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By Tom Mughal
on Monday, 23rd July 2012 at 12:00 pm
They may have cancelled the next few shows on their world tour so their leader can deal with his self-admitted mental issues, but fans of hipper-than-hip, Massachusetts outfit Passion Pit can take solace in the release of the band’s new album ‘Gossamer’, out today on Columbia.
When a band delivers an excellent debut there is a certain amount of pressure when they’re recording their next. So many bands, in my opinion, have fallen at this hurdle but I was sure Passion Pit was to become another member of this club with their 2009 debut ‘Manners’. After all, it showed all the signs: a child of the MySpace music generation, hype surrounding the band before their debut was even released, as well as critical success when the album dropped. Not to mention the fact that you couldn’t be in my car during the summer of 2009 without hearing ‘Little Secrets’ or ‘Moth’s Wing..’ (However, this isn’t much of a compliment for the band; my car mix-cds would often include such classics as ‘Here Comes the Hotstepper’ or ‘Return of the Mack’ and I’m not even ashamed).
But for one time in my life, I am happy to say I was wrong; Passion Pit’s sophomore effort is as impressive as the first and it’s not even hyperbolic to suggest that they’re so multi-genre, they’re in a genre of their own. ‘Constant Conversations’ is a prime example of this; imagine an r&b, R. Kelly-esque song written by Rufus Wainwright but with instrumental duties handed to Phoenix and vocals and harmonies given to Ra Ra Riot. On paper I’m aware I’ve made it sound like a god-awful track, but on record it just works. Listen to it below.
This is Passion Pit in a nutshell; originality. Lead singer Michael Angelakos’ versatile falsetto and depressing lyrics contradict the upbeat electro instruments for a truly unique style. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair / still I’m the only one who seems to care” from ‘It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy’ stand out as my favourite couplet and perfect example of Angelakos’ manipulation of music and lyrics.
Lead track on the album ‘Take a Walk’ is not content with being the best track on the album, it also has an utterly fantastic video to accompany it. (We featured it as a Video of the Moment last month here.) Filmed with a helicam, the video and the song remind fans why they fell in love with the band 3 years ago. Catchy synth riffs, and a lot of them. If you’re not humming these songs for days at a time, then there’s something wrong with you.
When listening to Passion Pit’s debut back in 2009, you were blindsided by an amazing Cranberries cover at the end of the album. Their version of ‘Dreams’ was an absolute treat and was the perfect contradiction with the lyrics from the rest of the album. I thought this was an intelligent end to a CD and thought a similar thing might occur, however this has not carried over to ‘Gossamer.’ Overall, it’s a perfect sequel to ‘Manners’. Expanding and improving on everything that made their 2009 debut such a breakthrough hit, the band’s distinct sound is still relevant and its number one selling point.
‘Gossamer’, the sophomore effort from Passion Pit, is out today on Columbia.
Combining the energy of rock, the ethos of punk and the earnestness of folk the Gaslight Anthem return to us with their fourth album ‘Handwritten’. The band have been teasing fans with ‘unlockable’ previews of the tracks for a week or so even though the lead single ’45’ was premiered on BBC Radio 1 back in April. But now the album is finally available in full.
Coming from the same kind of working class, New Jersey background as Bruce Springsteen, comparisons are inevitable. Luckily, they share a mutual appreciation of each other and occasionally share a stage. But this band has so much to offer in their own right. At the risk of sounding un-American, I prefer this album over the Boss’s latest offering. With tracks like ‘Keepsake’ and ‘Mae’, you can feel the driving urgency to tell the stories lead singer Brian Fallon has locked up inside him. An uncompromising commitment to the egalitarian element of punk, the Gaslight Anthem speaks to everyman in a way that young and old can relate to.
Making an effort to return to their roots, Fallon told Kerrang earlier this year, “There’s punk songs on there, and they’re more punk than our last record”. Hard and fast, the tracks move with lightning speed through the emotions, trials and tribulations that have always obsessed the impassioned young bucks who sing them. Fallon may be maturing with his band, but the excitement of pure rock still rings through each of his songs. Title track ‘Handwritten’ describes the way a song “travels from heart to limb to pen”. The confessional ‘Keepsake’ tears at the fragility of lost familial connections. ‘Mullholland Drive’ is a monster of a track with some respectable shredding from axeman Alex Rosamilia, and the guitar solo in ‘Biloxi Parish’ keeps it rough and real.
The album comes to its close with the down tempo ‘Mae’ and acoustic ‘National Anthem’. ‘Mae’ seems to be the most ‘Jersey’ of them to me. Having grown up summering on the Jersey shore, it strikes a chord with me. While I like quiet moments inside an otherwise rocking album, it seems as if ‘National Anthem’ was custom made for the inevitable rounds of radio and in-store promo acoustic appearances. Tracking could have been improved if these two didn’t follow one another.
With hard driving guitars, insistent drums and heart on the sleeve lyrics, the album lives up to its predecessors. The only criticism for this album would be that many of the tracks sound similar; there is not a lot of experimentation with their tried and true sound. This, I am sure, is welcomed news for the faithful, but I like to hear changes and growth throughout a band’s discography. Notwithstanding the similarity of the music, the album is definitely still as brilliant as we know the Gaslight Anthem are capable of.
‘Handwritten’, the new album from the Gaslight Anthem, is out on the 23rd of July on Mercury. A brief ‘making of’ the album video is below. While the band don’t head to the UK for club dates until October, Cheryl will be bringing you coverage of their DC gig tonight very soon here on TGTF.
By CoCo Wong
on Thursday, 19th July 2012 at 3:30 pm
‘Moth’ is the latest album by London band exlovers, and it’s packed with 10 guitar-based tracks. The album starts nicely with two singles, ‘Starlight, Starlight’ and ‘This Love Will Lead You On’, both romantic and sweet. They are very catchy, featuring sing-along choruses. They also set the tone of the album, gently reminding you that summer is really here. ‘Emily’ is a long (5 minute) track but you probably will not realise the time has passed when listening to the track. The guitar on this track goes so well with the vocals, so much as if hand in glove. The track changes from being heavy on vocals at the beginning to plain instrumental in the end.
The next track ‘Just A Silhouette’ is light and refreshing, especially when contrasted with the preceding track. The guitar intro is quite jingle-like and the whole song alternates between bursts of vocals and instrumental. It is a short and light song, very suitable for brisk, short strolls in the shade during summertime. ‘Unlovable’ is another long track, featuring a duet from Pete and Laurel of the band, their voices harmonising. It’s slow-paced and has quite a waltz-like beat, making it ideal for summertime garden dancing. Ballrooms are overrated!
I find myself agreeing to parts of the lyrics to ‘You Forget So Easily’ (“I know that you forget so easily/ I know the future doesn’t favour me”) and ‘The Ruins’ ( “I know that all I did was disappoint you/ yeah I know that all I did was disappoint you” and most of exlovers’ lyrics do sing out the stories of many. Coming in between the two, ‘You’re So Quiet’, is by no means quiet but instead rather ardent, with he drums fast and guitars strummed loudly. Finally, bonus track ‘Moth-eaten Memories’ ends the album with a lot of powerful guitar playing.
As a whole, ‘Moth’ is very guitar-centred and sounds a bit low-fi at times. It also seems to be clouded by a tiny sense of dreaminess thanks to their music being soft rock and also to the weather. All the songs sounds good to the ears, and so are the lyrics. The album is very easy tolisten to, but there is a lack of highlights in here, so ‘Moth’ isn’t memorable.
‘Moth’, the new album from exlovers, is out now on Young and Lost Club. Watch the band-directed video for ‘Emily’ below.
Guillemots come into 2012 with an ambitious project. Not content to spend months writing and recording an album, then waiting for management to put together an appropriate media package so they can tour relentlessly to promote said album, Guillemots are creating four, yes four, albums this year. At least they plan to. In a self admission of guilt, they acknowledge that the first of these seasonal albums, ‘Hello Land!’ was ‘late’, not hitting the streets until May. Recorded in Norway about an hour north of Oslo, ‘Hello Land!’ is evocative of the craggy, isolated, surreal beauty found in that Nordic country. The band described the village where they hunkered down as their own private Narnia. Ever interested in experimenting with their sound, the album is clearly a departure from their offering from last year, ‘Walk the River’.
I initially thought that each of the four albums would be more like EPs, shorter and with slightly less polished. That notion was supported when I saw that the first album had only eight songs and the first was a very short instrumental introduction. But with the remaining songs averaging over 6 minutes, there are no shortcuts here. It’s full of meaty, albeit dreamy tracks that were fashioned with love and attention. But clearly their days of ‘wild’ experimentation are behind them.
‘Hello Land!’ opens with an instrumental piece that highlights the talents of the Norwegian Flute Ensemble to give an ethereal quality that sets the tone of the album. This type of orchestral element is planned for each of the four releases this year. Local brass band Jaren Hornmusikkforening is also featured on tracks throughout the album. The album takes us on an upward trajectory of otherworldly tracks to its pinnacle, ‘Outside’, where there is return to the more familiar Guillemots sound. The remaining three tracks take us back down, with one of them being the extended, 9-minute instrumental track ‘Byebyeland’, before closing with the pulsing ‘I Lie Down’. But the stand out track is ‘Southern Wind’. Calling to mind the lonely windswept mountain peaks of the Norwegian village where it was recorded, the song speaks to making your own way in life. Complete with the crackle of a fire and the whistle of a kettle, the track winds through the completion of the pensive portion of the album.
I can see how fans of their previous works could see this atmospheric collection as an unwelcomed departure from what they love about Guillemots, but growing and changing is the hallmark of a maturing band. Perhaps the second in the cycle will show us something entirely different again. With the craft they put into this first album, I’m a little skeptical that we will see three more albums in the next 5 and a half months, but I could be very wrong. There may be another one right around the corner.
‘Hello Land!’, one of a purported four releases this year from Guillemots, is available now. Download album track ‘Fleet’ from this previous MP3 of the Day post.
It’s rare one comes across a genuinely ground-breaking album. Most collections owe something to that which has gone before; indeed, the theory that all modern popular music can trace its roots back to Deep South blues is as widely accepted as social theory can be. But it’s just as uncommon to find one that wears its influences quite blatantly on its sleeve, or in the case of ‘Ragged Gold’ by Canadians The Magic, as metaphorical sewn-on band patches on the back of a bleached denim jacket.
Lead-off single ‘Mr. Hollywood’, with its bleeps, bangles and glossy harmonies, has a backing track straight out of a DX-7 demo ROM, overlaid with that kind of clean, palm-muted guitar that sold so many chorus pedals thirty years ago. Effortlessly evoking bright white yachts cutting through sparkling Mediterranean water, populated by men and women in skimpy Speedos, who end up in a glossy, chromed nightclub with a neon-lit dance floor; references to Coupes de Ville and pink champagne only serve to amplify the general ambience of glamorous excess. There’s stunning sequenced bleeps behind the main arrangement – overall, a masterclass in styling and justly chosen as ambassador for the album.
Continuing the ’80s theme, opening track ‘Lightning Strikes’ leaves the listener in no doubt as to what is to come, with its enormous, mid-tempo chorus, primarily arranged with synth washes, synth bass, and – yes, you guessed it – wailing synth lead notes. Only a pair of pulsing rhythm guitars saves the track from being entirely electronically-arranged. ‘Night School’ is a more threatening, uptempo white-funk workout, which wears its flyaway bleached blonde fringe unashamedly, stuttering across the stage with peacock pride. Vocal duties are shared between brothers Geordie and Evan Gordon, with the silky vocals of Sylvie Smith as a counterpoint. In fact, Sylvie’s voice is just as important as the boys’, taking lead duties on the jaunty, be-saxophoned ‘Call Me Up’, and providing useful harmonic balance. Indeed, the saxophones are an important part of the latter half of the album, which moves away from the 80s and opens up a whole new cupboard of influences, this time primarily of the previous decade. Like a fine wine, there’s a conflation of a number of individually delicious flavours into one congruent whole – one can spot Chic, 10cc, Quincy Jones, Pet Shop Boys; deeper down even New Order and contemporary revivalists like Chromeo and College. Quite a melting pot, but due to the careful rein on arrangements, nothing feels overblown. The game of spot-the-influence can actually be a hindrance to the music itself – a fun distraction from enjoying the resulting blend.
This is a record that’s supremely self-confident in its source material, refreshingly honest about its stylistic influences, yet simultaneously deeply original – all the pieces are arranged in new ways, whilst still sounding comfortingly familiar. Heavy retro influences abound without descending into parody. There’s disco in the square-wave synths, ’70s AOR in the electric piano and saxophones, shedloads of funk in the bass, early ’80s flouncing pop in the cheap drum machines and archly-delivered male vocals, with the occasional flash of contemporary hip-hop sensibility. Arrangements are architecturally precise, modernist constructs – music by which to ascend the lift in a van der Rohe skyscraper, marvelling at the clean lines and glossy surfaces.
The Magic have done a good job on their debut. Whether they can transcend their influences and develop their sound into something more personally reflective remains to be seen. But to make a debut record that works as both a historical reference point and enjoyably contemporary listen is no mean feat… it’s The Magic.
‘Ragged Gold’ is available now as a digital download from Half Machine records, and a delectable 180 g vinyl is available to pre-order here.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 13th July 2012 at 12:00 pm
I remember when I first queued up the Crookes’ 2011 debut ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ with baited breath after the brilliance of ‘Backstreet Lovers’ on their ‘Dreaming of Another Day’ EP. They haven’t changed their sound so much to the point of unrecognisable from their previous releases; what they have done is started playing and writing smarter, both instrumentally and lyrically, and made by my job as a blog editor infinitely better. I’ll be honest, I don’t commend bands lyrically unless they go above and beyond the call of duty, but I think given the band’s campaign to bring “NEW POP” to every corner of the globe and to do it in such an accessible way that allows them to still convey their message through words that actually mean something (what a concept!) deserves a special commendation.
With complaints far and wide that guitar rock is dead, ‘Hold Fast’ flies in the face of these ill-begotten rumours and grins widely. But what’s behind that Cheshire cat smile? I alluded to this paradox in my single review of ‘Maybe in the Dark’, the second single released from the album, and maybe this says something about the parentage of ‘Hold Fast’. While I liked ‘Chasing After Ghosts’, there was a wintry chill in the air when you listened to the tracks that made you ache inside, full of emotion, when you listened to it; I remember crying to the words “you and me / were fated to be / so damn blue” from ‘Chorus of Fools’. Coupled with a late March release, the album was a sleeper if there ever was one. The underlying sadness of many of the songs reminded me of the grittiness of the North and how the struggles of life there makes one hard. A lot of gloom, despair, unfair situations and death pervaded the previous album. As if to counter those feelings, ‘Hold Fast’ is filled with sunlight and can be viewed as the Crookes’ summertime album, an album that as I mentioned is more accessible than their last. Hopefully this will finally break them into the big time.
Instead of the doom and gloom of ‘Chasing…’, this album is more about relationships and sex. I must have been giving the theme of this review too much thought, because after a while, even the title of song ‘Afterglow’ started to take on sexual overtones. But, to my relief and frankly, to lyricist Daniel Hopewell’s credit, it’s tastefully done and might mean something else entirely: while using the word “afterglow” to mean a whole lot of different things, I’ve teased out that the song plays on the fact that we all have memories we keep of the people who have left for one reason or another, and we should cherish those memories. “Lose yourself in lights and we’ll always have tonight” and I’m taken back to every single gig I’ve covered as a blogger, and I would imagine many TGTF readers will similarly relate to both the song and the driving melody, echoing the excitement of witnessing a live concert. This, along with ‘Maybe in the Dark’ and the title track, are fast paced corkers sure to get dancing feet all festival season long, as well as providing drummer Russell Bates a workout.
But let’s go back to wistfulness in the lyrics of ‘Afterglow’: “when did my friends slip right through my fingers / and you, you were all I ever knew”. This echoed later in ‘Sofie’, when singer George Waite begs, “I’m thinking of you, Sofie, it’s you…promise me you’ll try and stay happy / and I’ll promise I’ll do the same / promise me you’ll try”. Yearning and innocence. You were expecting something else, weren’t you? Forget salaciousness. It’s just not here. Starry-eyed lovers framed in idealised relationships and those have lost them (‘Where Did Our Love Go?’), yes; I have trouble detecting even borderline offensiveness with the way the Crookes are talking about relationships. With the popularity of the groanworthy Fifty Shades of Grey ‘book’, manufactured bands singing about sex and rappers who beat up their girlfriends and still storm the charts, this is a refreshing change. I’d also like to note that in this day and age of overblown production, the songs on ‘Hold Fast’ are as simple as a guitar band can record them under a young indie band’s budget. There is a price to this forced frugality, however: there is an overdone echoey quality to both ‘American Girls’ and ‘The Cooler King’, though I suppose one could argue maybe these two numbers were recorded lo-fi specifically to match the early recordings of the Beatles? I do wonder.
The echo effect sounds fab on album closer ‘The I Love You Bridge’. However, the star of this show is third track ‘Stars’, with the lyrics taking a page from Oscar Wilde’s famous quote “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”, speaking of being penniless, yet still completely happy together. Waite says in the chorus, “tell me how the stars still smile on us / and make the world disappear? / tell me in the darkness / stars still smile on us / tell me that you’re dancing just because / and whispered softly in my ear / tell me in the darkness / stars still smile on us”. Mark my words, this will be the most beautiful note progression and chorus released the year. The guitars, by Tom Dakin and lyricist Daniel Hopewell, sing to me in a way no other album has since Sam Halliday’s in ‘Tourist History’.
I’m a hopeless romantic, so I didn’t need much help getting to a state of enlightenment with help from this album. Waite’s voice and a single guitar, recorded with raw, banged chords, couldn’t sound any better if they tried. The echoes don’t bother me as much when a verse of “I love you, will you marry me? / It’s a magic trick, an escape from this” beckons. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. There is a reference to Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking novel On the Road (‘Sal Paradise’) but I’m too blinded by love to fully understand its meaning. Which brings me back to the point I was trying to get to all along. Romantic or not, ‘Hold Fast’ is so damn catchy that even if you’re just listening to it for the Crookes sound, songs will stay with you and make you smile. If it happens that you venture deeper into Daniel Hopewell’s lyrics, then I think you will be rewarded that much further.
The Crookes’ sophomore album ‘Hold Fast’ is out now on Fierce Panda.