Sunday, June 28, 2015

Album Review: Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther

Midlake's second album, released in 2006 was the one that really put the band on the map.  It opens with the piano of the incredibly catchy Roscoe.  It's an unashamedly classic rock sounding track, like Crosby, Stills and Nash rolled together with Fleetwood Mac.  That's not to say it's easy listening, singer Tim Smith and Eric Pulido both chime in with some scorching guitar licks on the track while Smith sings about "stonecutters made them from stones chosen specially for you and I."  It's probably the strongest song on the album but the rest is far from filler.

A couple of tracks in, Head Home has a hugely catchy piano riff with some great b*ll*x lyrics about a girl who "she reads Leviathan... I think I'll head home" and a fine guitar solo too.  In This Camp starts as a kind of lazy strum yet builds well, almost reaching similar heights, with some more fine guitar work.  Some of the more mellow moments work well also, We Gathered In Spring overcomes some rather cheesy keyboards to deliver another killer, if more laid-back chorus.

Other tracks such as the country-rock Bandits and the title track have that early seventies feel to them, and drift along pleasantly, with the occasional flute thrown in, narrowly avoiding pastiche.  One or two tracks don't work so well.  Branches drags a little, while It Covers The Hillside is a bit too happy cheese for comfort, but they don't distract from the overall feel of the album.  If you ever wanted to hear an early seventies soft-rock album updated for the 21st century, this is your album.  I guess it really IS ok to listen to Fleetwood Mac and embrace the melodies, and admit that Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear The Reaper really IS a good song.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Album Review: Yo La Tengo - Electr-O-Pura

Yo La Tengo open 1995's Electr-O-Pura with the familiar Velvet-y groove of Decora, Georgia Hubley's ghostly vocals combining well with Ira Kaplan's guitar work.  The album takes a darker, heavier turn on the very Sonic Youth-like Flying Lesson, Kaplan seriously impressing on growling guitar riffs, which build in intensity then unravel to a full-on guitar work out, like an even more ragged Stooges.  The pace totally drops for the lazy stum of The Hour Grows Late before picking back on Tom Courtenay.  The album lurches back and forth between heavy and light, the spooky Paul Is Dead and gorgeous Pablo and Andrea do a mellow lazy groove in a way only Yo La Tengo can excel at, the latter featuring a searing guitar solo from Kaplan.

The Ballad of Red Buckets has a real Thurston Moore feel to it, while Don't Say A Word has a classic, almost Joni Mitchell melody to it.  The album is not without its annoying moments, I could do without the pointless noise of False Ending and annoying organ of False Alarm, and as for the cacophony of Attack On Love... give it a rest.  But the rest of the album is, in the main, very fine.  Bitter End is like Lou Reed dragged backwards through a noisy nineties murk.  Quite the enjoyable album then, in a kind of pointy-headed Sonic Youth kind of way.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Album Review: Stone Temple Pilots - Purple

Stone Temple Pilots were largely derided back in the 90s as grunge bandwagon jumpers and rip-off merchants.  They weren't even from Seattle for Christ's sake.  It's true to say that their debut, Core was a little self-consciously heavy and grungy.  But by the time of 1994's Purple the band had certainly hit their stride and they settled into their groove, not a metal-ish grunge band, more a heavy pop band.  The opener on Purple, Meatplow is probably the heaviest moment here, Dean DeLeo's big riffs provide the backdrop for Scott Weiland to warble over.  So where's the pop you might ask?  Well it duly arrives on track 2, Vasoline.  Built on a one-chord repetitive riff, it's a classic driving song with one of many great big singalong choruses on the album ("is it you, is it me, search for things you cannot see, going blind out of reach somewhere in the vasoline").  Even better is Interstate Love Song.  It starts with a vaguely country guitar drawl before the big riffs come crashing in, leading to another massive chorus that's built for in car listening.

They do a fine line in heavy yet laidback pop, the slow, deliberate riffs of Still Remains provide one of the more sensitive yet poppy moments here as Weiland sings a tale of desperate and rather revolting desire ("take a bath I'll drink the water that you leave, if you should die before me ask if you can bring a friend").  The brooding Big Empty has a similar slow feel to it.  They haven't completely turned their back on hard rock, Silvergun Superman rocks pretty hard, Robert DeLeo and Eric Kretz as the rhythm section do a superb job to anchor.  The album finishes with Kitchenware and Candybars, which builds up from a slow patient strum to a kind of ballsy riffing anthem, which concludes the album nicely before a hidden track featuring a random Johnny Mathis-style crooner.

This album is the perfect introduction to the Stone Temple Pilots.  They don't reinvent rock n roll but they channel it into some great heavy pop thrills.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Album Review: Bark Psychosis - Hex

Bark Psychosis released their debut album Hex in 1994.  It opens with the stately piano of The Loom which sounds like they took their lead from Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock and infused it with an almost classical music direction.  A Street Scene is more dissonant but the ebb and flow of the shimmering Absent Friends is one of the more engaging tracks here.  

Vocals are kept to a fairly minimal level on this album, acting more as an accompanying instrument than a focal point.  A kind of feeling of dread, of unease permeates Big Shot.  Tracks like Fingerspit and the liquid guitar lines of Eyes & Smiles are quite forbidding and unyielding with many layers to get your head around, while instrumental closer Pendulum Man is a fine ten minutes of ambient music.  It's a pretty immersive yet inscrutable album, one for the wee small hours I suspect.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Album Review: David Kauffman and Eric Caboor - Songs From Suicide Bridge

David Kauffman and Eric Caboor were a pair of songwriters who tried to make a name for themselves in California in the early eighties to no avail.  So legend has It they put their most depressing songs on an album and called it Songs From Suicide Bridge.  On its release in 1984 it made no impact.  Listening to it now, it certainly would not have fitted in with the highly produced sound of the time.  Opener Kiss Another Day Goodbye sets the tone, some slightly rough sounding vocals (Kauffman) over some plaintive, downbeat guitar chords with occasional steel guitar.  It sounds like it transcends eras and could have been released any time in the last forty to fifty years.  The guitar work is complex without being flashy on songs like Neighborhood Blues with Caboor's mention of sending letters off to "some lonesome loser who'll hear what I've got to say".  Caboor appears the more hopeful of the two.  A rolling guitar figure introduces Kauffman's bleak, despairing Life Without Love with stark lyrics of "life without love is destroying my mind".  It has all the appeal of American Music Club's darkest moments.

The approach of alternating Kauffman and Caboor's songs works to prevent the album becoming too samey, yet it remains a cohesive listen.  Kauffman has the more tormented songs - the late night piano of Life And Times On The Beach just escapes being a complete wallow by morphing into an REM-style strum, climaxing with the line "what I need to end it all is right... within my reach", complete with dramatic pause.  Gulp.  Caboor doesn't necessarily lighten things up, the lengthy Backwoods is a brilliantly haunted bluesy strum where he sounds every bit as desperate as his partner in the mire.  Their joint effort, Midnight Willie is a wonderfully empathetic song about a downtrodden down-and-out.

Later, Where's The Understanding is a little too close to Bob Dylan's It's Alright Ma for comfort.  However they end the album on what seems like a hopeful note on One More Day.  Well, hopeful in a Nick Drake, Bryter Later kind of way.  You can almost hear the sun peeking through the guitar picking.  The album is a timeless collection of dark, torch songs which, if you like that sort of thing, you ought to get your hands on it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Album Review: The Chameleons - Script of the Bridge

The Chameleons were an eighties post-punk style band who I must admit I didn't discover till the mid noughties.  Script of the Bridge is their debut album and it must have been on high rotation with Interpol and The Horrors.  It has to be said that opener Don't Fall is a bit weak, a monolithic slab of whiny misery.  After this the album picks up considerably.  Here Today lurches back and forth agreeably but the following two tracks are two of the strongest.  Monkeyland is all creeping tension, building up to a sweeping chorus where singer Mark Burgess belts out "it's just a trick of the light".  Keyboards introduce Second Skin which has a soaring melody before Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies' spidery guitar lines fade into nothingness in the coda.

The album doesn't quite sustain such peaks but remains interesting nonetheless: Up The Down Escalator bears all the hallmarks of early U2 EXCEPT Bono, while the shimmering Thursday's Child evokes early Cure.  The most Joy Division-like moment here is the insistent A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days,,some of the drum fills are reminiscent of that band's Atmosphere.  But this album stands apart from these comparisons.  It's a perfectly formed early eighties album to file alongside Closer and Faith.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bully – Feels Like – Album Review

Review for

Album Review: Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell

Sufjan Stevens is actually somebody who has passed me by up to now.  His name has long been associated with credibility and has been dropped by many who like the 'right' sort of music.  This is his seventh album and his first for five years.  Gone are the singalong tunes and kitchen sink production to be replaced by a raw, sparse, largely acoustic sound throughout.  Vaguely reminiscent of a slightly more produced early Elliott Smith, opening track Death With Dignity is a charming slice of acoustic guitar picking, topped off with a lovely keyboard solo midsong.  Should Have Known Better is a highlight, a hard-bitten yet sweetly sung tale of harsh childhood memories.

There are great songs all over this album, from the insistent, down-strumming of Drawn To The Blood to the stunning, ghostly Fourth of July, Stevens lamenting "we're all gonna die" on the latter over swirling, wintry keyboard washes.  The title track has one of the prettier melodies here, but in fact, one could easily pick out all eleven tracks here.

What keeps this from being a bit cloying and samey are the touches of weirdness here and there, the unexpected bursts of creeping keyboards that are barely noticeable at first till they pull you under... in a good way.  Stevens' breathy vocals suit the songs well, inhabiting them without overwhelming them.  It's an old-fashioned album that hangs together well and is bound to feature in end of year lists.