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Album Review: Ellie Goulding – Halycon Days

 
By on Tuesday, 27th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Ellie Goulding Halcyon Days coverI’ve stated before that electro-dance-pop isn’t my particular cup of tea. But one thing about it that has always fascinated me is the constantly evolving nature of the music. The sheer number of collaborations among different artists and producers generates a seemingly infinite number of remixes and variations on the songs. Keeping track of those collaborations and remixes can a daunting task, especially when they are released in different versions for different occasions. But their creativity and artistic vision make the exploration worthwhile, if you’re willing to expend the time and effort.

Ellie Goulding has, so far, consistently acknowledged the continual progression of her music. Her debut album ‘Lights’ was rereleased within a few months as ‘Bright Lights,’ with the addition of a few previously unreleased tracks and a new perspective on the album as a whole. Goulding has now released ‘Halcyon Days,’ a similar reissue of her 2012 album ‘Halcyon’.

For those expecting something like the light, fresh pop energy of ‘Lights’, ‘Halcyon’ must have come as an assault on the ears: it’s much heavier and edgier, more intent on electronica, with more pronounced synthetic electro effects. Forceful, often tribal-sounding rhythms and predominantly electro-synth instrumentation blend with Goulding’s ethereally breathy singing tone, leaving any trace of Goulding’s folk roots behind.

Goulding has described ‘Halcyon’ as a break-up album, and there is a damsel-in-distress feeling to the songs, despite some musically triumphant moments. Layering of vocals, especially in the choruses, creates a grand effect. Dynamically, the album covers its bases from boldly brash to reflectively quiet, but the lyrics are sometimes lost in the noise. The album in general is emotionally charged, with its direct, repetitive lyrics placing the listener’s attention squarely on Goulding’s sparkling singing voice.

The first folio of songs (CD 1) on ‘Halcyon Days’ is somewhat varied from the original version of ‘Halcyon’, including an extended version of ‘Hanging On’ (featuring Tinie Tempah), Goulding’s cover of the Active Child track, and the familiar hit single ‘I Need Your Love’ (Calvin Harris featuring Ellie Goulding). The real surprises on ‘Halcyon Days’ appear in the second folio of songs (CD 2), which contains ten previously unreleased tracks.

Collaborations abound, including ‘Goodness Gracious’ (co-written with Nate Ruess of fun.), ‘Stay Awake’ (featuring Madeon), and ‘Flashlight’ (featuring DJ Fresh). Goulding also incorporates some interesting cover versions, most notably a sultry smooth jazz version of alt-J’s ‘Tesselate’. In ‘Midas Touch’, a cover of ’80s funk pop group Midnight Star, Goulding’s sensual vocal delivery offers some grace to an otherwise tacky lyric, “I’ve got the Midas Touch, baby let me touch your body and your soul”.

Goulding touches upon her folk-pop inclinations on ‘Hearts Without Chains,’ where she allows her singing voice to be a bit rougher and more expressive of the heartfelt lyrics. Similarly, her cover of The Waterboys’ ‘How Long Will I Love You,’ is sweetly sung, musically restrained, and emotionally very effective.

Newcomers to Ellie Goulding’s music might find ‘Halcyon Days’ to be a bit overwhelming in its variety, between the heavy dance sensibility of the first folio and the artistic exploration of the second. Dedicated fans, regardless of how they feel about Goulding’s musical direction on ‘Halcyon’, will certainly appreciate the new material she presents here.

6.5/10

‘Halcyon Days’ is available now from Polydor Records. Watch the video for its first single, ‘Burn’, here.

 

Album Review: Foy Vance – Joy of Nothing

 
By on Monday, 26th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Foy Vance Joy of Nothing coverBlue-eyed, Bangor-born bluesman Foy Vance is one of those artists I have been following for a couple of years in the hopes that I would one day be afforded the opportunity to fully experience him live. His debut album ‘Hope’ was a distant 6 years ago, although he has kept up a presence with several EPs and soundtracking last year’s Academy Award winning short film ‘The Shore’. With the release of his second album ‘Joy of Nothing’, I may finally get the chance I crave. I had the delight of a truly too short support set for Ed Sheeran earlier this year, but I want more. The new album has fired my desire even greater.

‘Joy of Nothing’ starts out with what is easily one of my favourite songs of the year, ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’, covered by TGTF previously here. Building quickly to the pounding refrain, “But I’m feeling alright now!”, ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’ can pull you out of a foul mood by the sheer force of its exuberance. The addition of piano and deep, resonant strings right at the beginning of the album ensures we know that this is a different Vance from the ‘Hope’ days.

The rolling, soaring path of the titular track that follows alludes to the grace Vance found by moving to the wilds of the remote Scottish highlands. He illuminates the little nothings of everyday life, the simple bits that make life joyous and worth living. Keen observation and genuine appreciation transforms what could have been a simple account of ‘joys’ into a stunning treatise on paying attention to the little things. Fellow Bangor musician Gary Lightbody wrote the same kind of song – a list of things that would make him happy – in last year’s ‘Lifening’. Insomuch as I am a fan of Snow Patrol, Vance has far outshone his more famous countryman with this song.

Later on the disc, two former tourmates lend their vocals to the album. This summer’s UK tour with Bonnie Raitt sparked the lovely ‘You and I’ and last winter’s American tour with Ed Sheeran forged a duet version of the already classic ‘Guiding Light’. Just as ‘Guiding Light’ regularly closes out Vance’s live sets, it takes this album out with a commanding presence, cementing Vance as the quintessential wandering Irish troubadour.

With a sound that sinks into you with grace and power, the music on ‘Joy of Nothing’ floats over and through you like a sweet scent on the breeze, with Vance’s rasp, honeyed and rough, anchoring it so it doesn’t blow away: “Let me fill your soul like you fill mine, let it be this way ‘til the end of time, draw me close to your breast, let us close our eyes”. This is a gorgeous album that stands up to and deepens with repeated listens. Vance has been streaming a new song every couple of days on a different music site for a few weeks. By release date, they will all be available on his own Web site. But you should run, not walk, out to the high street and purchase this beauty as soon as you can.

9/10

‘Joy of Nothing’ is available today from Glassnote Records today (26 August) worldwide, except in Australia and New Zealand, where the album does not come out until 13 September.

 

Single Review: Placebo – Too Many Friends

 
By on Thursday, 22nd August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

“My computer thinks I’m gay / I threw that piece of junk away / on the Champs-Élysées.”

This is as odd as it sounds, but what have you come to expect from Placebo songs and videos? That brand of gender ambiguous rock that Placebo have made their trademark continues in the video to ‘Too Many Friends’, their first single from the upcoming album ‘Loud Like Love’. It begins like some kind of futuristic thriller, on the kind of Minority Report / Fifth Element crossover, but in place of a Tom Cruise or a Bruce Willis we are drawn in by the alluring tone of narrator Brett Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho. Mr. Ellis draws us into a 3-second clip of a vicious assault that centres on gummy bears, a phone app and some inconspicuous groping.

It’s all in classic Placebo form. Trippy as balls, yet spellbindingly catchy. Perhaps not in the conventional sense that songs like ‘Nancy Boy’, ‘Infrared’ and ‘Pure Morning’ were, but catchy nonetheless.

The video goes on to both visually and psychoanalysing the various characters we’ve been introduced to by the nefarious Mr. Ellis. The song builds up from Brian Molko’s sultry alt-rock tones into a booming, blasting track glaring with alt-rock pomp, driven by the drums and bass of Stefan Olsdal and Steve Forrest and supplemented by the gaggle of strings that the boys seem to have come upon.

In honesty, as weird as this all sounds, it’s characteristic of Placebo.

What they come out with next is anyone’s guess, but I’d be damned if they don’t whack out the leathers and the S&M gear for video number 2 from ‘Loud Like Love’.

Watch this space…

6/10

Placebo’s seventh album ‘Loud Like Love’ is out on the 16th of September on Electric Lady Ltd.

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Album Review: The Vaccines – Melody Calling EP

 
By on Wednesday, 21st August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

The-Vaccines-Melody-Calling-coverIt 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.

6/10

The Vaccines’ ‘Melody Calling’ EP is out now on Columbia Records.

 

Album Review: Tired Pony – The Ghost of the Mountain

 
By on Monday, 19th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Tired Pony Ghost of the Mountain coverInternational 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.

9/10

‘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.

 

Single Review: Arctic Monkeys – Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?

 
By on Friday, 16th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

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.

9/10

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’.

 
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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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