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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 15th April 2013 at 12:00 pm
OMD‘s triumphant return to popular music after 14 years was marked 3 years ago with 2010′s ‘History of Modern’, marked by the excellent and melodically memorable ‘New Babies, New Toys’ and ‘Sister Marie Says’. In 2013, they try their hand again with their latest LP, called ‘English Electric’. It’s an interesting and cheeky title to say the least: while NME rails on in search of the next “great British guitar band” as if to completely ignore the shift towards electronic and all the New Wave loving that has happened in recent years, the arrival of OMD’s new baby seems to herald a new age of embracing synthesisers, sequencers, the whole lot all over again. Or not?
I have always been one to be critical of the opening track of an album. Regardless of what iTunes’ agenda is, to me, the opening track sets the stage for what comes after and can be a good of a barometer as any as to how the party ahead will unfold. So if you groan as you queue up ‘Please Remain Seated’, don’t panic, you’re not the only one. There is a series of tone that are not unlike the tones you hear when the doors close on the Metro (the DC version of the tube). The first voice you hear is of a Chinese woman’s, and upon first listen, I thought, ok, something about a departing plane…surely there’s got to be more to that? I even had my other mother sit down with it to see if I’d missed anything. No, the journey is set to depart from Shanghai to Macau at a certain time… Nothing exciting there. Then there’s another, Western voice, though robotic, is clear enough for you to glean “the future that you have anticipated has been cancelled. Please remain seated and wait for further instructions”. Okay, that’s just creepy. (And later into the album, you get other weird moments with ‘Decimal’ and ‘Atomic Ranch’…)
Having been sufficiently creeped out by your introduction, you’re led into ‘Metroland’, punctuated by plinky plonky notes. The best thing about this song is Andy McCluskey’s voice, yearning in its earnestness, but not even he can really save this song. ‘Night Cafe’ suffers the same fate. The experimental ‘The Future Will Be Silent’ will excite those with less conventional tastes, with its unusual buzzings and what sounds like voices being pulled around tight corners like taffy. I think it sounds absolutely dotty. ‘Kissing the Machine’ has an affable melody you can hum to all right, but substantial it is not.
Then it all comes down to ‘Stay with Me’ to save the day. I remember reading years ago on the internet, with much interest, that it was the American market that grabbed onto the ‘If You Leave’ with its collective teeth and would not let go, pretty much ignoring the rest of OMD’s later catalogue. If that is still the case, then the Americans – and people around the world – are going to grab hold of this song this time around. With wistful lyrics (“only I’m the one to stop them falling / falling down like rain / if only I could stop those tears that knock you down again”) with a melody that is instantly recognisable, it’s the 2013 version of ‘If You Leave’ that will no doubt leave couples swaying in time at their upcoming UK shows. Mark my words.
Next track ‘Dresden’ finally speeds things up, thank goodness, and just about time. However, I don’t think is has anything to do with the German city. I don’t know about you, but when I think of synthesisers, and I think about dancing, and otherwise, ‘English Electric’ is just not the kind of album you take onto the dance floor with you. It’ s just…not. But you can count on this one being on the list being played at live shows this year. It’s the up tempo version of OMD most people love and remember.
Other moments on this album are so-so. ‘Helen of Troy’ is the ‘English Electric ‘version Joan of Arc’, going backwards in time to take the story of a courageous young woman of days gone by and paying tribute to her: “because I cannot cry / ever again”. ‘Our System’ gets points for unconventional song structure: beginning with post-industrial buzzing, it somehow ends up with an uplifting chorus…before it returns from whence it came, the whistlings of electronics.
Most confusing of all though is probably ‘Final Song’, which of course comes at the end. It has a weird ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ rhumba vibe to it, and womens’ gasps and operatic notes. Not exactly what springs to mind when you read ‘English Electric’. The lack of linearity of this album, coupled with seriously odd moments, makes this album a challenging one, even for those of us who are more likely to hug a Korg than a tree. I like Kraftwerk and Paul Humphreys makes the point in the video below that the album was made to sound “Kraftwerk-ian”, but I can’t relate. Maybe I’ll have a change of heart when I see them in Gateshead in May?
‘English Electric’, the new album from OMD, is out now on 100%. Watch the videos for ‘Metroland’ and ‘Decimal’ on this previous Video(s) of the Moment post. A video of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys explaining the album can be watched below. OMD begin a UK tour at the end of this month, starting on the 28th of April in Margate.
Wild Swim’s latest single ‘Another Night’ begins with a fittingly aquatic sort of sound: muted, echoing synths driven by a solid, muted bass riff. Richard Samson’s poignant, if somewhat cloying, lead vocal grips the heart from the song’s opening line and never lets go. Though the lyrics are quite repetitive, Samson delivers them with emotional conviction far beyond his youthful age. The song is neatly divided into two distinct sections, and Samson’s bandmates support him ably in the subtle shift between them, through a strong dynamic build to the wailing guitar solo at the end.
The accompanying video, by Dan W. Jacobs and Michael Battcock, has a shimmery, translucent feel throughout. Of special note is the moment at 1:55, when the video’s animated protagonist walks through a doorway, and the second section of the song begins. I am usually not very interested in music videos, but I was intrigued by this one, as it is rare to see a video that connects to the song’s musical structure in such a concrete way.
When I watched the video on YouTube, I was pleased to notice that Wild Swim have several other songs and videos available for viewing. Now that they have swum across my radar, I will certainly be doing more watching and listening.
‘Another Night’, the new single from Oxford’s Wild Swim, will be released on the 6th of May on Believe Recordings.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 10th April 2013 at 12:00 pm
Words by guest reviewer David Wriglesworth
I’ll be the first to admit that I used to rock around my bedroom, singing into a hairbrush and strumming an air guitar to Avril Lavigne. In fact, on the odd occasion, I still do.
It’s hard to believe Canadian Lavigne was just 17 years old when she first rocked the music scene with ‘Sk8er Boi’ and ‘I’m With You’. Her debut album ‘Let Go’ has sold over 17 million copies worldwide and the follow-up ‘Under My Skin’, released in 2004, contained three singles which all charted in the top 40 of the UK Official Singles Chart. Three years later, the Canadian singer-songwriter stormed the charts with ‘Girlfriend’, taken from her third album, ‘The Best Damn Thing’, giving Lavigne her first UK number one. However, her success seemed to be fading when her 2011 album ‘Goodbye Lullaby’ peaked just inside the top ten. Fast forward to 2013 and Lavigne is back and, despite over a decade of being on the music scene, is showing no sign of maturing, or so the title of her latest single says.
Lavigne’s new single ‘Here’s to Never Growing Up’ is an acoustic anthem, which contains similarities to her 2002 hit ‘Complicated’. Co-written with fiancé and Nickelback lead vocalist Chad Kroeger, the track’s chorus makes reference to “singing Radiohead at the top of our lungs” and having the “boom box blaring as we’re falling in love” – your typical teenage behaviour (apparently). Lavigne’s comeback single is exactly what she needed to break back into the music scene, especially with Ke$ha’s temporary absence from the charts.
‘Here’s To Never Growing Up’ is now available to download from iTunes and is the first single to be taken from Avril Lavigne’s upcoming album, expected to release later this year. Watch and listen to the lyric video below.
Photo at top by Bradley Quinn
Gary Lightbody isn’t much of a public speaker. Anyone who has seen the Snow Patrol frontman perform will attest that he is a bit awkward without his guitar at the ready and his bandmates behind him. While his awkward banter has endeared him to his many adoring fans, he wouldn’t seem to be the most obvious choice for a lecture hall setting. So, when Lightbody was asked to speak at TEDx Stormont, held at the Parliament Buildings in Belfast on 28 March, he did what came more naturally to him: he wrote and performed a song.
The theme of the TEDx Stormont event was ‘Imagine’, and its stated goal was to “look forward and imagine the kind of future we could have together as a society…in Northern Ireland and beyond”. To that effect, Lightbody assembled a showcase of Northern Ireland’s best up-and-coming musicians, hereafter to be known as Gary Lightbody and the Assembly, for a preliminary rehearsal and a live performance at Stormont.
The gathered musicians, including Lightbody, David C. Clements, Soak, Shauna Tohill (Silhouette, Rams Pocket Radio) and Eimear Coyle and Ryan McGroarty (both of the Wonder Villains), wrote and rehearsed a new song, ‘This is All That I Ask of You’, in the pre-recorded jam session, which was presented by video as part of Lightbody’s talk. The video highlights the songwriting process, particularly the creation of instrumental parts and vocal harmonies to match Lightbody’s melody and lyrics.
Though obviously contrived for the purpose of the Stormont lecture, the song itself is nicely crafted and nicely performed. Its musical structure is very simple, allowing the spotlight to shine on the lyrics via the considerable vocal talents of all 6 singers. David C. Clements, with his bluesy gospel style, adds emotional depth in the song’s third verse, where it could easily have lost momentum in the voice of a lesser singer. The end of the song pairs the voices in different combinations, highlighting the collaborative nature of the project.
‘This Is All I Ask of You’ is available now on Snow Patrol’s Web site, with all proceeds benefiting the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust.
I grew up rural. I recently had to admit that. I have no idea why it took me so long to admit it, but I did. The evidence was there all along – my town had no gas stations or stop lights, a whiff of fresh cow manure and straw made me think of ice cream (we went to the farm to get our ice cream…) and my school was a conglomerate of eight towns. I think it was because I lived “on the town square” that I could maintain the notion that I wasn’t a country girl. Gee, the simple fact that we *had* a town square should have been a tip-off!
As a part of any good non-urban family, I grew up listening to John Denver with my parents. We didn’t live in the West Virginia of ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’, but my part of Pennsylvania was still the same kind of coal country found there. And John Denver wasn’t the kind of ‘country’ music that I professed not to like. So I looked with interested at the new John Denver tribute project ‘The Music is You’.
I’ll be honest, the first listen didn’t leave a favorable impression with me. It all sounds so foreign to the simple lilt of Denver’s music. But after a couple of listens I relented a little. Wasn’t the point of a tribute album to put your own personal twist on an artist, not to sound like them? The other interesting thing was that I was familiar with every single contributing artist except Kathleen Edwards, a Canadian songstress who was completely not on my radar at all. There were even a couple of tracks that maintained a familiar take on the tune as well, like ‘Sunshine on My Shoulder’ and ‘Back Home Again’. My favorite track on the album was covered by Northern California’s Brent Dennen and Belgian singer Milow. ‘Annie’s Song’ was treated very much like JD’s original version, but with the added joy of a ukulele.
What song would I have liked to have been included? ‘Calypso’ is a very non-country roads/tall mountains kind of tune, but I loved that one. And the song that made me smile the most? ‘The Eagle and the Hawk’ not because of Blind Pilot but because of the intensely powerful memory it elicits of my sisters spontaneously breaking out in this song at Bandolier National Monument in Los Alamos, New Mexico on our very last ‘family trip’ before us three girls got married. “I am the eagle, I live in high country / in rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky”, I can hear it still.
I now live outside of Washington, DC, a big city. Do I like it? Yeah, I do. Am I a country girl who wants to be taken back to those roads? No, I really don’t. I’ll still listen to some old John Denver and smile, but keep me close to the music clubs I haunt now and I’ll be much happier. I am *not* rural anymore.
‘The Music is You: A Tribute to John Denver’ will be released on 1 April on Sony Music CMG in the UK and 2 April on ATO Records everywhere else. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Wilderness Society in Denver’s name. You can get a first listen to this album on NPR here.
The former solo project of Elena Tonra, London trio Daughter have released their first full length ‘If You Leave’ on 4AD. Ten tracks of pure gorgeousness, ‘If You Leave’ is reminiscent of the EPs that came before it, but shows a development and sophistication that only comes from working hard and finding your voice. While Tonra was stellar as a singer on her own, the advent of Daughter as a band was a move that cemented the unique and lustrous sound.
I hate to compare Tonra’s voice to Florence Welch, but it’s there, pre-‘Ceremonials’ when Welch was more about the music and less about the power and production. A better comparison would be to replace the electronics from Sia, take away the little girl quality from Regina Spektor, add the evocative lyricism of Evanescence’s Amy Lee and then you would have an idea of Daughter’s sound. They maintain a decidedly delicate tone. Solidly indie, it never veers close enough to singer/songwriter, alt-folk or girl rock for me to give it any of those labels. The folk references might come from an eerie similarity to long ago Suzanne Vega. Perhaps that would be true if Daughter were still a solo effort, but guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella create such a soundscape behind Tonra’s ethereal vocals that it deviates into mysticism rather than folk.
The album opens with positively haunting vocals layering and entwining with the peal of the guitar in the smashing tune ‘Winter’. Replete with the longing of loss, this track sets the tone for the rest of the sparse beauty woven throughout the album. One of the best tracks found on the earlier EPs has thankfully been included on this album. ‘Youth’ is a perfect storm of songwriting, soaring instrumentation and beauty. Despite her youth (yes, pun intended), the maturity of Tonra’s lyrics belies her age: “And if you’re still bleeding, you’re the lucky ones / ’cause most of our feelings, they are dead and they are gone / we’re setting fire to our insides for fun / collecting pictures from the flood that wrecked our home / it was a flood that wrecked this home”.
Simplicity wins out on this album; every track title is a single word. That is not to say that this is a simple album though; it has depth and complexity. I could listen to this album over and over, in fact I have, the EPs too. I think it not only stands up to repeated listening, it builds with each listen. The guitar is delicate, understated, the drumming insistent and evocative, the voice is smooth and layered. With not too much going on at once, you can really hear what they were doing with each layer, flowing and swirling and never, never boring. The build it gives you is satisfying, especially in ‘Human’, the slightly more upbeat track on the album.
This is an absolute stunner of an album. Do yourself a favour and get a hold of it soon. Daughter’s star is on the rise, even the pop luminary Katy Perry recently Tweeted about their music. This spring has Daughter touring Europe and North America, but they’ll be back on home soil for a few quick dates in April; see dates below.
Daughter’s debut effort ‘If You Leave’ is now out on 4AD.
Monday 22nd April 2013 – Liverpool Anglican Cathedral
Tuesday 23rd April 2013 – Oxford Town Hall
Wednesday 24th April 2013 – Bournemouth Old Fire Station