Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Album Review: Dutch Uncles - Cadenza

Dutch Uncles - Cadenza

The debut album from Manchester quintet the Dutch Uncles is a peculiar beast. The opening track Cadenza grabbed me instantly, and I really thought that this was going to be one of those little known albums that I ended up loving. However, by the time I reached the end I was largely underwhelmed by the whole endeavour.

It's an interesting record and unlike most of the other music that's out there at the moment. Odd piano rhythms dominate here, whilst most of the tracks are characterised by constant repetition. What this means is that whilst the album doesn't sound all the same, the individual songs have no real change of speed or rhythm, making them pretty dull after a while.

The Guardian
summed it the Dutch Uncles' weakness perfectly when they said "the huge chorus one keeps expecting never arrives." The records chug along nicely enough but are just too repetitive and similar to ever engage the listener.

The Dutch Uncles an interesting band and I'd certainly be interested in hearing what they release in future. For now, though, Cadenza was a little bit of a disappointment.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Album Review: The Wombats Proudly Present - This Modern Glitch

The Wombats - This Modern Glitch

In theory, the Wombats should be everything I like. Jaunty indie pop music with singalong choruses are normally my bag but until this point the band have always fallen a bit short, despite my desire to really like them. Moving To New York and Let's Dance To Joy Division are decent enough records, but I find myself liking them rather than loving them.

This Modern Glitch has changed my opinion, however. Despite that fact that I still find singer Matt Murphy's voice a little bit grating, this album is great. The songs here are certainly more mature, eschewing catchy choruses in favour of more cleverly crafted pop songs. Singles Jump Into The Fog and Tokyo are terrific whilst I also love the forthcoming single release Techno Fan.

The highlight here is probably 1996, a paean to less complicated and happier times whilst hearing Anti-D on the radio the other week made me reconsider whether I actually might like the Wombats after all.

The subtle move from chorus driven radio friendly pop to a more rounded, 'bigger' sound really suits the band and shows off their great songwriting abilities. Whilst the Wombats are not a band that are particularly clever or groundbreaking, I surprised myself by thoroughly enjoyed This Modern Glitch.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Album Review: Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

After the success of their excellent debut album, the Fleet Foxes are back. As with many artists, their second record is, in part, a collection of songs about the trials and tribulations of becoming a Famous Pop Star although most - if not all - of the things we loved about the Foxes' debut release remain.

Whilst Helplessness Blues is unmistakably the Fleet Foxes, the sound has subtly changed. Gone are many of the soaring harmonies of the debut - think White Winter Hymnal - and in their place are Simon and Garfunkel-esque acoustic pop songs, admittedly of a high quality. The title track, Helplessness Blues, is a highlight as is the lovely opening track Montezuma and the jaunty Battery Kinzie.

This record is less of a modern take on semi-medieval music and more of a contemporary pop record with a 60s/70s throwback. That doesn't make it a worse record - far from it - but it does indicate a small but important change of style. I'm not sure it will ultimately be 100% successful, but for now it has resulted in a charming, laid back and likeable record.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

goodbye dry eyes...

Notes from the Departure Lounge:

John Maus died over the weekend at the age of 67 after losing his battle against cancer. The name might not mean much to you, and it's possible that his stage name of John Walker won't reverberate that much louder to your ears.... but Maus was the founder member, guitarist and original lead singer of the Walker Brothers. The band was subsequently, and more famously, fronted by the honeyed baritone of their bassist, Noel Scott Engel.... that's Scott Walker to you and me.

Scott Walker is probably my favourite singer of all time. I love the way that he turned his back on a life of proto-Beatles pop adulation to write and perform songs of existentialism and death and Brecht and Brel covers to an increasingly baffled teen audience; an audience that, not surprisingly, soon deserted him for less complicated pleasures. Scott Walker's later career has seen him become a virtual recluse, producing an album at a rate of less than one a decade, chasing a muse that seems increasingly bleak and inaccessible and, famously, uses things like a side of pork as a percussion instrument. All a pretty far cry from the golden years of the Walker Brothers. Songs like "Make it Easy on Yourself" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Any More)" are certainly melancholy, but that lush instrumentation and the golden voice meant that the band reached an audience of millions.

Knowing the direction that Scott Walker's career took, it's tempting to see John's role in the band,together with drummer Gary, as being nothing more than supporting musicians who got very, very lucky. There's a scene in the Scott Walker documentary, "30 Century Man", where the band are sitting enjoying tins of brown ale and talking about why they're in the band. John and Gary talk about the money and the girls; Scott looks straight down the camera, unsmiling, and says that he's in it for the music, and I believe him. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was "musical differences" that broke the Walker Brothers up in 1968. They reformed successfully with "No Regrets" in 1975, but the different agendas of the band members were laid bare on 1978s "Nite Flights". There are 12 songs on the album, and each member of the band contributed four. The first four were by Scott, and they are a clear signal of the direction that was to shape his subsequent career: dark, oblique and featuring a song ("The Electrician") that seems to be about torture. The jump from that into far more conventional "The Death of Romance" by Gary could scarcely be starker.

Of course, for all that their might be more than a grain of truth in that assumption about the roles played within the band, John tells a different story in his version:

"I was always the leader of the band. I was the one who said, 'Let's do this, let's do that.' I spent a great deal of time making sure that the group would make incredible music. Most people don't realise that it was I who chose the songs that would become The Walker Brothers' biggest-selling singles..... I was aware that things had changed a lot: Scott had become the lead singer of the group... Now that he was singing lead, I enjoyed the opportunity to create some unusual harmonies, something I had never done before. We knew that we each had an important role, and felt responsible to each other, with one goal in mind, which was to make good records that were unique for the time."

It's also worth nothing that John recorded a version of Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away" in 1967 (it's the title track of his album of that year).... Scott recorded his much more famous version for Scott 3 a whole two years later in 1969......


Friday, May 06, 2011

Album Review: The Guillemots - Walk The River

The Guillemots - Walk The River

After a three year break (and one solo album) Fyfe Dangerfield and his band return with their third album Walk The River. It's a large scale and soaring record rather than their quirky but likeable debut Through The Windowpane and has been dexcribed by Dangerfield himself as 'music to be heard across the night sky'.

The Guillemots' debut album is one of those records which I enjoy when I hear it, although is never a record I am ever particularly desperate to listen to. Walk The River has less instantly catchy songs - there's no Trains To Brazil or Made Up Love Song #43 here, but what you do get is a series of rich songs with booming choruses. On first listen I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed with the whole record, although two further listens in and it is really starting to grow on me.

Slow Train and Dancing In The Devil's Shoes are terrific pieces of music, and the band actually sound better when they're in slower and more reflective mood. The songwriting is excellent and I am a big fan of Dangerfield's voice which fits perfectly.

Theres not a chart single hiding here, but as well crafted, quality pop albums go, this is right up there. Although, bear in mind that it's likely to take a few listens before you come to that conclusion.