Sorry about the wait. Moved house, you see. I’m typing this from the floor of the third bedroom, surrounded by boxes still full of CDs as yet unboxed. Not that you really need to know that. Anyway, here’s this month’s Clash pieces. Two amazing albums and one I suspect I’ll grow to like more.
LAURA MARLING – ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ (VIRGIN)
With two Mercury Music Prize nominations and a BRIT award in the bag, you might expect Laura Marling to capitalise on the exposure and tweak her sound in a push for the big time. Fear not, folk folks. The jazzy whirl of opener ‘The Muse’, sounding, at times, like a more forceful and jagged ‘Poor Boy’ by Nick Drake, is a stunning statement of intent and the most relaxed start to a Marling album to date. The sense of an artist no longer feeling the need to prove herself runs throughout these ten songs, and it is clear that the transition to songwriting great begun on ‘I Speak Because I Can‘ is now complete.
Continue reading “September Reviews–Laura Marling, Bjork and A Winged Victory For The Sullen”
It’s all picking up again now, after the dreaded summer lull. The beefy September releases are popping up and there’s plenty to like about August too. In addition to these, there’s the mighty fine debut from I Break Horses forthcoming on Bella Union and I can tell you now that both The Rapture and Laura Marling have fine albums on the way in September, Marling in particular having taken another massive leap between albums. Anyway, let’s do these three splendid releases, shall we?
JONATHAN WILSON – ‘Gentle Spirit’ (BELLA UNION)
Warm, fuzzy and unashamedly long, this gloriously languid debut solo outing puffs into view seemingly all the way from the late Sixties, with little interest in breaking new ground. Wilson has learnt his craft impeccably, having previously played for Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis and Jackson Browne amongst others, and ‘Gentle Spirit’ serves to unleash his own voice, even if it is a slightly stoned whisper. Recorded sporadically over a long period of time, and very audibly unhurried, the title and pace of the album suggest that we could all do with taking stock once in a while, hazy guitar lines lulling the listener into a state of serene bliss. ‘Can We Really Party Today?‘ aches beautifully over almost seven minutes, gently sashaying through the verses, before shifting down several gears for the sombre chorus.
While the lyrics may be a little platitudinous at times – "When it’s all said and done, we are just dust on the horizon" from ‘Natural Rhapsody’ – on occasion a little simplicity and sincerity is all we need. Recorded to analogue tape, the sound is warm and earthy, Wilson professing that he envisages it as a double album designed for vinyl. As he suggests on album closer ‘Valley Of The Silver Moon’, his music is out of step with current trends. All of which is not to say that ‘Gentle Spirit’ is diluted pastiche; everything here is gorgeously sung and this woozy, gently uplifting collection of songs is pretty close to perfect.
Continue reading “August Reviews – Jonathan Wilson, Bombay Bicycle Club and Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell”
A bizarre mix this – two I was absolutely desperate to hear and two about which I was mildly curious. I imagine it’s pretty obvious which ones belong in which pile. 220 words simply do not provide an opportunity to do the Rufus box set justice but I tried. Most other magazines appear to have given it a full page and, I would argue, it deserves it. Anyway, here’s to July…
LIAM FINN – ‘FOMO’ (TRANSGRESSIVE)
Anyone who heard Finn’s excellent debut, ‘I’ll Be Lightning’, will know that the knack for melody was passed down the family line from his father, Neil from Crowded House. On ‘FOMO’, short for ‘fear of missing out’, Liam Finn manages to do the whole ‘second album about life on the road’ thing without sounding like some pissy grouch. Instead, the euphoric, floating 60s guitar sheen and carefree swagger which dominates proceedings is utterly uplifting, with ‘Cold Feet’ the massive summer smash that will never be. The early-Nineties indie guitar excess on ‘Reckless’ offers another standout moment on an album which takes bold and successful strides.
Oooh, this is a good ‘un. If you never partook of his aforementioned debut, get yourself caught up. I won’t tell anyone you. This is a more fully-realised outing sonically but it’s the sheer joy of his songwriting that makes him worthy of your attention. As something of a Finn Fann, I was always predisposed to like him but he’s more than earned his stripes with this release.
Continue reading “July Reviews – Rufus, Liam Finn, Jill Scott & She Keeps Bees”
The new issue of Clash has hit the streets so it’s time to round up this month’s scribbles for you. An interesting range of stuff this month, including probably the second best jiffy bag of promo goodies I’ve ever received in the form of all four Cave reissues in their final, retail packaging. I remain mildly smug that my Black Lips review made it to print entirely unaltered. Anyway, let’s crack on, shall we?
KITTY, DAISY & LEWIS – ‘Smoking In Heaven’ (SUNDAY BEST)
After a solid and well-received debut, these analogue purists with a knack for good old-fashioned rock and roll deliver a follow up which oozes class. Sounding fifty years out of time and traversing genres without concern, it is unlike anything else you will hear this summer. And you really must hear it. Boldly commencing with the ska-infused ‘Tomorrow’, the album ranges from straight up rock and roll through raucous R’n’B and folksy swing. A band at ease with their sound, the joy of recording these songs is conveyed explicitly throughout, most notably on ‘Messing With My Life’ and ‘Don’t Make A Fool Out Of Me’.
Oh my, this is a very fine album indeed. You’ll be wanting it on vinyl and it will be a rather beautiful soundtrack to your summer. While the debut was perfectly decent, this is a massive leap forward and a wonderful, wonderful listen. Its appeal must be sufficiently obvious as my 9/10 rating wasn’t downgraded for once! That said, print readers beware: I did not, as you can see, finish my review with the line “We urge you to dance here.” Frankly, why would I? What does it even mean?
Continue reading “June Reviews”
Having released the bleakest record of their career, and quite possibly of the entire decade, with 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’, the Manics were reaching critical mass and it seemed something had to give. Chief tunesmith James Dean Bradfield was becoming worried that he wouldn’t be able to fit the increasingly polemical lyrics of Richey Edwards, permanent icon and sometime guitar player, to workable melodies. After poor sales of their bold third album, the band feared they might be dropped and, in February 1995, an American tour was looming on the horizon when Edwards disappeared.
After several months of uncertainty, the band vowed to go on. Convening for a nervous get-together in a Cardiff studio, they attempted a run-through of a song called ‘A Design For Life’, assimilated from two different lyrics Nicky Wire had provided Bradfield with in the months after Edwards’ disappearance. Realising that they had something special on their hands, the Manics attempted to record, with Stephen Hague in the producer’s chair, but found the results to be mixed. Opting instead for Siouxsie and Associates producer Mike Hedges, revered at the time for his stellar work on McAlmont & Butler’s ‘Yes’, the band decamped to a French Chateau and got to work. Described by Bradfield as “the most idyllic experience the band has ever had,” the results were to reverse their commercial decline and redefine how the band was viewed.
Continue reading “Classic Album: Manic Street Preachers ‘Everything Must Go’”
There are some great releases for the month of May – none of which were actually in my pile for Clash – and I’ll endeavour to get round to some of them fairly soon. However, see below for the four I did spend time with.
CULTS – ‘Cults’ (IN THE NAME OF/ COLUMBIA)
Maximum jangle with artwork resembling old iPod adverts? That’ll be Cults then. The punchy indie exuberance pervading this record is its calling card but beneath the surface there’s a whole lot more going on. ‘Go Outside’ and ‘Abducted’ have done a fine job of luring in an excited audience and the album is a largely satisfying experience. The sugary swing of ‘Never Saw The Point’ conjures the curious notion of Mazzy Star after six litres of supermarket cola while album closer ‘Rave On’, with its gloriously undulating bursts of euphoric wall-of-sound pop, suggests there’s a little more to this duo than simple indie club thrills.
A likeable album this, which goes some way to delivering on the promise shown on their early singles. It certainly suits a bit of sunshine but, like so many things, its lustre does fade after regular exposure. When it’s good, it’s very, very good but it’s the sort of album that my fifteen year old self would have bought, raved about for a few weeks whilst playing almost nothing else and then filed away, likely to be ignored for years to come. It’ll be a fine soundtrack to the coming months but make sure you go into the relationship knowing that it won’t be forever.
Continue reading “May Reviews”
Well, that was quite a month. I’ll be posting up soon an in-depth account of what became ‘Record Store Week’ for me, kicking off with the big day at the supreme Rise in Bristol. However, sorting out the feature, which appeared in a slightly rejigged form over on Drowned In Sound, about the shops’ view of the big day meant that the monthly posting of my reviews got lost somewhere. So, unsurprisingly after that last sentence, here they are.
ALESSI’S ARK – ‘Time Travel’ (BELLA UNION)
A bewitching stage presence and an angelic vocal make Alessi’s Ark very easy to love. Finely crafted folk is elevated towards greatness by the stunning voice of Alessi Laurent-Marke. ‘Maybe I Know’ tells the tale of a cheated upon partner realising that the gossip is all about her and will break your heart. It’s the standout moment on an album which rarely dips below excellent and the old school songwriting and airy, summery production will leave you utterly spellbound.
Now, the publication of this rankled with me a little. I hate giving scores in the first place but I understand why it’s sometimes necessary. However, when your score of 9 is subbed down to only 7, it’s a little misrepresentative of what I actually think of the record. I’m keen to write more about it but it always seems a bit odd to essentially review an album twice, even though this was such a brief piece. However, I’ve done it with Gorillaz (sort of – see below) so maybe I will. Either way, rest assured that this is one of the most perfect, summery records I’ve heard this year so far and that it will charm the pants of anybody who loves melodic, beautifully sung and delicately produced music. Get it.
Continue reading “April Releases – Reviews round up”