Monday, 30 April 2012

2012 Music Chart - April 2012

An embarrassment of riches this month with new albums from Lostprophets, Jack White, Spiritualized, Counting Crows, Feeder, Orbital and Gemma Hayes...not to mention De La Soul, Seth Lakeman, Gotye, Radical Face, Lightships and Human Don't Be Angry.
  1. Shallow Bed by Dry The River
  2. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  3. Generation Freakshow by Feeder
  4. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized
  5. Ghostory by School of Seven Bells
  6. Like Drawing Blood by Gotye 
  7. Electric Cables by Lightships
  8. Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings
  9. Young Man In America by Anais Mitchell
  10. Ssss by Vcmg
  11. Wonky by Orbital
  12. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  13. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
  14. Let It Break by Gemma Hayes 
  15. Human Don't Be Angry by Human Don't Be Angry
  16. The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
  17. Weapons by Lostprophets
  18. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  19. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  20. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  21. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  22. Fossil Of Girl by Sarah Donner
  23. Blunderbuss by Jack White
  24. Tales From The Barrel House by Seth Lakeman
  25. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  26. Eighty One by Yppah
  27. Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen
  28. First Serve by De La Soul's Plug 1 and Plug 2
  29. Kin Con by Alex Winston
  30. Underwater Sunshine by Counting Crows
  31. Siberia by LIGHTS
  32. The Something Rain by Tindersticks
  33. Something by Chairlift
  34. California 37 by Train
  35. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
  36. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  37. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  38. Personality by Scuba
  39. America Give Up by Howler
  40. Black Light by Diagrams

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (April 2012)

This month's song from Thea is a bit different. This is her introduction:

"Isn't technology marvellous? This month, here's a technological experiment for ya.. You all know that I've been writing like a demon for the next album.. which means time in the studio has been short. So I thought I'd send you over something I recorded on Garageband in the dastardly iPad. It's great fun.. However, it means you are listening to my voice coming from the picturesque surrounds of my utility room.. the mountain of washing acted as a very fine vocal deadener (plus it was the only place I could sing and not wake the sleeping monster baby).."

So the song is called Hush and it's great and the production is excellent. A great vocal and melody form the basis of this heartfelt love song.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Music Report - April 2012 Part 2

Gotye – Like Drawing Blood

Easily the most interesting album this year, Like Drawing Blood from Belgian/Australian Gotye (Wouter De Backer) is a revelation. With music that transcends and spans cultures and textures, from the industrial funk of The Only Way to the smooth uneasy-listening of Coming Back (think Trent Reznor meets Rufus Wainwright), to the superb consumer-culture-bashing Thanks For Your Time, De Backer is astute and eclectic.  Learnalilgivinanlovin is a brilliant three-minute pop song and, in contrast, Seven Hours With A Backseat Driver is a cool jazz take on Prodigy’s Out Of Space. Likewise The Only Thing I Know is all electro-guitar and Puzzle With A Piece Missing brings dub to the party.

Top tracks: Thanks For Your Time, Learnalilgivinanlovin and The Only Way.

Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Jason Pierce has been making great music since the shoe-gazing days of the 80s but with Spirtualized he has always been just a bit different. This new album is by no means another Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space but it gets very close. Sweet Heart Sweet Light is hugely absorbing; an album to get lost in from the massive Hey Jane, a song in four movements, using every Spiritualized trick (chaotic orchestra, build-up and fade, massive choral finale) in one track, to the beauty of Too Late, to the brilliant ‘serial killer lament’ I Am What I Am. Elsewhere the gospel Freedom and hymnal Life Is A Problem bring Pierce’s composer talents to the fore. Only the over-emotional Mary is a blip on an otherwise superb landscape.

Top Tracks: I Am What I Am, Hey Jane and Too Late.

Train – California 37

American rock band Train seemingly leapt to success with the release of their second album, and lead single, Drops Of Jupiter. But there is more to the band than the one hit single. After the reflective For Me, It’s You the band took a break to return with some of their best work, now taking life, music and themselves a little less seriously, the original trio of Monahan, Stafford and Underwood release California 37, an album that blends the experience and talent of the last fifteen years with the youthful exuberance and energy of the current crop of emo-pop-punk bands. This’ll be My Year is a great opener, poking fun at the past before an explosive chorus. When it’s good, it’s great but occasionally California 37 lapses into bland pop. The cheesy country-pop of Bruises aside, songs like 50 Ways To Say Goodbye, campfire-favourite Sing Together, and the Ricky Martin swagger of Mermaid show some life while the finale of When The Fog Rolls In and To Be Loved adds depth and storytelling.

Top Tracks: To Be Loved, 50 Ways To Say Goodbye and This’ll Be My Year.

Counting Crows – Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)

It’s always a problem when a band decides to make a ‘covers’ album. Counting Crows have their reasons: to challenge, to have fun, but sometimes the songs that have inspired in the past and are drawn upon in the present don’t always make great cover versions. Underwater Sunshine brings together a diverse group of musicians: the old favourites of Bob Dylan and The Byrds, Gram Parsons and Fairport Convention, with some surprising choices: Teenage Fanclub, Travis and Sordid Humor (who? Exactly). It’s spirited stuff but takes time to catch hold with Meet On The Ledge, Mercy and All My Failures aligning with the melancholy tones of Adam Duritz and the band. That said, The Faces’ Ooh La La is fun, as is Return Of The Grevious Angel. With a huge running time, there is plenty here and Counting Crows find their comfort zone in the second half, after the uneasy Coming Around is out of the way, and you can’t fault the proficiency to which they approach the project. You Ain’t Going Nowhere is incredible.

Top Tracks: You Ain’t Going Nowhere, Meet On The Ledge and Ooh La La.

Radical Face – The Family Tree: The Roots

Radical Face (aka Ben Cooper) has built an album around the genealogy of a fictional family in the 1800s.  An interesting idea that has created an album of such vivid imagery and heart-breaking beauty, drawing comparisons with Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes. Family Portrait is brutal and honest, Always Gold is a superb six minutes, and Severus and Stone is dramatic and epic. The Family Tree: The Roots is often dragged down by its quieter moments, The Moon Is Down for example but these weak points are few and far.

Top Tracks: Always Gold, Family Portrait and Severus and Stone.

Jack White – Blunderbuss

This is Jack White’s much anticipated debut album. A former White Stripe and now part time member of The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs, White’s decision to make a solo record is interesting – even if he has a horde of musicians behind him. But this is exactly what you would expect; White’s core sound of vocal and guitar is washed through the thirteen songs, and he does a huge amount with it. The organ and guitar blues of Missing Pieces introduces the album perfectly, as does second track Sixteen Saltines. The only fault with Love Interruption is the backing vocals that distract – a simpler arrangement would work better.  White usually does the simple things well. Hypocritical Kiss has a neat piano arrangement that sadly gets swamped by heavy percussion and Weep Themselves To Sleep suffers the same fate. After a weak centre, Blunderbuss provides a decent final trio, with the closer Take Me With You When You Go making a riotous finale. Good album but could have been much better.

Top Tracks: Missing Pieces, Take Me With You When You Go and Sixteen Saltines.

Feeder – Generation Freakshow

After a brief hiatus as their alter-egos Renegades, Feeder are back and making the music fans want them to make: big pop anthems, catchy choruses and emotion. And from the opening trio it is clear that they have left the mess of Renegades behind. Oh My is excellent, Borders is a great single and Idaho is catchy. Hey Johnny (written for ex-drummer Jon Lee) is heart breaking, as is Quiet, a great mix of guitars and vocals. Sunrise brings back memories of Smashing Pumpkins – in a good way, but from here it’s all good. The upbeat duo and heavy guitars of In All Honesty and Headstrong inject some pace before the impassioned, and vaguely ‘prog’ Children Of The Sun. Only the title track, Fools Can’t Sleep and Tiny Minds fall flat.

Top Tracks: Children Of The Sun, Oh My and Hey Johnny.

Human Don’t Be Angry – Human Don’t Be Angry

Malcolm Middleton, once of Arab Strap and the failed bid to get a Christmas number one ahead of Leon Jackson (remember him?) with We’re All Going To Die, has formed a new project. The first thing that comes to mind is an electronic Mogwai with soaring guitars and a mix of instrumental and vocal songs. Opening track The Missing Plutonium is sublime and computerised vocals are added for H.D.B.A. Theme. Middleton appears for the mighty First Person Singular, Present Tense, a curious blend of artificial vocals, fuzzy guitars and piano. After The Pleasuredome is a quiet instrumental before the dramatic Monologue: River takes the album to another level. Jaded is another cool instrumental and the seven-minute Asklipiio is just breath taking. The album closes with the wonderful Getting Better (At Feeling Like Shit) with more great guitar work.

Top Tracks: The Missing Plutonium, Monologue: River and Asklipiio.

Music Report - April 2012 Part 1

Orbital – Wonky

The brothers Hartnoll are back, and out of ‘retirement’, with new album Wonky; an eclectic mix of old and new Orbital with the only misjudged moment the inclusion of Lady Leshurr on the title track. The rest is excellent and right up there with the impressive first four albums from the light Straight Sun to the supreme Stringy Acid to the dark buzzing complex Beelzedub. This is not In Sides but Phil and Paul will never beat this. Wonky is worth coming out of retirement.

Top Tracks: Stringy Acid, Straight Sun and Beelzedub.

Seth Lakeman – Tales From The Barrel House

A predictable, yet brilliant, return from one of the best folk singers in the business right now. Seth Lakeman’s Tales From The Barrel House is much more traditional fare – focusing on the lives and trouble of miners, coopers, blacksmiths and the people who craft and toil – than previous album Hearts & Minds. As always Lakeman’s work brims with storytelling and striking rhythms, none more so than the wonderful Brother Of Penryn and dramatic closer The Artisan. Opener More Than Money was recorded in the George and Charlotte copper mine of Morwellham.

Top Tracks: Brother Of Penryn, The Artisan and More Than Money.

Yppah – Eighty One

The sixth album from Joe Corrales Jr. is a wonder – a bit of everything in a swirling electronic sea and four songs with Seattle-based singer Anomie Bell. Eight One hits the heights with the Moby-esque R. Mullen and the delicate fragmented yet majestic Never Mess With Sunday. Sadly Anomie Belle sounds a bit lost within the instrumentation but the ethereal Three Portraits is excellent.

Top Tracks: Never Mess With Sunday, Three Portraits and R. Mullen.

Lightships – Electric Cables

Lightships is Gerard Love from Teenage Fanclub and is a joy from start to finish. The delicious vocals and looping guitar-work add to the light and easy feel. Opener Two Lines is perfect with a gorgeous outro as is the beauty of Sweetness In Her Spark (“this old heart is beating for her…”). On Silver And Gold, Love does a very credible impression of Mark (E from Eels) Everett and produces another slice of falsetto magic. The pop sensibilities of his former life come back with the upbeat Stretching Out and closer Sunlight To The Dawn is six minutes of brilliance.

Top Tracks: Sweetness In Her Spark, Silver And Gold and Sunlight To The Dawn.

Gemma Hayes – Let It Break

The ever-wonderful Gemma Hayes, who simply does not make enough music, returns this month with Let It Break. And it does everything you would expect from a Gemma Hayes album: gorgeous voice, presence, engaging song writing and atmosphere. Much of Let It Break draws comparisons with the work of Lisa Hannigan but Hayes always shows her own personality. There’s Only Love moves from serene ballad to driving indie into the fourth minute and takes on a new life, before the slow melancholy of Sorrow Be Gone slows things down. The real strength of Hayes’ work is variation and constant surprise. The dark mysterious, electronic Ruin is another gem, the two-minute instrumental That Sky Again, with swirling piano and percussion, is mesmerising, while Fire proves that Hayes can blend everything in one song and still make it work.

Key Tracks: There’s Only Love, Fire and Ruin.

Sarah Donner – Fossil Of Girl

Sarah Donner is a singer on the verge of something huge. A voice that embodies several different instruments in one and never stays in the same place for long, Donner breathes freshness into a genre (Michelle Branch did the same). It all starts in style with The Pilot. Often playful but occasionally serious, the inward-looking title track is followed by the hit and miss All My Guns, likewise Signs Off Life is coupled with the country-mockery of Bitches You Can Steal My Shit. It all comes together with the vocal gymnastics of The Crane Song and the Garfunkel & Oats pop styling of Your Love Is My Drug.

Key Tracks: The Crane Song, The Pilot and Your Love Is My Drug.

De La Soul’s Plug 1 & Plug 2 – First Serve

Great ideas are few and far between in the modern music world, and great ideas that work are even rarer. But if any group is going to make it work it’s De La Soul… in this case Dave and Posdnous (aka Plug 1 and Plug 2) as First Serve (Deen and Jacob), a 90s hip-hop outfit trying to make it big. This is a concept album that manages to fuse humour, chaos and good tunes.  After the Opening Credits descends into a tirade from Deen’s mum, Pushin’ Aside, Pushin’ Along is masterful. Songs like The Work and We Made It are further proof that the boys who made Three Feet High And Rising in the late eighties, still have it. Late on as the story takes shape, The Book Of Life, the hard-hitting Clash Symphony and the cool laid-back Pop Life play homage and poke fun at the rap world. The disco-fuelled The Top Chefs steals the late show.

Top Tracks: Pushin’ Aside Pushin’ Along, Pop Life and Top Chefs.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Dry The River - Shallow Bed (Album Review 2012)

Norwegian born singer songwriter Peter Liddle formed Dry The River as a solo pseudonym before bringing in the rest of the band, now based in London. Having been denied an obvious place in the BBC Sound Of 2012 top 5 (but gaining from being mentioned at all) and touring the UK festivals in 2011, Dry The River quickly began to excite the music community. And rightly so. Debut album Shallow Bed, although built on a number of early EPs stretching back to 2009, is an astonishing introduction to the band, their song writing and Liddle’s wonderful unique voice. The band’s talent for blending rock and folk, stirring guitars with gospel tones, and the heartfelt with the uplifting, has already earned worthy, yet obvious, comparisons to Mumford & Sons and Noah and The Whale.

Shallow Bed opens with Animal Skins, immediately drawing on Liddle’s past as a student anthropologist and highlighting his wonderful vocal qualities. Blending bouncing acoustic guitars with choral tones, Liddle tells the tale of growing up before hitting the big chorus – a song of two distinct movements. New Ceremony has a different feel; a slightly quirky introduction and talk of ‘dancing to the Shipping Forecast’ in a quiet first minute or so, before the song transforms with the first delivery of the line “I know it’s got to stop love but I don’t know how…”. The violin and drums kick and the second verse brings the love song into light: “We’re wise beyond our years but we’re good at bad ideas”, muses Liddle before the song really explodes with a belting chorus – showing brilliant vocal power and a proficient ear for a great arrangement in one slick move. It’s so good it’s given a second round before a delicate finish.

Shield Your Eyes opens with jangling looping guitars and cold violin before vocals quickly join with Liddle, now with a slight cracking to his choirboy tones. His spiritual side is here: “When Moses was a whisper in the reeds. I carved you in the floodplain” is stirring and the Phrygian Lion is a repeated theme, “…at the gate of our love” watching over the devoted. Uplifting and enlightening. This leads wonderfully into the metaphoric History Book. “Beneath an angry Bible flood, did you and I first learn to love” is a gorgeous line leading to a lilting chorus and another mesmerising and personal love song. At three and half minutes, the song takes an unexpected turn into jaunty and ‘twee’. This is the only song on Shallow Bed that is oddly misjudged but the combination of the band saves it.

The Chambers & The Valves again shows Liddle’s curious scientific nature. “The bodies in the firmament are spinning like a plate; I was lost in the fission before you came” is another great line. The verses race into the frantic relentless chorus before the song slows again for a brief respite, only to come back with more fervour and energy. Liddle continues to question faith against science: “In the land of mistakes I should lay my crosses down” and he ‘swallows his words, closing his mouth’. Then Demons is the much-needed breath-catching interlude, all beauty and strings with a deep hymnal quality. “We fight those demons, day in and day out…day in and day out…”. The music rises to a wall of cymbals and strings for the rousing finale that becomes the connection into Bible Belt, seamlessly fusing the two songs. This is the melancholy story of growing up under the shadow of alcoholism: “Your father had drunk all the fuel. You were a low moon, steady with wintry calm. Somewhere inside the fire of your youth went dark”. This heart-breaking yet hopeful songwriting is matched by Liddle’s amazing tearful voice, rough and pure at the same time. The once-only chorus is one of many album highlights.

No Rest completes the trio in spectacular style. A slow build-up from Liddle leads to some of the best guitar-work on the album followed by an early preview of the powerful key line: “I loved you in the best way possible”. Astonishing vocals, repeated over and over as the final act with unbelievable control to finish. Easily the album’s best moment. Shaker Hymns, it turns out, breaches a gap between the two best songs on Shallow Bed, another intermission which feels like going over old ground, in spite of a neat wordless outro, before the mighty Weights & Measures arrives. If No Rest provides the best single moment, this is the finest single song. Beautifully arranged as an old-fashioned waltz, Liddle and the band build to the line “I was prepared… to love you. And never expect anything of you…” followed by the heart-wrenching “Baby there ain't no sword in our lake. Just a funeral wake”. This is light against dark throughout and the arrangement echoes this with Liddle filled with emotional energy, holding a note perfectly before the chorus crashes in again, the startling gap in the music between ‘prepared’ and ‘to love you’ even more prominent and affecting.

Shallow Bed draws to a close with another huge song, the beguiling Lion’s Den, all melody and control at the start then becoming more urgent. The vocals are (again) magnificent as they help the metamorphosis from soft to hard as choir turns to stadium chant and the harshness of the guitars builds to a crescendo. The drumming from Jon Warren is especially superb as order quickly becomes chaos and Liddle continues to yell like a madman, beneath squealing guitars, pounding bass and sharp violin.

So to conclude, the album closes with the intense Family. After the previous ‘ending’, this feels like an added extra and a step too far. That said it is another great song, heavier and darker than the beginning of Shallow Bed but just as compelling and absorbing. Liddle shows power and control, yet again proving he is a remarkable vocalist.

Shallow Bed is a wonderful piece of work. Produced by Peter Katis who has cast his guiding hand over albums by The National, Frightened Rabbit and Interpol, it is the sound of British folk-rock, with a huge slice of Norway, washed in Americana. The song writing is perfectly balanced, to draw you in with familiar emotion one minute and push you away with obscure references the next. And the band consistently delivers music of breathtaking poise and craft, throwing away the rulebook and breaking every formula to create songs that make their own structure. If Radiohead formed yesterday, this is what they would sound like. Shallow Bed is the start of something great and Dry The River is about to realise this greatness.

-- CS