Posted on 19 October 2012 by Bowlegs
Stepping aside from his usual gig as Interpolʼs front guy, Paul Banks brings us a set of songs that never fully open out and blast aside his rather enigmatic persona. Instead we find hints and glimmers of the manʼs psyche wrapped up and entwined in some pretty high class tunes. In short Paul gives a bloody good, if not full, account of himself. Good on him too. Banks is great.
The Base is a masterclass in atmosphere, tension and release. It is understated and tender with a marvelously dark undertone. Arise Awake, like most of the album, sounds like songs within songs telling stories within stories. The production and orchestration throughout Banks is impeccably sympathetic to say the least. You are allowed to just flow along as best you can with Banksʼ trains of thought. The music seems to serve simultaneously as both conduit, carrying the intricate wiring, and artery, pumping the lifeblood, to the heart of the song. No Mistakes is a case in point going seamlessly from fragile to majestic to glorious but, more importantly, always interesting. Ladies and gentlemen Paul Banks is in the building. Now go find him!
Posted on 09 October 2012 by Bowlegs
A.C Newman has recently been beaten, bruised and dazed by life’s ups, downs and downright tragic. From the birth of his son to the death of his mother – Newman openly admits that this record is “about birth, death, happiness and sadness, chronicling a time in my life where all those things had to learn to coexist side by side.”
You’ve never heard the Canadian musician putting so much of his heart on the line – yet it feels necessary – writing things down gives order. So as the synth and strummed opener, I’m Not Talking, stirs up a realization in Newman about where he is in his life – the music swells with an emotive flow. You can hear the smooth sounds of 70s songwriters like Gerry Rafferty that Newman claims became an obsession during the creative process. You Could Get Lost Out Here echos more such influences during its sunshine harmonies and gentle breeze. The faster rhythm on Strings is a more familiar Newman, while closer, They Should Have Shut Down the Streets, deals with his mother passing and will probably make you cry.
With his New Pornographer comrade Neko Case bolstering the harmonies, and the production feeling like a warm stream of 70s FM, Newman’s latest is a touching and joyful pop record.
Posted on 29 August 2012 by Bowlegs
Halfway through listening to Cherokee – the first track on Cat Power’s Sun– it seems Marshall Chan has found a new inner peace. It may be – and probably is – wrong to decide whether you like an album after listening to the first track, but if you can take an album opener as a statement of intent, a standard to which you can hold the rest of the record up to, then Cherokee makes one hell of a promise.
Being that the artist was in the middle of a painful break up (with actor Giovanni Ribisi) during the making of Sun, Chan’s personal strength is an inspiration. She recently spoke about how there was much less “shaking hands with the dark side” on the new record. Respect is due, she picks herself up, dusts herself down and continues to venture headfirst into this experience we call life. She may “never have known pain like this”, but she uses it to her advantage throughout.
Musically, this record is a treasure chest; it blends synthesizers and pianos effortlessly and moves from dark dessert blues in Human Being to the arpeggiating synths that lie behind the album’s title track. It’s also a lyrical tour de force; Ruin is a geographical almost onomatopoeic mantra, and Nothing But Time is a ten and a half minute epic featuring Iggy pop. The latter has Chan and Iggy singing “it’s up to you to be a super hero/it’s up to you to be like nobody/and you ain’t got nothing but time to live your way of living/ and it ain’t got nothing on you”. All the songs seem to come in the right place as well, like we’re walking aside the artist. The fact Chan played pretty much every instrument here just makes it all the more impressive.
We might be getting a little over excited but there’s no denying it, Sun is massive.
Posted on 21 March 2012 by Bowlegs
There’s mystery in the intro to Sonic Youth founder Lee Ranaldo’s new album, but myriad influences come to mind: the eternal vibration of Sonic Youth, plus Pink Floyd – even Metallica’s pseudo-American conviction.
You hear Ranaldo’s influence on the band he helped create throughout. But he doesn’t seem to spend much time worrying how cool he is – there are solos, dodgy notes, and other parts that wouldn’t have made the cut had it been up to Moore and Gordon.
Something that is present throughout the album is Ranaldo’s obvious love of guitar music: 70s, 80s and 90s … so many sounds of things gone by. Tempos flip and switch, chop and change regardless of any militant click. The guitar freak-outs on Fire Island reinforce the Floyd and Rick Wakeman influences to create a timeless effect. Lost is a great example Ranaldo’s alternative tunings. Chords you expect do hit, but are structured in unusual ways. It catches you out. A second listen really brings this to the fore.
Ranaldo’s voice is the only let down. His wavering slacker tone is a tad troubling – unlike that of contemporaries Wayne Coyne and Thom Yorke, who foster sympathy. Ranaldo’s isn’t quite so endearing. I don’t know if it’s in part assisted by the slide guitar, but on Stranded this shows the most.
Posted on 17 February 2012 by Bowlegs
With a title translating Ice Cube’s You Can Do It into Prince text-speak, there was an outside chance that Perfume Genius’ second album would find Seattle’s Mike Hadreas taking his muse to the club. But no, not yet.
Perfume Genius’ debut Learning was a compact set of piano-led songs, assembled at Hadreas’ mother’s house as he attempted to recover from years of destructive behaviour. The Perfume Genius back-story threatened to obscure Hadreas’ ability to write movingly about others’ lives as well as his own, but Put Your Back N 2 It, although drawn from a similar sound palette as its predecessor, makes his talent for universality more apparent. His sexuality informs explicitly gay songs like Awol Marine and All Waters, but the lyrics allow for open readings on the listener’s part.
Hadreas’ sparse piano is still to the fore, but the melodies are brighter, the recordings clearer. The distant murky synth echoes of Learning are also present, but no longer obscure Hadreas’ fragile vocals, and occasional unobtrusive drums and guitar now add depth to Perfume Genius’ musical vulnerability.
It’s worth noting that following YouTube’s decision not to run Matador’s video advert for Put Your Back N 2 It last month (the short sequence, drawn from the YouTube-hosted video to Hood was deemed “non family safe”), Michael Stipe came forward to condemn the site’s “dumbheaded discrimination”. There are moments on the album (Normal Song, Dark Parts) that begin to approach the common-ground appeal of Everybody Hurts, and it may turn out that Put Your Back N 2 It will build on Learning’s small international success and push Perfume Genius further towards the crossover position of, if not an REM, then a Bon Iver or an Antony and the Johnsons. This is still too intimate and low key an album to make that full stride just yet, but it’s another strong step of Hadreas’ artistic and personal growth.
Posted on 22 August 2011 by Bowlegs
Two of the 90s alt giants have come together for ‘Mirror Traffic’. Out front is Malkmus, continuing his bent-out-of-shape compositions with The Jicks; and out back is Beck, in the control room contributing his soft-focus styled production. Between them they have honed a very good record indeed.
This is no great leap from previous Malkmus records – off notes, up notes, slightly restless notes are all present. Guitars tirelessly run around the house as Malkmus strings together a range of off-set melodies. But these are solid tunes that feel loose, given a West Coast vibration by Mr Hanson and his control desk.
‘Tigers’ cruises in a straight-line, strums and likeable riffs aplenty. ‘Asking Price’ gently moves between burning electric guitars and a beat mellowed by Beck’s recognisable touch.
The sliding ‘Long Hard Book’ feels like a departure – a musician who slows down, turns inwards, the words “I’m ever so frightened” ring out as the music fades for a short moment. And the open harmonies on ‘Fall Over’ seem to open a secret door to Malkmus’ emotions, a door previously concealed with a wonky, go-lucky attitude and bundle of infectious tunes.
But with 15 tracks on offer there is plenty of time to explore all the perimeters of the Malkmus make-up – from the nervous energy, fuzz coated ‘Spazz’ (which has a great harmonious bridge), to the ever-changing ‘Forever 28’, which flies, skips and intermittently explodes with distorted expression.
Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks have rarely disappointed, but on ‘Mirror Traffic’ they may well have surpassed all that has gone before, throwing out a collection of intricacies, perfected carelessness and glimpses of deeper thought. What more could we ask for?
Posted on 07 June 2011 by Bowlegs
Rock Opera. Is there any combination of words more terrifying to the human soul? There is, actually. Earnest Screaming Bearded North-American Vocalist. Say hello to controversial Canadian sextet Fucked Up’s third studio album, ‘David Comes to Life’.
The album tells the story of David and Veronica, a hard rock Romeo and Juliet whose tale is filled with as much happiness as sorrow. Not that you can really tell what’s going on. At 18 tracks, lasting 79 minutes, it’s as much a test of concentration as anything else.
If the length of the record encourages scorn, it redeems itself in part, through melodies which are meted out with sadistic glee, such as on the headlong rush of ‘Under My Nose’, and the ferocious peak of ‘Remember My Name’. Elsewhere, ‘Life in Paper’ thumps its chest defiantly, while ‘Queen of Hearts’ shifts into a brilliantly breathless climax.
Like so much enervating rock music, it’s all fairly simple stuff. Power chords are thrashed out, as repetitive guitar lines dance above and the drums retain a steady punk spirit, but what seems incongruous to it all is the raw vocals of Damian Abraham.
The production is often too measured to harness Abraham’s guttural delivery, so that enduring the singer’s voice for the challenging running time becomes tiresome. There’s no denying the unflinching power his voice holds (this is a man who presumably has vocal chords made of rusting steel) but you wouldn’t choose to put two power drills in your ears and hold the on switch down for 79 minutes, would you?
Still, the derring-do the band demonstrates can only be applauded, as they consciously try to distance themselves from the punk milieu. They mostly pull it off due to the catchy riffs and structured songs, but their inability to acknowledge when to stop ultimately hinders the record.
Posted on 03 April 2011 by Bowlegs
Strictly speaking Cold Cave is the solo project of singer/songwriter Wesley Eisold. But the New York electro popper has never been one to shy away from collaboration. Among the cast pitching in on ‘Cherish The Light Years’ are Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, Glassjaws’ Daryl Palumbo, Mika Miko’s Jennifer Clavin and Hatebreed’s Sean Martin.
Having assembled an entourage of musical dissidents, Eisold has set about driving Cold Cave towards a darker end of the synth-pop spectrum, and he has succeeded in doing so. The layers of electro, pop and new wave that were mastered on the debut album, ‘Love Comes Close’, are still present in this effort, but they’ve been dragged underground and garnished with industrial beats. The result is a record that might have hailed from the sordid club land of the 80s, and sound-tracked the excesses of the decade.
There are examples of the irresistible baseness that Depeche Mode found in their darker adventures. This is notably the case with ‘Icons of Summer’, which contrasts a playful synthesizer with erratic pads and punchy claps, a formula that will either inspire outlandish dancing or a minor panic attack, depending on the listener’s disposition.
‘Burning Sage’ is a more progressive effort, ghostly keyboard parts gradually building into a crescendo of symbols, powered by a driving minimal techno beat – this is perhaps the furthest departure from previous work. The vocals mimic the monotone eeriness of David Byrne, a technique that Eisold has mastered throughout this collection of songs.
‘Cherish The Light Years’ is brought to a close with an uplifting track, ‘Villains of the Moon’. The fusion of guitars, lively drums and an archetypical Cold Cave synthesizer part conclude a fantastic collection of songs that are as diverse as the album’s host of collaborators. SM
Posted on 01 February 2011 by Bowlegs
There are shadows cast from the emanating sounds produced by Brighton trio Esben and the Witch. Their music is as epic as it is suffocating, it will have you peering into a darkened room questioning if, at any point, the band may switch the lights on – or at least turn the dimmer a few degrees. But with a band name taken from a grim Danish fairytale (and we mean grim), the signs were there all along, so what were we expecting.
Truth be told, Bowlegs is more then willing to traverse across a deeply blackened landscape in search of a deeper meaning, but we did kind of hope there would be a reward at the end. With ‘Violet Cries’ there is no end, let alone a reward – it is a series of hollow voids and cold-edged emotion – yet, for some reason, you keep on walking.
‘Chorea’ is a good example of how uncompromising things can get, it also demonstrates how these three musicians can leave a trail of intrigue that you can’t help but follow. The blown out screams and distorted crashes are left behind as delayed synths and shaking guitars slowly swell with a ghostly vocal – a moment of short-lived solace. And there are more such moments to cling to, landmarks to help remember your way home. The falling guitar notes in ‘Warpath’ or the vocal calm before the stomping, staccato storm within ‘Light Streams’.
This is a deep, textured record – and one that shouldn’t be dismissed through its unrelenting nature. However, its screaming wall of guitars, forever changing beats and its deeply atmospheric synths will make little attempt to get to know you, let alone become friends. And though singer Rachel Davies displays a captivating voice throughout, she is all but under the same spell as her overcast surroundings.
Moments like ‘Marching Song’ and ‘Marines Field Glow’ do point to a more honed future, but until then we are happy to cower to the sounds of Esben. RT
Posted on 24 June 2010 by Bowlegs
If there was ever going to be an Ibiza style festival entirely populated by indie bands, then Delorean would be one of the headliners judging by the fare delivered on ‘Subiza’, their debut album.
Such is the cross-over now between the dance and indie genres that a band like Delorean can easily mingle with both crowds without upsetting the hardcore elements. This isn’t the rave style favoured by Klaxons on ‘Myths of the Near Future’, or even the RnB inflections of Hot Chip’s electro-pop, but instead a full-on summer assault fuelled by Spanish sunsets and all the silky shirts and flat-pack tanned and toned bodies that accompany them. And as Bowlegs sits in our office, prodding inches of pale flesh back underneath our shirts, we can’t help but feel jealous.
Heavily influenced by Balearic beats and house as much as they are indie and pop, the Barcelona-based quartet has put together an album full of beach hits. Opening track ‘Stay Close’ bursts in abruptly like some poorly recorded but treasured mix-tape from your summer of clubbing, complete with echoed house-style chants (including the obligatory sultry female ‘Hey’ sample) and familiar rapid fire high-hat, before piano chords build alongside the beats. It’s textbook stuff. House 101. And it rarely changes tack, making the songs sometimes seem formulaic. Keeping the beats fat, the piano chords euphoric and the tone uplifting is at the forefront of the album’s nature.
‘Simple Graces’ is another example of this, with its fat beat, samples and Madchester-esque vocals, reminiscent of the early 90s UK dance indie crossover tracks. The closest the band gets to sounding moody is on ‘Infinite Desert’, with a downbeat keyboard break and introspective vocals. But then moody for Delorean isn’t really moody at all: it’s just less smiley.DS
Posted on 02 May 2010 by Bowlegs
The opening track on The New Pornographer’s fifth album has an air of joyful togetherness; you can almost sense the band’s star studded cast (and famous friends) circled together in the studio, breaking in and out of song, with Newman as their conductor. Yet sadly, the opener happens to be one of the best on the record; its swaying rhythm (tambourine and all), clinking piano and interchanging vocals make an uplifting start to what is overall a disappointing album.
Bowlegs has struggled to think of many super-groups that rival the member’s solo endeavours; yet The New Pornographers came up with some storming albums early on (‘Mass Romantic’ and ‘Twin Cinema’) which rival much of the output from Newman, Case and Bejar (although admittedly all three have come up with some stellar albums in the last five years). Yet with ‘Challengers’ and now ‘Together’ the band feel less urgent, treading a little too safely within the confines of what can feel like cruise control; rather than pushing the power pop they engineered so well.
‘Crash years’ opens with a strong verse, bouncing along with an acoustic guitar and Case’s vocal, yet the big chorus amounts to very little. Single, ‘Your Hands (together),’ runs round in circles, dressed in seventies rock. ‘Up in the Dark’ boasts a great intro, only to fall short when reaching for the euphoric, stomping track it hopes to become.
Bejar takes on another album highlight, ‘Silver Jenny Dollar,’ which successfully merges the Newman magic with the Destroyer lead man’s off-centre musings, proving there is plenty mileage in the multi-faceted outfit.
The album’s production beats with imagination and character throughout, asking only for a set of great songs the individuals are clearly able to compose. And with cameos from Okkervil’s Will Sheff, St Vincent’s Annie Clark and Beirut’s Zach Condon, you’re left wondering if you might have raised your expectations to an unreachable level, or if this time around the band just haven’t delivered.
Posted on 29 April 2010 by Bowlegs
There’s a whiff of 60s attachment to ‘Hippies’, Harlem’s follow up to the self-released ‘Free Drugs’. Of course there’s a wink to the Modern Lovers and a nod to Pavement; there’s even a slight curtsey in the general direction of The Ramones. But the 60s influence keeps on re-emerging and embracing the listener like a sweaty hug from a long-haired, bearded youth at a Beach Boys gig: hey, it could even be from Dennis Wilson grabbing your ears and shaking a smile onto your face. Perhaps it’s the close harmonies and the surf-pop melodies of opening track ‘Someday Soon’ which evokes these images. Either way, it’s a theme that suits the band as they merrily rollock their way through 16 sub four-minute tracks of blissful garage rock.
‘Be Your Baby’ sounds like the kind of Mersey-Beat standard the north west of England would have produced had it been bathed in Californian sun. ‘I just wanna be your baby/I don’t mean maybe/ I just wanna be your baby,’ chime the band over a driving Ringo-esque beat. It is simple stuff, but effective and, more importantly, enjoyable.
Stand out tracks like ‘Gay Human Bones’ and the appropriately named ‘Crowd Pleaser’ epitomise Harlem’s ability to mix lo-fi with good-time when it comes to music. There a few bands trying to do a similar thing – like The Fresh and Onlys and Surfer Blood – but Harlem just seem be able to do it better.
The charming innocence purveyed in many of the tracks becomes more endearing with each listen. That’s probably not what most bands want to hear because it sounds like they’re being labelled ‘nice’. But don’t worry, Harlem manage to keep the ‘nice’ turned down to tolerable levels, tempering it with garage pop which, while it won’t trouble your brain too much, will induce involuntary finger-clicks, foot-taps and occasionally the odd spin and clap.
Posted on 14 February 2010 by Bowlegs
Naming his band after a family of seabirds, it’s no surprise to discover that Shearwater songwriter Jonathan Meiburg is a committed ornithologist, and on ‘The Golden Archipelago’ the influence of years of globe-trotting natural research are brought to bear.
The album’s title conjures up images of beautiful, remote island life, an idea initially given weight by what sounds like a faint sea shanty in its opening moments. Any expectation that ‘The Golden Archipelago’ is an idealised state akin to Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ is undercut by the revelation that the people singing these words are exiles from Bikini Atoll, the Pacific island rendered effectively uninhabitable by the United States’ atomic weapons tests.
Without this knowledge, opening track ‘Meridian’ remains one of ‘The Golden Archipelago’s most beautiful moments, its delicate wafts of light piano and strings supporting Meiburg’s soft, murmuring vocals in a gorgeous introduction to the album’s almost entirely gentle soundworld.
Aside from the comparatively frantic, nervy ‘Corridors’, Shearwater have created a largely soporific album, only occasionally rising to Arcade Fire crescendos of orchestra and percussion. In this sense, the group are quite evidently reflecting the oceans that provide home for their namesake, the swells that occur in ‘Castaways’ and ‘Uniforms’ being the storms between ‘The Golden Archipelago’s becalmed opening and closing minutes.
Musically, Shearwater bring to mind such familiar, comforting marine pieces as The Doors’ ‘The Crystal Ship’, the instrumental interludes on Eno’s ‘Another Green World’, even the soundtrack to ‘The Snowman.’
More blatantly, Meiburg pitches his singing very much in the style of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, placing ‘The Golden Archipelago’ somewhere between that band’s ‘The Colour Of Spring’ and ‘Spirit Of Eden’ masterpieces, with their parallel interests in solitude and the natural world. Such unforced vocals also tend to obscure any of the album’s lyrical politics, making ‘The Golden Archipelago’ perhaps more of an exercise in ambient escapism than Shearwater intended. SH