Saturday, 29 March 2014

Music Chart - March 2014

Another great month yields three new albums by three great artists: Julie Fowlis weaves her vocal magic and mystery on Gach Sgeul (Every Story), Elbow continue to charm and captivate with The Take Off And Landing Of Everything, and The War On Drugs return with Lost In The Dream - a wonderful follow-up to Slave Ambient (and another early contender for album of the year). Elsewhere St. Vincent pushes the aural boundaries, Blood Red Shoes bring the trash-noise and The Hold Steady prove they are still as intense and focused as ever.

  1. Lost In The Dream by The War On Drugs
  2. Augustines by Augustines
  3. Rave Tapes by Mogwai
  4. Morning Phase by Beck 
  5. Gach Sgeul (Every Story) by Julie Fowlis 
  6. The Gloaming by The Gloaming
  7. Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles by Suzanne Vega
  8. You Chose These Woes by Model Village
  9. Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady
  10. Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen
  11. The Take Off And Landing of Everything
  12. Word Of Mouth by Seth Lakeman 
  13. So Long, See You Tomorrow by Bombay Bicycle Club
  14. Into The Lime by New Mendicants
  15. In The Silence by Asgeir
  16. Blood Red Shoes by Blood Red Shoes
  17. Echoes by Emily Smith
  18. Croz by David Crosby
  19. Benji by Sun Kil Moon 
  20. St. Vincent by St. Vincent
  21. Cursing The Sea by September Girls
  22. High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen
  23. Songs About This And That by Karin Krog & John Surman
  24. Waking Lines by Patterns
  25. Wig Out At Jagbags by Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
  26. Total Strife Forever by East India Youth
  27. Too Much Information by Maximo Park
  28. Warpaint by Warpaint
  29. Eagulls by Eagulls
  30. The Crystal Method by The Crystal Method
  31. Kid Face by Samantha Crain
  32. None The Wiser by The Rifles
  33. Oh My Sexy Lord by Marijuana Deathsquads

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Album Review 2014)

The War On Drugs has been, and will always be, a band of one... Adam Granduciel has taken his labour of love further into his own mind on third album Lost In The Dream, to explore his conciousness, his life and his emotional state. It was always going to be tough to go one better than previous album Slave Ambient, a swirling vortex of prog-rock, subtle floating soundscapes and brilliant guitar-led pop songs - all washed with Granduciel's Dylan-like vocals. So, given the inward, self-indulgent nature of The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream, a new album of material written mainly while touring, undergoing many rewrites and reworks, was never going to be as good.

But it is. Lost In The Dream is a different album than Slave Ambient, subtly different in its approach and delivery. While the previous album is big, bold and wide-eyed, Lost In The Dream is closed, introverted and personal. From opener Under The Pressure, it is clear that Granduciel wants to share his pain and anxiety of being in the spotlight and living up to expectations. At nearly nine minutes, this is the longest song on the album; it ebbs and flows with lifts and falls before the only truly weak point: instead of dropping into a quiet, ambient lull for a minute before returning with shining guitars and pounding drums for the big finish, absolutely nothing happens. A deliberate ironic statement about not following predictable convention? Possibly...but the lack of inspiration right from the start is a real surprise.

Red Eyes provides the early 'pop' song, blending ethereal synths and guitars with racing drums. The effect is not too far from Razorlight (back in their prime), Granduciel punchy and with purpose - even throwing in an over-exuberant woop before the guitars rain-down. In contrast, Suffering is light yet melancholy, slow-paced and beautifully sublime. The gorgeous piano arrangement in the second half contrasts the oddly-random guitar work. Then the album takes a more ambitious turn with the beguiling An Ocean In Between The Waves, which could be the Dire Straits song that never was; Granduciel more Knofler than Dylan while exquisite guitars and thumping drums lead to a frantic peppering of vocals in the second half.

Continuing the lighter feel of Lost In The Dream, Disappearing provides a superb centre-piece - shining like a magnificent 80s soft-rock influenced interlude between what has come and the second act. This starts with Eyes To The Wind, one of the best songs Granduciel has written - his vocals are exposed and the arrangement unwinds with a supreme elegance; the vocal delivery a nod toward former band-mate Kurt Vile. All this is blended with more guitars, drums and the most wonderful piano. What makes this so good is that Granduciel is not hiding behind a massive stadium-filling sound. This leads to the album's only return to a trick from its predecessor: the three-minutes of The Haunting Idle gives a brief Floyd-esque reprise, but without the original song, before the final trilogy...

...begins with another album highlight and superb pop song, Burning. This feels heavily Springsteen-fuelled with ever-present organ (circa Darkness On The Edge Of Town) and driving drums. And then the title track, with delicious (never-overused) harmonica, brings another moment of class to build like a lost Neil Young classic. Obvious influences aside, this is reinvention and reinterpretation of the tried and tested and not mere copycatting. To close, In Reverse is delivered as the quiet reflection after a turbulent, cathartic, and often painful journey, never overstated and fading delicately into a soft aftermath instead of unleashing the explosives. A perfect end to a near perfect-work.

Lost In The Dream is a doesn't grab your attention and sweeps you along for the ride; it draws you in, further into the inner world of Adam Granduciel on each listen. He hasn't done this all on his own of course, and the 'band' play to their strengths throughout and new boy Patrick Berkery is supreme with the sticks. But the songwriting and song-craft is every bit as strong as the new standard we now expect from The War On Drugs and ultimately Adam Granduciel has opened his heart, poured out his soul, and made another brilliant album.
-- CS

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Mogwai - Usher Hall (8th March 2014)

As part of the centenary celebrations of Edinburgh's magnificent Usher Hall, bringing together contemporary and classical music, and comedy across five nights, I was drawn to the great city to see Mogwai. Not only a Scottish institution and much maligned 'cult' band, Mogwai are in the highest echelons of musical greatness, and the chance to see one of the best bands in the world was too good to pass up.

So, armed with train tickets, a guest house booking and gig tickets for the upper circle, I ventured north of the border via London for a weekend of culture and music. I took the opportunity to see Edinburgh's sights - the Castle, Palace, Royal Mile, Cathedral, Arthur's Seat and National Monument, the pubs and restaurants, and the hoards of French descended on the capital for the 6 Nations rugby. But the highlight was Saturday Night at Usher Hall, at 7pm. Waiting for the doors to open, to be escorted up the stairs and through the corridors and bars to the concert auditorium with its rows of seats looking down on the stage and stalls - the excitement quickened.

Mogwai's support for the night were two other Scottish bands: Remember Remember and The Pastels. Both did much with the limited time they had - two half hour sets flew by. It would be easy to describe Remember Remember as 'Mogwai-lite' but they bring their own personality to their music - delicate xylophone, keyboards and interesting electronic flourishes. The Pastels added vocals and a more organic depth, but kicked off with Slow Summits, a blistering 6-minute instrumental, before more typical songs from the full-on Baby Honey to the delicate Summer Rain. Both bands seemed to enjoy and relish the experience.

But it was Mogwai's night. A stage packed with amps, keyboards, a huge drum-kit and guitar stands awaited Stuart, Dominic, Martin, John and Barry, complete with 'Rave Tapes' themed lighting rig and graphics looming above. The set for the night wasn't entirely dominated by the latest album - no bad thing but there was barely room for the best of the rest - and the Mogwai back catalogue is extensive and impressive in any live environment. This was the full set:

Heard About You Last Night
Rano Pano
Helicon 1
Take Me Somewhere Nice
Master Card
I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
Hunted By A Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan
How To Be A Werewolf
We're No Here
The Lord Is Out Of Control
Ithica 27/9

The best of the set was the trio of Hunted By A Freak, the epic Mogwai Fear Satan (complete with fantastic explosive reboot) and the swirling guitars of How To Be A Werewolf. The mighty We're No Here completed the main set before a subdued encore climaxed with the awesome ferocious noise of Batcat. Within the venue, the sound slicing through the crowd and echoing from the rafters, reflected back into the stalls, the immense force of guitars and drums were amplified beyond belief. I could feel the music pounding in my chest as much as in my ears, even from my lofted vantage point (a brilliant view down on the stage). The loud became louder. The delicate melodies were somewhat lost in the noise at times but even the set's weaker songs were given a new dimension - most notably Master Card had a much needed lift, and the new songs sounded brilliant live. It would have great to hear more from The Hawk Is Howling...and in a set designed to showcase the new material (obviously), there was no Friend Of The Night, Auto Rock, You Don't Know Jesus or R U Still In 2 It. They were never going to create a set to please everyone.

So my first experience of Mogwai live was a unique and overwhelming experience. As we left the Usher Hall, still shaking from the acoustic-battering (both the crowd and the building), I overheard someone say they had seen Mogwai live many times but that was one of the loudest. They set out to do the venue and their kin proud, and they really did bring the noise.
-- CS