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International rock supergroup Tired Pony, headed by fearless leader Gary Lightbody, have left behind the gloomy ‘Northwestern Skies’ of Portland where they recorded ‘The Place We Ran From’ in 2010. Having settled themselves this past winter in the Topanga Canyon, California, studio of producer Garrett ‘Jacknife’ Lee, the band are now set to release their deceptively bright and mellow-sounding second album, titled ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’.
While ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ was recorded as quickly and spontaneously as its predecessor, the result this time around is more polished and purposeful. The music on ‘The Place We Ran From’ felt slightly out of focus, as its lyrics explored Lightbody’s pair of fictional protagonists. ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ has the premeditated lyrical intention of developing a tragic plot line based on those characters, and Tired Pony’s musical approach is suitably more deliberate.
The album’s first single ‘All Things All At Once’ is a neat segue from past to present, as it continues in the Americana-style vein of ‘The Place We Ran From’. The rest of the album ventures into different musical territory, making effective use of the band members’ multi-instrumental talents and the sweet female backing harmonies provided by Minnie Driver, Kim Topper, and Bronagh Gallagher. Opening tracks ‘I Don’t Want You As a Ghost’ and ‘I’m Begging You Not to Go’ are mellow, laid-back tunes that set up the juxtaposition between their music and the gravity of their lyrics.
The strongest track on the album is ‘The Creak in the Floorboards’, which originated during the band’s initial touring run in support of ‘The Place We Ran From’. Performing the song during a live show at Irving Plaza, NYC, in October 2010, Lightbody described it as “hot off the press,” having been written that very day. Clearly three years of mulling it over have benefited the song, which in the album version is more restrained than its live predecessor, with more subtle instrumentation and backing vocals added to sweeten the mix. Its lyric “you’re the raven, I’m the wolf” foreshadows a later track, cementing the idea of the songs revolving around a literary plot and set of characters.
Lightbody’s lyrics on ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ alternate between catchy, straightforward choruses and ambiguous metaphor, as in the temporally flexible ‘Wreckage and Bone’ (“Let me live here with you years ago…We can count the years from then to now”). His typically awkward lyric delivery is smoothed over by lilting melodies and relaxed rhythms, which allow for more flexibility in his singing. His voice is light and easy throughout, most notably in the extended chorus at the end of ‘Blood’.
The main criticism of any Tired Pony album will be that it sounds like Snow Patrol ‘Lite’. This superficial criticism, based on Lee’s production and Lightbody’s unique lyrical style isn’t entirely unfounded. ‘The Beginning of the End’ has a synthetic rock sound and an anthemic chorus that could easily have fitted on to Snow Patrol’s last album, despite Iain Archer’s vocals on the verses. But in general, these are not the stadium-style singalongs of Snow Patrol, and in my opinion, that comparison marginalizes the sizeable contributions of the other band members.
What began as something of a lark for Lightbody and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck has grown into a band to be taken seriously on its own merits. Supergroups of rock come and go, but if ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is any indication, Tired Pony is one that could potentially have some staying power, despite the nomadic nature of its members. For fans who may have doubted that this second album would ever come into existence, ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is certainly worth their continued interest.
‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is out in the UK today (19 August) via Fiction Records. Its American release follows on 1 October on Lightbody’s own label Heaneyville. Tired Pony will perform live on 14 September at London Barbican. Ticket information can be found at the band’s official Web site.
Earlier this summer, I reviewed Laura Marling’s new album, ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, which was, effectively, two separate albums folded into one release. KT Tunstall’s latest release, ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’, is a similar kind of collection: two sets of songs, each inspired by a significant event in Tunstall’s life. (In earlier interviews, Tunstall has stated these events to be the loss of her father and separation from her husband, Luke Bullen, who plays drums—notably—on only the first half of the album.) Just as Marling sought haven in America around the release of her album, Tunstall retreated to Arizona to record hers, finding inspiration in the desert for both the music and the album artwork.
Tunstall’s album is less experimental in nature than Marling’s, but it is pleasantly surprising in its own way. ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ has a distinctly country kind of sound, which is unexpected, but in perfect keeping with the pensive, melancholic mood of the lyrics. Tunstall doesn’t lose her typical bluesy rock sound entirely, but rather flavors it with liberal inflections of traditional, old-fashioned country. The style suits the tone of her lyrics as well as the timbre of her voice, which sounds stunningly beautiful throughout the album. She deftly avoids the contrived effects that so many female singers rely on these days, instead keeping her singing light and flexible, without quite delving into the vocal gymnastics of her earlier work (‘Suddenly I See’, ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’). The overall effect is soft and soothing, even when she explores the lower register of her voice, where many singers can become harsh and grating.
Instrumentally, many of the songs depend on acoustic guitar and pedal steel for their country twang, but the other sonic effects are more eclectic. Bowed string arrangements fill out what might otherwise be a sparse acoustic sound on ‘Old Man Song’ and ‘Crescent Moon’, while ‘Honeydew’ features wind and brass instruments employed to a remarkably delicate effect. First single ‘Feel It All’ has a sultry blues feel, with a slinky guitar riff and fluidly singable chorus. The album ends with the psychedelic guitars of ‘No Better Shoulder’.
Upcoming single ‘Invisible Empire’ doesn’t strike as an immediately strong opening track, but echoes of the chorus played back in my mind as I listened to the rest of the album. Its lyrical musings on the mutable nature of reality foreshadow the remainder of the record in a very subtle way. After it was all said and done (or played and sung), my mind kept wandering back to this track as the focal point of the album. The video for ‘Invisible Empire’ can be viewed below.
The regular version of ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ contains 12 tracks plus the bonus ‘Feel It All—Band Jam’. The deluxe version includes three additional bonus tracks and a haunting cover of Don Henley’s ‘The Boys of Summer’, which by itself is worth the additional cost.
‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ is out now on Virgin Records. Tunstall’s next single, ‘Invisible Empire’, will be released on Monday (19 August).
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 12th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
From the chart success of their first two albums, it’s clear White Lies are the kings of the post-punk anthem. With their new album ‘Big TV’, Harry McVeigh, Charles Cave and Jack Lawrence-Brown again proffer up their signature doom and gloom lyrics accompanied with feel good guitars and synths, with mostly positive results. The main problem ‘Big TV’ suffers from is the same problem that plagued both ‘To Lose My Life…’ and ‘Ritual’: while there are some huge songs on here that are obviously going to be released as singles and will bring crowds to their feet, the rest of the songs don’t reach such lofty heights, and there are two interludes included in this set of 12 tracks that don’t really serve much purpose.
‘Big TV’ was produced by Ed Buller, whose other most recent and high-profile production work was on Suede’s amazing comeback album ‘Bloodsports’ released in March. Whether it is a compliment on Buller’s expertise specifically or not, there is no denying that lead singer Harry McVeigh’s voice has never sounded better, confident and clearly able to fill stadiums with its strength. The album begins with the title track, hitting you with typical White Lies’ bombast. The introduction of the song conjures up of great ‘80s New Wave tunes, before a driving rhythm by drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown and lonesome guitar chords are banged. The synths continue the New Wave theme, as McVeigh intones desperation, insisting, “bring me to the hand of fate / the river or the new arcade”. The hopelessness of fighting against the march of progress, the existence of trash and garbage in our lives and what we make of it all, wondering where real life begins and the fantasy inside one’s mind ends: these are larger than life themes that seem to fit well with the painting of the astronaut on the album’s cover.
Early giveaway track ‘Getting Even’ (“wrestling with conscience”) and single ‘There Goes Our Love Again’ sound quintessentially White Lies, with the aforementioned shimmery synths, crashing guitars, and punishing beats. They’re just tailor made for the Radio1 audience, shiny with pop sensibility that will assure their mainstream success. (You can grab ‘Getting Even’ for free from this previous mp3 of the day post, and watch the promo video for ‘There Goes Our Love Again’ here.) Lyrically though, they’re not bassist Charles Cave’s best.
For that, you need to venture to ‘Change’, at the lucky number 7 position. Now this song is likely to stand the test of time the same way as Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Already Gone’ does. To be honest, it’s the breathy, nonconfrontational version of ‘Already Gone’: when you’re listening to it, it’s not hard to imagine you’re floating on a soft, fluffy cloud, or even in heaven, even while the sadness of a man who is telling his love to be brave even though it’s time for them to part is tearing your own heart apart. This is a track I certainly was not expecting from White Lies and I don’t know how this will fare among fans, but it’s absolutely beautiful. If they don’t release ‘Change’ as a single in the next couple of weeks, they’ve missed a trick.
So it’s all the more jarring for ‘Change’ to follow up with ‘Be Your Man’, which is upbeat but somehow it’s missing heart. (This is also the fate of ‘Tricky to Love’, as well as album closer ‘Goldmine’.) I get the message: the voice in the song doesn’t want harm or trouble to befall his lover and he wants to be her man when an emergency happens. Err…ok. The music that goes with it doesn’t seem to match the sentiment either. At least the instrumentation that goes with ‘First Time Caller’ is suitably epic for the song’s plot, which I’m gathering is either about phone sex or a call girl service. The wishes for “a little hope out of nothing” and for someone to be patient and truly to listen to them are something wanted by both people on the line. The lyrics from the chorus of “I want you to love me / more than I love you / tell me is there something you can do?” sung in a sweeping style by McVeigh couple nicely with an equally sweeping, gorgeous instrumentation.
After such beauty, you have to wonder what they were thinking with the confounding existence and placement of the two interludes, named unimaginatively ‘Space i’ and ‘Space ii’. While I can appreciate the desire to do some short instrumental pieces, these two do nothing for the album and act as strange, out of place bookmarks that you’re likely to skip if you buy the entire LP. For the proper way to insert interludes into an album, see Cave Painting’s ‘Votive Life’. Then there are some lyrics like the opening of ‘Tricky to Love’ – “My love, changes with the weather / my heart, red imitation leather” – that are truly cringe-worthy and make you wonder how it was possible these songs were conceived by the same people who wrote ‘Change’. With the highest of highs and lowest of lows, ‘Big TV’ brings you moment to savour, but also moments of confusion.
‘Big TV’, the third album from London trio White Lies, is out today on Fiction Records.
Norn Ireland’s Kowalski has finally graced us with a full length LP. I have enjoyed following them from their EPs ‘You are Noisy Sunshine State’ and ‘Take Care, Take Flight’ and now they have grown into a proper album with ‘For the Love of Letting Go’. Hailing from Bangor, they share the pedigree with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and the lads of Two Door Cinema Club. Don’t tell anyone, but there is a familial connection in that last one there.
Since their last release ‘Take Care, Take Flight’ in the spring of 2010, the band have been diligently crafting and redefining their sound. Only the very danceable ‘Get Back’, with the perfectly apt lyric ‘Get back to the place that you know’, moves forward with the guys. The rest of the disc is filled with fresh new tunes. Opening with the brightly upbeat ‘Forfey’, Kowalski sets out to bring an album’s worth of shimmery electro-pop. With guitar licks and a well-crafted pop sensibility, the band hooks you with dreamy melodies and an infectious body-moving vibe. ‘Burning Blue’ reaches out as my favourite though. “I don’t ever want to go back and lose/ You say it’s about to change, so go far now” speaks to where I am right now and makes me want to look for those “highest heights” that are “burning blue”. Album closer ‘Let’s Start Over’ sounds like a band looking to the future, letting go of where they were and looking to the fresh beginnings that await them. Here’s to hoping they like what they find.
My one criticism is that although what they do they do very well, there is little variety between songs. Occasionally I catch myself wondering whether or not there had been a track change or if it was just a really long song. More mature than their EPs, but still full of fun, bouncy tunes, ‘For Love of Letting Go’ continues the tradition of great music coming out of Northern Ireland.
It would be easy to say that Kowalski ‘burst onto the scene’ but since both ‘While We Drive’ and ‘Outdoors’ were released quite a while ago as teasers to the album, review of the former here, it’s clear that this album has been waiting to go for a while. Makes me wonder what they are up to now.
‘For the Love of Letting Go’, Kowalski’s debut album, is now available from their Bandcamp. You can name your own price for the digital version, and the 12″ limited edition vinyl version of the album is only £15 (to be shipped out on or around the 15th of August). Stream the album on the widget below.
Franz Ferdinand headlined Reading and Leeds in 2006. Cast your mind back to that for a minute: a band at the height of their powers, with an album that has sold over 3 million copies, they’d won the Phillip Hall Radar Award in 2004, two BRIT Awards in 2005 for Best British Group and Best British Rock Act and had been compared to The Who and The Rolling Stones in the pages of the New Musical Express. High praise no matter what scale of cynicism you’re working on, this was a band with pomp, pride and a spring to their step.
Roll forward 7 years and as politely as I can express this, I’d forgotten that Franz Ferdinand were anything more than that poor bloke who gets the blame for the cause of World War I. Whether that is my inherent sense of forgetfulness or a reflection on the bands somewhat fall from grace, is yours for the mulling. But GCSE/O-Level history lessons aside, the Glasgow indie-rockers are back with a new record, ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’. Since their self-titled debut, it seemed their journey was taking the shape of a baby oil-drenched slippery slope, with Alex Kapranos leading the slide, shirt off and splashing for dear life.
With ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ they may have hit a slight incline. Nothing dramatic, but enough to at least to grab the attention of potential naysayers and remind them that these Glaswegians are some of the best lyricists and creators of funkery that have graced these bonny shores in a while.This record swings like the ‘60s and ebbs and flows with some funky freshness that I haven’t seen from Franz in a while. The choruses that Franz have become known for are lurking in the deeps too.
The album also sees the band delve into altogether murkier territory, in subject matter at least. I’m not talking White Lies’ epic levels of doom mongering, as these boys aren’t capable of that (so I think), though Kapranos does get a bit touchy in final song ‘Goodbye Lovers and Friends’, as he spits out “Don’t fake your memories / Don’t give me virtues that I never had”, to leave us on a rather unpleasant note. It seems an overawing sense of sullenness is the underlying theme of this album, with the image of Kapranos being batted about, bullied and maligned for being that archetypal skinny indie boy coming to mind. But intrinsically, that is what Kapranos is. The conventional indie kid.
I suppose this could be looked at as a quintessentially indie album, with flecks of disappointment and glumness interspersing the album and track ‘Treason! Animals’ chugging along like a gospel funeral parade, a la ‘Live and Let Die’, with more synth. But with less murder and stuff. But that would be an overtly simplistic view, it’s certainly not about disaster, but those typical themes of loss, monogamy and lust are explored in trademark indie fashion. “Rigid in the matrimonial superking bed / pretend to sleep / pretend to sleep / pretend to sleep” paints a hauntingly poignant image of infidelity during ‘Brief Encounters’. Combining that with the erstwhile suspicion and honkytonkery of ‘Evil Eye’, and it’s an album that is showing enough signs of bi-polar and suspicion to have even the most psychiatric professionals scratching their heads.
Lyrical gushing aside, musically it suffers from a lot of the flaws Franz Ferdinand suffered during ‘Tonight: Franz Ferdinand’: a certain predictability that detracts from what challenges to be a rather exciting deeply charged record. Instead, it sounds flat at times, with track ‘Fresh Strawberries’ being a mid-point in mediocrity that has my interest waning severely by the end.
It seems whilst they have climbed the highest highs (they’ve played with bloody Doctor Who, which no matter anyone’s reckoning is undeniably cool) they seem to have hit an iceberg, perhaps not of Titanic-like proportions, but instead enough to cause a serious graze in the hull of the good ship Ferdinand. Keep ploughing ahead boys, surely a late 2018 resurgence is on the cards. I’m thinking Other Stage at Glastonbury? See ya there, boys.
‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’, the new album from Franz Ferdinand, will be released on the 26th of August via Domino Records.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 6th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
When casual popular music listeners think about Liverpool and its surrounding Merseyside, there is only one band and only one group of names – John, Paul, George and Ringo – that matter. It is obvious from the larger than life black and white poster decorating the long, horizontal window out front of the HMV at Liverpool ONE that it’s guitar music is the prevailing legacy of music days gone past. So when a band like Outfit comes along to challenge that notion, music reviewers like us stand to attention and notice. The band have been pottering round under the radar since their formation in 2011, wowing our head photographer Martin at Constellations Festival that year, probably just when they’d just gotten around to making their first public splash. Two years later they are ready to release their long-awaited long player, entitled ‘Performance’, on Double Denim Records.
As we’ve seen far too many times in this post-iTunes world, the two singles that have been revealed from the album are strong contenders singularly, but they don’t give an accurate picture of what ‘Performance’ is all about. ‘I Want What’s Best’ mixes it up between dreamy pop with a disaffected vocal from lead singer Andrew Hunt in the verses and a funky, beat-heavy chorus. This is a song with an identity problem. You can’t call it a dance song, or really a dream pop song either. It lies uncomfortably between the worlds, possibly confusing both the Tom Vek / Friendly Fires fan who adores the chorus and the Beach House devotee fangirling over the stretched guitar notes sounding like a faraway bird calling. Interesting song, no doubt about it, it’s just not one I think I’d like to hear over again over again.
Newer single ‘House on Fire’ is currently making the rounds on 6music, as it’s firmly entrenched in this week’s B-playlist. It’s Egyptian / Middle Eastern in its note progressions (a theme explored again in the guitar pluckings in ‘Spraypaint’), and the accompanying vocals are suitably echoey for this purpose. The melody is repetitive, which to some might be welcome, but I find it grating. I can see it causing the masses to spin around like whirling dervishes at the remaining summer music festivals of this season, but is this sound still going to be fresh going into autumn? I doubt it. >According to the Guardian, the clicking sound you hear throughout is the sound of a DVD player’s tray opening and closing. I haven’t decided yet if including the sound in here is genius or ridiculous. They self-produced their album in an estate in Liverpool called The Lodge, so maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe it was a The Shining-type situation and they all went a little mad?
Speaking of their digs during the recording of this album, the press release says of it, “The estate owned by their previous landlord had a block of abandoned flats based in the mansion’s grounds. Previously used as a refuge for asylum seekers, they picked an old dining room in the 150 capacity building and created their studio.” This is all very interesting to note, as whether it is the minor keys employed on much of the album or if it’s genuinely the tone they were trying to evoke on this record, I detect a sense of desolation that runs through this entire album.
‘The Great Outdoors’, despite its synthesised beats that evoke the ‘80s more than it does our 21st century, has a measure of loneliness despite the loveliness. Title track ‘Performance’, which lacks enunciation (I accidentally thought the words were ‘For Four Walls’ when I queued this up on my mp3 player on a run and wasn’t looking at the song titles), has, to be sure, sweeping vocals, but it’s got the reverent vibe of a monastery. While there are mini-climaxes spread out in songs like ‘Phone Ghost’ and its industrial clanking and the aforementioned ‘Spraypaint’, there are no distinct “aha!” moments that stand out to stir the soul. After a while, if you’re not paying close attention, a lot of the songs start to sound samey and despite loads of exciting electronic gadgetry going on in the background, emotionally I don’t feel anything.
Thankfully, to break you out of the doldrums come Outfit’s seemingly happiest, poppiest moments. The first comes courtesy of ‘Thank God I’m Dreaming’. While it begins with a beautifully ambient intro, Hunt’s lead vocal sounds as wide-eyed as Alex Trimble’s in Two Door Cinema Club. This, along with album closer ‘Two Islands’, a glorified tropical pop number, save the album from bleakness.
Some have compared Outfit’s style to Hot Chip, but time will tell how far their dance floor fillers will take them. The real question is if people who buy this debut album from them will actually take to the songs that don’t sound like ‘I Want What’s Best’ and ‘House on Fire’, because this album has two faces.
‘Performance’, the debut album from Liverpool outfit Outfit, will be released on Monday (12 August) on Double Denim Records. Stream the album on Guardian Music here.