Review for www.meg.ie
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Nick Cave released a stripped down, practically solo album, The Boatman's Call. Not quite Bad Seed-less, the prominence of Cave's piano relegates them to very much support act status. It opens with Cave crooning "I don't believe in an interventionist God" on piano ballad Into My Arms, a very familiar track followed up by the Doors-lite of Lime Tree Arbour, all doomy bass and creepy organ and piano.
The mood continues on People Ain't No Good, Cave sings ruefully of "to our love send a coffin of wood" over piano and Warren Ellis' deft violin. It's probably Cave's prettiest, most romantic collection of songs. Gorgeous ballads like There Is A Kingdom and Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere are the order of the day. Mick Harvey's achingly soft bed of guitars on (Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For? really convey the longing contained in it.
Just when the album threatens to sink into over-sentimental wallowing, the strum with attitude of West Country Girl shifts the mood to Cave snarling about "her glove of bones at her wrist that I have held in my hand". Later, Harvey's guitar and Ellis' violin combine well on Idiot Prayer. It's all very... tasteful, if à little unvaried. Mostly light, with little shade. But it's an album where any of 12 strong songs could be singled out.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Morrissey returned from seven tests of silence in 2004 with You Are The Quarry. It opens with the shimmering keyboards of America Is Not The World. Morrissey is on fine voice here, and indeed across the album.
The album got a preview in the shape of barnstorming single Irish Blood, English Heart. It's a fine song in its own right, fitting in well into the (long) catalogue. The whole album is a succession of strong songs. I Have Forgiven Jesus sees Morrissey sing with real passion and feeling over Boz Boorer's subtle bed of guitars. A Morrissey album wouldn't be a Morrissey album without quotable lyrics. On I'm Not Sorry he confesses: "the woman of my dreams, there never was one."
He truly has a way with a songtitle, but the good news here is that The World Is Full of Crashing Bores, How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel etc measure up to those titles. First of the Gang To Die is a proper, swooning, singalong anthem to file alongside Everyday Is Like Sunday and even There Is A Light?? Let Me Kiss You features jangly guitar from Boorer and Alain Whyte and à classic self-deprecating chorus: "close your eyes and think of someone you physically admire".
At times the Jerry Finn's production can get a bit much, classic pop song I Like You nearly drowns under a sea of bleeps. You Know I Couldn't Last feels like a seventies era David Bowie album closer, a fine cocktail of keyboards and descending guitar riffs, ending a great collection of songs.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Lou Reed released possibly his last great album, Ecstasy, in 2000. Gone is the gloom of his early 90s work. Opener Paranoia Key of E has a restless guitar driving the song along, and a 'street feel' akin to his New York album.
The bulk of the album however is some rather fine downtempo, reflective tracks. Several of these (Mad, Tatters) feature brass which gives them a little soul, but they are quintessentially, fine exponents of being what they are: Lou Reed songs. Tatters features a tender vocal and lyric, "I know you don't care but here's my last thought", before turning sour "our little thing is lying here in tatters". It's one of many little triumphs on this album.
One of the standout tracks is the title track. A gently pulsing guitar combines with a soaring melody, taken to further heights by a gorgeous Fernando Saunders bass part right at the outtro. Uptempo tracks Mystic Child, Future Farmers of America and Big Sky by contrast feel rushed and throwaway. Reed is better when hé does, as he says a "Modern Dance". It's a kind of poppy rock song with a classic Lou Reed vocal.
On the ballad Turning Time Around, Reed's companion asks "what do you call love?". Reed answers, deadpan: "well I call it Harry.". There's no coming back from this. White Prism prevents the album from sinking completely into wry, couch-sitting musings by injecting heavy guitars and drums yet NOT at the expense of the song, one which knows how dial up and down the intensity at will. A "Rock Minuet" sounds like a truly pompous thing, and so it proves here, though Reed just about gets away with it on an oddly interesting song, thanks in no small part to some excellent guitar work. Baton Rouge follows, a classic strum featuring more humour ("I once had a car, lost it in a divorce, the judge was a woman of course").
The ultimate folly though must be the EIGHTEEN minute Like A Possum which consists of little more than Lou Reed, poet of New York, roaring lines like "Possum shots! Possum runs!" over growling guitars. That's not as good as it sounds. It's followed by brief, palette-cleansing instrumental Rouge. So not necessarily a smooth, cohesive listen, but an album full of well-crafted songs.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
1996's Murder Ballads seemed like a logical album for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to end up recording. Many of their previous songs could certainly be described as this. In truth, this album is a bit hit and miss. Song of Joy conjures a suitably macabre atmosphere to open the album, and this continues on the creeping Stagger Lee. Many came to this album via the two duets. PJ Harvey teams up with Cave to great effect on Henry Lee, while Kylie Minogue does equally well on Where The Wild Roses Grow.
Lovely Creature is a little Cave-by-numbers, and O'Malley's Bar is practically interminable at over fourteen minutes. The Kindness of Strangers is tender and sadder, seeming to lay the path for where Cave would go next (The Boatman's Call). Crow Jane has an almost jazz feel, while Bob Dylan's Death Is Not The End provides an appropriate finale. So something of à hit and miss Nick Cave album then.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Smashing Pumpkins were the least-punk influenced and therefore the proggiest band of the grunge era. Their second album, Siamese Dream, released in 1993 was a huge leap forward from previous album Gish, where only Rhinocerous hinted at the sheer power of this album.
It sounds absolutely immense, brilliantly produced by frontman/control freak Billy Corgan and Butch Vig. The guitars and Jimmy Chamberlain's drums sound immense on opener Cherub Rock, bursting out of the speakers. Quiet continues in this vein with a bludgeoning, powerful riff. It has to be said that Corgan's voice hasn't aged well, it has a rather grating tendency across the album. But he is forgiven when his and James Iha's guitars are so good.
The intricate, picked guitar intro to the anthemic Today still thrills, while Hummer is an absolute lesson in band dynamics and pacing on a song, as guitars ebb and flow from gentle, blissed-out ripples to molten riffing, and back again. The lyrics, however, are ridiculous: "life's a bummer, when you're a hummer". Indeed.
The massive riffs of Rocket could almost be the Screaming Trees if Corgan's voice dropped an octave or seven, and this gives way to the tense strum-with-bells on of Disarm, another early 90s anthem which hasn't aged badly at all. Once again it's brilliantly recorded, adding touches of strings here and there.
The faraway guitars of Soma signal another epic, beginning quietly, building gradually till the slabs of heavy, air-punching guitars crash through the song, spitting fire every which way, managing to overcome some fairly rotten lyrics: "I'm all by myself, as I've always felt". We return to an uneasy peace at the end of the song before following track Geek USA barrels in, only letting up briefly midsong before Corgan's guitars pick up the pace again, becoming almost Black Sabbath in places.
The intensity lessens a little towards the end of the album. But only a little. Mayonaise is a fine midtempo rocker, while Spaceboy has a kind of classic rock ballad feel to it. The only misstep is the longest track, the almost NINE minutes of pounding drums and guitars of Silverfuck. There's only so many times I can listen to Billy Corgan whine "bang bang you're dead". The album ends with the blissed out Sweet Sweet and Luna, two relatively low key tracks.
It's pretty much a seventies rock album updated for the early nineties. But it still sounds superb, great melodies with towering guitars. Dust it down and blow the cobwebs away.
Monday, December 23, 2013
In 1988 the Jesus and Mary Chain put out a collection of B-sides, Barbed Wire Kisses. It's an abrasive collection of brattish, guitar songs. It starts out with the raucous Beach Boys-style Kill Surf City, a perfect combination of William Reid's scratchy guitars and Jim Reid's bored vocals.
Really the rest of the album is not a lot different. Rider, and Swing have a sort of strut to them that narrowly avoids cock-rock. On the other hand, the guitars and vocals on Hit are positively guttural. They allow in a little sunshine into Don't Ever Change, with blissful guitars and a really uplifting melody, and the mood is continued on the pounding Happy Place and the acoustic, heartfelt Psycho Candy.
Sidewalking signals a gear shift as the Reid brothers stick back on their shades. It's not a particularly crafted song, just a cool-sounding one. The Beach Boys' own Surfin' USA gets 'Jesused' and Everything's Alright When You're Down makes a fair stab at being an anthem. The inclusion of debut single Upside Down is a welcome one, a blast of noise that still rattles the cages.
Some of it is (intentionally?) hilarious. Cracked features ingenius lyrics "crack Johnny crack, walk Johnny walk" which "becomes f**k Johnny f**k" and then Jim Reid just spits out "f**k! f**k! f**k!". It's a collection for those who thought Darklands was a little soft following on from Psychocandy.
Friday, December 20, 2013
First out of the blocks will be Mogwai with Rave Tapes, which will be released on Jan 20th. Based on Remurdered, the track released off it so far it's going to be electronic in feel, in a similar vein to their Les Revenants soundtrack.
Mark Kozelek is releasing his first album in, oh, at least five months, this time as Sun Kil Moon. It's entitled Benji and I really hope that's better than it sounds. Based on the acoustic tracks released to date it's up to scratch but not as strong as his last 2 albums. It's due out Feb 11th. In November he is, believe it or not, releasing Mark Kozelek sings Christmas Carols about which I am stunned into silence.
Beck is releasing what for him sounds like a fairly conventional album: Morning Phase on Jan 20th. Apparently it's a follow up of sorts to his downbeat, song-based Sea Change. Bill Callahan is releasing a dub version of Dream River on Jan 21st - Have Fun With God, and presumably God knows what THAT will sound like.
Dakota Suite have been recording with Quentin Sirjacq and have an album, There Is Calm To Be Done due for release in June. Fraser McGowan will most likely release a song-based album as Caught In The Wake Forever some time in 2014. Willy Vlautin's fourth novel The Free is due out in February and at some point his soundtrack to The Fighting Heart may surface.
I neglected to mention the Mark Lanegan Anthology - Has God Seen My Shadow? which is coming out in early January and will have unreleased material on it.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Review for www.spillmagazine.com
Monday, December 9, 2013
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
There is fire and brimstone contained here, Loverman is a full-on, guns blazing rave-up where Cave spells out his plea for L.O.V.E. But there are some great Cave ballads here also, more refined than ever on Nobody's Baby Now, Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore and the title track. Red Right Hand is another key song, creepy organ and pounded bells create a spooky atmosphere on the brightest of days, and there's a clever Neil Young steal in the lyrics ("you'll see him in your nightmares, you'll see him in your dreams" - Barstool Blues).
Jangling Jack is an unhinged pounder with Cave squealing and whooshing, and Thirsty Dog is another in a similar vein. All the songs here are really strong. In case the point was missed, the album finishes with a slowed-down Do You Love Me? (Part 2) arranged for strings. It's a must-own if you like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
This list will be more controversial for what I'm leaving out. So no Bowie, National or Queens of the Stone Age:
10 My Bloody Valentine - m b v
Never thought I'd be including Kevin Shields and co in a list like this. This album succeeds by simply doing what MBV are good at. It sounds like it could have come out in 1993 as opposed to 2013, yet it's not dated.
9 Low - The Invisible Way
A remarkably consistent band. This album is more stripped down than of late for them, allowing Sparhawk and Parker's harmonies lots of room to breathe.
8 Bill Callahan - Dream River
Callahan is on fairly opaque form here, and it's an album that I suspect still has to fully reveal itself 3 months on. Still, you can't argue with that voice or his band.
7 Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle - Perils From The Sea
A brave move for Kozelek to leave his voice completely at the mercy of Lavalle's lush, electronic soundbeds. The end result is an undoubted triumph, unlike anything else in his back catalogue.
6 Chequerboard - The Unfolding
A beautiful guitar instrumental album from John Lambert aka Chequerboard.
5 Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
An unexpected return from BoC to produce an addictive soundtrack for dark, uncertain times.
4 Mogwai - Les Revenants
The soundtrack to the TV series of the year, it works beautifully with the programme. But on its own it works really well, pushing Mogwai's music in an understated, keyboard heavy direction.
3 Mark Kozelek & Desertshore
Kozelek returned to a classic guitar, bass, drums combination. There's nothing earth-shattering here, but some of the songs contained are among his strongest in many years.
2 Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood - Black Pudding
Lanegan show his more rootsy side on a collaboration that echoes his early 90s solo material in a really good way.
1 Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Nick Cave and co have had an extraordinary career, yet this album, 10 months on continues to astound, revealing hidden qualities as it goes. Wonderful stuff.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Monday, October 21, 2013
Henry's Dream, released in 1992 sees Nick Cave & Co hone their songwriting into nine finely crafted songs. At times almost too crafted. Some tracks Papa Won't Leave You Henry, I Had A Dream Joe and Brother My Cup Is Empty are almost Cave-by-numbers, caricatures of a Nick Cave fire and brim-stomp. Better are the sparser, more stripped down slower tracks. Straight To You feels almost redemptive, while Christina The Astonishing is an exquisite lament.
When I First Came To Town has an epic feel to it, with Thomas Wydler's military style drums accompanied by cello and violins, and works very well, as does the brooding death march Loom of the Land. The album finishes off with Jack the Ripper, a call and response Cave song which works fine, but doesn't succeed as well as the slower material, leaving this a less than essential Nick Cave album.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Thursday, October 10, 2013
After the intense Tender Prey, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds returned in 1990 with The Good Son. It initially feels a little disappointing after the heights of its predecessor. Cave is very much in balladeer mode here on tracks like Foi Na Cruz and The Ship Song. The title track morphs from chain-gang chant, through Cave rant to become a sort of torch song. It sounds all over the shop.
They turn in some really dramatic goth-ballads, like Sorrow's Child and The Weeping Song. The Hammer Song dials up the intensity with vibraphone and crashing percussion, while Lament is almost the quintessential Cave ballad with its sweeping faux-strings. They have time to fit in the glam-stomp of The Witness Song before returning to crooning on Lucy.
It's probably the first Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album in their back catalogue that you could play to your parents/grandparents/whoever but after the thrills of Tender Prey, this one suffers by comparison. Better to take this one on its own merits and let it wash over you.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Monday, September 30, 2013
Coney Island Baby was released at the end of 1975, the follow up to Lou Reed’s aggressively noisy Metal Machine Music. This album couldn’t be further away, his band, including ex-Velvet Underground bass player Doug Yule, create a warm, melodic collection of songs.
The lyrical message across this album is of Reed’s blissful love life. Opening with the chiming keyboards of Crazy Feeling, the lyrics are peppered with references to his love interest Rachel (“and you, you really are a queen, oh such a queen”). The strutting, skipping guitars of Charley’s Girl follow before the guitars add a little bite on a slowed-down version of VU tune She’s My Best Friend (guess who).
The album takes a sharp left as, unhappy with this gooey softness, the Lou Reed street persona reappears on Kicks, a murderous tale of getting thrills from violence (“when the blood comes down his neck, don’t you know it was way better than s€x”) as snatches of conversation swoop in and out, creating a most unsettling atmosphere which threatens to completely spoil the mood.
A Gift follows, where Reed sings tongue-in-cheek lyrics about being “just a gift to the women of this world” over soothing, strummed guitars and dippy pipes. After two relatively throwaway songs, the sighing guitars of the title track are a fitting end to the album. Here Reed recites a possibly autobiographical (hard to tell though as the man lies constantly) tale from his childhood of high school days and sports try-outs over a wonderful melody. Some of the lyrics hark back to his edgier past (“all your two-bit friends, they’ve gone and ripped you off”), culminating in Reed cooing about the “glory of love…. man, I swear I’d give the whole thing up for you”. It sounds quite wonderful, though it’s so far removed from Heroin, Waiting for the Man and Berlin that it’s hard to take it 100% at face value. Nonetheless it’s probably the most tuneful Lou Reed album.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Dinosaur Jr's 2009 album Farm is very much business as usual. What sets them apart from other bands is J Mascis' guitar. The rough-hewn riffs hit that bit harder and the solos really take flight. Opening one-two Pieces and the bouncy I Want You To Know are perfect examples of this. The man has the ability to make guitars convey real emotions, the guitars on Plans sound almost wistful.
Bassist Lou Barlow pitches in with Your Weather and Imagination Blind, however these and many of the others - Over It, Friends and See You have melodies that aren't really that memorable. There's No Here is a strong Neil Young & Crazy Horse type thing. I Don't Wanna Go There is a decent penultimate track, but does it really have to be nearly NINE minutes long?
What they do really isn't complex, just heavy-riffing pop tunes groaned along to by J Mascis. This album is not a must-own Dinosaur Jr album, it's more of a next tier purchase.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Monday, August 26, 2013
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Caught In The Wake Forever released this EP in 2011. It opens with Recorded With You In Mind, a slow, melancholic, sparse tune where different elements are added gradually, creating something of a symphonic effect. The rest of the EP is mostly in line with this: Fragments Turn To Dust opens with a scratchy guitar, Mount Batten Ferry adds piano to the recorded sounds of a Geiger counter. I Have Nothing Left To Give You and For Those Left Along The Way use a droning keyboard to frame the deftly plucked guitar and piano.
And when you tire of these, there are remixes of each track, which bring something new to the table in each instance. The standout of these is the Jonnie Common remix of I Have Nothing Left To Give You Anymore, which adds incongruous electronic effects. If you like ambient music, Fraser McGowan shows an inventive approach throughout this EP.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
There's a long line of miserabilist bands, too numerous to mention here, which generally featured a brooding, baritone singer. Current exponents of this would be Tindersticks, The National and you can add Scotland's The Savings and Loan to this list. Consisting of singer Martin Donnelly and Andrew Bush who appears to do the fancy stuff, their debut full length, Today I Need Light opens with the slow, deliberate guitar strum of Swallows. Vaguely reminiscent of Nick Cave, with a dash of Fearghal McKee thrown in, it sets a mood which is unyielding throughout the nine tracks found here, The Virgin's Lullaby and Catholic Boys In The Rain are an even more Cave-sounding tracks.
Some steel guitar gives a country feel to a couple of the tracks here like the weary Lit Out where Donnelly is "tired of London and tired of life", while Her Window and the prettily snail-paced Met (a Storm) features a nice bit of brass, not a million miles away from Tindersticks. On the opposite end of the scale there's a black as coal version of Star of the County Down, which has a curious charm to it.
The album finishes with perhaps its finest song A Pleasing Companion which I can only describe as like an unholy marriage of Richmond Fontaine and Lou Reed in his Berlin period. The album doesn't reinvent the wheel but it doesn't pretend to either. Simply, a bunch of melancholic tunes that sit well with fans of moody rock.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Watching Alice is the type of pretty piano ballad Cave does so well, and he plays a fine harmonica midway through. Mercy is a sort of melodramatic ballad where the band's vocals play fast and loose with actually staying in tune. Cave breaks out his harmonica again on the Doors-meets-Joy Division of City of Refuge. Mick Harvey's bassline is practically a Peter Hook homage on the chorus. What follows, torch song Slowly Goes The Night, sees Nick Cave practically crooning his way through a fine melody.
The melodies throughout the album are really strong, from the strutting Sunday's Slave to the almost jaunty singalong of New Morning, making this an essential Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Thursday, July 25, 2013
The first album from Retribution Gospel Choir, released in 2008, sets the tone for this project - heavy, rocking out guitars, a sort of Alan Sparhawk midlife crisis escape from Low.
Basically if you like the heavier bits of The Great Destroyer, you'll love this. Opening with the heavy rock of They Knew You Well, the band reimagine two of Low's songs from Drums and Guns in this format - Take Your Time and Breaker, both of which succeed it has to be said.
The pounding, bone-shaking riffs of Somebody's Someone and What She Turned Into thrill and startle in equal measure. The bashful, subdued Holes In Our Heads is more typical Sparhawk territory, starting quietly before giving way to more guitar pyrotechnics. Kids betrays the hallmark of producer Mark Kozelek's heavier material with Sun Kil Moon, all heavy, yet hesitant guitar crunch, and is allowed a full four minutes before concluding with Sparhawk singing a gentle 'Amen'.
Frustratingly, many of the other songs last little over two minutes, it would have been nice to hear Sparhawk indulge his inner Crazy Horse. It's at times unsettling and never a comfortable listen, the ideal flipside to Low's Drums and Guns album.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Bob Mould's 2008 album District Line is a curious one. No more so than on opener Stupid Now, which can't decide between being a dance song, or to rock, and ultimately does neither. Mould at times sounds like he can barely sing on this, and also the Britpop strum of Again and Again, his voice cracking under the strain of reaching the notes, and its not clear whether this is deliberate or not. Better are the Sugar-y rockers Who Needs To Dream? and Return to Dust.
Old Highs, New Lows is another dodgy dance/rock hybrid, while Shelter Me goes the whole 'dad-dance' hog. He saves the best for last with the reflective, REM channeling strum of Walls In Time, accompanied by Amy Domingues' fine cello part. This track was apparently written around the time of 1989's Workbook. It's a shame there aren't more like it here as it suits him down to the ground and is the strongest track on an uneven album.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Monday, July 22, 2013
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Pick Me Up is basically a long lead-in to a hugely satisfying guitar solo, and, so long as you aren't looking for much depth to the lyrics, Barlow's Back To Your Heart is a swaggering stomp of a song. Mascis and co sound revitalised on some of the heavier tracks like It's Me and Barlow's Lightning Bulb.
The one weak spot is the plodding acoustic strum of I Got Lost. Here Mascis sings falsetto, and though it's a rare instance of proper 'singing', it doesn't help matters. Much better in a mellow vein is We're Not Alone, which bobs along amiably, evoking the Lemonheads. The album is definitely up to scratch with their older work, ushering in a great Dinosaur Jr second act.
Monday, July 15, 2013
After the rather strange dance experiment of 2002’s Modulate, 2005's Body of Song was billed as Bob Mould’s ‘return to rock’. It opens with the reasonably heavy Circles which has a decent tune, but (Shine Your) Light Love Hope and I Am Vision, I Am Sound hark back to Modulate with their dance beats and vocodered, auto-tuned to death vocals. Really quite jarring.
Thankfully the rest of the album improves on this. Underneath Days has a strong guitar riff and real passion in the vocals along with impassioned rockers like Paralyzed and Best Thing. Elsewhere, Days of Rain introduces an ‘adult-oriented’, relaxed, mid-paced sound which really suits Mould, and it’s replicated on High Fidelity and Missing You. It’s the type of thing Paul Westerberg manages quite well.
Penultimate track Gauze of Friendship is the most emotional track, all busted relationships and sepia-described memories, with a fine guitar solo thrown in for good measure. The album concludes on a very strong note with the parched, downbeat rocker Beating Heart The Prize, possibly the most anthemic track here and yet another blinding guitar solo.
It’s not the most cohesive album Bob Mould has put his name to but, dance-pop experiments aside, is a good collection of songs.
Monday, July 8, 2013
The rest of album is more standard issue Cave and the Bad Seeds; the death march of The Carny, the zaniness of Hard On For Love and the epic finale of Tim Rose's Long Time Man. While Jack's Shadow is very much a quintessential Cave track, special mention must go to She Fell Away which takes an early Johnny Cash groove to feature not only xylophone courtesy of Mick Harvey, but also Thomas Wydler on fire extinguisher!