Wednesday, March 30, 2016

James Yorkston - The Year of The Leopard

James Yorkston's third album, released in 2006, is mellow even for him.  Minus his band the Athletes this time, it opens with the rolling acoustic guitars of Summer Song.  Like a lot of the songs here, it sounds like nothing much at first, but with a few listens embeds itself into your brain.  The title track is very sparse, at first just Yorkston and his guitar before he's joined by Jenny Casino on backing vocals, with a touch of clarinet here and there.  The atmosphere conjured up here is lazy and blissful.

Woozy With Cider is the centrepiece here by virtue of its otherworldly sounding keyboards.  It's a simple spoken word piece, Yorkston telling a charming tale of a drunken wedding and chatting up a barmaid ("I bet she'd change her tune if I told her my album had peaked at number 172").  The rest of the album is mellow folk punctuated by clarinet, mandolin, violin, bouzouki and harmonium, but never too much of any element, allowing Yorkston's voice and guitar to come to the foreground.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pavement - Terror Twilight

Pavement's fifth album, released in 1999, gets little attention in comparison to their earlier stuff, but it's quite a likeable album.  After a red herring in the form of a load of drums colliding, Spit On A Stranger is a gorgeously laidback slab of guitar rock.  Duelling banjos introduce Folk Jam which maintains a kind of mellow, driving mood.  You Are A Light, is equally tuneful and laidback with elements of Beck creeping in here and there, before a blistering yet brief guitar solo.  So all very chilled but... it's Pavement, so where's the fuzzy mess?

Cream of Gold turns the intensity up a bit, with harder riffs, but this is then followed by the most gloriously summery Major Leagues, which is almost made for radio.  The playing on this track is subtle, no instrument dominating too much, and Stephen Malkmus' vocal is understated.  Still trying to be Malkmus, but in an understated way.

No Pavement album would be complete without its jarring moments, and Platform Blues provides those with clattering rhythms but even this seems to absorb the general tunefulness of this album as the riffs resolve themselves into one of their more inventive songs, with multiple parts, some of them easy on the ear, some of them not so much.  Just when you think you might have to get up off your backside and do something here, Ann Don't Cry returns the album to horizontal status, it's another really pleasant tune, which should be a criticism but isn't at all on this album.

Towards the end the album gets looser with the all-over-the-shop faux-jazz Speak, See, Remember, a better song than that description indicates.  The Hexx is downright sultry, a simple, descending melody but with some fantastic guitar work, real guitar hero stuff.  A pity then that the album ends with the somewhjat out of place, jaunty And Carrot Rope.  But, that aside, a damn good album.  In an age of imitators, these guys do Pavement better than anybody.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Apartments - Drift

You couldn't accuse The Apartments of rushing their follow up to their debut.  Released in 1992, it bears little resemblance to the prevailing sounds of the time, and it certainly doesn't appear that seven years elapsed since their prophetically-titled debut The Evening Visits... And Stays for Years.  The plaintively strummed acoustic guitars of opener The Goodbye Train do build up to a heavier sound than anything on the debut, adding pounding drums and Peter Milton Walsh's electric guitar.  The album does an about turn with the jaunty On Every Corner  and then another with strange ballad Mad Cow which features some gorgeous strings.  These three songs encapsulate where The Apartments were in 1992: melancholy songs, with some exquisite instrumentation and real desperation in Walsh's voice (on Mad Cow).

The band were clearly happy to stretch out a bit more, getting rocky (for them) on Nothing Stops It and the bittersweet sounding Over.  All His Stupid Friends is almost childish in its glorification of another's misery, yet it's backed with wonderfully tasteful music and works beautifully.  Later, Could I Hide Here? is a fine cross pollination of the Smiths and 4AD.

After a while the tracks start to run into each other, because basically the album is a slab of thinly-veiled misery, and it's a mood held right through.  This of course, is a compliment.  Who knew wallowing self-indulgence could be so enjoyable?