Monday, October 31, 2011

Album Review: Lights - Siberia

Lights - Siberia

If you haven't heard of Lights, you won't be alone. Unless you saw Owl City's 2010 tour of the UK or Europe or you caught debut UK single Saviour on a music channel eighteen months or so ago, it's unlikely that you will have come across Valerie Poxleitner, better known to fans as Lights.

Siberia is the 24 year olds second full album after 2010's The Listening, a record which I really liked. While The Listening was primarily gently, Owl City-esque electro-pop, Lights has taken a leap with a more mature, eclectic and polished second album.

Single Toes is a terrific pop record, the anthemic Banner is superb while rapper Shad adds some meat to the great Everybody Breaks A Glass. I really like Lights when she takes a more reflective approach, however, and both Heavy Rope and Cactus in the Valley are lovely, sweet pop songs.

I have a bizarre and unexplained penchant for Canadian singer songwriters and Lights joins a long list that stretches from Alanis Morrisette to Jann Arden, Amanda Marshall and Chantal Kreviazuk. Siberia is totally different to any record produced by those other artists, however, and is a great example of how to make quality, melodic electric pop music. A fine follow-up to a great first album.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Album Review: The Horrors - Skying

The Horrors - Skying

This is an album that's been on my 'must listen' radar since I first heard the mesmeric single Still Life a few months back. Having not previously had any interest in the Horrors I wondered, perhaps, whether Skying was as goos as the critics made out and whether there was actually some musical talent lurking in Faris and his motley crew.

Sadly, it seems that 'no' is the answer. Skying is a jumbled mess of noises that sounds a bit like a few blokes jamming in the back room of a pub. It does have its moments - the single Still Life is a haunting, dramatic and excellent single - although most of the rest of the album plods along in the most uninspiring of ways. With two eight minute 'epics' to negotiate - the far too long Moving Further Away and Oceans Burning - the end of Skying can't really come soon enough.

It's fair that this album could be a 'grower', but after two listens I frankly don't ever want to hear it again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Album Review: Erasure - Tomorrow's World

Erasure - Tomorrow's World

The fourteenth studio album from the synth-pop duo in a glittering nigh on 30 year career sees Erasure take a leap into the 21st century. With Frankmusik on production duties and Rob Orton mixing the record (he's worked with GaGa and the Pet Shop Boys) Tomorrow's World is clearly an attempt to create a much more modern and contemporary sound.

Does it work? Well, yes and no. The main problem with this album is that had you played it to me without telling me who it was, I'd have never guessed it was Erasure. Andy Bell's voice is barely recognisable thanks to the autotune (and, I suspect, some wear and tear) which immediately removes a hefty amount of the band's appeal.

The songs are OK - there's some reasonable electronic pop here on Be With You and When I Start To (Break It All Down) - but overall it's a pretty average selection. Whilst they may have made some brilliant pop records in the past, Tomorrow's World isn't one of them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Album Review: Matt Cardle - Letters

Matt Cardle - Letters

So, last year's X-Factor winner finally releases his debut album hot on the heels of his cryingly disappointingly single Run For Your Life. Cardle - whose cover of Biffly Clyro's Many of Horrors was the second biggest selling single in the UK in 2010 - has made a record that sounds completely unlike anything that an ex-X Factor contestant has tried before, but that isn't necessarily a good thing.

Despite the quality of songwriting talent on this album - Starsailor's James Walsh, Eg White, Gary Barlow and David Sneddon (!) - Letters is a surprisingly disappointing and one-paced record.

Everything contained here - with the possible exception of opening track Starlight - is dreadful, turgid, plodding guitar pop. Sounding like the tracks on the cutting room floor of a 2003 era Embrace, Snow Patrol or Coldplay record, Letters attempts to deliver heartfelt, anthemic choruses but instead gradually descends into almost a pastiche of post-Britpop.

It's very earnest and while Cardle has a decent voice and may want to be taken seriously as an artist, it is at the very chart friendly end of the guitar pop spectrum. I can certainly see what he is trying to do here, but all that he's managed to do is create an emotional record that's entirely devoid of any emotion whatsoever.

There are probably some half decent songs hidden here but the slick production and desire to recreate Chasing Cars mean that Letters is forty five minutes of very, very average pop music.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Album Review: Christina Perri - lovestrong

Christina Perri - lovestrong

It's quite possible that you've never heard of Christina Perri. Indeed, no-one had really heard of the Philadelphia based singer/songwriter before her song Jar of Hearts was featured on the US TV show So You Think You Can Dance. The song sold over 100,000 copies within a month of appearing on the show and Perri was immediately catapulted into the public eye.

Single Jar of Hearts has been a major summer hit in the UK and I was fully expecting her debut album to be a collection of sub-quality songs with that single being the standout track. However, I couldn't have been more wrong.

I absolutely love this record. At times variously sounding like Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette and the Staves, Perri has come up with an album that's varied in tone, sound and style. There are lots of enormous ballad moments - Jar of Hearts is arguably the best break-up of the last few years while The Lonely is another piano-led power ballad.

However, it's the variety and quality of this album that shines through. US single Arms sounds scarily like the UK three piece The Staves - gentle acoustic guitar based pop - while Bang Bang Bang's catchy chorus looks set to become a fan favourite.

Perri has a great voice and an ear for a catchy tune. It's the sort of record that most critics don't like - it's pretty commercial and bits of it sound like they should be soundtracking Dawson's Creek - but I actually found myself really enjoying it from start to finish. I suppose it depends if you like Jar of Hearts - if you do then this is definitely for you.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Album Review: James Morrison - The Awakening

James Morrison - The Awakening

Having burst onto the scene in 2006 with his debut album Undiscovered, the 26 year old is back at number one in the album charts with his third release The Awakening.

There's no doubt that Morrison has the talent, the voice and the songwriting skills to be a brilliant artist. In the past, there have been great moments - singles You Give Me Something and Wonderful World are great pop records as is his duet with Nelly Furtado, Broken Strings. Morrison's problem, however, is that he doesn't seem to be able to maintain these high standards for a whole album.

Mike Diver at BBC Music sums this up perfectly: "The Awakening is lacking the grandstanding moment it needs to elevate it above reserved recommendation. Morrison has a truly great album in him – he’s the emotional baggage to craft it, should he let locked-away demons loose – but for the third time in a row, this isn’t it."

Yet again, the lead single (this time I Won't Let You Go) is by some distance the highlight of the record. Opening song In My Dreams is nice enough, but there's a misguided duet with Jessie J (Up) and as the album wears on it becomes less interesting and less original.

The choice of Bernard Butler as producer could have really helped Morrison develop his sound, but this is the Duffy era Butler rather than the man who provided some of the best singles of the 90s alongside David McAlmont.

Don't get me wrong - this is by no means a terrible record - but, as with Morrison's previous albums, it promises much and then doesn't really deliver. Shame.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Album Review: Ed Sheeran - +

Ed Sheeran - +

Despite being around since back in 2005 and having recorded countless EPs, + is Ed Sheeran's debut album and the mainstream arrival of a big new star (although don't tell the 20 year old that - as he says on You Need Me, I Don't Need You 'they say I'm up and coming like I'm fucking in an elevator'.)

It's been hard to avoid Sheeran's this summer. The lovely debut single The A Team has spent three months inside the UK top 20 whilst follow-up single You Need Me, I Don't Need You remains in the top 10. Next single The Lego House is also sure to reach the upper echelons of the chart when it's released over the next few weeks.

Sheeran is hard to pigeonhole. At times, his beautiful acoustic songs are reminiscent of recent greats such as Damien Rice or Newton Faulkner - indeed Wake Me Up, Small Bump and Give Me Love are amongst the best acoustic tracks you'll hear this year. However, he does then occasionally show his hip-hop influences, replacing gentle melodies with energetic, staccato sounds, rap and quite some attitude.

Whether this makes the 20 year old James Morrison for the kids or Dappy for the adults, I'm not sure. Still, I enjoyed + more than I thought I would and when Sheeran is good, he is very, very good.