Antony and the Johnsons – Cut The World
It often takes a live album to highlight the considerable and overlooked talents of a great musician. Cut The World, recorded in Denmark, is as close to a ‘best of’ as you can get, with key songs performed live with a symphony orchestra. But this swathe of instrumentation never overwhelms the immense honesty of Antony Hegarty’s unique and distinct vocals, and the essence of his beautiful, and often moving, songs. Even the seven-minute monologue Future Feminism, which threatens to break the early momentum after the excellent title track, is compelling and powerful. The immediate high-point is the following song, Cripple and the Starfish, quickly followed by the heart-breaking You Are My Sister; but it is the gorgeous duo of Another World and Kiss My Name that steal the show. Another noticeable trait is that the songs are not framed with applause, ‘talky bits’ or any discernible crowd noises whatsoever, so as the majestic Twilight draws to an elegant close, when Hegarty thanks the audience and wishes them goodnight and they reciprocate, it comes as a complete surprise that this is a live performance. A magical album.
The Darkness – Hot Cakes
When Permission To Land was released in 2003, it sounded like The Darkness had been around for decades. It was often described at the time as a greatest hits album from a 70s rock band that never made it. Who was to know that three years and two albums later, The Darkness would fall apart and succumb to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and the dreaded ‘musical differences’. Frontman Justin Hawkins attempted a solo career and failed to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest (thankfully). But now The Darkness are back, as the original band and their third album Hot Cakes is a minor triumph. There is a great mix of good songs, big riffs and a huge sense of fun – which is what it was about in the first place. Living Each Day Blind is particularly excellent and one of the best things the band have done. The retro With A Woman brings back the energy of the début, while Everybody Have A Good Time is an inanely good single with wonderful guitar/piano. Only the obvious opener Every Inch Of You cuts slightly – this is Hawkins getting the past out of his system and quickly moving on, as the rest in firmly a ‘now’ album. Forbidden Love sounds a bit too out-dated but the cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out) is an amazing and unexpected addition. Back, definitely. To stay? Who knows.
Diiv – Oshin
Originally a Zachary Cole Smith solo project called Dive (after the Nirvana song), Diiv is now a four-piece from Brooklyn, the current hotbed for new bands and considerable talent. These guys are no exception to this trend as the début album Oshin is astonishingly great. Packed with massive layers of guitars and ethereal vocals, from the opener (Druun) – the band’s own version of Coldplay’s Life In Technicolor, to delicate closer Home, Oshin impresses at every turn. Brimming with dreamy guitar-pop from Past Lives and Human to the catchy How Long Have You Known and Follow – Diiv add a unique complexity to each song within a very strict formula. Cole Smith and guitarist Andrew Bailey combine perfectly to create a wonderful sound. The four and half minute Air Conditioning is breathtaking – like a modern remix of a shoegazer classic from the late 80s – the guitars shimmer and dance on what is a definitive highlight. Late on, Doused is also superb, bringing in early Sisters Of Mercy riffs to the mix with Cole Smith racing through the vocals. Superb début from a band who should go far.