Sunday, 31 August 2014

Wye Oak 'Shriek' Review: A Math-Pop Album For the Daydream Generation

Looks like a nu-metal album cover, doesn't it?... it's pretty much the opposite.

Wye Oak's second album begins like many great albums: with a track that sounds like a beginning of an adventure. 'This morning,' Jenn Wasner sings at the opening and the close 'I woke up on the floor, feeling like I'd never dreamed before.' 'Shriek' sounds just like that: a floaty dream full of off-kilter percussion, plinky plonky synths gravitating to the rhythm littered with weightless vocals. They are somewhat inventive for a duo, but the guiding thread of criticism I have for the album is that it routinely fails to grip the audience and generally sounds monotonous. Don't get me wrong: it's a lovely sound, but it only has a bare few strings to its bow. Its use of rattly, off kilter drums, poly-rhythmic synth arpeggios and feather light vocals means that the overall effect is almost hypnotic.

Duos are doing well at the mo: Black Keys, Royal Blood, Deap Vally, Drenge etc.

First of all, the title and album artwork don't fit the sound and content at all: when I saw the cover and name, 'Shriek', I thought I was about to listen to the angstiest punk album since 'All Killer No Filler'. The album is all curious melancholy and inner-searching. There's no aggression, no angst, nothing of the kind. That minor note aside, it is a distinct sound. Wikipedia describes it as Indie Rock but there's about as much rock as you'd find in a pack of marshmallows. It'd be more aptly described as 'math-pop', 'indietronica' or 'synth-pop'. Regardless, many of the tracks march forward in tricky yet listenable time-signatures. The duo are clearly skilled at their own brand of off kilter synth music.

The choice of singles are a bit strange: lead single 'The Tower' is, for me, one of the weakest tracks on the album. 'Glory' on the other hand earns its single place with flying colours: a catchy chorus and space-age instrumental break down is just the trick to give the middle of the album a bit of a shakeup. 'Sick Talk' boasts a beautiful chorus and some brilliant atmospheric pauses. A bouncy R&B style beat underpins 'The Logic of Colour', a pleasant and memorable track which rounds off the album. It is backed by a bumble-bee synth and has some catchy melodies, along with some left-field lyrics. Insofar as variety is concerned, only the frenetic rhythm of 'Paradise' and the slow, echo-filled tune of 'I Know the Law' give the album any sense of variety. 

On the whole the relaxing dream that is 'Shriek' (again: why would you name such a chill album 'Shriek'!?) is easy to pass over while you listen. I have listened to it a number of times and each time I find myself glazing over numerous tracks. It's pleasant enough but despite its subtleties and skilled crafting, it is a pleasant but unremarkable record.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10

Track Ratings

1. Before 8/10
2. Shriek 7/10
3. The Tower 6/10

4. Glory 8/10
5. Sick Talk 8/10

6. Schools of Eyes 5/10
7. Despicable Animal 7/10

8. Paradise 6/10
9. I Know the Law 7/10
10. Logic of Colour 8/10

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Todd Terje- 'It's Album Time', A Mind-Blowing Experiment in Music for Music's Sake

'It's Album Time' is an experiment: but causal listeners, don't let that put you off. It's an experiment that Todd Terje definitely pulls off. Todd Terje's music sounds like it was made by someone who finds pure ecstasy in making music. It is playful, left-field, but undeniably listenable; more than listenable, positively danceable. Take 7/8 jazz-electro jam 'Alfonso Muskedunder': I've played that song 2-3 times on every roadtrip I've been on this Summer, and, despite its musical complexity, every time it has been played it has rejuvenated all the tired passengers of the trip. It's probably my favourite piece of music of 2014 so far due to its uncanny ability to lift my mood every time I listen to it. Also, I don't know who did the drums on that track but they are absolutely unfathomably sick. It's hard enough to just play in 7/8, not to mention to groove, do fills and solo in that time signature. Furthermore, it would make great music for a sit come, e.g. Generic sitcom #265:

Would you just look at those guys!? You can tell they're gonna be up to aaaaaall kinds of shenanigans. 

Totalling in at over 10 and a half minutes of virtually unbroken music, Swing Star, Pt. 1 and 2 are the musical centrepiece of the album. At this point in the album you feel like closing your eyes and imagining that you're some funky cosmonaut on an expedition amongst the stars. Part 1 bristles with frenetic space-age arpeggios which slowly make an orbit around your stereo system. Part 2 incorporates a bossa nova style polyrhythm while some tasty ass synth lines run circles around your puny mortal brain. All in all it's a masterclass of instrumental music. The epic eventually fades into a cosmic ocean of fading synths before launching into another space-age jam. The otherwordly synth bassline that underpins 'Deloreon Dynamite' is one of the album's highlights. Attention to both Upcoming TV Sci-fi and sitcom writers: have Todd Terje write your theme tune. You won't regret it.

I don't think I've ever been this impressed by an instrumental album... though to be fair there are vocals on one track (one which happens to be my least favourite). Many tracks work like the construction of a majestic building: Terje starts by showing you the basic structure upon which the song is going to be built before he gradually adds layer after layer. After a few what you are left with is a strikingly complex, but nevertheless accessible, piece of musical genius. I could go into depth about how every track on the album does this, but it's easier if I just give you my word. Every track is an intricate but fun set of sounds.  At times Terje is so skilled he makes the Chemical Brothers look like music tech BTEC students (although in fairness the Chemical Bros haven't done anything in about three years).

Todd Terje: a man with a beard so great that even his beard has a better beard than yours.

The only downside to the album is that, of course, as an instrumental album, it has next to no vocals. Personally I didn't enjoy the track featuring Bryan Ferry as I found his vocals insufferable. Nevertheless, for people who need memorable vocal hooks to give them anchorage in songs, this album might be one big electronic blur. It can be hard to distinguish the songs from each other, not to mention difficult to remember their names. Regardless, this electronic blur is definitely worth your time: it can work as brilliant background music for working or even a party. For me the sign of its true quality is that despite its sheer size and its aforementioned lack of vocals, it still kept me coming back to relisten. I haven't been this impressed by a dance album since I heard 'We Are the Night' by Chemical Brothers in 2007. Considering every artist and their mum is turning electro now days, many albums struggle to sound original and distinct. Composed and performed by a legendary dance DJ and producer, 'It's Album Time' is in a whole other world of dance music brilliance.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Track Ratings:
1. Intro (It's Album Time)
2. Leisure Suit Preben 7/10
3. Preben Goes to Acapulco 9/10
4. Svensk Sas 7/10
5. Strandbar 7/10
6. Delorean Dynamite 9/10
An awesome piece of music- like taking a hike through space.
7. Johnny and Mary- Bryan Ferry 6/10
8. Alfonso Muskedunder 10/10
9. Swing Star, Pt.1 8/10
10. Swing Star, Pt. 2 8/10
11. Oh Joy 8/10
12. Inspector Norse 8/10

Running Time: 59 minutes
'It's Album Time' was released on the 8th of April

Saturday, 23 August 2014

'Royal Blood' Album Review: The Brighton Duo Pump Fresh Blood into Rock Music

This cover's so intriguing I don't even have a rubbish joke for it.

You know that you're in for a white knuckle ride from the very first bar of Royal Blood's eponymous debut. 'Out of the Black' starts with a choppy instrumental section before launching into the first of many explosive riffs. Despite the fact I'd already heard half of it prior to release, the album doesn't disappoint. It's all killer no filler from start to finish. They open with the most emotionally tortured track. 'Out of the Black' is tight as a duck's ass but surprisingly musically tricky; yet this is only a harbinger for what is to come on the record. 'I've got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it!' wails lead singer Mike Kerr at the peak of the chorus as he hammers away on his wizard's guitar. Royal Blood's debut has been subject to a lot of hype: they were nominated for the BBC'S Sound of 2014 and they may be a game changer for the sleepy genre of rock n roll.  Ker somehow manages to make one guitar sound like three at once. Here to explain the mystic magic Kerr does with his shiny string-box, is guest Reviewer and super sexy guitarist of Animal Brothers (shameless plug) Ollie Brooks. Over to you, Ollie:

"Thanks Osian,

(Like I'm some reporter on the news) Your traditional riff god e.g. Tom Morello would have one electric guitar in one guitar amp. Kerr plays a Bass guitar which runs into a signal splitting box, meaning his bass can power 2 amps. The bass frequencies on one of the lines goes through an octave pedal to bring it up to electric guitar pitch and then runs through a guitar amp, meaning he has twice the amp and many times the thickness of riffzillas of the past. The bass and guitar sound are one and the same. As a result his ability to churn out monumentally catchy riffs is amplified by a fantastic tone, making this (in my humble opinion) the most important album for the riff lover since Rage Against the Machine's debut. Back to the studio Osian."

Guitarists everywhere be drooling

Thanks Ollie.

Rather than flicking the switch and going onto autopilot for a few tracks, as many albums do, on track 2, 'Come on Over' they shift into the ELEVENTH GEAR. It's the best straight up rock and roll track I've heard in a while. It begins and concludes with a riff with such an impact it will peel the skin off your face. Hyperbole aside, the track centres on the nihilistic line 'There's no God and I don't really care'. The album's lyrics are full of post-modern abandon and lust, indicative of a lifestyle gutted of the constraints of conventional morality. That said, it is (unfortunately for this graduate) not a particularly philosophical album: the lyrics drip with lust and romantic resentment. The mirror image to 'Come on Over', the chorus of 'Careless' is anchored by the brilliantly delivered line 'I wish I cared less... but I'm afraid I don't'. The staggered delivery of the chorus keeps you on your toes and provides more impact when it kicks in completely. Royal Blood's lyrics are generally decent with the odd gem which jumps out at you. 'Loose Change' is so good I can almost forgive him for misquoting Shakespeare though I'm guessing it's deliberate.   

There are riffs aplenty on this record: from the stylish, strolling melody of 'Loose Change' to the Jack White style behemoth riff on 'Ten Tonne Skeleton'. Kerr has talked of how both of his main vocal inspirations Jeff Buckley and Jack White shaped his style. The influences do show: Kerr's style of Bluesy delivery,his tumbling vocal rhythm and dramatic emphases are evocative of his prized predecessors. While White is famous for the occasional excellent riff, e.g. from 'Seven Nation Army' and 'Icky Thump', almost every song on this album has a classic riff in it. To have an album so full of memorable riffs is impressive.

This picture gives little indication of the maelstrom of sound these two generate live.

Thus far I've failed to mention the other half of RB: stick wizard Ben Thatcher. Thatcher is every part Kerr's equal: his beats are consistently huge. His playing creates layers of tension, dynamism and explosiveness on every track. At times he is as menacingly funky as 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik' era Chad Smith; at others he channels the metallic power of bands like Black Sabbath. Special highlights are his choppy drums on the opener and his drum solo on second single 'Little Monster'Between them they generate a sound punchier and bigger than some four pieces make. Their playing styles compliment each other excellently: every note and hit seems to be thoughtfully synced up to give the maximum amount of impact. 

Clocking in at only 32 minutes, the album is definitely brief, but it is an album that delivers from start to finish providing a high standard of quality rock from track 1 right through to 10. 'Royal Blood' is not a reinvention of the wheel; but it might be just what the doctor ordered to revive the pale kevada of rock music in the UK.

Overall Rating: 9/10
1. 'Out of the Black' 9/10
2. Come on Over' 10/10
3. Figure it Out 8/10
4. You Can Be So Cruel 7/10
5. Blood Hands 6-7/10? 
6. 'Little Monster' 9/10
7. Loose Change 9/10
8. Careless 8/10
9. Ten Tonne Skeleton
10. Better Strangers

Running Time: 32 minutes

'Royal Blood' is released on the 25th of August and for a limited time is available to stream on iTunes. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

'Alvvays' Album Review: Chirpy, Charming, Yet Ultimately Forgettable

I- I, er, don't really know what's happening here.

It's the 1960's, you're driving down the coast of California in an open top automobile (I know shit all about cars, gimme a break) and you're listening to surfer rock: this is the type of thing you'd be playing. Produced with a deliberately retro sound, 'Alvvays' has all the sun-tinged optimism of Best Coast, complimented by a bit of Canadian angst. It is an indie pop record: but one lacking the undeniably memorable hooks of pop songs and lacking the counter-cultural invention, skill and originality of indie.

If you're looking for a nice pleasant record, a bit of background music for a quick half an hour drive: 'Alvvays' is ideal. If, however, you're looking for something that has something left once you've scratched beneath the surface, then this is not the record for you. Despite its brevity, it seems that after just over half an hour of music Alvvays had already pretty much run out of ideas. There's not an awful lot to the record. It does have its highlights though: the first two tracks are charming, memorable and catchy tunes. Album highlight 'Party Police' has a more subtle emotional dimension. Molly Rankin sings the chorus with a level of tenderness not found elsewhere on the album:

'You don't have to leave, you could just stay here with me.
Forget about the party police, we can find comfort in debauchery.'

They're so adorable: I feel bad for being so critical.

That said, despite the tonal sweetness of Rankin's voice, it seems to have only one gear. 'Alvvays' is characterised by delicate and memorable indie guitar melodies and high-pitched north american vocals. As sweet as these features are, as I mentioned earlier, they do become quite indistinct and predictable as the album goes on. 'Dives', a bouncy, lazy drum machine backed song, provides the album with a much needed change of pace. 

To summarise: my main issues with this album is that there isn't much of it, and what there is of it becomes predictable rather quickly. Still, for those who look for simple, chirpy music, this album would be right up your street. It is the type of album that can bring a smile to your face, but I imagine it won't keep on doing so for very long. It's more of a long EP than a short album: and there's a reason people don't release long EP's.

Overall Rating: 5.5/10

Track Ratings:
1. Adult Diversion 8/10
2. Archie, Marry Me 7/10
3. Ones Who Love You 6/10
4. Next of Kin  5/10
5. Party Police 8/10
6. The Agency Group 6/10
7. Dives 7/10
8. Atop a Cake 5/10
9. Red Planet 6/10

Running time: 32:55 minutes
'Alvvays' was released on July 22nd.You can stream Alvvays on Spotify: Alvvays – Alvvays

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Unsigned Bands

Also I'm working on a couple of reviews for a couple of unsigned upcoming bands so keep an eye out for those!

If you want me to review your band then let me know and I'll get listening :)
I've recently realised that I've mainly been reviewing albums that I like or really like. This is a problem. The lowest I've ever given an album was a 5 and that was aaaaaages ago.
With that in mind I'll try and broaden my reviewing horizons.

And as always: recommendations + feedback is welcome.