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When I’ve listened to Damien Rice‘s music in the past, I’ve always found it to be brutal, hard on both the heart and the hearing. His debut album ‘O’ was lyrically edgy, with songs like ‘Volcano’ and ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, and second album ‘9’ was full of angst and frustration, as evidenced by the pugilistic refrain of ‘Rootless Tree’. So when Rice announced after an 8-year hiatus that he would be releasing a new album, I winced internally at the prospect. Surprisingly though, Rice’s latest effort, titled ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, is more subtle and introspective than his earlier work, and it displays a greater degree of musical elegance.
Opening with eponymous track ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, the album immediately displays a bit of a theatrical flair. Starting off as a desperate torch song, it calls to mind the main character in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. The music is a metaphorical mix of poignant melody and ever-so-slightly discordant harmony that eventually succumbs to an almost frenetic sadness. The instrumental arrangement of ‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man’ is similarly beguiling, featuring an unusually complex counterpoint woven among the vocal line, the contemplative piano riff and the soaring string melody.
Rice employs an impressive level of vocal sensitivity in ‘The Greatest Bastard’, where he approaches the melodicism of bel canto style while still maintaining his typically rough, emotionally-charged vocal timbre. He makes effective use of his falsetto throughout the album, but in the full voice moments in the chorus of this track, he squarely hits the intersection between beautiful singing and potent expression.
Lyrically, Rice is somewhat more restrained on this album than I might have expected, though he hasn’t lost his sense of viscerally evocative poetry, such as the “dogless bone” simile of ‘Colour Me In’. Recent single ‘I Don’t Want to Change You’ is probably the most predictable track on the album, though its repetitive chorus doesn’t necessarily hinder the song’s beauty or its effectiveness. Placed in the middle of the track sequence, it provides a nice mental respite from intensity of the first three songs, and without breaking the general mood of the record.
Where ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ opens its namesake album with a hazy trip down memory lane, final tracks ‘Trusty and True’ and ‘Long Long Way’ close the album with a feeling of looking ahead to the future. The symmetry is appealing, but despite the length and expansiveness of the individual tracks (‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man’ comes close to 10 minutes all on its own), the end of the album feels a bit abrupt, like a film screen gone black before the ending is assured. I’m of two minds on the issue of the overall tracklisting: on one hand, the concise length conveys what Rice wants to say without extra fluff or froth; on the other, the lack of denouement and resolution in the last two tracks left me wishing for something more.
Performed without the softening effect of Rice’s former partner Lisa Hannigan, the songs on this album depend on the strength of his own singing and the endurance of his love for the act of songwriting. Rice himself describes the new album as being “sung straight into the metaphorical mirror”, which may account for his somewhat gentler approach. Known for being a perfectionist and temperamental, Rice has apparently calmed those self-critical tendencies with the assistance of producer Rick Rubin (Angus and Julia Stone, Jake Bugg, Ed Sheeran), who convinced Rice to “open up and have faith in the songs”. These are certainly songs worth believing in, and the album is well worth the lengthy wait.
Damien Rice’s third studio album ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is available now on Atlantic Records. He will play a sold out show at the London Palladium this Friday, the 7th of November. Previous TGTF coverage of Damien Rice can be found here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 6th November 2014 at 11:00 am
Norwegian electronic heroes Royksopp sadly revealed earlier this year that they would be releasing their fifth and last final album in 2014. Next Monday sees the release of ‘The Inevitable End’, and ahead of that, the band are streaming the entire LP for your listening pleasure. It follows hot on the heels of their highly successful mini-album collaboration ‘Do It Again’ with fellow Scandinavian Robyn. But before you get too depressed, please note that this does not spell the end of Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland’s music-making. Svein explains:
“We feel like this is a goodbye to the traditional album format. In our consecutive run of albums, we have been able to say what we want to say and do what we want to do with the LP. We’re not going to stop making music, but the album format as such, this is the last thing from us.”
The album will be released on Dog Triumph via Wall Of Sound and Cooking Vinyl on the 10th of November.
The Sheffield connection is difficult to ignore when it comes down to High Hazels; it’s pertinent to recognise when a city has had a fundamental influence in sculpting the sound of a band. From the first listen, an obvious influence on the four-piece is Alex Turner’s motley band of international superstars, Arctic Monkeys. They’re another group who’ve started with a sure-fire underground fan base in the city and has moved out to bring the kind of Midlands but wannabe Northerner vibe to the rest of the UK.
One thing is for sure when listening to ‘High Hazels’: they pull off the everyman sound that has made Arctic Monkeys so accessible far better than Jake Bugg. It sounds genuine and unforced throughout from the opening strums of ‘Valencia’, to strolling along ‘The Promenade’ (a TGTF MP3 of the Day last week) at the album’s crescendo. High Hazels have missed a trick releasing this album at the end of October though. It’s screaming out to be enjoyed in the parks and beaches of Brighton or London: it’s got a distinctly summery feeling and listening to it as the back-end of a hurricane sweeps in alongside torrents of rain doesn’t whet my appetite as much as it could have in the beautiful Indian summer we’ve just enjoyed. Yes, the record does feel slightly dreamy and surf poppy, but that’s by the by.
‘How Long’s It Gonna Be’ is a tribute to some of the fantastic songwriting on the band’s debut effort, while ‘Hanging Moon’ is a slow-burning bastion of the toe-tapping goodness this album encapsulates throughout. The album finishes with ‘The Promenade’, where frontman James Leesley sings of how “we fell into a very bad dream”, possibly induced by the terrific dream pop stylings on lead single ‘Misbehave’ earlier in the album.
One slight criticism of ‘Misbehave’, is how much it reminds me of the advert for Mattesons Fridge Raiders where everyone in the world turns into the Shadows’ Hank Marvin. I mean, come on! That riff is so Hank Marvin. Barring that, it’s a complete pop banger that should be getting some primetime air on Radio 1, but is instead probably relegated to the B-list behind that buffoon Jason Derulo.
Indisputably, the band has its lyrical high point on ‘Shy Tide’, as Leesley laments, “don’t you dare tell me that I owe you everything”. It probably shows the band at their most emotional nand tormented, which probably isn’t too bad seeing as the album makes me feel as sunny as a summer holiday in Greece lounging by the pool in some discount speedos. That dark, disturbing image aside, the debut effort by this next band of Sheffielders to take their whack at the big time is a formidable effort, chocked to the brimful of bouncy choruses and toe-tappingly splendid riffs.
The self-titled debut album from High Hazels is out now on Heist or Hit Records. The quartet have just begun a UK tour this week.
London-via-Leeds quintet To Kill a King are hard at work on their second studio LP and making preparations for their recently announced March 2015 UK tour, but to keep our appetites whetted, they have in the interim released a new EP titled ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’. Comprising 5 tracks, ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’ is more of a mini-album than an EP, though I suppose that distinction is rather overly specific. The tracklisting seems to be carefully thought out, more like a full album than the pastiche quality of many EPs, beginning with the striking single ‘Oh My Love’, and alternating between extremes of style and tempo before ending on the subtle sentimentality of ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’.
Lead singer Ralph Pelleymounter’s singing voice is a mesmerising combination of Michael Hutchence and Matt Berninger, capturing both the sultry sensuality of the former and the brooding introspection of the latter. Guitarist Grant McNeil and keyboardist/producer Ben Jackson provide an almost orchestral sense of sonic drama behind the vocals, while rhythm section members Josh Platman (bass) and Josh Taffel (drums) maintain a propulsive forward motion throughout the EP.
‘Oh My Love’ finds Pelleymounter’s dramatic lyrics and hypnotic vocal timbre struggling through the insistent wail of the backing voices. His opening line is an instant hook, “penny for your thoughts, I’m saving up to buy them all”, and its metaphor continues into the second verse, “line them up and let them loose, incarcerated red balloons”. Pounding drums and synthesised brass allow the chorus to soar above the rest of the song despite its heavy lyric, “oh my love, we’re destined to demise”.
After a brief respite in the form of a lilting and uplifting guitar ballad called ‘Breathe’, the tempo picks up again in the percussive, piano-driven track ‘The Constant Changing State of Us (Gold)’. Oddly distorted vocals at the beginning of the song build into the anthemic repeated chorus, “if you hold on too tight, then you will lose sight” before Pelleymounter intones the final line, “you know what I mean when I say love will change”.
‘Love is Coal’ gradually evolves from a declamatory, almost spoken, vocal line backed by a solo electric guitar into a dynamic arrangement of racing percussion and vibrant backing vocals. Pelleymounter’s first delivery of the chorus “love is not like diamonds, love is coal to keep you warm” is stark and hypnotic, followed by the introduction of a slow, visceral heartbeat in the rhythm section, which grows more insistent until after the second chorus, when it shifts into high gear and drives the song to a close.
Final track ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’ is a jazzy piano ballad that reminded me, surprisingly, of John Hiatt’s ‘Have a Little Faith in Me’. The sudden change of tone and flavor is slightly startling, but Pelleymounter’s vocals here are as convincingly soulful as at any point on the EP, especially in the heartfelt lyric “I hope you find some peace, whatever the hell that means”.
If ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ were a full-length vinyl LP, the faint curiosity roused by ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’ would mark the perfect place to flip the record over and see what the other side might hold. The EP feels very strongly like the beginning of an album proper, both in its sense of sonic continuity and its thematic variety. If To Kill a King continue writing and recording in this vein, their second album will surely shape up to be a fine listen.
‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’, the latest release from London’s To Kill a King is available now, both digitally and on 10” vinyl, via Xtra Mile Recordings (buy it here).
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 27th October 2014 at 12:00 pm
The Staveley-Taylor sisters – Emily and Jessica and Camilla – are better known as the Staves, now well known for their jaw-droppingly brilliant, familial-driven harmonies. When you’re this good, you don’t need a whole lot of instrumentation, and I feel pretty honoured to have seen them play a stripped back session as part of the bill put together by Communion Records’ Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons fame at my first SXSW in 2012.
After several early high-profile touring slots supporting the likes of the (now defunct) Civil Wars and their most current highly acclaimed and sold out UK tour this month, it seems strange that the three sisters haven’t released a follow up to 2012 debut album ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ yet. One can only assume that they’ve biding their time, continually honing their craft and choosing to release music only a trickle at a time, under their own terms. The latest from the Staves’ fountain comes in the form of the three-track EP ‘Blood I Bled’, out today on Atlantic Records.
In a classic example of an artist suffering for their art, the EP was produced in the dead of winter in Wisconsin by Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon. Just from the title alone, you know already this was going to be a painful affair. The title track has been released as a single and as should be expected, ‘Blood I Bled’ is the standout on the EP. The lyrics speak of a storm coming (“calm the gathering rain”) but of a relationship confused: “suffering as I suffer you / you when you speak of pain / if I was, if I am, if I did, if I have”. The strings and horns lend an amazing grandeur to what might have been an otherwise sparse Staves track, and they suit the powerful vocals, expressing conflict and bewilderment, well.
‘Open’ opens the EP initially gently and pleasingly but as the song rolls on, it seems like Vernon’s contribution was to make this release dark, as crackles and an ominous backbeat more suited to Patrick Wolf’s darker days give the song an overall unsettling feeling. Third track ‘America’ reads like a love letter to their temporary home, the girls requesting “do not disturb me ‘til the morning”, while “drinking in the evening and sinking in the sun”. Less dramatic than ‘Open’ and less emphatic than ‘Blood I Bled’, it’s more the sweetly-finishing song that most Staves listeners are used to. It’s a nice enough group of songs; there is little to criticise here, except maybe more variety between the tracks would have added some autumnal spice?
The ‘Blood I Bled’, the latest from the Staves, is out today on Atlantic Records. If you purchase the EP from iTunes, you’ll also get a bonus track, a special remix of ‘Open’ by Justin Vernon that you can listen to below.
At a time when the term apathy is almost an outlawed word in Scotland, it’s ironic that an album by a band from north of Hadrian’s Wall inspires an overwhelmingly apathetic feeling within me. From the beginning of We Were Promised Jetpacks‘ third outing ‘Unravelling’ – barring sparse sections of the record – all I could think was what else I could be doing rather than listen to this record.
Maybe I’ll listen to the new We Are the Ocean song ‘ARK’. That’s been buzzing around my head nicely for a while. Or perhaps I’ll try and write a feature piece on that BBC Music cover creation of ‘God Only Knows’, to delve into the madness where they put Dave Grohl in the same vein as (definition of flash in the pan) Sam Smith. Or perhaps I’ll listen to that 30-second snippet of the new Foo Fighters album in the documentary promo.
For me, those thoughts gave the underlying impression of an album that failed to do what I demand from music. It neither grabbed me, nor did it take me on a journey, nor did it inspire any poignant emotion within me – barring apathy – if that can be classified as a discernable emotion. I didn’t feel it was truly experimental either; there was nothing which jumped out and grabbed me and made me think, nobody else is doing that at the moment.
The record truly just doesn’t get going until quarter of an hour in, despite flecks of promise at the end of LP opener ‘Safety in Numbers’. ‘Night Terror’ at least had enough about to wake me from the faux-slumber I drifted into at the top of the album. Perhaps I was expecting too much? But when the NME call their second album “Punchy, literate guitar music”, I expect a bit of punch before around 25 minutes into the blooming thing. ‘A Part of It’ starts off with a bit of bite and vigour, almost enough to nudge me awake from my stasis.
From the brilliantly angst-ridden breakout record of ‘These Four Walls’, We Were Promised Jetpacks showed a great promise in the brilliantly honest songwriting that underpinned the power of their debut outing. Despite their being an almost overwhelming sense of anxiety throughout ‘Unravelling’, this album just doesn’t hit the emotional highs and lows that predecessors have found the note on. As far as British post-rock is going, the group looked certain to push their way to the forefront, but this album despite having all the sheen of a brilliant production and some slick guitar work just feels a little underwhelming.
I just thought a band with the word ‘jetpacks’ in the title may be a little more exciting with maturity, but even after ‘Unravelling’, I still think we’re waiting for lift-off.
Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks‘ third album ‘Unravelling’ is out now on FatCat Records. Read Mary’s review of previous single ‘I Keep It Composed’ here.