Saturday, February 23, 2013

On Hail to the Thief

The question came through the music nerd Gods, Hail to the Thief, do I rate it? Yes I do but with caveats. As Rino in the twittermatrix pointed out it was a difficult transitional album and I agree with that. I also think there's a lot going for it as well.

Radiohead will always struggle to move out of the shadows of Ok Computer and Kid A (In Rainbows has come closest - a fucking marvel of a record). Amnesiac, while enjoyable felt like treading water to me where Hail to the Thief tried to incorporate the Kid A aesthetic with their indie guitar roots. In some respects, they failed but it is within that failure you will actually find a great record. The record doesn't know what it wants to be and tries to be everything all at once to its own detriment. It has always felt slightly unrefined and blunt (even the title of the record seems like a tossed away thought) and this is exacerbated by being too long and having a terrible track listing.

This is always surprising because one thing Radiohead seem good at is ordering their tracks. OK, Kid A, The Bends and Rainbows are masterclasses in getting albums to flow. Thief has none of that elegance. The first two tracks have the same dynamics that lead into a dead stop ballad and then the Kid A-esque electronic stuff is thrown in with little regard to what sits around it. It is almost tracked like a b-side collection and it is also too long by at least three songs.

However, like any canny music fan, you can make this work for you. As the record fails as a whole, it's easy to forget the casual brilliance of tracks like There ThereSit Down Stand Up and Backdrifts. If you are using itunes or spotify I would recommend playing with the track listing to give it more dynamics. This is my standard Thief playlist:

Go To Sleep   
Sail To The Moon 
There There
I Will
Punch Up At A Wedding
Sit Down Stand Up
The Gloaming

Maybe Thief had to happen for In Rainbows to work but I tend to think that Thief is underrated because of the reasons listed above. But it's worth revisiting, you forget how much great stuff is on there.

2 cents. There it is.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Atoms for Peace - Amok

I think I've been pretty upfront about my dislike for the King of Limbs but I have another confession: I didn't really like Thom Yorke's solo record the Eraser either. There was something so dour, self conscious and predictable about it that I could never really embrace (Black Swan excluded). When I say predictable, it sounded exactly like I imagined a Thom Yorke record would sound before I'd even heard it. They was nothing revelatory but a celebration of his wanton obscurist tendencies - why one of the best singers and lyricists of the last twenty years seems to want to not sing and make the words incomprehensible is beyond me. I just want to sit him down and have a cup of tea and have a frank discussion about his attitude. Happily, Amok is infinitely more pleasurable than either the Eraser or Limbs.

While the dreadfully named Atoms for Peace are technically a band, there is no way to confuse this as anything other than a Thom Yorke record. However, the band approach works as there is a lot more warmth here than on the Eraser. While I have a general disdain for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Flea makes Yorke's robotic bass soulful. Unfortunately, drummer Joey Waronker might as well be a drum machine as his playing in lost in the general cacophony of drum patterns. Whatever the case, this album is fun to listen to and is crammed with sonic peculiarity, roaming basslines and soaring choruses. The static clatter of Default (my favourite) is mesmerizing as is the spaced out but perfect chorus while the driving bass of Stuck Together Pieces is seemingly underpinned by somepne flipping the pages of a book made of tin. Stoners rejoice and get your headphones out, this record is for you!

As for lyrics, who knows? Yorke insists on mumbling through the songs which would make my 5th grade speech therapist slap him but it is only mildly distracting. Apparently most of this music was conceived after a marathon bender listening to Fela Kuti and there are elements here but if true, I think the greatest element is that this album moves with purpose and soul. It sounds like computer music for sure but it also sounds human. I have to admit I went in thinking I was going to dislike it but I am ecstatic to report that this is a great album happily bridging the divide between my Radiohead fanboyism and Yorke's love of anti-melody. Sure, Atoms for Peace is the suckiest name I've heard for a while but this record deserves to be on your record shelf. It's already on mine.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away

Push the Sky Away is an interesting album to me for a number reasons. My main interest is that this is the first record without Mick Harvey being second in command. It seemed since Warren Ellis joined the band the increasing collaborations between the Dirty Three founder and Cave (soundtracks, Grinderman) Harvey seemed to be sidelined. Harvey is a classicist (check his solo albums) so no matter how wild or ethereal the Bad Seeds got, he acted like an anchor. New number 2 Ellis is not constrained by such conceits and as such, Push the Sky Away feels like a departure for the Bad Seeds but not for Ellis and Cave.

Sound wise it seems indebted largely to their soundtrack work - quieter soundscapes based around gentle idioms and looping melodies (for example, Wide Lovely Eyes). However, the best songs here manage to incorporate the Bad Seeds swagger with that repetitive drone - Water's Edge is as angelic and airy as it is menacing with the most ominous bass line since Tupelo. The best song here, Jubilee Street, is the perfect confluence of sounds - built on a simple singular riff with Bad Seeds menace and the repetition of the Dirty Three at its finest, it slowly rises to unexpected levels of ecstasy (check out any of the live youtube videos of it, it is revelatory and I imagine it will be a staple in all future live shows). The wandering Higgs Boson Blues is the other high point, a understated meditation on mortality and Miley Cyrus or something... I'm sure some kid in listening to this record will be as perplexed by this reference as the one's to Wikipedia but I think that's ok. Cave isn't stuck in the Bible or the past - he feels very present on this record.

Interestingly, as the quietest Bad Seeds record since No More Shall We Part, it is not overly concerned with the whimsey of love or God like that record. If anything, it seems more less focused on the internal complexities and has more storytelling - you know, dead prostitutes, rape, murder - the good old fashioned Cave preoccupations. But most of all, it is good - very good and probably my favourite Bad Seeds record since the aforementioned No More (criminally underrated). Cave is no stranger to simple music (I recently bought a Bad Seeds chord book and was astonished to find out how many songs consist of only two chords - From Her to Eternity is only one chord [C5]) but this doesn't feel simple or undercooked. It feels perfect and has quickly become one of my favourite records of the year.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

So the Grammys...

So the Grammys are kind of bullshit and we all know that. However, I always like to read through the winners and was intrigued by the winner of the Best Metal/Rock category. I'd never heard of them or their song, it's here: 

Mother of God - what just happened?


Saturday, February 9, 2013

10 thoughts I had about music this week

It has been a long week but music hasn't been far from my mind. Here's the highlights on my indepth thinking about music this week:

1. How long will it take for Bat for Lashes' Laura to become a Premier League football chant? "Oh Drogba, you're more than a superstar..." (I use Drogba as an example but cannot condone anyone supporting Chelsea).

2. As much as a party starter as it is, Get down on it by Kool and the Gang is overplayed.

3. The new Bronx record seems to be getting worse with every listen. Initial excitement has receded into "what is this generic fuckery?"

4. Elton John playing on the new Queens of the Stone Age record proves that 70's era Elton is awesome. Also, as Trent Reznor guests on the album which suggests that he is the Elton John of the 90's.

5. David Bowie probably thinks Morrissey is a racist.

6. As much as Stereogum lists suck, they reminded me how great Sleater Kinney were.

7. On this, it will only be a matter of time before Stereogum do a "ten best songs by My Bloody Valentine." I expect them to break the internet on that day. BTW MBV is gold.

8. I finally heard the Triple J Hottest 100 number 1 song (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Thrift Shop). Sure it's a novelty song and pretty lame but I didn't hate it.

9. That being said, song number 2 is fucking everywhere. Icelandic Mumford and Suns - WHHHHHHY?

10. I heard the new Nick Cave album and it sounds nothing like I thought it would. Nick's still full of surprises...


Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Bloody Valentine - MBV

When the new My Bloody Valentine album unexpectedly dropped in the world's lap on the weekend, no one was expecting it and frankly, no one was expecting it to be this good. Through all the missteps, broken promises and the seemingly endless twenty two year wait for MBV, the mythos and love for it's predecessor Loveless grew and grew. It is a sprawling, amorphous throbbing glimmer of an album that seems somehow unformed yet perfect in every way. It reminds you of a girl, a boy, a time, a place, a feeling. It is transcendent yet deeply personal (I like Max's poetic recounting of his relationship with Loveless here). I'm sure we all share similar stories and I often feel that a person doesn't take music seriously if they don't respect (if not outright love) that record. As the MBV website went into meltdown on Sunday, I sat pressing f5 over and over again I listened to Loveless on repeat for four straight hours. Even that mundane task of checking a broken website took second place to Loveless - it is an album that cannot be ignored or be played in the background, it demands and deserves full attention of the listener. I barely play it when other people are around as I know my mind will wander to those angelic shards of guitar. I had to get that fanboy bit out first because MBV doesn't try to top Loveless, it comfortably knows its place and revels in its own beauty.
So, how's does it sound? Well, MBV sounds exactly like it should, it sounds like a My Bloody Valentine record. While people decry it for sounding like the early 90's, let's get this straight: My Bloody Valentine didn't sound like the early 90's in the early 90's, they've always sounded as if they've stepped through a wormhole from another universe. Sure, shoegaze blah blah but let's face it, as good as Ride, Swervedriver etc were they never managed to equal or surpass the sonic weirdness or delicacy of My Bloody Valentine. The album starts perfectly with She Found Now, it isn't a forceful track but quietly and confidently announces a sound that's been awol for 20 years. The following two tracks are similarly unforceful, just pure slabs of MBV pop - whatever that is. From there, the album flows and builds from the stately organ of Is this and yes to the final track that Wonder 2 which sounds like it was literally recorded in a helicopter. Like a fucked up off world symphony, the final six tracks glide together but build upon each other but is most exciting during the percussive thunder of In Another Way and the machine fire drone of Nothing Is. Make no mistake, all of it is good.

Sure, there isn't an Only Shallow or Soon on the record but realistically, how could there be? Whatever the case, My Bloody Valentine have done something very rare in the world of music, they have released a late career record that adds and cements their legacy without detracting from their early glories. Kevin Shields maybe an inscrutable and frustrating band leader to lead us on this merry dance for twenty odd years (he obviously didn't spend that time working on the album title) but I guess it never occurred to most of us he might know exactly what he's doing. Somehow the world felt like a better place this week to me because of this record and really, what else do you want from your music.