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By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 21st August 2013 at 12:00 pm
It has been a while since we’ve gotten any sort of meaty release from The Vaccines, but the wait was over earlier this month. The raucous rock band released their ‘Melody Calling’ EP, a set of three new songs and a remix. If you’ve gotten used to their mostly loud and boisterous sound of their first two albums, 2011′s ‘What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?’ and 2012′s ‘Come of Age’, then this EP might come as a bit of a shock, as Cheryl attested to it in this In the Post feature last month. I’ll explore that sentiment further in this EP review.
Title track ‘Melody Calling’ sees the West Londoners embrace a ’60s / ’70s Eagles-ish sound, with driving guitars and certainly less shrill and less insistent vocals from the usually screamy Justin Hayward-Young. The first time I heard this on Steve Lamacq’s drivetime show on 6music, I would have never guessed it was the Vaccines until Lammo himself announced who the song was by. While the song has a mostly chill Californian vibe, there’s a brief – all too brief – guitar solo. I would have appreciated more shredding. True to its title, ‘Everybody’s Gonna Let You Down’ is a hangdog kind of song, which chugs along in okay but not terribly inspiring fashion.
In contrast, better guitar work is to be had in ‘Do You Want a Man’. You can just see this soundtracking future television adverts showing off summer: with its freewheeling style, which includes what sounds like distorted honky tonk piano (harpsichord?) and a chorus and outro that you can sing along to, this is a much more fun song. The EP concludes with a remix of the song by the EP’s producers, production heavyweights Jon Hill and Rich Costey. The very ’70s sound will make you want to break out the bell bottoms and platform heels. But the concluding effort on the release comes across as a caricature. Anyone who’s been pumping their fists at the Vaccines’ festival appearances over the last couple of years will be facepalming right about now.
While the Vaccines’ brand of lad rock 2 years ago proved polarising, I can’t help but wonder what prompted the band’s change of direction. The days of the immediacy of ‘Norgaard’ and ‘Wrecking Ball (Ra Ra Ra)’, the sheer poppiness of ‘Teenage Icon’ and ‘No Hope’, or even the hipster angst of ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ and ‘Wetsuit’ are gone. Whether the public will take to this new version of the Vaccines remains to be seen. It’s interesting that Cheryl viewed this change of direction in title track ‘Melody Calling’ in her In the Post article as a sign of maturity; to me, the change in direction on the EP as a whole seems to indicate the band’s losing the plot.
The Vaccines’ ‘Melody Calling’ EP is out now on Columbia Records.
International rock supergroup Tired Pony, headed by fearless leader Gary Lightbody, have left behind the gloomy ‘Northwestern Skies’ of Portland where they recorded ‘The Place We Ran From’ in 2010. Having settled themselves this past winter in the Topanga Canyon, California, studio of producer Garrett ‘Jacknife’ Lee, the band are now set to release their deceptively bright and mellow-sounding second album, titled ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’.
While ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ was recorded as quickly and spontaneously as its predecessor, the result this time around is more polished and purposeful. The music on ‘The Place We Ran From’ felt slightly out of focus, as its lyrics explored Lightbody’s pair of fictional protagonists. ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ has the premeditated lyrical intention of developing a tragic plot line based on those characters, and Tired Pony’s musical approach is suitably more deliberate.
The album’s first single ‘All Things All At Once’ is a neat segue from past to present, as it continues in the Americana-style vein of ‘The Place We Ran From’. The rest of the album ventures into different musical territory, making effective use of the band members’ multi-instrumental talents and the sweet female backing harmonies provided by Minnie Driver, Kim Topper, and Bronagh Gallagher. Opening tracks ‘I Don’t Want You As a Ghost’ and ‘I’m Begging You Not to Go’ are mellow, laid-back tunes that set up the juxtaposition between their music and the gravity of their lyrics.
The strongest track on the album is ‘The Creak in the Floorboards’, which originated during the band’s initial touring run in support of ‘The Place We Ran From’. Performing the song during a live show at Irving Plaza, NYC, in October 2010, Lightbody described it as “hot off the press,” having been written that very day. Clearly three years of mulling it over have benefited the song, which in the album version is more restrained than its live predecessor, with more subtle instrumentation and backing vocals added to sweeten the mix. Its lyric “you’re the raven, I’m the wolf” foreshadows a later track, cementing the idea of the songs revolving around a literary plot and set of characters.
Lightbody’s lyrics on ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ alternate between catchy, straightforward choruses and ambiguous metaphor, as in the temporally flexible ‘Wreckage and Bone’ (“Let me live here with you years ago…We can count the years from then to now”). His typically awkward lyric delivery is smoothed over by lilting melodies and relaxed rhythms, which allow for more flexibility in his singing. His voice is light and easy throughout, most notably in the extended chorus at the end of ‘Blood’.
The main criticism of any Tired Pony album will be that it sounds like Snow Patrol ‘Lite’. This superficial criticism, based on Lee’s production and Lightbody’s unique lyrical style isn’t entirely unfounded. ‘The Beginning of the End’ has a synthetic rock sound and an anthemic chorus that could easily have fitted on to Snow Patrol’s last album, despite Iain Archer’s vocals on the verses. But in general, these are not the stadium-style singalongs of Snow Patrol, and in my opinion, that comparison marginalizes the sizeable contributions of the other band members.
What began as something of a lark for Lightbody and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck has grown into a band to be taken seriously on its own merits. Supergroups of rock come and go, but if ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is any indication, Tired Pony is one that could potentially have some staying power, despite the nomadic nature of its members. For fans who may have doubted that this second album would ever come into existence, ‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is certainly worth their continued interest.
‘The Ghost of the Mountain’ is out in the UK today (19 August) via Fiction Records. Its American release follows on 1 October on Lightbody’s own label Heaneyville. Tired Pony will perform live on 14 September at London Barbican. Ticket information can be found at the band’s official Web site.
Any wannabe likely lad born in the ’90s is about to have a dream come true here in this video for ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’: a night out with this generation’s version coolest of cats, Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. Problem is, this night’s gone a bit weird, Mr. Turner has been up all night telling girls what he thinks of their dance moves and he’s taken something indiscriminate that’s got his head jumping to sixes and sevens.
He’s feeling a bit squiffy, and I think your shoes are in danger of getting covered in this afternoon’s McDonalds.
Fuck it, it’s Alex Turner.
The video seems pretty apt for the song, a tale of teenage-angst-ish lust, booty calls all told with sultry trademark AM charm. OK, so Turner is nothing but charming in this portrayal, as he goes hankering for a cheeky late night shag. Alex in his somewhat ‘lovelorn’ state mutters, “left you multiple missed calls / and to my message you reply / why’d you only call me when you’re high? / why’d you only call me when you’re high?”
‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ and ‘Do I Wanna Know’ have set the tone though for the upcoming record. It’s already showing the angle that the boys are going for, carrying on down the post-’Humbug’ strand that the band have taken since their frenetic debut and equally popular follow-up. It’s still playing on the classic AM themes, of youthful angst, telling it like it is and they’ve done it again quite brilliantly.
And let’s be honest, a walk home with a classlessly inebriated Turner, soundtracked by this tune, is better than most post-night out trudges.
This single is available now digitally, but a 7″ of the single will be released on the 2nd of September with an exclusive b-side, new track ‘Stop The World I Wanna Get Off With You’.
Earlier this summer, I reviewed Laura Marling’s new album, ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, which was, effectively, two separate albums folded into one release. KT Tunstall’s latest release, ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’, is a similar kind of collection: two sets of songs, each inspired by a significant event in Tunstall’s life. (In earlier interviews, Tunstall has stated these events to be the loss of her father and separation from her husband, Luke Bullen, who plays drums—notably—on only the first half of the album.) Just as Marling sought haven in America around the release of her album, Tunstall retreated to Arizona to record hers, finding inspiration in the desert for both the music and the album artwork.
Tunstall’s album is less experimental in nature than Marling’s, but it is pleasantly surprising in its own way. ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ has a distinctly country kind of sound, which is unexpected, but in perfect keeping with the pensive, melancholic mood of the lyrics. Tunstall doesn’t lose her typical bluesy rock sound entirely, but rather flavors it with liberal inflections of traditional, old-fashioned country. The style suits the tone of her lyrics as well as the timbre of her voice, which sounds stunningly beautiful throughout the album. She deftly avoids the contrived effects that so many female singers rely on these days, instead keeping her singing light and flexible, without quite delving into the vocal gymnastics of her earlier work (‘Suddenly I See’, ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’). The overall effect is soft and soothing, even when she explores the lower register of her voice, where many singers can become harsh and grating.
Instrumentally, many of the songs depend on acoustic guitar and pedal steel for their country twang, but the other sonic effects are more eclectic. Bowed string arrangements fill out what might otherwise be a sparse acoustic sound on ‘Old Man Song’ and ‘Crescent Moon’, while ‘Honeydew’ features wind and brass instruments employed to a remarkably delicate effect. First single ‘Feel It All’ has a sultry blues feel, with a slinky guitar riff and fluidly singable chorus. The album ends with the psychedelic guitars of ‘No Better Shoulder’.
Upcoming single ‘Invisible Empire’ doesn’t strike as an immediately strong opening track, but echoes of the chorus played back in my mind as I listened to the rest of the album. Its lyrical musings on the mutable nature of reality foreshadow the remainder of the record in a very subtle way. After it was all said and done (or played and sung), my mind kept wandering back to this track as the focal point of the album. The video for ‘Invisible Empire’ can be viewed below.
The regular version of ‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ contains 12 tracks plus the bonus ‘Feel It All—Band Jam’. The deluxe version includes three additional bonus tracks and a haunting cover of Don Henley’s ‘The Boys of Summer’, which by itself is worth the additional cost.
‘Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon’ is out now on Virgin Records. Tunstall’s next single, ‘Invisible Empire’, will be released on Monday (19 August).
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 12th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
From the chart success of their first two albums, it’s clear White Lies are the kings of the post-punk anthem. With their new album ‘Big TV’, Harry McVeigh, Charles Cave and Jack Lawrence-Brown again proffer up their signature doom and gloom lyrics accompanied with feel good guitars and synths, with mostly positive results. The main problem ‘Big TV’ suffers from is the same problem that plagued both ‘To Lose My Life…’ and ‘Ritual’: while there are some huge songs on here that are obviously going to be released as singles and will bring crowds to their feet, the rest of the songs don’t reach such lofty heights, and there are two interludes included in this set of 12 tracks that don’t really serve much purpose.
‘Big TV’ was produced by Ed Buller, whose other most recent and high-profile production work was on Suede’s amazing comeback album ‘Bloodsports’ released in March. Whether it is a compliment on Buller’s expertise specifically or not, there is no denying that lead singer Harry McVeigh’s voice has never sounded better, confident and clearly able to fill stadiums with its strength. The album begins with the title track, hitting you with typical White Lies’ bombast. The introduction of the song conjures up of great ‘80s New Wave tunes, before a driving rhythm by drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown and lonesome guitar chords are banged. The synths continue the New Wave theme, as McVeigh intones desperation, insisting, “bring me to the hand of fate / the river or the new arcade”. The hopelessness of fighting against the march of progress, the existence of trash and garbage in our lives and what we make of it all, wondering where real life begins and the fantasy inside one’s mind ends: these are larger than life themes that seem to fit well with the painting of the astronaut on the album’s cover.
Early giveaway track ‘Getting Even’ (“wrestling with conscience”) and single ‘There Goes Our Love Again’ sound quintessentially White Lies, with the aforementioned shimmery synths, crashing guitars, and punishing beats. They’re just tailor made for the Radio1 audience, shiny with pop sensibility that will assure their mainstream success. (You can grab ‘Getting Even’ for free from this previous mp3 of the day post, and watch the promo video for ‘There Goes Our Love Again’ here.) Lyrically though, they’re not bassist Charles Cave’s best.
For that, you need to venture to ‘Change’, at the lucky number 7 position. Now this song is likely to stand the test of time the same way as Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Already Gone’ does. To be honest, it’s the breathy, nonconfrontational version of ‘Already Gone’: when you’re listening to it, it’s not hard to imagine you’re floating on a soft, fluffy cloud, or even in heaven, even while the sadness of a man who is telling his love to be brave even though it’s time for them to part is tearing your own heart apart. This is a track I certainly was not expecting from White Lies and I don’t know how this will fare among fans, but it’s absolutely beautiful. If they don’t release ‘Change’ as a single in the next couple of weeks, they’ve missed a trick.
So it’s all the more jarring for ‘Change’ to follow up with ‘Be Your Man’, which is upbeat but somehow it’s missing heart. (This is also the fate of ‘Tricky to Love’, as well as album closer ‘Goldmine’.) I get the message: the voice in the song doesn’t want harm or trouble to befall his lover and he wants to be her man when an emergency happens. Err…ok. The music that goes with it doesn’t seem to match the sentiment either. At least the instrumentation that goes with ‘First Time Caller’ is suitably epic for the song’s plot, which I’m gathering is either about phone sex or a call girl service. The wishes for “a little hope out of nothing” and for someone to be patient and truly to listen to them are something wanted by both people on the line. The lyrics from the chorus of “I want you to love me / more than I love you / tell me is there something you can do?” sung in a sweeping style by McVeigh couple nicely with an equally sweeping, gorgeous instrumentation.
After such beauty, you have to wonder what they were thinking with the confounding existence and placement of the two interludes, named unimaginatively ‘Space i’ and ‘Space ii’. While I can appreciate the desire to do some short instrumental pieces, these two do nothing for the album and act as strange, out of place bookmarks that you’re likely to skip if you buy the entire LP. For the proper way to insert interludes into an album, see Cave Painting’s ‘Votive Life’. Then there are some lyrics like the opening of ‘Tricky to Love’ – “My love, changes with the weather / my heart, red imitation leather” – that are truly cringe-worthy and make you wonder how it was possible these songs were conceived by the same people who wrote ‘Change’. With the highest of highs and lowest of lows, ‘Big TV’ brings you moment to savour, but also moments of confusion.
‘Big TV’, the third album from London trio White Lies, is out today on Fiction Records.
Norn Ireland’s Kowalski has finally graced us with a full length LP. I have enjoyed following them from their EPs ‘You are Noisy Sunshine State’ and ‘Take Care, Take Flight’ and now they have grown into a proper album with ‘For the Love of Letting Go’. Hailing from Bangor, they share the pedigree with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and the lads of Two Door Cinema Club. Don’t tell anyone, but there is a familial connection in that last one there.
Since their last release ‘Take Care, Take Flight’ in the spring of 2010, the band have been diligently crafting and redefining their sound. Only the very danceable ‘Get Back’, with the perfectly apt lyric ‘Get back to the place that you know’, moves forward with the guys. The rest of the disc is filled with fresh new tunes. Opening with the brightly upbeat ‘Forfey’, Kowalski sets out to bring an album’s worth of shimmery electro-pop. With guitar licks and a well-crafted pop sensibility, the band hooks you with dreamy melodies and an infectious body-moving vibe. ‘Burning Blue’ reaches out as my favourite though. “I don’t ever want to go back and lose/ You say it’s about to change, so go far now” speaks to where I am right now and makes me want to look for those “highest heights” that are “burning blue”. Album closer ‘Let’s Start Over’ sounds like a band looking to the future, letting go of where they were and looking to the fresh beginnings that await them. Here’s to hoping they like what they find.
My one criticism is that although what they do they do very well, there is little variety between songs. Occasionally I catch myself wondering whether or not there had been a track change or if it was just a really long song. More mature than their EPs, but still full of fun, bouncy tunes, ‘For Love of Letting Go’ continues the tradition of great music coming out of Northern Ireland.
It would be easy to say that Kowalski ‘burst onto the scene’ but since both ‘While We Drive’ and ‘Outdoors’ were released quite a while ago as teasers to the album, review of the former here, it’s clear that this album has been waiting to go for a while. Makes me wonder what they are up to now.
‘For the Love of Letting Go’, Kowalski’s debut album, is now available from their Bandcamp. You can name your own price for the digital version, and the 12″ limited edition vinyl version of the album is only £15 (to be shipped out on or around the 15th of August). Stream the album on the widget below.