Tag Archives: album

Everything Everything and the One Day Like This effect

Maybe it was the decision to release it on 14th January, a traditionally quiet time for releases, but there was a palpable sense that people were waiting for Everything Everything’s second album, Arc.  Press coverage was pretty comprehensive, Kemosabe was never off the radio, and given that Man Alive was one of the most exciting and original debut albums in recent memory, expectations were high. And when you preview an album with singles of the quality of Cough Cough and Kemosabe, well, people are going to be waiting to hear what you have to say.

So, then, how has Arc fared? Well by all accounts – it landed in the top five. Torso of the Week is one of their best efforts to date, and the moment in Radiant when Jonathan Higgs’ furious shredded howl “it’s all I ever had” collapses into a crystalline chiming guitar is absolutely sublime, but there’s something wrong, and that can be summed up in one word: Duet. It is, said Higgs in an interview with the BBC, “one of the few proper songs I’ve written“. What it is is a massive string soaked concession of the heartbreaking proportions of Elbow’s One Day Like This: Duet was, in the week of release, already soundtracking montages on Match of the Day. It’s a pleasant enough song, nicely put together, but it doesn’t feel like an Everything Everything song. It feels like someone’s idea of what a band is meant to do to sound sincere, to mean anything to anyone, and from a band like this, it stings a little. Like One Day Like This, it feels out of character, and while of a higher quality than the likes of Coldplay’s Fix You, there’s no doubt it’s a stadium filler, the end of the encore, the money song.

In the same interview, Higgs deems Man Alive annoying, and other interviews around Arc’s release have seen the band say that they have made a conscious effort to write songs that the audience can sing along to. With this in mind, listen to Arc. The sheer volume of repeated lyrics is striking – not repeated choruses, choruses and verses made up almost entirely of the same line over and over. Ok, maybe it’s easier to make out the words on this album, but when you have a range like Higgs, accurate singalongs are still mostly out of the question. And it’s not like anyone went to see Jeff Buckley to sing along, is it? It’s hard not to sound a bit “oh, I liked their earlier stuff” on the subject, and the frustrating thing is that Arc is perilously close to being brilliant, but when the band have openly said that they’ve made concessions so that people like them better, it’s hard not to object. If they hadn’t been so conscious of people being able to sing along, there’s no telling what this album could have been.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

Best of 2012: Lilies – Bat For Lashes

The Haunted Man First, I know this thing has been dead, but I’ve been doing a degree. To make up for one post in six months, I’m going to recap some of my musical highlights of the year.

Bat For Lashes has always appeared to be on the wrong side of trendy, trying a bit too hard, not very easy to like. And the cover of third album The Haunted Man doesn’t do much to assuage these doubts, but taking the chance is absolutely worth it. Singles All Your Gold and Laura are shimmering, seductive pop perfection, and the album is studded with jewels like Winter Fields, but that’s if you get past the towering opener Lilies.

Mournful,  joyous, and Miss Bat For Lashes Natasha Khan at her most Kate Bush (particularly on the line about children having a private world), it’s a little world all of its own. It’s deceptively simple, mostly vocal with incongruous synth squelches, and the chorus is just the words “Oh, the lilies on the hill” repeated, but it’s somehow loaded with meaning. Towards the end, she erupts with “Thank God I’m alive”, and it’s hard not to punch the air in celebration. It’s unashamedly over the top, and indeed the album is a decadent listen, but what a way to indulge.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Writing

Field Music – Plumb

Every so often, an album pops up which both restores faith in just how good music can be and is jaw-droppingly inventive at the same time. Released earlier this year, Field Music’s forth effort Plumb is one such album.

Field Music can loosely be called indie, but their approach to constructing songs (for it’s construction rather than writing) is almost classical. Each song on Plumb is part of a whole, one movement flowing into the next (and often several tempos, themes and keys in one song), although each track works equally well in isolation. This has been hinted at in the past both on Field Music albums and on Sea From Shore, the album from David Brewis’s side project School of Language which included four versions of Rockist (and Disappointment #99, which doesn’t really prove my point but is such a brilliant slice of wonky guitar pop that it had to be included), but Plumb sees this technique employed masterfully. Somehow, it makes perfect sense that the sparkling riff of A New Town feeds into the odd squelching at the beginning of Choosing Sides, and somehow it makes sense that Choosing Sides features the most heartfelt melodic three-syllable ‘sit’ you’re ever likely to hear. It’s a perfect forty minutes of bubbling creativity, and the fact that addictive I Keep Thinking About A New Thing is the last track on the album speaks for itself: it’s an album that demands attention from start to finish, and it should be gladly given.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

Inevitable rant about Coldplay

Amid a barrage of things we don’t need (a third Bridget Jones film, a Sex and the City prequel), Coldplay’s fifth album Mylo Xyloto is hurtling towards us at great speed.

It’s easy to have a go at Coldplay. They’re a bit smug. More than a bit bland. Chris Martin is highly irritating, particularly when it comes to pretending he isn’t married to Gwyneth Paltrow (not talking about your marriage to the press is fair enough, but pretending it doesn’t exist is just a little bit mental). Clocks has been played so often over the last nine years that it resembles a car alarm far more than a musical composition. But their most heinous offence, far worse than all of these things, is Fix You.

Fix You is, oddly, one of their most celebrated songs, but listen to it – really listen to it. It. Is. Horrendous. It has become a torch song, but what the hell is it about? Initially, comfort: I will try to fix you, lights will guide you home. But, and here’s the main grievance: said lights will indeed guide you home, but they will also ignite your bones. Follow the nice safe path home, dear, and you will burst into flame. And I will, you know, try to fix you. Seems unlikely, though, given that even your bones are on fire. There are also the smaller matters of the epic guitars which kick in about halfway through, simultaneously prompting a thousand bands with no ideas of their own to follow suit and ensuring a generation uses the word ‘epic’ incorrectly, the fact that the verse’s hook  is kind of the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind, and the narcoleptic delivery of the last word of every line makes it sound like even Chris can’t be bothered. But thousands – probably even millions of people holler along to it at festivals as if experiencing the rapture.

The thing is, though, that they’re not totally awful. Parachutes is still pretty lovely, for the most part; Viva La Vida’s strings made for one of the year’s best hooks, and The Scientist remains a perfect pop song with a genuine emotional punch. And they may very well surprise us this time round, rob us of our easy target, but tasters like Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall suggest they probably won’t. We’ve got a few months before it’s on every advert and montage though: enjoy it while you can.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

The Mercury isn’t Everything (Everything)

Everything Everything

Tonight we find out who has won the Mercury out of Adele, Elbow, Katy B, the jazz man and a few others. The odds are on for one of the more left-field albums to scoop it this time, but chances are it may well go to Adele. Who can say? As long as it doesn’t go to Elbow (sorry, but Build A Rocket, Boys is just not good enough) or Tinie Tempah who, as part of 6Music’s excellent Complete Mercury’s season, revealed that he had been inspired to make music by So Solid Crew’s 21 Seconds.

On this year’s list, Everything Everything’s Man Alive outshines everything. The Mercury Music Prize is meant to represent an album of unparalleled craft, and that can be said of few other contenders this year, perhaps with the exception of PJ Harvey (who has already won). Man Alive, however, is a study in invention, an exploration in sound, particularly rhythm. At no point on that album does any one member of the band do what you expect, and if that’s not worthy of a prize…

Take, for example, Schoolin and its baffling final minutes. Around 2 mins 50, everything drops out, and a frantic, rippling, impossibly intricate guitar riff starts (not a sample, incidentally – guitarist Alex Robertshaw plays it live). Jonathan Higgs howls something. Then the drums kick in, battered, off-beat, almost Caribbean in feel, and on top of this, a syncopated bassline. All going on at the same time, all fitting around each other like this makes perfect sense. The months of practice that must have gone in to managing to play it live, and this is two minutes’ worth of music. This is before mentioning the glorious Qwerty Finger (the breathless, towering chorus collapsing into the half-speed breakdown is one of the finest musical moments of the past year, and it’s a satisfying title to type too), Nasa Is On Your Side’s ping-ponging melody or the beautifully deployed trumpets on Come Alive Diana. This is a genuinely outstanding band who have created a surpassing album. Is it better than Metronomy, than Elbow, than  James Blake? Infinitely. It’s so good, in fact, that you almost don’t want it to win. It doesn’t need the accolade: it’s already far more than any of the other shortlisted albums could ever hope to be.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

Playing favourites: 100 Broken Windows

Inspired by The Guardian’s My Favourite Album feature (and yes, I’m fully aware that a blog inspired by a Guardian feature may be the most middle-class thing I ever do), I’m having a go at picking my own favourite album, and while choosing favourites is ridiculously difficult, this seemed to be the logical choice.

100 Broken Windows album cover

Idlewild’s second full-length album (although still third album in my mind as you can’t discount Captain) 100 Broken Windows was released when I was 16.  Having discovered Hope is Important and Captain, a little belatedly, the year before, it was the first album of theirs I had anticipated. Pre-album singles Little Discourage and Actually Its Darkness had duly been bought and their B-sides dissected,  and I had even braved Falkirk’s Radio One Roadshow to see them play two songs on a bill which also included Hanson, Craig David, Stephen Gately and Mary Mary. Yeah.

It was so much more than the singles suggested. Little Discourage was the perfect bridge from Hope is Important to …Windows, still loud, still jagged, but somehow more grown up, a pervading sense of melancholy amidst the racket. The album’s sleeve bares one note apart from production credits and thanks, a white page with only the words ‘Subject: history’, and it’s right enough: the album, particularly the second half, is a series of, or possibly just one, relationships splayed open, rich in love and arguments won and lost. Let Me Sleep (Next to the Mirror), one of their finest moments, has a deceptively carefree melody, but listen to the lyrics: it’s a story about someone who can’t stand their own reflection, in some kind of crisis or mental state which cannot be endured any longer, let alone the ten more years it suggests. “Apparently, you’re happy, you’ve realised,” sighs Quiet Crown, “I’m meant to be unhappy, I’ve realised”, while The Bronze Medal’s exhausted cry of “You said you felt weak, I hope it’s got nothing to do with the things you told me” is utterly devastating. The noisy moments are still there, and explore, for the first time, Roddy Woomble’s fondness for a literary reference, and somehow get away with lyrics about Gertrude Stein in one of their best choruses (Roseability) and an entire letter to Henry Millar muttered throughout the verses of Idea Track (listen closely, it is there) without sounding pretentious, possibly because they come complete with wall upon wall of perfect guitar lines from an increasingly confident Rod Jones. There are two big dumb rockers in the shape of Rusty and Listen to What You’ve Got as well, and all together, it’s a perfect snapshot of all sides of the band’s personality at the time, still young with a feral desire to make a hell of a lot of noise but gradually growing up, shades of doubt creeping in.

100 Broken Windows is also the album responsible for my first properly mental gig experience. I had been to a handful of gigs before, and they had been enjoyable, but this was an entry into a new world, a revelation of what live music could be. It was also my first visit to the Barrowlands, a place I had only heard stories of. Sprung dancefloor, went the whispers, you’ll never stop bouncing. And sure enough: the band came onstage, tore into Listen to What You’ve Got, the crowd exploded, I found myself squashed up against the barrier and I didn’t find the friend I had come with for about an hour. This was all new: my friend and I were the only people I knew who had heard of Idlewild, and to suddenly be in a room with a couple of thousand other people who knew every note and syllable as intimately as I did was intoxicating. These songs existed outside of my earphones and bedroom stereo, and they were huge, and unifying, and I was somehow part of it.

Last year, the band did a few tenth anniversary gigs playing the album in its entirety, and down the front of the Liquid Rooms, the feeling was the same. Everyone there, it seemed, still knew every single word, and despite a horrendous cold, I was hollering along with the rest of them, and barely able to speak the next day. And importantly, it still sounds great. It hasn’t obviously dated, and while the band’s sound has evolved, it still does them proud.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit

This year’s Edge Festival is boasting a rather decent line up – with the exception of Cast and Morcheeba, it’s significantly better than last year’s – and tucked away right at the end is the unveiling of the new project from Idlewild guitarist Rod Jones. Going by Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit – whether that’s a new solo moniker, his backing band or his attire, I’m not sure – he seems to be on a mission to shine up the rocky side of Idlewild’s coin while Roddy Woomble is off promoting lovely folky second solo album The Impossible Song and Other Songs. And if taster Do You Ever is anything to go by, we’re in for something rather special indeed. Available as a free download here, it’s a wonderfully raggedy surprise, all serrated guitars and unexpected stop-starts. If Idlewild’s hiatus turns out not to be permanent – please please please – then signs are good for future albums: the inventive spirit is in seriously good health. In the meantime, Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit play Cabaret Voltaire on 31st August.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music