Monday, 22 September 2014

Death From Above 1979 'The Physical World' Review. An Abrasive, Frenetic Storm of Sound

They're back: and more rocking and erm, elephanty than ever.

Ten years after their first cult classic, 'You're a Woman, I'm a Machine', Death From Above 1979's second coming has been worth the wait. They've chosen an opportune moment where rock and roll is making its way back from the swamp of popular neglect. In that respect their comeback is well timed, despite the fact it has been ten years coming. Regardless of the long wait, the record is one written and performed by two ferociously fresh spirits. 'The Physical World' is packed with frenetic energy and unpredictable changes. While it's not quite as scatterbrained as say, the early albums of Biffy Clyro, it does keep you constantly on your toes.

There are some very danceable moments, but their current description as a 'Dance-Punk' band seems a little inappropriate in my opinion. Their distinct rock sound moves and changes too quickly for you to settle into any rhythmic groove. That said it is an excellent soundtrack to head banging or an intense bit of moshing. The album starts with 'Cheap Talk', a hyperactive punky tune which is perhaps the most memorable on the album. You barely have a second to breathe before 'Right on, Frankenstein!' commences at break neck speed.

Not only do they rock musically, they also rock some (questionable) moustaches.

The majority of tracks are foot-stomping, fast paced, riff driven belters, but some tracks stick out. For example, 'White is Red' is the most emotionally vulnerable song DA1979 have thus far released. The melody of the verse seems both relaxed and emotionally charged, reminding me of the general teenage experience of trying to play it cool around a girl while experiencing an inner tumult of emotional uncertainty.

'Frankie turned to me, she looked me in the eye. She said that I looked tired, she told me she could drive. I pulled up to the station, walked through the neon lights, then she put her foot down, down, down, down.'   

It is a simply told story of rejection, but one told in such a genuine way that it provides a brief sanctuary of emotional honesty in an otherwise over the top maelstorm of sound. The lyrics on the album aren't particularly complicated or original, but they do tell some interesting and raunchy stories The next track 'Trainwreck 1979' (which I'm calling the origin story of the lead singer and drummer, as Wikipedia tells me he was born in 1979) starts with the dramatic line 'I was born, on a highway, in a trainwreck!' This song is a pretty good summary of the whole album: an over the top, insatiably passionate tumult of sound which rarely stops to breathe.

As a drummer I can tell you: drumming and singing at the same time is so hard to do.

Sometimes 'The Physical World' seems a bit predictable and unremarkable, but I think this is just the creative and sonic limitations inherent in a two-piece line up. 'Always On', 'Crystal Ball' and 'Nothin' Left' are such predictable offenders. The record takes a turn for the darker from track 9: drummer Sebastian Granger becomes one gear more intense and raw, while he loses his shit and occasionally screams and Jesse F. Keller's guitar begins to screech like a tortured beast. The album closer begins with some menacing, unexpected synth before it launches into a skilfully played chorus consisting of some excellent accenting and comping between the duo. On tracks like these they show the creative and sonic possibilities opened up by being a duo: the ability to produce tight and complex instrumentation and have it seem effortless. The song ends with a guitar riff which sounds like elevator music to the seventh circle of hell.

A fierce and passionate record, 'The Physical World' ticks a lot of boxes as a rock album. That said, the record only offers so much and doesn't make many attempts to connect to the listener. It's all quality music, but it's lacking a lot of content. While the music is full of emotion, there aren't really any standout tracks which demand to be remembered and sung along to. That said, for someone who just wants a thrashy rock and roll album to lose their shit to, then lose your shit away! 'The Physical World' is a dramatic and passionate return from the Canadian duo.

Track by Track Rating

1. Cheap Talk 9/10
2. Right on, Frankenstein! 7/10
3. Virgins 7/10
4. Always On 6/10
5. Crystal Ball 6/10
6. White Is Red 8/10
7. Trainwreck 1979 8/10
8. Nothin' Left 6/10
9. Government Trash 8/10
10. Gemini 7/10
11. The Physical World 9/10

Overall Rating: 7/10

You can stream 'The Physical World' on Spotify, or buy it like a good human being.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sorry for the Slow Rate of Reviews Recently

The real world has been happening a bit too much. Currently working two part time jobs to save money for a masters scheme!
Just as soon as I get some time off there'll be more blogs on the way: I have a few albums I'm sizing up with my creepy reviewer's gaze already ;D

Monday, 8 September 2014

Chromeo, 'White Women' Album Review. Montreal Duo Clumsily Walk the Line Between Style and Sleaze

Chromeo's second album has one foot placed precariously either side of the fine line between sexy smooth and seriously sleazy. Their recent success follows the trail blazed by Daft Punk's 'Random Access Memory' last year. Personally I am completely stoked by the funk-soul revival of the past year or two. I'm not, however, completely sold on 'White Women'. On first listening it is an enjoyable, groovy pop album, but I find fault in its pop-predictability, lyrical cheapness and general self-conscious efforts to be sexy-cool. That said, I have doubts about my doubts: the album is more enjoyable the more I suspend my critical faculties.

With an opening like 'Jealous (I Ain't With It)' I was ready to lay back and roll my eyes (or, er- ears) through a predictable trend following pop album. My initial impression was ill-founded: the album teams with musical skill and funky flare. 'Come Alive (feat. Toro Y Moi) is a feel good anthem for the Calvin Harris generation, updated with some funk guitar and an eight bar appearance from chill-wave renegade Toro Y Moi. The pop ventures are generally decent, from 70's slap bass 'Play the Fool' to the more romantic subtleties of 'Old 45's' in which lead singer 'David Macklovitch' (what a stupid freaking alias) suggests that 'if you think romance is dead and gone, find an old jukebox full of 45's, pop a nickel in and feel it all come back.'

The funk is back. And it can now grow decent to good 21st century beards.

There are plenty of points in the album where Chromeo show their musical ability and melodic flare. Despite this, there are also many points when they overplay their hand. 'Sexy Socialite' is one such example: clocking in at about 6 and a half minutes. There is a really cool instrumental mid-section, but what follows is a cringeworthy as hell call and response section of: 'You're a sexy socialite' 'No I'm not, no I'm not'. This section sounds about as cool as Old Pedro's Piri Piri hot Mexican 'Tongue Burnin' Tasty' Chilli sauce (Not a real thing). A bit of quality control would have worked wonders for this track: perhaps with the baggage sheered off, with the track running in at about four to four and a half minutes it would have been pretty good. Regardless, this isn't an isolated event. 'Play the Fool' and 'Somethingood' really don't earn their length; although the outro is absolutely cracking.

Furthermore the sleazy sexual lyrics of 'Over Your Shoulder' betrays a modern kind of misogyny which really grinds my gears. The sleazy long-winded lyric:

'You worry about your size, it's nonsense it's not a contest, and besides, if it was a contest you'd win it, I want to take a bath with you in it, bathroom sex you with it?'

is just one of many which I'm sure whoever wrote the lyric would profess to be about promoting good body image. The problem is, the only goal of these lyrical 'confidence boosters' is to convince the woman of the song to have sex with him. The guiding philosophy of the track seems to be 'I want women to feel good about themselves so they will have sex with me'. Which, to me, doesn't seem particularly progressive, but rather a new form of covert misogynistic masculinity. I admit: I may have read too much into that song. It's just a bit too Robin Thicke-As-Shit for me. Aaaaanywaaaaay...

To go against the grain of my own indictment of what seems like everything that is Chromeo: there are some hands down quality tracks on this album. 'Lost On the Way Home (feat. Solange)' is amongst the best tracks I've heard all year. It boasts a slamming hip-hop beat, poignant and soulful musicianship and some excellent vocals from guest artist Solange and 'David Macklovitch' himself. Even if he does steal the last few notes from the outro of U2's 'With or Without You'. No melody plagiarism can get past me, cus! The sweet and charming 'Ezra's Interlude (feat. Ezra Koenig)' and Jamiroquai style dance-floor filler 'Fall Back 2U' (sik txt speek m8) are other songs that particularly impress. There's variety, consistent energy and invention throughout the album which do keep you coming back for more.

In their second record Chrome have drawn from a panoply of sounds: the result of which is a funky-fresh blended record that feels both retro and relevant. (Wait, why was I being so tough on it again...?
Oh yeah!) While the somewhat creepy lyrics and excessively long songs may irritate at times, there is enough good in the album that it can hold its head high as a solid funk-disco album.

Overall Rating: 7/10
1. Jealous (I Ain't With It) 6/10
2. Come Alive (feat. Toro Y Moi)- Toro Y Moi 8/10
3. Over Your Shoulder 7/10
4. Sexy Socialite 6/10
5. Lost On The Way Home (feat. Solange)- Solange 9/10
6. Play the Fool 7/10
7. Hard to Say No 5/10
8. Ezra's Interlude (feat. Ezra Koenig) 8/10
9. Old 45's 8/10
10.  Somethingood 7/10
11. Frequent Flyer 8/10
12. Fall Back 2U 8/10

Running time: 54 Minutes.
'White Women' was released on the [...] and is available to stream on Spotify.

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