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Lanegan Band - Bubblegum
This album was recommended
for a long time before I finally went out and bought it. Lanegan
hails from the Screaming Trees, about whom I know absolutely nothing,
so as interested as I was, I never quite succumbed.
The track that finally
pulled me in was Hit the City, a dark, bluesy number on which he
duets with Polly Harvey in a way that reminded me very strongly
of the time Nina Persson of the Cardigans sang with Mark Linkous
on the last, brilliant Sparklehorse album. The overall sound is
not unlike It's a Wonderful Life throughout - dark, brooding, and
at times downright menacing. The latest Giant Sand album is also
similar, although more during the rockier, bluesier moments.
The tone of the album
is nailed halfway through Methamphetamine Blues. The pure filth
of Molly McGuire's breathless 'I'll do it, Daddy' is a moment of
inspiration to which Harvey can only aspire. Absolutely brilliant!
The gentler songs - more morose than gentle, really - are also superb.
Again, words like brooding and menacing spring to mind, although
there is a tinge of melancholy as well in the brilliant Wedding
Dress. Some of the tracks in the second half don't quite hit the
heights of the first, but by and large this is a terrific record.
Wilson - Smile
Given the number of
'Album of the Year' accolades this album won, I actually expected
it to be decent. Silly me.
I heard the song Cabin
Essence on the Uncut compilation of the year for 2004, and it is
a good song - strong melody, surprising twists and turns and genuinely
fresh and new. It reminded me of the old Beach Boys without the
sort of tra-la-la nonsense they often get up to, and offering something
new at the same time. I actually quite like some of the Beach Boys
tracks, but I really couldn't like this record at all.
Apart from some tired
old songs that I assume appeal to Beach Boys afficionados in the
same way that Tales From the Underground Vol 1-5 appeal to a Tom
Waits anorak like myself, this really has nothing to offer at all.
I geniunely enjoy playful, bizarre music but by the time the sub-Muppet
Show bollocks of Barnyard came along I had just lost all interest.
I really wanted to like this album, but I am afraid I thought it
was utter, unmitigated shite. It's not even poor enough to hate,
which is what annoys me the most. Sorry Brian.
Sand - Is All Over the Map
Quite what distinguishes
a Giant Sand album from a Howe Gelb album escapes me, given that
Joey Burns and John Convertino didn't appear on this latest Sand
album at all. According to an interview in Comes With a Smile fanzine
(highly recommended, by the way), he 'just knows' the difference.
Which, I suppose, is fair enough.
This album certainly
doesn't meander anything like as wistfully as your average Gelb
album. There's rather less wandering strings and gentle plucking
that make his other stuff so ramshackle and - when it's good - so
beguiling. Instead, there's a scuzzier, rougher take on the same
American blues, folk and roots music from which Gelb draws most
of his inspiration
Standout tracks for
me include Flying Around the Sun at Remarkable Speed, which is very
reminiscent of Wilco, although perhaps not the Wilco of A Ghost
is Born era, and Cracklin Water is the sort of delicate gem that
will appeal to more Gelb than Sand orientated fans. But for me,
the true highlight is a genuinely bizarre cover version of Anarchy
in the UK, embedded in the middle of Anarchistic Bolshevistic Cowboy
Bundle. For absolutely no fathomable reason, it is sung in a style
halfway between falsetto and the Animaniacs. As ever a little erratic,
but a really good album, this.
Cave & the Bad Seeds - Abbatoir
Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus
Nocturama wasn't great.
There were undeniably some terrific songs on it, but it was a bit
of a stray album. This is not stray. Whether you call it one or
two albums or a double album or whatever, this represents one of
the best, most vital, energetic, focussed, powerful albums the Cavester
has ever produced.
I tend to call Nick
Cave 'Satanic Church Music' - to Tom Waits' 'Satanic Circus Music'
- and this album is squarely in that territory. The backing - by
some London choir or other - gives it a rising, uplifting hymnal
quality, almost as if someone had perverted a Southern Baptist choir
and led them irretrievably astray. Add to that, the combination
of the driving guitar and Nick's deep, dark voice and you have an
album that moves from the darkly lascivious to the apocalyptically
threatening at will.
As for tracks, well
a couple are disappointing. Slightly. Everything else is brilliant.
Nature Boy and Breathless seem almost happy, but nonetheless classic
Cave in a weird way. Get Ready For Love and There She Goes My Beautiful
World are dark and powerful. Breathless and Spell are flipsides
of the same love, and Babe You Turn Me On is salacious and dirty.
And this brings me to my final point. Musically, this is a brilliant
collection, but to top that, Nick display's a confident facility
with his lyrics that, despite some of the more audacious rhymes
I've come across, suggests someone in total command. My favourite
of the year, by miles!.
Waits - Real Gone
Okay, I knew this one
was going to be a little, er, difficult. Anything by Ol' Tom with
no piano and which he himself describes as 'cubist funk' was never
going to be the most accessible album he's ever made.
Apparently this one's
a little more political - see Hoist That Rag, Sins of the Father
and Day After Tomorrow - but I am not sure this is something I am
that interested in, As far as I'm concerned, Tom is a storyteller
first and foremost.
There is some great
stuff here. Hoist That Rag and Baby's Gonna Leave Me are superb.
And there are other classic Waits moments - more from the Rain Dogs
era, and possibly a bit of Swordfishtrombones too. The problem is
that I really have to concur with the Uncut reviewer - however good,
there is a lot here that he has done before, and slightly better.
This makes the album very much worth listening to, but the chunk
of similar sounding tracks in the middle let it down a bit.
Dears - No Cities Left
These chaps were touted
as the new Smiths, which sounded a bit less than promising, but
actually there are some superb moments on this album. It's not immediately
accessible, and I thought I was going to hate it the first time
round, but a couple of the tracks pull you in. Then, just as I thought
I was warming to the whole album, I just didn't quite. Having listened
to it through quite a bit now I think it sort of tails off somewhere
after the halfway mark.
The first four tracks
- We Can Have It, Defenders Of The Universe, Lost In The Plot, and
The Second Part - are all brilliant. Swelling, moody indie is sort
of what to expect, although there are influences there in the subtleties
that give the album real depth. It touches on prog-rock, cabaret
and god knows what else in little bits that drift in and out of
songs in greater and lesser amounts. The Death Of All The Romance
is the most obvious example - playful and excellent.
The best tracks on
this album tend to be from the standard dark indie template that
The Stills liked so much, and there is half a great album here,
just not quite sustained all the way through.
Faithfull - Before the Poison
I'm not sure I have
any real idea what Marianne Faithfull is actually like as a songwriter.
I love her cover of Strange Weather by Tom Waits. I loved her renditions
of Tom classics in the recent stage production of The Black Rider.
Sister Morphine is alright. But basically it is her gorgeous voice
that keeps me coming back.
This album was largely
cowritten with Nick Cave and PJ Harvey - although separately, not
as a pair. And that is largely the problem. I just don't rate PJ
Harvey's songwriting, and her songs here are invariably just what
I feared they might be. They sound about right, but the instrumentation
style never changes from Standard Indie Ladyrock, there are no memorable
tunes and no real nuances that might pull you in.
The day-saving is bascially
left to Nick Cave who has provided excellent intrumental backing
to a couple of tracks (and not so great backing to another), and
a suprise visit from Damon Albarn who, after Think Tank, is clearly
just getting better and better with age. Conclusion? A patchy album,
but it's hard to shoot the messenger. Faithful can really sing,
but Harvey can't really write.
- A Ghost is Born
took me ages to get into. You know one of those that just doesn't
distinguish itself at the first listen, but has just enough to keep
you coming back for more. And slowly you realise that it's absolutely
Those couple of tracks
that pulled me in were Hummingird - light and folky and catchy -
and Company in my Back - again quite a light touch, and slightly
mournful. Then, snuck in at the end comes Late Greats which is catchy,
upbeat, and irresistible.
It is moments like
these that slowly lift the album out of a nondescript blend of feedback
and static with drifting, whispered folk acoustica. And once this
starts to happen you get hooked, one song at a time. I am still
not entirely convinced about Less Than You Think, but I am definitely
entirely convinced about the rest of it. Brilliant album, this.
Given how absolutely
unreservedly brilliant I thought their first album was, I was always
rather nervous of being disappointed by this one, and I am afraid
that's putting it mildly.
Thinking about what
made Up The Bracket so brilliant gives you a pretty good idea of
what's gone wrong: raucous, snarling, hectic guitars, brilliant
tunes that you couldn't get out of your head, and boundless, infectious
energy. So here we have the follow up, and it lacks spirit, memorable
riffs or catchy tunes more or less throughout.
A couple of tracks
are good - Narcissist and Last Post On The Bugle spring to mind
- but all in all there is just none of that snappy, aggressive bite
that made the first album so brilliant. If the first was so good
because this lot kicked the shite out of The Strokes, then this
one is so disappointing because they have actually become
England's answer to The Strokes after all. And that means bland,
over-polished, tame and joyless. Bah, humbug!
Bird - Weather Systems
Apparently Andrew Bird
is a classical violinist, which is something I think bodes well
for the whole album. I nearly didn't buy this but after hearing
Lull, which I downloaded from his website, and hearing a live song
on a Comes With a Smile sampler I caved in and I'm glad I did.
The album meanders
a bit, in a similarly 'work in progress' way to Giant Sand, and
this speculative, exploratory aspect works really well. Lull is
brilliant, as is the title track, and the first song, which is called
First Song. There is a mournful, low key wistfulness to this album
which I really like, and the violin really lifts it above a lot
of folky, acousticky stuff around at the moment.
There's also a free
movie on the CD, which blends bits of songs with dialogue, rehearsal
and gives a really nice insight into where this album is coming
from. I really liked this feature, and wonder if maybe making it
downloadable from the website might have made an excellent promotional
Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat
The reviews and approach
for this album, not to mention its predecessor, really really made
me want to like it. The playful, manic, circus lunacy of the music,
the weirdness of the subject matter, it's all as brilliant as the
reviews say, but I just can't quite manage to like it that much.
There are some terrific
moments - Chris Michaels is really good, and Inspector Blancheflower
is good, but for all the variety of sounds the songs do tend to
blend into one a bit. The fact that there is so much variation actually
exacerbates this, as even single songs can sound nothing like themselves
from one minute to the next. Unfortunately, at the end of the day,
there are no really killer tunes - nothing really hummable - that
really drag you into albums like this.
Ulitmately, I feel
like a bad person not liking Blueberry Boat.
Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
I listened to the
samples on their website I was never really that interested. Don't
know why, just the soungs didn't really grab me somehow. I actually
got into it by working late and having nothing else around to listen
I am not really sure
how to describe them. There's a lot of Tom Waits in there at times,
and bits of Yo La Tengo. There's almost a bit of US Shout-Pop at
times, and odd little instrumental interludes that tend to be largely
apropos of nothing, but hold the album together quite well. Basically,
it's just a terrific indie album, and apparently their ninth (!!!!)
so might be worth investigating further.
Of particular songs,
Blame It On The Tetons and The World At Large are really low-key.
Bury Me With It is a bit much first time round, but takes maybe
a listen and a half to become brilliant. Bukowski is playful, as
is the whole album really, and contains the marvellous lyric 'God
who'd want to be such an asshole'. The Tom Waits influence is most
obvious on This Devil's Workday, which could almost be straight
off Rain Dogs.