox is a track from the soundtrack for the new movie The Twilight Saga: New Moon I approached it with trepidation. DCFC on the soundtrack of a teen vampire movie? Oh dear.

Thankfully it's not bad. It's not great either and it doesn't end well, ironic given the lyrics in the chorus. Gibbard, Walla and the boys are on great anthemic form but Meet Me On The Equinox is at times horribly mainstream, polished and far removed from the intimate storytelling DCFC are famous for.

You can hear the song full on the band's MySpace page.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Jason Ward - Almighty Row Album Review (2009)

One great thing about reviewing music for other people if you always discover new music. In this case, Jason Ward sounding like someone I would like but I has never heard any of his music. Not sure why as he has made 30 albums worth of songs in the last ten years and doesn't have a record deal. Thanks to Altsounds again for this one. Oh and you can listen to the whole album on Ward's Myspace site.

The review...

Not many mainstream artists can claim to have written over three hundred and fifty songs this decade. This year alone the West Virginia musician Jason Ward has released two albums, two EPs and seven singles, yet he is far removed from the mainstream music industry and remains unsigned. He is Kurt Cobain if Nirvana had never happened. The world is full of people making music for themselves. A voice, a guitar, some words and a room is all you need these days to make a song. But very few are as talented as Jason Ward.

Almighty Row is just a small example of Jason Ward’s work, but as a complete album the songs share a similar mournful and ethereal sound. Ward’s vocals have a Thom Yorke quality but there is often more to his voice. The music treads a fine line between heartbreaking melancholy and soulless depression, the words complimented by a minimalist framework of acoustic guitars, strings and piano. This album is proof that less is more when you make the right choices.

The definitive highlight of Almighty Row is the haunting Sugarcoat, a perfect three minutes of captivating performance. Ward’s vocals are interchanged with a delicate and simple piano melody and the whole song is washed with a subtle string arrangement. It is probably the most ‘complete’ song on the album. Sinkhole is a close second with an achingly beautiful chorus: ‘Enjoy your sinkhole, make it your home. You raise your kids there and die alone…’. The trails and tribulations of ‘family life’ summed up.

Opener I’m Not In Trouble sets the uneasy scene from the outset, a tale of self-doubt and denial centred around the line: ‘I know it’s not me and I’m not in trouble, still think I may have done something wrong…’. It could be a small child facing a parent or a serial killer talking to the devil. Perfect abstract song writing. Bright continues the sinister feel, flat verses leading up to a melodic chorus: “…And I’ll be happy though it’s wrong. And I’ll be happy knowing you are where you belong”. The backing vocals by Ward himself are excellent.

Almighty Row often breaks the formula. Hinting At The Door is a slower piano-led piece using few words to first create the pictures: ‘She came down from Pennsylvania where the horses run. I came from the tributaries where the sun is spun’, then the personal touch: ‘She looked out the window once, at the empty field. When I asked her what she saw, she kept her thoughts concealed’. Sendoff could be a Rufus Wainwright closer. The combination of piano and Ward’s change of vocal style conjures images of a faded actor in a downbeat musical. Hope You Don’t Mind is similar with a startling vocal mix above a plodding piano. The choral strings provide backing vocals and the brief outro of deep electronica is over too quickly.

At just over half an hour, Almighty Row never feels too long. The pace of each song is measured and consistent but never laboured - a wonderful feat of control and production. Song after song you keep expecting Ward to suddenly start yelling or throw in a massive blast of industrial noise to release the tension and angst. It never happens. But on repeat listens you keep expecting it as the songs reveal more and more hidden depth and meaning. Given that Jason Ward has made so much music in the last ten years and his creative output has produced something as good as Almighty Row, it remains a mystery why he doesn’t have a record deal. Maybe he doesn’t want one. Maybe he is living the life that Kurt Cobain never had - making music out of the public spotlight and staying well in control.

-- CS (for Altsounds)

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Blind Boris - Blind Boris Album Review (2009)

Another review for Altsounds. An amazing album considering these guys are unsigned and don't have a label. Hopefully not for long as this is a strong piece of work, even if it leans a bit too far toward those uncool bands of the 80s who put melody and harmonies into rock music.

The review...

The London duo of Samuel ‘Blob’ Gough and Amir Alam moved to Los Angeles to soak up the west coast rays and form Blind Boris. Obviously inspired by the melodic rock scene of the late 702 and 80s, the debut album sounds for the most part like it was made thirty years ago in the glory days of The Eagles, at the start of Bon Jovi’s career, back when it was acceptable to brandish the badge of ‘soft rock’ with pride.

Setting an uneasy mood from the start, Blind Boris doesn’t start well. Opener Rain Song tries too much and tries too hard, moving from acceptable smoky country-rock to ridiculously over-the-top howling in four minutes. A shame that they feel the need to do this from the outset and fall flat before they have even started. That said, the intro is superb as is the first display of vocal harmonies from the band led by Gough‘s wonderful vocals - like a smooth sandstone.

The great news is that from this shaky start, Blind Boris is packed with magnificence, each song a brilliant example of a great new band in the making. It makes you wonder why and how these guys, who make such an incredible noise, don’t have a record deal. Skin And Bone is majestic stuff but the album doesn’t really take off until the sublime Already Done, beginning slowly and delicately acoustic before a predictable yet honest blast of rock brings in the chorus. Then back to the fragility building up to another. The song is controlled and focused, even when the guitars kick in it never oversteps the mark, and ends as deliciously as it started.

From here there is a mix of full-on rock and folky ballads. Travelling captures a modern Led Zeppelin at the band’s most mellow - Robert Plant on one of many journeys of self-discovery. In spite of this obvious influence, Blind Boris let a new personality wash through the sound. More great guitar work in the last thirty seconds before an acoustic outro. Looking For A Way Out continues this laid-back approach, fusing in piano and a dreamy arrangement, complete with another soaring guitar solo, it just about holds it together to the end.

So far so good and the album is settled and focused with only a few mild moments of self-indulgence. From The Deep is more Zeppelin folk-rock. Burning Hole returns to the dirty rock with a vengeance and the best guitars on the album. An excellent drum arrangement announces the big outro which is not as huge as it could be. There’s A Chill is one of the most modern sounding songs Blind Boris delivers, stuck somewhere in mid-tempo and not deciding what it wants to be. A slight lapse as Heaven Spun is a master class in vocal harmonies and the proof that sometimes less is more definably more. Gough is supreme. The closing song A Little While is completely different but just as good, another perfect rock song, building from quiet to loud through a five minute duration. Gough comes back after a quirky guitar solo and in the last minute he sticks to an odd falsetto

If you take Blind Boris on face value, it is a hugely enjoyable album. In the same way that every new band in the UK is determined to relive the glorious musical renaissance of the 1980s, Blind Boris is doing the same thing…for 70s and 80s soft rock. The album is delivered straight, no tongues in cheeks and embracing the sounds and textures of those bands that excelled in guitar-led melodic rock. At times excellent guitar-work, keyboards and harmonies bring in a guitar solo that could go on for five minutes and it would have made parts of the album an instant classic. But the band never stray into prog-rock and keep things punchy. Going retro is nothing new. Some bands take the influences and copy them directly and others turn them into something new and fresh. Thankfully Blind Boris falls into the latter category, even if it is only just.
-- CS (for Altsounds)