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.

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