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Album Review: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

 
By on Wednesday, 22nd November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice album coverWhen two artists collaborate, the air of expectation can often kill the project before it’s even landed, especially when it comes to two of music’s most coolly laidback songwriters, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile. The waves they’ve made separately have been tremendous, bringing the art of songwriting to the modern age with a feeling of ease. So the idea of them collaborating is almost too much to bear. Now that it’s here, we can finally unpack what they’ve given us.

Let’s face it, there was never going to be any form of groundbreaking EDM mixup collab featured throughout. Instead we find two minds that manage to bring out the inane and give it an acoustic tinge. Even from the first strum, a cool wave washes over you, as you wait for the journey to take you away.

Album opener ‘Over Everything’ is a track that finds its origins from Vile writing from the perspective of Barnett. The words perfectly set the scene, conveying the collective mindset of its makers with the immortal opening line of “when I’m all alone on my own by my lonesome” that truly encapsulates the life of two of modern music’s greatest songwriters. It doesn’t all quite stay so immediately breezy though. ‘Let It Go’ opts for a far more wandering and less direct approach. The intricately picked guitars entwine while Vile and Barnett take turns. There’s no real latch point that makes it less approachable, but there’s still a light energy about it that keeps you involved.

In stark contrast, the laughter that introduces ‘Fear is Like a Forest’ indicates a serious change in tone. While the actual track doesn’t really correspond with the jubilant entrance, the darkened nature mirrors the depth within the minds of the creators. Likewise, ‘Outta the Woodwork’, a cover of Barnett’s original interpreted by Vile, keeps along the darker edge, feeling entirely bluesy. However, once the two artists’ vocals pair up in the faint chorus, with their trademark lazy feel, it goes from feeling driven by emotion to a clumsy amalgamation of their talents.

Dissecting the minds of two revered songwriters is a task that could require many an essay, especially two like Barnett and Vile who seemingly see foolishness as a representation of the pitfalls of life. ‘Continental Breakfast’, for example, perfectly portrays the life both have undertaken. While they’re both heading toward their own end, they somehow come together to form a perfectly melodic account, placing you in the middle of these two journeys. One of the more intriguing moments comes from ‘On Script’. It’s another slow, blues-tinged number, but constantly feels like it’s heading to something more. On the verge of exploring even deeper territory, and while there is somewhat of a crescendo to get lost in, the fact it never truly delivers on this teased promise means you’re kept hanging on for more.

If ‘On Script’ was intriguing, then ‘Blue Cheese’ is straight up mind-boggling. Everything about it seems perfect, all the bricks are there for a solid track until you hone in and listen to the lyrics. That’s when you hear what is tantamount to nonsense (see: “now I’m calling the cops on you, nanny nanny boo boo”). Still, there’s an affection you can’t help but feel, and there’s nothing but positivity radiating from it. ‘Peepin’ Tom’, a Barnett solo over of the Vile original ‘Peepin’ Tomboy’, is exactly what a cover should be: a fresh interpretation of a track that means something to the covering artist. Light and stocked with a subtle power, be prepared to make a difficult choice on which is better, the original or this fantastic cover.

Closing the album is another cover, this time pretty unexpected. It’s a cover of dream pop band Belly’s track ‘Untogether’. A perfectly apt closer, it brings both voices together in unison, with the addition of chords that echo the dream haze from the original, it’s equal ground that truly show’s off the talents of these two great modern songwriters. ‘Lotta Sea Lice’ is a rare album that holds itself close whilst seemingly giving everything away. Just as confusing, and precious, as you’d expect anything from them both to be.

8/10

‘Lotta Sea Lice’ is out now on Matador Records. Learn more about the collaborating pair on their Web site. To read TGTF’s past coverage on Courtney Barnett, follow this link.

 

Album Review: The Horrors – V

 
By on Monday, 20th November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

The Horrors V album coverTen years have passed since The Horrors first appeared like gothic misers of their own indie-dom. When you really process this it’s incredible to witness how far they’ve actually come. No band has quite relished in the idea of evolution more than The Horrors.

Take, for instance, opener ‘Hologram’, which introduces the album with pulsating and swirling beats. The futuristic feel that you’ll find completely sweeps over the album is soon joined, in this instance, by jangled guitars, processed far from their natural sound. Frontman Faris Badwan soon joins in the party, with some seemingly heaven-sent vocals that truly embody the choruses repeated call of “are we holograms?” It’s a bright opener that wanders its warming way into seducing you for the rest of the album, particularly aided by the screeching and twinkling solo toward the outro, an aspect that repeats throughout.

Following on, the droning piano that first teases in ‘Press Enter to Exit’ reveals nothing that the actual track contains. Once the first four bars have their say, it breaks into a far more groove-filled romp that carries you with its sway up. Until the chorus, which feels like a contained explosion into a new pop-tastic level. Once again, the bridge breaks down into a far more intelligible chaos that falls away, letting the silence build until exploding once more into a soaring solo.

Earlier single ‘Machine’ greets us with an electronic drum pattern that runs rings around the sonic atmosphere. You can try and comprehend what’s going on but will ultimately fail. There’s an edge to the psychedelic sounds, one that brings a foreboding element that feels live one is being preyed upon. Filled with juddering sounds that oppose the melodic elements, it calls to mind a mechanical beast failing catastrophically. On a similar end of the scale, ‘Ghost’ goes for a more simplistic approach to the mechanical sounds. A slow tempo drum beat brings in Badwan’s singing, while distorted and flickering sounds eventually morph into a guitar line which completes its evolution from sparse wander into full-bodied orchestration.

The eruption of sounds and noise at just over halfway feels apt. It’s as if the album had to be building to something and this is what the first half will always be: an eruption of sparkling sounds that both dazzle and confuse. From here, both ‘Point of No Reply’ and ‘Weighed Down’ break away from the metallic sounds. Instead, the Horrors go in a far more delicately melodic one that relies upon Badwan’s vocals to offset the beautifully sweet electronica elements. ‘Point of No Reply’ eventually leaves as peacefully as it came.

‘Gathering’ is perhaps the most natural sounding The Horrors get on this outing. Acoustic guitar and natural drums, with the occasional psychedelic slide, leaves a much more digestible sound. That is, until ‘World Below’. Kicking things back into a higher gear with a distorted array of crunching guitars and electronica, it’s the beginning of both the final stretch and some of the strongest cuts on the album. The other two that make up this final third flow perfectly. ‘It’s a Good Life’ reverts back to the slow and emotive approach. This builds towards the finale of ‘Something to Remember Me By’, a track that completely lets loose and breaks into dance territory.

The fifth outing from Horrors mostly cements them as creators of their own future. They don’t relish being in the past. In fact, they stray as far away from their previous sounds as possible. No, the Horrors are are here to keep creating and evolving which, in all honesty, makes them one of the more exciting bands currently active.

9/10

‘V’. The Horrors’ fifth album, is out now on Wolf Tone / Caroline International. Our past articles here in TGTF are through this link.

 

Album Review: Alex Lahey – I Love You Like a Brother

 
By on Wednesday, 8th November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Alex Lahey coverAussie alt-rocker and SXSW 2017 alum Alex Lahey’s debut LP ‘I Love You Like a Brother’ has been out over a month now, but the consistency and quality of both the singing and the songwriting on the album indicate that it, and Lahey herself, might just have some staying power. The style of the songs, on the whole, is an engaging combination of garage rock and twee indie pop, in which Lahey finds just the right ‘cool girl’ vibe between catchy guitar riffs and smart, deceptively astute lyrics.

Opening track and early hit single ‘Everyday’s the Weekend’ packs an immediate punch with its driving guitar rhythm and sharply punctuated lyrical phrases. Lahey’s vocal is both seductive and mildly sullen as she describes an illicit relationship in the verses (“you’ve got things like a family / they’re a bigger deal than I’ll ever be”), and tempts her lover to throw caution to the winds in the catchy chorus, “don’t know, don’t care / every day’s the weekend”.

‘I Love You Like a Brother’ is even more uptempo and energetic, carrying Lahey’s devil-may-care attitude into an ode to sibling solidarity. The chorus message is stone simple, “I love you like a brother / just like I oughta”, but the verses display an agile wit in lines like “from the same divorce and from the same wedding / we couldn’t help that marriage ending” and the musical treatment is infectious from start to finish. Lahey takes a more serious tone in the opening lyrics to ‘Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder’, “Perth is lucky that she’s pretty / otherwise I’d hate that city / the only place my heart’s been torn in two”, but her sharp cynicism is a perfect match to the fuzzy guitars and pounding drums, and the lightly floating “oohs” at the end of the song keep it from being weighed down in despair.

The tempo and dynamic levels back off a bit in ‘I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself’, and here Lahey’s singing voice starts to make its presence known. ‘Backpack’ is even slower and more stripped back, with light, gently sung vocals matched to a bright and pervasive guitar riff. Lahey wisely avoids the kind of vocal contortions that make many female pop/rock singers unlistenable, depending instead on her natural tone and writing melodic lines that suit the sweet clarity in her upper register.

Appropriately angular in its musical arrangement, ‘Awkward Exchange’ leans more in the pop direction with soaring background vocals and the first hint of keyboards in the mix. Its simple rhyming couplets center around the sharply declamatory chorus, “you’re outta my bed, now get out of my head / whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh”. By contrast, ‘I Want U’ is a sweet, breathless acknowledgement of new romance, where Lahey gets just a bit tiny coy in the lines, “I don’t know much more about you / but it seems to me that you do / things that people only do / when they think that they like me too”

Recent single ‘Lotto in Reverse’ gets back to a grittier rock sound and more deliberately strident vocal, which aptly matches the jaded bitterness of Lahey’s lyrics. She deftly segues to a mood of languid ennui in ‘Let’s Call It a Day’ before closing the album with the delicately sad and exquisitely sung ballad ‘There’s No Money’.

Though Lahey’s quick-witted lyrics and impossibly catchy guitar lines are the first aspects of this album to make their mark, it’s ultimately the flexibility and subtle inflections of her singing voice that have a lasting impact. ‘I Love You Like a Brother’ covers a lot of emotional territory in its themes, and Lahey adeptly uses both her voice and her guitar to execute her full range of desired effects. The album is vivacious and fun, but it has an underlying intelligence and wit that belies Lahey’s relative youth.

8.5/10

Alex Lahey’s debut LP ‘I Love You Like a Brother’ is out now on Dead Oceans. Lahey is set to embark on a handful of UK shows at the end of this week before heading to North America. You can find details on all of her upcoming live dates on her official Facebook. Read more about Alex Lahey on TGTF through this link.

 

Album Review: Ibeyi – Ash

 
By on Friday, 3rd November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Ibeyi Ash coverFrench-Cuban twin sister duo Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, collectively Ibeyi, released their sophomore album ‘Ash’ at the end of September, at the youthful age of 22 years apiece. Their self-titled debut LP only came out 2 years ago, but in the interim the pair have attained a sense of maturity and confidence in their music-making, as well as moving on to address more serious and socially relevant thematic material.

Song titles like ‘I Carried This for Years’ and ‘When Will I Learn’ convey the kind of heaviness that comes from living in a constant state of fear and oppression. The former track is a dramatic and singularly appropriate lead-in to the rest of the album. Its synthetic-sounding choral voices in the former track immediately set a tone of anxiety or even dread, while the cacophonous overlay of the vocal and instrumental parts implies chaos and confusion. Nearer to the end of the album, ‘When Will I Learn’ is more introspective, taking refuge in the music itself as the lyrics lament, “I can’t climb on tall trees, I don’t bend like the reeds, but I can play on the drums . . .” as a contemplative piano melody emerges from the context of drum machine rhythms and filtered vocals.

Early single ‘Away Away’ is another song where the sisters find freedom in their music, employing soaring vocal harmonies and joyful Afro-Caribbean rhythms under mixed language lyrics in a combination that sounds distinctly celebratory. By contrast, recent single ‘Deathless’ featuring saxophonist Kamasi Washington (below) gives some insight about what Ibeyi might be seeking refuge from, namely cultural and sexual oppression. Written about Lisa-Kaindé’s detainment by a racist police officer when she was, as her lyrics state, “innocent / sweet sixteen / frozen with fear”, its stylistically metaphorical video treatment emphasises rebirth after trauma. Bold, concise lyrical lines, jarring rhythmic shifts, and a deftly-rendered solo from Washington place this among the LP’s outstanding moments. Read more about Lisa-Kaindé’s encounter with the police officer in this interview with NPR.

‘I Wanna Be Like You’ expands on the longing for freedom with a fortuitous outtake from the recording process, where Lisa-Kaindé asks portentously, “Can I have a tiny bit more of my voice?” The song’s deep, sensual bass is viscerally entrancing, and sister Naomi’s distant backing vocals serve to heighten the hypnotically seductive soundscape. The flip side of that coin is album standout ‘No Man is Big Enough for My Arms’, whose title speaks for itself in terms of feminism and self-realisation. Its powerful musical treatment, including vocal samples from former First Lady Michelle Obama, is squarely on point with its message.

Several tracks on ‘Ash’ use autotune on the vocal lines, not as a crutch to hide poor singing, but rather as an intentional sonic device. In the Spanish language song ‘Me Voy’, which features guest vocals from Mala Rodriguez, the autotune filter creates a sharper and edgier sound in contrast to Ibeyi’s usual soft sensuality. Eponymous album closer ‘Ash’ combines synthetic filtering with natural vocal harmonies to create a brilliantly vivid, yet darkly dramatic effect.

Like its predecessor, ‘Ash’ the album relies heavily on Ibeyi’s signature sound, comprising Lisa-Kaindé’s softly sensual vocal style and Naomi’s pervasive organic rhythms. Neither is necessarily unique in and of itself, but for Ibeyi, lyrics and rhythm take on equal importance, intertwining inseparably and providing both momentum and dramatic impetus to the songs. With this new record, Ibeyi have purposefully expanded their sonic palette in both areas to encompass a set of broader, more outward-looking range of lyrical themes, demonstrating an astonishing musical growth in the process.

8/10

Ibeyi’s second LP ‘Ash’ is out now on XL Recordings. The pair are currently on tour in North America, playing tomorrow night in Philadelphia. Our past coverage of Ibeyi, including a live review from SXSW 2015, is back through here.

 

Album Review: The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

 
By on Thursday, 2nd November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Erik WeissThe Killers Wonderful Wonderful album cover

When The Killers released ‘Battle Born’ back in 2012, it was divisive. Some felt that they’d simply began to phone it in, while others found some solace in the pop-centric sound they came out wielding. Whichever side of this fence you stand on, the 5 years that passed, including the release of ‘Direct Hits’ in 2013, gave plenty of time for retrospect and time to let exactly what The Killers had achieved thus far sink in.

Fast forward to this year, which not only included the 10th anniversary of second album ‘Sam’s Town’, but also the official return of The Killers with brand new music. If you’re going to come back from an extended stint away, then ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is how you do it. ‘The Man’ puts Flowers in his macho persona, without crossing into the seedy territory many other bands have fallen into. It’s a perfectly orchestrated machismo funk fest, setting hopes high from the start for this new chapter of The Killers’ story.

Now we’ve had ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ for a while now, it’s time to see how easily it’s digested, starting with the titular track. Opening the album with a call similar to that of the conch shell taking pride of place on the artwork, it eventually reveals itself to be more predatory rather than one to immediately vie for your attention, more of a slow burner. After follower ‘The Man’, we find ourselves with ‘Rut’, which reverts back to the slow burn approach. Beautifully melodic, it’s more suited to this new era of The Killers than anything they’ve done previously.

‘Life to Come’ turns into a moment of throwing back to the band’s earlier experimental years, with a fast-paced rhythm and pure pop sensibilities layered all over. However, it’s ‘Run For Cover’ where the album really hits its stride. The urgent, natural sounding guitar that ushers in more electro-pop sounds bring to mind the epic Americana feeling from ‘Sam’s Town’. Just far less Springsteen this time around. (You can read editor Mary’s review of this single through this link.) The sample of commentary that welcomes in ‘Tyson Vs. Douglas’ is a clear call to the Las Vegas blood running through the veins of The Killers. The glamour of multimillion-dollar fights that took place in their beloved hometown ring out while they kick in with another pop-led smasher.

It’s ‘Some Kind of Love’ where they finally show their more reserved chops. The airy synth chords that welcome it before Flowers comes in with the words “you’ve got the will of a wild, a wild bird” add an earnest dimension to ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, one that also encapsulates Flowers’ wife’s struggle with depression and anxiety which led to the cancellation of a section of his 2015 solo tour. Still, though, they also still manage to tack on some more funk on the track. Bringing back the assuredness, ‘Out of My Mind’ is a lovelorn ditty that fully utilises layered vocals and massive synth sounds that gain your attention.

The end of ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ truly holds some mystical and magical moments, most notably American actor Woody Harrelson reading a Bible passage from Matthew 9:10-12 to introduce ‘The Calling’, before another uber-assertive funk beat kicks in, Flowers crooning hard over it. Gritty guitar lines and a swooning bass line make this a cut that’s got as much attitude as it does depth.

Finales are normally where The Killers tend to fail. They can kick proceedings off and give the songs in the middle important occasional bursts of gusto to keep you involved, but rounding it off seems to be a hit or miss situation. ‘Money on Straight’ is one of the few iffy tracks that could as well be removed, and the album wouldn’t suffer any real loss. Its only saving grace is the ethereal sounding electronica that plays perfectly with Flowers’ lyrical melodies and the cutting guitar riffs.

Overall, ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ certainly lives up to its title. It’s The Killers returning to form, with both substance and style, though occasionally, the substance does wane. The fact Flower’s If you find yourself feeling that way while listening, skip back to ‘The Man’ and you’ll be able to swagger your way through the rest.

7/10

‘Wonderful Wonderful’, the fifth album from Las Vegas rockers The Killers, is out now on Island Records. For more coverage on The Killers right here on TGTF, come through.

 

Album Review: JD McPherson – Undivided Heart & Soul

 
By on Friday, 27th October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

JD McPherson UHS album coverHeader photo by Alysse Gafkjen

American retro-rock singer/songwriter JD McPherson recently released a new solo album, ‘Undivided Heart & Soul’. It’s an interesting title, for an artist who dabbled in cattle ranching earned a Master’s degree in visual arts before settling on a career in music. But now three albums in, McPherson has apparently decided that music is his permanent gig, and he’s gone all-in on this 11-track sojourn.

Prior to starting work on ‘Undivided Heart & Soul’, McPherson picked up and moved his family to Nashville from their hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The move put McPherson in close proximity to a variety of collaborating musicians, and the album features contributions from Parker Millsap and Aaron Lee Tasjan, along with the influences of longtime friend Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and album co-producer Dan Molad. But the move didn’t come without an element of added pressure. “This record was difficult for me to make, difficult to write, difficult to record”, McPherson says in the album’s press release. “It took a lot for me to say that I can’t force these songs to be the way people are expecting.”

The album begins with essentially the kind of retro r&b feel that McPherson’s audience might well have predicted, with the head-on intensity and gritty guitars of ‘Desperate Love’ and the shuffling rockabilly of Butch Walker co-write ‘Crying’s Just a Thing You Do’. On closer inspection, however, the latter track is notably more emotionally complex in its lyrics, and the heavy guitar riff in the bridge section is a startling but welcome surprise.

In contrast, early single ‘Lucky Penny’, is decidedly edgier, taking on a modern blues rock feel in the vein of the Black Keys; a sharp and persistent guitar riff underscores McPherson’s ironic lament, “this lucky penny’s been nothing but bad luck”. Title track ‘Undivided Heart & Soul’ is similarly modern in its fuzzy, muted production, but its lyrics retain an old-fashioned, almost quaint sort of quality: “left alone and unrequited / I require your undivided . . . heart and soul”.

Most of the album’s second half harks back to McPherson’s more familiar classic rock ’n’ roll style. ‘Hunting for Sugar’ and ‘Jubilee’ are both is slow ballads that somewhat oddly reminded me of Leon Bridges‘ old school aesthetic, but without the smooth, suave vocal delivery. ‘Bloodhound Rock’ leans heavily back into the retro r&b vibe and feels infinitely more authentic to McPherson’s own natural tendencies.

Final tracks ‘Under the Spell of City Lights’ and ‘Let’s Get Out of Here While We’re Still Young’ both take on an edgier tone, the former in a gritty, classic rock ’n’ roll style and the latter with an almost psychedelic twist to the guitar sounds. Cowritten with McPherson’s wife Mandy, ‘Let’s Get Out of Here While We’re Still Young’ cuts to straight to the omnipresent contradiction in McPherson’s anachronistic approach: “we’ve worn out all the songs we’ve sung / come on, honey, let’s get out of here while we’re young”.

Though McPherson is technically adept in both styles, he never quite bridges the gap between studiously retrospective and self-consciously modern. His lack of clear commitment in either direction is perhaps the album’s only downfall. It’s striking that the songs on ‘Undivided Heart & Soul’ don’t inspire the same level of emotional investment from the listener that McPherson clearly made in writing and recording them, despite his very obvious best efforts. Still, the album is generally energetic and enjoyable. If you’re already a JD McPherson fan, you’ll find it to be a nice extension of his work.

7.5/10

‘Undivided Heart and Soul’, JD McPherson’s third studio album, is out now on New West Records. TGTF’s past coverage of McPherson is back through here.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours 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 no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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