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.

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