Friends - Manifest!
The much anticipated début album from new Brooklyn band Friends is going to be a disappointment no matter how great it is, mainly due to the hype surrounding the quintet like a sea-fog. There hasn't been this much excitement about a band since The Strokes appeared, yet this is more akin to the bandwagon-inducing arrival of Yeah Yeah Yeahs with Samantha Urbani the new Karen O. Musically everything is comparable to big single I'm His Girl which is easily the best song on the album - and consequently does not fit with the rest. But there is much to gain from Manifest! which shows that Friends are not just a one song band. From cool opener Friend Crush, with its sassy vocal/guitar chorus, and the fragile sparse tones of Sorry (with ridiculous backing vocals and inane repetition, only to break into jungle beats late into the third minute), to the funk-soul Prince chic of Home, it is clear that there is more variation to Friends than expected. A Thing Like This is a great, if dated sounding, pop song with Urbani showing her vocals perfectly, while Ideas On Ghosts is the goth take on the same idea (a slice of Donna Summer disco fronted by Robert Smith), and the Graceland-esque Stay Dreaming is beautiful and precise. Decent stuff but not without its faults; A Light and Proud/Ashamed are both agonisingly dull and forgettable and Ruins is a complete mess. The curious Van Fan Gör Du tries a similar upbeat funk style, followed by the irritatingly catchy Mind Control to provide a good finish to an album that could be much better than it is - but that wouldn't be cool enough, so instead Manifest! simply hits the middle ground running.
Top Tracks: I'm His Girl, Stay Dreaming and Mind Control.
Liars - WIXIW
Three-piece dance-punk band Liars are another to hail from the thriving Brooklyn music scene. WIXIW is their sixth album and yet another that sees them heading somewhere different, fusing electronica and choral vocals - something attempted in the early days of Liars (hence the album is a palindrome, albeit an odd one, showing a circular 'journey'); starting with the opening duo of The Exact Colour Of Doubt, an ambient introduction, followed by the ghostly Radiohead-inspired Octagon (see Kid A era). The first single from the album No. 1 Against The Rush is all elements of a post-Joy Division world in one track, with a bit of 'Wish You Were Here' Floyd with a bit Gary Numan, but all good, veering into a cool instrumental outro at the end. The rest of the album unfolds in similar downbeat style, like a bunch of LCD Soundsystem post-chill demos - A Ring On Every Finger is great, the swirling experimental title track, all drunken orchestra and front man Angus Andrew's vocals, is bizarre and compelling, but His And Mine Sensations is an excellent coming together of ideas and textures. Getting even more eclectic and diverse, Flood To Flood takes the album into darker and weirder land, Who Is The Hunter is minimalist and Brats attempts upbeat Euro-dance festival with limited success. Closer Annual Moon Words is typically and predictably arranged to bring WIXIW to a fitting conclusion.
Top Tracks: His And Mine Sensations, A Ring On Every Finger and Octagon.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Americana
Trying to introduce Neil Young in a music review is broken pencil time, and given that Americana is Young's thirty-fourth album, a review of his back-catalogue is equally without purpose. This is the first album with band Crazy Horse since Greendale in 2003 and while not as accomplished as the brilliant Sleeps With Angels, Americana shows us again this superb collaboration and what a great band they are. Now at sixty six, Young is still as tenacious and determined as ever and this is his best work in years, as a stalwart Canadian legend covering traditional songs, such as Clementine (given a venomous treatment), Travel On, Wayfarin' Stranger and Jesus' Chariot (She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain). This may not sound like a thrilling prospect but the point is to restore these classics of modern America to their original dark stories with evil characters and twisted plots, and not the sanitised versions most people know. This works terrifically well, as the band (Young included) blend to create an enormous torrent of enthusiastic guitar folk and much of Americana sounds like a live performance (High Flyin' Bird is especially shambolic between amazing guitar pieces) with Young moving in and out of mic. Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land is the late highlight. Closing with a spirited rendition of God Save The Queen, the tune used for My Country, 'Tis Of Thee (aka America), one of the American national anthems before The Star Spangled Banner.
Top Tracks: This Land Is Your Land, Clementine and Travel On.
Marissa Nadler - The Sister
Marissa Nadler first rose to prominence with the 2009 album Little Hells, an album of heartbreaking beauty and exquisite song writing, before returning with an equally compelling eponymous album two years later. It is this album that provides the inspiration for The Sister; the companion to the previous collection of songs. From the soft delicate opening of The Wrecking Ball Company which builds like a drama through its near five minute running time, to the Jenny Lewis country balladry of Christine, to the Everybody Hurts inspired To A Road, Love, to the closing Your Heart Is A Twisted Vine, Nadler's voice is overwhelming in its control and clarity. The Sister rarely strays from the comfortable road, with each song blending together into an eight-piece montage of storytelling and timelessness. The early highlight is the achingly wonderful Love Again, There Is A Fire.
Top Tracks: Christine, Love Again, There Is A Fire and Your Heart Is a Twisted Vine.
Tu Fawning - A Monument
The astonishing talent from Portland, Oregon is never ending. The four-piece band Tu Fawning featuring the talents of Corrina Repp and Jo Haege is yet another wonderful export. Blending guitar folk with tribal rhythms (see Bat For Lashes, MGMT and Yeasayer et al), the effect is spellbinding and otherworldly. Opener Anchor is a great introduction, a slow-burning operetta with combined vocals and harmonies, pounding drums and rattling percussion. A Monument is the band's second album, quickly following 2011's Hearts On Hold - a much darker, almost menacing and experimental work. This time, the band has settled for a more playful style, lighter and exploring more pop-based melodies. Blood Stains is as soft as it is spiky with big guitars and direct vocals, all pinned together with a terrific brass section. A Pose For No One continues the trend, sounding like Florence in subdued mood, building to a great vocal/percussion section in the fourth minute. Build A Great Cliff is gloriously over-the-top drama, changing halfway into a completely different song like Mars Volta at their most mischievous. The final trio which make up nearly twenty minutes of The Monument's running time, is an album in itself, with In The Center Of Powder White and To Break Into serving as the slow building intro to closer Bones, seven and half minutes of clattering percussion, grinding guitars and a final vocal arrangement. Sublime.
Top Tracks: A Pose For No One, Blood Stains and Bones.