Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Album Review: Leonard Cohen - Death of a Ladies' Man

After four albums of sparse, bedsit folk, and a gap of three years, Leonard Cohen released Death of a Ladies' Man in 1977 to general bemusement. The album was produced by Phil Spector and it features a cast of thousands on all manner of instrumentation. Everything, it seems except Cohen's acoustic guitar-picking.
It opens with True Love Leaves No Traces, which has a bossa-nova beat and a cheesy 'Love Boat' style melody. The rest of the album follows suit, Iodine sees Cohen do battle with a brass section and a Neil Diamond-style melody. He doesn't come away unscathed. By the third track, Paper Thin Hotel, Cohen sounds as traumatised as the listeners, half-speaking, half-mumbling a hellish scenario in the vein of Lou Reed's Berlin. Strangely, it suits him well.
After this the album lurches from style to style like a drunkard in a karaoke bar. Memories covers doo-wop, I Left A Woman Waiting is strange, spoken-word Lou Reed soul, but Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On is jaunty pop which never quite made the radio playlists. Not content so far, Fingerprints is pure rodeo country. "Where are you now my fingerprints?" Sums it up in a way. The NINE MINUTE title track brings proceedings droning endlessly to a close .
It'll take a truly bizarre Leonard Cohen album to out-weird this one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Album Review: Low - Trust

Not an album that jumps out of Low's extensive back catalogue, Trust sounded like a thing of dark, wintry beauty upon its release in 2002. Revisiting it now, it's hard to get beyond the truly wondrous seven minutes of opening track (That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace. Over Alan Sparhawk's clanking, echoey guitar, his and Mimi Parker's voices duet beautifully on this track. The chorus merely consists of them singing "Amazing Grace" and it truly is a joy to listen to. As Sparhawk sings "it sounds like razors in my ear".

It's followed by the faster-paced Canada, a kind of an indie-strum, but the momentum created by this and it's predecessor is ruined by the plodding Candy Girl, the only real misstep on the album. The remainder of the album consists of accessible Sparhawk sung strums (Time Is The Diamond, the banjo-featuring In The Drugs), short and sweet Parker-sung wintry ballads (Tonight, piano ballad Point of Disgust), Spector-like wall of sound tracks (Last Snowstorm of the Year, La La Song) and a pair of really angry tracks (The Lamb, John Prine). These last two feature crashing guitars, pounding drums and almost vengeful vocals, with the latter also featuring the tolling of a foreboding bell.

Shots & Ladders rounds things off, blissing out into a sort of snow-gaze ending. For me, this album is Low in their prime, showing them to be one of the finest bands around. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Album Review: Mogwai - Young Team

I'll admit it, I struggle with early Mogwai. Their debut, Young Team came out in 1997 and I've always found it a little... imposing. Opening track Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home nicely squeezes the essence of early Mogwai into a concise six minutes, lumbering bass heavy tempos, doody melodies and occasional guitar crunch. 

But the album is probably best known for its second track, the 11 minute Like Herod, which mopes along for two minutes before becoming very quiet indeed. This is the time to get scared, the quieter the track gets, because you know that sooner or later there's going to be a wallop of guitars which, even though I know it's coming, still manages to frighten the bejasus out of me.

After this, the rest of the album seems a little low-key. Katrien does the moody Mogwai thing perfectly, and after brief piano piece Radar Maker, they even find time for a bit of beauty, on the glockenspiel-led Tracy. The guitars are turned down a notch or two so as not to disturb an exquisite melody, though they come roaring back in on following track Summer.

Another piano piece With Portfolio collapses into noise before its conclusion before Aidan Moffat takes lead vocals on the shimmeringly melodic R U Still In 2 It. His understated delivery works really well before being joined by the rest of the band. A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters is a kind of awkward piano shuffle before the epic final track Mogwai Fear Satan. A sixteen minute running time gives the wall of guitars ample time to ebb and flow, startling and soothing in equal measure, even fitting in a flute halfway through.

You can almost hear the band setting down a template for modern instrumental rock. In my opinion, they have more enjoyable albums, but this one truly shows off Mogwai's range of dynamics.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Album Review: Television

The art of imitation in music is a curious thing. New York band Television took a degree of influence from The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed in the mid 70s. Ten years later, Lloyd Cole (plus Commotions) bore a fair amount of influence from Tom Verlaine's band. Fast forward to 1992 for Television's third album, their first in 14 years, and the influence comes full circle. For this album sounds like Lou Reed, Lloyd Cole and, yes, Television in a blender.

Yes, Verlaine and Richard Lloyd's guitars have really clean, melodic tone to them. Yes, Verlaine pulls off that effortless NY drawl, well, effortlessly. unfortunately the songs are unremarkable. Opening track 1880 or so sets a tone of sorts, all chiming guitars carried through subsequent tracks like In World and No Glamor for Willi. By the final track Mars, Verlaine tries a desperate howling vocal but this doesn't convince any more than previous material. There's not much to criticise here but there's a lack of thrills that technical fret play can't compensate for. So not the new Marquee Moon then.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Album Review: Screaming Trees – Invisible Lantern

In 1988 the Screaming Trees released their third album, Invisible Lantern.  Opener Ivy immediately sets the tone for the album, it’s muddier, heavier and more unhinged than their previous 2 albums.  A rough and ready, downward spiraling riff is the bedrock for Mark Lanegan to roar his vocals over, and roar he does with a gloriously messy performance.

Walk Through To This Side, is more psychedelic, with jangly, 60s sounding guitars, before following track Lines & Circles kicks up a fine racket with a bludgeoning riff right out of Gary Lee Conner’s book of monster riffs.  After the noise of She Knows and Shadow Song, Grey Diamond Desert slows things down, turning the fuzz down a shade and heightening the doom in Lanegan’s voice.

Some of the rest of the tracks are a little interchangeable, but Even If (presumable held over from 1987’s Even If and Especially When) has a fine gallop and a strong melody.  The album is quite far removed from the band’s 90s material, more like a punky, garage band than the classic rockers they would become.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Album Review: Dirty Three | Toward the Low Sun

Review for www.meg.ie http://www.meg.ie/dirty-three-toward-the-low-sun/

Album Review: Cheap Freaks | Bury Them All

Review for www.meg.ie http://www.meg.ie/cheap-freaks-bury-them-all/

Album Review: Corrosion of Conformity

Review for www.spillmagazine.com http://www.spillmagazine.com/html/album_reviews.HTM#CorrosionofConformity

Album Review: Bowerbirds - The Clearing

Review for www.spillmagazine.com http://www.spillmagazine.com/html/album_reviews.HTM#Bowerbirds-TheClearing

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Album Review: Stars of the Lid – The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid

Stars of the Lid are an American instrumental band specializing in repetitive, droning music taking elements of esoteric, classical music and combining them with ambient noises.  2001’s double album, The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid features many multi-part tracks, many of which are designed to lull you into a most pleasant stupor
Some tracks feature cello prominently though the instrumentation all sounds so strange that individual instruments are barely discernible, as the music is all processed and altered.

Some of it is very zen and soothing, the kind of music you might hear in a flotation tank, and some of it is staggeringly beautiful.  Requiem for Dying Mothers Part 2 manages all of the above in seven and a half minutes.  On a melody reminiscent of Low, the tired sounds of cellos enter the mix half way through, taking the listener off to the most heavenly dream states.

Down 3 features voices and static swooping in and out as a distant piano plays.  At times the instruments are barely noticeable or audible, all that is head is ambient noise.  It’s hard not to think of Eno on tracks like Austin Texas Mental Hospital and Broken Harbors.

At more than 2 hours it can be a bit long and there often appears to be long periods where “nothing is happening”.  However at its most digestible (the 3 minute Gasfarming, and FAC 21) it works well.  One of the most musical moments here is Piano Aquieu, which has a fine piano intro before relapsing into ambient bliss.

It’s an album that requires a lot of patience as the music is so minimal as to be barely there, yet its tired sounds are worth investing your time.