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(Great Escape 2012 flavoured!) Album Review: Weird Dreams – Choreography

 
By on Thursday, 3rd May 2012 at 1:00 pm
 

In case you haven’t been watching the news, Carl Wilson’s long-lost children have all found each other, formed a pop group and released their first full-length studio album, entitled ‘Choreography.’ No? Okay, well close your eyes and play the new Weird Sounds record and you could very well believe this to be true. (Oh and for the record, they’re Carl’s children because he was and always will be the best member of the Beach Boys).

There’s nothing strange about Weird Dreams, a four-piece indie pop band from London who have recently come off of touring the UK with American indie rock darlings the War on Drugs.

All 12 tracks on their debut album feature everything you expect for a summer album like this: clapping, falsetto harmonies and warm psychedelic riffs. It’s the aural equivalent of a late evening walk on a sunset-soaked beach. However, the lush melodies all contrast with the lyrical content of the album. There’s nothing quite like a happy, upbeat tune to accompany the words “always so faceless/ your voice encased in mystery.”

One great track for me would have to be ‘River of The Damned.’ Compared to a vast majority of tracks on the record, there’s a much slower tempo here. When lined up next to the quick jingly riffs of the other songs, it creates a contrast with the rest of ‘Choreography’ and makes it stand out from the crowd. ‘Faceless’ is also another treat on the record, if not purely for the baseline that begins the song and runs throughout. ‘Faceless’ and ‘Michael’ both featured on the band’s well-received EP ‘Hypnagogic Lullaby’ that was released last year.

Unfortunately, it’s the title track that lets the album down. Compared to the rest of the album it just seems flat and, dare I say it, disappointing. Maybe this was intended as a way of warming down the listener at the end of the album, after all ‘Choreography’ is the 12th song of 12. Either way, it doesn’t wind the listener down in a way that makes me excited at the prospect of the band releasing another album. If this was a TV show, its season finale would be the ultimate anti-climax. Luckily, the content of the rest of the season more than makes up for it.

It sounds hyperbolic but it’s true: it has been a while since an album has encapsulated the sounds of summer in such a way as ‘Choreography.’ Weird Dreams produce their modern take on the melodic pop that made the ‘60s and early ‘70s what they are best known for. The band are currently on a tour of the UK this month, so I recommend going along if you want to begin your summer holiday early and fancy escaping those rainy showers.

8/10

Weird Dreams’ debut album ‘Choreography’ is out now on Tough Love Records. The band will be performing at this year’s Great Escape as part of the Under the Radar showcase at the Psychosocial basement at 20.30 (8:30 PM) on Thursday 10 May and as part of a showcase being sponsored by the Fly Magazine at Blind Tiger at 20.30 (8:30 PM) on Friday 11 May.

 

Album Review: Mystery Jets – Radlands

 
By on Monday, 30th April 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Mystery Jets’ latest album ‘Radlands’ is named after their American studio on the Colorado River in Texas where the band decamped in spring 2011 to write new material. This struck worry in me; it seems like everyone is recording their album in American and wanting an American sound: take for example the Temper Trap and Two Door Cinema Club. Worse, when you think of Texas, you think of people listening to country music, and there’s a fine line between country and folk. When you queue up this album, the album’s title track starts in with a gentle guitar line. And while it’s got a mournful slide guitar (ew, please, no country!), the chorus makes it crystal clear these are the same chaps that brought ‘Half in Love with Elizabeth’ and ‘Serotonin’: the chords are beautiful with Blaine Harrison’s fragile voice, as if the heavens have opened to let the sun shine in.

Which is an odd statement, because as you listen to the words to ‘Radlands’ the song itself, there’s a seriousness about the proceedings: talk about heaven (“it’s a terrible, overrated, shit-shaped hole in the sky), hell and mortality (“the future gets shorter as we wait”) aren’t easy things to put into a pop song, and yet Mystery Jets have done it masterfully. That said, the Jets sound quite different from their previous efforts. ‘You Had Me at Hello’ has a soulful feel and a raucous ending that Fleetwood Mac would deem worthy. It also very interestingly includes the same line “take me for a ride” that also featured in the second track of ‘Serotonin’, ‘Too Late to Talk’.

‘Someone Purer’, which I extolled in this In the Post, questions the meaning of life and sounds like an existentialist lament, and is simply gorgeous. Later on, ‘The Nothing’ further explores the unknown, with Harrison’s falsetto begging, “bring me back as something beautiful”. Is pop music supposed to make you cry? ‘Lost in Austin’ is pretty good, with Harrison wailing, “take me to the edge, I’m not scared!” while the drums and guitars crash satisfyingly around you. You want to get behind the band after these couple of songs. You really do. Unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t last.

Like…what is ‘The Ballad of Emmerson Lonestar’? The slide guitar is back and beyond the drumming and the last minute of distorted guitars acting as a too little, too late rescue attempt, this is a country song. I can appreciate the harmonies –and them harmonies are lovely – but as a whole, it’s not my cup of tea. Next. Thankfully, the next song ‘Greatest Hits’ sounds like the Beatles or even dear ol’ Macca, which is pretty appropriate, given there’s a line here that goes “I still remember I bought you ‘Band on the Run’ on the first day we kissed / but you always did prefer McCartney 1 because it reminded you of being a kid” and there are ‘Jet’-style “woo woo woos” in full force here. It’s funny as hell too: “when you sober up, you’re always wise as fuck / you’re still listening to Marc E. Smith”. I love how Mystery Jets have kept you their humour, one reason I enjoy them: it’s hard to write genuinely funny lyrics without sounding like a caricature of yourself, and Harrison’s always managed to write some really memorable and hilarious words over the years.

But here’s the problem with this album: you’re thrown for a loop too many times. I’m guessing ‘The Hale Bop’ was named after the Great Comet of 1811 but is about a “saviour” but in a weird, ‘70s disco style. Is it about God? I’m not entirely sure. Either way, it’s an odd song and placed oddly in the album. ‘Sister Everett’, named for a Mormon missionary the band met on a plane ride to California, has an extended hymn-like soft ending and is just too tentative. ‘Take Me Where the Roses Grow’ is another weird entry, mostly for its folk, faux-Judy Collins vibes achieved in a duet between William Rees and Sophie-Rose Harper. While the final track, ‘Luminescence’, is an intimate words with guitar plucking moment, it’s the Jets at their most self-indulgent. Chances are you’re probably going to be using those forward and backward skip buttons when you’re listening to this album.

It’s possible I might have a change of heart like I did with ‘Serotonin’, which went from good to amazing in my books in a short span of 6 months’ continuing re-listening in late 2010-early 2011. But considering I’m not a big fan of Americana (yes, I’m American but that doesn’t mean I feel at home with this style of music), somehow I doubt it. Maybe Kai Fish made a good decision abandoning ship?

6.5/10

‘Radlands’, the fourth album from Mystery Jets, is out today on Rough Trade.

 

(Great Escape 2012 flavoured!) Album Review: Grimes – Visions

 
By on Friday, 27th April 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Due to unfortunate scheduling conflicts, I never managed to see Grimes perform at SXSW 2012. I do, however, consider myself lucky that I’d seen her perform months before she was signed to 4AD at the start of 2012, albeit it was for an opening set before Lykke Li’s show in May 2011. Claire Boucher and all her previous work had then been completely unknown to me. As this goth pixie with a little girl’s voice and fierce eyebrows readied her electronics, I wondered if she was going to pull a James Blake: I still don’t get the appeal really of Blake, and I get bored dead easy watching most electronic artists because I don’t find their “live” sets interesting enough. There was something oddly charismatic about the slight girl from Montreal; she admitted how nervous she was, yet she definitely knew her way around the synth garden before her. I gave her big props then. And now I want to give her big props now for ‘Visions’, a fully-formed, confident first effort for 4AD straight out of the gate for the Canadian artist.

Music by dance artists should be reviewed in order of the tracks as they’re originally meant to be consumed. ‘Infinite Love Without Fulfillment’ is a minute and a half of driving yet sultry electro, disarmed by Boucher’s electronicised voice; it’s a nice lead in to ‘Genesis’ (free mp3 and performance video here), probably everyone’s first real taste of Grimes. It’s ambient, yet it’s got handclaps. I think Boucher herself realised this conflict, as in the promo video for the single, she has her headphones on, seemingly oblivious to the high school antics going on in the background. For me, that’s what good electronic music does: it transports you somewhere, somewhere otherworldly and unachievable when you listen to even the best singer/songwriter, pop or rock acts. The first real good listen I had of ‘Visions’ as a whole was on a plane ride to California for work last month and I felt like I was cruising comfortably in outer space, thinking that aliens would think we’re pretty cool if they had a listen to this.

‘Oblivion’ is more traditional poppy than the rest of the album. With the words, “And now another clue, I would ask / if you could help me out / it’s hard to understand / ‘cause when you’re really by yourself / it’s hard to find someone to hold your hand”, is she showing how she’s afraid of the dark? Or is this a general commentary on life, on how we don’t know what’s up ahead? Not sure but it’s terribly catchy, with its “la la las” and boppy beat. An industrial effect is used against a high-pitched version of Boucher’s voice (there’s the internal battle of styles again) the brief ‘Eight’. I would have liked to see this teased out to a longer version and preferably with a vocal that could be intelligible throughout, but I’m guessing it was purposely short so to act as a short interlude, like ‘Infinite Love Without Fulfillment’.

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Having said that, I don’t think the words throughout ‘Visions’ are intended to give you an earth-shattering reaction and it’s acceptable not to go searching for the lyrics or what they’re ‘supposed’ to mean: it’s the beats and how Boucher has strung them together in many disparate ways. While ‘Circumambient’ is more experimentally wonky and doesn’t hit its stride until the final 1/3 of the song, ‘Vowels = Space and Time’ is as fun as anything by La Roux and manages to be crisp electronically in a way La Roux has never been (and never planned to be, really), and you will moonwalk to its beats. Another low key, almost Oriental interlude in ‘Visiting Statue’, and then the breakdancey ‘Be a Body’ with dreamy vocals and a synth effect that sounds like punctuated accordion chords (watch her performing below on a live video from KEXP).

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Then I get to ‘Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)’ featuring Doldrums and I’m spellbound. The crunching of beats sound like muffled gunshots, and the layered versions of Boucher’s voice fill the track with light, as do the other various percussive effects employed here. Brilliant. You can take or leave ‘Symphonia IX (My Wait is U)’; except for the beats, it’s too Enya for my liking. The album is quickly brought back to life with ‘Nightmusic’ featuring Majical Clouds, which will suck you in, the various Claire Boucher alter egos singing in your ears like cute little birds. This is followed by ‘Skin’, the longest track on ‘Visions’, clocking in at over 6 minutes. The first 3 minutes of this song is as minimal as Grimes ever gets on this album, but Boucher is not content to rest on her laurels; instead, she pulls the vocals around sonically, so much that you can imagine the waves of words swirling around you. It’s not as catchy, but it works. ‘Know the Way’ ends the album with on a surprising note, first beginning with the sound of running water before singular notes sound and dreamy vocals end your sojourn with Grimes languorously. This album feels good pretty much all the way around, and if you’re looking for a good starter album to get into electronic music, this has enough pop crossover appeal not to disappoint. If you’re already an electronic fiend like me, you’ll find a lot to love in ‘Visions’. Well done, Claire. Can’t wait for your next release.

8.5/10

‘Visions’, the first release on 4AD by Grimes, is available now. She will be performing at the M is for Montreal/Brooklyn Vegan showcase at the Great Escape on Friday the 9th of May at Brighton Digital, with a set time of 20.45.

 

Album Review: Hey Rosetta! – Seeds (Deluxe Edition)

 
By on Wednesday, 25th April 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

‘Seeds’, the third studio release from Newfoundland, Canada’s Hey Rosetta! is getting a deluxe reissue. Happily, vocalist Tim Baker reminded me of a favorite now defunct Irish band, Vega 4, so I listened to the album with fondness. Hey Rosetta!’s sound is a blend of finely tuned acoustic performance, with full fledged orchestration mashed with the sound of a full throttle guitar band. This is because while the core band consists of the standard guitar band line-up, there is a permanent strings section as well.

I started out liking the tunes quite a bit, but the album did not hold up to repeat listens as well as I would have hoped. I found it curious that so many of the songs started out sonically in one direction and then wound up completely different by the end. That may occasionally be the hallmark of advanced and experimental song crafting, but it does not come across like that here. I felt more like the music was trying to do too many things inside a single song. Perhaps if a few of the songs had been separated and spliced to others, I would have found more satisfaction.

That is not to say that it’s rubbish either. It isn’t. In fact, what I like about it, I like quite a bit, including singer Tim Baker’s voice. It traverses the distance between gentle crooning to amped up earnest wailing effortlessly. Lyrically, the songs are mature and full of message. And while they can’t help draw comparisons to their countrymen Arcade Fire with their indie tinged balladeering, they do make a separate path for themselves.

The first single ‘Welcome’ is a message to the unborn child of a friend, “I was just sitting with them, talking to the unborn baby in a sort of cynical, joking way. You know, like ‘stay in there as long as you can, kid. Sorry, but it’s a mess out here…’ and so on.” Despite that message, the songs ends up with an understanding that despite the troubles this world presents, it’s always the next generation who has the opportunity to make it better. The video for ‘New Sum (Nous Sommes)’ is a gorgeously rendered cartoon take on the standard performance video, complete with a not so subtle message about the interconnectedness of us all.

This new deluxe version contains three acoustic versions of tracks on the album. These acoustic versions are just brilliant and make deluxe version worth the purchase. Because this treatment keeps the songs simple, it takes away any of the disconnect that occurs when the sound changes so dramatically in the studio versions.

7/10

This deluxe edition of Hey Rosetta!’s ‘Seeds’ will be released in America on the 1st of May on ATO Records.

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(Liverpool Sound City 2012!) Album Review: Clock Opera – Ways to Forget

 
By on Tuesday, 24th April 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Clock Opera have appeared from relative obscurity, to produce their debut album ‘Ways To Forget,’ a beautifully crafted record. I think – no, I know – that people are going to enjoy it.

From first listen, Clock Opera most definitely occupy that most odious of genres for me, synthy, indie-poppy, squealy, joyous rubbish. Luckily for them and me, they occupy it, and then completely make it their own. They go from piano solos in songs like ‘Belongings’, sounding like they could have been lifted straight from Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, to jittery soundscapes like in ‘A Piece of String’, where lead singer Guy Connelly does his Guy Garvey impression once again.

First single ‘Belongings’ is a beautifully constructed piece of music: it builds itself to a frenetic conclusion with some truly beautiful piano work then explodes into something brilliant beyond belief. Now, while the record does rely on synths and some electronic composition, it isn’t overwhelmed by such elements. In song ‘Lost Buoys’, the band find a perfect harmony between seamless production and delicate intricacy.

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This band have mashed together a lot of sounds and influences on this record. Some bands who try this, for example Animal Collective, are experts at this. Mashups almost always leaves me scratching my head and with an overwhelming sense of confusion, but Clock Opera on this album have got it just right. I feel a bit like Goldilocks tasting the last bowl of porridge after extended listening.

I’ve found an album which goes for it as far as being experimental and creative, doesn’t have a fist-pumping chorus and is quintessentially cool, and at last, I like it. It reminds me of that day I woke up and went ‘Total Life Forever’ by Foals is actually a fantastic album, what kind of crack have I been smoking? I recommend you give this album your time of day, because if you don‘t, well you are doing your ears a disservice. Plus the lead singer sounds like Guy Garvey. How cool is that?

8/10

‘Ways to Forget’, the debut album from Clock Opera, is out now on Island. The band have been confirmed to appear on the TGTF stage at Liverpool Sound City on Friday the 18th of May. More details about the TGTF stage will be released soon.

 

Album Review: Jack White – Blunderbuss

 
By on Monday, 23rd April 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

‘Blunderbuss’! I mean, what a name for an album; it conjures up images of old fashioned battlefields and a wall of sound thundering towards you. Now *that* is what I expect from the album then, you’ve got yourself a hard sell their Jackie boy! That said, this is Jack White, stepping out on his own for the very first time, to record his first solo record.

On first listen, it’s classic coming out music: the lyrics are all about collapsed relationships and loves lost. It begins with some classic Jack White honkytonkery. It goes on to be a bit more miserable throughout, describing his love life as a battered affair of break ups and broodiness.

Throughout the theme seems to be that Jack has given up on the more dangerous (female) of the species. For one, the track ‘Missing Pieces’. “Sometimes someone controls everything about you / and when they tell you that they just can’t live without you / they ain’t lying, they’ll take pieces of you / and they’ll stand above you, and walk away / that’s right, and take a part of you with them” – sounds like a man whose given up on love, it seems. But a man still with that fine eye for music that you just don’t find everywhere anymore.

It seems though that while the White Stripes are dead, some of the brilliance born from that fatal mismatch of character still goes on brilliantly. The guitar keys are none too familiar to anything that we’ve heard from Jack in the past and good on it, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? His of the wall almost proggy riffs are what we have come to love about the Tennessee songsmith, while his complete disregard for classic musical structure is almost his biggest charm as a musician. Throughout ‘Blunderbuss’ you’re treated to a musical tapestry, from his cover of Little Willie John’s ‘I’m Shakin’ to his simply fantastic mastery of an electric guitar throughout the record.

Frankly it’s difficult to find fault in this piece; the only criticism is something which has always been to do with Jack White. That is, his music is marmite. You either love the pale faced crooner on this album or any other of his works. Or you simply can’t stand to listen to the Southerner’s squealing guitar.

I, for one, am a massive fan and I can see ‘Blunderbuss’ for sure being the start of an exemplary solo career.

9/10

‘Blunderbuss’, Jack White’s first album as a solo artist, is out today on XL. White plays the HMV Forum in London tonight and sorry folks, it’s sold out. Below is an interview Jack White did with NPR about the new release.

 
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We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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