Wednesday, 29 February 2012

2012 Music Chart - February

More great music this month to add to the chart from First Aid Kit, Errors, Mark Lanegan Band, Gretchen Peters, Kathleen Edwards, Chairlift and Sleigh Bells.
  1. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  2. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  3. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  4. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  5. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  6. Something by Chairlift
  7. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  8. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  9. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  10. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  11. America Give Up by Howler
  12. Black Light by Diagrams

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (February 2012)

The end of another month brings us lucky Angels another offering from Thea Gilmore. This month is a rejected song from the Victor Gregg documentary entitled This Is The Time.

Thea doesn't say anything about the song but it's certainly a departure from her typical sound. This is a dark, slightly tribal and with a distinct Native American vibe. Part blues and part Americana with a distant wordless chorus - this is very atmospheric and moody.

In other news, here are Thea's latest tour dates (with Joan Wasser, Maddy Prior and Bellowhead):

May 19: LIVERPOOL Liverpool Philharmonic 0151 709 3789
May 20: NOTTINGHAM Royal Centre 0115 989 5555
May 21: BRIGHTON Festival 01273 709709
May 22: COVENTRY Warwick Arts Centre 024 7652 4524
May 23: LONDON Barbican Centre 020 7638 8891
May 24: BASINGSTOKE The Anvil 01256 844244
May 27: GATESHEAD The Sage Gateshead 0191 443 4661
May 28: MANCHESTER Bridgewater Hall 0161 907 9000

Sunday, 12 February 2012

First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar (Album Review 2012)

First Aid Kit is the Swedish sister duo Klara and Johanna Söderberg. Their début EP Drunken Trees was released in 2008 when they were both teenagers, still finding their way and their unique sound. The follow-up album, The Big Black & Blue paved the way for The Lion’s Roar – a much more ambitious, vibrant and musically solid collection of songs. The key improvement can heard in both voices, lead by younger sister Klara and enhanced by the elder Johanna to create serene and wonderful harmonies; there is no mistaking their love of bands like The Fleet Foxes. And this time, the Söderbergs have Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) on production duties, and they are joined by his band’s front-man Conor Oberst for the album’s rousing finale.

The immediate accessibility of The Lion’s Roar is the balancing of the vocal qualities within a stirring pop song formula. The best song in this respect is the gorgeous Blue, blending heartbreak, loss and hope in a near-perfect three minutes. Another great radio-friendly song is Emmylou, a celebration of the female ‘muse’ using Emmylou Harris and June Carter Cash as the central characters: “You’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too…” completes the pairings. The vocal interplay between the two sisters is mesmerising. This theme continues with In The Hearts Of Men (“…and the arms of mothers”), a more subdued and listless take filled with empty vocals to further showcase these amazing voices.

The two longest songs are the most ambitious. The title track sets the perfect tone for the album. Clear, atmospheric vocals begin the tale of trying to find your way in love: “I’m a goddamn coward but then again so are you…” begins the chorus, for it to end: “…and I never really knew… what to do”. The vocal gymnastics break-up an otherwise flat structure, as the music swirls as a mass of guitars and strings. This continues, after a false ending. Conversely, To A Poet is dark and serious, filled with self-doubt: “There’s nothing more to it… I just get through it…”. At the four-minute point, an astonishing vocal/string instrumental gives the song a final lift, to fade. Brilliant.

Late on, I Found A Way is Emmylou’s moody Goth cousin – a more direct examination of love and companionship. A neat upbeat chorus provides the light touch in what is a smooth and seamless arrangement. New Year’s Eve succeeds in adding some variation – easily the best of the ‘slower’ songs and more proficient song writing. Elsewhere the quality shines even if the songs do not – This Old Routine is slow and laboured but provides some exquisite guitar work and yet another solid vocal, and Dance To Another Tune feels like a lot of style over little substance, and lumbers at an agonisingly slow pace. That said, the delivery is as slick and controlled as ever and at three and half minutes, an instrumental attempts to break the monotony – only for the lack of a thrilling climax.

Album closer King Of The World is another great pop tune. With Conor Oberst sharing the vocals, this is a great finish – storytelling, more self-examination with a sense of fun. Oberst’s turn is as cool as ever and joined by the sisters to create a new unique voice for the last and only time on the album.

The Lion’s Roar is a charming and, at times, beautiful album. Mike Mogis adds the same magic that makes Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous, Jenny Lewis’s Rabbit Fur Coat and I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes such engaging listens. This gives the whole album more of an American Country roots flavour than the more obvious ‘folk’ tag. And coupled with the wondrous vocals and wise-beyond-their-years song writing, the Söderbergs are tugging firmly on Laura Marling’s coat tails. The Lion’s Roar is truly the sound of young talent being realised.
-- CS

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Mark Lanegan Band - Blues Funeral (Album Review 2012)

After the release of Hawk, yet another brilliant album with his musical soul mate Isobel Campbell, Mark Lanegan returns with Blues Funeral, the follow-up to the now eight year old Bubblegum. In spite of this lengthy ‘break’, the timing could not be better, as band after band dredge up the glory (or otherwise) of the 80s, put down their guitars and pick up their MacBooks. And bringing in (again) musician and producer Alain Johannes, Blues Funeral is an intriguing prospect. The result is that instead of kicking away the current trend of electronica and making a predictable guitar-fuelled traditional rock/blues album, Lanegan has embraced the so-called demise with both hands.

At the centre of Blues Funeral is a wonderful tribute/send-up of Goldfrapp entitled Ode To Sad Disco – even going as far as namedropping single Ride A White Horse (Supernature, 2006). The tongue-in-cheek slant aside, this is a smooth six minutes of slick instrumentation – with Lanegan’s usual growl gliding like silk. The song ends with the line “Here I have seen the light” repeated over and over. This idea is augmented later with the equally majestic Harborview Hospital – a semi-autobiographical account of a past life: “All around this place, I was a sad disgrace” and “Are they supposed to be, as sick as you and me?”, he sings as Aldo Struyf’s keyboards shimmer with style.

The best song on Blues Funeral is the more orthodox Riot In My House with superb guitar work from Josh Homme. This is all rock stomp mixed with obscure (even by Lanegan’s standards) lyrics: “…Death’s metal broom…comes sweeping through the evening…” is one example. Words aside, this is excellent throughout and an immediate highlight. Early on, Bleeding Muddy Water is as familiar as it is ambitious with slow, deliberate, repeating lyrics building like a new take on an old prayer. And opener The Gravedigger’s Song starts the album in dark fuzzy industrial mood, driven on by relentless percussion and distant guitars.

Mark Lanegan revisits plenty of old themes and stories throughout Blues Funeral. St. Louis Elegy (featuring fellow Gutter Twin and Afghan Whigs singer/guitarist Greg Dulli) features the early line “If tears were liquor, I’d have drunk myself sick”, only to change it later to “These tears were liquor, and I’ve drunk myself sick”. Subtle but effective. Phantasmagoria Blues (named from the form of theatre in which lanterns project images onto a backlit screen) is powerful and well judged in its exploration of suicide and redemption.

Late on the album fuses psychedelia and folk into the blend. Leviathan is a song in two parts: a slow melody becoming chaotic followed by a brilliant arrangement of multi-layered vocals. This is followed by the 60s influenced Deep Black Vanishing Train – folky guitars and flute with deep vocal production. This delivers Lanegan’s best songwriting, which at times can be awkward and often clumsy, with “Lost on a violent sea, day on endless day… I’ve finally freed myself but it’s hard to break away…”.

Blues Funeral closes with its most ambitious song: the seven-minute swirling instrumentation of Tiny Grain Of Truth. Lanegan manages to create an upbeat dirge with a host of characters from ‘neon priest’ to ‘junkie doctor’. Again the keyboards and guitars are magnificent as it draws the listener into its strange world.

In 2009, Chris Cornell released the risky, but quite brilliant, Scream – an ambitious collaboration with producer Timbaland that brought the Soundgarden and Audioslave vocalist out from his comfort zone. Although not as dramatic, Blues Funeral is a similar concept. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t (Gray Goes Black and Quiver Syndrome the only weak moments) but it succeeds in proving that Mark Lanegan is not as one-dimensional as he could be; now a musician with multiple personalities and personas – part wandering drifter, part love-struck fugitive, part reformed preacher. Blue Funeral proves that risk brings reward and within the big drums, electronic flourishes and stirring production, the Blues lives on.
-- CS

Thursday, 9 February 2012

New Feeder single Borders

Feeder return to form with a new single Borders, as a preview for their new album Generation Freakshow, the follow-up to the disastrous Renegades project. Thankfully Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose (now officially a duo) with session musicians Tim Trotter and Damon Wilson, have ditched the new persona and gone back to the Feeder of old, writing and performing great pop songs and delivering power, melody and energy.

This bodes well for the new album which Nicholas describes as much more commercial and like Yesterday Went Too Soon and Comfort In Sound - both great albums.

The single is backed with Arms, and acoustic versions of Borders and the charity single Side By Side - all superb.

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2012

Last night heralded this year's BBC Radio 2 Awards, celebrating the last 12 months best of the folk music world.Veteran June Tabor swept the board and emerged as the best singer, singing the best traditional song, on the best album, with the best group, Oysterband. The album Ragged Kingdom, featuring Bonny Bunch Of Roses, is a revelation and a marvellous balance of the old and the new; a perfect example of how to bring traditional folk right up to date without going too far. And Tabor's voice just gets better with age. The Dubliners and Don McLean picked up Lifetime Achievement Awards at the ceremony presented by Mike Harding and Julie Fowlis at The Lowry Theatre.

The winners (in bold) and nominees:

Jon Boden
Jackie Oates
Emily Smith
June Tabor

Tim Edey & Brendan Power
Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell
Spiers & Boden
Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight

The Home Service
June Tabor & Oysterband
The Unthanks

Last – The Unthanks
Purpose & Grace – Martin Simpson
Ragged Kingdom – June Tabor & Oysterband
Saturnine – Jackie Oates

The Herring Girl – Bella Hardy
Last – Adrian McNally (performed by The Unthanks)
On Morecambe Bay – Kevin Littlewood (performed by Christy Moore)
The Reckoning – Steve Tilston

Bonny Bunch of Roses – June Tabor & Oysterband
Lakes of Ponchartrain – Martin Simpson
Maids When You’re Young – Lucy Ward
Sweet Lover of Mine – Emily Smith

Megan Henwood
Lady Maisery
Pilgrims’ Way
Lucy Ward

Andy Cutting
Tim Edey
Will Pound
Martin Simpson

The Home Service
Peatbog Faeries
The Unthanks

Sunjay Brayne
Blair Dunlop
Graham Mackenzie

The Dubliners

Don McLean

Ian Campbell

Bill Leader

Malcolm Taylor

Monday, 6 February 2012

New Orbital album and preview video for Straight Sun

Orbital release their new album Wonky in April this year and the video for second track Straight Sun is now on YouTube. The album is produced by Flood.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas (Album Review 2012)

There is a common misconception that some musicians are beyond criticism. One only has to listen to the latest Lou Reed/Metallica train crash (Lulu, 2011) to know that isn’t true. And it‘s all too easy to praise so called ‘legends’ and overuse the word ‘genius’ when their legacy has outlived their present achievements (McCartney and Dylan being two obvious examples).  So it is with a certain amount of trepidation that Leonard Cohen’s twelfth album is received; kept at arms-length rather than embraced, admired from distance and not approached, talked about in hushed-tones instead of praised. The man who gave the world Suzanne, Hallelujah and First We Take Manhattan has transcended genres and trends throughout his half-century career, while remaining a superb songwriter and poet, as Old Ideas is an immediately accessible, charming and loveable collection of memories.

Old Ideas opens with the delicate autobiographical musings of Going Home. Cohen’s baritone rasp, in which he describes himself as a ‘lazy bastard living in a suit’, is offset by angelic backing vocals. This is an intriguing self-examination leading into the seven and a half minute masterpiece of Amen. Again the juxtaposition of Cohen’s well-trodden gravel-road vocals and sweet female backing is simply sublime. ‘Tell me again when I’m clean and I’m sober; Tell me again when I’ve seen through the horror”, he sings before asking: “Tell me that you’ll love me then…?”. A gorgeous combined brass/string instrumental breaks up the song into two acts before a second brings a mesmerising finale. 

Show Me The Place is a timeless piano-led ballad of faith, devotion and incarceration (metaphoric or otherwise), with a deep hymnal quality. The final two lines are powerful and poignant: “Show me the place, where the word became a man; Show me the place where the suffering began”. The best song on Old Ideas is recent single Darkness, a wonderful piece of tongue-in-cheek Faustian blues – bringing together pulsating organ, choral vocals, acoustic guitar and Cohen’s inner monologue, in one astonishing arrangement. Underpinning the song is the central message of temptation and doubt.

This is followed by Anyhow, a love song with a wicked sense of humour: “I know you have to hate me, but could you hate me less? I’ve used up all my chances and you’ll never take me back; but there ain’t no harm in asking, could you cut me one more slack?”, is probably the best songwriting on the album. The last minute or so is a superb summary of the story in which blame is afforded to both sides. Crazy To Love You (co-written with Anjani Thomas) is the second half of the love song. Cohen lifts his vocal from the depths to add lightness to an otherwise melancholy dirge. “Crazy has places to hide in, that are deeper than any goodbye” is another wonderful line.

Many of Leonard Cohen’s songs have been compared to ‘hymns’ is both structure and content. None more so on Old Ideas than the magnificent Come Healing that is as understated as it is uplifting. Again, the affecting combination of vocals and music is seemingly effortless. Into the last few songs, Banjo is a truly light-hearted moment, in which Cohen tells the story of an old instrument and its supposed history. Likewise, the country-esque harmonica of Lullaby is pure whimsy and a well executed, if twee, distraction.

Old Ideas closes with the emotionally heavy Different Sides – a relationship song played out like an uneasy therapy session. Musically the arrangement is a thick soup of ideas and the song fades through the vocal, bringing the album to a strange wilting finale. It is as if Old Ideas is missing the last song. Maybe this is the point – leave them wanting more, if you have more to give.

Now in his seventies, Leonard Cohen sounds as engaging and as relevant as ever. The elder statesman to Nick Cave and Tom Waits, and now with a voice somewhere between the two that continues to reveal his advanced years, he delivers his best album in decades. Filled with poetic wit, dry humour, light touches and dark corners, Old Ideas is touching, funny and brilliant. Cohen hasn’t always made the best choices but this finds the perfect balance of arrangements and delivery – and the contribution from his backing singers can’t be praised highly enough. Is any musician beyond criticism? No, but Leonard Cohen remains the exception that proves the rule.
-- CS