Saturday, November 26, 2011

Album Review: Lloyd Cole – Antidepressant

Lloyd Cole’s 2006 album Antidepressant follows previous album Music in a Foreign Language’s muted template. The songs here take their time to reveal themselves and standout.

Lyrically, it finds Lloyd in wry form here, right from the start with the acoustic strum of The Young Idealists – “I know I said I favoured peaceful resolution but that was when we were the young idealists… young idealists raging through the coffee shops and bars”. The idea of Lloyd and his ilk raging is amusing and somewhat unlikely, particularly on this bed of soothing keyboards, guitars and programmed beats.

The production is quiet and dampened down which means many tracks (Woman In A Bar, and the appropriately named I Didn’t See It Coming) drift by barely noticed. New York City Sunshine makes a greater impression with a pleasing string arrangement and an acoustic solo midway through. The title track sees him rock out in his Negatives mode, singing “with my medication I will be fine” and later some wonderful lyrics: “first she’s gonna tire of my fixations, then she’s gonna tire of my face".

How Wrong Can You Be? has an unhurried tune, a perfect song to brood to over a cup of coffee. A pair of country shufflers feature here, Everysong and Travelling Light, the latter of which has hints of Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line.

In a similar way to his previous album, this one finishes with a downbeat, moody track, in this case Rolodex Incident. It’s an album worth paying attention to and persevering with, which is required for the better tracks here to shine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Concert Review: Anna Calvi at Vicar Street, Dublin

Album Review: Gillian Welch at Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin

Album Review: Bonnie Prince Billy – Master and Everyone

The many-monikered Will Oldham’s 2003 album is one of his sparsest works, mainly consisting of skeletal folk, mainly Oldham’s voice and guitar.

Opening track The Way has a simple, wintry Nick Drake style melody and chorus imploring “love me the way I love you”, with a cello part which carries the song. Little else deviates from this template of gloriously depressed folk. With close up mics, you can here Oldham’s fingers sliding from fret to fret. There are some fine melodies here, especially Joy and Jubilee (where Oldham sounds anything but joyous) where he self-harmonises to great effect.

The proceedings are broken up with some backing vocals from Marty Slayton on several tracks (Ain’t You Wealthy, Ain’t You Wise?, Lessons From What’s Poor), but it’s very much a single-minded vision, with a consistent sound throughout. No superfluous notes are played here, every note has its place.

The hesitant, foreboding Even If Love evokes a dark night in the woods, while the coda of Hard Life rounds things off with some uplifting clean, electric guitar. For those who like their music austere and barely adorned, this is for you.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Album Review: Neil Young – Chrome Dreams II

It would take an artist like Neil Young to release a follow-up to an album that never made official release… yet (was recorded in 1977 at a time when he was arguably at his peak). Thirty years on, Chrome Dreams II is a real mixed bag. Some Neil Young albums stick to one particular style, but some of the best ones mix up his rockers and his acoustic songs, as found here.

Opening track Beautiful Bluebird is Neil in his country-folk mode, and in truth it’s a little mawkish. Boxcar is a sprightly banjo tune, written originally for Times Square, which became 1989’s Freedom and this one missed the cut. It’s an improvement on what went before and it leads into the 18 minute Ordinary People. This one features the kitchen sink, riffs, trombones, saxophone but it’s a somewhat plodding track that really doesn’t need to be so long!

The rest of the album is a mix between cloying sentimental songs (Shining Light, Ever After, The Way), soul ballads (The Believer) and heavier work-outs (Spirit Road, Dirty Old Man, No Hidden Path) which are preferable to the others. Spirit Road has a decent dirty riff and is mercifully only six and a half minutes long, while Dirty Old Man echoes 1994’s Piece of Cr@p. In all ways. No Hidden Path eschews brevity and riffs along a la Crazy Horse for 14 and a half minutes without really going anywhere.

Elsewhere Ever After is a very sentimental country tune, and piano ballad The Way features a children’s choir, never the best idea. Despite my reservations, it’s still a Neil Young album, and at times even an enjoyable one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Album Review: The Redneck Manifesto - Thirtysixstrings

Irish instrumental group The Redneck Manifesto released their debut album in 2001. Opening track You Owe Me Five Potatoes introduces their sound – intertwining, ringing guitars and stuttering drumbeats, with thrilling changes of tempo and several melodies rolled into one song. Sweet Pot is almost metal with heavy guitars stomping all over the place.

Richie Egan and co show themselves to be fine musicians, Slow On The Uptake does what the title suggests ie builds up slowly while Sounds Better Than It Looks has a rather pensive guitar part. There are few straightforward chords here, everything is intricate and delicate, while at the same time propulsive and heavy.

Clue Out Puzzles hits the heavy notes again but more typical are moodier tracks like Speaking Of Clowns and I Don’t Speak The Monkey Language which wait till midway before unleashing a searing riff. Soundscapes Over Landscapes is reminiscent of early Mogwai without the massive pay-off.

You can see how the likes of And So I Watch You From Afar have drawn inspiration from this. It still stands up ten years on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Album Review: Dakota Suite & Quentin Sirjacq | The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart

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EP Review: Low – Bombscare

This EP is a collaboration between Low and electronic duo Springheel Jack and was released in 2000. Some unsettling, chilly keyboard sounds open the glacially paced title track, a duet between Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. Hand So Small is a graceful tune sung by Parker over a simple, unadorned piano part. Not to be outdone, Sparhawk sings the foreboding So Easy So Far, while final track Way Behind ends on a somewhat repetitive note. Well worth checking out if you like Low.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Album Review: Richmond Fontaine – Safety

Richmond Fontaine’s debut album Safety, released in 1996, shows some early promise, which they realized more fully on later work. Listening to it now, it’s not a million miles away from the likes of Whiskeytown.

Opening track Dayton, Ohio is akin to a ramshackle Lemonheads, as are the midtempo strums of Novocaine and Wagonwheel Motel. There are some 100 mile an hour tracks like Harold’s Club, Riverhouse and 1968, which have plenty of punky energy but don’t suit Willy Vlautin and co so well.

They are better when they slow things down, on the acoustic Settle and Safety. White Line Fever is again reminiscent of Whiskeytown, while the aforementioned Novocaine is a fine strum with the refrain of “17 reasons that I can’t explain.”

Later the 96 second Kid Steps Out Into The Road takes a bleak subject matter where this kid “duct-tapes 3 M-80s to his head and lights them” and combines it with a jaunty melody with a wonderful banjo part, concluding that “it’s the luck of the Irish in Reno, Nevada.”

All in all it’s a decent debut, with signs of what the band would become on future albums.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Album Review: Pearl Jam – Yield

By 1998, Pearl Jam had become more or less the last band standing of the so-called grunge bands. Their sound was always a more classic rock sound and this informs Yield.
It comes roaring out of the traps with Brain of J, which has one of those classic chord changes for the chorus at which this band excels. This track is not really reflective of the rest of the album which settles into a more mid-tempo groove with Faithfull (sic) and No Way, the latter of which has a sort of late period Led Zeppelin feel to it.

This is reinforced by first single Given to Fly, which uses the tune and tempo of Zep’s Going to California before rocking it up a little. Wishlist is a very simple mid-tempo melody, with an anthemic chorus and a soaring, clean guitar solo midway through, while Pilate is more akin to REM’s classic Perfect Circle.
There is some experimentation here which doesn’t really work with track 8, an untitled garbled mess of percussion and chanting which thankfully only lasts a minute, and later Push Me, Pull Me is a spoken word track which again, doesn’t really work.
It works better when they play it straight. MFC zips along nicely, and Low Light has a pleasing acoustic feel to it. The anthemic In Hiding plays it a little too straight, and All Those Yesterdays sees them aim for a Beatles-type song, complete with brass etc. Less said about the hidden track, Russian dance (hummus?) the better.
It’s uneven but an enjoyable mixed bag.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Album Review: Wilco – Being There

Or rather, Exile on Wilco St. Wilco was formed by Jeff Tweedy from the dying embers of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo. Their first full length, Being There is an ambitious double album, with an ebb and flow feel along the lines of Rolling Stones’ 1972 double album Exile On Main Street.

They throw down a take-nothing-for-granted marker with opening track Misunderstood, a six minute epic which alternates between periods of calm and noise wig-outs with Tweedy roaring at the top of his voice. Not a whit of country to be found here. However they change tack completely with Far, Far Away, a casual Johnny Cash country strum with an easy feel to it.

The album is a real treasure trove of styles, veering from one to another. There are Stones-y rockers (Monday, I Got You), banjo-strums (Forget the Flowers, Someday Soon), downbeat laments (Red Eyed and Blue, Someone Else’s Song), not to forget noisier tracks in the style of the opener (Sunken Treasure), and the whole thing finishes with the Faces-style all over the shop boogie of Dreamer In My Dreams.

The album has a very classic early 70s feel to it. They would never sound quite so straightforward again.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

EP Review: The Sisters of Mercy – Reptile House

The Sisters of Mercy released the Reptile House EP in 1983. Their previously brisk and uptempo songs were replaced by a slow, dingy grind. Opening track Kiss The Carpet starts off with a slow, long, build up before Gary Marx plays the main riff and Andrew Eldritch’s doomy vocals come in. It’s a decidedly unsettling piece of music.

Lights, which follows, is more conventional with a repetitive drum pattern and riff. The arrangement here is relatively sparse giving Eldritch’s vocals plenty of room to breathe. His voice grows in intensity towards the song’s conclusion where he bellows “until the emeralds glisten in the RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, I’m happy here in the RAIN!” After the sinister murk of Valentine, Fix has an even slower, longer build up than before with a sleazy, grinding guitar riff, and an almost whispered vocal.

Final track Burn has a vaguely oriental riff and some seriously distorted vocals. The punishing guitar work here is very effective. This EP distills the essence of early period Sisters of Mercy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Concert Review: Fountains of Wayne at The Academy, Dublin

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Album Review: Bill Ryder-Jones | If

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Album Review: Pearl Jam – No Code

After Vitalogy and their battle with Ticketmaster there was a sense of exhaustion about Pearl Jam. Something had to give and it did. There was a palpable sense of pulling back about 1996’s No Code. Aside from the beautiful packaging, it starts out with the very understated Sometimes, a slow, creeping number in which Eddie Vedder croons about being “like a book amongst the many on the shelf”. It’s hard not to see this as a metaphor for where Pearl Jam wanted to go, to fade away from the limelight.

The influence of Neil Young was all over this album, particularly on the loping Crazy Horse like Smile and Red Mosquito. Lead single Who You Are was a real departure for Pearl Jam, a kind of uptempo campfire strum. There are more standard issue rockers like Hail, Hail, which rocks along at 90 miles an hour, and also Habit and the 60 second Lukin. These tracks pack as much wallop as anything in the Pearl Jam catalogue.

But it’s the stripped-down tracks which work really well here. Off He Goes is a really affecting song, sensitively sung by Eddie Vedder which has real impact. Equally successful is Present Tense, a real brooding number which explodes into life briefly midway through before settling back into contemplation mode.

Mankind has Stone Gossard on lead vocals, and he suffers in comparison to Vedder, which renders the song as something of a failure. They embrace their weirder side with I’m Open, a dark spoken word song before finishing with the really stripped-down Around the Bend, displaying a side of Pearl Jam which hadn’t previously been heard.

As Pearl Jam albums go, this one is quite experimental (for them), though in some ways it endures as much as their better known works such as Ten, vs etc.