Sunday, 31 March 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #96: Art Brut - "Emily Kane"

This may not be the greatest video ever made, but "Emily Kane" is a perennial and a classic. Infectious as hell. Off Art Brut's debut (doomed to remain their best, because the schtick does grow old), Bang Bang Rock & Roll (2005). I don't know how someone might NOT sing along to this.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Album review: CHELSEA LIGHT MOVING - s/t

Highlights: Groovy & Linda, Burroughs, Frank O’Hara Hit

Having said all that in my previous review, I’m now doing Chelsea Light Moving, which is basically a band that is as Sonic Youth-like sounding as you can possibly get. However, all comparisons are immaterial: Chelsea Light Moving is the new project of Thurston Moore, the man who actually formed Sonic Youth and has over the years been the band’s principal guitarist and songwriter. So I hope there are no questions as to what this album sounds like…

It’s very simple: Thurston Moore doing his thing here. Noisy, groovy, incredibly tight guitar racket. Lots of flashy, colourful riffage combined with the occasional mellower, warmer moment. Stylistically, there’s next to no variation; well, the opening “Heavenmetal” is a very pretty almost-ballad, and I guess the closing “Communist Eyes” could be labeled as hardcore punk, but you don’t need the details. The details you need are all in the guitars. Also, great songwriting is hardly a talking point here, but then Chelsea Light Moving is a physical listen rather than a mental one. In terms of highlights, the powerful “Burroughs” is sheer mindblowing intensity that never gets boring. The lowlight is definitely the seven-minute long “Mohawk”, which is not offensive, but ends up a monotonous spoken-word groove of no consequence.    

Overall, an exciting listen. It’s of course tempting to see Chelsea Light Moving as a second-tier Sonic Youth album. And there’s truth in that; however, it is also a great second-tier Sonic Youth album, which was probably all we could get at this point. The album sounds good. “Burroughs” is a classic.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Album review: BEACH FOSSILS - Clash The Truth

Highlights: Clash The Truth, Generation Synthetic, Sleep Apnea, Careless

Dream pop.

You know how you would sometimes read a band description and notice things that might attract you or put you off. A comparison with The Byrds would pique my curiosity while a Sonic Youth reference would most likely make me yawn. I love Daydream Nation as much as anyone else, there’s just something in my stomach that doesn’t agree with a band that is compared to Sonic Youth. Similarly, a band “playing dream pop” is where I would normally switch off the lights, say good night and leave.

Still, something prompted me to give Beach Fossils a chance. And I could swear after track number four that Clash The Truth is the best dream pop album in recent memory. Dreamy, hazy, yes, but these are actually good, concise pop songs with substantial tunes and palpable hooks. Despite the woozy, viscous vocals and the drowsy production, it doesn’t even seem like you are listening to a dream pop album: just a solid indie album with strong songwriting.

Then, however, the curse sets in, and Clash The Truth no longer sounds particularly articulate. It’s all good, pleasant-sounding music that would appeal to a Beach House fan, but the rest of us might feel seriously underwhelmed. There’s no denying the prettiness of a song like “In Vertigo”, but the problem is that it has very little to recommend beyond its prettiness. A song or two will stick out (“Caustic Cross” is another highlight), but mostly you will just feel at sea. Which fans of the genre wouldn’t really mind, of course.

If we try to be objective, then Clash The Truth is indeed a very good dream pop album – and as such, I will rarely feel the urge to relive the experience of hearing it. Take last year’s Bloom by Beach House: if I’m in that sort of mood, I will go for the more charismatic Deserter’s Songs. Let’s take nothing away from these guys, though: some good pop music here. Hence the seven.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #95: T. Rex - "Left Hand Luke"

Electric Warrior and The Slider are both good albums, no question about that, but I'll take Tanx (1973) over them any day of the week. Chockful of concise, catchy classics, culminating in the crazy singalong that is "Left Hand Luke". Gospel for the glam-rock age, I could listen to this one forever.  

Friday, 22 March 2013

Album review: EDWYN COLLINS - Understated

Highlights: Dilemma, Down The Line, Forsooth, In The Now, Love’s Been Good To Me

I guess it would be hard not to start this review by saying that Understated is the perfect title for a late-period Edwyn Collins album. The word may have very little to do with Edwyn’s music (it really is quite colourful  and upbeat), but in terms of the actual career of the ‘godfather of indie’ (ridiculous notion, but there you go), it’s just about perfect. The fact that he did have a major hit single back in 1994 (“A Girl Like You”, obviously) only underlines the very low-key nature of this release.

However, who fucking cares? 2010’s Losing Sleep was excellent, but arguably Understated is even better. A masterful collection of sharp, articulate, expertly produced songs that serve as further proof that Edwyn Collins is one of Britain’s greatest living songwriters. He was good and foppish when he was Orange Juice, and he is equally good (though certainly a lot less foppish) now that he keeps his winning streak going.

“Dilemma” is a punchy, pulsating opener that effectively tells the listener not to lower his expectations. What follows is consistently brilliant songwriting, soulful, groovy and preserving that post-punk edge that set him off back in early 80’s (actually, the album does sound like You Can't Hide Your Love Forever written by a mature Edwyn Collins). My favourite stretch of songs comes on the second side: the country-ish “Down The Line” is one to sing along to; the Velvetsy “Forsooth” (the irresistible “Sunday Morning” vibe, but slightly less mellow); the powerful, addictive rocker “In The Now”. The ballad “Love’s Been Good To Me” (cover of Rod McKuen’s unfading classic) brings the whole thing to a fitting, gorgeous end.  

Everyone who’s been with Edwyn all these years, will love the hell out of this album. I know I did. Fantastic, tasteful production and confident songwriting, what else do you need? Too early to say, of course, but Understated is a sure contender for 2013’s top 10. Ah hell, I’m giving it a nine. It is just too good.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Album review: DAVID BOWIE - The Next Day

Highlights: Dirty Boys, The Stars (Are Out Tonight), Love Is Lost, Valentine’s Day, How Does The Grass Grow, Heat

And after all these years, we still know it for a fact: David Bowie isn’t capable of a less-than-special album. He may have been responsible for a number of quite awful duds along the way (oh yeah), but even when Bowie is bad, he sounds engaged. Inspired. (Don’t point your finger in the direction of “Hours…”, it wasn’t all that bland). There’s always this terrific sense of urgency about Bowie’s music, and there’s absolutely no question that the unbelievable 2013 comeback just had to bring out the best in him. Bowie is still trying to be relevant. Just take a look at that cover statement.

No, The Next Day isn’t Bowie’s best album since Scary Monsters. Not at all. The Next Day is Bowie’s best album since Reality (his last one before the 10-year hiatus that included a freak candy incident, heart surgery and a handful of cameo appearances). I’m not trying to be smart or funny: Reality was brilliant. And so is The Next Day.

Tony Visconti produces, and it’s quality, no-big-shakes Visconti production. Some say these flashy guitar solos sound generic, but the very least I can say is that it all works perfectly with Bowie’s songs. Of which we have no less than 14, by turns anthemic, gentle, experimental. The glammy title track blast is the perfect opener, but the following “Dirty Boys” is even better, a sinister saxophone-led groove and an instant Bowie classic. “Love Is Lost” is passionate, overpowering. “Valentine’s Day” is brilliantly infectious. The chorus of “How Does The Grass Grow” brings back the fond memories of Bowie’s glorious early 70’s. “Heat” finishes the album on a high low-key note. It does of course sound a lot like Scott Walker, but don’t worry: we are not in Bish Bosch’s impenetrable territory. He makes it less bizarre, more appealing. After all, David Bowie has always cared about being liked.

I’d argue that overall Heathen had stronger songs, but you just can’t wish for a better album from Bowie at this point in time. The Next Day doesn’t contain one weak song… Well, there’s not a lot you can say here. God knows he’s good, so what do you know? Having said that, we all know that David Bowie is pop music’s greatest figure. Bar none. The Next Day is further proof.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #94: Orange Juice - "Consolation Prize"

Orange Juice were absolutely essential. Edwyn Collins’ indie romantics with a post-punk, inherently Glaswegian edge. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (1982), their glorious debut (as long as you can live with Edwyn’s dynamic croon), has too many classics to choose from. For the time being, I’ll go with “Consolation Prize”, their infectious, tongue-in-cheek tribute to The Byrds. If this is your first time, count yourself the world’s happiest man.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Album review: MY BLOODY VALENTINE - m b v

Highlights: She Found Now, Only Tomorrow, Who Sees You, In Another Way

This was hilariously unexpected, of course, but the album had to be released at some point. The fact that it took Kevin Shields more than 20 years to finally come out and do it cannot just be explained by neurotic perfectionism. Hell no. The brilliant Loveless was released three years after the equally brilliant Isn’t Anything. And like I’ve noted numerous times before, only Kate Bush can get away with that sort of thing.

In terms of sound – no surprises. Which is just as well. Shields is not building on the remarkable sound of that gorgeous shoegaze delirium, not trying to expand it in any way. What he is doing on m b v is just reveling, wallowing in those dense textures he dreamt up way back when. And while I’m at it, it was certainly to be expected that a new album from My Bloody Valentine would generate lots of hysterical reactions, from fans as well as from those who tried to get into or at the very least understand the overblown/underground hype (and – obviously – this is exactly what m b v has generated). Apparently many people were frustrated that Shields is pretty much stuck in the place where he was last seen. It is almost as though these people wanted My Bloody Valentine to go disco or something.

Having said that, the final three songs do show some sonic development. And while the instrumental “Nothing Is” is nothing much, “Wonder 2” is interesting – Shields trying to squeeze in as much funk as possible without compromising his trusty shtick. You can’t really discuss m b v in terms of highlights, but that’s because the record is very even and homogenous. I’ve singled out the first three songs simply because their Loveless vibe seems so comforting. Layers of colourful noise interwoven with dreamy, unassuming melodies. Also, I quite like the idea to break the whole thing up with three quiet, ballad-like dreamscapes that occupy the middle part of the album.

Regardless of what you might think of the band’s defining classic, its mammoth cult status has made it impossible for Shields to record an adequately perceived follow-up. However, you really do get what you want: you get Loveless; you get a taste of what could have come next; you get My Bloody Valentine of 2013. Yes, it’s a great band stuck in their sound, but I couldn’t care less if it is simply because Kevin Shields is unable to do anything else with it. The sound good. "C-" for the cover, though.


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Album review: ROBYN HITCHCOCK - Love From London

Highlights: Harry’s Song, Be Still, Death And Love, End Of Time

It’s good that Robyn Hitchcock has remained so prolific over the years. Because listening to Love From London, you realise, again and again, that the man’s songwriting has that inherent quirkiness which will never allow him to do anything bland or unworthy. That and his taste which has never betrayed him – whether he is singing about food, sex or insects…

Love From London is a comfortable late-period album from Hitchcock. I would argue that it sounds slightly more inspired than 2011’s Tromso, Kaptein, but there’s hardly too much distance between the two albums. He does his Lennon-esque-melodies-mingled-with-Barrett-esque-vibes thing perfectly. Which, thankfully, never gets boring.

“Harry’s Song” is an effective piano-based opener (he should do more of those), and one of this album’s main highlights. We then get to the set’s catchiest piece, “Be Still”, that shouldn’t be forgotten when someone decides to make a Robyn Hitchcock best-of millions years from now. Another huge favourite is “End Of Time” that finishes it all off in an aptly gorgeous, anthemic way. It should remind one of “Propellor Time” from 2010, which is high praise indeed. If I have any complaints, they are mostly to do with the album’s groove numbers (“Fix You”, “Devil On A String” and “I Love You”) that are decent but pale next to the dreamy classics like the jangly “Strawberries Dress” and particularly the spacious, magnetic “Death And Love” (most modern dream-pop bands should pretty much break up after hearing this one).

As ever, a great little album from Hitchcock. Strictly for fans, of course, but I don’t see why a newcomer would not feel moved by the clever melodies and the unfading charisma of a man who’s too odd to be John Lennon and too normal to be Syd Barrett. Not a problem: he is brilliant where he is.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #93: The Tyde - "All My Bastard Children"

The Tyde. You should like them if you like The Jayhawks. And you should like them if you happen to like Felt. And you will definitely love them if you love both (Christ, have I just eliminated the whole of world’s population?!?) “All My Bastard Children” off their brilliant debut, Once (2001), is a heavenly, countrified jangle-pop ballad that should instantly become one of your favourite things ever.

The rest of the band’s catalogue is worth a shot, too, particularly their second album (Twice, as you would expect). Not as consistent, I guess, but “Henry VII” is as infectious a pop gem as you can possibly get.  

Now, though, it’s all about “All My Bastard Children”…

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Album review: RHYE - Woman

Highlights: Open, The Fall, 3 Days

Two songs into this album, I almost began pulling out my hair thinking that the unfortunate moment finally came: the pop plague has knocked me off my feet, consumed the last streaks of my soul, and I will never be the same again. But – no. It gets somewhat less blinding afterwards, and I almost feel spared.

Rhye is a collaboration between Canada’s Mike Milosh and Denmark’s Robin Hannibal, both of whom are producers, vocalists and multi-instrumentalists. It shows; Woman is pop music steeped in thought, class and awe-inspiring professionalism.

And god those two first songs are brilliant. “Open” and “The Fall” are smooth, intricate pop ballads that are ecstatically sad lyrics-wise, and absolutely immaculate musically. Composed and produced to stone cold perfection, they are triumph of mood and slick subtlety. Call it R’n’B, call it Sophisti-Pop, I wouldn’t care.  

Sadly, the rest of the album doesn’t get anywhere near those heights. However, I wouldn’t want to make a wrong impression here: no missteps I can think of. The overall sound is sustained, up to the final instrumental, and at some point you do of course start coming round to the other songs and the glorious little details. The classy saxophone of “One Of Those Summer Days”, the funky, almost upbeat rhythm of “3 Days”, you can get lost in all of this album’s brilliant intricacies. It’s just that the songwriting quality gets a little trampled by style. Not much, mind you, and the understated orchestration provides an almost ideal post-break-up listen. Alone, in the dark, in headphones.

Brainy pop music. And by ‘pop’, I really do mean pop music. But brainy. And rather bloody good.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Album review: NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Push The Sky Away

Highlights: We Know Who U R, Mermaids, We Real Cool, Higgs Boson Blues

I’m not at all sure that Push The Sky Away will scrape into my imaginary Nick Cave top 10 (it might; for me, the experience is very much on par with Your Funeral… My Trial), but with each new listen I am becoming more and more addicted to this album. Push The Sky Away sounds like the sort of therapy Cave needed after the wild onslaught of Grinderman and even The Bad Seeds’ latest, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (this album is pretty much stuck in that beautiful, mournful “Jesus Of The Moon” vibe). And however much I love the screaming, rip-roaring Cave, there’s just no denying that he always had the knack for writing a haunting, striking ballad.

Push The Sky Away is all about that. So much so that it might remind one of the mellow, slow-burning charm of The Boatman’s Call (16 years ago! Christ!) – except that this album is somewhat edgier. Not as soft. And with slightly weaker melodies.

The album sounds sparse (there are pianos, violins, lots of bass – and hardly much lushness) and very pretty; also, almost understated by Cave’s usual standards. But the man is an expert songwriter (who, interestingly, treats songwriting as an office job), and his songs are consistently good. I could see why someone would feel that “Finishing Jubilee Street” is expendable or find it hard to hang on to the melody of “Wide Lovely Eyes”, but even those have Cave’s unmistakable charisma and stamp of songwriting authority. Besides, Push The Sky Away is very much a mood record, and I’d say that everything falls into place.

However, like most mood-oriented albums, Push The Sky Away isn’t really made up of knock-out songs. If there’s a true Nick Cave classic to pull out of the record, it would be the intense 8-minute ballad “Higgs Boson Blues”. Typical minimalist epic from Cave, but he still has that remarkable power to sound so intriguing and convincing without doing much.

The others are just average great Nick Cave songs.

Which, let’s admit, is good enough. It was of course sad to see Mick Harvey go (just for the record: Sketches From The Book Of The Dead was a better album), but that shouldn’t distract you from the fact that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have added another winner to their rather immaculate catalogue.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #92: Unbunny - "Nothing Comes To Rest"

An obscure, elusive band from Seattle, Unbunny (basically, a very humble guy named Jarid Del Deo) play fragile indie-folk music that is precious and utterly gorgeous. Heart-meltingly gorgeous. Jarid sounds like a particularly fragile and vulnerable Neil Young (I'm sure he's sick of that comparison already), and his simple, disarming tunes are just so lovely. There are only four brief albums out there, all equally good. "Nothing Comes To Rest" comes from 2004's Snow Tires. You'd just have to agree that with a melody like that Unbunny deserve a little more recognition.