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Album Review: Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

 
By on Tuesday, 20th September 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

By your third album, in most cases, you’re up and rolling. You’re past the difficult second album and you’ve found yourself. In most cases of course, by that point, you’re in your late twenties, if not thirties. Laura Marling is not most cases. With her first album released the same week as her eighteenth birthday, then going on to receive a Mercury nomination, and 3 years down the line winning a Brit award for Best Female, Marling has proved her exceptional credentials repeatedly.

So ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’, her third full LP, doesn’t need to take any risks then, does it? That’s convenient really, because Marling’s breed of folk with mainstream appeal isn’t really the kind of genre that experiments, breaks out or really takes huge risks. Lyrically, Marling has always been the kind of writer that writes in first person, yet you never really think that the person in question is actually her. Stories about the devil (or ‘The Beast’ as he appears to be named here, unless she’s talking about Marcus Mumford, but even by my reckoning, that’s a little harsh) and families seem lost in the fictitious world of Laura Marling. For this reason, it seems increasingly difficult to relate to her music.

The songs are good, there’s no doubt that this is a third album packed with brilliant tracks that will no doubt attract her more radio play, more listeners and more accolades, but from my perspective, I just don’t find her believable anymore, and that’s a real shame. ‘Salinas’ is the nearest you come to actually feeling something for Marling as John Steinbeck’s novels come alive in parts, but aside from the very last two tracks ‘Sophia’ single review here) and ‘All My Rage’, you feel like the twenty-one year old is still keeping her cards very much to her chest. For this reason, ‘Sophia’ is a standout track that swirls around with complete beauty whilst ‘All My Rage’ is a fitting closer: catchy, enjoyable and a kind of relief that an album both so bold and timid at the same time can end with a happy story.

7/10

Laura Marling’s ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ is available now from Virgin.

 

Album Review: Kasabian – Velociraptor!

 
By on Friday, 16th September 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

Kasabian‘s ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ was an album of simply epic proportions. One which critics (myself included) ate up, one which the ravenous for hook public adored and one which cemented them thoroughly at the centre of British mainstream rock ‘n’ roll. The next album ‘Velociraptor!’ then was always going to be a challenge, a challenge which by the evidence I have heard they have taken up beaten and then just for good measure beaten again.

This album though is a thoroughly different beast to ‘West Ryder…’ in the fact that in musical sound, it is much more similar to their earlier work. The album manages to plunge from the dizzying heights and silliness of title track ‘Velociraptor!’ to the solemn lyrics of ‘Goodbye Kiss’ a song which lead singer Tom Meighan has already singled out as a number people are going to fall in love to, get married to, etc. Bless.

The first single to hit the airwaves is in my opinion the strongest track on the album; dripping with the trademark production of Serge Pizzorno, it came out as a warning sign of what to come, as this song is huge, so the album…well, you my drift. The pumping beats and brilliant synth rotation in ‘Switchblade Smile’ (video here) will be enough to get your attention, but the lyrics of “can you feel it coming / can you feel it coming” just add to the songs pure adrenalin rush.

‘Days Are Forgotten’ is slinky, sexy and unashamedly cool (watch the video below). You may already be familiar with it from just about every advertising campaign around. But who can blame people for wanting this track on their product? It’s trademark Kasabian: a track with a chorus so simple, yet one which is layered with undulating guitars and the thumping bass which you become accustomed to on a Kasabian record.

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As a record ‘Velociraptor!’ listens perfectly. It has changes of pace, it has excitement, and it has romance and a swagger which only Kasabian can really get away with. May they long continue to get away with it, as albums this good can only come about when you are truly confident in your abilities as musicians. And when you listen to this you won’t find it hard to gauge how good these Midlands boys know they are.

9/10

‘Velociraptor!’, the new album from Kasabian, will be released on 19 September (next Monday) on Columbia. The band will be touring the UK this winter; all the details are here.

 

Album Review: The Drums – Portamento

 
By on Tuesday, 13th September 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

There must be something in the water in New York. Most, if not all, of the dramas set in that widescreen, moviescape city are either stories of love, or dramas of destruction. Or both, which is what Jonathan Pierce and the Drums have unveiled with Portamento. Plainly recorded, with an almost toy-like approach to instrumentation – drums are tinnily programmed, guitars are clean and muted – the themes are anything but childlike. Kicking straight into existential philosophy, ‘Book of Revelation’ spares no time in setting the tone for the rest of the album. Apparently with little time for creationism, despite its religious references, Pierce is quite clear on his point of view: statements such as ”when we die, we die”, or ”there’s no heaven, and no hell” indicative of the nihilistic stance of the album.

Having established his mindset, the next task is to decipher how this influences the narrator’s attitude to life and love. The answer is a singular mixture of superiority and self-flagellating regret. The former is evident in ‘Days’’ cocksure statement of intent: “days go by / and I never needed you”. Oh really? Except you had to write a song about it? A similar blame transference occurs in ‘Hard to Love’, where the backhanded compliment is king: “I would never leave you / but you’re hard to love” leaves the listener just as confused as the real-life recipient presumably was.

Suddenly, about halfway through, our protagonist is overcome with an attack of self-doubt, and the tone changes from one of blame to reflection. A detailed description of the lyrical content is unnecessary – with blunt song titles such as ‘I Don’t Know How to Love’, ‘Please Don’t Leave’, and ‘I Need a Doctor’, the bipolar nature of the album is clear from a brief perusal of its sleeve. There’s a lovely choral segue into the Tomitaesque synths of ‘Searching for Heaven’, which matches its spiritual theme beautifully, as if our narrator was despondent before St Peter, unable to accept the existence of something beyond the material, even as it is proven before his very eyes.

‘I Need A Doctor’ actually provides some light relief with its uptempo lightweight beats but continues the disturbing lyrical tone, with talk of loving someone because they’re childlike and stupid, and thus being able to refrain from killing them. ‘How It Ended’ appropriately closes the album, and is arguably the only positive, uplifting song to be found here, with its shiny, happy façade of longing for an unrequited love to return: it’s a much-needed ray of sunshine in an altogether darkly-drawn set.

Musically, this could be the sunnier, faster cousin of Joy Division, with its abstract synths and Hookian bass. Whether by design or coincidence, there’s hints of contemporaries Futureheads and the xx in there too. The sound is defined by its architectural simplicity; however there’s one too many major to relative minor shifts and use of semitone intervals to achieve the depth across twelve tracks that the band surely aspire to. This isn’t, frankly, a masterpiece, especially from a musical point of view. Perhaps the departure of guitarist Adam Kessler has affected their breadth more than the band care to admit. However, there are some astonishingly candid lyrics, especially the polarisation between externalised angst and internalised self-doubt. A cautionary tale for those still learning about matters of the heart: don’t try this at home, folks!

7/10

‘Portamento’, the sophomore album from the Drums, is available now from Moshi Moshi / Island.

 

Album Review: The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love

 
By on Monday, 12th September 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

‘In the Grace of Your Love’ is a bizarre album, to say the least. Call it experimentation, or a clashing of genres all you like, but in my opinion the Rapture are just a bit weird. Weird though: it’s something they pull off with relative ease.

In between their last release and this record bassist Mattie Safer left the band, but the band say it was all on peaceful terms, and nothing in the album sticks out as any feelings of resentment. No, the overlying theme to this record is loss, mainly the loss that was suffered by frontman Luke Jenner in the form of his mother taking her own life. ‘Never Die Again’ is difficult to listen to when you know this fact but it does indicate that Jenner is learning to deal with the terrible loss in a more positive way. ‘Come Back To Me’ is scarily reminiscent of early Fatboy Slim and has one of those toe-tapping beats throughout that will stick in your head. The synths are calm and build slowly to nothing like a traditional crescendo, but instead to a euphoric plateau.

Jenner’s vocals are perfect for their unique blend of psychedelic acid house, with the frantic guitars of Gabriel Andruzzi meshing subtly in the background of most tracks. The guitars subtle brilliance is at its best eccentric best in ‘Never Die Again’ where the suspense is drawn out by the continuous riffage. Luke Jenner has also spoken about how becoming a father influenced the album’s formation, so some of the darker overlays of the album are only touched on briefly.

Overall, this is a pleasing album, no two songs are the same, and the changes of pace are exciting and give the record a sense of vibrancy without making it seem frantic. While the strongest part of it may come in the middle, it’s not to say that this isn’t a solid album throughout. ‘Children’ is a wild ride dripping with the kind of dance hooks that the Rapture are known for, while ‘Can You Find a Way’s constant rhetoric lyrics are catchy. This may not be an album which the band are remembered for, but on merit it is a good effort.

6/10

‘In the Grace of Your Love’ is available now from DFA Records. You can download the Rapture’s track ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ from the DFA Web site here.

 

Album Review: Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix

 
By on Tuesday, 6th September 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

The prolific and seemingly inexhaustible Bombay Bicycle Club have come out with their third album, this one called ‘A Different Kind of Fix’. An interesting title, since after listening to this new effort a couple times, I’ve come to the conclusion the quartet wanted to come up with something that took the best of their first two albums (2009’s ‘I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ and 2010’s acoustic ‘Flaws’ [review here]) successful. Where ‘Flaws’ left me feeling cheated, wondering when their follow-up to the incredibly fun single ‘Magnet’ was going to materialise, if ever. Yet ‘A Different Kind of Fix’ presses all the right buttons, showing the band’s maturity of talent and indicates the band is not going anywhere any time soon.

The album begins with ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep’, likely the best example on here of how the London band managed to marry the rock sensibility of ‘I Had the Blues…’ with the softer side of ‘Flaws’. Great lead vocals from Jack Steadman gently lead you into the tune that speeds up to a perfect tempo, with joyful guitars and drumming. The next track, ‘Bad Timing’, is no ‘Magnet’, but it’s an admirable return to form. This one, along with ‘Take the Right One’, rock harder and are certainly welcome to folks like me who didn’t take to the acoustic Bombay Bicycle of last year. The beginning of ‘Beggars’ certainly sounds like it could have been on ‘Flaws’, but thankfully the chorus and overall prevailing feeling is, dare I say it, nearly Mumford and Sons in slap-happiness.

What I definitely did not expect from these blokes: ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’. It’s like pulling back the curtains on the ‘80s, reminding me of Culture Club. Don’t run from this review. Stay with me here, please. Listen to it on Spotify, it’s like a 21st century ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’. It’s genius. I don’t think any other band would even try this. What a risk. But it sounds fabulous. Even ‘Leave It’ and ‘What You Want’ sound like the band have been stuck in a time warp (early Noughties U2), but I won’t complain too much, because they have sweeping choruses. And remember what I said earlier, that this album was a crossroads between their first two albums? The acoustic stylings of ‘Flaws’ come through in ‘Fracture’ and album closer ‘Still’, though neither of which is particularly noteworthy.

‘Shuffle’, which was trotted out earlier in the summer as a taster of the new album, is in hindsight a strange choice for a single. Dissonant piano banging and the start and throughout, along with a really annoying chorus, can easily get your goat. It’s the only major disappointment I find on ‘A Different Kind of Fix’ and unfortunately the only reason why I didn’t give it a higher rating than 8 out of 10. I can’t with a good conscience give an album a stellar rating if the band (and/or their people) can’t make the right decision when it comes to choosing singles. Love it or hate it, you have to accept the fact that bands have to put their best foot forward when promoting new albums, and that’s the lead single. It’d be a terrible shame if people didn’t give this a chance because ‘Shuffle’ grated on their nerves.

8/10

‘A Different Kind of Fix’ is available now from Universal / Island.

 

Album Review: Baths – Pop Music / False B-Sides

 
By on Tuesday, 30th August 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

Anyone who got bored by the Flaming Lips‘ somewhat style-over-substance set on the opening night of this year’s Primavera Sound festival, and wandered off looking for something less indulgent, may have encountered Baths (aka 21-year-old Los Angelean Will Wiesenfeld) tearing the Pitchfork stage to shreds as the false dawn broke over the Mediterranean. An archetypal American college geek attired in terrible shorts, Baths nonetheless unleashed track after track of crunching, stuttering beats and subterranean, undulating bass, sauced with impenetrable vocals and swirling electronica. Just the ticket to keep the 5 am fatigue at bay.

‘Pop Music/False B-Sides’, as the name implies, is a collection of previously gig-only rarities, a stop-gap follow-up to the lauded ‘Cerulean’ debut. At its best, ‘Pop Music/False B-Sides’ can be described as more of the same, and when the same is eclectic, powerful electronica, couched in up-to-the-second production values but with classic songwriting touches, there’s no cause for complaint. With more space, and less need to impress with intensity than the live show, the material here has space to breathe, with touching, discernible vocal refrains and delicate instrumental touches, with even some acoustic instruments to broaden the palette. But never far away is the threat of Baths’ stock-in-trade jumpy, cut-up, pummelling beats.

However, the record can’t shake the impression that it comprises material not really up to being part of the majestic ‘Cerulean’. There’s a restriction of scope that falls short of Baths’ best; the arrangements are at times too linear to maintain interest across 3 or 4 minutes. The production values are unconvincing at times: it can sound as if it was made in a young man’s bedroom computer, which in most likelihood it was. Most songs are built around pumping compression artefacts (where the volume of the whole track is momentarily suppressed to moderate the volume of individual elements like bass kicks), which in any other context would be an unacceptable production mistake, but here are a deliberate part of the sound. This in itself isn’t a problem, but such is the extent of the effect’s use, it quickly becomes tiring to listen to.

There are some gems here, notably the stuttering ‘Flux’, with its seemingly random sound fragments coalescing in squelchy triumph, and the opening ‘Pop Song’, which in an alternative reality could be the sort of thing that troubles the charts instead of the dross we have in this world. Otherwise, if you’re not familiar with Baths but want to check him out, the obvious starting place is ‘Cerulean’, which is a proper album and a rewarding listen. If you loved ‘Cerulean’, certainly there’s plenty here to tide you over until the next album proper. And if you buy it, Wiesenfeld might be able to afford some nicer shorts.

6/10

Baths’ ‘Pop Music / False B-Sides’ album is out now on Anticon.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

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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