Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Album Review: RM Hubbert – First & Last

RM Hubbert is a Scottish guitarist who supported Mogwai on their recent tour. Last year’s First & Last, his first solo album (he had been a member of various bands) consists of Hubbert playing an almost flamenco-style guitar and accompanying himself on self-created percussion. What that basically means is his fingers rapping against the body of the guitar to provide propulsion.

It’s a soothing, atmospheric piece of work. It’s difficult to isolate individual tracks, though For Maria appears to have at least 3 individual melodic passages. His guitar playing is slightly reminiscent of Mark Kozelek, or at times even the likes of Ry Cooder (By Reference evokes Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack) or John Martyn, though the overall spirit is more downbeat, akin to Arab Strap, with touches of early Elliott Smith here and there.

Reference overload? It’s better than I make it sound. Tipsy/Tapsy almost expires before it concludes, while later Skyreburn has a gorgeous, nostalgic gentle groove. The intricate guitar lines are really marvellous, while none of the nine tracks outstay their welcome. Indeed the whole album clocks in at just under half an hour.

RM Hubbert doesn’t so much innovate as put a fresh twist on instrumental post-rock acoustic guitar playing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Album Review: Lloyd Cole – Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe

Lloyd Cole’s second solo album, released in 1991, represented a departure for him. Or at least half a departure. For the album is one of two halves. The first six songs were recorded with an orchestra, and were quite unlike any of Lloyd’s previous work. As an experiment it could have been doomed to failure. However it works beautifully, taking his songs to unimagined new heights.

Butterfly is a strong opener, ushering in the sweeping strings on a brooding, descending melody but next track There For Her has a wonderfully soothing atmosphere, redolent of Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talking, conjuring up sunny day driving. Margo’s Waltz is a darker, meditative waltz, though it’s lightened by cooing backing vocals, before Half of Everything picks up the pace a little. This one is a little over-cooked, with piano, strings and an over the top guitar solo.

Even going bossa-nova in Man Enough doesn’t spoil the atmosphere, before the tranquil What He Doesn’t Know ends a terrificly atmospheric run of songs. It’s almost a shame when the more straightforward ‘rock’-orientated second half kicks off. There are some strong songs here nonetheless, the jangly Tell Your Sister has pleasing shades of Lou Reed about it, along with Robert Quine’s guitar as Lloyd croons about “Ruemorgue avenue”.

Weeping Wine is very Byrds (minus the harmonies) while later The One You Never Had is worth sticking around for with a lovely guitar lick. The album concludes with fine driving rock song She’s A Girl and I’m A Man, complete with disparaging chorus “she’s gotta be the stupidest girl I’ve ever seen”. Though it’s a less cohesive listen than its self-titled predecessor, it’s a hugely enjoyable listen, and worth it for the first six tracks alone.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Album Review: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Social Network OST

This is a pleasant surprise. Having not seen the movie, The Social Network, I had little to go on for the soundtrack, bar a passing familiarity with Trent Reznor’s work with Nine Inch Nails.

The music is, for the most part, dark and brooding. It opens in tranquil mode with Hand Covers Bruise, a sparse piano figure hovers over some ominous keyboards, before In Motion does what the title suggests, setting the album off on a journey with electro pulse beats and synths.

Most of the album continues in a similar vein, alternately menacing, sinister and threatening at various tempos, and it works really well through tracks like A Familiar Taste, Intriguing Possibilities and Painted Sun In Abstract. Other tracks are more abrasive, closer to traditional Nine Inch Nails territory (Carbon Prevails, On We March).

Special mention to In The Hall of the Mountain King, a traditional tune that most would be familiar with (though not entirely sure how) which is rendered in an utterly demented take, as if Zuckerberg and co broke into the studio, chopped off their limbs and performed the tune. Well, you get the idea. It’s a dark delight. Will have to check out the movie.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Album Review: Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Positively the last review of Radiohead’s latest most of you will have to endure. I decided not to join the deluge of reviews which were published in the aftermath of its release in the hope that I’d come up with a more considered opinion.

Shouldn’t have bothered waiting. I’m still none the wiser a month or so later. Admittedly I have found the album a little bit of a chore to listen to. The first 5 tracks are not the most inviting, composed mainly of beats and Thom Yorke’s voice (which I’m not a fan of) floating in and out of occasional guitars, keyboards etc.
Bloom starts like standard-issue, modern day Radiohead, all skittering beats and nonchalant vocals. Occasionally we get some almost Eno-like keyboards rising from the maelstrom. Morning Mr Magpie is very similar tempo and feel wise. Yorke sounds anything but content on this one, though what’s interesting about it is repeated listening reveals the layers of instrumentation underneath, it’s quite complex.

The tempo drops a notch or too as the sonic atmosphere clouds over for Little By Little, which if anything, is the most traditional Radiohead track here, whatever that means in 2011. After the almost random bunch of noises which make up Feral, Lotus Flower is in a similar vein to Little By Little, though possibly a little more groove-orientated.

The heart of the album follows in the shape of the final 3 tracks, which are far more enjoyable to listen to than anything which has gone before. Codex is arrestingly sparse, certainly in the context of that has preceded it. It’s mainly keyboards, with no percussion, giving Thom Yorke’s voice a welcome chance to breathe. It’s a wonderfully simple-sounding spooky melody, further enhanced by some brass which works brilliantly, ending with birds chirping.

It’s followed up by the acoustic guitar strum Give Up The Ghost, which again frames Yorke’s voice superbly over guitar and bongos, before Separator floats on by on a bed of keyboards, twinkling guitar and gentle beats to conclude the album.

It’s no In Rainbows, and for that I commend them. It’s a more difficult beast which may well become a classic by the end of the year, if only for the last 3 tracks.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Album Review: The Twilight Sad – Killed My Parents and Hit The Road

This mini-album was initially released on the band’s 2008 tour before gaining a ‘proper’ release, and is what a lot of these things tend to be: a collection of odds and ends. Some live tracks, some new songs, some instrumentals and some cover versions.

Here we get decent, somewhat heavy versions of songs from their debut album Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, plus a couple of tasters from the (at that time) yet to be released follow-up.
More interesting are the self-indulgent bits. We get a rough as hell version of Joy Division’s 24 Hours, where James Graham’s crude Scottish burr croons the song over HUGE MBV-style guitars. Speaking of MBV (My Bloody Valentine), The Weather Is Bad is an underwater-ish instrumental that is mostly noise and keyboards and is immensely pleasing.

They also manage not to completely murder The Smiths’ Half A Person (rendered here with voice and guitar) before concluding with two rather understated tracks to conclude this curiosity.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mike Starr RIP

Depressing news that Mike Starr, former bassist with Alice In Chains, was found dead at his home yesterday. His death follows that of former singer Layne Staley 9 years ago. Starr was one of the original members of Alice In Chains, playing bass on most notably 1992’s Dirt. The album contained Would? (also featuring on the Singles soundtrack) which started with a distinctive bass intro courtesy of Starr.

Unfortunately he had a heroin problem, and it is thought that this led to him leaving the band the following year. Subsequently he played in short-lived band Sun Red Sun, but has not been prominent in music for many years.