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)