“What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been”, sings Andy Hull in Manchester Orchestra‘s returning track, ‘Simple Math’. It’s the title song from the Atlanta band’s new record and it’s ruddy brilliant. Starting slowly with Hull’s serene yet rough voice over a simple guitar melody and building up to one of the most powerful moments in the third effort from the rock group.
As far as third albums go, it’s hit and miss out there. With ‘difficult second album’ syndrome seemingly gone, it’s left to the third to either cement or lose a band’s place in music. It’s by no means an easy task, just ask The Strokes or suffer Pendulum’s Immersion. On the other side of it, when done well, a good third effort from the likes of Kings of Leon (‘Because of the Times’), Muse (‘Absolution’) and most recently Arcade Fire (‘The Suburbs’) can see you leave niche behind forever. So what is it to be for Manchester Orchestra with their new offering, ‘Simple Math’?
From introduction track ‘Deer’, it’s clear to see that there’s not been a huge change in the band’s influences or style. Influenced by what sounds like guitar heaven, Andy Hull seems to be in poetic conversation with the listener, inviting you into MO’s world for the next 45 minutes. Lyrically, little has altered. Hull leads the listener down a poetic maze, winding in his alternative world in which he questions every aspect of his life from the challenges of touring to his own marriage. Musically, ‘Simple Math’ is the halfway point between the fresh yet rough-round-the-edges ‘I’m Like a Virgin Losing Her Child’ and 2009′s hugely successful ‘Mean Everything to Nothing’ in it’s shiny sound and powerful chords. ‘Simple Math’ is certainly a brilliantly produced album by Dan Hannon (co-producer of ‘Mean Everything’, ‘Rocket to the Moon’) and every change in riff and tone is easilly picked up, meaning you can really feel the frequent power changes in Manchester Orchestra’s sound. Each track sounds like it could easily fit in to the already strong MO live set, adding even more soaring lines wherever they’ll fit.
Highlights come from the start, when second track ‘Mighty’ really kicks in with soaring guitar and vocals in a fantastic harmony and ‘Pale Black Eye’, which just exudes the kind of spirit that the Atlantans have made their trademark from day one. It’s not all brilliant though. At times, it can be difficult to define tracks on this album from ‘Mean Everything’ or ‘I’m Like a Virgin Losing Her Child”s overspill and last track ‘Leaky Breaks’ is nothing if not confusing and possibly the worst track the band have written to date. Aside from this, it could be plain sailing for the band. It’s not 2011′s rock version of ‘The Suburbs’, but it will certainly see Manchester Orchestra succeed in trying to get to where they may have always been, fantastic indie rock ‘n’ roll.
Gildas Loaec knows a thing or two about dance music. His music label, Kitsuné, has been the jumping off point to success for the likes of TGTF favourites La Roux, Delphic and Two Door Cinema Club. This month, Kitsuné will release their latest music compilation – their 11th – named ‘The Indie-Dance Issue’. When asked about how this came about, Loaec says, “because I find this new CD is taking us yet one more step towards maturity. We’re perceived as a club label when really we’ve always been between ‘club’ and ‘indie’, and this new compilation sits right at the crossroad of the two.” This is an interesting comment, especially when you consider Delphic and Two Door Cinema Club in particular, both acts employing synths and guitars to create the kind of music that sends punters into a dance frenzy.
Considering all this very carefully, it’s not surprising this album has some great tracks from acts you may have heard of and those that have yet to rock our world. Let’s begin with the possible familiar names. Just last month, Coco wrote about a free download, ‘The Greeks’, from London trio Is Tropical. Having previously remixed ‘Come Back Home’ for Two Door Cinema Club’s deluxe edition of ‘Tourist History’ last autumn, the band is now ready to release their own debut album on 13 June. With almost Oriental sounding guitars at the start, it then turns into great dance floor filler once the beats are introduced. ‘Big Things’ by from the London quartet Fiction might be familiar if you listen to BBC 6music; it was on their playlist a couple short weeks ago. It’s less dancey and more chill, in a kind of cool, measured, Vampire Weekend-kind of way, with wiggly guitar lines and a seaside feel.
Housse de Racket, a French electronic duo we wrote about in late 2009 when they were releasing the double A-sided single ‘Synthétiseur’ / ‘Sur le Papier’, are getting ready to release their second album on Kitsuné later this summer. Their track ‘Roman’ appears on this compilation and is probably my favourite on this collection, the perfect balance between beats, guitars and synths to get your heart pumping. And Azari and III, who collaborated with Friendly Fires on the Suck My Deck tune ‘Stay Here’, lend their remixing talent to Brooklyn band Creep‘s song, ‘Days’. The xx‘s Romy Madley-Croft contributes her sultry vocals to this number. You can watch the video for the song below, directed by Casey Fischer of Fischerspooner.
So now we switch gears to the lesser known names. Cosmonaut from Australia (not to be confused with any number of American, UK, and Irish bands of the same or similar name) bring the beats from down under, and boy, are they wicked. These blokes know their way around a synth. Geordie trio Polarsets released ‘Sunshine Eyes’ as a single on its own by Kitsuné in mid-April. It’s pure sun-dappled delight, a luscious cross between Foals and Cut Copy (stream the single below).
But ‘Kitsuné Maison 11′ does contain some more difficult to swallow tracks. ‘Phantastic Phone Call’ by Alexander Dexter Jones (yes, he is the son of Mick Jones, now living in New York) have vocals that are perfectly fine in their new wave effects, but the backing is problematic: if you’re a fan of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy like me, you can’t help sniggering, thinking this would better be suited to soundtracking the 1981 BBC Two miniseries based on his books. I’m usually not a fan of extended dance instrumentals unless there’s something exciting that grabs me on first listen, so tunes like Beat Connection‘s ‘Silver Screen’ and Welsh act Gallops‘ ‘Miami Spider’ (even with the Radio1 backing), while these are okay, they don’t meet my high expectations for Kitsuné. All in all though, there are more winners than losers on this album. Expect to hear several, if not many of these acts burning up dance floors in the near future.
‘Kitsuné Maison 11: The Indie-Dance Issue’ compilation album will be released on 16 May.
Fleet Foxes describe themselves as a “baroque harmonic pop jam”. This is a statement fully reinforced by their eponymous self-titled debut, which enjoyed huge UK success and managed to reach number 3 in the Top 40. It was so successful that one of their major influences, songwriter Neil Young, invited them to support him on tour. They were described as “the next great American band”. Suddenly the ‘baroque harmonic pop jam’ was hitting the mainstream hard and expectations for everything they did became extremely high. Their second effort then needed to be something special, something even better, something that wouldn’t see them pigeon-holed as a one trick pony.
The sad fact of the matter though is they failed at this with ‘Helplessness Blues’, a record that promises so much but in actuality delivers upsettingly little in a painstaking 49:57 minutes. I was a big fan of the first record and I will definitely admit that I am a fan who heard ‘Mykonos’, then bought the album, not the other way around, but who can blame me, ‘Mykonos’ was a first taster of a band who made Mumford and Sons’ style of bluegrass back to basics look…well, dull.
The underlying theme of ‘Helplessness Blues’ is dark and from first song ‘Montezuma’ is littered with eclipsed clichés. ‘Bedouin Dress’ sounds like as mopey as mopey could be as lead singer Robin Pecknold tells us how he has “borrowed all my lonesome life”. There are a few saving graces in the form of ‘The Plains/Bitter Dancer’ and ‘Battery Kinzie’, which go far enough to save the album from being a thoroughly poor record.
Pecknold tweeted late last year that he was making a “troubled album” and after listening through, it’s difficult not to realise exactly how troubled it must have been. ‘Helplessness Blues’ is a Fleet Foxes album to the core and though I may have been expecting some kind of experimentation and difference, it’s hard to differentiate between this and their first effort and for me, well I just expected more from “America’s next best band”. My advice is, even if you liked the first album; buy ‘The Suburbs’ instead.
By Luke Morton on Thursday, 28th April 2011 at 12:00 pm
Three years ago, We Are the Ocean were finding their feet in the UK music world. Having just released their debut self-titled EP through their MySpace page, media attention began to heat up. Before long another EP came along followed by last year’s debut full length release ‘Cutting Our Teeth’ to critical acclaim. Next thing you know, they’re all over Rock Sound and Kerrang!, and playing all the big festivals in the UK. But can the momentum continue with their new album ‘Go Now And Live’?
It’s safe to say that We Are the Ocean aren’t the band they used to be in 2008: they’ve grown into one of the tightest post-hardcore bands currently active in the UK. Despite the post-hardcore moniker attached to the band, the screaming of Dan Brown has been toned down for this release. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the alternating vocal styles between Brown and Liam Cromby works brilliantly, adding much more depth than the usual sing/scream/sing combo. The punk element, however, is still alive and kicking. Tom Whittaker’s drumming is as fast as ever and keeps the high octane pace going throughout the LP. Kicking off with ‘Trouble Is Temporary, Time Is Tonic’, the tone of the album is evident – nothing but fun, fast, post-hardcore with more breakdowns than a 1980s Skoda.
Having already released two singles from the album, the band are determined to make it a hit. First single ‘What It Feels Like’ is one for the live shows, you can almost see the arms swinging along to the chorus, it’s a track that will grow on you like tropical disease. Current single ‘The Waiting Room’ is just as catchy and as a great example of the vocal work between Brown and Cromby. As it goes on, the song gets thrashier but stays firmly in its punk roots.
Practically each song features the breakdown, for which We Are the Ocean are becoming synonymous with. But not every song is a punk-laden speed fest, tracks ‘Now And Then’ and album closer ‘Before I Die’ are both slower and still musically interesting. No longer are the band a group of Essex boys who tear up stages and scream a lot, they’re now a band who can write some of the finest post-hardcore music the UK has seen in the past year and can still kick major arse live. The only drawback with ‘Go Now And Live’ is the same problem that UK bands like Young Guns, the Blackout and Deaf Havana have – Americanisation. At times, the vocals sound like the band are from the other side of the pond, rather than sounding like pure home-grown talent.
The exclusion of screams isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the band, however it would be a shame if in their live shows it’s not included at all. Despite this album being an evolution of the band’s sound, it’s still good to hear Brown get nice and angry with his microphone. Apart from this slight American twang in the vocals, ‘Go Now And Live’ is a grower and will undoubtedly find its way into the playlist of your local rock club. ‘Follow What You Need’ could be the anthem of your summer if you let it, We Are the Ocean have mastered the art of catchy lyrics and aren’t letting you escape that easily.
‘Go Now and Live’ is available now from Hassle Records.
‘Dye it Blonde’, the sophomore album by Smith Westerns, starts as it means to go on. Forget the Bowie comparisons, they’re coming out of their shell here and doing it with a vengeance. My first listen to the album left me confused though: I couldn’t hear the stand-out tracks like in their self-titled effort. And where were the catchy, glittery pop choruses? Turns out this is another album that deserves a little more of your time. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
This time around, it is obvious the record hasn’t been self-produced, it’s a lot more refined for a start. The influence of Chris Coady (who has worked with Yeah Yeah Yeahs) is apparent from start to finish. The production is much improved and while everyone, including, me, enjoyed their first garage rock album, these songs needed sheen over them, the kind that Coady has given them. (Need evidence? Watch the video for ‘Weekend’ below.)
As I mentioned, there really are no stand-out tracks on this album; however, I do have a personal favourite in the shape of floaty acoustic number ‘Smile’. Throughout the album there is a theme of idol worship, like they are in love with and pining after idols David Bowie and John Lennon. So much that they even have a song ‘Imagine pt.3 ’ in tribute to the late Beatles hero.
I could ramble on for hours as to why I love this album so much, but if I did, I would just be stopping you from listening to it for longer. And I don’t think that’s fair at all, in all honesty. So I leave you with this: go out buy it, listen to it, listen again, enjoy again and again. You can thank me later.
Smith Westerns’s second album ‘Dye It Blonde’ will be released on 2 May on Domino Records’ Weird World imprint. The single for ‘Weekend’ is released a week prior, on 25 April. You can read John’s interview with Cullen Omori on this earlier TGTF post.
By Mary Chang on Tuesday, 26th April 2011 at 12:00 pm
I am always troubled when “alt-rock” is used to describe a band. I mean, what exactly is the difference between “rock” and “alt-rock”, is “alt-rock” when “traditional” rock goes mental? If yes, I suppose “alt-rock” works as a label for synth-based Fight Like Apes from Dublin. In 2009 I heard their songs ‘Tie Me Up with Jackets’, with singer MayKay’s sing/talky voice, its bleepy blips and anarchic, shouted chorus. Their second album ‘The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner’ was released in Ireland in 2010 but finally getting its release this week in the UK.
‘Come On, Let’s Talk About Your Feelings’ sounds vaguely hippie and you might worry that Fight Like Apes have gone chill. No chance of that. Humourous lyrics, instrumentation that beats you up and computer-y bleeps are still part of this band’s sound, thankfully. ‘Jenny Kelly’, the first single from the album that is currently getting radio airplay, is a great example of MayKay’s sweet voice that can morph into a screamy, energetic one without a second glance. (Watch a stripped down version of this song below.)
Screaming doesn’t really work for me unless there are good lyrics involved, this band always manages to come up with words that are memorable. ‘Pull Off Your Arms and Let’s Play in Your Blood’, the title alone applauded by Carl Barat recently on Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable, has a sultry background groove with sexy vocals. Both this and ‘Hoo Ha Henry’ start with funny spoken word samples, but the latter lays into you; once the song is over you feel like you’ve been in a fight.
After that onslaught, gently orchestrated ‘Kathmandu (Face It, You’re Caviar, I’m Hotdogs)’, while not soft at all, is a welcomed, slower tempo number. I thought the meaning of the song was clear by the title but now I’m not so sure. In a way, it’s kind of disappointing that the next song, ‘Thank God You Weren’t Thirsty (Lightbulb)’, is fab in its calm, new-wavey direction until it goes off in the normal Fight Like Apes mental direction two-thirds of the way in (MayKay absolutely screaming her head off), because it would have been fine, erm, a little smoother.
If I had to guess which songs would do the best during festival season, my vote is for ‘Poached Eggs’. (I mean, really, you can imagine pissed punters shouting “just get laid!” back at the band in the middle of Worthy Farm, can’t you?) And indeed, the sexual innuendo (the mention of hookers in ‘Z + H5 Together at Last’, the title of ‘Ice Cream Apple Fuck’) is in your face.
The main problem I see with this album is that the bleeps and random added sounds are too ubiquitous and have the potential to annoy rock traditionalists. (See ‘Captain A-Bomb’, ‘Waking Up with Robocop’.) Oh, and MayKay’s vocals can grate if not melodic (‘Indie Monster’ gives me a headache). Fight Like Apes is, shall we say, an acquired taste. And quite polarising. Just like caviar and hot dogs.
‘The Body of Chris and Legs of Tina Turner’, the second album from Fight Like Apes, is available now on Model Citizen.