Wednesday, 31 August 2011

2011 Music Chart - August

Two new albums this month from the ever-brilliant Fountains Of Wayne and Charlie 'Busted then Fightstar' Simpson. Sky Full Of Holes is a joy on each and every listen but sadly Young Pilgrim loses its immediate charm over time.
  1. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
  2. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will by Mogwai
  3. Last Night On Earth by Noah And The Whale
  4. Codes and Keys by Death Cab For Cutie
  5. Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.
  6. Belong by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
  7. Sky Full Of Holes by Fountains Of Wayne
  8. The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable
  9. Blood Pressures by The Kills
  10. Diamond Mine by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins
  11. Destroyed by Moby
  12. John Wesley Harding by Thea Gilmore
  13. Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow
  14. Virtue by Emmy The Great
  15. The King Of Limbs by Radiohead 
  16. Silesia by Jeniferever
  17. Ritual by White Lies
  18. Fishin' For Woos by Bowling For Soup
  19. The Fool by Warpaint
  20. Buffalo by The Phoenix Foundation
  21. Young Pilgrim by Charlie Simpson
  22. Wasting Light by Foo Fighters

Monday, 29 August 2011

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (August 2011)

It's been a busy time for Thea Gilmore. So much so that we didn't get a July song at all. She has a good excuse though...a new baby son born a couple of weeks early and requiring some much deserved rest and recuperation. Now at the end of August, Thea wanted to make it up to her devoted Angels by providing two songs but a call to provide for a new Amnesty International collection of Dylan (who else?!) tracks. A studio version of I'll Remember You (previously performed live) will be her contribution.

This month's song is the delicate but striking This Road The King. A simple acoustic backing adorns Thea's piercing vocals. She introduces it as "well, the parenthood thing is looming large in my life right now, as you may expect. One guy about to head to school for the first time and one just born.. It got me thinking about what lies ahead for my kids". This both celebrates and berates the highs and lows of growing up and making your way in the world. And the observations, as always, unfold beautifully.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Charlie Simpson - Young Pilgrim Album Review (2011)

The world has changed a lot since the days of Busted. Remember them? They were the band that brought emo to the UK and paved the way for such wonderful acts as McFly. In the band’s thankfully short career, they were incredibly successful but in 2003, frontman Charlie Simpson grew weary of the trite bouncy commercial pop and formed the band Fightstar, a completely different foray into post-hardcore heavy rock. Four albums later and Fightstar continue to embrace the deeper, more complex sound of a ‘proper’ band while retaining much of the melody-washed song writing that made Busted so engaging. After a brief hiatus Simpson is back with a solo album, and yet another style. He is like the one-man Noah And The Whale. Young Pilgrim, made with Coldplay and Doves producer Danton Supple, is a luscious, if obvious, blend of indie-pop and acoustic rock.

On opener Down Down Down, Simpson plays the ‘jaded former-frontman’ very well and his voice belies his young years. It is hard to tell if the line “We’ve sent people into space without really knowing if they’re ever gonna come back down” is naïve teenage musing or a clever double-meaning. Sadly the wheels come off as a change of pace and transformation into a limp protest song removes all credibility. Not a great start. Parachutes, in spite of being an obvious Coldplay homage (and not just in name), is a better approach. The first signs of Simpson’s talent as a lyricist brings us “So sorry for the pain, sorry for the aches, sorry for the moods I’m swinging” and a great chorus. The jolly country rock and jilted shifting arrangement of All At Once is a much more natural vocal performance complete with falsetto chorus.

Young Pilgrim finds its feet with the wonderful Thorns with more solid vocals, simple drums and a guitar melody. Another good line is “Don’t take this broken heart of mine, it’s the only beat that I have left pulsating through this empty chest”. A great highlight. Cemetery brings together the curious mix of xylophone, double-bass and another cracking chorus while Hold On completes the trilogy, a dreamy harmony-filled pop ballad, in what shapes up to be a strong centrepiece. The same approach continues on I Need A Friend Tonight but is too light and airy, building to a rousing finale that never happens.

In the second half Suburbs drifts by and drifts away to make way for Sundown, a Tom Baxter-esque masterpiece filled with a great arrangement and passionate energy. In the album’s final trilogy, Farmer & His Gun is more great writing: a metaphor for making it on your own and avoiding predators, delivered as gentle country-rock. The sentiment is almost lost in some kooky instrumentation but “It’s best to lose yourself before you ever lose your pride” is the best line on the album. There are great vocals, guitars and well-used harmonica. In an inconsistent turn, If I Lose It crawls through the first two minutes before finally failing to be a huge stadium anthem thanks to flat production. But Riverbanks is a strong (if repetitive) finish with real depth and striking vocals, into a soaring final instrumental.

Even with the pitfalls it is hard to dislike Young Pilgrim. The album has an instant charm and more often than not it draws you in, but the problem is it constantly dazzles you in its headlights. As a song writer Simpson has much to learn and shows great strength but Supple resorts to softening the vocals when a raw production would have more of an impact and there are too many tricks: wordless backing vocals, strings and pounding drums might work for other bands but here there are too many empty spaces. The glue is just as important as the material and things often crack and fall apart. So even though it is far from a triumph this is the most ambitious and unique Charlie Simpson has ever sounded. And that alone should be applauded.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Sigur Rós have announced the release of a live album/film INNI, out in November 2011.
More information here.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Fountains Of Wayne - Sky Full Of Holes (Album Review 2011)

New York quartet Fountains Of Wayne continue to tread a fine line between penning the perfect pop tune and taking an ironic sideways look at life. In a similar way to their Texan compatriots Bowling For Soup, observation and humour is an intrinsic part of their music, and as many bands have proved this can be a frayed tightrope in a hurricane. But thankfully Fountains Of Wayne find the right balance of fun, real-life melancholy and melodrama. Fifth studio album Sky Full of Holes is no exception.

Sky Full Of Holes is packed with brilliant songs. Chris Collingwood is an ever-present vocal genius but the song-writing pairing of Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger is now as strong as ever. Action Hero is the core song that pulls together all elements beautifully, recalling the tale of a family man who dreams of heroic pursuit but is always dragged back by the people around him and the trials and tribulations of real life. This is followed by the sun-kissed pop of A Dip In The Ocean, another cracking pop tune. Vibrant guitars and Collingwood’s ferocious vocals move the song forward at pace.

A wonderful piece of ironic observation is the brilliant A Road Song, which pokes fun at the concept of ‘writing on tour’. Collingwood delivers one of the album’s best lines: “It’s a cliché, but hey… It doesn’t make it so wrong. And in between the stops at the Cracker Barrel and forty movies with Will Ferrell… I need something to occupy my time…”. This is simply gorgeous writing, instrumentation and arrangement. Radio Bar is an obvious ‘big hit’ packed with drums and brass telling the tale of a group of friends on a night out with a wonderful twist ending. This is also a great demonstration of how to use wordless vocals effectively.

Elsewhere the songs are effortlessly varied. The band recall the tale of two hopeless and hapless entrepreneurs Richie and Ruben and then add their own ‘National Express’ (The Divine Comedy) with Acela, a tribute to the Amtrack express train that runs through New York, in the style of Oasis. The whole thing works brilliantly. In complete contrast, the big ballad Hate To See You Like This is a sympathetic yet light-hearted take on depression and closer Cemetery Guns also shows the more serious side of the band. It is a sad lament and tribute of our times.

Fountains Of Wayne have always been able to crank out a pop song but it is the less commercial songs that best show the band’s talents. Their biggest hit, 2003’s Stacy’s Mom from Welcome Interstate Managers, is a perfect example of when it all comes together but there is more to the band than a couple of hit singles. Sky Full Of Holes may not have these (Radio Bar could be the obvious exception) but it is the most consistent and solid album since the brilliant Utopia Parkway in 1999 and considerably better than the charming yet forgettable Traffic And Weather four years ago. This is an excellent return.
-- CS
Dedicated to the memory of A.M.S. RIP.