Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Band of Horses - Mirage Rock review

On the weekend, I met up with my old friend John E, journeyman musician and musical scholar. Apart from discussing the possibility of him being my PhD supervisor (of course the rough title for the thesis is Bob Mould, punk rock and notions of difference), we were discussing how you can fall out of love with bands. For him, he fell out of love with Cat Power after You Are Free when she turned to Memphis. Despite my recommendation of how great her new record is, he isn't going there, it's too late for him, the romance is over and nothing will convince him otherwise. This got me thinking about Band of Horses.

I bought Mirage Rock a week ago and couldn't bring myself to listen to it. I loved their first two albums but for some reason the last one, Infinite Arms, really grated on me. No matter how many times I listened to it, I couldn't get into it and eventually I became weirdly offended by it. So when it came time to listen to Mirage Rock, I couldn't do it and made me think maybe my love was lost forever (also, reading a couple of dud reviews didn't help). However, after the conversation with John, I went home and put it on and much to my surprise, I think it's pretty good.

Now, let me qualify this in that I don't think that album will change your life or rock you to your core but I can't help but smile and find a lot to enjoy on this record. Somehow Band of Horses have placed themselves somewhere between being an alt country Shins and pure classic rock. If that sounds like your idea of hell, there is nothing here for you. But if you've ever sung along to America's Horse with no name without shame when it's come on the radio, that might give you some idea where some of this is coming from.

I think the first single Knock Knock was done a disservice by it's Wes Anderson-esque video which I found distracting and unnecessary (it's a different version from the one posted above). Just listening to it on headphones make its obvious why it's the single, just a good time sing along. A Little Biblical and Feud are two excellent rockers that harken back to the more expansive sound of the earlier records while Dumpster World is kind of goofy but fun nonetheless. Slow Cruel Hands of Time and Heartbreak on the 101 are two exquisite songs of heartbreak and loss that resonate deeply and are the emotional high points of the album. The Neil Young-ism of Long Vows is pretty pronounced but it is ultimately fun.

Maybe it was only me who had fallen off the Bandwagon (oh snap - puntastic) but this album has a really lovely energy to it. While it is often unrepentantly familiar and derivative, there is something incredibly joyous about this album. The love is back it would seem.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Here's some stuff to consider...

I've been struck down with some hideous ongoing flu/plague/possible whooping cough type thing for a month and while I have been lying in my bed in a perpetual state of misery, it has afforded me the chance to go youtube diving. These are the things I'm considering:
Good Heavens is basically the lead singer of the redsunband with the original Wolfmother rhythm section (don't hold that against them). They sound pretty good to me but I think I'd have to hear the whole album to make a proper judgement.
Alt J seem to be everywhere at the moment (posters, magazines etc), I thought I'd give them a listen. Although the video is great, I'm not so sure I'm sold on them. I think it'll take a few more listens for me but I think there might be something there.
I've seen JSBX a few times, most memorably when they sat in with RL Burnside at a festival. While generally reviled since Plastic Fang (I actually really liked that album), if there was any form to return to I think this sounds like a rockin' good time to my ears. Definitely enough for me to buy the album and you know, they kind of pioneered the whole guitar, drums, no bass sound that everyone made a million off (Black Keys, looking at you) so they deserve some respect.
I have a lot of time for Bat for Lashes, one of the few heirs to the Kate Bush throne who isn't so beholden or indebted to her that it becomes parody. I think all the songs for the new album released so far have sounded brilliant and this one released yesterday doesn't change that opinion. Personal taste here but definitely one of the most interesting artists recording at the moment.
Finally, a blast from the past, after listening to Kellie Lloyd's album a bunch of times, I've been listening to Screamfeeder a bit. So here's a Aussie 90's classic filmed on the top floor car park of the Brisbane Transit Centre. I have spent many an hour in that bus terminal for a variety of reasons so hooray for nostalgia...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Kellie Lloyd - Magnetic North review

Unless you live in Australia, Screamfeeder are one of the greatest bands you've probably never heard. Buoyant rock with that distinct Australian indie sound, they exploded out of Brisbane but never really cracked the big time which is a shame - their greatest hits album reads like a secret history of the best pop tunes written in the last twenty years and I think it might be safe to say I may be the only person on the planet who thinks their 2000 album Rocks on the Soul is one of the great lost classics of Australian modern music. In terms of dynamics, their secret weapon was always bassist Kellie Lloyd who brought a sweet urgency to the brash exploits of main man Tim Stewart - here are some examples (if they're on spotify, go check them out).

So it's no surprise that I've fallen deeply for Lloyd's solo album Magnetic North (I'm a bit late as it was released a few months ago). The album is a greater extension of her Screamfeeder work, a set of accomplished and compelling tunes grounded in passion and thoughtful playing. Opener How to get there slowly builds to a guitar freak out which is somewhere between Crazy Horse and Dinosaur Jnr but simultaneously sounds indebted to no one. My favourite track Insect wings on ice might sound like a throw back to 90's girl bands but it transcends this with a searing structure and my favourite line on the album, "...and they didn't throw rocks at you on your wedding day."

What makes this album interesting is its structure because while it isn't implicit that there is a concept or grander narrative, the songs move as if they are part of a greater story centred on a dark heart linked by a four song suite about darkness and night. We are made of stars is a desolate, accusatory ride through the night which leads to the piano and percussive clatter of Constellations. The following track Tu Viens Ici Souvent tumbles through crisis on the back of a lilting piano and cello while Your heart is a hunter builds from that darkness into a a exultant outro where Lloyd sings "Let the night come through." Whether by accident or design, (I might be reading too much into it), the songs link together in a soulful and arresting way.

Foxes down a hole returns the album to lighter, more familiar ground but there really is a sense that this is a record of an artist stretching herself. The final track, Your call is important to us, is an instrumental which has more in common with the Dirty Three than it does the Lloyd's day job in Screamfeeder. This might not be a record for everyone but despite my slavish devotion to Bob Mould's new record, this album is still getting some plays in between which is something of a miracle given how much I love Silver Age. This comes highly recommended and can be bought from Lloyd's website here. Go get it kids...


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thanks Mr Post Man

It's always a good day when I get a new Bob Mould record. Mr Post Man delivered my shiny new copy of Silver Age today. Gratefully, Merge records always provide good extras including poster, sticker, Silver Age patch and Merge Smapler (Red Kross, Magnetic Fields, Wild Flag etc...)
 Oh my, oh so pretty and a lyric sheet too. Joy!
 This is what The Descent looks like played at 33 1/3.
My devil hand approves. So, so good. Oh and there's this.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cat Power - Sun Review

Listening to Sun, I am reminded of a simple fact: whether it be indie guitar pop, folk, soul, electronic music, death metal or any genre of music that comes to mind; if Chan Marshall chooses to pursue it, it will always sound like Cat Power. Every piece of music she has released is united by her voice, a glorious husk with a honeyed sheen, unfathomable power and endless emotion. Sure, she favours the minor keys in her writing but even on the sprightly Latin piano, scratch guitar effused Ruin, she sounds indelibly like no one else recording music today. Born out of the ashes of a messy break up, Sun is a triumph and an easy contender for best album of the year.

The expectations of Sun are high as it's is Marshall's first album of original material since The Greatest and they are met and exceeded. For me, I felt that Cat Power's move from indie darling to soul queen was a fantastic move and those records (The Greatest, Jukebox) reinterpreted soul into something modern but immutably linked and respectful of tradition. Sun abandons this sound for a more eclectic, electronic sound which perfectly bridges the gap between the earlier spare records and the soul sounds of late.

Lyrically, the album is best summed up by the opening four lines of opener Cherokee:

Never knew love like this
The wind, moon, the Earth, the sky (Sky so high)
Never know pain like this
Everything dies (Then die)

The lyrics veer from total melancholy to total ecstasy but while there is an overriding sense of loss that shadows much of the record but it never feels heavy or a bummer, it feels revelatory as if Marshall is fighting it with all her might and scratch sunlight through the black veil of night. There are moments of pure exuberance and power amongst the darker moments.

Always on my own is probably closest to the Moon Pix days but everything moves with that repetitive sway that characterises Marshall's music - repeated melodies and guitar lines that snake into the brain. Marshall has always been an underrated guitar playing who creates hypnotic guitar lines but Sun speaks loudly as an all rounder as she plays all the instruments on the record. There is something of a mad scientist approach with left-of-field sounds which flit seamlessly in and out of songs which can raise an eyebrow until you realise how totally inspired they are.

The songs range from absent space disco of Real Life and Manhattan to the fuzzed out rock of Peace and Love while the title track sounds like latter day Depeche Mode. Peace and Love is my favourite track, a distant cousin of The Greatest's Love and Communication - only angrier but relying on the same underlying urgent repetition. Probably the most talked about song here will be the Velvet Underground crawl on Nothin' but time, a ten minute bass heavy drone with Iggy Pop playing Lou Reed to Marshall's Nico. It feels less like a homage but an embrace of their unhurried space and sorrow, a place that suits Cat Power well. The song is a plea for understanding, forgiveness and rebirth and it is gorgeous.

There are no weak tracks on this album which is immediately accessible and comforting. The music washes over the listener in waves and rewards repeat listens. If Bob Mould's Silver Age wasn't released this week as well, I'd say this would be my favourite record of the year. We'll have to see how that plays out in the next few months but this album reinforces that Marshall to be one of the most captivating and interesting artists making music today.