Sunday, 30 June 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #107: Supergrass - "Caught By The Fuzz"

Nothing like blasting Supergrass all through your house first thing in the morning. Haven't listened to them in years, but apparently this is what rewatching Hot Fuzz does to you. Their first single (1994). Sounds as pumped up and irresistible as it did when I first heard it. Supergrass's singles collection should be in every house. Great band.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Album review: BEADY EYE - BE

Highlights: Flick Of The Finger, Soul Love, Ballroom Figured

If you sit down to write an album review and immediately feel you are not really up to it (after all, what is there to say about Rat Farm other than that is another perfectly serviceable Meat Puppets LP?), don’t just drop the whole thing and do something else. Sit back and review the new Liam Gallagher album. There’s a special kind of perverted joy to the task, and I still find it irresistible.

The catch here is that the new Beady Eye album was produced by Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio). The first thing you would expect is something inventive and adventurous, but while BE (that’s just a wrong title, right? I would have much preferred Bee) does sound more interesting than Different Gear, Still Speeding, the change is hardly all that dramatic. Dave Sitek is reduced to playing David Fincher in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. They both tried to change something that, quite simply, could not be changed. There’s nothing you can do about a sappy script or a bloated charisma.

But all that said, I still like this stuff. I’m 26 now, but I’m still touched by the acoustic prettiness of “Ballroom Figured” that doesn’t have an original bone in it. I’m intrigued by the lyrics of the otherwise unremarkable “Second Bite Of The Apple”. I still get a major kick out of the anthemic “Flick Of The Finger” that is Oasis all over again (but of course). I can still get in the intense and intensely generic groove of “Face The Crowd”. I’m still moved by the trite optimism of the closing “Start Anew”. I can even forgive the banal “Don’t Bother Me” with its four minutes of electronic waste. It just works; still, against all odds.

You know exactly what to expect. You know the songwriting is going to be derivative. You know a Gallagher is someone who isn't bothered with artistic growth because he just thinks he is so great. You know Liam is the sort of artist who will easily say that he won’t do it again if his new work fails (which he did). All rather pathetic, really, and all rather enjoyable. Whatever.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Album review: MIKAL CRONIN - MCII

Highlights: Weight, Shout It Out, Peace Of Mind, Don't Let Me Go

Mikal Cronin is a longtime collaborator of Ty Segall, and for my money he has revealed himself as the more talented songwriter of the two. The latter’s onslaught of albums has become rather exasperating. After all, is there anything more boring than a garage/psychedelic rock revival album these days? (And that includes you, Floating Coffin.) At least when you rip off Teenage Fanclub, you are bound to come up with a few good tunes.

And this basically is what Mikal Cronin does on his second album. Writes ten pleasant, catchy, Teenage Fanclub-inspired pop songs that far surpass anything on his rather raw and fragmented debut two years ago. “Weight” and “Shout It Out” are near perfect power pop openers, memorable and tastefully distorted, that probably set the bar a little too high. Not that there is a single less-than-good song here, but I just fail to find anything exceptional about vocal melodies of tracks like “Change” or “See It My Way” (terrific guitar work from Mikal, though). However, I find the violin-fuelled pop rocker “Peace Of Mind” and the acoustic Elliott Smith-esque ballad “Don’t Let Me Go” absolutely irresistible. As I do the sweetly orchestrated, piano-based minimalism of the closing “Piano Mantra”. It rips it up a bit towards the end, but overall this is gently affecting stuff.

One of those reviews where you just talk yourself into rating an album higher than you initially planned. You know that album which you can’t stop listening while driving out of town on a nice sunny day? Well, MCII is so much more than that…


Sunday, 23 June 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #106: Laurie Anderson - "Big Science"

There is probably no way of saying this without coming off "smart" and annoyingly pretentious, but I'll say it anyway: Laurie Anderson's Big Science (1982) is one of my all-time favourite albums. It may be artsy and experimental, but it is strangely accessible, too. Too bad she would never come close to this artistic triumph again.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Album review: ADAM ANT - Adam Ant Is The BlueBlack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter

Highlights: Cool Zombie, Dirty Beast, Punkyoungirl, Cradle Your Hatred

“Lift up your skirt, let me lick the alphabet”. Well, I don’t know, Adam, I just don’t know. Christ what a mess. This album – and you should guess as much from the title – is all over the place, sonically, stylistically and even production-wise. All over the goddamn shop. First he will blow you away with the crisp, ridiculously effective lead-off single “Cool Zombie” and then he will throw you right into the muddy, noisy waters of the intensely murky “Stay In The Game”. It’s one hell of a ride.

This sounds like a concept album whose concept you should never even try to understand. So instead let’s concentrate on the actual songs. They are excellent. I don’t mean ‘a weary old man who used to’ excellent – no: excellent by any standard. Obviously when you have a 17-song record to deal with, some songs won’t work as well as others (not a huge fan of the funky but uneventful title track or the generic hard rock sheen of “Hardmentoughblokes”), some won’t work at all (the album peters out towards the end, after the lengthy but pleasantly whimsical singalong “Who’s A Goofy Bunny?” – now that’s a good question). The classics include the aforementioned “Cool Zombie”, a cool, catchy pop-rocker with some delicious slide guitar, and the intricate, layered, expertly produced power ballad “Cradle Your Hatred” that features Adam’s best vocal performance on the album. But overall there’s just so much to enjoy here: the laidback, intriguing groove of “Dirty Beast”, the melodic acoustic ballad “Vivienne’s Tears”, the over-the-top chorus of “Shrink”, etc. Hooks galore.

Adam Ant is ridiculous, but here’s what’s interesting: this kind of patchy format suits the man just fine. I can forgive him an occasional misfire, simply because few albums this year have offered quite so much. In the face of such silly, confusing, entertaining mess – my advice is to hang on and dig in.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Album review: SUEDE - Bloodsports

Highlights: Barriers, Snowblind, It Starts And Ends With You, Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away

Head Music and A New Morning were so patchy and 90’s are so far away now that only wishful thinkers could seriously expect a good reunion album from Suede. As far as I’m concerned, neither Brett Anderson nor Bernard Butler have done anything of note outside their original band, even if I do have a soft spot for Duffy’s debut album which Butler (he’s not on the new album) produced. But in all honesty – Bloodsports is a shockingly good record.

You could of course come up (is that a pun?) with numerous explanations as to why that may be so, but I guess it all boils down to the fact that, for whatever random reason, they decided to write good songs. The two first singles, “Barriers” and “It Starts And Ends With You”, are classic Suede material, soaring, soulful (as in ‘full’, not as in ‘soul’) and catchy. They cleraly put lots of craft and care into this album. It sounds incredible. And I’m particularly fond of the way they chose to have a strong four ballad run at the end of the record. May take a little more time to fall in love with, but once you do – you’ll know that Anderson’s vocal hooks are as irresistible as they were in 1994. “Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away”, 0:45-0:50 (reprised later): that’s what we came here for, right?

Anderson has mentioned somewhere that Bloodsports is like a cross between Coming Up and Dog Man Star, which is a pretty accurate description of what you get here. The cover may be ugly as hell, but this is unquestionably their best album since 1996. And I don’t know – no offence to Richard Oakes, but with Butler’s guitar crunch and charisma it could have been even better. Still, let’s be thankful for what we get: a great reunion album from a 90’s Brit pop band. Christ.


Sunday, 16 June 2013

SONG OF THE WEEK #105: Wussy - "Soak It Up"

Say what you want about Robert Christgau, the man does have a couple of saving graces. Friends Of Rachel Worth is one. Wussy is another. Speaking of the latter, very few of us would have discovered the American band were it not for Christgau. "Soak It Up" is one of many highlights on Wussy's masterful debut, Funeral Dress (2005). Terrific, emotionally charged indie rock that should be a lot more popular than it is.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Album review: DAFT PUNK - Random Access Memories

Highlights: Give Life Back To Music, Instant Crush, Get Lucky, Doin’ It Right

It is not just random boys and girls who heard “Get Lucky” on Spotify or on MTV and fell for Daft Punk’s newest. Everyone seems to be at it, everyone that is, whose tolerance of commercial pop music is above zero level. And let’s admit it: in this age and time it has to include each one of us. I’m not in any way suggesting that those who say this album is stodgy, slick and soulless bullshit are pathetic liars, but that does seem to me snobbish without a reason. Because really: this is not just commercial pop trash. This is also ambitious and terrifyingly adventurous. Speaking of which, Shaking The Habitual can go suck it.

The mass appeal of Random Access Memories is not that hard to explain. Two songs into the album, you are caught up in this rather wonderful juxtaposition: you are listening to a modern pop record that is steeped in the past (70s dance music, to be more precise). I never cared for Daft Punk’s house music, but Random Access Memories has both substance and a great deal of style.

“Get Lucky” is of course funky dance pop heaven, deliciously dumb and mind-numbingly catchy. But this isn’t really about singles or standouts. Random Access Memories is almost like a concept album that reveals incredible consistency with each new listen. The deliriously infectious “Instant Crush” (with Julian Casablancas) is The Strokes’ latest through auto-tune and with no restraints whatsoever. “Give Life Back To Music” is a classy, loving tribute to, well, music. “The Game Of Love” and “Within” are polished, sterile ballads that work despite the fact that they are about execution (I guess I don’t even need to mention that the production here is what the word ‘impeccable’ stands for) rather than any half-palpable emotions. The lengthy “Giorgio By Moroder” and “Touch” are a little self-indulgent, but that is like accusing Beady Eye of sounding too much like Oasis. They lose me a bit on the rather faceless (if perfect) “Beyond” and “Motherboard”, but the album still ends strongly, with the pleasantly whimsical “Doin’ It Right” (featuring Panda Bear, of all people) being one of the record’s biggest highlights.

The first thing I’ve heard from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy was his 2005 single “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”. Back then I did of course think: never going to happen. But now it has. Daft Punk are playing at my house, and I can’t get enough of them. Random Access Memories is expansive, sprawling, brainy, impeccable. I almost went for a nine here, but that would be like selling my whole family to a slick, soulless pop Devil. One that you can perhaps see on this album's cover. 


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Album review: VAMPIRE WEEKEND - Modern Vampires Of The City

Highlights: Unbelievers, Step, Don’t Lie, Ya Hey

Okay. I never imagined I would be excited about a new Vampire Weekend album after its release. In fact, I never thought I would end up rating a Vampire Weekend album any higher than a weak 6. Hell, I could hardly expect I would ever even hear another Vampire Weekend album. Let alone like it.

But – it happened. Modern Vampires Of The City, while stylistically not exactly miles away from the band’s two previous albums, does show that Ezra Koenig can do more than record and rerecord a cute, self-consciously smart (no, Ezra, it was actually rather silly) version of Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Afro-pop (or whatever it was) is still hovering in the background somewhere, but this time it is just solid songwriting all around, so masterful on occasion (few songs this year will beat the sheer melodicism and gorgeous keyboard charms of “Step”) that I’m actually prepared to take this band seriously and forgive their inevitable forays into mannerisms. Because essentially this is just a consistent collection of adventurous indie-pop tunes that get off on distinctive style and modest yet palpable ambition. Whether it’s the upbeat “Unbelievers” or the slow and introspective “Hannah Hunt” (with some clever minimalist piano) – it is both memorable and inventive.

For me, this is almost as good as seeing Alex Turner stop making up riffs and begin writing actual melodies. Modern Vampires Of The City is not just ‘clever’ Ivy League blandness: it has substance, it shows growth, and it makes one look forward to whatever they might come up with next,