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)