Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Album Review: Dirty Three - Cinder

Dirty Three's seventh album, released in 2005, is a change from previous albums.  The songs are shorter and more plentiful (nineteen tracks!), and are less dominated by Warren Ellis' violin.  Rather it fits into the overall sound.  Two tracks even feature vocals, but more of that later.  Ever Since sets the tone for the album, an almost Morricone, Western feel with Ellis playing less manically but with grace and subtlety.  She Passed Through and Amy drift by very pleasantly before Sad S€xy picks up the tempo a little.  Mick Turner's guitar is perfectly pitched as Ellis' violin grows in intensity throughout the track.

Cinders' rattling guitars break the momentum a little, but the sprightly The Zither Player brings the album back on track.  It Happened and Too Soon, Too Late have a lazy, on horseback feel, almost like Calexico, while the spooky Great Waves features Cat Power on almost hypnotic vocals, which work pretty well.  Later, Sally Timms of the Mekons performs wordless vocals on Feral, while mixing it up further, Warren Ellis puts down the violin for elegiac piano on Last Dance.

So a fairly atypical Dirty Three album then, but a most enjoyable one.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Album Review: Mark Eitzel - 60 Watt Silver Lining

Mark Eitzel released his first post-American Music Club album in 1996.  It was quite jarring upon first listen with a smooth, jazzy sound involving copious brass.  Typically, despite being one of the foremost songwriters of his generation, he chose to open with his version of Goffin & King's torch-song No Easy Way Down.  He pulls it off, but then follows up with some pleasant but unremarkable tracks, the smooth shuffle of Sacred Heart, and the soulful Always Turn Away.  Later, Aspirin transcends these arrangements via the steel guitar of Bruce Kaphan.

A handful of torch-jazz songs make the cut.  Utilising Mark Isham on horns, Saved and Mission Rock Resort work quite well as vehicles for Eitzel's passionate vocals.  Some Bartenders Have The Gift of Pardon is a kind of weary, "last orders" version of this, featuring a fine turn on piano from Kaphan.

Cleopatra Jones and Southend On Sea are funky jazz experiments that don't work at all.  But for those looking for classic Eitzel, he does deliver.  When My Plane Finally Goes Down is a shimmering, drawn out ballad with goose-bump inducing chilly keyboards blowing through it.  Wild Sea is a largely acoustic track that functions like an update of Johnny Mathis' Feet, bearing a fine, desperate vocal.  Bleakness closes in on final track Everything Is Beautiful as Eitzel sings "the thinnest rope won't hang you" over descending piano and a sensitive accompaniment from the rest of the band.  

So a departure for Eitzel, the introduction of Eitzel as doomed torch singer.  And, though uneven, it works.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Album Review: Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man

Ok this is an interesting one.  Leonard Cohen's eighth album, released in 1988, features some of the worst late 80s synth pop production.  Yet it's one I return to over and over.  Well, six of the 8 songs anyway.  What of the other 2?  Ain't No Cure For Love is merely an easy-listening ballad introduced by a fairly cheesy saxophone.  But Jazz Police is something else.  Clattering synths duel with drum machines, supported by syrupy backing vocals to produce a song you'll only want to hear once.

Thankfully the other six tracks are the real deal.  First We Take Manhattan overcomes the production with a marvellous melody and vocal from Cohen.  The lyrics are full of longing and loss: "I don't like these drugs that keep you thin, I don't like what happened to my sister" and later "remember me I used to live for music" with a delivery that is weary and wise.  Everybody Knows has an Eastern European sounding melody and works well, while the title track staggers in on a playful lolloping beat as Cohen plays lounge lizard to perfection.

Take This Waltz is a downright pretty waltz but it's the final two tracks that see Leonard Cohen at his most wryly reflective.  I Can't Forget  overcomes an eighties Stevie Wonder beat helped by a Sneaky Peter Kleinow playing a gentle steel guitar and some great lyrics: "I stumbled out of bed, I got ready for the struggle... I said this can't be me, must be my double, and I can't forget... but I don't remember what"(!). A soothing bed of percussion and cooing backing vocals introduce Tower of Song.  This time Cohen's "friends are gone and his hair is grey" and he "aches in the places where I used to play" before he nails it by growling "I was born with the gift of a golden voice".  It's a really fine end to an album that really ushered in Act II of Leonard Cohen's career.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Album Review: Dakota Suite & Quentin Sirjacq | There Is Calm To Be Done

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Album Review: The For Carnation

The For Carnation released their one and only album in 2000.  It opens with the eight minute slow burn of Emp Man's Blues, Brian McMahan's monotone vocals drone on as the understated music creeps alongside it, a little guitar here, a touch of keyboard there.  The track drifts in patiently and deliberately, and it's ably followed up by the stealthy, vaguely threatening A Tribute To, which though pacier than what came before, is darker still.  Being Held consists almost entirely of machine drones and Steve Goodfriend's drumming, yet it manages to convey a deeply sinister, stifling, suffocating atmosphere.
Snoother is, if anything, more downbeat, the band sounds utterly out of breath, creating a bleak slab of sound to lose yourself in.  Kim Deal contributes a vocal to the spidery guitars of Tales (Live From The Crypt), but on the closing slow grind Moonbeams the band finally shows their vulnerable side.  More emotive than anything which has gone before, it's an uplifting trudge with low key guitar, keyboards and cello combining to produce a rather affecting tune.
If it's reminiscent of anything, perhaps it's the darker side of Smog's Dongs of Sevotion.  But for an unrelenting album of basically all shade and no light, it's pretty addictive.