Friday, December 24, 2010

EP Review: Mark Lanegan Band – Here Comes That Weird Chill

This was a huge departure for Mark Lanegan in 2003, up till now he had released 5 solo albums of consistently moody dark folk-inflected blues, using mainly traditional instruments, as well as his considerable body of work with the Screaming Trees.

Here he threw out the formula, and rather than working with usual collaborator Mike Johnson he got Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age involved, as well as Greg Dulli. Methamphetamine Blues is an arresting opening to the EP, featuring clanking percussion, loops and a driving rhythm for a great big heavy number. After the moody short interlude that is On The Steps Of The Cathedral, we get a blacker-than-black cover version of Captain Beefheart’s Clear Spot.

Message to Mine opens with Homme singing before kicking into a driving rock song with a Screaming Trees style singalong chorus, while Lexington Slow Down is a more traditional Lanegan piano song, featuring a great lead vocal. Then things get really messed up for Skeletal History: “An artery is not a vein” growls Lanegan on this QOTSA influenced track which lurches unpredictably from one riff to another.

Final track Sleep With Me is probably the most anthemic on this EP, featuring a powerful vocal from Lanegan. This was a very important album for Mark Lanegan as it’s where he tore up the ‘formula’ of his previous solo albums and used the influence of his collaborations to come up with this EP. The results are quite unlike anything he had done before.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

EP Review: The Twilight Sad – Here It Never Snowed, Afterwards It Did

This was a stop-gap EP put out in 2008 featuring reworked versions of songs off The Twilight Sad’s debut album. What they have done here is given the rhythm section some time off and cranked up the My-Bloody-Valentine-at-their-most-spacey influence to produce much more atmospheric, droning versions, which really suit dark wintry evenings. So the guitars and drums are downplayed and replaced by organ, glockenspiel and a load of fuzz.

The production is really good on this one, with bells, violins and cymbals and gorgeous strings on And She Would Darken The Memory all giving added frostbite type effects. Singer James Graham should not be forgotten here either. On Cold Days From The Birdhouse he is in fine voice, rolling his ‘r’s deliciously, bellowing out lyrrrics like “and your rrred sky at night won’t follow me now”.

The title track was written with this format in mind, with some pathos-inducing organ keeping it in a similar mould to what has gone before, and lyrics like “are your hands cold, cos your fingers feel like snow”. It can be a bit same-y, Mapped By What Surrounded Them is almost pure MBV underwater-style backing track, with James Graham singing over the top which has the feel of two disparate parts being grafted on to each other. However none of the songs outstay their welcomes.

Walking for Two Hours even features sleigh bells and the Daniel Johnston cover Some Things Last A Long Time features accordion. It’s a bit of diversification from The Twilight Sad and shows they can turn their hand to something else, apart from the noisy stadium rockers of their main albums.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Album Review: Warpaint - The Fool

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Album Review: Low - Christmas

Since its release in 1999 this has often been held up as an example of one of the few non-cringey Christmas albums. Low feature combination of traditional Christmas songs and their own, generally superior Christmas-related originals. Just Like Christmas is the cheesiest/cheeriest moment here, featuring sleigh bells and a boppy beat.

The mood is taken down a million notches with the funereal-paced, Biblically-themed Long Way Around The Sea. It’s pretty much as perfect a Low song as you could fine, with glacial tempos and traumatized vocals soundtracking the birth of Jesus. They drench Little Drummer Boy’s parum-pum-pum-pums in MBV-style fuzz.
If You Were Born Today is another slow one with religious overtones and a menacing edge to it, even when they get to say “joy to the world and peace on the earth”. They do sparse versions of Blue Christmas (made famous by Elvis Presley) and Silent Night, before finishing on 2 more originals.

It’s a true soundtrack for Christmas, when all the franticness has ended and the dust has settled and we are left with a true Christmas, whatever that might be. Is it the empty feeling of wondering what the last couple of weeks were all for? Maybe. It’s 8 songs that connect on a human level that might just be the best Christmas present you could hope for.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Preview: most anticipated albums of 2011

2011 is already shaping up to be a good year for albums. The following is just what I know about, doubtless there are things I’ve missed, or some of this may not materialize:

Dakota Suite & Emanuele Errante – North Green Down

This is scheduled for release on January 14th, so first out of the blocks for this one. It’s another album of classical pieces. I have heard the title track (which also featured on live album Vallisa) which is a filmic, piano-led piece perfect for January contemplation. Would be nice to get a ‘singer-songwriter’ album with Chris Hooson playing some guitar. As far as I know there is one in the works, You Can Leave But You’ll Never Make It Home Again, due next autumn. Also in progress are The Hearts of Empty, an ambient/late night counterpoint to 2008’s The End of Trying, recorded with David Buxton, and The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart, four pieces to be recorded with composer Quentin Sirjacq featuring string quartet, clarinet and celeste. Looks to me that Chris’ heart is really in the classical side of his work at the moment.

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Due out February 14th (how romantic) the next Mogwai has a typically uncompromising title. They have released Rano Pano for fans like myself to have a listen. This one is rather upbeat, in the mould of The Sun Smells Too Loud from their last album, The Hawk Is Howling, though there’s some healthy distortion going on. Hopefully the whole album won’t be in the same vein, as I do like to use Mogwai to soundtrack a good brooding session.

Low – C’mon (?)

It’s been a while since Drums and Guns, Low’s last album, released in 2007. This one was a major departure for the band, with percussion and sampling a lot more prominent. What’s good about this band is that, having looked a few years ago like they were in danger of painting themselves into a corner, they now have torn up the formula with 2 very different albums, The Great Destroyer and the aforementioned Drums and Guns. Alan Sparhawk has also been indulging his classic rock side on his work with Retribution Gospel Choir.

Twilight Sad

High expectations of these Scottish guys after 2009’s storming second album, the MBV-influenced Forget the Night Ahead. Personally I’d be very happy with more of the same, but it looks like they have moved on a bit with 2010’s epic Eastern influenced The Wrong Car single. They have also done some interesting remixes of older material with fellow Scots Errors and Mogwai. I just hope they don’t stray too far into the epic, stadium-oriented territory that The Wrong Car dips its toe into.

And So I Watch You From Afar

Next year is shaping up to be a big year for Derry’s finest, capitalizing on the excellent Letters EP and some chaotic live shows. Recent single Straight Through The Sun downplays their heavy distorted side, leaving them sounding like A Little Solidarity Goes A Long Way off their first album or a proggy Queens of the Stone Age. I expect more brain-crushing riffs on their second album.

Peter Broderick

Next year should see the delayed (through injury) follow up to 2008’s Home. Broderick can turn his hand to piano pieces, acoustic folk, classical and experimental music. Previously these elements were kept apart on separate albums and side-projects, but hoping to see them all coalesce on his next.

Others of note: Mark Eitzel will be doing a ‘strictly acoustic album’, the Horrors are recording their third album. Thurston Moore is recording a solo album Benediction with doppelganger Beck. Hopefully it’ll be in the vein of excellent previous solo album Trees Outside the Academy, which had an acoustic feel but still allowed for some electrics.

Lloyd Cole will be recording an instrumental album with Joachim Roedelius of Cluster, probably in the vein of 2001’s Plastic Wood and Queens of the Stone Age are going into studio to record a hopefully much improved follow up to Era Vulgaris, though Josh Homme may be distracted with his non-involvement in the Kyuss reunion.

On the reissue front, Neil Young is planning to release Archives 2, which hopefully will contain some of his unreleased albums from his prolific mid-seventies period. Rumoured are Homegrown, a somewhat downbeat album which was shelved in favour of Tonight’s the Night; Oceanside-Countryside, an acoustic version of 1978’s Comes A Time; and Chrome Dreams, some of which surfaced on the second side of American Stars n Bars. Hopefully they will be available on a reasonably priced CD set rather than some expensive box format.

And I haven’t mentioned Radiohead!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Album Review: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - III/IV

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Top 10 albums of 2010

10. Warpaint - The Fool

9. The Phantom Band - The Wants

8. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Road OST

7. Peter Broderick - How They Are

6. Tindersticks - Falling Down A Mountain

5. Neil Young - Le Noise

Who'd have thought that this feedback drenched solo album would be a return to form for Neil Young? Even when the noise is off for a track or 2, it works.

4. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk

Look past the dull title to another strong chapter in this pair's collaboration.

3. Lloyd Cole - Broken Record

The comeback of the year. Edge is gone, but an addictively relaxed collection of country-rock.

2. Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises

An austere collection of icy finger picking, perfect for wintry mornings.

1. The National - High Violet

Not an original choice. But unignorable. Any doubts were dispelled by an incendiary live show. A collection of songs which on paper shouldn't instill euphoria but actually do.