Thursday, August 23, 2012

EP Review: The Savings and Loan EP

The Savings and Loan is a curiously-named band from Scotland who released this self-titled EP in 2007.  Singer Martin Donnelly is a vocalist from the Nick Cave/Fearghal McKee/Matt Berninger school of singing so this is perfectly pitched for a good old mope.
The EP is bookended by These Hands and Those Hands, effectively the same song in two short versions, the latter being slightly more exuberant.  Introducing the album is Andrew Bush’s (or possibly Donnelly's) plaintive acoustic guitar playing, while Donnelly croons “good evening friends and welcome in, to broken skin on broken skin”.
Swallows has well-worn guitar picking which to any student of Morrissey etc will sound instantly like you can’t believe you haven’t heard it before.  The Virgin’s Lullaby is slightly more Cave-like, all brushed percussion and distorted vocals.  Catholic Boys In The Rain is in a similar vein, introduced by a recording of Scottish poet Tom Leonard reading a list of alcoholic drinks, appropriate as this track will remind some listeners of Irish band Whipping Boy.
After the sweet-sounding Her Window and the glacially-paced Met (A Storm) the EP ends with the crescendo (relative to the rest) of Those Hands, with drums and even electric guitar.  Much of this material ended up on their debut album proper, Today I Need Light, released in 2010 but this is a very promising EP.  It’s not hugely original and Donnelly and Bush sound like a pair of undertakers but they get this sort of thing SO right.  It’s available for free download from

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – With Teeth

Trent Reznor’s first Nine Inch Nails album of the millennium, and first for six years had a tough job to attempt to recapture the God of Angst position he occupied in the nineties.  The album opens not with a bang but with the stealthy, cruel slash that is All The Love In The World, all muted synths and brooding atmosphere (foreshadowing his solo, soundtrack work) along with skittering beats, as the track builds into an almost gloom-disco anthem.  It works really well.  Normal service resumes with You Know What You Are, boasting an ENORMOUS chorus (“DON’T YOU F**KING KNOW WHAT YOU ARE!”), one of many tracks where it seems like Reznor is trying to regain his position from younger pretenders. 
The brutal stomp of The Collector and the industrial-dance of The Hand That Feeds are a little obvious, NIN-by-numbers.  Better is the Depeche Mode-like (yet lyrically unimaginative) Every Day Is Exactly The Same (more cruel folk would paraphrase the title as a metaphor for the album) and the title track (apart from Reznor’s singing of the chorus “with-ah teeth-ah”).
Where he does attempt new ground has very mixed results – the poppy, grooving Only is a little repetitive – while Getting Smaller comes across like NIN covering the Pixies’ Planet of Sound.  Reznor’s swearing on the former track (and others throughout the album) doesn’t particularly suit him at this point in his career.  Later, The Line Begins To Blur is like the Rolling Stones gone industrial and doesn’t quite work.
He saves the best two tracks for last.  Beside You In Time is a fine, pounding, electro track which threatens to explode but never quite does, heightening the tension, while tradition dictates that the final track, Right Where It Belongs is a brooder in the vein of Hurt.
Perhaps he tries too hard.  The album lasts 55 minutes but feels twice as long, with a lot of self-conscious aggression.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Album Review: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – I See A Darkness

This was Will Oldham’s first album recorded under the name of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy in 1999.  It kicks off with the singalong A Minor Place which features weedy organ in the background.  Better is follow up track Nomadic Revery (All Around), with gloriously undisciplined vocals where Oldham sounds like a 90 year old man.  The playing across these and other tracks is subtle and spare, nothing is too overdone.
The title track is the centerpiece, it’s a kind of a quiet, brooding, creeping song (covered a year later by Johnny Cash), and probably the most ‘backwoodsy’, quintessentially Oldham song.  Much of the material is quite dark, as evidenced by the titles – Another Day Full of Dread, Death to Everyone, Today I Was An Evil One, and the Appalachian folk-style Black – yet most have the melodies are highly memorable.
It’s not all downbeat, Madeleine-Mary rollicks along with a loping beat and the aforementioned Today I Was An Evil One is relatively sprightly.  This album is the one by which all Oldham’s future works have been judged, and as such, is a little overrated.  He was, however, doing that ‘log cabin’ thing years before Bon Iver brought it to the masses, and this album is a good example of this.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Album Review: Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger

After the (at times brilliant) three album madness of 2005, Ryan Adams returned with the more straightforward Easy Tiger.  There are a couple of overblown rockers (Goodnight Rose, Halloween Head) which don’t help matters.  Equally off-putting is the hokey country of Tears of Gold.  However he’s better when he slows it down and plays it simple.  The rather bland Two (a duet with Sheryl Crow – edgy!) and Two Hearts are an improvement, but there are stronger tracks on the album.
Everybody Knows is a ringer for Neil Young in his acoustic, After the Gold Rush period.  It’s perfectly executed and all over in two and a half minutes.  The leisurely guitar picking of Oh My God Whatever, Etc works well, as does the bluegrassy Pearls On A String.  Finest song on the album is possibly piano ballad, Rip Off, a weary and worn-out ballad. 
He trawls back to his vast, unreleased tracks in the vault for two of the stronger tracks for wistful ballad Off Broadway and the drawling guitar plucking of These Girls (previously known as Hey There Mrs Lovely). 
It's not a classic Ryan Adams album, but it IS a typical Ryan Adams album: some great tracks, some bland tracks and some frustrating tracks.  The killer with Adams is he is capable of real brilliance, but an inability to stay focused dilutes his talent.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Album Review: Various Artists - Spirit of Talk Talk

Review for

Album Review: Dakota Suite – Waiting For The Dawn To Crawl Through And Take Away Your Life

This was Dakota Suite’s first album in 4 years.  Chris Hooson and co re-emerged in 2007 with this mainly vocal and guitar album.  The opening two slow guitar-based tracks, Never Much To Say and A Darkness of Moon (duet with Anna Elias) set the tone.  Uw Wanhopige Vrees is more experimental, a mainly electronic track with snatches of female vocals here and there.  The next two tracks, piano ballad Because Our Lie Breathes Differently and the emotive I Don’t Understand Your Medicine are darker still before the brief cello instrumental Early Century Maple acts as a palette cleanser.
The second half the album is not that different from the first, with the lengthy All Your Hopes Gone Cold and the trumpet-based Over A Loveless Winter standing out.  Penultimate track Brittle With Sorrow is a dramatic string flourish before the album ends on a somewhat downbeat note with All That I Can Hold Near.
It's worth visiting the world of Dakota Suite.  At times it can be a world of pain, but amidst the gloom lies quiet beauty.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Album Review: Richmond Fontaine – Thirteen Cities

2005’s The Fitzgerald was a highly accomplished, reductive masterpiece yet could have been something of a creative cul-de-sac.  So for 2007’s Thirteen Cities they enlisted the help of Calexico, Howe Gelb and brought Paul Brainard’s steel guitar from out of purgatory to produce a more widescreen sound.  The album is something of a concept album, on the subject of Thirteen Cities, but Willy Vlautin’s downbeat writing is as bleak as ever.
Musically, the palette is widened to include trumpets, and after moody scene setter Intro/The Border, these trumpets clash spectacularly with Vlautin’s croaky vocals, like Richmond Fontexico, and the track fails.  Thankfully the rest of the album is way better.  $87 and a Guilty Conscience That Gets Worse The Longer I Go is a gentle, moody song with a slight alt-country feel.  In a similar, pleasant vein are Westward Ho and Capsized.  There are downbeat classics aplenty here, from the restless strum of I Fell Into Painting Houses In Phoenix, Arizona to the mournful trumpets of The Kid from Belmont Street.
Some of the most evocative tracks here are instrumentals, El Tiradito and Ballad of Dan Fanta conjure up lonesome prairie scenes.  Other tracks are very sparse, such as the almost spoken St Ides, Parked Cars, And Other Peoples Homes, harrowing tale The Disappearance of Ray Norton and the tinkling, cast-adrift piano of Lost In This World.  The fullest band performance here is on penultimate track Four Walls, which could have come off Winnemucca or Post to Wire.
It’s not Richmond Fontaine’s best collection of songs but it’s a pretty representative album, if slightly more ‘Americana’ than usual.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Album Review: Husker Du – Flip Your Wig

In 1985 Husker Du were on a very productive streak, and released their second album of the year with Flip Your Wig.  They had moved further away from their hardcore roots at this point.  The title track which opens the album sets the tone, it’s an almost poppy, catchy tune with Bob Mould’s rocking guitars.  It’s followed up by the breakneck stomp of Every Everything, matched for speed later by Mould’s bawling on Divide and Conquer.
They very much had their pop sensibilities to the fore.  Makes No Sense At All and Hate Paper Doll are two of Husker Du’s catchiest tracks.  When they take things down a bit, such as on Grant Hart’s Green Eyes and Mould’s Games (sounding like a future Sugar track), the band sound effortlessly rocking.
One of the standouts is Find Me, Mould’s guitars lurching backwards and forwards with some great solos.  After the pointlessly awful Baby Song interlude, the band are right back on form with Hart’s Flexible Flyer and Mould’s Private Plane.
The album tails off a little in quality towards the end with a pair of instrumentals: the fast and loose The Wit and the Wisdom and the pseudo-psychedelic Don’t Know Yet but otherwise it’s one of their finer albums.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Album Review: Isnaj Dui | Abstracts on Solitude

Review for

EP Review: The National – Cherry Tree

This was a stopgap EP released by the National in 2004, just before their breakthrough album Alligator.  It’s generally more quiet and introspective than their full-length albums.  Wasp Nest opens with sleigh-bells, and the sparse, slow music provides a perfect bed for singer Matt Berninger’s croon of lyrics like “get over here I wanna kiss your skinny throat”.  What seems at first to be an insubstantial track is effortlessly and defiantly NOT.
There are austere ballads featuring strings like All Dolled Up In Straps “where have you been” and the dramatic title track, the latter of which builds up to a crescendo.  The subtlety of brothers Dessner and Devendorf is particularly evident on these tracks.
The EP sees the first appearance of All The Wine, probably the most commercial moment here, and the fine, picked guitars of About Today are just shaded by the penultimate track.  It’s a live version of Murder Me Rachael, ramping up the violins, guitars, pounding drums and Berninger screaming “love her to ribbons”.  It’s an edgy and powerful performance.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Album Review: Morrissey – Your Arsenal

Some return to form for Morrissey.  Previous album Kill Uncle seemed laboured and he seemed in danger of becoming irrelevant in the 90s.  1992 saw him re-emerge with a new band and shiny new Mick Ronson-produced album Your Arsenal.  It literally roars out of the traps with the rollicking You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side.  Lyrically he’s right back on song with the sarcastic “here I am... well you don’t have to look so pleased”.   GLAMorous Glue is a total glam stomp.  Never before had Morrissey strutted his way so definitely through a song as he crooned “London is DEAD! London is DEAD!”  Similarly Certain People I Know echoes T. Rex’s Ride A White Swan.
A breather then for We’ll Let You Know, moodier territory on the subject of football hooliganism.  It becomes more defiant towards the end when the band picks up steam, Morrissey singing “we may seem cold or we may even be the most depressing people you’ll ever know”.  He got a lot of flack for seeming ambivalence to this and racism in National Front Disco (“England for the English”).
The classicly-titled We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful (“and if they’re northern that makes it even worse”) also contains wonderful jangly guitar.  Downtempo moments are not forgotten on this album.  Seasick, Yet Still Docked is the latest in a line of moody Morrissey moments, dating back to Pretty Girls Make Graves, while I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday is one of his cleverest moments.  It’s a homage to David Bowie’s Rock n Roll Suicide, with the coda overtly imitating Bowie’s coda. 
Final track Tomorrow sees Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte’s guitars combine to great effect.  It’s a superb collection of songs, and one of Morrissey’s finest albums.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Album Review: Lou Reed & John Cale – Songs for Drella

Lou Reed was on a particularly strong creative streak in the late 80s/early 90s, and in 1990 he teamed up with fellow ex-Velvets’ John Cale to record a tribute to the late Andy Warhol.  Reed had developed a subtle, deft guitar playing style which really works on this album the second of three real classics from this period (1989’s New York and 1992’s Magic and Loss also).
The keyboard-based Open House is wonderfully warm piece of music, as is the Cale-sung Style It Takes.  The second of these is a particularly beautiful piece of music, mainly keyboards but with great guitar touches from Lou Reed.  Supposedly John Cale had to be talked into singing the line “this is a rock group called the Velvet Underground... they have a style that grates”. 
Many of the songs are intelligent and original, without being up their own behinds.  Trouble with Classicists is an interesting musing on classicists, impressionists and personalities, while Faces and Names considers how easy it would be “if we all looked the same, and we all had the same name” how much easier things would be.
The album takes you through Warhol’s life, from his early days in America (Smalltown, Open House) to his shooting (Slip Away, I Believe) to his final, lonely days (A Dream, Forever Changed).   Nobody But You, an almost Leonard Cohen-style track muses about surviving his shooting by Valerie Solanas (“I’m still not sure I didn’t die”) and concludes devastatingly that “all my life... it’s been NOBODIES like you”.
The six-minute spoken word of A Dream is almost light relief.  The track is recited by John Cale, who can make a mundane passage sound very strange as the protagonist (Warhol) talks about Cale (“he’s been looking really great... what does it mean if you give up drinking and you’re still so mean”) and Reed (“I’m so mad at him, Lou Reed got married and didn’t invite me...   I hate Lou, I really do”).
The album ends splendidly, penultimate track Forever Changed has almost frantic piano under Reed’s streetwise guitar riffs while Cale laments how (Warhol) is “forever changed”.  The tender final track Hello It’s Me sees Lou Reed take the lead role as he directly addresses the deceased Warhol, lamenting his treatment of him (“I wished I’d talked to you more when you were alive) praising his vision (“I haven’t heard ideas like that in such a long long time”) but allowing himself a final sidewipe (“your diaries are not a worthy epitaph”).
Even without the words and knowledge of the subject there is fine music here.  Often overshadowed by its predecessor, this is a fine album in its own right.