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Several months ago, I reviewed the teaser single from the eponymous sophomore effort from Los Angeles’s four ladies of Warpaint. ‘Love Is To Die’ is still a standout track on the album but the band has taken a self-proclaimed different direction, making the sound less full and more understated than what was found on 2011’s ‘The Fool’. The modification is subtle, and the casual listener may not detect a massive change. They have lost none of their subdued, throbbing melancholy and continue to weave interesting beats in with ethereal vocals. The whole thing has an eerie sexiness about it: Twin Peaks eerie sexiness.
The first track, the simply named instrumental ‘Intro’, does a great job of letting you into their world since it starts out fuzzy and friendly with a laughed “oh, sorry” before counting out the beat again. Right from the beginning you feel like these woman are singing with you in your living room. I don’t know where they recorded, but the room seemed a little dry (like my living room would be!) and I marveled that this trippy, psychedelic sound is probably not over produced and quite genuine and organic. And any band who claims Talking Heads as a major influence, ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ identified as ‘the perfect song’, is all right with me.
In general, eschewing the traditional verse chorus verse structure, the individual tracks wander and drift. The album is lightly painted in distortion throughout, sometimes to better effect than others. There is much to enjoy, but little to dig your claws into. I think it is an interesting listen and I am happy to have it on in the background, but there really isn’t anything that could be considered a hit. ‘Hi’ gives us a high, floaty, wavering wail over an electronic beat providing a compelling juxtaposition and again highlights my pleasure with the percussion choices throughout the album. This song deepens and travels to a comfortable place. ‘Teese’ starts simpler, opening with an unassuming guitar line and a vocal that’s a bit wider to compensate. The one song I have a hard time accepting is ‘Disco//Very’. A little chant-like, a touch atonal and rounded out with squeaks and squeals, it’s just a little too cheerleader-like for my taste. It’s different and quite a chance for them, breaking up the flow of the album but perhaps that was their aim.
No wimpy eight-song, second effort from these ladies here. This is a juicy, hour-long trek through the glorious wanderings of Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal’s imaginations. Sharing both lead vocal and guitar duties, they are the origins of the band. Jenny Lee Lindberg fills in the sound on bass and I have to admit to a tiny girl crush on Stella Mozgawa since her drumming had me mesmerized throughout the album. ‘Warpaint’ will be available 21 January on Rough Trade.
Warpaint’s second and self-titled album is out today (the 20th of January) on Rough Trade.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 6th January 2014 at 12:00 pm
Last year (gosh, I can’t believe I’m talking about 2013 now as ‘last year’), when I was planning my annual holiday out to Britain, I was at a loose end after Liverpool Sound City after our John had returned to uni in Lincoln. The train up from Liverpool to Glasgow was far too expensive on the Sunday because it was the bank holiday, so our Martin suggested I make a stop in Manchester for the night. “It’s nearly half the price, and only 30 minutes’ longer journey, and you get to have a night (or two even!) in Manchester which I gather is a city you’re fond of? :-)” is what he said. Yes, I am rather fond of Manchester. I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do there, as some local friends from there were in America that weekend (ironic), so being the good music editor that I am, I went trawling through the local gig listings I went. A band with the curious name LVLS (pronounced “loveless”) was playing at the Castle Hotel. Initial thought: oh no, are they another WU LYF who think all capital letters in a band name are cool? I went to their Soundcloud and had a listen to a few of their songs. Hmm. Much better than WU LYF already. I liked the male lead vocal and the female backing vocal. Synths…hello, Manchester!
I decided they were worth checking out and besides, I’d been meaning to go there anyhow, so away I booked. Sadly, I guess I hadn’t been paying too much attention to their Facebook page (read: I was too excited about my holiday) to have missed until I was actually in Liverpool to realise they’d cancelled their show. I ended up getting takeaway soup from Soup Kitchen, returning to my rented room in the Northern Quarter to be sat alone with my laptop, playing promo singles I’d just bought from the Vinyl Exchange on it. ::plays sad violin:: However, enough about me. 2014 is a new year, and to bring in the new year, LVLS has released a 3-track EP, ‘Teenager’, complete with adorable candy sweet hearts on its cover. (Okay, so I’ve almost forgiven them for cancelling that night…) There is limited information about the band online – seems to be the hallmark of so many bands from Manc these days – but frankly, if this relatively new five-piece made up of guys and girls can continue to write and record songs as good as these, I don’t think people will care. Much.
The first odd thing you’ll notice is that even though the EP is called ‘Teenager’, there is no song called ‘Teenager’. This makes me wonder if there’s a LVLS song we haven’t heard yet that might be on a future album, perhaps? What will strike you then as you listen to the EP all the way through is that this band is that the three songs don’t sound anything like each other. The brightness of EP opener ‘Echoes’ makes you seriously question the validity of the line on their About page in Facebook that reads “we met at a funeral”, or maybe that is typical Mancunian, post-Smiths self-deprecation. Everything in this song is just right: frontman Jay Gibbs’ alternately jaunty vs. emphatic single style with the kind of bravado not really heard since Simon LeBon in the ’80s, the gentle backing vocals from gals Emily Jane Conlon and Charlotte Hughes and the crashing guitar that won’t be denied accompanied by synth lines that refuse to not be heard.
But then the next track might confuse you. ‘Suzi Shoes’ begins its initial ascent with stripped back with its breathy lead vocal and sweet harmonising backing vocals, only to be accompanied lightly later with placid occasional bangs on a tambourine. I’m not really sure what they were trying to accomplish here to be honest. It’s like the unsatisfying, nondescript piece of cheese you might put in between two slices of really good bread, but I don’t think any placement change on this all too short EP would have helped matters. ‘Young and Cruel’, on the other end of the EP, seems to split the difference between the first two songs. It’s not as intense as ‘Echoes’, but it does a good job at indie pop. Gibbs’ vocal makes me think of Pulp’s ‘Disco 2000’ and Art Brut records: you know how Jarvis Cocker and Eddie Argos favour ‘speaking’ the verses instead really singing them? Some people love this, some people hate this. But if you like your Britpop dazzling with a good dose of New Wave-y synth, you can’t go wrong with ‘Echoes’.
Here’s to hoping they make an appearance at Liverpool Sound City this year so I don’t have to go traipsing to Manc again to find them.
‘Teenager’, the current EP from Manchester band LVLS, is out now in digital format and can be bought from the band’s Bandcamp. You can stream the EP below.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 16th December 2013 at 11:00 am
It’s amazing how quickly a year can speed by, and 2013 has been not been an exception. While there is no doubt that the biggest, loudest and most annoying press campaign to promote an album this year was the one related to Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’, it won’t appear on my list of top albums. Nope, not a chance. Like all things in life, musical tastes change over time, and judging from the LPs released this year, mine definitely have.
I haven’t decided why the pop and dance worlds not haven’t been able to produce a good amount of excellent albums (notice I said albums, not singles), but I suspect that deep down, it has to do with heart. That said, I wonder if it’s symptomatic of the industry, but I’ve been having a hard time finding albums that I want to listen to in full, over and over again. So here are my top five albums of 2013 that I think everyone should own. Or at least listen to all the way through at least once to make your own judgment about them.
1. The Static Jacks – ‘In Blue’ (Old Friends) – The best albums are those that can span the entire spectrum of emotions for when you need it. The Static Jacks came of age on their second album, writing songs that can act like an old friend who is there to laugh with you or give you a knowing hug when you need a good cry. Not to mention, despite being still pretty young guys (at least they’re legal now, which they weren’t when I first saw them in 2010), they know how to write a memorable pop melody, which, judging from a lot of the rubbish on the charts these days, is a real talent.
It’s all here. You want fun? ‘I’ll Come Back’ and ‘Wallflowers’ are clear standouts, and to be honest, I’ve had such an up and down year, I needed something to cheer me up. ‘People Don’t Forget’ is probably the closest you’re going to get to the best pop song of the year. And lyrically, title track ‘In Blue’ hits in the spot: it’s an emotionally-charged piece of pop, “you try to run from all your problems / it just makes you stumble harder / realise I’m just sorry, and I know you’re still lonely”. Just perfect. Read my review here.
2. Dutch Uncles – ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’ (Memphis Industries) – Oddly, they’re the only ones from their town of Marple from the class of 2010 (the others being Delphic and Egyptian Hip Hop) still standing tall these days. Or maybe this is not odd at all. Breaking boundaries is what Dutch Uncles is all about, having recently put on a series of shows with a string ensemble, in addition to their atypical time signatures that have become their signature, and the uniqueness has paid off.
From the frenetic pace of xylophone in ‘Fester’, the feeling that you’re floating in space when you’ve got ‘Bellio’ in your headphones or my personal favourite, the smooth string –tinged jam of ‘Flexxin’ that caught Pitchfork’s ears, this is an album you’ll want to listen to over and over again, because you’ll discover something new and exciting each time. Oh, and while I’ve got your attention, you might as well get their debut ‘Cadenza’ too: different, but also wonderful. Read my review of ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’ here.
3. Fenech-Soler – ‘Rituals’ (B-Unique) – I’ve listened to a lot of dance albums this year, trying to find The One (figuring it’d be easier than finding the right man) and mostly, I found disappointment. Fenech-Soler’s follow-up to their 2010 debut as worth the wait, with massive singles ‘All I Want’, ‘Magnetic’ and ‘Last Forever’, as well as the beauteous ‘Maiyu’.
It also contains quite possibly this year’s best floor filler in ‘In Our Blood’, an uplifting song about an ending relationship. It might be winter right now, but this album will keep your blood pumping all through to the next season of summer festivals. Read the album review here.
4. Fiction – ‘The Big Other’ – ‘Effortless’ is the best word I can think of to describe London band Fiction’s debut album released in March. This LP feels like classic New Wave, yet does one better by being not at all heavy-handed: it’s got a lightness that will have ‘80s children feel nostalgic, with ‘Parting Gesture’ and ‘See Me Walk’ feeling like they would have been at home in a John Hughes film.
Regardless of how old you are, young and old should be able relate to (and love) this album because as evidenced in ‘Big Things’ and ‘Museum’, it’s just damn good: rhythmic, melodic, interesting. Read my review of ‘The Big Other’ here.
5. Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’ (Domino) – Not sure how much they should owe their placement to producer and friend Josh Homme, who basically helped reinvent them into a darker, harder version from the one that I’ll admit used to annoy the hell out of me on ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’.
For me, it’s less about Alex Turner’s vocals, sounding almost rap-like on some of the harder tracks. No, it’s the attitude throughout this album, from the bluesy guitars on ‘Do You Wanna Know?’ and ‘R U Mine’, to the Richard Hawley-esque ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ and ‘Mad Sounds’. Mark my words, latest single ‘One for the Road’ will be a minimalist rock classic.
After the cut: discussion on albums that disappointed.
Continue reading Top Albums of 2013: Editor’s Picks
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 5th December 2013 at 3:00 pm
Marika Hackman is releasing her new four-track EP ‘Sugar Blind’ next week. Ahead of that, we’ve got a stream of the entire EP so you can have a listen now. Like/love it? Buy it next Monday, the 9th of December, on Dirty Hit Records.
Hackman will be coheadlining an English tour with Sivu starting next Tuesday; all the details of the tour are here.
2011’s fourth album ‘D’ brought about a continuation of White Denim’s career theme: an eccentric noodling take on math rockery. In ‘D’ they showed an audaciousness that was perhaps unseen in their previous works and served to get them noticed, perhaps so noticed that they ended up headlining TGTF’s stage at The Great Escape in 2011. But that’s by the by.
They were experimental to almost excessive lengths on ‘D’; on their new release ‘Corsicana Lemonade’, they seem even more hell-bent on shoe-horning as many time changes and genres into the record. One moment, you’re bopping at a low key club with an electro beat pumping through you on ‘Limited by Stature’, the next you’re in Rio swept up by a carnival atmosphere before you’re whisked away on a trippy as balls magic carpet by ‘Let It Feel Good (My Eagles)’.
The harsh guitar rhythms are a constant of the album, driving it on; however, it is in songs like the aforementioned ‘Let It Feel Good (My Eagles)’ where White Denim’s funk credentials are unleashed, as they bound forward with an old-school drum beat and some fancy strum work from Austin Jenkins and frontman James Petralli.
The band’s blues and jazz background comes to the fore on this record too, perhaps even more than in ‘D’ and ‘Fits’. We’re even treated to some dirty, DIRTY sax on ‘Cheer Up / Blues’, where Petralli is bleeding a schmooze-y, sexy kind of sleaze. Old-school meets the very, very new-school in a brilliant way throughout this ten-song testament to White Denim’s immense need to challenge everything.
Any semblance of conventional song structure is a thing of the past for the Texas four-piece. It’s a not a ‘giant middle finger’ to the dogma of 21st century experimentation, it’s a whole different take that manages to sound authentic and homely whilst stretching frontiers. Most of the album is rather frenetic, and then everything settles down as the tenth track slides effortlessly in: ‘A Place To Start’ is a contradiction to the rest of the album, it’s spellbindingly simple – a demonstration of how White Denim are developing their sound and using James Petralli’s gorgeous vocals to take them to an entirely new level.
My personal highlight comes within the first 30 seconds of the record, with a criminally funky roll through the chords during ‘A Night in Dreams’. I challenge anyone to listen to the first 30 seconds of this album and not be breaking out a horrendously finicky air guitar. Combine that with the scathing vocals and you’ve got a winner in ‘Corsicana Lemonade’: an album with enough hooks to get them noticed, and enough daring to keep everyone guessing what their next move could be.
‘Corsicana Lemonade’, the latest album from Texans White Denim, is out now on Downtown Records. Watch the band bust out ‘A Night in Dreams’ for LA radio station KCRW below.
Ireland’s Glen Hansard, best known as leader of The Frames and half of The Swell Season, has followed up his debut solo album, ‘Rhythm and Repose’, with a new charity EP called ‘Drive All Night’. Sales of the EP will benefit Little Kids Rock, an American nonprofit organization aiming to revitalize music education in public schools.
The ‘Drive All Night’ EP centers on Hansard’s cover of the classic Bruce Springsteen track. This version features an appearance by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder as well as Jake Clemons (nephew of the late E Street Band member, Clarence Clemons) on saxophone and production by Americana singer-songwriter Joe Henry. Hansard’s singing voice is richer and more melodic than Springsteen’s, adding an extra degree of warmth to his interpretation, which is otherwise true to the smouldering intimacy of the original.
‘Pennies In the Fountain’ and ‘Renata’ are both soulful, yearning love songs crafted to showcase the expressive emotional qualities of Hansard’s singing. The former is a gently rocking piano number in a swaying triple meter whose mournful lyrics, ‘we loved for the joy of love itself / we threw our pennies in the fountain, wished for nothing else’ convey the ephemeral nature of a lost romance. The latter is a bluesy and beseeching torch song with a groove that practically begs for a slow dance in a darkened room.
‘Step Out of the Shadows’, penned impulsively in 2012 just before a show at New York’s Housing Works Bookstore Café, is an impressive nod to Hansard’s traditional folk style. Its simple verse-chorus-verse structure and completely a capella arrangement allow the heavy but hopeful lyrics to make maximum impact. This is the kind of tune that could (and probably did on the aforementioned occasion) reduce the audience to jaw-dropped silence in a live performance. In fact, any of these four tracks would be a fine addition to Hansard’s touring repertoire.
Glen Hansard will play two dates at Dublin’s Vicar Street on the 25th and 26th of November. All proceeds will go to the Peter McVerry Trust and the Dublin Simon Community, both of which work to combat homelessness in Dublin.
‘Drive All Night’ will be released on the 25th of November in the UK (26th of November in America) on Anti Records. It is currently available to stream for a limited timeon the New York Times Web site.