Sunday, 25 November 2012

Album Reviews (Andy Burrows, Philter, Crystal Castles)

Andy Burrows - Company

After leaving Razorlight in 2009, Andy Burrows has been guest drummer with We Are Scientists and one half of the Smith & Burrows collaboration with Editors Tom Smith. His début solo album The Colour Of My Dreams, is an engaging selection of poetry set to music, made as a charity record. Burrows's second album Company is an entirely different record - much more robust and complete, filled with luscious melodies, sharp song writing and meticulous instrumentation. The undoubted highlight at the centre of Company is the stirring ballad Hometown - a song with great structure built around piano and vocals. The emotion pours into the chorus and delivers one of the best lines on the album: "...Leave the lights on when I go, so I can watch you down below" is just beautiful. And the central string arrangement is sublime. Earlier, there isn't a weak moment, from the vocal harmonies and Fleet Foxes/Midlake-esque title track, with subtle building strings, to the country-waltz Maybe You, all vocal melody and more solid lyrics: "I thought about it once; thought about disagreeing with you. But I was someone else; someone whose heart was indestructible...". Even the odd comedy brass break works to lighten the mood. And Because I Know That I Can is near perfect funk-folk with great guitar-work. The scond half breaks from the comfort zone with mixed, yet satisfying, results. On Somebody Calls Your Name, Burrows is Elliot Smith, Stars In The Sky is a soft vocal lullaby and the shimmering pop of Shaking The Colour blends strings and guitars to form the conclusion. A great album.

Philter - The Blossom Chronicles

Little is known of Norwegian musician Magnus Gangstad Jørgensen, AKA Philter. He released his début album The Beautiful Lies at the end of 2011 and the follow-up The Blossom Chronicles continues to blend stirring orchestral arrangements with electronic beats and loops. This time around, Jørgensen focuses on strings and piano, bringing in female vocalist Miriam Vaga for only four of the thirteen songs - so the Blossom Chronicles is an instrumental album at heart. This is the soundtrack for a film/game that exists only in the mind. After the dramatic Prologue, the early highlight is Adventure Time, a string-laden cinematic clockwork soundtrack with buzzing electronica. This is followed by the wonderful Spellbound In 8-Bit - a fun cool combination of 'Speak And Spell' samples and vibrant arcade-style beats. Of the vocal tracks, Mountaintops & Skyscrapers is a great blend of traditional and modern, and Vaga's best performance, with the more delicate They Call Her Blossom a close second. After a good first half, The Blossom Chronicles loses its way, especially in the closing four songs. The Seven Seas is charming enough and a neat blend of guitars and tribal percussion and Draw Your Weapon sounds like a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds remix, without Cave's vocals, but We Fought Monsters doesn't fit the mood of the album and the over-produced 'chipmunk' vocals of The Lights (Epilogue) are a constant and annoying distraction. But the problems are few and The Blossom Chronicles remains a good example of how to make dance music for geeks.

Crystal Castles - III

Ethan Kath and Alice Glass continue their quest to make dark twisted and challenging dance music. For III, the Canadian duo sought inspiration in Warsaw to make an album of oppression and alienation, throwing away the computerised sound of previous albums I and II, and trying for something more organic and more focused. From the opener Plague, it is clear that Crystal Castles haven't done anything completely radical - all the trademark sounds are here: Kath's layers of production and obfuscation, and Glass delicate and sweet then fighting to be heard through the fragmented noise. An early highlight is the superb Wrath Of God, like two songs intertwined, one forwards, one backwards, again with Glass screaming through the haze of electronic froth. Sad Eyes is about as good as it gets - a ghostly mutated pop song of driving drums, piercing keyboards and above all, melody. Violent Youth would be the album's great pop song if it had a vocal track that didn't jump around, and percussion that didn't sound like a bad Human League b-side. Obviously Crystal Castles are trying to make interesting and compelling music but Throughout III you get the impression that they are specifically sabotaging their own creations. The horrible unlistenable vocals and dull repetition of Pale Flesh, the equally disjointed and nasty Insulin, and The 'mice from Bagpuss' backing vocals and stark empty instrumentation on Kerosene, are notable examples. Affection is pleasant enough but it's like a delicate love song scoured with sandpaper and metal wool. One track that stands out, as it seems to have a solid clear subject, Transgender is clever and sharp, intricate and complex. III ends with a strong trio. The (mainly) instrumental Telepath is cool and elegant, likewise Mercenary is dark and brutal, yet hopeful and uplifting. Closer Child I Will Hurt You is a soft sweet lullaby hiding a razor-blade centre. III is the sound of Crystal Castles progressing, but not as far as everyone wanted. Moments of brilliance and individuality are shattered by mind-numbing chaos and obscure swamped vocals; if this is the oppression they were trying to find, they found it.
-- CS

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