Hamfisted

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Editors – In This Light & On This Evening

I’ve always felt a bit sorry for Editors. They were neatly pushed into the whole indie rock thing that was big a couple of years back by the mainstream media (I’ll never understand the need to pigeonhole everything, especially in this case when it’s just plain incorrect). The difference between Editors and so many of ‘those’ bands is quite clear. They’ve always been ones to contemplate the more darker side of life and (omg feelings and shit) with heavy and clever use of synths and melodies. This of course would prompt lesser trained ears to label them Joy Division-lite, but they are clearly idiots.

With In This Light… their 3rd studio album, the use of synths is more prominent than usual and the songwriting, whilst it’s still as dark and contemplative as ever, there seems to be a universal feeling of hope pinning the songs together into an enjoyably strangely uplifting listening experience.

lead single Papillon is at first listen a straight-forward workout in building a song around a riff, but repeated listens will reveal clever little nuances which really help the song evolve into something quite lovely.

Other highlights include the slow burning opening title-track, and Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool, with it’s aggressive melodies seemingly clashing against the calmly, almost spoken, lyrics.

Whilst the band have claimed they’ve kept the album to 9 tracks to help people re-discover the lost art of listening to an album as a whole (a very admirable thing to do, it has to be said), I can’t help but feel there are a couple of fillers almost ruining what is a very brave and enjoyable album.

7/10

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04/10/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

Kylesa – Static Tensions

Kylesa, one of those criminally over looked and undervalued bands have, with their third full title, released the metal album of the year. Undoubtedly.

Whilst they’re certainly always worn their influences on their sleeves, with this album they’ve stepped to the plate and taken their influences and their own ideas and molded them into an absolute beast of an album.

The obvious and lazy reference and comparison would be that of fellow metallers and tour mates Mastodon, it is just that. Lazy and obvious. Ok, there are definite similarities but again, use your bloody ears and listen. Really listen. There’s an infectious and invigorating urgency to the songs on the album, as heavy distorted riffs play over screeching feedback and tight, almost tribal drumming.

The album is generally more full and complete than their previous efforts. There just isn’t a point anywhere where the quality dips or the songs begin to sound samey.

Again, this is without a doubt, the metal album of the year, and a vital kick up the arse for a scene that had grown stale. If this isn’t the album that shoots Kylesa into the big time, I’m officially giving up on the notion that the general public has any sense.

GET IT NOW.

9/10

08/08/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

If there’s one thing about albums coming out this year, it’s that I’m finding myself frequently pleasantly surprised by something I wouldn’t normally give the time of day too. I guess my attempts at being a reviewer can only be a good thing, then, as it’s a bit like I’m forcing myself to expand my tastes and horizons.

The Low Anthem and their modern country-ish balladeering. Definitely not something I’d usually purchase without hearing first but in this instance I am very glad I did.

Comparisons to other alt-country & folk rockers such as Band Of Horses and bloody Fleet Foxes are obviously inevitable within the first few listens, but upon listening more and more, you see there is something generally a bit cheery, uplifting and above all, hopeful about some of the tracks on the album (Champion Angel with it’s harmonica tinged anthemics being a prime example).

The real pay-off comes in the 2nd half of the album as delightful synthetic swoops come to play over the slow alt-country and harmonica, creating a sound that’s an absolute pleasure to listen to. Perfect for those Sunday morning come downs maybe?

It’s this hopefulness contained within the album that really carries i forward and stops it from plodding on like so many other similar bands albums. The real downside is the beginning of the album, where most bands place their strongest tracks there, The Low Anthem seem to have stuck their worst at the 2nd and 3rd tracks in. The throaty singing style doesn’t quite work (especially when he’s so good at singing ‘properly’ on the other tracks), and it unfortunately drags the otherwise deft musicianship down with it.

In all, this is actually a very beautiful record to listen to (minus those two awful ones obviously) and definitely one to help gently nurse off that hangover.

7/10

04/08/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

Years – Years

Years are the side project from Ohad Benchetrit of Broken Social Scene and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! fame, and their self-titled album is one of the most intriguing and pleasurable listens of the year so far. Album opener ‘Kids Toy Love Affair’ is almost misleading with it’s swooping, almost operatic, dream like structure, before Don’t Let The Blind Go Deaf kicks in with it’s structured acoustics. Just as it comes to an end you start to wonder how much of this instrumental album you can take in one sitting.

Are You Unloved? then, takes a detour off the plain acoustics as samples are played backwards, cut up and chopped around with. It’s evident the man has taken a lot from Broken Social Scene as layers of noise slowly creep in over the chopped up music (which strangely sounds like Squarepusher on his quieter moments). All this before the album really picks up and the end of the song explodes in a cry of horns over melodic guitar work and cut up beats.

There are some genuinely touching moments on the record too. The powerful guitar works of Hey Cancer… Fuck You really does sound like it should soundtrack a feel good biopic, as it’s euphoric stuff.

A special mention must also be made to the real highlight of the album, The Major Lift. Strings and horns laden over more cut up acoustics and beats, more generally uplifting work. Whilst the way I’m describing this sounds like the album can be repetitive, it can be, but when music is generally this uplifting, I’m not complaining. Much.

All in all a sterling first solo effort and a fantastic collection of mellow (and occasionally loud) uplifting songs, let down by a slight sag in the middle and a tiny amount of repetition.

7/10

22/07/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

Dinosaur Jr. – Farm

It’s good to know there are always somethings you can rely on. You can always rely on, for example, England to not reach further than a semi-final in any football competition. You can always rely on a bacon sandwich to mop up the hungover. I can always rely on this computer to fuck and crash trying to do the simplest of tasks. Likewise, you can rely on Dinosaur Jr. to release great album after great album.

If there was any justice in the world, Dinosaur. Jr would be huge. U2 huge. Unfortunately, there’s no accounting for the publics taste, so Bono and his band of cronies are huge thanks to their insipid shit, yet J Mascis and his band remain just under the radar for a truly mainstream audience.

Farm is a little rougher around the edges than previous efforts, but it’s all the better for it. The fuzzy guitar pop, laden with the trademark Dinosaur Jr. solos, are an absolute delight to listen to.

Unusually for a band who’ve been around this long, their urgency and power show no sign of decline as age catches up with them. Everything about this album is classic Dinosaur Jr., from Mascis’ sharp drawl right through to the everyman lyrics. Standout tracks include album opener Pieces, Ocean In The Way and Over It, where the trademarks are typified best.

One of the best albums i’ve heard this year so far.

8/10

25/06/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

British Sea Power – Man Of Aran

The trouble with soundtracks is all too often, the standalone album is nothing merely but a collection of soundscapes which don’t seem quite right when taken out of the context of the film. It’s quite a surprise then, that the actual cd (the dvd of the re-soundtracked documentary comes included) is actually half listenable.

Whilst for some of the album, the tracks are long atmospheric slow burning instrumentation, it starts to pick up someway around the 6th track (Boy Vertiginous), a melodic guitar led piece which is akin to the quieter reflective works of mogwai (sorry to bring them up again).

The real highlight of the album, however, is Spearing The Sun, which clocks in 20 seconds short of 12 minutes. It’s an urgent hyperactive piece, the kind of extended distortion heavy jam British Sea Power are known for finishing their live sets with. The almost hypnotic drums in the intro carry on underneath the wall of distorted feedback.

From then on in, it’s almost as if BSP realize they can’t just get away with moody atmospherics for an album and decide to write some lovely string-laden pieces. The result is something that at times seems to approach Instrumental Post Rock.

I’ve yet to watch the re-soundtracked documentary, but it’ll be intriguing to see how the songs differ when placed in context.

7/10

01/06/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

Amazing Baby – Rewild

As a result of some association with the band and a few similarities in their sound, Amazing Baby are apparently the new MGMT. But why does there have to be this x are the new y every year? If we’re so desperate to find a new y, that kind of suggests that the y we’ve already got were never that good in the first place, no?

The same ingredients are here – same vaguely mystical psychedelic air, same setup, same crushing mid-album sag – but Amazing Baby are missing the kind of radio friendly pop songs that helped turn Oracular Spectacular into last year’s sleeper hit. There’s plenty of ambition and melody here (the singles Bayonets and Headdress are a good indicator of both), but then there’s also a lot of vagueness throughout, and something kind of empty about it all. It’s hard to get beneath the surface of the songs, and if you managed you possibly wouldn’t find much.

I’m finding it hard to pin this album down, which is probably the idea, but there’s something about it that stops me from wanting to.

4.5/10

28/05/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers

This is the ‘anticipated’ follow up to The Holy Bible? Are they having a fucking joke? The Holy Bible, one of the darkest, thought provoking albums of the 90’s is followed up officially by something which is too bland even for This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours.

It’s clear they’ve tried somewhat to recapture the fire and vigor of their earlier records, but being the old and irrelevant band that they are, it just feels limp, half-arsed and overall bloody boring. I don’t deny the fact the lyrics are genius, but the music just doesn’t suit it. It’s so gleemingly obvious they’ve edited Richey Edward’s original scribblings quite heavily too.

There’s no real highlight on this album, unless you count the hilarious attempt at singing by Nicky Wire on ‘Williams Last Words’. The song almost seems inappropriate and somewhat crass, given that the lyrics (written by Richey Edwards) actually seems more like a goodbye to his family than a ‘song’.

Overall this is a very poor album, and an incredibly lame ‘tribute’ to the genius behind their earlier albums.

I remember a few years ago, there was a rumour going around that Guilfest had approached the band to play their festival, and Nicky Wire refused, stating that “as soon as they asked us we realised we had gone wrong somewhere”. Here’s where you went wrong, you carried on after Everything Must Go, and you just got worse and worse. It’s time to give it up.

3/10

20/05/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | 1 Comment

Graham Coxon – The Spinning Top

The recent reformation of Blur has left me somewhat frustrated. Having been quite a fan of Graham Coxon’s solo albums to date, it’s a bit of a shame to see him agree to re-join a band I’ve always had difficulty liking. It’s not that their bad musicians as such. It’s the smugness. Everything about them is smug. From them themselves through to their stupid smug songs. What’s especially frustrating about it happening now is that with this album. Graham has released his most brave, interesting and unique record of his career to date.

So why is it brave? Well, first and foremost, it’s a traditional folk concept album. The album is a narrative about one man’s journey through birth to death, and whilst some of it is fantasy, it is apparently loosely based on Graham’s own life. As for the folk, this conjures up horrible images of one man and his guitar bland-fest, but that is certainly not the case with this album. The stated influences of John Marytyn, Davey Graham and etc are quite clear to see on his guitar playing.

To keep things varied and interesting, the punkier, skewered & distorted guitars that epitomized his earlier albums occasionally creep in over the acoustica on songs such as If You Want Me and Dead Bees (which sounds like the kind of riotous stomp you’d expect from a band like Black Mountain).

The backing and guest vocals (including vocals from Robyn Hitchcock amongst others) compliment the songs perfectly, and so they should be, Graham is experienced enough to know what makes a song work.

The only dud on the album, as far as I’m concerned is the blues-lite of Sorrows Army, which sounds rather unfortunately like Eric Clapton’s blues for dad’s.

Otherwise, this is an incredibly accomplished, varied and interesting record, which is no mean feat considering it’s long running length. Whilst it certainly doesn’t hit you straight away (there’s no Freakin’ Out on this album), it will reward you for repeated listens.

It’s a shame then, that owing to the Blur reunion, he won’t be able to tour this record properly until October.

8/10

12/05/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment

Maybeshewill – Sing The Word Hope In Four-Part Harmony

It’s so far been a pretty good couple of years for fans of instrumental post-rock (here we go again with the instrumental post-rock). There certainly seems to have been a resurgence of the genre as of late. Where Maybeshewill differ though, is the fact that whilst they’re certainly prone to the odd key led interlude, their songs are short and to the point, with some almost bordering on something approaching early loud and angsty Biffy Clyro.

This clash of post-rock and dynamic juttering guitar work is an unusual combination, yet it somehow works (at times it works remarkably well). The band are also keen on the use of glitchy instrumentation a la 65dos. This creates a somewhat unbelievable mix which during songs such as ‘How to have sex with a ghost’ and ‘Accept & Embrace’ is actually a bit of a delight to listen to.

The majority of the songs on the album are kept to under 6 minutes, which is a smart move as the album seems more urgent and visceral rather than long winded and samey. A great amount of musicianship and keen ear for composition come into play beautifully, with inspirational speeches from several sources setting the mood in some of the songs. This sampling of speeches doesn’t always work though, at times it feels too forced and ham fisted (haha…) which let’s be honest, kind of ruins the songs they appear on.

All in all, this is still a very listenable album with a real sense of urgency. Highly recommended for fans of instrumental rock looking for something new.

7/10

07/05/2009 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment