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The New Pornographers / Challengers review

 
By on Sunday, 26th August 2007 at 8:44 pm
 

New Pornographers - ChallengersWhen a band has a slow burner hit such as the New Pornographer‘s Twin Cinema or The National’s Alligator, their follow-up effort has an incredible burden of expectation placed upon them. Sometimes they manage it (see The National’s Boxer – Alligator’s equal if not better), and other times they just miss the mark, as is the case with “Challengers“.

Challengers is their fourth album and all expectations were pointing towards it being another indie-pop classic such as Twin Cinema, having the fun, slightly chaotic vibe that made them so many fans. However, Challengers has much more of a “morning after the chaotic party” vibe. Many of the songs suffer from too much production, taking away any sort of feeling or atmosphere, and as I mentioned earlier this year it sounds too much like AC Newman’s project instead of the Canadian Super-Group they were way back. The energy gone, the collection is like a Canadian version of a Feeder album – all consistently good tracks, just all a bit samey and nothing new or innovative, which is a shame given their debut Mass Electric, and their third album, Twin Cinema.

When they break into “All The Things That Go To Make Heaven And Earth” early into the album I couldn’t help but feel that things were going to go on an up, however how wrong I was when 2 minutes in you realise it’s just repetitive, lacking in any of the power-pop juice songs like The Bleeding Heart Show had.

As the album progresses things get better, with an air of managing to master the pomp and circumstance of an end-of-film soundtrack, rather than soundtracking the party. “Adventures in Solitude” is a slow builder that manages to capture a snippet of the magic Twin Cinema once managed. Followed by album closer “The Spirit of Giving In” the pair provide the standout tracks to the album. A campfire sing-along, it manages to capture a tiny bit of their old magic.

Perhaps this lacklustre album is partly down to the lack of Neko Case and Dan Bejar playing the large roles that they used to in the band, or perhaps it’s just a running out of energy as the band members focus more on side projects. Either way, it’s an okay collection, but by no means a match for Twin Cinema.

 

The National – Boxer

 
By on Saturday, 19th May 2007 at 10:12 pm
 

The National - BoxerThe National release their fourth full length album tomorrow, following on from their previous epic “Alligator” which was a staple of many critics best of 2005 lists. Morose, dark and epic it was innovative and not afraid to be different, and they’ve carried on from Alligators brilliance with their new album, “Boxer“.

“Boxer” is a mixed bag of songs. Whilst all excellent, it was inevitable that the songs couldn’t quite match the raw emotion that “Alligator” had at times (see “Mr. November” and “Abel”), instead they’ve grown musically and as song writers, creating multilayered songs that would put many artists to shame. The collection seems to be a bit more upbeat than previous albums, however they now have a new range of problems: Alligator it was debauched affairs, on Boxer its dealing with life on the road and finding stable relationships.

Opening with the dreamy, soothing “Fake Empire” with its oblique lyrics and multi layered instrumentation, we immediately feel right at home with old friends, whilst also being relatively chart friendly. “Mistaken for Strangers” could pass for Interpol, was it not for Matt Berninger’s deep, gravelly voice that makes their sound so unique and so soothing.

Driving drums with military precision is the order of the day with “Squalor Victoria“, initially one of my least favourite tracks is definitely a grower. At first I found Matt’s voice a bit too dreary and repetitive, however the subtle differences are what make the song tick and drive it along so ably.

Apartment Story” has a key sense of urgency to it, ‘We’ll stay inside til somebody finds us / do whatever the TV tells us’, perhaps dealing with the perceived downward spiral of society, brought about by their extensive touring.

My favourite combination of songs on the album “Start a War” and “Guest Room” are both immediately memorable, but reward repeated listening. “Start a War” starts off slowly and steadily, before going over the crest of the hill to an epic soundscape with violins and more intricate sounds.

Last song on the album “Gospel” is one of their most epic, dreary and impressive. I first heard it on the train, rain pouring down the windows, grey skies. The song fits perfectly, and is one of their most melancholic, a perfect close to the album.

So, overall, an impressive album from The National, and one that with “Alligator” looks set to define their career. It’ll be interesting to see how the songs develop when played live, however everything points to an amazing year for The National, and one that will be featured on many end of year “best of’s”,

However, its definitely not one for a summer day at the festivals – more of one for a winters evening spent curled up with an old classic by the fire.

 

Klum – Victory all my life

 
By on Saturday, 30th December 2006 at 3:01 pm
 

Klum’s debut album “Victory all my life” sees the LA five piece take a variety of musical styles and re-invent them as their own. At times they could be compared to Radiohead, at others they’re as melodic as Sigur Ros and others as chaotically organised as Arcade Fire and Guillemots, whilst never treading on the toes of the aforementioned artists. However there is one thing we will all agree on: you’ll either love or despise their debut.

Album opener, “Focus”, seems to be lacking in much focus, providing quite a good idea of whats to come throughout the album, but tries to be many things at once it seems. Whilst this is no bad thing, it does seem a bit of a mish mash of styles in one track. “Asleep at trial”, the second track of the album starts off with a voice akin to Thom Yorke’s, before descending into a mish-mash of sounds similar to an Arcade Fire live show

“Breathe Machine” is the perfect soundtrack to a good night’s dreaming: disembodied voices in the background, gentle, organ-like keys and the soothing vocals of Brock Flores. Slowly “I can’t dance” fades in, and the dream continues, floating over epic sounds that are akin to early Radiohead.

“From the door” sounds like a chilled out attempt at cock-rock, “That’s not really my car, but I look good in it and that could take me far” says Brock, and you can’t help but feel that he actually means it, before everyone starts to overlap each other with drums and electric guitars chaotically mixed: but just before it becomes unlistenable they pull it back round, suddenly becoming very tight and together.

Perhaps one of the most vibrant tracks of the album, “I sing the song wrong” is full of hidden little sounds, from the child-like keys at the start, to the percussion throughout, and bird-like guitars and weird sounds at the end, its songs like this that show what Klum could be in a few albums time.

Closer “Seaslow” starts off quite similar to Sigur Ros, but soon we realise that its not quite as good, and the album could probably have managed without it: a long string of moaning before the obligatory loud ending.

So all in all a bit of a mixed bag from this LA band. They could be ones to watch or check out in an album or two’s time, when they’ve perfected their sound a little bit more. At the moment they seem to be trying to be too much at once, and whilst they do most of it perfectly ably, I think they need to just focus on one style.

 
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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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