Mixtapes – Even On The Worst Nights
Mixtapes are Maura, Ryan, Boone and Michael from Cincinnati and according to their Facebook profile, they are ‘a band that plays songs!’. Even with a massively saturated market for emo and punk-pop (call it what you will), Mixtapes manage to keep it refreshingly straight-forward and uncomplicated. The follow-up to Maps, Even On The Worst Nights is the sound of Mixtapes finding their voices and confidence – the album improves on their previous work in every way. Something Better, Anyways and Just When You Thought It Was Over are all superb highlights with Maura and Ryan deftly sharing vocal and guitar duties, as if they have been doing it for decades. Just the right amount of energy, raw honesty, melodies and great song writing all add to the winning formula. The title track could be Bowling For Soup or New Found Glory at their best and the combination of boy/girl vocals adds something special. The chorus: “Hey! We just don’t surrender, it’s hard to talk about it when you don’t remember…” sums up a life of wild living and unfocused dreams. Occasional surprises break the relentless energy – You & I is under a minute and leads perfectly into the brilliant I’m Wearing The Device (Bridge, Water) – about as close to prog-punk as it gets. I’ll Give You A Hint, Yes is a superb love song, name-dropping Bon Iver and descending into wordless chanting, and a fade of all things. Golden Sometimes is oddly sedate, given the frantic pace of everything around it, but is never tempted to dive into thrashing guitars and drums. The closer, Mt. Hope, he longest song on the album at four minutes, concludes the album in style, like a glorious celebration of what has come before.
Grasscut – Unearth
We all love a good concept album, even if that concept is merely about ‘location’. Not to do this an immediate and unjustified disservice, as Unearth, the second album from multi-instrumentalist and composer Andrew Phillips, is achingly beautiful in its construction and arrangement. Following the critically revered début 1 Inch: ½ Mile, Unearth is more compartmentalised in its approach – ten unique songs about place and purpose, all highlighting the talents of Phillips as a musician and producer. The most inventive of these is the ghostly melody We Fold Ourselves, featuring 1950’s opera singer Kathleen Ferrier, all set to kitchen-sink orchestra. The stark electronic-orchestral Pieces, with robotic vocals and spiky beats is in direct contrast but equally rooted. Likewise the more delicate listless Reservoir is another wonderful moment – even though it’s about a village that is drowned. The industrial Stone Lions added yet another dimension before the cold, direct, film-noir-in-a-song A Mysterious Disappearance takes Unearth in a subtly different direction. To finish, the ballad Richardson Road, with Robert Wyatt on cornet and backing vocals, is sublime. An album of constant pleasant surprises.
Purity Ring – Shrines
Canadian duo Purity Ring, aka Megan James and Corin Roddick, are Montreal’s dream-pop answer to The Kills (or maybe The Ting Tings). Shrines is the band’s eclectic and other-worldly début with James’ vocals fighting through layers of production and techno-wizardry, engineered by Roddick. It all works out like a more pleasant Sleigh Bells – all the hard-edges and pounding electronica removed and replaced with smooth synths and organic percussion. Fineshrine is the early highlight, quickly followed by the odd stuttering musical-zoo Bjork-like Ungirthed. Sadly Shrines loses its way after a promising opening. Grandloves doesn’t work – like a bad Pet Shop Boys remix, Cartographist is a lot of slow empty space and James delivers wonderful vocals on the otherwise ordinary Amenamy. Belispeak gets things back on track, in spite of random, heavily mixed vocals. Some much need creativity is injected into the rest of the album but it does suffer from style over substance. Obedear is good but often the songs get lost in the now overused sound. Spirited closer Shuck is a final two-minute lift but Shrines continually feels like owning a sweet shop.