Ruth's Manuvas


My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Twin Atlantic: Free – album review

Twin Atlantic - Free

A famous wizard once said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”. Wise words that Glaswegians, Twin Atlantic, would have done well to digest.

Their debut mini album, 2009’s Vivarium, saw critical acclaim heaped on the quartet with predictions that they might just follow in the footsteps of Biffy Clyro and Idlewild. Two years on, and that burgeoning optimism has not been cemented, as Free sees the band take a u-turn into teenaged emo-rock territory with catchy, sing-along choruses.

The record is big on rallying calls to its public, which will probably mean it gets its fair share of airplay from commercial rock radio stations. And no doubt Barrowlands’ circle pits will flail to Apocalyptic Renegade’s “I want it all, are you here with me?” and the plodding The Ghost Of Eddie.

In trying to widen their appeal, the band has ramped up the volume, instead of revisiting the drawing board to make a record that won’t just give them a short, sharp, temporary hit. As a result, many tracks (like Dreamember) are loud, but cluttered and messy, with clumsy harmonies in an already saturated mix.

There’s also something quite irritating about Sam McTrusty’s vocals on Free, which afforded subtleties on the debut now lacking. This time, he prefers to put strain on his words, making them sound like a pubescent male’s breaking voice; though his nasal tones perhaps wouldn’t succeed in being half as annoying, were the lyrical content not so overly simplistic.

Despite the fact that the phonetics of a Scottish accent naturally seem to pertain to an American twang, Yes I Was Drunk can’t help but draw comparison with American or Canadian rock acts like Nickelback. Its theatrical delivery isn’t believable, trivialising the track’s break-up story in the process. This also exposes the album’s skin deep, showy angst, which never manages to channel its energies in the right direction towards musical sensitivity, or clever lyrical metaphor, asFrightened Rabbithave done so well. Free’s motto of rock ‘n’ roll losing its fight is particularly ironic, as the very thing the band are fighting against sees them sink into the sort of petulance that will make them only temporary gods to an audience that won’t – and rightfully so – hold onto this music through the years.

Serious Underground Dance Vibes’ ridiculous name speaks volumes towards the fact that Twin Atlantic probably didn’t know what they were really trying to achieve in the track. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most interesting of the collection, and gives welcome breathing space from the incessant whining.

Twin Atlantic might be catchy, but woe betide this be used as a yardstick for measuring quality. There’s more than just a niggle that Free isn’t breaking new ground. More disturbingly, the album is a wasted chance to build on Vivarium, and isn’t as good as so much of the music it tries to emulate.

Reviewed for musicOMH


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Bell X1: Bloodless Coup – album review

Bell X1 - Bloodless Coup

Twelve years of Bell X1 have drilled the band fairly close to the epicentre of Ireland’s musical consciousness. But the latest album, Bloodless Coup, is so much a mass of contradictions flailing from the sublime to the ridiculous, that it’s hard to see what kind of dent they’ll make beyond the Emerald Isle.

Pre-1999, Damien Rice fronted the band as Juniper, but this most recent release makes it six since they parted company over creative differences. The threesome’s 2009 album, Blue Lights On The Runway, achieved pole position in the Irish charts, prompting lazy comparisons that slotted the band between Talking Heads and Coldplay. But David Byrne‘s lyrical wit, political opinion and tenacity is hard to trace on this album, and Coldplay might have a thing or two to argue about creating memorable anthems.

Bloodless Coup’s first touch is enchanting. Hey Anna Lena’s nursery rhyme piano is set over a glitchy Radioheadish rhythm, juxtaposed with Paul Noonan’s voice at its most endearing. Built To Last is counted among these sparse highlights, with a beat forged from a deep buzz and soft static. The preaching and heavy production are also hemmed back here, to reveal straightforward tell-it-like-it-is lines evocative of Bob Dylan, which much of the album is left crying out for.

Velcro might’ve been the nominated single, but it doesn’t match on originality. Its Counting Crows, American soft rock structure with a sole electric guitar makes it palatable but instantly forgettable. And “I’ll be your tongue, you’ll be my groove, I’ll be your positive, you’ll be my negative” begins a disturbing trend for cringeworthy rhyming couplets – “Haloumi” and “knew me” dare to dance line-to-line later in the record.

Nightwatchmen’s whispered Foo Fighters Everlong-style chords are thoughtfully understated, but the track struggles to shake an underlying cheesiness – as do many others – because the attempts to glean meaning feel so forced.

Hints of promise across the album are doomed for the bulldozer, by some incessant need for production that will probably give Bell X1 more mainstream appeal. Would-be film soundtrack out-take Sugar High’s simple keyboard loop and fuzzy background have simplistic beauty, but an ’80s Tron-like synth and computerised backing vocals over-complicate and curl the toes uncomfortably. Even Safer Than Love’s delicate piano melody is undermined by Auto-Tune.

Beyond the pursuit of swelling the fanbase, it’s hard to see what kind of album Bell X1 were really trying to make with Bloodless Coup; a sing-along soft rock crowd-expander, or an ode to simplicity and storytelling? Fortunately for credibility’s sake, it’s the latter the trio are infinitely better at, but unfortunately, for this album, it’s these songs that are too few and far between.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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Friendly Fires: Pala – album review

Friendly Fires - Pala

It couldn’t be any more obvious that in releasing Pala mid-May, Friendly Fires are hoping to stake a claim to the quintessential summer album of 2011. Their post-debut mission statement vowed to breathe carnival into indie’s barren guitar-trodden landscape, and it’s with memories of some of 2009’s most unmissable festival performances that they return.

This new record sees St Albans’ most successful recent export venture deeper into their live territory. Named after Aldous Huxley’s novel, Island – a story of Pala, a doomed utopia fuelled by recreational drug use, trance states and tantric sex – it’s no surprise that Friendly Fires’ album evokes paradise from its very essence, only the kind grounded in festival fields and back gardens.

Doubtless, the album will cast the nets wider for record sales, but it isn’t a typical summer smash that’s shallow and too easily consumed. Paul Epworth’s intelligent production across the 11 tracks adds depth, maintaining surprise even after the first few listens.

Single, Live Those Days Tonight, is an irresistible slice of Mardi Gras percussive electro pop that takes the early 90s rave days down from their pedestal. Blue Cassette’s French, Ed Banger underbelly branches from that, with a chorus that bursts through a trademark silence and drop – a welcome chill factor for sun-soaked spines during the hotter months.

Pala’s pancontinental influences broaden with Hawaiian Air, where South American street party and Paul Simon meet, bowing to Huxley’s novel by “Skipping a meal for a G&T”. African imprints also crop up on Running Away, as do Paul Epworth’s production values, peering through vocals and chiming keyboards with an air of Jack Penate‘s Everything Is New. Back on firm European territory there’s Hurting – a slick track which ambiguously aims sarcasm at ’90s boy bands, with breaths of fresh air from Harlem Gospel Choir.

R ‘n’ B gets its Friendly Fires debut, mixed to unusual effect with tautly plucked math guitars on the album title track, Pala, which delves into the depths of Huxley’s landscape. Timberlake beats dip the toes a little further into the genre on the impeccable Show Me Lights, only this time doused with percussive atmospheres.

It’s over the latter few tracks that the band reconcile the old with the new, mixing the influences they’ve so far used on the album. Holy Ghost!‘s Alex Frankel guests on True Love’s bow to the ’80s, and Pull Me Back To Earth picks up the math guitars and afro beats, adding dizzying layers of sound evocative of Jump In The Pool. Chimes’ four-to-the-floor beat is welded patiently with a twinkling xylophone, while Helpless has soft sound effects and fluttering keyboards that match with its lyrics, washing like waves on a shore, all bound by solid electronica.

It seems Pala is Friendly Fires’ successful attempt to translate their positivity-injected carnival live performances into a record. In the process, it just so happens they’ve delivered what deserves to be the soundtrack to the summer; the memories it creates preventing it from forced hibernation through the winter months. It might’ve been named after a fated utopia, but for them, Pala is far from doomed.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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Explosions in the Sky: Take Care Take Care Take Care – album review

Explosions in the Sky - Take Care Take Care Take Care

Over five albums, Explosions In The Sky have carved a niche for themselves as creators of post-rock concertos. But in Take Care Take Care Take Care, they’ve created the equivalent of a memorable classical symphony like Dvorak‘s New World – their finest work yet.

Eleven years on from their debut, this Texan four-piece still adopt that same rise and fall; the journey of music without need for verbal storytelling. But guitarists Mark Smith, Munaf Rayani and Michael James and drummer Chris Hrasky have produced a sixth album that doesn’t call the drumkit its master at the peaks, nor does it award the guitar that privilege at its quietest – a factor 2007’s All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone lacked.

Individual elements don’t feel complex, but their composition is astoundingly swallowing, and there are clever, attentive niblets of sound that add intrigue. Last Known Surroundings’ methodical rhythm is set by a guitar strummed at its strings’ roots, like the squeaking sound on concrete that metallic stiletto footsteps make, while Be Comfortable, Creature’s looping engaged tone guitars make it endearing.

The record feels organic, full and detailed throughout, with surefooted guitar chords that regularly give way to shoegazey, meandering riffs, overplayed by waterfalls of electronic guitars. Explosions In The Sky have a knack of building forests of layers that burst into life. This metaphor for spring is fulfilled by Last Known Surroundings. Its breaks of cradle rocking, plucked guitars lull into sense of quiet, before life suddenly and repeatedly blossoms – like Sigur Rós after a few espressos, or Mogwai on Prozac.

Likewise, Human Qualities appears a simple, heartquaking lullaby with a fuzzy, skipping record beat and waltzing guitar. Foalsy, plucked, singing guitars crack through the quiet, unable to resist diverting down winding roads to explore pulses and exploratory melodies, before breaking like awe-inspiring waves onto rocks.

Chris Hrasky’s sensitivity and understanding makes his drumming the heartbeat of the album, both for its aptly-placed near absences as much as its startling presence on Trembling Hands – a track with galloping drums that tussle with sad, Interpol guitars, eventually bursting into joyous melody. Post-rock can often arrive hurdling a wall of noise that unthinkingly places the drummer at the forefront, but Explosions focus more often than not on guitar melody, giving them a subtle epic quality.

It’s this fitting contradiction in terms that Postcard from 1952 illustrates, mushrooming from quiet beginnings with added kicks and trembling crescendos that explode into a conclusion that describes comprehension of impossible things like the speed of light.

Let Me Back In starts seductively, turning into melancholy and then happiness of the sort that forces tears – exquisitely documenting emotion in a post-rock score. These waves repeat, only stronger each time, but each time the hope is that it will be repeated again, stretching out far longer than the 10 minutes the final track allows.

It’s these journeying ebbs and flows that make this both an intensely delicate, yet forceful listen. This isn’t showing off with noise like post-rock can sometimes be accused of; it is, rather, intricate knowledge of how a leaderless band uses its flexibility to craft rises and falls that consume and envelop, making it an essential addition to anyone’s list of 2011 records to own.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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Holy Ghost!: Holy Ghost! – album review

Holy Ghosts! self-titled debut album cover

Both the beauty and downfall of Holy Ghost!’s debut is that it’s best heard under a blanket of blue sky and sun. The fact the deep ’80s disco is most irresistible under the influence of vitamin D positivity makes it an album not suited to all situations. It epitomises style and polish, but lacks permanency and ultimately, substance.

The New York duo – Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel – are dab hands at deftly weaving clean beats and soulful melody. Their disco synth sound makes them trademark DFA record label artists from across the pond, who often feel like the slightly older, less frivolous brothers of French/Parisian house – like Phoenix but without the unpredictability, or Digitalism without the hedonism.

It’s hard not to draw comparison between Holy Ghost! and LCD Soundsystem. Not least because DFA’s founders include ex-LCD James Murphy, but also because not two weeks have passed since his eponymous band bowed out at New York’s Madison Square Garden, leaving a gaping hole on DFA that’s begging to be filled.

So far, the two have produced some sublime tracks, but Holy Ghost! still doesn’t display a formula built for longevity, mostly because its lyrical content – preoccupied largely with nights out and girls – feels too shallow for the quality of the band’s sound.

Two tracks from last year’s Static On The Wire EP – Say My Name and Static On The Wire – have found their way onto the album, along with 2007 single Hold On. It’s testament to their quality that some of these were picked up by Kitsuné and The Bang Gang’s compilations.

Frustratingly though, these earlier moments still feel like most of the highlights from the debut. Hold On’s looped synth and Frankel’s pared-down vocals feel like the ingredients of a dancefloor classic, harmonising perfectly with c’est la vie lyrics like, “I love this city but I hate my job, and this whole city loves me back”.

This could all make quite damning reading for the debut, which is actually far from disappointing. As well as the older material, there are some of the same breathtaking moments we already knew the pair are capable of. Do It Again has a slow burning ’80s, Kraut-influenced, insistent beat that’s reminiscent of an Aeroplane remix. And Wait And See is a sleek example of their poppy side, with doorbell keyboards and more of Frankel’s pigeon-toed vocals that give the album an endearing quality throughout.

Catchy hooks are peppered across the album, with the oriental chimes and Chromeo cool of Hold My Breath, the early New Order beat signature of Jam For Jerry, and even the rather odd Some Children, whose choir in the latter half alludes to what a mashmix of the Rozalla and Romeo and Juliet versions of Everybody’s Free might sound like.

Like a lot of artists on the label though – Shit Robot and YACHT included – Holy Ghost! lack the depth of LCD Soundsystem. By virtue of being on DFA and releasing an album so soon in their wake, this sets an inherently unreachable yardstick for the band. It’s a competent disco celebration of an album, but Holy Ghost! will need to dig a little deeper into their souls and diversify their influences to make more of a mark in the long run.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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Primal Scream: Leicester O2 Academy – 24 March 2011

Bobby Gillespie's Primal Scream

We seem to have a trend developing of late, thanks largely to ATP, for tours that are dedicated to exhibiting albums in their entirety. For some artists, it appears to be a credible way of nourishing the ego and playing material, ‘the way it was intended’. But for Primal Scream’s Screamadelica gigs, it’s given their crowds a chance to capture the landmark album’s trippy highs and lows that mirrored the culture and feelings of a generation, in one journey.

Rarely does Leicester’s Academy draw such diversity, but that’s testament to Primal Scream’s appeal down the years. This tour finds them in stark contrast to the druggy days of 1991 when Screamadelica was released, and Bobby Gillespie himself abashedly suggests they are now “a bunch of old men” – though his sharp dress belies the battering he once gave his body.

The band plays tracks 1 to 10 straight through, choosing to break with Screamadelica at Come Together, right before the record plunges itself into cold turkey. It’s a wise choice as it creates the right party atmosphere for three raucous, rock ‘n’ roll hits – Riot City Blues’ Country Girl and from Give Out But Don’t Give Up, Rocks and Jailbird.

The gig is injected with celebration from the start – Movin’ On Up, with Andrew Innes’ trademark riffs, and Don’t Fight It, Feel It, where original co-singer Denise Johnson injects powerful gospel vocals into the ’90s rave flashback. It sends mops of male hair flailing in the strobes.

It’s the album’s wilder parts that shine, from the trippy highs to polar opposite lows with Damaged, and I’m Coming Down’s soft electronic waves, set against Gillespie’s slurred “I’m coming down, I can’t face the dawn”. Loaded sends the crowd into half melancholic, half ecstatic reminiscence as soon as the first saxophone notes hit. Pushing the dizzying psychedelica and woozy moods into overdrive, Come Together is backdropped with a spiralling multi-coloured vortex, holding an eye at its centre. Gillespie and Johnson sing it like a congregational prayer to siphon an acid trip without the acid.

What is immediately striking is that this Screamadelica tour arrives at almost a polar opposite time to its 1991 release date. Back then, the post-’80s Thatcherite days had lifted a cloud from the nation’s outlook, but on Thursday in Leicester – political climates, fuel prices and all else considered – things felt entirely different. The bumpy ride of late would explain why the gig feels like a chance, for many, to re-enter that mellow bubble they found themselves disappearing into the first time around.

Importantly though, Primal Scream recreate that bubble with ease, rendering Screamadelica in the live setting the irresistible prospect it always has been. It doesn’t matter whether you approach the gig out of nostalgia or pure musical appreciation, the band’s obvious delight and passion for playing their masterpiece hasn’t changed, nor has its timeless quality, or their timeless ability. And on the night, its exuberant positivity is an absolute pleasure to get lost in.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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Guillemots: Walk The River – album review

Guilleamots - Walk The River

The Guillemots have always possessed an endearing honesty without plunging into lifeless balladry. It’s this that becomes the quartet’s runaway strength on Walk The River – an album whose subject matter majors on lost love.

Fyfe Dangerfield is an eccentric character hailing from the unlikely town of Bromsgrove, in Worcestershire, but he has the kind of pure voice that exudes heart. After a brief foray into the solo world, he, MC Lord Magrão, Aristazabal Hawkes and Greig Stewart have reunited to make the band’s third album since Guillemots’ inception in 2004.

Gone are the swathes of audible eccentricities you might have found on Through The Windowpane, or Red. This time, muted opener, Walk The River’s sad tale is gently back-dropped against xylophones and harpsichords, without any hint of twee that might’ve existed in the band’s past life. Tiger has flashes of radio wave sound effects and whirring Bontempi, while Inside doesn’t make its atmospheric singing guitars and toybox chimes the centre. Nevertheless it’s unmistakeably Guillemots.

The overriding melancholy of the album journeys throughout the tracks in many guises. I Don’t Feel Amazing Now has a touch of cracking in Dangerfield’s voice, while Dancing In the Devil’s Shoes declares, “And if these days would never end, if laughter was my very oldest friend, not a growing trend, that what I have I always tend to lose”. Many of the songs’ epic sadness in fact exude joy in all but their lyrics. Ice Room’s whirlwind riffs and percussion have more than a hint of Smiths or early Manic Street Preachers – minus the political, while a simple Lennon-esque War Is Over beat on I Must Be A Lover, boasts a rousing gospel chorus of “Let it go”.

There are shades of Midlake’s Roscoe on Vermillion, but it’s a shame that some mid-track jamming takes it so far away from its original method statement. Odd synth spirals on Slow Train also mix like chalk and cheese, or salt in a mug of coffee. And Yesterday Is Dead’s psychedelic, Primal Scream call to arms works, until its impetus fails to maintain the interest for the full eight minutes it is awarded.

However, The Basket sticks its neck out above the din – its falsetto backing vocals and refreshingly positive, bowled over, love-drunk lyrics declaring, “You knock me over”.

Sometimes, Guillemots miss the uninhibited sound of Through The Windowpane or Red – elements like those left of field trumpets on Trains To Brazil, or the sparse, tear jerking boldness of debut album opener, Little Bear.  But these more peculiar character associations are clearly things the band wants to get away from now, to give them wider appeal.

This might, in the end, be the thing that splits opinions down the middle as to whether they’ve kept the qualities made them so special in the first place. But the musicianship is still very much there in Walk The River. It’s a beautiful record that is still a Guillemots record in its essence; full of songs that speak of a desperately sad subject matter but still manage to capture exhilaration in their very bones.

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Metronomy – interview


I caught up with Metronomy’s brainchild, Joe Mount, after the band’s last sound check before their first UK tour date in Nottingham earlier this year, to talk about the traditional English seaside, the Pyramid Stage and t shirt lights…

Does the first date of this tour fill you with excitement or nervous apprehension?

I think it’s a bit of both really. The first date of a tour is always really exciting, and we’ve not been to Nottingham for ages. All the responses to this album so far have been to mention this sudden pressure we’re under to perform that I wasn’t aware of! So it’s fair to say there’s apprehension there, but mostly excitement.

The English Riviera coastline encompasses your home turf, Totnes, in Devon. Was the album something of a homage to where you grew up?

It kind of is and isn’t at the same time. I grew up there and I’ve got a lot of happy memories, but the album’s also me trying to re-invent it because it’s not the most stimulating of places from which to create music from – the way of life is quite laid back. So I’d say it’s both affectionate and a bit of a kick up the arse.

Your latest single, The Look, actually has that traditional seaside sound – I take it that was a purposeful move looking at the album title?

I was aware of playing that jaunty organ sound so I know people will connect the two, so it was a tip of the hat of sorts towards the idea. We travel to different countries and there’s an attitude that people have towards the seaside that’s very English, as they consider those towns to be quite depressing old resorts so I think I was trying to be a bit romantic about them.

The new album’s got a different sound to Nights Out, and definitely Pip Paine, which both feel like soundtracks to parties. Was the change purposeful or organic?

Half and half. Part of me knew that people were more expecting us to do something predictable but I think the fans who understood us knew that wouldn’t be the case. I also just wanted a change and for everything to feel fresh. It wasn’t a struggle though so I suppose in that sense it was quite organic.

You’ve also slowly made vocals more and more prominent within your material. Has storytelling become more important to you?

Not so much. But I felt I needed to do something more confident vocally than Nights Out, something more engaging. It’s all part of this thing where I can see myself moving around between new ideas, but I would like to go back to instrumental on the next album.

Was there pressure to match the critical acclaim of Nights Out?

There is an element of pressure, and not to sound bigheaded at all, but when you start making music you have this idea that you are going to improve over time. If you created a good album and thought that was as good as it was going to get that would be depressing. I had no ideas how this album would be received – I hoped people would respond well to the chances we took with the sound.

You’ve produced all three albums, along with mixing other artists’ work, so how do you think that’s helped you develop?

A lot of the remixes have definitely helped, especially as you learn more about how other people have arranged songs. Writing with other people has also had an influence on the way I’ve worked over time.

Your videos are always imaginative, the latest using backwards footage on She Wants and pigeons on The Look. Does the band play a big part in coming up with these concepts?

On the last album I was involved with the videos but for She Wants I said I didn’t really want to be in them as we were touring. The mad idea for the seagulls came from Lorenzo, the director.

Onto the summer festivals… You’ve been placed on the main stage line up for Glastonbury. Does that feel daunting or a natural step up?

Someone told me about the Pyramind Stage and I was like, “What?!” as I suppose I kind of thought we might be put further up the bill on other stages but to be there is crazy. Having said that in the past I’ve been the one walking past the Pyramid around the time we’ll be on and I’ve felt sorry for those bands as people are just lounging about in the sun and there’s not really a big crowd, so that’ll be us this time! We’ve just always been the kind of people that roll with the punches and enjoy ourselves whatever so this’ll be fun.

I’m sure you always get asked about your t-shirt lights you have on when you play live, but it’s always been a burning desire to know the answer to that question! Where did the idea for those come from?

It was about three days before me, Oscar and Gabriel (Stebbing, former band member) were due to do our first ever live gig. I thought we needed something to pep the show up a bit as we were focusing on the laptops, so I went into a pound shop, saw the covered lights and thought I’d stick them on a t shirt. It was really a spur of the minute idea that’s become quite a permanent feature.

You’re also a fan of the on-stage theatrics and dance moves, will the change in style curtail the antics?

I think we’ll always weave it in to our gigs as we’re the same band and we come from the same place, and I think to ditch it would be to turn our backs on where we’ve come from so we definitely won’t be losing the theatrics.

Reviewed for Gigwise

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Erland and the Carnival: Nightingale – album review

Erland and the Carnival - Nightingale

Folk – in its most traditional form – can be a bit of a marmite genre. But Erland & The Carnival feel like a band who, irrespective of preference, create songs that show how objectively good they are at their craft.

That is what made the band’s self titled album from 2010 such a compelling listen – and Nightingale follows on from where it left off. This time though, instead of lovingly refurbishing folkloric songs and poems, these thoroughly British gents have written their own material from scratch. And while some of it retreads unnecessary ground from the debut, there are new moments of freakish wizardry and enchantment in their music.

The band are Erland Cooper – a folk guitarist and singer from the remote Scottish island of Orkney, ex The Verve, Blur and The Good, The Bad and The Queen guitarist, Simon Tong, plus dummer, David Nock, formerly of The Orb and Paul McCartney‘s The Fireman.

Map Of An Englishman is the first foray into a heavier and more produced sound, and is one of the band’s best tracks to date. Named after a piece of artwork from Grayson Perry, beneath its unfamiliar surface lies the characteristic nuts and bolts of whirring Wurlitzers and plodding rhythms, delivered upon a glorious musical wave that’s quite easy to be swept away upon.

If The Coral were the brothers of Frankenstein ‘s monster, they would probably have come up with something as weird and wonderful as Emmeline, complete with its horror house crescendo. And sixties influences from The Doors on I’m Not Really Here are so bold that you’d half expect to find their smudged fingerprints over the instruments.

In Nightingale, Erland & The Carnival take an Alice In Wonderland journey, delving into the curious, from dreamlike, to dark, nightmarish moments. I Wish I Wish is as wispy as it is odd, playing with rhythm to give the track an impossible sounding complexity that dances against the simplicity of the storytelling. Maddening Donnie Darko moments surface on Springtime and there’s also room for kaleidoscope Sergeant Pepper and marching bands on Wealldie.

The band say they recorded the album in the bowels of a ship moored on the Thames. Cabin fever aside, the heart wrenching love stories of Nightingale and East & West must have benefitted from solitary confinement, as the loss sounds all the more beautiful, especially in its stripped down state.

The latter end of the album palpably strays too far into obscurity – too far, that is, except for The Trees They Grow So High, which is wonderfully obscure. Like the present you hadn’t noticed behind the tree on Boxing Day, it comes as a bolt out of the blue with acid trippy lyrics, mixed with shoegazey folk that isn’t afraid to flirt with an experimental electronica beat.

Nightingale has a definite progression in sound from the debut – it’s darker, more varied, and more surreal. Whether the one is better than the other feels like a moot point for this band; the earlier was an exercise in lovingly bringing to life forgotten folk verses, yet this new offering had entirely different parameters in starting from scratch. In fact it’s this that makes Nightingale such a majestic, natural step, by virtue of the fact that while it’s so complex and accessible, it’s the genuine article.

Reviewed for MusicOMH

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The Shoes: Crack My Bones – album review

The Shoes - Crack My Bones

The Shoes occupy the same genre slice as many credible eclectically poppy bands at the moment, all of whom find themselves shoehorned into the ‘indie electro’ box, to prevent people assuming their brand of music bears any resemblance to The X-Factor banality.

Pop for some, after all, has negative connotations. That might also explain why they’ve been complicatedly labelled as French disco existentialists. But the definition isn’t actually inaccurate, because the duo from Reims – Guillaume and Benalways – have a wholly effective, matter-of-fact way of expressing their emotional reaction to people and situations in their lyrics.

That said, their easy likeness to a number of other artists does prevent them from breaking new ground. Yet the tracks are served with bucketloads of danceability, which makes them inherently memorable.

Stay The Same describes the album perfectly. It’s upbeat, percussion-led, and reminiscent of fellow countrymen Phoenix. While that means it won’t start a music revolution, it’s polished and remains in your head after the album’s finished – this puts a skip in the step rather than inciting curses directed at the temporal lobe for its poor choice of internal soundtrack.

Prince-esque falsetto vocals and drumstick clatter beats give Cover Your Eyes a deeply rhythmic groove. And Wastin’ Time has extra helpings of melodic pianos and synth, which ooze a sorrow not dissimilar to Miike Snow’s Burial.

That same effervescence continues on People Movin’, with Primary 1 as guest star. It’s an Outkast track that Andre 3000 could’ve penned himself, but isn’t the strongest of the collection.

If Glee covered Arcade Fire you might arrive at something like Time To Dance. That comparison shouldn’t do them a disservice, because after a few listens it’s hard not to submit to its infectious positivity, insistent piano loop and cowbell.

CocknBullKid’s guest vocals on Cliché hark back to Ladyhawke or New Young Pony Club’s aloof yet somehow sultry vocals. There’s also a deeper, darker side to the duo, audible on Crack My Bones, which like the previous track makes them sound like altogether different artists.

Despite an air of Friendly Fires bouts of percussion disco indie – especially on Investigator – The Shoes do feel more MacBook Pro than a live proposition. And Bored reveals another trick to the band’s pop box, with more than a hint of French house about it.

Because Crack My Bones is an album which flirts with guest stars and musical influences, it can appear a little formulaic. But that still doesn’t take away from the fact it’s a great listen. Guillaume and Benalways pack a lot of variety into their music which, when paired with honest lyrics that give knee jerk tales of emotion, makes The Shoes difficult not to like. It’s this that makes their existentialist disco pop label seem to fit quite well. Even Mr Existentialist himself, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “Without music, life would be a mistake” – and that’s the conclusion you imagine The Shoes want to be drawn from Crack My Bones.

Reviewed for MusicOMH

Filed under: album review, , , , ,

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