Saturday, 15 July 2017

Album Reviews #4

Our thoughts on some recent album releases.

The Allergies - Push On

After a handful of great singles the Allergies release their latest album, a collection of 14 catchy and funky pop numbers. Following a brief intro we get the cool, crisp 'Love That I'm In' that balances the retro-sounding vocals, Andy Cooper's chilled-out rap breakdown and a funky baseline that feels like summer wrapped up just under four minutes. With its distorted production 'Since You've Been Gone' takes us back to the sixties and seventies with its brass-heavy funk and simple repeated riff that echoes the glory days of Fatboy Slim.

Recent single 'Entitled to That' follows which is just as great slotted into the album, it's bouncy, fresh yet retro-sounding chorus one of the best things I've heard this year. Throw in some great synth and a throw-back sound, this is a joy and likely to appear in our top 100 of the year!

'Get Down On You' is a musically-heavy number with a repetitive, but fun, synth riff and hand-claps, cleaning the palette so to speak, before the titular track knocks your socks off with another funky repeated riff that really brings a smile to your face and a spring to your step!

There's a 'Dance and Shout' feel to the Andy Cooper-featuring 'Main Event' that brings the seventies back on top form; 'Hold You Close', with its mixture of vocal riffs, call outs and keyboard hooks keeps the flow going; and 'BuzzSaw' sees Cooper back on fast form on his rap section with plenty of funk surrounding him.

After a brief interlude we get 'It Won't Be Me', once more featuring Cooper who at this point surely is practically a full time member! With plenty of brass and a perky feel, this is another fun number that will get your foot tapping. 'Funky Feeling', which follows, has a similar vibe with an Avalanches-style to the production as well as times with record-skipping and inserted quotes. 

At this point where most albums would run out of steam we get Dr. Syntax on 'Remedy' arguably the best track on the album with a bouncy, perky style and some very fun lyrics, delivered in a great toe-tapping flow. There's just time for the album to wrap up with 'Get on the Floor' which fits in thematically and ties up a fun, happy, uplifting and well produced album that is guaranteed to get you moving. Brilliant! (7.5/10)

The Black Watch - The Gospel According To John 

At eight tracks and 37-minutes 'The Gospel According to John' is a competent slice of soft-rock but its a collection of songs that don't really hook you in and the album itself passes by as a gruff, sonically dark and blandly laid out distraction, with the guitars over-powering the vocals and the muddiness of the production is tiring. Track two 'Way Strange World' with its allusions to the sound of Morrissey is a bit better and clearer and 'The All-Right Side Of Just OK' adds some much needed energy with its tempo but these are momentary bright lights in a murky tunnel of music. Just enough. (5/10)

LUCKYandLOVE - Lucky & Love

Sounding like Depeche Mode with a darker outlook on life and a female lead vocalist, this practically self-titled album is a sombre but enjoyable industrial collection of (mostly) thematically sounding track. Opening with the catchy 'Sexy', the album's best and most poppy number, we also get the strutting 'Venus' that excels in its atmosphere but runs out of new ideas pretty quickly and 'Mars' which sounds like Blondie walked into the party to add some more sultry vocals to the bleeps-and-bloops of the music. 'You'll Never Know' and 'Digging in the Earth' continue to balance a line between pop-indie and dark-dance with this Blondie and Depeche Mode crossover whilst 'Legal Love' is a bit more transient and MGMT-like. 'Taureon' continues the vibe, focussing though more on the instrumental than the ethereal vocals. 'Full Moon' concludes the album in its gentle way, wrapping up a relaxing album that melts a little into the background, and it lacks fresh ideas as it progresses, but is a pleasant electronic-infused soundtrack to a quieter day. (6.5/10)

Lunar Twin - Night Tides (EP)

Lunar Twin's six-track EP sounds like Chris Rea after a couple of whiskies and a few hours listening to relaxing whale music, picking up a synthesizer and recording some calming, Moby-like songs. 'Night Tides' is not an album that's going to grab you by the collar, and each track tends to flow into the next without distinction, but as a chilled-out, calming way to spend 24-minutes it works. The main track to pick? That would be the smooth, oceanic-like 'Coral Sea' that has the most notable chorus amongst its zoned-out production style. (6/10)

Moby & The Void Pacific Choir - More Fast Songs About The Apocalypse

Released for free on Moby's website this nine-song album feels like a great mix between classic Moby and his more political offerings. The production may be dark, messy and lacking in crispness but it creates a surprisingly involving and hooky album. Opener 'Silence' starts quite low key but develops into a punchy, grungy lo-fi foot-stomping number with a strong mix of EDM styles that escalates into a powerful poppy crescendo. 'A Softer War' is a slightly darker number but still with enough of a musical hook to keep it going, Moby's distorted and fast vocals building up to a sense of urgency. The lengthily titled 'There's Nothing Wrong With The World There's Something Wrong With Me' is a little muddier but there's plenty of spark in it to keep you listening; and 'Trust' continues to live up to the speed title of the album, driving forward and being a little Sparks-esque in parts and perhaps a little too overwhelming in its production at times, but still enjoyable. 

'All The Hurts We Made' has echoes of a heavier 'Slipping Away', the layering vocals adding to the record and giving it plenty of heft; and 'In This Cold Place' is the best track on a strong album, the guitar work and developing sound really pulling you into the piece,

As we reach the final third of the album it perhaps starts to run out of steam with the tracks sounding good and dramatic, still, but too similar to what's come before, like on the fast-beat of 'If Only A Correction Of All We've Been' and 'It's So Hard To Say Goodbye', though the title-mentioning chorus does stand out more. The album closes with "A Happy Song", its title quite tongue-in-cheek, the song as dark and dirty as the previous album.

Lacking the polish of his more commercial period, this album's production is dark and dank and masks a lot of the music and vocals in a muddy gloomy, but that said the atmosphere it creates and hooks present make it a good listen and there's plenty to enjoy, and when it doesn't cost anything you have nothing to lose. (7/10)

My Favourite Things - Fly I Will, Because I Can 

Coming in at 12 tracks and 53 minutes you might think from track names like 'Everything Changes' and 'Spaceman' it might just be a selection of chosen covers, but it's all original, a subtle and gentle flow of tracks that is so subtle it feels like a concept album based around a sunny afternoon sat in the garden watching the world go by. Listening to the album, it's difficult to discern a USP for each song but as a whole it's very calming, relaxing and refreshing, the ideal album as opposed to a collection of tracks. 'Growing Pains' particularly stands out on the album as a strong, self-contained track, the combination of airy vocals, well produced musical layers and atmosphere all coming together. As the second half of the album comes up things get a little more blurry and ethereal on other-worldly tracks like 'A Little Closer' but the soundscape created by the tracks as they continue and conclude work well and make for a great laid-back listen. (6.5/10)

Parsons Rocket Project - Parsons Rocket Project (EP)

With six tracks coming in at a sprightly thirteen minutes, this is a quick experience of musical atmosphere, from the instrumental 'Exit Launch' which builds up its sound into 'Burn', just one of the many segues that make this really one long piece as opposed to a half-dozen tracks. Well produced, sprightly and well layered, this is a cool exploration of what can be done with music when the boundaries are cast aside, to form an almost cinematic feeling that is certainly more about the layering rather than the small amounts of vocals. (6.5/10)

Picturehouse - How Can I Explain How This Came To Be

Consisting of tracks pulled from their first two albums from the 1990s, including a remastered final track, this twelve-song compilation from the Irish band is a joyous pop record, opening with the smooth lilt of 'Somebody Somewhere' with some Tudor-like instrumentation and a gentle flow that puts a smile on your face. 'Fear of Flying' is not one of my favourites, the choral hook not matched by the verses. The gentler, inner-looking 'You and I', has a pleasant heart to it and reminds me of the touching vibe of the first song I heard by the band that got me into them. 'Built to Last' is one of the highlights of the album, with a Travis-like rhythm and a quickly singable chorus. 'Moments Like These' is another sweet and gentle ballad with plenty of heart, whilst '15th Time' is the best song on the album outside of the final track with its heart-breaking chorus.

'Jade (Dangerous Stone)', with its harmonica undertones and smooth well written vocals, proves to be another good number on the album, whilst 'Raining Stones' channels the Beatles with its quirkier production values though it lacks spark as it nears its end. 'Cup of Life', however, is one of the best on the album with its poppy, quickly memorable and joyful chorus, the words and rhythm sticking with you. The stronger ending to the album continues with the brilliant 'Roll Over', another radio-friendly pop number with a distinct chorus and guitar hook. 'Got to Let You Go', a ballad, again keeps the quality up in these final moments, coming across a beautiful swaying song about lost love. 

The album finishes on the album's star track, the bombastic, hook-filled 'Sunburst', one of the most optimistic tracks you'll hear, leaving you with a huge grin. This "greatest hits" compilation is a solid listen and though it gets better towards the end with the bigger hitters in the second half there's still much to enjoy in this introduction, or re-introduction, to the band's earlier work. Great! (7/10)

The Stevenson Ranch Davidians - Amerikana

This nine track LP is a mixed bag, switching from some quiet catchy and enjoyable country-tinged to some rather awkward to listen to Bob Dylan-like tracks. It ends on a track ("Pillow Sittin'") talking about the benefits of self-love over having a relationship in a manner that it least lifts up the samey preceding tracks even if it's not a great listen sonically, and I'm not sure what else to say after that.

The fast guitar of opener 'Wack Magick' gives way to 'Holy Life', the best track on the record thanks to its poppier outlook and more distinctive production sound. 'Love is a Big Light' focuses in on the metaphor of the title but otherwise drones on a little too much. 'Hard Livin'' also feels like an extended moan whilst 'Binary Bop' at least lifts the pace up and the sixties vibe is better. 'Om g' (yes, with that space), makes Bob Dylan sound happy, whilst 'PsyOp' joins the more listenable tracks thanks to its trippier and hippier feeling, which pips the five minutes of  'The High Meadow' to the longest track and a better sound.

'Amerikana' has its moments in songs like 'Holy Life' and 'PsyOp' but its not enough to out-weight the amount of songs drowned out by their own musical backings and their relentless downbeat, gruff and monotonous vocals. Not my cup of tea. (4/10)

This Is The Sound Of Sugar Town Volume 2

Featuring thirteen tracks by thirteen different artists, this CD compilation is a rather mixed bag of styles and sounds that at least keeps things varied and interesting, even if you'll enjoy some tracks more than others due to their contrasting styles. Opener 'She' by Sun Scream is a good start, its indie-grungy feel warming you up. 'The Concierge' by Cathedrals and Cars has a Smiths style vibe and is a fun indie listen, whilst 'The Sensitive Side Of Bill Sykes' by the brilliantly named Janet Street Slaughter works well as an indie song until it goes far too screamy for my tastes in the last minute.

'If It Wasn't So Soon' with its throwback retro sound is one of the best on the compilation, whilst 'Hometown' by the Cuts with its Green Day-vibe is short but punky and energetic. 'L'Appel Du Vide' by Gaffa Tape Sandy keeps the lo-fi punky sound of its predecessor and it works as a grungy number and has one of the catchiest choruses on the collection.

'Slaves Pt. II' by Bracken is hefty, angry and shouty and at well over six minutes in length is my least favourite track on the album thanks to its dark and screaming style which is not my flavour. 'Looking For Life' by Horse Party is in entire contrast, offering a slow, meandering dream-pop number that is cool in its calmness if not a little repetitive.

'Sun Break' by Surburban Minds switches back to the world of indie and is another one of my favourites of the album thanks to its mixture of tones and gradual progression. 'Moon Man' by the Virtues is heavier musically but at least don't resort to screams and is a strong slice of indie-rock. 'Wicked Words' by Jack Rundell is my pick of the album, its lighter, quirky production style and friendly vocal delivery over a stylised electronic riff and use of the word 'nincompoop' winning me over: imagine Elvis Costello with a bigger sense of humour.

'Susie Smokes' by SIAH is another fun little indie ditty whilst 'Vacation (Cheer Up Chuck)' by Tundra has a live and raw feel and wraps things up nicely, a compilation album that holds your interest thanks to its variety with a handful of stand out tracks and outside of a couple of duff numbers is solid all the way through. (6/10)

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