My name is Osian Lewis and I study English Literature and Philosophy at Cardiff University.
I'm the drummer of a band called Animal Brothers.
My interests are music, politics, literature, philosophy, running, drumming and writing.
This blog is a collection of music and television reviews- I will try and make sure that my posts are both accessible and intellectually stimulating and I will occasionally cover other grounds. The name is a lyric from my favourite band Radiohead's song 'Airbag'.
I'm going to shake up my review format a bit for the next few, see if I can get more readers to come back. I'm conscious some of my reviews have been a bit long so I'm gonna try and make them more concise.
The intriguing portrait photo of Alison Goldfrapp that serves as the album's artwork.
If you've never listened to Goldfrapp before, not every criticism I have of this record will be relevant. If you're yet to hear a 'Folktonica' or a 'Baroque Pop' band, i.e. a pop style record influenced by classical music then this will be a whole new world for you to discover. Their dream like ballads have a distinct charm. Goldfrapp began their career in 2000 with their ethereal debut 'Felt Mountain'. Through their career they've scored numerous pop hits, most notably 'Oooh la la'.
This record, however, is definitely not a pop venture. It begins with a rather pedestrian introduction- 'Jo'. It's a delicately arranged song with otherwordly lyrics which sing of how 'the wind sings by the river / Laughing, broken. Hair swept out into the water / Ripples of black.' It's an atmospheric beginning to the journey and is very typical of the record. In fact, there's not much variety- as I continued through the record I was constantly expecting one of the songs to 'take off', but virtually none of them do, with the exception of track 6, 'Thea'. Furthermore, once you delve into the lyrics of one song you quickly realise there's not an awful lot going on in terms of story telling and depth. It's all atmosphere and no narrative: you constantly feel like you're walking through a foggy, green, sinister valley where you're expecting something bizarre and magical to happen, yet it never does.
It is definitely an album for easy listening: it's very relaxing. I would recommend it especially to listen to while you're studying or trying to recover from a hangover. Other than those recommendations, I don't think you should give it much of your time- although you should always make up your own mind on a record that you think might be interesting, even if a reviewer has given it a crap score. It has a few signature Goldfrapp strings to its bow- the record is a haunting exploration of Alison Goldfrapp's vocal chords. Subtle lingering bass notes give them that distinct movie soundtrack feel. Eerie percussion and a pervasive and mysterious string section underpin the record's sound.
Despite what this album may suggest, Goldfrapp are actually good at making catchy, pop songs.
However once you've heard these strings plucked a few times over the first four tracks, it is hard to keep your focus. While trying to get food for thought for a review I consistently found myself tuning out after four or five tracks. The only distinguishable track for me is 'Thea'. It is driven by a typically techno beat and a curiously percussive synth melody backing it. The pulsating noises of the synthesizer is almost oceanic, it blurs the sounds of percussion and melody in an interesting way.
Other than this, most of the songs are but fleeting dreams. They are intriguing when you first experience them, but they are quickly forgotten. 'Alvar' is a fairly stirring ballad which uses dissonant strings (of what I think is a mandolin) to create a both comforting and unsettling feel. This is one of the standout tracks of the album, yet you could easily miss it as it is positioned right in the middle. The first four songs pass over like rain-less clouds: if you didn't look at the sky you'd barely notice that they'd been there. The album is poorly constructed- the first four tracks are so dynamically flat, quiet and similar that many listeners will lose interest but a quarter of an hour into the record. This is a major issue with the album. Another issue is that while the album is only 10 tracks it still lacks variety- in dynamics, content and style.
The album seems to be a dedication to friends, the collective 'Us' referenced in the title. Every song but one is a person's name, yet I don't feel like I've connected with any story or got an insight into any relationship. While I enjoyed their debut 'Felt Mountain' for how it made pop music with both classical instruments and electronic ones, this album does not grab my attention in the same way. It does nothing that the thirteen year old debut did not and there's not one moment on the record where Goldfrapp push the boat out of their comfort zone.
Pictured above is the mysterious beardy wonder behind the siren: Will Gregory.
1. Givin Em What They Love (feat. Prince) - Janelle Monae.
2. Smooth Sailing- Queens of the Stoneage.
3. Little Blimp- The Joy Formidable.
4. Baby I Call Hell- Deap Vally.
5. Arabella- Arctic Monkeys.
6. The Baddest Man Alive- The Black Keys feat. RZA.
7. Octopus- Bloc Party.
8. My Number- Foals.
9. Don't Try- Everything Everything.
10. F For You- Disclosure.
10 tracks of the type of music I've been really into this year. Enjoy!
Kings of Leon began their musical career in a blaze of drugs and adolescent morning glories. Their lyrics were randy, rude, violent and mischievous and their attitude to music was one of passion and playfulness. From their appropriately named debut album 'Youth and Young Manhood' to their upcoming release 'Mechanical Bull', Kings of Leon have undergone a process of reflection, refinement and transformation. I've touched on my own sentimental feelings for what I deem to be the first golden age of KoL in my lengthy 'Mechanical Bull Preview' (secret: it was the third album). In some ways I feel like I've grown up beside this band. Therefore it's difficult for me to put my feelings to one side and to impartially assess the album by its virtues. The album is a throw back to different incarnations of their sound: while for some this may ring bells of hopeful delight, for me I think it represents a bit of a loss of ambition on their part. While I am not a big fan of their hugely successful fourth and fifth albums, at least both records attempted to broaden their musical horizons. The current one seems to be a pensive elaboration on everything they've covered so far, and out of the heat of those moments I believe they've lost some of the sincerity in their song writing. I don't think this album will gain them many new fans though it may refine and vindicate some of their long term fans.
That said, the album shouldn't be written off purely on that. It's not a world-beater, but there is plenty to enjoy. Bassist Jared Followill remarked that the record sounds 'remarkably youthful' and I agree with him to a point. The happy sun-tinted young Followill brothers seem to be welcoming us back to the Summer o' '03 in the album opener 'Supersoaker'. Other tracks such as 'Temple' and 'Coming Back Again' are other examples of their more playful, indie rock driven sound. Despite 'Temple''s cheery youthful aesthetics, Caleb Followill, now a grown man hardened by experience, refers to the dancehall as a 'temptress'. On track 2 'Rock City' lead guitarist Matthew Followill's fingers pluck up a storm as he solos the opening for one of the most 'Southern States' sounding songs I've ever heard (but not in a bad way). As someone who does not hold a lot of love for the country and country rock genres, I find this record goes some way to convincing me it's not all so bad. It synthesizes country with other (better) genres- indie and alt rock tinges keep the album from sounding like it's one step away from the 'yee-haw's that finish their 2011 track 'Back Down South'.
They sure don't look like Dixie farmboys no more, no suh.
Matthew's solos don't end there either- the album's darkest track 'Don't Matter', while somewhat of a throw away song in the lyrics department, ('Uncle Sam, he looks Goddamn, but it don't matter to me!'... What?) is a showcase for his now battle-hardened soloing skills. In an interview with NME, drummer Nathan Followill confided that 'Mechanical Bull' (along with what feels like every new rock record at the minute) is influenced by Queens of the Stoneage. It sounds like their 2007 single 'Charmer', only it is less grizzly and rusty. If 'Charmer' is a horny bear, 'Don't Matter' is a smoldering, indifferent wolf.
Questionable animal metaphors aside, the album is also notable for its more melancholic and uplifting tracks. Through the course of their career the Kings have gradually worked their way into the Dad rock hall of fame with anthems like 'On Call', 'Use Somebody' and 'Pyro'. They cement their status with a song straight out of the U2 stadium filler textbook- 'Beautiful War'. Its steady baseline marches the song forward through the verse which builds towards the breathtaking plateau of its chorus. While it is definitely a rousing song that you'd want your son to listen to while you drive through the grand canyon (a limited application, it must be said), I'm not sure I agree or understand the main sentiment behind the song. I don't usually have issues or confusions with Caleb's lyrics- they usually feel like they're plucked right out of my brooding indie dreams. The chorus goes 'Love, / Don't mean nothing / Unless there's something / Worth fighting for. / It's a beautiful war.' Personally, I would always argue that it's the other way round- there's no way of justifying war or conflict unless you're doing it for love. Love without conflict is surely the dream everyone aspires to. I'm not sure whether KoL are deliberately playing with this assumption in this lyric, or whether they genuinely believe love means nothing without conflict. Perhaps they are saying that love is in fact a beautiful war- an existential struggle with another human being to coexist and find happiness with one another? (DEEP BRO.)
I dunno. I digress!
Sometimes your own music is so (a)rousing you and your bassist both orgasm at once.
This one awkward lyric wouldn't be a big deal for me; only the more I listened the more I found the lyrics to be a bit awkward and vacuous. One of the album 's highlights 'Wait For Me' doesn't really tell a story, paint a picture or do anything interesting with the vocal delivery, though it's still a good song. No.1 Country Rock Anthem 'Comeback Story' centres on the line 'I walk a mile in your shoes / Now I'm a mile away / And I've got your shoes.' A witty one line remark indeed- but not the type of line you'd base an entire song around. It builds into an uncomfortable climax- the inclusion of a string section is an abrasive, forced fusion of classical and rock. Nevertheless there's the odd lyrical gem on offer- for example on the same track Caleb's affirms that 'Some day you'll understand, I tried my best to be an honest man.'
So far I've seemed pretty hard on the Followill's, yet there is one thing I cannot fault- their musical ability. 'Mechanical Bull' is the result of hard graft by a cohesive band who know how to compliment one another's playing styles. Bassist Jared Followill has cultivated his own mysterious style which compliments Nathan's slow-walking bass pedal notes on tracks 6 and 8. When the guitarists rev up their re-verb and grizzly sustain they give me hope that this record will sound great live. The album closes with its best offering 'On the Chin'. As they've shown on many occasions, KoL can finish albums amazingly well. 'Arizona' and 'Cold Desert' are two of my favourite songs ever and the latest closer is not too far behind in terms of atmospheric, journey ending epicness.
As glowing as this compliment sounds, it's a shame that the listener has to go almost 40 minutes before they hear a truly outstanding KoL song. On the basis of their first three albums, Kings of Leon are in my top 5 favourite bands- but their latest three push them waaaaaay down the rankings. While 'Mechanical Bull' is as solid and slick as the last two records, it is also just as predictable. Their latest album is the third album that has reinforced one of my long held quiet beliefs- that growing up is good, but youth and young manhood is great.
Tracklisting and Ratings
1. 'Supersoaker' 7/10
2. 'Rock City' 7/10
3. 'Don't Matter' 8/10
4. 'Beautiful War' 8/10
5. 'Temple' 6/10
6. 'Wait for Me' 8/10
7. 'Family Tree' 6/10
8. 'Comeback Story' 7/10
9. 'Tonight' 6/10
10. 'Coming Back Again' 8/10
11. 'On the Chin' 9/10
Overall Rating- 7/10
Running time: 42:31
'Mechanical Bull' is released on Monday the 23rd of September.
It is also available to stream for free on iTunes for a limited time.
I've been thinking of changing the blog's name to something interesting.
I had a brainstorming session earlier on the toilet (Too much information which you'll just have to deal with) and came up with some of these.
Thoughts? Comments? Do any of them stick out as good names for a music blog?
Good Feels, Bad Feels
Drum tone +mojo
Indie 'til I die
Not Another Music Blog
Nothing But Edge
The Wise Rule
Black and white meaningless artwork... so hot right now.
The 1975 are a great example of a band who are very much with the times. You only have to sample their song titles to get an idea of their thematic landscape: Sex, Chocolate, Girls and Robbers. I like most of these things and I like most of the songs but there is definitely an element of quantity over quality on this record. Now I wouldn't go as far as to say that they all play synth, but I would describe them, like Alt-J, as a sort of hipster-lite type band. The 1975 definitely have a distinct, left-field sound but are also capable of writing catchy tunes. While I am usually eager to embrace the newest innovative sound, I'm not completely bowled over by this one. Despite this the record definitely has its merits and its moments.
Despite the distinctiveness of their sound, this album wasn't created in a vacuum. 'The 1975' have a little of the plinky plonky funk of the Foals but sound most similar to the chirpy riffs and hooks of Two Door Cinema Club. While Foals are often brooding, existentially anxious and dark, Two Door Cinema Club are (irritatingly) happy clappy skip up and down, put your hands in the air like you just don't care, indie. The 1975 fall somewhere between these two moods. Like both bands they rely on their scratchy indie riffs which compliment their consistently catchy choruses. The best examples of their riff driven tunes are 'Chocolate' and 'Girls'. Both are happy go lucky music festival anthems. Personally, it is this side of their sound that irritates me. Both songs run out of gas after about 2 and a half minutes and then run on the fume of 'wouldn't you like to hear that chorus one more time? Here's it three more times!' I don't believe the lead-singer's voice lends itself well to these pop hits. At these points in the album Matthew Healy's voice reminds me of Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy. Now if you think that's a good thing, you're going to be on a very different page than that of this reviewer.
'No one will buy our album if more than 50% of us look at the camera at once.'
Regardless of my hang-ups on their pop ventures (I have still rated them a bit higher than I personally think they're worth as I know catchy singles are very valuable to an album) there is an element of darkness and self-torture about the record that I prefer (because I'm a dark and moody douche). They seem more at home when they're singing from a more pensive, melancholic persona. 'Sex' gives the listener a snapshot story of the singer's morally ambiguous struggle to get a girl to sleep with him. The song is typically teenage and boyish: it centres around the moodily delivered line 'She's got a boyfriend anyway!' For me it's the best song on the record. It bears a resemblance to the Kings of Leon's Indie Anthem 'Use Somebody'.
There is more subtlety and experimentation to the album than what it might sound like from what I've said so far. There's definitely a Tears for Fears influence in some of the synth and guitar playing- specifically on the urgent, echoey 'Pressure' (listen to TfF's 'Mothers Talk') and on the swish opening guitar twangs of 'Heart Out' (listen to TfF's 'Head Over Heels'.) Their lyrics are often witty and are cleverly delivered. Healy casually whispers that you've 'Gotta love the way you love yourself. Your obsession with rocks and brown And fucking the whole town's A reflection on your mental health. The three later lines flow into one another before slotting back into a neater verse pacing: this highlights the 1975's song writing credentials. Not only are their innovative musically, the way they structure their songs is also adventurous, almost playful.
Music makes you get down and contort your body at awkward angles.
On tracks like these their musicianship is more subtle than on two note wonder 'Settle Down'. The interludes deepen the record's atmosphere. Like M83's last record, 'The 1975' feels like its taking you on a journey through a world: whether you like everywhere that world takes you is another matter. The experimentation does not always pay dividends though. 'Talk!' is a spurt of musical masturbation that is built around an almost unlistenable time signature. At first 'M.O.N.E.Y' sounds like a promising track before it slips into the most middle-class yuppie rap you're likely to ever hear, for which I personally believe that they should be exiled from rap city for at least six years.
I think this album definitely would have benefited from some quality control. After releasing four intriguing EP's they didn't necessarily need to make a 50 minute long, 16 track behemoth like they've done. Nevertheless, it is an intriguing, distinct debut which I think stands in its own quirky corner of the current music scene.
Tracklisting and ratings.
1. 'The 1975'
2. 'The City' 7/10
3. 'M.O.N.E.Y' 7/10
4. 'Chocolate' 6/10.
5. 'Sex' 9/10?
6. 'Talk!' 6/10
7. 'An Encounter'
8. 'Heart Out' 8/10
9. 'Settle Down' 7/10
10. 'Robbers' 7/10
11. 'Girls' 6/10
13. 'She way Out' 6/10
14. 'Menswear' 8/10
15. 'Pressure' 8/10
16. 'Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You' 7/10
Running time: 50 minutes 41 seconds.
Overall Rating: 7/10 The 1975's eponymous debut is out now.