Saturday, 30 November 2013

Music Chart - November 2013

Another great month at Underwurld Towers and some real challengers to shake-up the top ten. New albums from Anna Calvi, Arcade Fire, Lorde, Black Hearted Brother, White Denim, Midlake, Boards Of Canada, Bowling For Soup, Throwing Muses, Jake Bugg and Kathryn Williams.

As expected, The National hold top spot from Kurt Vile and Laura Marling.

  1. Trouble Will Find Me by The National
  2. Wakin On A Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile 
  3. Once I Was An Eagle by Laura Marling 
  4. Opposites by Biffy Clyro 
  5. Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 
  6. Reflektor by Arcade Fire
  7. Corsicana Lemonade by White Denim
  8. Purgatory / Paradise by Throwing Muses
  9. The Ghost Of The Mountain by Tired Pony
  10. Kveikur by Sigur Rós
  11. Waiting For Something To Happen by Veronica Falls
  12. Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
  13. Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails 
  14. Nepenthe by Julianna Barwick 
  15. Seasons Of Your Day by Mazzy Star
  16. Regardless by Thea Gilmore 
  17. Innocents by Moby 
  18. Pure Heroine by Lorde
  19. Tales Of Us by Goldfrapp 
  20. Tomorrow's Harvest by Boards Of Canada
  21. Lunch. Drunk. Love. by Bowling For Soup
  22. ...Like Clockwork by Queens Of The Stone Age 
  23. Sticky Wickets by The Duckworth Lewis Method
  24. Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You by Mark Mulcahy
  25. Impossible Truth by William Tyler
  26. Antiphon by Midlake
  27. The Beast In Its Tracks by Josh Ritter 
  28. Slow Focus by F Buttons 
  29. Days Are Gone by Haim
  30. AM by Arctic Monkeys
  31. The New Life by Girls Names
  32. Nocturnes by Little Boots
  33. Heartthrob by Tegan And Sara
  34. Join The Club by Lucy Spraggan
  35. Yes, It's True by The Polyphonic Spree
  36. Long Way Down by Tom Odell
  37. Standards by Lloyd Cole 
  38. Warp & Weft by Laura Veirs
  39. One Breath by Anna Calvi
  40. Modern Vampire Of The City by Vampire Weekend
  41. Crown Electric by Kathryn Williams
  42. Welcome Oblivion by How To Destroy Angels
  43. Les Revenants Soundtrack by Mogwai
  44. Moon Tides by Pure Bathing Culture
  45. More Light by Primal Scream
  46. Until The Colours Run by Lanterns On The Lake 
  47. Stars Are Our Home by Black Hearted Brother
  48. Imitations by Mark Lanegan
  49. The Blessed Unrest by Sara Bareilles
  50. The Weight Of Your Love by Editors 
  51. MCII by Mikal Cronin 
  52. Where You Stand by Travis 
  53. Later... When The TV Turns To Static by Glasvegas 
  54. Shamrock City by Solas
  55. Let It All In by I Am Kloot
  56. The Bones Of What You Believe by CHVRCHES
  57. Bloodlines by Barbarossa
  58. Where The Heaven Are We by Swim Deep 
  59. Loud Like Love by Placebo
  60. The Sun Comes Out Tonight by Filter
  61. Spectre At The Feast by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club 
  62. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
  63. Lightning Bolt by Pearl Jam
  64. Slave Vows by The Icarus Line
  65. Palms by Palms
  66. You Belong Here by Leagues
  67. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here by Alice In Chains 
  68. Soft Will by Smith Westerns
  69. Black Pudding by Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood 
  70. Rewind The Film by Manic Street Preachers
  71. Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner 
  72. To The Happy Few by Medicine
  73. Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO by Besnard Lakes 
  74. Electric by Pet Shop Boys
  75. Howlin by Jagwar Ma 
  76. IDIOTS by The Electric Soft Parade
  77. Silence Yourself by Savages
  78. People, Hell & Angels by Jimi Hendrix
  79. Fade by Yo La Tengo
  80. Wolf's Law by The Joy Formidable
  81. The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars
  82. Vicissitude by Maps
  83. Heart Of Nowhere by Noah And The Whale 
  84. Big TV by White Lies
  85. The Graceless Age by John Murry 
  86. Elba by Laura Jansen
  87. Paramore by Paramore
  88. Tales From Terra Firma by Stornoway
  89. Electric by Richard Thompson 
  90. Oblivion OST by M83
  91. AMOK by Atoms For Peace
  92. Wonderful, Glorious by Eels
  93. In A Perfect World by Kodaline
  94. Immunity by Jon Hopkins
  95. A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart by Bill Ryder-Jones
  96. Volume 3 by She & Him 
  97. Hubcap Music by Seasick Steve
  98. Wait To Pleasure by No Joy
  99. A Long Way To Fall by Ulrich Schnauss 
  100. Machineries Of Joy by British Sea Power 
  101. Flourish // Perish by Braids
  102. Pale Green Ghosts by John Grant 
  103. Performance by Outfit
  104. All The Little Lights by Passenger
  105. Tooth & Nail by Billy Bragg
  106. Sound City - Real To Real by Sound City - Real To Real
  107. Disarm The Descent by Killswitch Engage
  108. The Messenger by Johnny Marr
  109. If You Leave by Daughter
  110. Pollen by Wave Machines
  111. Sistrionix by Deap Vally
  112. Mosquito by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  113. Back Into The Woods by Ed Harcourt
  114. Clash The Truth by Beach Fossils
  115. Country Sleep by Night Beds 
  116. The Next Day by David Bowie 
  117. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action by Franz Ferdinand
  118. Rules By Passion, Destroyed By Lust by Asphodells
  119. Blood Oaths Of The New Blues by Wooden Wand
  120. Centralia by Mountains
  121. In Love by Peace
  122. Ores & Minerals by Mazes
  123. Pedestrian Verse by Frightened Rabbit 
  124. Shangri La by Jake Bugg
  125. The Invisible Way By Low
  126. Lysandre by Christopher Owens
  127. English Rain by Gabrielle Aplin
  128. Monomania by Deerhunter
  129. California X by California X
  130. Field Of Reeds by These New Puritans
  131. Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy
  132. 180 by Palma Violets
  133. News From Nowhere by Darkstar
  134. Almanac by Widowspeak 
  135. Bloodsports by Suede
  136. Graffiti On The Train by Stereophonics
  137. Wash The Sins Not Only The Face by Esben And The Witch 
  138. Comedown Machine by The Strokes
  139. The Moths Are Real by Serafina Steer
  140. {Awayland} by Villagers
  141. Out Of Touch In The Wild by Dutch Uncles
  142. Lost Sirens by New Order
  143. Girl Talk by Kate Nash
  144. Beta Love by Ra Ra Riot
  145. Early Rocking by Paul Simon
  146. Collections by Delphic

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Throwing Muses - Purgatory/Paradise (Album Review 2013)

Throwing Muses, now officially a three-piece of Kristin Hersh, Bernard Georges and David Narcizo, seem to have broken-up and reformed more times than most, but this could not be further from the truth. The band reformed ten years ago after disbanding in 1997, when Hersh went solo (her début Hips And Makers is astonishing and always reveals something new on repeat listens), but Throwing Muses has always been 'her' band and her passion. The early nineties began with the last album to feature Tanya Donelly, The Real Ramona - easily one of the best Throwing Muses albums, before Red Heaven and University complete the impressive trilogy. Since then, music has been sparse and uneven. It's been ten years without material and the release of 2003's eponymous album (released to coincide with the Hersh's more interesting solo album The Grotto) and reuniting with Donelly got fans hoping for a full reformation. Hersh has continued her solo work but has now returned to Georges and Narcizo to make Purgatory/Paradise.

Purgatory/Paradise is twenty-four songs, eight in two parts and scattered (seemingly) randomly across the album in thirty-two fractured pieces. This lack of 'album structure' and apparent chaotic nature of the song order is frustrating but this creates a quirky charm as familiar reprises and sounds re-emerge at different points, throughout over an hour of music. The songs are dark and atmospheric, moody and thoughtful with highs and lows, and ebbs and flows. What else from such a unique and compelling band lead by a singer who feels that she doesn't write music and lyrics, she channels them from some higher power. This isn't ego-tripping so much as an inability to accept her genius. And to complement this, Purgatory/Paradise is both unique and compelling, and quite brilliant.

The early highlight is the superb guitars and vocals of Sunray Venus. Hersh is magnificent, as she reveals the land 'where no-one remembers to pray', as are the guitars to finish. Opiates, with rushing verses, then slower, repeated refrain: 'that's no way to bring a body down', is either a stark warning or a guide to cold turkey; the acoustic guitars and drums magnificent throughout. And a good example of a Throwing Muses pop song, Freesia, has more great guitar-work, while Lazy Eye is more riff than content with raw emotional vocals from Hersh. But the best of the 'complete' songs is the powerful Slippershell - Hersh sings 'Hard to say it's hard luck, when you're so happy. Hard to say it's hard luck, when we had it coming...'. Then Milan blends more of the same, but building to a delicate finish.

Within these highlights are eclectic shards, like pieces of a stained-glass window smashed across a stone floor. Film is all big vocals and piano, Hersh sneering. Triangle Quanitico is piano-led 'jazz', Bluff is a slow piano ballad with Hersh's fragile vocals, and Walking Talking is the start of a much longer song that fades before it starts. Terra Nova adds strings and beautiful vocals, and Hersh asks: 'what kind of loser chooses a swan-dive over a swansong?'. Static brings together multi-vocals and guitars while Speedbath starts like the middle of a 35 minute Neil Young and Crazy Horse solo, with dark and muddy guitars, and a slow fade.

And of the split songs, Morning Birds is a fuzzy guitar break from start, crashing drums and cymbals, layers of circular vocals form the intro and then a fragile start-stop vocal melody. Part 2 continues, more robust and structured. Dripping Trees is gorgeous vocals/harmonies and guitar work, in two parts, and the chaos of Blurry mixes wonderful guitar work, obscure provocative lyrics to a multi-vocal ending, and part 2 continues with lighter guitars but louder voice. Smoky Hands starts with delicate guitars, then lazy drums, while part 2 adds a short guitar solo. And with Sleepwalking, part 1 (appearing near the end of the album, after part 2) is hard, fuzzy guitars and harsh vocals, yet part 2 (the third track) is completely different.

Purgatory/Paradise is a reminder that Throwing Muses are still here, with very nearly a perfect return. It's a challenging listen; just as you get hold of a song, it drifts away or ends abruptly to move on to the next idea. The effect is like a dream within a dream in which the dreamer is switching channels constantly and even within the same songs, the arrangements start and stop, head in a different direction, or do something unexpected. This is strange, even by Throwing Muses standards, but it works beautifully as an idea and a collection of songs. And the stand-out 'complete' songs emerge magnificently from within. Purgatory/Paradise is frustratingly fragmented, brilliantly beguiling and weirdly wonderful.
-- CS

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Bowling For Soup - 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' (Album Review 2013)

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can arrive in many forms and when you least or most expect. But sometimes it comes to you. Bowling For Soup decided that new album 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' should be fan-funded using the music promotion website Whatever you think about the state of the music industry and if bands should be 'taking the power back' and going it 'alone', and whether well-established bands should be using such projects as pledgemusic, this has obviously worked for the mighty BFS. With promises of backstage passes, handwritten thank you cards, autographs, Skype sessions, and house concerts - all at a price of course, BFS launched the 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' campaign. But the headlines of shameless self-promotion and money-making are obfuscating the true nature of this project. The band's intention was that fans would be involved in the album-making process, being with the band for the journey; revealing new songs, artwork and video shoots to get immediate feedback from those who pledged, with 5% of all pledges going to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

It took ten days for BFS to reach their goal (not surprisingly they were halfway within 24 hours) and 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.', the band's twelfth album, was underway. And the 'inspiration' seems to have worked. Since the early 2000s and the brilliant Drunk Enough To Dance and A Hangover You Don't Deserve, BFS have been in something of a rut musically. Previous album Fishin' For Woos is the band going through the motions but without the sharp wit and pop punches - all the ingredients are there but the recipe is bland and uninteresting. Sorry For Partyin' is better, but horribly inconsistent, with wonderful songs mixed with flat fillers, while The Great Burrito Extortion Case is one of BFS's worst albums. So, what about 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.'? Does it live up to the hype, the pledges and the power of independent music-making?

As expected, 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is a blend of what BFS do best... Songs of personal friendships, love and relationships, break-ups, make-ups, drinking and fighting. As the Texan quartet of Jaret Reddick, Chris Burney, Erik Chandler and Gary Wiseman grow older, their music has become more reflective - even if some of it tries to hold onto the impetuous attitude of youth, with limited success. In recent albums, this balance hasn't worked but 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' proves BFS can find it. Opener Critically Disdained is heightened self-criticism, with an acoustic start before Burney's guitar kicks in for an attention-grabbing introduction. Since We Broke Up is the early punk-pop anthem, deftly punchy and melodic, with Reddick recounting the aftermath, then building to an explosive vocal. To complete a great trio, the 80s soft-rock of Real is another highlight.

From The Rooftops is a wonderful departure from the formula - an open-hearted celebration of love with a stadium-esque gloss, but the huge surprise is Circle, the Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians cover from the magnificent Shooting Rubber Bands At The Stars album. Reddick and the band treat this with the upmost respect and the delivery is poignant and note-perfect, highlighting the beautiful bitter-sweet song-writing. Reddick even resists the temptation to mimic Brickell's oddly upbeat ending, instead bringing the song to an abrupt powerful end. Then back to the formula for the name-dropping Normal Chicks, rewinding the clock somewhat but with added social commentary. Reddick attempts to rhyme 'Scarlett Johansson' with 'Romancin'. Enough said.

Into the second half and 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' struggles to maintain the momentum of the first but brings it together for a strong finish. I Am Waking Up Today owes much to Green Day's Minority, a blistering blast of shouty rock while Couple Of Days is middle-of-the-road and forgettable. In contrast, And I Think You Like Me Too is light-airy pop; comic storytelling with a perfect cheesy arrangement. Showing that BFS can switch between styles and moods in an instant, Envy brings back the rock but again, it adds nothing new to the party. One thing BFS do well is the big ballad and How Far This Can Go is a welcome addition, showing yet another side to the band, before Right About Now - a delicious slice of punk-pop. Closing song Kevin Weaver is another surprise, starting as a solo biographic performance from Reddick arranged as three parts in the form of three letters to the family, before the rest of the band join for the heavier ending.

'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is a fan-fuelled return to form for Bowling For Soup. The band sound back to their best, as if the last ten years never happened. Providing the album as both clean and explicit is also respecting the fans who made the album happen (and in most cases, the clean versions work better - Right About Now is the noticeable exception - putting more emphasis on smart humour without the shock factor). While 'Lunch. Drunk. Love.' is not the best BFS album, it is far from the worst. The new approach (to the band) has given them a much needed lift and again the quartet sound energised, motivated and fun.
-- CS

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Arcade Fire - Reflektor (Album Review 2013)

Sometimes even the coolest bands on the planet take risks. Canadian indie multi-instrumentalist sextet Arcade Fire already have an impressive award-winning trilogy of albums, taking the journey from death and family (Funeral), through dark oppression and doubt (Neon Bible), to tales of social angst and community (The Suburbs). The follow-up Reflektor continues this momentum. What began as a short collection of songs (believe it or not) has become a 75 minute double album of ambitious self-indulgent electronica-infused bombastic brilliance. Almost.

From the opening title track, it is clear that Reflektor is the ubiquitous 'new direction'. James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) adds his skills as co-producer, and his vital presence is elsewhere, most evidently here. This is smooth indie-disco with Win Butler and Régine Chassagne sharing vocal duties (Chassagne in French and English), a wild juxtaposition of quiet verses and explosive chorus, with electronic flourishes building to a muddy mesh of sounds and vocals to the halfway point. The affect is startling with brass, guitars and ever-present 'Murphy' drums; then David Bowie appears on vocals for a cameo. Then the final few minutes, builds to an equally evocative climax. We Exist, while not as stylised as the title track, uses many of the same elements with added Butler intensity and drive.

The dark, mysterious Flashbulb Eyes echoes Primal Scream's Swastika Eyes, while the Rara infused Here Comes The Night Time glides into an explosive section featuring a plethora of sounds and rhythms, vocals and drums, before settling for a sedate ending. In contrast, Normal Person fuses piercing guitars with fuzzy bass and pounding drums, before an unexpected choral finale. This is Arcade Fire's statement of identity: 'If that's what's normal, I don't want to know', then 'I've never really ever met a normal person... like do you do?'. Explosive and brilliant songwriting. The first moment of weakness arrives with You Already Know. Absurdly framed with ego-boosting Jonathan Ross samples, this is staple upbeat sweet and sour Arcade Fire. Likewise, Joan Of Arc stumbles into a well-intentioned but clumsy pop song, with more Chassagne and an odd, disjointed arrangement.

Part II brings the second part of Here Comes The Night Time, and a calmer feel to the album,  continuing with the enchanting pair of Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) and It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus) - check your Greek mythology for more information. The former has a beguiling arrangement, melodic with gorgeous backing vocals, acoustic guitars and choral outro. The latter is built from harsher guitars and drums, with an electronic skeleton and punchy vocals, like a song in negative - soft, quiet choruses and big, brash verses. This is Arcade Fire at their most adventurous. And with 23 minutes to go, the final trio fails to disappoint. Porno is dark and menacing, tinged with stark cold keyboards and sharp strings. Butler delivers a superb vocal, all range and strength and the ending is a magnificent transformation from the song's beginnings. Afterlife is also impressive, with driving drums, obscure backing vocals and pulsing keyboards, with the vocals blending to create new instruments and sounds. And closer Supersymmetry belies its 11 minute running time as a subtle, soft, delicate ballad with a five minute ambient, barely audible, outro. Right at the end of the album this feels like a missed opportunity to fill the album with a massive stadium-rocking finale.

Reflektor isn't so much a risk, as a calculated and inspired move to embrace something different. And not one of those albums that is easy to 'get' immediately but its main strength is Arcade Fire managing to retain a unique, compelling identity within a musical shift - something many have achieved with considerable success, most notably U2 with Achtung Baby. While the songs here are quite different, and do not always deliver, the similarities and results are apparent. Naturally, reviews will describe Reflektor as brave and audacious (which will earn some empathy) or that it's just previous albums given the electronic treatment. It is neither. This is planned and focused, the sound of order within chaos, stylish and crafted. Reflektor is the sound of Arcade Fire remaining both cool and ambitious.
-- CS