Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Album Reviews #9

Ten more albums and EPs you need to listen to!

Callaghan - Skin on Skin (EP)

With a perky whistle opening up the first track 'Better Together', Callaghan's latest EP is a touching joy, from the brass-funky and optimism of the opener to the subdued, piano-focussed breathy closer 'All Through the Night' with its touching, gentle vibe, preceded as it is by a delightfully cinematic orchestral prelude.

The titular second track is a gentle, smooth little number with some heartfelt lyrics and a building, swaying vibe with a sensual central chorus. The EP is centred by 'Broken', another touching and beautifully sung track. A delightfully sombre but emotionally-hefty song with a huge orchestral build, this proves to be my favourite of the five tracks, though as an EP it's strong all the way through. (7.5/10)

Charlie Hole - Dirty Like Secret (EP)

This five-track EP begins with the title track, a smooth, slow and multi-layered calming number with elements of falsetto and moments like a lighter voiced Chris Rea combining with a range of percussion styles to form a strong soulful indie tune with a repetitive yet catchy central chorus. Strings are in full force for the ballad 'Make It Better' with a stripped back production style giving the emotively-charged lyrics room to be breathe and settle in, and the call-and-response vocals woven in near the end really add a great new element. Track three, 'The Chapel of Unrest', with its fun production and smooth chorus proves to be my favourite song on the release, with the vocal highs and lows, plus strings, woven in delightfully.

'Unlit Flame' keeps the smooth ballad theme going with moments of soaring vocals giving the song heart and the lighters-out multi-layered chant ending really gives it some great power. It's a similar downbeat tone for closer 'Flame', its simple and soaring sound tying up a delightfully smooth and touching EP. (7/10)

Charlie Hole - Someone Else's Dream (EP)

A four-track EP including an acoustic version of title track, which appears here as track number one, a smooth and gentle yet at times more powerful number, which passes the baton to the gentler 'Boundaries', which plays out as another well written and sung ballad. 'The City' keeps the pace and tempo in similar territories before the previously mentioned acoustic version of the title track closes the show. A nice, well produced and performed EP. (6/10)

Gecko - Volcano (Album)

Coming in at eleven tracks and two interludes 'Volcano' is a collection of tongue-in-cheek, pun-hefty run pop-indie-rap tracks created by the witty lyricist Gecko who I recently saw live and thoroughly loved. Though his energetic and entertaining live act doesn't quite translate as well to the recorded medium this album is still a delight in note-perfect humorous takes on modern life and, at times, is surprisingly poignant such as on the excellent titular closing track that covers families, hibernation and bears. This eccentricity flows throughout the entire album, particularly on highlights such as 'The Library' with its quirky and catchy chorus and 'iPhone, Therefore I Am' which is one of the best observational songs I've heard in a long time.

Elsewhere 'Any Other Room' spins off from an interlude about an unloved painting to become something more personal; opener 'Got Science' sees the strong album production mixed in with vocal samples; and 'End of the World' is surprisingly dark.

Any album that relies on humour will struggle sometimes to keep the joke going but after three listens still really love the album, the mix of personality, wordplay, puns and genuinely perky rhythms make for a joyous ride. Great. (7.5/10)

Hunger - Amused EP

We've previously reviewed opener 'Amused' and track three 'Bubbles' from this EP and loved them, and they're just as strong here as part of an ensemble. Energetic opener 'Amused' is an anthemic and well produced, bombastic indie single with a very catchy central chorus. New number 'Gravity' is a slower and darker number but with a strong harmonic vibe that keeps it going, and showcases the tight mixture of vocals and interesting multi-instrumentation, its stabs giving it a certain sense of urgency. 'Bubbles' is still the less noteworthy of the three but its building vibe and soaring vocals, with a heartfelt centre, certainly don't make it a failure and the energy gets injected just before the two-minute mark.

The EP is rounded off with some tweaks on 'Amused' and 'Gravity', with acoustic versions of both, though they feel like they've been turned acoustic in the studio rather than built from the ground up, which lessens their impact a little bit, but they offer something different.

Overall the 'Amused' EP is a great showcase of Hunger's considerable talent and I look forward to hearing more from them. (7.5/10)

Kerri Watt - Old School Sessions (EP)

At six-tracks strong and recorded live, this EP is the perfect showcase for the incredible talent that is Kerri Watt, no better showcased on the heart-wrenching stripped-back ballad of 'Long Way Home', beautifully delivered as it is lyrically, with a sad emotional core at the centre that hits you. Elsewhere there are two covers, from the emotive opener 'Jealous Guy' to the perkier take on 'Rich Girl'. There's a nod to Watt's heritage in a sparky take on the classic 'Loch Lomond' and 'Pirate Man' has a soulful swagger to its retro sound. Closer 'Little Sally' also boasts plenty of soul and a catchy mid-tempo pace, closing a delightful 22-minutes of well written and performed live numbers. (8/10)

Kerri Watt - You (EP)

A four-track studio EP it begins with the titular track, a spunky upbeat ballad with a large radio-friendly chorus and a very catchy feel. 'Got My Heart' is another perky indie track, whilst 'Paris' is the second best song on the EP, its determined beat, catchy pace and building feeling giving it a real upbeat vibe. The EP ends with the country-tinged 'Maybe' which continues the jaunty vibe of most of the tracks and boasts some neat synth work. A great showcase. (7.5/10)

Robbie Williams - Under the Radar Vol. 2 (LP)

Robbie Williams releases his second collection of unreleased b-sides and, though it feels a little less interesting than volume 1 which felt like an album, it still has enough highlights to justify a purchase. Opener 'Satellites' has a catchy rhythm and some fun lyrics like 'until she gets old...er' but is perhaps a little bit forgettable, whilst his popped-up cover of Dolly Parton's '9 to 5' has a fun heart to it, the up-tempo pace and electronic elements really making an impact on the oft-covered track. 'Ms Pepper' is one of my favourites on the collection, though it gave part of its rhythm to the earlier song 'Shit on the Radio' which stands out a little bit, but there's plenty of heart to it and a cool rhythm.

'Bambi', which sounds like a cross between Nina Simone's 'Take Me to the Water' and Jagger and Co's 'Sympathy For the Devil', has enough cheek and pop vibes to pull off the similarities, whilst lead single, the touching 'Eyes on the Highway', heads towards the upper echelones of a Robbie ballad in the spirit of 'Go Gentle' and its ilk, with a singable choral hook. Wrapping up the first half, 'Speaking Tongues' is one of the highlights of the record, a quirky and catchy pop number with some fun fantastical lyrics and a cheeky vibe built around a strong production vibe. 

Into the second half and we get second single 'Go Mental', featuring the jazzy vocals and music of Atlantic Horns which adds a real distinctive vibe to the sound, and a rap verse from 'Big Narstie' which adds little to the recipe though does give it a bit of changed-up energy. 'Run It Wild' is a smooth enough distraction but in the wake of the last track's energy feels a little middle of the road and sounds too similar to some other 'Take The Crown' songs, and 'Numb' fits into the similar basket of good, but not that memorable.

Entering the final quarter and though 'Andy Warhol' takes a bit to get going proves to be a fun, poppy number that captures the cheeky spirit of Williams again with a fun chorus and elements on the way to it. 'My Fuck You To You' is blander than the title would suggest, ending up as a middle of the road ballad with only the title giving it some attitude, and 'Weakness' wraps up the album in a similar vibe.

A treat for fans of Robbie with many highlights, but a less essential purchase than the first volume. (6.5/10)

Villa Rivercat - Days and Weeks and Hours

Having reviewed and enjoyed several of these singles on previous blogs it's a pleasure to listen to the full LP, though at seven tracks it does feel a little like a bridge between an EP and an album, though the 35-minute running time does lean more towards the latter.

Opener 'Sunshine' is a delightfully gentle and warming harmonised song with a smooth and calming vibe, beautifully produced and layered. 'Morning Comes' was reviewed only this week on our singles blog and fits in nicely, whilst 'Baby Low' has hints of a laid-back Chvrches number, before building into a calm, gentle yet soaring deliriously sung song that really lifts the spirits thanks to the lead's beautiful vocals.

'Song For F' feels a little more understated and ethereal, and proves to be not one of my favourites on the album as its low-key style doesn't progress as much as it could, though the keyboard riffs and sampled vocals that get woven into the mix offer something refreshing into the established style and there's plenty of heart behind it, possibly aimed at whoever 'F' is. 'More' as a more jaunty vibe to it with some haunting background vocals and has a bit more of a cool vibe to it, and its singable ending really works. 'Seagull Stars' with its sweeping instrumental section is great and moves gentle towards to the conclusion with the more introspective 'To See and Discover' which ties up a really strong and delightful little album with a smooth and gentle number. Beautifully produced and sung. (7.5/10)

We Are Parasols - Inertia (LP)

Coming in at thirteen tracks plus a piano version of one of the songs, 'Inertia' is quite a progressive and flowing album where each mostly-instrumental track bleeds into the next, so much so you're never sure where one tune begins and the next ends, unless there's a sudden jolt from the appearance of some angry lyrics like you get at one point. At times vocals, some more distinct than others, play in like instruments, forming a concept album which moves seamlessly around, generating a soundscape that weaves in and around you, forming a gentle background soundtrack rather than something that will grab your attention. Interesting and experimental. (5/10)

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