Monday, 5 June 2017

Album Reviews #3

Another ten long players you need to hear!

Aimee Mann - Mental Illness

Lacking any distinction between one slow paced track and another, Mann's 'Mental Illness' is nicely sung and gently performed but is about as exciting as a slow walk around the supermarket. Relentless downbeat and samey even when the pace picks up on tracks like 'Patient Zero' is feels tired. Not my cup of tea. (4/10)

British Sea Power - Let the Dancers Inherit the Party

The latest album by British Sea Power is a 12-track 49-minute opus that starts with a subdued 30-seconded intro before going into the catchy, REM-like radio-friendly first single 'Bad Bohemian' which still sounds as good a few months after hearing it originally. 'International Sound Station' is a bit more quirky and includes spelt out lyrics and a less structured feel but at least holds ones interest, whilst 'What You're Doing' is a little calmer and more involving but doesn't feel like it really goes anywhere and the vocals feel a little too laid back, though the repeat of the title at the wake of the track works better.

'The Voice of Ivy Lee' is a sweeter more intriguing track with its plinky-plonky synth and Editors-style development, feeling different from what has come before it. 

Second single 'Keep on Trying (Sechs Freunde)' certainly feels like a wise choice for that accolade, the catchy hook of the words in the brackets combined with the electronic and poppy feel making this a welcome burst of energy at the half way point of the album.

The intriguingly titled 'Electrical Kittens' calms things down a little and is a smooth little number but the energy flows back for 'Saint Jerome' before ebbing a little for 'Praise for Whatever' with its instrumental waves moving back and forth between darker lyrical passages and a strong conclusion.

The vocals go more subdued on 'Want To Be Free', a sweeping ethereal number that floats along nicely to the final two tracks. 'Don't Let the Sun Get in the Way' perks things up a little with its opening piano riff before settling into a sweet little ballad that sounds like single #3. Things wrap up with the five-minute 'Alone Piano' a sweeping soundscape that ties the album up nicely but doesn't really do anything, concluding an album that takes a listen or two to build and had a snatch of great singles and some good connecting tracks. Nice enough. (6.5/10)

Some more albums that you need to hear!

Craig Finn - We All Want The Same Things

'We All Want The Same Things' is a 10-track 44-minute album that sounds like the voice of Bruce Springsteen and the pretentiousness of Morrissey without the ear for a tune of either. Opener 'Jester and June' has its moments and the quirky electronic riff of 'Birds Trapped In The Airport' adds something interesting, but it's tricky to find anything on the album that doesn't feel like a continuous flowing stream of consciousness. 'God in Chicago' is a spoken word poem that only belatedly becomes a song whilst 'Rescue Blues' has a more poppy side to it that makes it my favourite track on the album. Elsewhere it's just a little bit too samey and rambling for my tastes and the rock-and-roll tinged 'Tracking Shots' with its Status Quo-esque guitar feels like too little too late. Craig Finn has a good voice, the songs are well composed, but just don't hold my interest. (4/10)

Desperate Journalist - Grow Up

'Grow Up' is the second album from 'Desperate Journalist' and is a dark and murky slice of pop-indie that takes a few listens to enjoy. Starting with the sombre and grumply six-minute epic 'Hollow', it's the Paramore-sounding second track 'Resolution' that is a better showcase of Bevan's octave-jumping punky voice. Complete with a catchy drum riff, this is a strong indie-rock number with hints of Editors at times. 'Be Kind' leaves any hints of pop to one side from track two for a more sonically difficult number that lacks the interest 'Resolution' suggested with the vocals lost deep into the music. 

'All Over' regains some ground thanks to its fast paced guitar, soaring chorus and quirkier outlook but once more the music is a little too over-powering and for every thumbs-up quieter Morisette-like breakdown there's an uneartherly clatter of guitar.

'Purple' is another darker track and feels a bit more like a bit of filler but has its sweeter moments. 'Lacking in Your Love' is a more fun punky number with some catchy moments and more emotional, angsty lyrics, when it's not once more crunched up in its loud guitars, and becomes one of my favorites on the record.

'Why Are So Boring', with its less obtrusive production, actually proves to be the opposite of the title, a more progressive and listenable number that allows the lyrics and Bevan's vocals to be the focus though it does get a bit screechier towards the end. 'Your Genius' is an OK track whilst 'I Try Not To' with its rocking opening feels much more approachable, and has much more passion and energy and sounds a little like a Morrissey number, but in a good way! 'Oh Nina' continues the theme of the album with another fun little entry, whilst closer 'Radiating' is a much more stripped back number with lyrics that are much more down to earth and personal and actually leave the album in a much stronger position.

In retrospect Desperate Journalist's second album is a mixed bag. I enjoyed moments of it and several tracks and it's hard not to admire the band's scope and the vocals, but it's better when it's not going all blazing with the guitar which is not enough time. Give it at least two spins; it needs time to breathe. (6.5/10)

Emily Barker - Sweet Kind of Blue

Emily Barker returns with a delightful 39-minutes of calming, beautifully sung music over ten tracks, starting with the foot-tapping and funky title track that mixes retro sounds with hints of country and a ballsy chorus. 'Sister Goodbye' is a slower, more Nina Simone-like smooth ballad with real quiet and a gentle delight. The funk returns for single 'Sunrise', with layered vocals that keeps the cool number rolling on, and letting you wallow in its bright imagery.

Onto track four and 'Number 5 Hurricane' feels like the first skippable track; not that it's bad but it just feels overly familiar and doesn't particularly go anyway, but Barker's voice is still very listenable. 'If We Forget To Dance' feels more like it, with a sweet vibe, strong brass interjections and a jaunty rhythm, with the 'let's put a record on' section very evocative.

Hitting the second half of the album the string-infused 'Crazy Life' is probably my favourite track on the album with the most heartfelt lyrics, brought to vivid life by the touching musical score. 'Over My Shoulder' cranks up the emotion with some beautifully produced music highs and lows and more note-perfect emotional vocals and imagery. 'Change' is another gentle number before the pace abruptly shifts for the delightfully bouncy retro number 'Move!' which channels the sixties in a very fun way. The album wraps up gently with the soaring yet subtle 'Underneath the Honey Moon' which showcases Barker's vocals and sums up a sweet, listenable, classic-sounding LP. (7/10)

Father John Misty - Pure Comedy

Father John Misty sure has written some strong lines for his latest and lengthy opus, lines like "he takes his final breath / but first checks his news feed to see what he's about to miss" from 'Ballad of the Dying Man' and "Betting Taylor Swift every night in the Oculus Rift" that opens up latest single and track two "Total Entertainment Forever". Mixing up biting satire and observations, 'Pure Comedy' is an album almost as long as the capacity of a CD but doesn't feel over-long, even though it does, clearly go on a bit. The titular opener ties itself up in religious symbolism and has plenty to say in its Tim Minchin-style rock-opera number. The aforementioned 'Total Entertainment Forever' feels like a catchy brass-led single as it laments the future of technology whilst the slower track three has a title - 'Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution' almost as long as the album itself but lacks the excitement the title would suggest. 'Ballad of the Dying Man' is more like it, with its catchy rhymes and Beatles-esque vibe.

'Birdie' at five minutes is slow and forgettable compared to a strong opening four songs, even if it does lift up its energy levels in the dying moments, but it's nothing compared to 'Leaving L.A.' in length, topping thirteen minutes, and even though there are smatterings of sharp lyrics and a rather self-effacing set of verses, it's a bit too languid for my tastes. If you can zone out and let it wash over you then it's good, just don't expect sharp focus to remain on it if you concentrate. 'A Bigger Paper Bag' continues in much the same vein, with interesting layered-vocals and instrumentation but ultimately forgettable, as is 'When the God of Love Returns There'll Be Hell to Pay' and 'Smoochie' passes with a similar vague familiarity as the album ends up being like a comfort blanket of sweeping music and gentle vocals that send you drifting off.

'Two Wildly Different Perspectives' lifts up a little bit but again feels rather sombre and similar. 'The Memo' is a much better number though the weird production decision to overlay random electronic phrases over the second half as it you've accidentally triggered Siri or played an automatic Facebook video in another tab either smacks of saying something or pretentiousness, and I'm not sure which one. Penultimate song 'So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain' completes the vibe is slow and gentle tracks that blends together, leading into a slow finish with 'In Twenty Years or So'.

'Pure Comedy' is a well produced and flowing record full of sharp lyrics and a determined focus. It might descend into pomposity at times with lyrics and titles that even Sparks would raise a wry eyebrow at, but it's well observed and has some strong lyrics, though musically it descends into similar monotony and never re-captures the greatness of the first four tracks. I didn't know what I was expecting from the album but I was pleased with what I got even if it's more of a sensory piece than a jaw-dropping collection. (6.5/10)

Future Islands - The Far Field

With a lead vocalist that sounds like a cross between Sylvester the Cat and Groucho Marx, this 12-track LP is a fun, high-energy release that sounds a little like a poppier Kraftwerk. From the fun opener 'Aladdin' to the slower but throbbing 'Black Rose', there's plenty to enjoy over the dozen electronic-heavy songs with hooks a plenty. The energetic vocals of 'Time on Her Side' are a winner and though the vocals are low in the mix the multi-layered music never seems to clash.

Track five 'Cave' lifts things up a bit more with a very catchy drumbeat and the energy that percolates through the entire piece, and tracks like 'Through the Roses' settle down well, the 'We can pull through together' hook of that track great. With further electronic wizardry on 'North Star' and riffs in 'Ancient Water', the tracks maybe blur into one another a little but what there is is great, through to the funky beats and radio-friendly moments of my favourite track, the fast-paced 'Day Glow Fire'. We even get a guest appearance from Blondie's Debbie Harry on the penultimate song which adds a great extra spin on what is already a pretty fun track.

With distinctive vocals and some great production, this is a really fun and funky album. Love it. (7.5/10)

Kathryn Williams - Songs from the Novel 'Greatest Hits'

A soundtrack album to Laura Barnett's latest novel, Williams' album is a gentle exploration of the novel's issues but one that takes a handful of tracks to get going after the meandering country-tinged opener 'Common Ground', throbbing 'Architect' with its 'pencil and a line hook' (the best of the opening three), and 'Living Free' with its indie guitar strumming and smooth, 'Sixpence None The Wiser'-vibe.

The duet and brass of 'I Wrote You A Love Song' signals a shift to something stronger with its sultry nature winning over. 'Just Us Two' is a short but sweet little ballad whilst the Blondie-esque 'Road of Shadows' becomes the first big stand out track with Williams' vocals really resonating and the chugging guitars, catchy vocal hooks and gritty production effects working well.

Things return to a gentler nature with 'Don't Step on the Cracks' which ambles along nicely enough but the lead single 'She Wears A Dress' with hints of sixties and Motown lifting the mood and making this a refreshingly brassy uptempo number as we hit the half-time point of the album. Full of some catchy lyrical moments it's biggest shame is that it's only two minutes long.

Reaching the second half the album fluctuates between the sombre monotony of 'Lillies' to the sweeter, sunnier 'Brightest Star' with its pleasing layered ending. 'Home' with its plinkety-plonkety opening and mixture of instruments, is fun while it lasts. 'Edge of the World' goes down a further gear for an airily-sung number that goes a little darker, next to the sweeter 'Queen of the Snow' though its still a little slow and sombre for my tastes.

'Gethsemane' and 'When Morning Comes' keep up the vibe of similarly sounding, introspective tracks whilst things go a little Scissor Sisters and their 'Comfortably Numb' cover on closer 'In This Garden' which feels like a strong ending number.

The 'Greatest Hits' LP doesn't quite live up to that moniker but it has some big highlights and a strong progression, but it could do with a few more uplifting number amongst the samey, slow numbers. (6.5/10)

Lover - Human Geography

Lover first came to my attention last year with their catchy and quirky pop song 'We Are Stars' and their new album, which sadly doesn't contain that song, is in a similar vein, with lead vocals that are just on the right side of holding together and plenty of pop hooks.

This 12-track album opens with the electronic hum of 'Red Roar', a Blondie-esque driving forward number, that is one of the poppiest and most memorable on the album, with sections of production that shine like the vocal whispers breakdown. 'Fallen Famous', the album's lead single, comes next and again boasts a singable chorus, some raw guitar and a fun vibe.

'Mood Swings' again mixes the formula of intriguing instrumentation, punky lyrics and a grunge-style, with a stronger attitude-heavy swagger. 'Story (Money Shot)' is the first track that doesn't grab me as much, but the quickly starting 'Self Destruct' is much better with its faster pace that hooks you in, with a poppy, clap-along chorus. 

With its storm-backing 'Passing Through' is a darker number and boasts a strongly produced atmosphere; 'Somebody Somewhere' has hints of ska amongst its bleeps and blops and a big chorus; and its back to the 80s for 'The Light Around You' which has some good lyrics but isn't the most memorable track on the LP. 'White Bears (Ironic Process Theory)' is named after a psychology process - yes really - and is a contender for the next single, whilst 'The Girl I Almost Kissed' is the best on the album, its soaring, sad and dramatic chorus winning me over.

The LP wraps up with 'Weekend Caligula', a brassy number with another Blondie-sounding chorus, and the pub crowd-tinged 'Seven Words Unspoken' which ties things up nicely.

I like the album as it has a good mix of production styles, hooks and vibes. There's something I can't place about the production of the vocals that works and doesn't in equal measure at times but if you imagine Blondie adopting a grungier outlook then you get Lover. (6.5/10)

Red Sky July - Radio Mixes (EP)

This 'Radio Mixes' EP showcases four incredible country-tinged songs from the mid-tempo sinister Dixie Chicks swagger of 'Dodge' to the drum beat of 'The Truth and the Lie' that mixes Ward Thomas with the Cardigans in a poppy, bouncy number. In the middle we get the sweeping 'Sway' that proves to be a heartfelt ballad with gusto, and the best of the four 'Jet Trails' with its Alanis Morissette / Robbie Williams vibe and gutsy central stadium-friendly chorus. Brilliant! (7.5/10)

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