Monday, 28 July 2014

Band of Skulls 'Himalayan' Review. Big Riffs. Big Ballads. Big Balls.

Like an ink blot teSt only instead of seeing death and vaginas you see things like pharaohs and the silver surfer.
 
Band of Skulls reach new heights on Himalayan, heights that they failed to reach on their previous two records. From high octane rock ‘n roll sing alongs to brooding booming ballads, crunching riffs and delicate acoustics, Himalayan is the sound of a band brimming with confidence and ambition.
The record begins with lead single ‘Asleep at the Wheel’; a ballsy statement of intent. It is a great microcosm for the entire album. The rock ‘n roll abandon and nihilistic freedom of the record is epitomized by the line:
‘I don’t have time to wonder
Don’t have time to rest
‘Cause where we are going is anyone’s guess!’
 
'Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!'
 
The lead single sets the album off to a roaring start. The track’s brilliant riff is topped by tracks 7 and 11 but completely blown out of the water by track 9: ‘I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying’. Imagine the sound of Black Sabbath’s Crazy Train on a suicidal meth joy ride through post-nuclear holocaust zombie ridden LA. It sounds something like that. The clanging rhythm of the verse doesn’t prepare you for the mind-blowing riff that is coming down the track.
This record is not a one dimensional riff record though. Far from it: title track Himalayan along with album highlight ‘Nightmares’ are catchy as cholera (and much less deadly). The softer melodies betray their British indie influence. In addition to this the neurotic ballad ‘Cold Sweat’ tops earlier ballads by them such as ‘Honest’ off their debut album. The mournful lyric, so brilliantly sung by Emma Richardson,
 
‘Like a cold sweat alright. I got the fever for you tonight.
And I can’t stop. And I won’t stop.
How can I stop when nothing is enough?’
 
stuck with me and haunted my romantic indie dreams for many a night. In fact both sets of vocalists shine when on their own or combining.  


The humble faces behind the rock behemoth that is Band of Skulls.

Despite my glowing praise for this record it does have its shortcomings. Occasionally the album lags in the lyric category: ‘Toreador’ relies on some weak rhymes while the central line of ‘Brothers and Sisters’ has a pretty poor melody. The record doesn’t earn many points for experimentation either. In an age of unimaginable variety and innovation in music a straight up rock and roll record can seem a bit bland.
 

Sure: plenty of bands have made records brimming with ballads and booming riffs. Nevertheless Band of Skull’s unique off-kilter style means that you are consistently kept on your toes. Whether it’s unexpected dynamic shifts, dramatic pauses or cleverly layered harmonies, the record is full of surprises and subtleties. In addition to this their instrumentation is ferociously impressive throughout.

 
On Himalayan Band of Skulls go where many have gone before but with such panache and audacity that they have breathed new life into rock and roll.
 
            Tracklisting
 
1.       Asleep at the Wheel 9/10
2.       Himalayan 7/10
3.       Hoochie Coochie- 9/10
4.       Cold Sweat- 9/10
5.       Nightmares- 9/10
6.       Brothers and Sisters- 6/10
7.       I Guess I Know You Fairly Well 8/10
8.       You Are All That I Am Not 8/10
9.       I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying 9/10
10.   Toreador 7/10
11.   Heaven’s Key 8/10
12.   Get Yourself Together 9/10


Album Rating: 8.5/10
 
Play Time: 47 minutes 16 seconds.
 
'Himalyan' was released on the 31st of bloody ages ago.

I HAVE RETURNED

From self-imposed internet obscurity to 99.99999% internet obscurity.
Apologies for the long gap between posts!
Third year finals happened and all the time I had disappeared :(
However you can expect to see some album reviews coming up over the next few weeks. Expect to read some if not all of these in the works reviews-

Himalayan- Band of Skulls
The Bones of What You Believe In- Chvrches,
Shriek- Wye Oak,
Caustic Love- Paolo Nutini,
St Vincent- St Vincent,
Royal Blood- Royal Blood,
Creature Songs EP- Wolf Alice,
Nabuma Rubberband- Little Dragon,
TV Francais- We Are Scientists,
Twice- Hollie Cook
and more!...
Okay maybe not more.

Blogman awaaaaaaay!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Note: I've changed the blog name to 'Interstellar Burst'

But you can still find me as www.osianlewis.blogspot.co.uk so everything's fiiiine.

Goldfrapp 'Tales of Us' Review- A Dream You're Likely to Forget.

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.

Tracklisting and Ratings.

1. Jo. 6/10
2. Annabel. 5/10
3. Drew. 4/10
4. Ulla. 5/10 
5. Alvar. 7/10
6. Thea. 8/10
7. Simone. 5/10
8. Stranger. 5/10
9. Laurel. 4/10
10. Clay. 5/10

Overall Rating: 5/10

Play Time: 44 minutes 42 seconds.

'Tales of Us' was released on September the 6th.

A Spotify Playlist of the Music I'm Currently Into!

Givin' 'Em What They Love

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!



Sunday, 22 September 2013

Time for a nice musical plug

Hey readers,

This is my four piece indie rock band Animal Brothers. We've finally set up a FB page where you can listen to our debut EP for free. (I'm the one on the far right)



I'd say our major influences are- Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stoneage, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine. 

Have a listen, thanks :) 

Friday, 20 September 2013

Kings of Leon 'Mechanical Bull' Review- Can the Bull Still Buck?



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.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

New Name For the Blog.

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?

15 Steps
Alt-Z
Cacophony Prophecy
Good Feels, Bad Feels
Drum tone +mojo
Endorphin Emporium
Indie 'til I die
Interstellar Burst
Loud Noises
Native Indie
No Insignia
Not Another Music Blog
Nothing But Edge
Oscillation
Polyphonic Prayer
The Wise Rule