Sunday, 8 October 2017

Album Reviews #6

Ten more EPs and albums you need to check out!

Balako - Hora De Balako (EP)

With shades of seventies funk, 'Earth, Wind and Fire' and Jamiroquai-style electronica, this is a perky and upbeat instrumental-led funky number, most noteable in the foot-tapping futuristic-meets-throw-back title track which throws in hooky layered music with the song name the only vocals of note. Throw in a great little drum solo and some catchy synth riffs and you can get a real joyful song. The entirely instrumental 'Nervous Inn', however, is not as exciting or inventive but does pay the time nicely, though outstays it welcome at a fraction of its six-minute length. The intro to the EP is a similar affair though at least shorter. They also throw in a remix of the title track which doesn't do a huge amount of change to the original except perhaps make it a little chunkier and funkier. The title track of the EP is a cracker; the rest feels like unnecessary fleshing out. (7/10)

Dick Valentine - Robocalls

The latest stripped-back LP from the lead singer of Electric Six lands and it's another strong collection of a dozen semi-acoustic songs, starting with the downbeat tones of 'The Chipotle Song' which feels hooky enough without an actual chorus, thanks to its vocal effects. 'Data Entry', track two, has shades of REM and one of the best on the album, thanks to its quirky verses and fast paced chorus. 'The Fantasy Fuck Bus' feels like it slots well into previous albums and like many of the tracks through the solo discography channels eccentric lyrics with surprisingly catchy hooks built into the delivery. The title track, which follows, is another highlight of the album with its pop-influenced chorus and grander style, plus the faster tempo building up the enjoyment. 'The Room Where You and I Will Make Out' is a nice enough continuation of the vibe but not the most exciting of tracks compared to the others but 'Carrie That Weight' lifts the album back up with another simple yet catchy chorus amongst the more word-heavy verses. 'I Touched the Bible', a story-heavy piece, is simple but again memorable, but it's 'The Queen's Vagina' with its synth-trumpets, fast tempo and catchy riffs, that proves to be the best track on the album, even if it's the most inappropriate lyrically!

'Making Love in Hazmat Suits' continues with the balance of the quirky lyrics and weird hooks and proves to be a favourite and feels like a spiritual successor to the Monarch track. Bird song accompanies track ten - 'One Crazy Night in Abbottabad' - which picks up where 'Saddam Hussain' off an earlier album left off, with a fun falsetto call out about the place and some pseudo-political lyrics. 'Someone Else' is a simpler piece but it's a nice bridge into closer 'The Ghost of Chavez Ravine' which feels slightly cinematic in its delivery.

Fans of Valentine's previous solo work will find much familiarity here but there's plenty of spark in its thirty minutes to add it into the songwriter's burgeoning discography. (7/10)

Electric Six - How Dare You

Even speaking as a big fan of Electric Six, their last couple of albums have seen a drop in quality with some really strong songs nestled next to lacklustre second halves, but I'm glad to report that their thirteenth album is lucky for them as it has seen a sharp increase in quality. Opener 'Chicken Wine' is as eccentric as you'd expect, its raw fast-pace getting things off to a strong start, its 'solo' references harking back to their earlier less produced work. 'Arrive Alive', track two, is perhaps an unusual choice as their lead single. Whilst it's mid-tempo pace and quotable chorus are nice it's one of the weaker entries on the album. Thankfully we get some absolute corkers back to back after it, the synthy swagger of 'She's A Forgery' which is possibly my favourite track on the album, its dancey and hook-filled bridge and chorus quickly memorable. 'The Hotel Mary Chang' has echoes of the Eagles' own hotel with its darker vibe and catchy chorus. 'Sex With Somebody', a slice of sexy seventies funk with its 'watch out' riff is actually my favourite song on the record, the tongue-in-cheek chorus and the strong production making it a highlight for me.

'Dark Politics' is a slower number with a darker, but quite fun, chorus. The album's title track is quite different even by the band's standards though not one of the best on the album. 'The Chimes of Titus' again is an average track but 'The Loveliest Man in Town' with its rather UK-centric lyrics for an American band will resonate with fans on this side of the pond, thanks to its references to "Lib Dems and the Tories". 'Hatchet Man' continues the strong second half of the album, its funky brass complementing a fun and sparky rock number. 'Nightwaves' is a minor blip but penultimate song 'Routine Cocooning' with its deep vocalled verses  andquickly quotable chorus some of the major highlights of the album, with 'A Quiet Man' tying things up well with a classical-sounding slower number and a ive-country feel to the ending which is a treat.

'How Dare You' doesn't quite live up to the promise of their early-to-mid-era albums but is a vast improvement on their last couple of LPs and will keep the fans happy. (7/10)

Emmecosta - Velour (EP)

Coming in at just shy of seventeen minutes, this four track EP is a gentle, ethereal sway through four similar sounding but pleasant listens, all mixing a slow vibe and subtle hooks, from the cool opener of 'Miguel' to the slightly more perky 'A Mountain From Us' whose synths lift it up to something more urgent. 'Heavy Heart' is darker, as you'd expect from the title, whilst 'His Power of Youth' is more flowing and melodic. It's not a huge departure from one song to another but the laid back, pleasing vibe will be a good antidote for a hard day. (6/10)

Harbottle & Jonas - Anna is a Dancer

Eight tracks make up this album that sits somewhere between an EP and LP. Starting with the atmospheric and gentle single 'Northumberland' that we've previously reviewed, there's a definite folk and Fleetwood Mac to the harmonised male-female couplings on the tracks. 'My Boy Jack' cranks up the traditional and upbeat folk-country sound whilst 'Song for Jonas' dials it down a little for a slower and more gentle stripped-back ballad.

'When the Devil Holds' continues the traditional and low-key vibe, winning you over with its gentle flow, whilst the Grimsby-referencing 'The North Sea Ground' is evocative, painting a vivid picture of the subject matter, whilst also working as a mid-tempo song. The call-and-response 'wake up Johnny' ending is the highlight of an already strong number, making it the best of the eight songs.

'Gaudete!' is the not the song you expect it to be, referencing Christmas but not sampling the song, in a short and sweet little folk crossover. The title track comes in as the penultimate song, a bittersweet song that sees Jonas take the well-deserved centre stage. The album wraps up with the gentle but loveable 'Mother' concluding a short album with plenty of heart and talent. (7.5/10) 

Iffy Orbit - Slow Times

Iffy Orbit release their 10-track album, a strong mix of perky indie hits that starts off well with some catchy numbers even if it does taper off a little towards the end. Opener 'Let It Go' has enough energy to kick the album off in a strong pop-friendly fashion, it's Daft Punk-lite electronic and synth feel working well. 'Night // Day' is a mixture of tempos, continuing the disco-funk feeling with a great fast-paced beat. 'Slow Times' is the best on the album, its summer-warm swagger and cool chorus a true highlight. That said, 'Not Good Enough' is close behind on its heels as the high-point of the LP, with its anthem chorus and cool electronic moments. The album continues on with many highlights from the vocodor-sampling 'Be The Same' and the more pop friendly 'Back to Start' with hooks fighting for attention in the song. The rest of the album, with 'Hawk Eyes' and 'The One' don't quite live up to the promise set up by the first six tracks but they don't shame, with the slower more introspective 'Moments' signaling a nice change of pace, whilst closer 'No One Else To Blame' has room to breathe with its five minute length, slowly wrapping up the LP with a well written song. 'Slow Times' is a very promising album from an interesting electro-indie band. (6.5/10)

The Killers - Wonderful Wonderful

Everyone seems to disagree on which is the best album by the Killers. Many will, of course, plump for their breakthrough debut and argue the band have employed diminishing returns since then. For me, however, third LP 'Day and Age' saw the Killers at their pinnacle and though 'Wonderful Wonderful' doesn't, for me, live up to the heights of that, it's a definite upward trend from last long player 'Battle Born' and though it may take a few spins to settle in it soon does. The dark title-track opener, which employs echoes of Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain', is surpisingly sombre and downbeat but evocative of the state of mind of lead singer Brandon Flowers.

Lead single 'The Man', which follows, is one of their best songs with a much synthier vibe and a very catchy chorus, comfortable fitting in with their greatest hits, with a rather anthemic singable clutch of verses. The more introspective 'Rut' at track three is quite probably my favourite song on the album, its vocoderised opening, touching chorus and heartfelt lyrics all working well together to create quite an emotive four-minutes-plus and it deserves to be a future winter single.

'Life to Come' feels a little more like classic Killers with the key 'dropkick the shame' hook and whilst it's not one of my favourites on the album its U2-vibes work well. Second single, 'Run For Cover', with its hot-guitar intro, fast-pace and Donald Trump references, is some of their best work and is destined to be a live favourite. 'Tyson vs Douglas' boasts a quirky and powerful chorus even if the verses take a bit to get there, and it's certainly a grower.

'Some Kind of Love' is a slower number and possibly my least favourite on the album, its ethereal vocals and sombre pace not really working hugely for me. 'Out of My Mind' is far better, the darker psyche and on-point chorus really resonating. My favourite track, though, has to go to the dark swagger of the Biblical-themed 'The Calling' with its 'lean into the light' chorus and electric undertones. The LP closes with 'Have All the Songs Been Written?' a well observed reference to writers block, its gentle style closing things nicely.

Don't expect to enjoy 'Wonderful Wonderful' that much after a first listen but give it several spins and its raw, emotional lyrics and mix of styles will win you over. It's not quite 'Day & Age' but it's nearly there, and is lyrically perhaps a little stronger. (7.5/10)

Looking For Emma - Ma Couleur (EP)

If you're like me and your French is a bit rusty then you won't really understand what's going on, but you'll certainly enjoy the bouncy tempo and poppiness on tracks like 'Je donne tout' which will get your feet tapping thanks to their great rhythms and hooky structures, even if you can't translate them. The title track of the EP does help, though, with its chorus in English and secondary male vocals also in my own native tongue, the switch between language working well and giving it an extra fun vibe. 'Si tu m'aime' has a similar jaunty vibe and sunny optimism that makes it a really uplifting listen. 'Sunny Day', as you might guess from the title, has an English chorus but is actually the second slowest song and offers a change of pace, but is actually not as fun as the faster numbers. The ballad 'Loin de moi' is slower but more emotional, the simple production and gorgeous vocals pulling at the heart strings, concluding a really great EP of mostly upbeat and hooky tracks. (7/10)

Michael Malarkey - Mongrels

'Mongrels' is a dozen tracks sung by Malarkey, who sounds like Chris Rea if he embraced a little more country and Morrissey's song title writer. Opener 'My History Will Be The Death of Me' sets the low key mood for the album but it's second track 'Girl In The Moon' with its more satisfying beat that feels like the first hook, the visual lyrics tied together with a simple but evocative production. 'Time's Standing Still' is a bit too ponderous for my own tastes, though the lyrics are pretty thought-provoking. Thankfully the nicely titled 'Uncomfortably Numb' is better, with more energy in the music, the rhythm a bit more to my tastes as a balance to the gruffer tones of the vocals.

'I Just Want You' starts off quite low-key but builds well to the emotional closure, the layered vocals adding some extra magic, with Malarkey's lifting up of his voice the first time it feels he's injected energy into the vocals. 'Hush Awhile', which follows is one of my favourites on the album, as the energy of the last track continues, injected now into a heart-wrenching and building ballad, with some great vocal layering. 'Dog Dreams' which follows with its guest vocals is another contender for one of the best tracks on the album, its false end, laughter and layering making for a strong track that I wanted more of.

'Scars' switches back to a more sombre, breathy-vocalled style, which lacks the power of the preceding tracks but with its strings and evocative lyrics works well and by the end actually proves to be a satisfying and dramatically produced number. 'Love Will Kill Us All' is a gentler and more subtle track but works well whilst the vinyl crackle and modulated vocals of 'Strangers Dancing' is a bit more unusual, and its ponderous pace makes it not the best track on the LP for my tastes. Closer 'To Be A Man' lifts it up a little but remains a quieter end to an album that is surprisingly varied and packed with some strong numbers, well written lyrics and heart. (7/10)

Sparks - Hippopotamus

After a brief hiatus collaborating with Franz Ferdinand on the FFS project, Sparks are back with their latest effort, their 23rd studio album. Fifteen tracks including quirky track titles you'd expect only from the band, this is perhaps not as strong a collection of recent efforts like 'Hello Young Lovers' or 'Lil Beethoven' but it certainly has its peaks. After a brief introduction in 'Probably Nothing' we get the tongue-in-cheek 'Missionary Position' with its jaunty ragga piano and soaring vocals and the beautifully written and produced 'Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)' with its gorgeous multi-layered style and building chorus, with hints of the 'Hello Young Lovers' era and a catchy 'live faster, die young' closer near the end, well justifying it as the longest track on the LP.

'Scandanivan Design' is another enjoyable track, its steady rhythm keeping you hooked with some Beatles-influences here and there. 'Giddy Giddy' injects a few vibes from urban music into its sound whilst the overblown and dramatic 'What The Hell Is It This Time?' feels like the classic Sparks combination of tongue-in-cheek lyrics and bombastic music. 'Unaware' keeps the pop sensibilities going whilst the title track takes a head-first dive into the eccentric with its pointed, stilted style.

'Bummer', is one of my favourites, its multi-layered vocals and rhythm harking back to some of the highlights of 'Exotic Creatures of the Deep'. 'I Wish You Were Fun' has a perkier, spruced up feel to it with the lyrics well observed and sharp. 'So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was the Play', the title taken from an old joke, is the best part of what is a pretty forgettable song, whilst the accordion-heavy Leos Carax-featuring 'When You're A French Director' has a neat swagger but is otherwise pretty average. 'The Amazing Mr. Repeat', however, is one of the best on the album, its quirkier hookier sound winning you over. The album wraps up with 'A Little Bit Like Fun' and 'Life with the Macbeths' which aren't huge songs but keep the ship afloat, the latter with its dual vocals and classical sounds offering at least something a little distinctive.

'Hippopotamus' is more of a mixed bag than their more solid earlier 21st Century entries but there's much to enjoy and fans will enjoy many of the bigger tracks on the album that slot into their inventive and fun back catalogue. (6.5/10)

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