Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Album review: YO LA TENGO - Fade

Highlights: Ohm, It’s Not Enough, Well You Better, The Point Of It

It’s rather fascinating to realise that Yo La Tengo have been this quiet, but important and intriguing force in indie pop music for two decades now (technically, though, it will soon be three; while I’m not really dismissing their first few albums, it all really started to click with Painful). Since 1993 they have released a string of slow-burning, long-winded albums that were either inspired (and pretty) or, frankly, rather boring (yet pretty). Mostly both.

And I’d say that Fade fits in nicely with their best efforts. This time it is not just about laidback, self-consciously pretty grooves that are okay while they last but do not leave that much of an impression afterwards. Fade is about songs and, dare I say it, songs that can turn out to be quite catchy on occasion. The opening “Ohm” is a noisy and effective 7-minute singalong that, in essence, is your ultimate Yo La Tengo experience. However, I was particularly impressed with the three songs that follow – all three prove yet again that Yo La Tengo can pen a great little pop gem if they feel like it.

As ever, they try different things, from sunshine pop to shoegaze to dream pop to country, but it’s not like Fade is a very diverse record. It never feels that way: the sound is all soaked through with the old lazy summer vibes Yo La Tengo can do so well. Whether it’s garagey guitars or sweeping orchestration or just plain, good old strumming.

Granted, at some points Fade could bore one to tears, but that’s if you don’t pay attention. In a way, it really is as sharp and articulate as these guys get. Overall, this is sweet sweet music to immerse yourself into when the mood is right. Great stuff.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #90: Pavement - "Shady Lane / J vs. S"

"Shady Lane / J vs. S" (Brighten The Corners, 1997) is that rare Pavement song that you can sing along to already on first listen. And that's not to say that Stephen Malkmus was not one of the greatest songwriters of the 90s; it's just that his melodies always need time to sink in (but when they do, eventually, there's no end to your joy), and his wittily nonsensical lyrics that, oh well, speak to you in a way that is both inexplicable and truly heartfelt.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Album review: I AM KLOOT - Let It All In

Highlights: Let Them All In, Hold Back The Night, Mouth On Me, Some Better Day

Let’s keep it all short and sweet. Since that is basically the only way of dealing with Let It All In anyway (and I Am Kloot in general, for that matter). The band’s previous album, Sky At Night, was distinguished by the fact that it was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize (no big deal, but still a pleasant surprise for an album so unassuming and understated). Musically, Let It All In offers more of the same: gentle, melodic folk-pop.

As ever, not much variety to be found, but there are lots of tasteful, lovely arrangement details (like the delicious orchestration in “Hold Back The Night”, for instance) that will make it a thoroughly engaging listen. The melodies are not what you would call particularly hard-hitting (though “Mouth On Me” is actually an instantly memorable pop gem), but you will never stop snagging off all those inconspicuous hooks and ideas.

Interestingly, I’ve only just noticed how similar I Am Kloot sounds to The Apartments, that long forgotten Australian classic chamber pop band. You certainly hear that in the vocals as well as the actual music: I could very well imagine stuff like the folksy “Shoeless” or the Beatlesque “Some Better Day” on 1995’s A Life Full Of Farewells (granted – Let It All In is somewhat more upbeat, though that's not saying much).  

In the end, this is I Am Kloot being I Am Kloot. And when the tunes are there (and they mostly are), there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s a low eight.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Album review: FOXYGEN - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic

Highlights: No Destruction, On The Blue Mountain, San Francisco, Oh Yeah, Oh No 2

I don’t know whether this is the corniest title they could think of, but if this was indeed Foxygen’s aim, then well done to them. Whereas the name of the band’s debut (last year’s brilliant Take The Kids Off Broadway) was actually quite effective and witty in a deliciously nonsensical sort of way, this one just makes the cynic inside me wince uncontrollably. Not that it should scare anyone away, of course.

As I was listening to Foxygen’s glorious mess of a debut last year, I kept telling myself that it would prove nothing more than a successful one-off pastiche. If they were going to do that all over again, the joke would wear thin no matter how strong the actual material would be.

Well, I’m relieved to say – no such problem here. We Are The 21st Century… is a much more settled down, mellower affair. And even if they do switch from one melody or groove to another several times in a matter of one minute (check out “Shuggie”), it still sounds surprisingly cohesive.

Basically, this album is made up of soulful, gorgeous, flower-pop balladry that still sounds like it was sung by the 60s Mick Jagger. “No Destruction”, for instance, is such a lazy Stones-y shuffle (as is “Oh Yeah”) that you could easily mistake it for a worthy Aftermath outtake. “San Francisco” is both laidback and incredibly infectious, while the closing epic “Oh No 2” is psychedelic, 60s-flavoured dream pop at its shimmering best (think of Montreal without the indulgences). They were clearly going for something more subdued here, and if the first time won’t seem too overwhelming, then further listens will certainly help you find some amazing songwriting behind each of these songs. In fact, the only time where the guys make a point of going off is the rip-roaring title track that shakes things up towards the very end of the album.

In the end, this album does lack the killer hooks and spontaneous, off-kilter punch of their debut (one of my absolute favourites from 2012), but I welcome the small change. They are still kids having fun, but they are growing, maturing kids having fun.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #89: Joy Division - "Warsaw"

I certainly do enjoy Joy Division when they are all morbid and gloomy (no one can beat the miserable beauty of "Decades"), but the punkish drive of "Warsaw" (An Ideal For Living EP, 1978) remains a firm favourite.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Book review: POST EVERYTHING by Luke Haines

I guess he wouldn’t care, but it’s easy to dismiss Luke Haines. All that sneering bitterness coming from a man with so little relevance (whatever that word even means) and whose current profile is better not to be dwelt upon (Haines is a self-styled ‘outsider’ artist). And it’s even easier to dismiss Post Everything, the second volume of his memoir, exactly the sort of book that would make admires admire and haters hate. Hot on the heels of the successful (I’m using the word loosely) Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall, this installment covers the period from 1997 to 2005, from Black Box Recorder’s first album to Haines’ glam classic Going Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop.   

The obvious question, how does part 2 stand against part 1, can easily be dropped two sentences into the book. In every possible way, Post Everything offers more of the same: droll humour and dry wit. Just a friendly word of warning: whereas Bad Vibes had a certain mass appeal (after all, Britpop, though not the book’s main concern, was a huge and pretty much unmissable target), Post Everything would mostly get to fans, clueless critics (this one goes to Allan Jones), maybe some random, Foyles-browsing, clever cynics with a passing interest in art. Having said that, if you care for Haines’ music – clever cynicism is an inherent quality.

For starters, the title is good. Compact yet boundless, it certainly promises you an intriguing, post-postmodernist world of dead culture and bloated corpses with, yes, maybe a few bright rays of hope in the form of yours truly. This is art post everything and art post death. In fact, the only thing wrong about the title is that future ones (on their way, no doubt about that) might end up somewhat anti-climactic.

After a classic preface that will surely sort men from boys and will tell you whether you have any chance with a character this baleful and unsettling, we begin with Luke Haines’ crazy-genius idea of the First National Pop Strike. That was supposed to be a week when no records would be produced, bought or listened to. Also, and you should have guessed by now, this was the week when Haines was planning to release his first solo album, The Oliver Twist Manifesto… Don’t let the word ‘quixotic’ get to your head – it really was only a cynical and hilarious gag. One that is so sorely missed in an age when “artistic phases have been replaced by career trajectories”.

In between entertaining tales of bitter record label struggles, glorious failures (like Property, Haines’ remarkable shot at a full-scale musical) and brilliant and delusional pop successes (“The Facts Of Life”), you also get a little of Luke’s political insight and, in a completely unexpected turn of events, some details of his personal life. Reading those few pages is a bit like hearing him sing “Jesus Is Right On”.

Also, let us be honest, when reading memoirs of a celebrity (and I fully realise how awkward that word looks in the context), we all crave for those priceless moments where other celebrities are mentioned, eulogized and (preferably) kicked in the teeth. Needless to say, Haines does a lot of the latter. Yes, there may be some passing praise of The Libertines’ debut album or, again, The Go-Betweens, but you certainly came here for the real stuff: Chrissie Hynde (“the silly vegetarian”), Noel Gallagher and Alan McGee (“dumb and dumber”), Bono (a chance meeting with whom results in the gem that is “there’s no better feeling in life than being snubbed by a moron”)…

Like its predecessor, Post Everything is a real page-turner. Its dense, snappy, acerbic style is deeply engaging, and Haines’ amazing charisma is as wicked as it is irresistible. For me, the only moments that didn’t quite work were the quizzical, hallucinatory episodes involving the cat and the late Notorious B.I.G. Likewise, it was the lengthy Jarvis Cocker blackout in Bad Vibes that lost some of my interest. Don’t take it from me though: Haines himself thought it was an inspired highlight. Well, never mind.

 “It’s not healthy to be spiteful, it’s good to be wise”, Luke Haines sang on “Mr. And Mrs. Solanas” back in 2001. In Post Everything, he is both. Still, there is always something strangely appealing about this man. He is all about art. So fuck relevance. And fuck profiles. 


Monday, 14 January 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #88: Bauhaus - "Crowds"

I'm breaking the rule here by posting another song by the same artist (Bauhaus in this case), but I guess there comes a time in every man's life, when he has to spend a day listening to "Crowds" (b-side of "Telegram Sam", 1980). So here goes: