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.

Glass Animals 'ZABA' Review: A Great and Groovy Odyssey into Psychedelic Indie

I could almost have guessed the title would have a Z in it just from seeing the artwork

Glass Animals dress like they sound. Bright, psychadelic colours in curious clustered patterns on loose t-shirts. I know this because I've had the pleasure of seeing them live on the first show of their UK/US Summer tour. They are a band very much on the up at the moment, picked up by NME for success, and rightly so! Their brand of tropical Indie synthesizes the delicate mournfulness of Wild Beasts, the unstable kinetic rhythms of recent Radiohead and the R&B inspired energy of Friendly Fires. Their set was tight to the nut and bolt but was also positively magnetic and immersive. Lead singer Dave (I met him so I can call him by his first name :D) has the smoothest falsetto voice a man could ask for and all the Thom Yorke like moves you'd expect to go with that. His stage presence is marvellous and that feeling of playful movement carries into the record. At moments they have the chilled intensity of Massive Attack, but to try to pigeon hole their influences is to do them a disservice. Their sound is distinct and fascinating.

'Slow down, it's a science, it's been waiting, to bring you down. Snake eyed, with a sly smile, we can hold you and shake you dry.' 

The playful and somewhat ambiguous imagery is a mirror image of the kaleidoscopic influences of the album. Album highlight 'Black Mambo' is centred around three rippling chords reminiscent of hip-hop in the 90's and early noughties. The bouncy beat and trickling synth riff means that the track oozes sexyness. A sweeter than sugar guitar riff ushers the listener to the tail-end of the track.

Those cheekbones are so sharp they could break your heart in two. </3 #mancrush(es)

Elsewhere the album's energy is more innocent and tame. On the very next song, the singer happily remarks 'I smile because I want to.' A fun-loving vibe permeates the majority of the album: these songs are good to move to. Indie music, with all its youthfulness and edgyness, sometimes fails to get people really moving. You ever tried doing anything other than jumping at a Franz Ferdinand gig? (It doesn't work) 'ZABA' is a record with space: space to move, space to groove, space to let your mind wonder as you listen to it. The irresistible bassline and vocal line combo of 'Toes' is one of those simple touches that has you moving involuntarily: even if it's just a gentle, rather awkward head bobbing cycle in the library (anonymous auto-biography here). Such is the craft of the album's production and arrangement that you feel this sense of spaciousness even when every member of the band are playing. The album ends with 'JDNT': the type of track that when listened to with your eyes closed could give you sea-sickness... but in a good way. Ending an album on a downbeat song is a bold move, but one that definitely works. 'ZABA' never tries to grip you at any particular point: there are no white knuckle moments or real releases of angst or passion. Instead Glass Animals try to slowly lure you into their music's sensuous embrace before gently letting you go.

Like many albums that fall on the fault-line between indie and electro, this album is a maze of sound- one which you can get pleasurably lost in. I get the sense though, that the songs are more like impressionist paintings than stories: which is fine- only for me often the best part of a record is to get a good feel for the innerlife of the song writer and to sense a cohesive vision at work. Perhaps this guiding feeling and vision are present and it's just me that isn't skilled enough to identify them; but after numerous listens I've struggled to emotionally connect with the songs. That is the only major criticism I have of the record.

They perform like elegant swans. That's what 'Zaba' means. (Probably).

I especially recommend 'ZABA' for those who like to move and groove. For those who don't then I'd bid you to give it a try regardless; it's an intoxicating, fun album. 'ZABA' is a sign of great and groovy things to come from this young band.

Overall Rating: 8/10

1. Flip 7/10
2. Black Mambo 9/10
3. Pools 7/10
4. Gooey 7/10
5. Walla Walla 6/10
6. Intruxx 8/10
7. Hazey 7/10
8. Toes 9/10
9. Wyrd 7/10
10. Cocoa Hooves 6/10
11. JDNT 8/10

Running Time: 45 Minutes.
'ZABA' was released on the 9th of June
You can stream their album on Spotify by clicking here.
OR you can buy it by clicking here. (This one is better 'cause musicians need money too).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Lana Del Rey 'Ultraviolence' Review: The Enigmatic Emotional Landscape of a Troubled Soul

Could easily have been called 'Film Noir Fantasy'.

Deluxe is the name of the game. 'Ultraviolence' sells you a bit of a messed up life style but it does it so well that you may struggle to care. The record is undecidably mixed between a lust for life and luxury and a life pervaded by sadness. It has many truly romantic songs. From the opening lines of 'Cruel World' to the classy saxophone solo of closer 'The Other Woman' her familiar persona continues where it left off: for anyone who has seen Lana Del Rey in that H&M advert, it is clear that she strives to create a continuous persona through her work. She's admitted as much in interviews: in an interview with the Independent she stated that she didn't want to 'mislead in terms of [her] personal aesthetic, like [her] psyche coming through design-wise and musically- [she likes] continuity'. A strong auto-biographical voice manifests itself in everything she writes. She's still singing about the same kindof messed up relationships though now she's turned the messed-up-dar up to eleven as she sings: 'Jim raised me up, he hit me but it felt like a kiss.'

Fuck you, Jim.

'Ultraviolence' glamorises dysfunctional relations that tow the line of romance and abuse. Perhaps there's something to learn from Lana: as glamorous, attractive and successful she is, she seems completely hung up on one man who was clearly no good for her. Of course, it's hard to determine what is drawn from and what is a dramatized version of her experience. Whoever this guy is, she's called him 'A Million Dollar Man,' Invincible' and reminds people that, before they judge, they 'haven't seen my baby, [they] haven't seen him yet'. Throughout her praise of this man, however, there is an anguish and tortured tone that means you can't help but feel for her.

Sometimes she takes on a different register: in the independent interview she says that 'I Fucked My Way Up to the Top' is a comment on people's false presumptions on how she got her success. Though she professes that she stays away from feminism, this has a feminist undercurrent and therefore gets progressive points to me. THUMBZ UP.

Lyrical content aside, the music is as mysterious and stirring as the first album. She has substituted the somewhat hip-hop tinge of her debut 'Born to Die' with a more american rock sounding arrangement. This could be due to the influence of her new producer, Dan Auerbach, the lead guitarist and singer of the Black Keys.

Hmmm, well this is interesting.

The full range of Lana's vocal arsenal is displayed on this album, from the high-pitched, floaty chorus of 'Brooklyn Baby', the quietly sang mid-range verse of 'West Coast' to the deeper notes of the 1950's style 'The Other Woman'. The sheer variety of her voice is remarkable: from song to song, from verse to chorus, she uses her voice as an instrument. Sometimes it is breathier than an asthmatic at a bonfire, other times it's much stronger and piercing. At times the slow pace of the album can be charming and entrancing: at other times it can seem a bit too stretched out and lumbering. The album is a little monotonous: it lacks the attempts to write more upbeat songs like her early singles 'National Anthem' and 'Summertime Sadness' (neither of which are particularly good, but they give variety). While there are some real stand-out moments, the first and final tracks, 'Old Money' and 'West Coast' being my personal favourites, some of them seem predictable Lana Del Rey songs. On the whole, however, the record is like a sensual massage on the ears (okay I toned that down a LOT in order to not sound misogynistic). The tempo shifts in 'West Coast' perfectly compliment the sense of playful dance and abandon expressed by the lyrics. Lana has a unique striking presence to her voice. I strongly suspect she'll do the next bond theme. So you heard it here first! She has a seductive quality to her voice that was always destined to soundtrack a glamorous film.

There were no colour photos and I couldn't hack that so... tah-dah!

'My father's love, was always strong. My mother's glamour, lives on and on. Yet still inside, I felt alone, for reasons unknown to me.' The enigma of Lana's complex emotional state is summed up in this lyric, because, alas, that's what this record is: the emotional landscape of Lana laid out for the ears to hear. It's a complicated, twisted landscape but it is one worth exploring. An improvement on her debut, 'Ultraviolence' is a polished, enjoyable album.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

1. Cruel World 9/10
2. Ultraviolence 8/10
3. Shades of Cool 6/10
4. Brooklyn Baby 7/10
5. West Coast 10/10
6. Sad Girl. 7/10
7. Pretty When You Cry 8/10
8. Money Power Glory 7/10
9. Fucked My Way Up to the Top 6/10
10. Old Money 8/10
11. The Other Woman. 9/10

Running Time: 51:24
'Ultraviolence' was released on June 13

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Somewhere I'm Not Scattebrain: A New Blog by Osian Lewis

This a sub-blog of mine. For music reviews come to Interstellar Burst.

If you're interested in reading my creative writing: generally poetry, songs and experimental pieces, then visit here-
Everything I will publish on scatterbrainpoetry is copyrighted (it's easier to do than you might think) but it will be here to access for your enjoyment.

Any feedback is welcome and I hope that some of my pieces interest or resonate with some of you readers :)

Here's a picture of me and my bro jumping into the air to make things a bit more interesting-

The only question is: who is who?

Monday, 11 August 2014

Beck Morning Phase: A Short Glowing Review for a Short Glowing Album

For songwriters like Beck sorrow and happiness are part of one cycle. This album is split between these two moods. I think the album would me more aptly named 'mourning phase'. But perhaps this was a lyrical pun left open to the listeners imagination. This symbolic conceit of 'morning' runs through the entire album. Due to this I find myself feeling like a mild synaesthesiac while I listen to it: I can see the glow of Beck's creative vision emanating from every word and note.

For me the second half is noticeably weaker. That's perhaps because I'm not much of a pure folk fan: I enjoy the genre spliced with others like the subtle electronic influences of the first half. I lost a bit of interest by the end and the album isn't particularly eventful or long. The ideas seem to have been a little bit used by the end. The last track, Waking Light, is another shot at the overpowering wall of sound that Beck is trying to create: and it works crazily well.

For those of you who are properly into your pure folk: your track preferences may differ and you may enjoy this album even more than I did. 'Morning Phase' is a concise and cohesive record. For me some of the less produced tracks are a bit bland, but I'm receptive to the counter argument that for some 'over-production' is the mother of all evils: with that in mind I still think this album deserves a good score.

Particular highlights are the opening piano melody of 'Morning', the three evocative chords which deliver devastating emotional resonance on 'Unforgiven' and the haunting one word call of 'Isolation' which ends 'Wave'. This record is one for solitary listening: it would absolutely kill the mood at a party. But if you're feeling particularly melancholic then I'd recommend sticking your headphones in, clicking play and going for a morning stroll through the countryside.

Yeah... I've totally done that.

'Morning Phase' glows with inspiration and emotional nuance. It's Beck's best album for many years.

1. Cycle
2. Morning 10/10
3. Heart Is A Drum 7/10
4. Say Goodbye 6/10
5. Blue Moon 8/10 beautiful little synth flourish near the end.
6. Unforgiven 10/10
7. Wave 9/10
8. Don't Let It Go 8/10
9 Blackbird Chain 6/10
10. Phase
11. Turn Away 6/10
12. Country Down 6/10
For fans of the harmonica (not really me but fair enough)
13. Waking Light 9/10 Big surge of sound in the chorus thanks to some great arching backing vocals.

Overall Rating: 8/10

'Morning Phase' was released way back on February the 21st