Thursday, 31 March 2011

Review: The Strokes - Angles

It’s taken a long time for the Strokes to release another album; the previous being 2005’s First Impressions of Earth. Unlike their first two records Is This It and Room on Fire the band’s critics aimed not at their hyperactive levels of acclaim, burdened with such grandiose suggestions as "the saviours of rock & roll", rather that to some First Impressions appeared to be more of a desperate effort to shake away any and all notions of being imitators of  the 70s CBGB art-punk movement of their own New York City. Ironically it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise: First Impressions was a purely reactionary record, and by breaking away from the sound that they supposedly imitated the band became genuine imitators of a diverse range of different sounds. Sadly even after six years and a long hiatus the Strokes’ fourth album Angles shows they haven’t quite learned their lesson.

The positives of this album are plentiful; many moments in a sense recapture the levels of excitement that earned the Strokes their early recognition. Most notable of these include the first single "Under Cover of Darkness" is perhaps everything fans of Is This It could ask for from the band ten years down the line. The dual guitars of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi lay down another memorable riff, deviating with, well, angular stabs throughout. Julian Casablancas sings as though he’s still asleep until the first chorus when an immediate perspective rises from his urgent voice. The reggae-funk opener "Machu Picchu" is a joyous departure that has a part sounding surprisingly like the hook from Michael Jackson’s "Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’". And despite it’s iffy name "Gratisfaction" sounds perhaps the most refreshing of the albums’ ten songs: it’s glam stomp emulating Thin Lizzy and Ziggy Stardust Bowie, and the kind of fun sleaze these artists evoke ties in well with the Strokes’ aesthetic.

Other experiments in diversifying the Strokes’ sound are more hit-and-miss. "Two Kinds of Happiness" is a flashy attempt at stadium-filling 80s U2 re-enactment, feeling devoid of purpose or correlation to expanding the Strokes core sound, something which many of the other tracks, despite their variety, can be said to do. "Call Me Back" has less purpose still. Although on first listen you could be forgiven in thinking a stage is being set for a killer comeback, the tracks’ eerie yet bland change of direction finishes the track short, leaving little reason to return to the track again. Even more cringe-inducing is the Muse-like prog of "Metabolism", even more soullessly ambitious. Casablancas’ voice has gone from deadpan to simply uninteresting, and the track reeks of failed expansion of mass appeal.

There are a number of standout tracks on Angles that are likely going to be welcomely received when slotted into the Strokes’ live setlists, which makes the fact that the band once again fails to release a consistent LP all the more frustrating. The band may find themselves most comfortable and well received as they have throughout their career already, not only as strong live performers but as the boutique end of mass-produced radio rock, which they’ve at times shown too great to be restricted to. As one-time rivals the White Stripes have recently thrown in the towel, along with announcements that the Strokes have announced that a fifth album is currently under development, one has to ask for how much longer they have left in them.

But don't just take my word for it, visit the band's website and listen to it there.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Mini Review: Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Having already mentioned my ambivalence towards the post-rock genre already elsewhere on the blog, you can imagine my gut reaction when I pulled Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the seventh studio album from Mogwai, from the hat to be the tenth and final (for now) Mini Review. However from what I can observe Hardcore Will Never Die doesn’t play out like typical post-rock: the master volume control stays pretty central from start to finish, for example, making the record a touch more straight-edged than previous Mogwai albums. There is less of a reliance on the use of electronics to fill out the sound than on The Hawk Is Howling (Mogwai’s previous LP); this is very much guitar music. "Rano Pano" takes a simple riff through several noisy environments, with the slamming drums sounding just about right. The squeal of "How to Be a Werewolf’s" melodic lead is elevated to the point where pitch shifting becomes the natural medium for the continuation of the song. And the soft tremolo guitars which splash over "Too Raging to Cheers"’s intro are another favourite part of mine. These quieter moments seem to unusually outnumber the louder, heavier moments I expected an album called Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will to have, which left me underwhelmed at times. Much of the middle of the album also sounds like filler material to me. "San Pedro" attempts unabashed American modern rock, however as a result sounds like a palpable Nickelback cover with additional layers of guitar. The opening "White Noise" sounds hardly welcoming, especially compared to previous Mogwai intros. The final track "You’re Lionel Ritchie" has the brooding groove and classic distorted crescendo  you’d want from a post-rock song, and has the most amount of time to maximise it’s impact, making me think "what took you so long?". The track cements a strong resolution for Hardcore Will Never Die, which to me sounds like just another Mogwai record, no more memorable than The Hawk Is Howling. Others are bound to take more away from it, but it’s clearly just not for me.

We've reached the end of Mini Reviews for this month, and looking towards the future there's a lot of potential for future features. Maybe my reviews are a little too long, something I should probably work on. Giving myself more time to listen to the albums more in-depth is probably wise as well. Not sure at the moment whether I’ll run this feature next month though, and it’s unlikely to be every month, though it was fun and I’d like to do it again at some point. There’s a few ideas waiting to be written elsewhere on the blog, so keep posted (if you actually are in the first place).

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Mini Review: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Tao of the Dead

Tao of the Dead is a strange kind of prog record. None of the tracks stray much further than the 5-minute mark (except for the obligatory 5 -part, 16 minute closing suite "Strange News from Another Planet"), and it’s indulgence seems utilitarian more than excessive. Trail of Dead move ever closer to the substantially more straightforward Source Tags & Codes, their acknowledged masterstroke from 2002, a sound that had seemed increasingly improbable to ever rekindle. However that is beyond Tao of the Dead’s sonic realm again, not necessarily a bad thing. The plainness of particular songs comes not from Source Tags & Codes (Trail of Dead have never been plain), be it in the ironically straight(ish) hard rock of "Pure Radio Cosplay", the curiously infectious "Summer of All Dead Souls", or the almost Pavement-like tenderness expressed in "Ebb Away" (a lot of Pavement references over the last few days I know) sound purely natural infusions of the 70s prog influences of King Crimson and Genesis. Sometimes the inverted frenzy leans far enough to be considered post-rock; "Cover the Days Like a Tidal Wave" reminds me of Slint. Prog is the predominant sound and the medium for these songs though, as it has been since Worlds Apart, and those looking for an entry point into the genre may not find it here. Prog purists may also be put off by an arguably more commercial sound. There’s a clear overall effect of the album, however as neither a prog nor indie rock record Tao of the Dead often seems unengaging from either standpoint, but not to the point where the record becomes entirely unrewarding. The superbly titled "Weight of the Sun (Or the Post-Modern Prometheus)" serves as as an excellent breaker, sounding somehow more and less energetic than the few tracks preceding it. The maturity Trail Of Dead have developed may in some ways be preferable to the bands’ punkish Source Tags days, and Tao of the Dead is perhaps the best example of their developing sound since their major-label debut.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Mini Review: Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

Kurt Vile is of a dying breed. A wholly American, one-man acoustic songsmith with more than an ounce of originality, whose voice and lyrical flair capture both the drawl and compulsive narration of Dylan and the idle crypticism of Stephen Malkmus. Vile doesn’t easily fit under any label any longer; like Iron & Wine the lo-fi label has been shed for his fourth album Smoke Ring for My Halo: not really bluesy or Americanan  (although there are elements of both at times, see "Puppet to the Man"), rather Vile’s uniqueness features in the background details of each track. The melancholic "Baby’s Arms" makes for an unconventional opener, but the subtle electronics work to create an entrance to the solitary yet familial 11 songs. And it’s clear from the beginning that it’s also an entry into Vile’s mind: the often fragmented acoustic guitar accurately reflects and endorses his words of anagrammatic intelligence, often monologic in nature, as if the listener has unwittingly caught him mumbling to himself; a real solitary figure often creating heartfelt moments through the space. "Society Is My Friend" is so spacious it almost verges into one-man stadium rock territory. Vile shows himself to be an equally capable guitar player as he is a lyricist, be it in the dissonant grooves of "Jesus Fever", or the sweetly arpeggiated "Peeping Tomboy". The album climaxes with the six minute "Ghost Town", alas, not a Specials cover, rather a slow building indie folk number that gets increasingly fuzzy as Vile drifts into his own contemplative memories, sounding very much like Wilco’s "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart", yet distinctly Vile. I can see Vile going down well at the festivals (come to the UK please!) during halcyon summer afternoons with a cool beer, a focal point, just a man, a guitar and his universe.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Mini Review: Yuck - Yuck

There’s been much hype surrounding Yuck, but for all the wrong reasons. If you read up on anything about the London four piece or simply if your ears are well informed it’s that the band share a common and noticeable with alternative and indie rock bands of the 90’s, and their music is an all-encompassing "90’s sound".  That may be true, and both the Pavement and Guided By Voices reunion tours of last year have likely contributed to the buzz, but for a band to amass such attention for this reason is beyond the point, and in my opinion childish. As it happens Yuck come across as a band with more style than substance, although to enjoy the album as a modern day indie rock album that stands out from the crowd is more rewarding. "Get Away" is an enjoyable opener, and the lackadaisical solo of "Holing Out" is evidence of the band taking themselves less seriously than their critics, definitely more in keeping with a good 90’s attitude.  Much of the rest of the album avoids becoming a series of reference points by merging and subverting typical elements of their chosen style, making riffs that sound familiar but rarely pinpoint able (at least not to me, Pavement had started before either me or any of Yuck’s band members were born, to put into perspective). "Georgia" is one of the better tracks: below a fairly shoegazey sheen a soft Velvet Underground-like riff can be made out. However the merging of so many sounds eventually becomes repetitive. Many tacks such as "Suicide Policeman" and "Suck" are unlikely to get many repeated listens. This is a good kind of revivalism, but Yuck have tried to take on more than they can handle, especially when compared to more focussed contemporaries such as The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and as enjoyable as this album is in places, I think I’ll stick to Slanted and Enchanted.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Mini Review: R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

Collapse Into Now is the 15th studio album R.E.M. have released, and it shows. Their enduring popularity led them to expand their sound  into becoming possibly the most beloved American rock bands of the 90s, something a band with humble origins in folk and punk never really seemed to be properly suited for. The bands’ 2008 "comeback" album Accelerate was a strenuous effort to make the band reach their target audience, namely those old enough to remember the endless "Black Hole Sun" summers with fondness, and it’s pleasant to hear moments of Collapse Into Now managing this feat a little more naturally. The opener "Discoverer" sounds thick and can hold the riffs needed to make the track rock amongst the pounding drums, and the fast paced Peaches collaboration "Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter" sounds like a crunchier reinterpretation of  something from earlier in their career. The better moments are stacked against the less enjoyable however. The slow ballad "Walk it Back" lacks any warmth trying to be made and is about as drab as I’ve ever heard the band, and the final track "Blue" is a shameful rehash of previous single "E-Bow the Letter" (Patti Smith also returns, astonishingly). Also of note are the increasing absurdity of Michael Stipe’s lyrics, reaching for abstract but straying far from poetic. Amongst the worst offenders are found on the tracks "It Happened Today" ("This is not a parable/This is a terrible") and "Every Day Is Yours to Win" ("I cannot tell a lie/It’s not all cherry pie"). To say R.E.M have been a great band in the past is an understatement, and when considering they’re approaching their 30th year as a band they’re doing much better than the majority of their peers. If you need a new R.E.M. fix you’ll find it here, but if you’re relatively new to the band there are plenty of other great albums in their career I would recommend over this.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Mini Review: Madness - Wonderful (1999)

The first retro review comes by form of request, so why not? Madness are a band that emerged out of the UK’s burgeoning ska crowd during the late 70’s, but quickly stood apart from the competition by combining the ska origins found in early reggae with the quintessentially English-ness of the later Beatles recordings, and continue in this way today. Their reunion album, 1999’s Wonderful has it’s fair share of enjoyable moments; "Drip Fed Fred" for example features contributing vocals from the similarly minded (and treasured) Ian Dury, and also looks back to more conventional ska beginnings, and admittedly the Bo Diddley beat bassline holds "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" joyously; however looking at the evolution of the band there appears to be little in terms of change from the last great Madness record, 1982’s The Rise and Fall, and this trend continues into the present day, most recently with 2009’s The Liberty of Norton Folgate (which coincidently is the true successor to Wonderful). It’s hard not to see this record as merely a step between these two, and doesn’t hold much to either of them. There isn’t an "Our House"-like single to glue the largely forgettable tracks together; each song has to stand by itself, and with the lack of originality between them it proves difficult to salvage more than a handful of them. The other problem I have is the same thought I have when listening to any of the post-7 Madness albums, and that is that they’re trying to reconstruct Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or The Village Green Preservation Society, which frankly they’re not innovative enough to develop something to equal either (though The Rise and Fall is as close as many may get). Wonderful also imitates the great pop albums that have gone before it: why "The Communicator" had to fade out to the Pet Sounds ending is anyone’s guess. The cloying ambition of each track may appeal only to a few, particularly certain circles of Brits, but Madness’ Wonderful is neither a great ska album nor a classic pop record. Those looking for the latter will probably find a better alternative in any of the records mentioned already in this review, or even a mini review from a few days ago, Gruff Rhys’ Hotel Shampoo.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Mini Review: Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi

Can the run of good albums on Mini Reviews continue? I first encountered Anna Calvi a few months ago during the BBC Sound of 2011 poll, and I found her take on the Edith Piaf song "Jezebel" promising, evoking 90’s blues revivalists PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, but unfortunately her debut album hasn’t delivered a similar experience, and it‘s a shame that single didn‘t feature on Anna Calvi. Many tracks lose their way despite their overwhelming ambition, such as "Desire" or the entirely forgettable "Suzanne and I", which even Calvi‘s deep, powerful voice can‘t save. The cinematic quality of the album lead to a couple of movie soundtrack-like moments. The surf guitar of "I’ll Be Your Man" has Quentin Tarantino potential, but being shorter than many tracks here prevents it from becoming an album standout. The final track "Love Won’t Be Leaving" fares a little better, like the vintage Bond theme that never was, and it rounds off the album nicely. Despite the overblown, deadweight much of this album falls back on, Calvi can draw attention through the moments when her sound is expanded. The flamenco guitar touches rolling out towards the end of the first track "Rider to the Sea" breathe life through the promising instrumental; they also return on "The Devil". And "Blackout" may just be the best track here, where Calvi holds back her tremendous voice to make way for what sound like oddly wind-like sampled vocals. Similarly "Morning Light"’s slower, breathier approach is a welcome change, as it crescendos into something more compelling than when Calvi decides to use all her vocal and instrumental force. Overall this album may only appeal to blues lovers of those with an interest in Ennio Morricone’s career highlights, but Anna Calvi is definitely an artist with potential, and this album proves so.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Mini Review: Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo

Compared to Gruff Rhys’ best known work with the Super Furry Animals, his latest solo album Hotel Shampoo offers little more than a condensed attempt of the material he was recording 10+ years ago. SFA drew from many wide-ranging genres, being both unique and distinctive in their sound.  On the other hand, they were one of the definitive cult bands of their time, making it difficult for Rhys to be able to achieve a separate, solo-focused sound, which he has managed to pursue here. There’s definitely nothing of the tenacity of "The Man Don’t Give a Fuck" here, but all is forgotten when compared to the beauty of tracks such as the superb trumpet-assisted "Take a Sentence", and the Sinatran duet with El Perro Del Mar entitled "Space Dust #2". 50’s and 60’s pop seems to prevail on much of this album, particularly in the saxophone of "Christopher Columbus", the squawking guitar featured on "Patterns of Power", or the Beatlesque piano lines and strings of "At the Heart of Love". The sense of scope and endless possibilities the Super Furry Animals conjured up remain in Rhys’ work, regardless of the substantially diminished electronics (though not entirely removed, think Gorillaz meets She & Him and you’re not a million miles off). A few tracks don’t quite find their place for me, namely "Sophie Softly" and "If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)", which seem to be a little too meandering, though they’re easy enough to forgive, especially as now we have two great pop albums in the same number of days on our hands. If the colours of the bottles on the album cover appeal to you more than the grey, overcast sight of the Wounded Rhymes artwork, you ought to be looking here.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Mini Review: Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes

Lykke Li Zachrisson’s debut album Youth Novels was a minimalist, introspective dance-pop record which held a special place in several indie bloggers’ hearts. The Swedish singer’s follow up Wounded Rhymes feels like a reinterpretation of her first record: the stark arrangements feel lifted with the elements of folk balladry ("Unrequited Love") and swampy blues ("Get Some") and acoustic instrumentation, taking progressively darker, less electronic turns as the album progresses; yet at the centre remains Li’s tentative voice, still the most apparent aspect of her work, and considerably toughened. She comes across as a little wiser and knowledgeable, not quite the coy, precocious adolescent she seemingly pushed on Youth Novels opener "Melodies and Desires", and the stylistic change suits this new attitude. Wounded Rhymes sounds like the consequences of her innocence have caught up with her, but she manages to splendidly springboard away from her previous self and prove to be a versatile, individualistic pop singer. Even the bleakest songs here possess an assured confidence and sincerity; something which I didn’t like about Youth Novels was that Li appeared to be very self-motivated, but the issue here seems to have disappeared, with many songs carrying a painful weight behind them. Wounded Rhymes warms with repeated listens, allowing the listener to articulate its beauty. A great pop album in every sense, and one I’m glad didn’t pass me by.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Mini Review: Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean

Really happy that I get to review this first, as I should’ve listened to it when it came out way back in January. The psych-folk work of Samuel Beam, recorded under the name Iron & Wine, has become more diverse with each album, and the fourth Iron & Wine album Kiss Each Other Clean continues down the road of reinvention and creativity. The opening track "Walking Far From Home" is an immediate ear-catcher that assures of this fact and sets an adventurous tone for the album to pursue.
Even the tones of Beam’s hushed voice carry a more apparent bitterness at times, such as on "Monkeys Uptown", away from their usual dreaminess. There seems to be less of a need to experiment each song individually as on the previous Iron & Wine album The Shepherd’s Dog, and more of an effort towards a cohesive album effort: the ballad "Godless Brother in Love" gives way to the unpredictably funky "Big Burned Hand" and later the undeniably joyous "Glad Man Singing". These songs show Beam’s songwriting talent has by no means suffered through the instrumentation, however others may suffer from a lack of identity, particularly in the first half. Overall the album may not have surpassed its predecessor, but there is more than enough quality to keep guessing as to the next Iron & Wine release, and by the ending track "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough for Me", with its transformation from reggae into noise-rock, the album is left feeling like a triumphant success.

Monday, 14 March 2011

15 Mini Reviews List for March 2011

I'm giving myself both a hefty challenge and an opportunity to listen to some new music that I otherwise would've missed out on here. The Mini Review idea combines both a list of albums to check out each month (although I'm compensating for the last three) and a chance for me to give my honest opinion on them in just a few words, something which I haven't really done yet. From the list of 15 albums below (none of which I have properly given a listen to) I will choose 9 at random, literally out of a hat, and somehow get the obligatory retro review in as well to total 10; the other five may roll over to the next month, but we'll see. Starting Wednesday I will do my best to review one a day for ten days, and maybe choose an overall recommendation at the end based on my opinions. The random element also means I'll have to do a lot of background reading and listening in advance for some with relatively short notice. But I've gone on enough now. The 15 albums up for Mini Review are as follows:

Akron/Family - Akron/Family II (The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT)
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Tao of the Dead
Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
Lupe Fiasco - Lasers
The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts
Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
(Retro Review) Madness - Wonderful
Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo
Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol.2: Judges
Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo
Yuck - Yuck

So come back on Wednesday when I'll hopefully have the first Mini Review. Any reccomendations for next month's Mini Reviews are also appreciated, just leave them in the comments. But not the retro review - I have to have some creative freedom after all!
BTW I've been listening to both bigger and lesser-known albums this year, it's just these are ones I haven't managed to spend any time with. Shameful for a few of these I know, but at least now I'll be able to put things a little better. Also I'd like to be doing song, EP and album reviews in full in the near future, this isn't as far as it goes for me. And obviously I'll be coming up with more list ideas also.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Artist Top Tens: LCD Soundsystem

Welcome to Artist Top Tens, a feature I'm thinking of doing regularly, where I get a chance to go all nerdy over some of my favourite artists of the past and choose ten songs that I enjoy the most, and give the best idea of what they're all about and have to offer.

Having recently announced their farewell I thought the first artist I ought to cover in this new feature is James Murphy's dance punk juggernaut LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy is an ace musician, producer, and co-founder of the mighty DFA Records, and with his musical outlet LCD Soundsystem they changed the way music and it's associated cultures of the new millenium are percieved. The band's three studio albums: LCD Soundsystem (2005), Sound of Silver (2007), and This Is Happening (2010) show the sharpness of Murphy's social awareness, musical knowledge, wit, humour and taste, each one an essential piece of 21st Century cultural history and the western condition, and drawing on virtually all the great art rock, post punk and New Wave musicians to exemplify these observations. Here are the top ten songs (imo), in order of release:

"Losing My Edge" (from LCD Soundsystem, single released July 2002)

This is one of those songs, the ones that could be analysed and discussed endlessly, however we still have nine to go. And the song has been talked about by others in lengthy detail elsewhere, especially in 2002, when LCD decided it would become their first single. It could be said to mark either the birth or death of hipster culture, depending on your viewpoint; it at least took on the issue in new and interesting ways, not only in song form, but more noticeably from a lyrical viewpoint. Murphy, himself constantly mentioning his awareness of his age in interviews, parodies the aged rocker by playing the aged indie kid, proudly reminiscing on his ever-so-slightly invented past: e.g. "I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band. I told him, 'Don't do it that way. You'll never make a dime.'". Cut to the end, where he ends up pushing his love of obscure retro bands in the way music is often talked about even today, by unleashing a fury of name-dropping and referencing, warning his younger peers just how foolish they can seem to the outside world. Oh, and the music’s quality too.

"Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" (from LCD Soundsystem, single released February 2005)

It’s three years since you put out your first single, and since then you’ve released several more to equal or near-equal acclaim, showing yourself to be amongst the most capable in your field, and building the anticipation for your debut album to near dizzying levels. So you compile your already successful tracks into some kind of order, with maybe one or two gems you’ve been saving just for the occasion, right? Well, not LCD. Their self-titled album came with not one but two CD’s: Disc One being an entirely new album of material, with the singles compiled on the second disc. The first track of the new record, the gleefully titled "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" remains one of the bands’ most instantly recognisable and successful, reaching #1 on the British Dance Chart and earning them a Grammy nomination. The song’s name and video explain really all there is to know: the lifestyle of house parties for the indie generation, playing on the joke that Daft Punk is the only dance music they ever listen to. But now that’s no longer true (if it ever was), they listen to LCD Soundsystem too…

"Tribulations" (from LCD Soundsystem, single released September 2005)

One of the first LCD songs to deal with interpersonal relationships which are addressed so well on the latter two albums, James Murphy adopts the warm, synthetic approach for "Tribulations", which is less reliant on music of the past and more in keeping with the present day, 2005 sound LCD helped shape. The immediate club appeal of the warm, bassy synths, crisp, electronic beats and layered guitars are down to the song’s much sleeker production and mix, that contemporaries Yeah Yeah Yeahs wouldn’t manage until much later. Not to say Murphy isn’t great at producing of course, rather he often prefers a more haggard, rough-and-ready way. It works in the song’s favour lyrically also. Instead of hurling abuse at his addressee he calmly sneers from the moral high ground, perfectly aware of having being treated like an object. He also blames himself with clever double-edged swords such as "everybody makes mistakes/but it’s always mine that keep on sticking". His voice carries his passion which raises as the song approaches it’s end. The video is also fantastic.

"Someone Great" (from Sound of Silver, single released October 2007)

The second LCD LP, Sound of Silver, was sleeker and more mature than LCD Soundsystem, with Murphy leaving the influences at home and concentrating on providing a great modern album. The softest LCD track, Someone Great is one of two great explorations of human emotion on the album, though it’s meaning is purposefully vague: is it about death, or a failed relationship, or something else? Murphy attempts to grasp his emotions, focusing on details such as the weather to reassert himself. But it’s not too long before he’s back in his state of regret, guilt and woe, repeating the words "and it keeps coming till the day it stops". This is more of a sit-down listen to be totally appreciated, the loss of structure is represented by the loss of non-electronic instruments, save for a childlike glockenspiel, but by the end the song is fully realised and complete, and Murphy learns to accept "that someone great is gone".

"New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down" (from Sound of Silver)

"New York" is the track that closes Sound of Silver. Initially it starts as a simple piano ballad, but on closer listen subdued electronics underneath build tension, often making firework-like sounds.  The rest of the band soon turn up, one by one, as Murphy describes his dualistic relationship with the city, crystallised in the line "But you’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown". Eventually the song crescendos as distorted guitars and drums crash, and Murphy wails over them. This "after the show" type of closing track sounds somewhere between Lou Reed’s "Goodnight Ladies" from Transformer, and "Bring It On Home" from Led Zeppelin II and is hardly an original idea, but it’s fury and uniqueness within LCD's canon make it stand out.

"All My Friends" (from Sound of Silver, single released May 2007)

The second "sit-down-and-think dance" track if you followed me from earlier, "All My Friends" immediately follows "Someone Great" on Sound of Silver, bridging a highly emotional centrepiece for the album. The themes of the song include the humdrum of everyday life, isolation, coming of age, and failure for the real world to meet ones expectations. The messy opening piano chords carry the song way past the seven minute mark: an imperfect, incessant drone which is the basis for the linear track. The drama makes way for an empathetic guitar solo but the real focus is on Murphy as the music video shows: even as the camera zooms out to reveal the band, Murphy remains it’s focus. The song has found itself covered by Franz Ferdinand and no less than the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, however try as they might neither can surpass James Murphy’s original. There are as many great quotable lyrics here as there are on "Losing My Edge" and in many ways the song readdresses the issues found there, namely separation from an unsympathetic world. For me the best line here has to be the last, "If I could see all my friends tonight", with it’s obscurity of meaning and definition. Like the piano this choice may be mundane in it’s predictability but remains one of the few constants of this list.

"Drunk Girls" (from This Is Happening, single released May 2010)

 James Murphy announced at the start of last year that the third LCD record, This Is Happening, would likely be the band’s last, but that disheartening  statement carried a silver lining in the dropping of the first single "Drunk Girls", which followed in the footsteps of the previous two first album singles "Daft Punk" and "North American Scum" in being fun, anarchic and simple in structure and subject. The two syllable hook is "borrowed" from the Velvet Underground’s "White Light/White Heat" (a recurring theme of the album, more on that later), and it’s surprising how this chugging rhythm hasn’t been revived sooner. The one-note piano remains to drive the point home even further. My favourite lyric this time (again out of many) is "Drunk girls know love is an astronaut, it comes back but it’s never the same". The madness and hilarity are exemplified by the brilliant music video directed by Spike Jonze, who seems to think owning the band with pandas is the best way of expressing Murphy’s  intentions. Which it like, totally is.

"Dance Yrself Clean" (from This Is Happening)

It took me a while to get around to listening to This Is Happening for whatever reason, but from the moment I pressed play I was completely blown away by this track. "Dance Yrself Clean" opens the album over nine minutes which seem to pass by like a radio hit. Odd handclaps and percussion and analog synthesizer sounds alongside Murphy’s calm vocal only build on the excitement. He knows you know it’s a build to something bigger, and just past the 3 minute mark it delivers, with addition of more driven moog parts, acoustic drums, soaring vocal, and most importantly volume (my perceptions of it being a purposefully low mix were more than a little off the mark). I’m not aware of any song this is emulating, except for maybe a slight Talking Heads vibe, but that may only be in the vocal. It seems to be more retrospective of a time rather than a piece, the album certainly sounded more eighties than it’s predecessor. A change for the band then, and one that served them well.

"I Can Change" (from This Is Happening, single released July 2010)

"I can change, I can change, I can change, I can change," James Murphy protests, being the one on his knees for once. And he almost breaks your heart when he follows it up with "If it helps you fall in love". "I Can Change" is less of an ode to 80’s synthpop more than it is a fully-fledged 6-minute slice of it, sounding buoyant and unashamed in it’s intent. For someone who writes many of his songs about growing up and becoming old, James Murphy shows an unusual naivety as he makes that untellable promise. Despite the apparent sophistication someone may appear to have, they will always fall back on their old lines as a defence mechanism behind closed doors. It sounds as if Murphy’s said those three words time and again, which makes the song more tragic. Despite this the song becomes an anthem for those who’ve tried their hardest to hold onto someone, much like the song which shares it’s twinkling chorus, and could viably prelude, Blondie’s "Heart Of Glass".

"All I Want" (from This Is Happening)

 If you try to establish a moral from LCD’s first single (and first song on this list) "Losing My Edge", you may come to the conclusion that modern day musicians ought to stop relying on emulating the musicians of the past and instead attempt to create something original. Yet "All I Want" doesn’t just subtly hint at an old gem, it’s virtually an entire reworking of that gem. Which is a courageous move in itself, until you discover said gem turns out to be David Bowie’s "Heroes" , which is a song more timid musicians would consider too sacred to attempt. But this isn’t the only case of such on This Is Happening: we’ve already found the tune behind “Drunk Girls”, but it’s also safe to say that "Home" does a little more than just reference the Talking Heads’ "Naive Melody" ; and hey doesn’t "Somebody’s Calling Me" remind you a little of Iggy Pop’s "Nightclubbing"? Has James Murphy gone back on his word and hoped no-one would notice? Well of course not, LCD are back in social commentary mode again, making This Is Happening perhaps the biggest statement of confusion of the modern times in recent music. “All I Want” is far less than heroic: the chorus’s "All I want is your pity/All I want are your bitter tears" gives Bowie’s original a whole new perspective, especially when Murphy’s voice is lost amongst the screeching slide guitar and sour analog synths, along with his plea "Take me hooome!". Just what that means anymore in this context is anyone’s guess.

Final Comments: LCD Soundsystem really were one of the key bands and true observers of pop culture, and will undoubtedly be remembered as a part of the culture they documented and helped to shape. It’s unknown what the future holds for James Murphy, but my thoughts and hopes are that he will remain as a key figure of DFA Records, and go on to produce for those bands that he has expressed working with, namely Arcade Fire and Spoon. Having read just earlier today that Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne has expressed interest in working with him the future could hold some really interesting music; likewise if Murphy decides to start another project. Even if he hangs up his gloves for good, we’ll still have been fortunate to have experienced the best part of ten years with such a great creative force. And I really did manage to write a whole LCD article without using the word cowbell.

Which songs are your favourite LCD Soundsystem tunes? Have I missed anything?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

My 10 Most Anticipated Album Releases of 2011

Entirely different list from my previous one, this takes us through the officially announced albums which I am looking forward to most during the first half of this year, in order of release date.
Please note release dates are correct at time of writing but my be subject to change if the artist/label feels like it.

The Strokes - Angles

Highly anticipated fourth album from the band hailed as the saviours of rock and roll ten years ago, would you believe it. The Strokes’s reputation is not without merit though, they’re easily one of the great urban storytelling bands of our times, and it seems as if the wider music community will never be able to shake off the magical feeling that comes around the build up to an album release. New tracks "Under Cover of Darkness" and  the recently-dropped "You’re So Right" seem to be a return to roots and an interesting new direction respectively ("I had some early R.E.M. vibes for a minute or two", says singer Julian Casablancas). I’ve got that magical feeling over this one, check out "Under Cover of Darkness" below and hopefully experience it for yourself.

Angles is released via Rough Trade on 21/3/11 in the UK and via RCA on 22/3/11 in the US.

 Bibio - Mind Bokeh

Bibio is the name given to electronic producer and Boards of Canada protégé Stephen Wilkinson, whose from my neck of the woods actually, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, UK. His signature sound often encompasses guitar and piano amongst bleeps and hazy textures. His work often contains elements of 60’s folk-pop and jazz, and I was both surprised and delighted when I recently heard one of his songs "Lovers’ Carvings" on an ad for Amazon's Kindle, taken from his 2009 album Ambivalence Avenue. However Mind Bokeh’s opening track "Excuses" sounds so far removed from "Lovers’ Carvings" that I’m expecting the album to be quite the ride once it’s released.

Mind Bokeh is released via Warp on 29/3/11 in the US and 4/4/11 in the UK/ROW.

Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost!

Signed to the legendary DFA Records, Holy Ghost! have already released a ton of singles and high-profile remixes,  but we shouldn’t have to wait much longer for their debut album. Like their older brother labelmates LCD Soundsystem they produce New Wave and disco-sounding dance music, only more in keeping with those genres and groups of that time, such as the Human League and Soft Cell. Their 2010 Static on the Wire EP was well received, and produced gems such as "I Will Come Back", the video of which is a near-perfect update of New Order’s "Confusion". If that wasn’t enough to show you how great these guys are, take a listen to new album track “Do It Again” below, or download it here.

Holy Ghost! is released via DFA on iTunes on  5/4/11 and CD/LP on 12/4/11.

TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

Like the Strokes, TV on the Radio’s reputation and critical acclaim they gathered over the past decade serves them well as fans await their fifth LP Nine Types of Light. Tunde Adebimpe’s sonically rich and diverse indie rockers stunned both critics and listeners alike with their albums Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science, pushing the boundaries of experimentation within the genre to the limit. Adebimpe’s soulful high vocal register and David Sitek’s often raucous distorted guitar lay the foundations, but what follows from track to track is anyone’s guess. The band’s knowledge and range of influences make them truly unique, and new album track "Will Do" is a welcome introduction to the new album, potentially one of the sexiest songs we’ll get to hear this year, and yet another new exploration for the band.

Nine Types of Light is released via Interscope on 12/4/11.

Panda Bear - Tomboy

This album in particular has been a long time coming for many, owing to both the rise in popularity of Animal Collective (reaching it’s current pinnacle in 2009 with the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion), and the huge fanbase of Panda Bear’s previous solo record Person Pitch in 2006. Both albums are milestones in the independent music scene and will likely be remembered as two of our generations finest. Whether Panda Bear’s (or Noah Lennox’s) new album will be comparable to these is anybody’s guess, but music fans of a particular nature have their eyes firmly on this one, and have rabidly been lapping up the stream of 7" singles in anticipation already. Lennox is certainly capable of producing great things, but only when his singles are heard in the album’s context can we really know if Tomboy is another of these.

Tomboy is released via Paw Tracks on 12/4/11.

Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

Post-rock instrumental Texans Explosions in the Sky create some of the most lush, emotive and grand music of their genre, drawing comparisons from Mogwai to Sigur Rós. They’re a band who seem to amaze and expand their audiences with each album, and this streak will likely continue when Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is released. The range of sounds gained from just drums and guitar are extraordinary in the hands of these guys, and the band are able to fashion album after album of tearjerkers and euphoric soundscapes often using just these. Personally I’m not the biggest post-rock fan but this music seems to work for me a lot better than most of this band’s contemporaries. Fans of the genre or those who like their rock a little more interesting will undoubtedly enjoy this once it’s released.

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is released via Bella Union on 18/4/11 in the UK and 25/4/11 for the rest of Europe, and via Temporary Residence on 26/4/11 in the US.

Tyler, the Creator - Goblin

Cover for "Yonkers" single
Well any upcoming release from new hype vehicle Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, really. OFWGKTA are the hot topic of conversation right now for fans of underground hip-hop and the music blogosphere in general. The young LA-based collective have been hailed by some as the new Wu-Tang Clan, a statement undoubtedly with some weight behind it. Odd Future are nothing if not prolific: you can download several albums and mixtapes from each member over at their website if you’re into that sort of thing. Amongst the most prolific members of Odd Future, one that stands out most from the crowd is Tyler, the Creator or Wolf Haley, who wants everyone to believe he’s both a genius and a psychopath. The track "Yonkers" has gathered the most buzz to date, and will feature on Tyler’s second album Goblin, set for release sometime during April. I'll update once we get a better idea.

Goblin is released via XL Recordings circa 4/11.

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Chances are you’ve already listened to the songs on Fleet Foxes’ debut album, and if that’s the case you’ll likely want to open your wallet for when their follow-up arrives, Helplessness Blues. The band, led by Robin Pecknold combine traditional and English folk with Brian Wilson’s sense of melody and instrumentation to forge timeless tunes with the richest of harmonies. I will be interested as to whether the new album will be able to match up against the most gorgeous moments of the Sun Giant EP and Fleet Foxes, but the title track tells me that I don’t have much to worry about. Music like this exists out of time, place and fashion, and is something for all to enjoy.

Helplessness Blues is released via Bella Union on 2/5/11 in the UK and via Sub Pop on 3/5/11 in the US.

Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact

I can think of no better example of the underground sonic experimentations coming from New York right now than those of Gang Gang Dance. Still widely unknown but with the acknowledgement of their peers, and with the potential to release a game-changing album. Overshadowed by some, yet easily identifiable, they are able to synthesise the sounds around their scene and yet achieve uniqueness and gratitude from many of those willing to dig to find them: Percussive dance punk with world, electronic, art-rock and hip-hop textures. The first track to be released from their new album Eye Contact is the opener “Glass Jar”, an eleven minute sprawl that rewards those who are prepared to stick it out. Hopefully the rest of the album follows suit equally as well. I’ll say no more.

Eye Contact is released via 4AD on 9/5/11.

Battles - Gloss Drop

Cover Art TBC
In my opinion, Battles’ debut album Mirrored is a modern classic. It somehow manages to be both nerdy, mathy prog-rock, and yet it’s dynamic brilliance means that to those who are aware of it there is no other substitute for bedroom dancing and freaking out, it wins you over without having to put up too much of a fight. However the group have experienced recent setbacks; after the departure of singer/multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton the remaining three members, each from other renowned bands, decided to scrap their material and work on their follow-up to Mirrored, Gloss Drop as a trio. Unfortunately no new songs have been released as of yet, however looking at the tracklist , the prospects of tracks with guest vocals from none other than synthpop legend Gary Numan and the wildly exciting frontman of Boredoms, Yamantaka Eye are enough to keep my appetite whetted, stretching the limits of what this band can deliver. I’ll end my list of my 10 most anticipated album releases of 2011 with the classic Battles song "Atlas", taken from Mirrored.

Gloss Drop is released via Warp on 7/6/11 in the US and 6/6/11 in the UK/ROW.

What albums are you looking forward to this year? I’ll be interested to see how these albums will compare to my expectations, what I’ll end up talking about at the end of the year, and how the releases of this year compare with 2010 and 2012.