Thursday, 31 May 2012

Music Report - May 2012 Part 3

Beach House - Bloom

Four albums in and Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, AKA Beach House, have hit their stride with Bloom, following last record Teen Dream in ambitious style. This time, the music is much more focused and the production is the biggest 'upgrade' to the band's mesmerising and shimmering sound. Legrand's androgynous vocals are a constant wonder, augmented by Scally who creates slow swirling guitar hooks and intricate arrangements. From opener Myth, one of the best tracks, the scene is set and rarely strays. The five-minute Lazuli is another early gem with breathless choral vocals added to the mix and Legrand in seemingly prosaic mood. The arrangement shifts in the second half to build to a wondrous blend of music and vocals. The Hours introduces another vocal style and highlights the group's vague yet compelling song writing: "Made in your reflection so that you can feel. Mad in your intentions; feel it isn't real. All the recollections spinning in a field. Left in your possession, till it isn't real; say it isn't real". Continuing the trend of 'every other song being a hit', New Year verges on pop perfection. In between, there are plenty of great moments with the brilliant guitars, retro-drums and storytelling of Wild ("Our father won't come home because he's seeing double...") and  On The Sea breaking the formula by adding vulnerability to Legrand's otherwise polished vocal. Closer Irene is a huge cymbal-filled finale. This is more than just going through the motions and washing everything in thick obscure production. This is a band on top form.

Top Tracks: Lazuli, Myth, The Hours.

Soulsavers - The Light The Dead See

Soulsavers (Rich Machin and Ian Glover), brought in Mark Lanegan and other distinguished guests (Jason Pierce, Richard Hawley, Red Ghost et al) for 2009's Broken. This proved to be another mixed bag of producer/vocalist collaborations. This time, for The Light The Dead See, the duo have settled on one man to provide a voice (and indeed all lyrics) for their music: Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode. Not only does this add much needed consistency and direction but proves to be a revelatory move. Gahan is full-blooded and committed from the start; the dramatic opener In The Morning building furiously before the quiet descends, and the brooding apocalyptic Longest Day complete with choir for the choruses. Presence of God completes the impressive trio with Gahan in typical redemptive mood, crooning over acoustic guitars (this continues later with the less impressive and slightly disjointed, Bitterman). Another example of this collaboration working brilliantly is Take Me Back Home, all serious, dramatic and ending in a chilling vocal finale. In the final trio, I Can't Stay is a spirited and ethereal ballad, Take adds dramatic piano to Gahan's self-loathing and closer Tonight brings it all together into an impressive swansong. Elsewhere the album is filled with interesting moments: Just Try borrows from Baby Bird's Gorgeous and fuses in a Spiritualized arrangement while Gone Too Far is sparse and quiet and then explodes, and the opener La Ribera coupled with  Point Sur Part 1, are both wonderful instrumentals. Another example of when producer and artist combine to great effect.

Top Tracks: Longest Day, Presence Of God and Tonight.

Gaz Coombs Presents... - Here Come The Bombs

In 2010, after six albums and seventeen years of music, the band Supergrass split. Gaz Coombes, former lead singer with the band, is now a solo artist and Here Come The Bombs is his début solo album... and he really is going it alone having written and performed every song. The first thing that strikes you is how diverse and varied the music is, from the smooth shimmering opener Bombs, to pop-rock masterpiece Hot Fruit, to the eclectic Radiohead-esque Universal Cinema, to the perfectly judged White Noise and the U2-doing-euro-pop Break The Silence, to closing piano ballad Sleeping Giant. This should come as no surprise at all considering Coombs and Supergrass have always 'reinvented' themselves and done something different, not just from album to album, but single to single. Only the crass, inelegant Whore and Simulator grate a little on the choruses but the latter in particular is interesting and creative enough to get by. Here Come The Bombs is a wonderful celebration of Coombes' brilliance as a maker of music and as a truly solo effort should be the start of a wonderful new career.

Top Tracks: Hot Fruit, Universal Cinema, White Noise.

Niki And The Dove - Instinct

The Swedish three-piece Niki And The Dove release their much anticipated début album Instinct, which features seven songs already released on three early singles. They sound like one of the most exiting bands this year, effortlessly blending the current trend of 80s electronic revival with modern textures and arrangements. Singer Malin Dahlström has an astonishing energy, from opener Tomorrow into recent EP lead track The Drummer, a superb creation of futuristic arrangement, 'staccato' vocals and nu-folk. To complete the wonderful start In Our Eyes brings back memories of Stevie Nicks... if she was ever managed by Stock, Aitkin and Waterman. From here the album opens up even more as the epic Mother Protect, the frantic spiky Somebody, and brilliant single DJ Ease My Mind form the solid core. It is clear from the outset that Niki And The Dove have a sound and they are sticking to it, mainly due to Dahlström's intense unique vocals. But the last trio show some shift from the formula. Winterheart is a calmer take on an established sound, The Fox is dark and sinister storytelling blending industrial beats with an upbeat chorus, and closer Under The Bridges is a gorgeous drum-filled multi-vocal love song to finish. An excellent début.

Top Tracks: The Drummer, In Our Eyes, DJ Ease My Mind.

The Temper Trap - The Temper Trap

Australian band The Temper Trap have chosen to go eponymous for their 'difficult' second album. Following the accomplished but often flawed Conditions, The Temper Trap is much more determined and focused than its predecessor, opening in some style with the big single Need Your Love, which builds over three minutes into an energetic swirl of Dougy Mandagi's vocals, guitars and keyboards. Unfortunately this early momentum is lost with the hapless London's Burning, which instantly proves that music and politics rarely mix and is often a disastrous combination. Featuring samples of David Cameron and a 'rioter', a horrible football-terrace chorus and ugly falsetto vocals, this fails on almost every level. A massive blot on an otherwise good collection of songs. The big emotional Trembling Hands tries to claw back some dignity and only succeeds thanks to Mandagi's stunning vocal performance. The Sea Is Calling is equally intense and dramatic, the falsetto is back for the sparse delicate Miracle before the prosaic drone of This Isn't Happiness proves to be accurate. Things pick up with the pop-soul of Where Do We Go From Here, with echoes of early Depeche Mode and Erasure. This 80s revival continues with Never Again and the spirited, yet repetitive, Dreams (OMD meets ABC), which builds to a last minute of vocals and keyboards. Rabbit Hole takes a while to get going but when it does, Mandagi delivers another wonderful vocal over a wall of guitars, I'm Gonna Wait threatens to be another great song but falls just short, and closer Leaving Heartbreak Hotel provides a much needed final lift. Great piano and vocals before an excellent last minute of guitars and keyboards. A mixed 'difficult' album from a band still trying to break through.

Top Tracks: Need Your Love, Trembling Hands, Leaving Heartbreak Hotel

2012 Music Chart - May 2012

New music this month from Oli Brown, Marilyn Manson, Norah Jones, Gravenhurst, Richard Hawley, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Garbage, Ren Harvieu, Keane, Beach House, Father John Misty, Grimes, Allo Darlin', Soulsavers, Gaz Coombes, Niki And The Dove, The Temper Trap, Sigur Ros, John Mayer. Mount Eerie, Admiral Fallow and Smoke Fairies! So not much then :)

  1. Shallow Bed by Dry The River 
  2. Valtari by Sigur Ros
  3. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  4. Bloom by Beach House
  5. Generation Freakshow by Feeder
  6. The Ghost In Daylight by Gravenhurst
  7. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized
  8. Ghostory by School of Seven Bells
  9. Born And Raised by John Mayer
  10. Like Drawing Blood by Gotye 
  11. Instinct by Niki And The Dove
  12. Electric Cables by Lightships 
  13. Blood Speaks by Smoke Fairies
  14. The Light The Dead Can See by Soulsavers
  15. Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings
  16. Young Man In America by Anais Mitchell
  17. Ssss by Vcmg
  18. Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones
  19. Wonky by Orbital 
  20. Crown And Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim
  21. Standing At The Sky's Edge by Richard Hawley
  22. Strangeland by Keane
  23. Here Come The Bombs by Gaz Coombes
  24. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  25. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
  26. Born Villain by Marilyn Manson
  27. Let It Break by Gemma Hayes 
  28. Clear Moon by Mount Eerie
  29. Tree Bursts In Snow by Admiral Fallow
  30. Human Don't Be Angry by Human Don't Be Angry
  31. The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
  32. Weapons by Lostprophets
  33. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  34. Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
  35. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  36. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  37. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  38. Fossil Of Girl by Sarah Donner
  39. Blunderbuss by Jack White
  40. Here I Am by Oli Brown 
  41. Visions by Grimes
  42. Tales From The Barrel House by Seth Lakeman 
  43. The Temper Trap by The Temper Trap
  44. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  45. Eighty One by Yppah
  46. Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen
  47. First Serve by De La Soul's Plug 1 and Plug 2
  48. Kin Con by Alex Winston
  49. Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage
  50. Underwater Sunshine by Counting Crows
  51. Siberia by LIGHTS 
  52. Europe by Allo Darlin'
  53. The Something Rain by Tindersticks
  54. Something by Chairlift
  55. Fear Fun by Father John Misty
  56. California 37 by Train
  57. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
  58. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  59. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  60. Through The Night by Ren Harvieu
  61. Personality by Scuba
  62. America Give Up by Howler
  63. Black Light by Diagrams

Monday, 21 May 2012

Music Report - May 2012 Part 2

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Aufheben

With a back catalogue as extensive as R.E.M., The Brian Jonestown Massacre (named from the former Rolling Stone and location of a mass cult suicide) is the lifeblood of Anton Newcombe. The band has always been an underground group of musicians, varying over the years and living through more line-up changes than an ageing Motown group. New album Aufheben is an eclectic mix of alt-rock stretching from Eastern-rhythms (opener Panic in Babylon, folky Face Down On The Moon and Paint It Black inspired Spiritualized-esque Stairway To The Best Party) to vibrant stomp (Walking Up To Hand Grenades, Seven Kinds Of Wonderful and the gorgeous messy closer Blue Order New Monday). In between is the cool Franco-pop of Illuminomi and Viholliseni Maalla, and the equally sparkling duo of I Wanna Hold Your Other Hand and Clouds Are Lies. Another truly intriguing and complicated album from a band who consistently complicate and intrigue.

Top Tracks: Seven Kinds Of Wonderful, Blue Order New Monday and I Wanna Hold Your Other Hand.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Crown and Treaty

This is the third album from Sweet Billy Pilgrim and follow-up to the 2009 Mercury Prize nominated Twice Born Men (the year Speech Debelle won and Bat For Lashes should of...). Crown And Treaty is just as good with vocalist Tim Elsenburg on top form. Opener Joyful Reunion sets the immediate dramatic tone, Blakefield Gold slows things down with gorgeous guitars and production and Blood Is Big Expense is the obvious highlight with Arrived At Upside Down the curious centre-piece. In the second half the massive Brugada adds sublime arrangements and pop stylings, Shadow Captain gives singer Jana Carpenter more of a lead role, and the eight and a half minute closer Blue Sky Falls unfolds like a Sigur Ros anthem.

Top Tracks: Blood Is Big Expense, Brugada and Arrived At Upside Down.

Garbage - Not Your Kind Of People

It's been a while for Garbage but now Shirley Manson and Butch Vig are back with a new album, seven years after the disappointing Bleed Like Me. First impressions of Not Your Kind Of People are good - the production is typically slick, the songs catchy and punchy, and Manson is in feisty mood. Automatic Systematic Habit is part Abba, part Madonna while Big Bright World blends quiet start with noisy finish, and Blood For Poppies is a cool single. But this borders on an 'old' band trying to sound young. The big meaningful 'ballad' Control sounds like they never went away and the odd title track tries something similar but descends into self-congratulatory repetition. The slickness often distracts from the music but Felt gets it spot on - it's a bit of new but a lot of old. Sadly the second half of Not Your Kind Of People is lacking ideas and inspiration. Battle In Me puts up a fight (pun intended) but Man On A Wire is a hopeless last resort. Closer Beloved Freak is a brave attempt to salvage a weak finish. This could have been a brilliant return but ends up going through the motions somewhat.

Top Tracks: Control, Felt and Blood For Poppies.

Ren Harvieu - Through The Night

Oh what might have been. Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Ren Harvieu, who is lucky to be here after breaking her back and learning to walk again, has released a promising, if old-fashioned, début Through The Night. The title track is easily the best song on the album with Dave McCabe's (Zutons) opener Open Up Your Arms a close second, but elsewhere it's a mixed average bag. With songs penned by Howie Payne, Ed Harcourt and Jimmy Hogarth, this is something of a 60s revival. Harvieu's wonderful clear precise voice lifts a bunch of ordinary mid-tempo pop tunes: Do Right By Me, Forever In Blue and Holding On work beautifully but the rest are out-of-date (Tonight and Walking In The Rain would be rejected by Tom Jones these days) or over-the-top (Summer Romance). Harcourt delivers a classic in Love Is A Melody for the spirited finish. So a mixed bag for the débutante who can hopefully reach her potential with a better, more modern, more meaningful collection of songs.

Top Tracks: Through The Night, Open Up Your Arms and Love Is A Melody.

Keane - Strangeland

We all like bands to try something new once in a while, but if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Keane are one of those bands who, ever since their impressive début Hopes And Fears - and subsequent follow-up Under The Iron Sea, have written and delivered terrific pop songs. Strangeland is exactly what you would expect. From the shiny hopeful piano-driven You Are Young, to the 'old-yet-good Coldplay' single Silenced By The Night, to the brilliantly evocative On The Road and the Olympics-inspired The Starting Line (if it isn't used by the BBC to accompany shots of athletes in joy/pain/tears, I want my license fee back - Ed), this is always predicable but often great. The big ballads arrive in the second half: Black Rain followed by Neon River then the anthemic In Your Own Time and soft dramatic Sea Fog. This is a much-expected yet entirely justified and proficient return for Keane. 

Top Tracks: The Starting Line, Silenced By The Night and On The Road.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

RIP Donald Dunn

RIP Donald Dunn, bassist with Booker T. & The MGs.

Green Onions is one of the best pieces of music ever written.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Music Report - May 2012 Part 1

Oli Brown - Here I Am

If there is one musician who needed to progress to the next level it is Oli Brown. Sounding more like a hardened Southern American rock veteran than an up-and-coming twenty something from Norfolk, Brown has moved up a gear with new album Here I Am. In danger of descending too far into blues-rock cliché and letting the genre do the talking, he and his brilliant band have avoided the obvious traps. The vocals are better, the music harder, the songs more creative. The seven-minute opus I Love You More You Than You'll Ever Know is especially superb, albeit a Donny Hathaway cover from 1972 and Brown gives it a new modern lift. The title track is the perfect introduction and the Paul Jones infused Solid Ground is a great sign-off. In between, the album often veers into 'blues pop' (Remedy and All We Had To Give) and trite rhythms (Devil In Me) but mainly just delivers - Manic Bloom being an early highlight. Only the hapless Mr Wilson doesn't work. And it's all held together by the firm hand of Brian Lacey.

Top Tracks: I Love You More You Than You'll Ever Know, Manic Bloom, Here I Am.

Marilyn Manson - Born Villain

If there is one musician who needed to prove he is not just a pantomime sideshow it is Marilyn Manson. Now with the core line-up of Manson and Twiggy Ramirez, the duo have brought back Chris Vrenna for keyboards and production. The trio make a great team, which lead to last album The High End of Low's marginal success, and Born Villain is an excellent follow-up. The song-writing duties are split which has injected much needed creativity, with the Ramirez/Vrenna The Gardener (Manson is like Iggy fronting LCD Soundsystem) and Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day instant highlights. Manson penned Pistol Whipped is old-school and the collaborative No Reflection and Born Villain are genius.

Top Tracks: The Gardener, No Reflection, Born Villain.

Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts

If there is one musician who needed to shrug off the 'jazz singer' tag it is Norah Jones. So a collaboration with Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse, one half of Gnarls Barkley with Cee Lo Green) is an interesting prospect. But Jones has proved over the years that there is more to her than jazz easy-listening début Come Away With Me, and shifts slightly with every album. This isn't quite up to heights of Feels Like Home but is much more settled than the last two records. The usual piano hardly features in favour of more diverse music. Say Goodbye is a good example with a curious mix of falsetto vocals and dance keyboards, Take It Back  blends sublime arrangements with fuzzy guitars and After The Fall is mesmerising. The bluesy 4 Broken Hearts is a nod to the past with a modern twist, Happy Pills is a cool pop song and All A Dream brings things to a six-minute close. Great idea that just delivers but never breaks as much new ground as it could have done.

Top Tracks: Say Goodbye, After The Fall, Happy Pills.

Gravenhurst - The Ghost In Daylight

If there is one man who needed more recognition as a musician and song writer it is Nick Talbot. A solo artist making music as a band, Talbot has made his best album to date. The Ghost In Daylight brings together a wealth of musical influences and ideas from the vocals of Nick Drake to the swirling guitars of My Bloody Valentine to the delicate instrumentation of Bert Jansch. Opener Circadian flows from clean and quiet to muddy and complicated while The Prize is glorious gloom-pop and one of the best lines on any album this year: "still, the ties that bind us blind us to the emptiness of the prize". Huge guitars bring the song to a close. The album is perfectly judged in terms of pace and feel. The subtle and fragile Fitzrovia completes the opening near-twenty minute trilogy. The beautiful Islands is another superb eight minutes of floating vocals and song-craft, The Foundry is wonderful storytelling, and The Ghost Of Saint Paul is poignant and stirring. But closer Three Fires is the most compelling song-writing.

Top Tracks: The Prize, Islands, Three Fires.

Richard Hawley - Standing At The Sky's Edge

If there is one artist who needed to step out of his comfort zone and do something a 'bit different' it is Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley. Standing At The Sky's Edge has been described as Hawley's 'angry' album: big, bold, swirling psychedelia from the outset, this is a huge step up from the genre he is attempting 'not to milk'. In the same way at Paul Weller, Hawley has embraced a huge swathe of instruments and textures to create a monster. Opener She Brings The Sunlight takes the rhythm section of The Tragically Hip's Let's Stay Engaged and adds in Mark Lanegan Band guitars. Throughout the album, Hawley is deep and mysterious. The nature of the songs, largely focusing on mortality and the death of his close friend Tim McCall, would work as softer, more intimate performances but Hawley has taken the opportunity to go big. Songs like Down In The Woods are full-on fast rock while Seek It and The Wood Colliers Grave (even with odd musical arrangement) are more traditional Hawley fare - so it's not all completely different. The outro for Don't Stare At The Sun is brilliance, Leave Your Body Behind You is everything coming together and closer Before is perfectly judged as the old meets the new for a great sign-off.

Top Tracks: Leave Your Body Behind You, She Brings The Sunlight and Before.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Sabotage - Beastie Boys video - RIP Adam Yauch.

The brilliant video for Sabotage by The Beastie Boys. RIP Adam Yauch.

John Peel's Record Collection Online

Amazing website and record collection. View it here.

Only A and B currently active but more to come in the near future.