Reviews
RECORD REVIEW: JUNIOR BOYS - IT'S ALL TRUE
Reviews
Saturday, 09 July 2011 23:49

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Domino Records

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The fourth studio album by Canadian duo Junior Boys, (Matt Didemus, Jeremy Greenspan) has dropped with high anticipation. It's All True follows two years on from the brilliant Begone Dull Care, an LP that put them on the indie electro map. Frontman Jeremy Greenspan spent some time in Shanghai during this time, an influence that can be heard here on the new album with Chinese harp adding its charm into the mix.

'Itchy Fingers' starts things off, with a very 80s opening, big on synth and drum machine before the soft and aching vocals come in. Tightly packed, this track is chock full of sounds without sounding overdone. The Asian strings keep it interesting and will have listeners intrigued by what this next fifty minutes will have in store. 'Playtime' comes next, an Indie30 favourite, this track slows things down to a body-swaying tempo that is soft and soulful as anything they have produced. Percussion is soft, keys sound like they are drifting in from another room, and Greenspan's beautiful voice sounds like a distant echo. It's a slow dance with a loved one under the mirror ball kind of song, despite lyrics such as "Stare at each other like competitors do", it's hauntingly sweet. 'You'll Improve Me' is another highlight, full and complex but somehow laid-back at the same time. There are so many layers present, building up as the track progresses, with tambourine entering the fray on the last few moments.

'A Truly Happy Ending' is rife with 70s and 80s electro retroness. Disco infused Greenspan croons “I can’t be patient all the time, come and put your hopes up next to mine”. Elements of classic Kraftwerk sounds are there, but this track and album are firmly rooted in 2011. 'The Resevoir' is delicate and warm, faint glockenspiels and a great synthed noise samples creeping in at the three minute mark, one that reminds me of a moment from Dark Side Of The Moon. 'Second Chance' has a hell of a catchy bassline, and features Greenspan's vocals multitracked for the chorus in a song that serves to highlight the talent he possesses, his voice coming across heartfelt and longing as he asks "What's the truth?". 'Kick The Can' is restrained and choppy, one of the most pure electro outings on this LP. Lyrics are minimal and sung in hushed tones leaving the music up front.

'ep' begins with synths twinkling like the milky way, a long intro leading into a blissful pop beauty of a track. Building up over the second half, it again shows the masterful skills and confidence that these guys have on the mixing board, delicately honed over the years. And finally, Like a decadant dessert you have been waiting for all night 'Banana Ripple' closes It's All True. Nine minutes long, it's the perfect finale for this album, with the dance floor in mind, be it in a club or lounge room. The coloured lights are flashing, and smoke machine is in full swing as this track hits the mark of euphoria around the midway point and doesn't let up, vocal samples looping with a beat that can't help but make you feel good.

The masterful producing skills are ever present here on It's All True, showing how far this band have come over their career from humble beginnings. The way Junior Boys can cram so much into a track, without it coming out the other side like a technicolour mess, is nothing short of mixing genious. Having the ear to know when to hold back is just as important. With tracks as progessive and joyous as 'Banana Ripple' closing this new LP it can only make you wonder what they have in store for us on their next outing, and that pretty exciting to ponder.

- Dave Roberts, July 10, 2011

 

You'll Improve Me

Junior Boys (CAN)
From the album, 'It's All True', Domino Records

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Banana Ripple

Junior Boys (CAN)
From the album, 'It's All True', Domino Records

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RECORD REVIEW: BON IVER - BON IVER
Reviews
Monday, 04 July 2011 02:23

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Jagjaguwar

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The story of Justin Vernon's life over the last few years makes for interesting reading, and there are pages of it out there on copious blog sites. For Emma, Forever Ago was one of the most impressive indie debuts of the 2000s, and one of the all time best albums to ever come out of a wood cabin in the wilderness, maybe looking somewhere like the cover art above. That brooding and heart wrenching collection of nine tracks struck a collective chord. Followed with the EP Bloodbank and various collaborations you have probably read about before, Bon Iver's, Bon Iver is a departure and exploration of different themes. More an impressionistic look than an introspective one, this is definetely more of a full band experience while retaining Vernon's amazing vocals front and centre.

The initial first thoughts for the LP came while he was on tour in Australia, the idea of Perth (Capital of Western Australia) being the most isolated city in the world struck him, while experiencing a sense of freedom and then sharing a friend's loss of a close mate. All this culminated in the opening track and the tone of the album. The essence of For Emma is here, fans of that record will not be disappointed, but here the colour palette is wider and tracks even more vivid.

Recorded in a renovated veterinarian clinic that Vernon bought with the intention of tailoring his own unique space, he certainly achieved his goal. The studio was built over an empty swimming pool attached to the clinic, and he has said of the space he has called April Base Studios in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, "It's been a wonderful freedom, working in a place we built. It's also only three miles from the house I grew up in, and just ten minutes from the bar where my parents met." The new album and the creation of the studio was an experience that happened side by side and was a vastly different experience from the sparse cabin-in-the-sticks set up that his debut was borne from.

The aforementioned 'Perth' is where the album begins literally and figuratively. Gorgeous electric guitar strums, as Vernon's ethereal vocals drift in, a military snare and clarion horn underpinning the track. It immediately speaks volumes in that we are in for something new, different and exciting with this. In keeping with the place names, real or imagined found throughout Bon Iver, 'Minnesota, WI' begins with a deep vocal intro before the falsetto kicks in, layers of synths, more horns, and acoustic guitar as he sings the lyrical hook "Never gonna break, never gonna break". 'Holcene' comes over like a modern ballad and is one of the highlights here. Lyrics are hard to distinguish, and when you can make them out at times hard to decipher "…and at once I knew I was not magnificent, hulled far from the highway aisle, (jagged, vacance, thick with ice), I could see for miles, miles, miles" It's the last phrase that resonates with this song though, it sticks with you all day, in a good way. The made-up words and mumbling that occurs occasionally may have been a reason he has uploaded the lyrics for every track through Jagjaguwar here.

'Towers' has multiple layers of vocals, in what is a simply structured track, percussion coming in around the halfway mark getting busier as it progresses. 'Michicant' is a bit easier to work out, a fictional location this time, focussing on memories of youth. The lyrics are still abstract however, "I was unafraid, I was a boy, I was a tender age, melic in the naked, knew a lake and drew the lofts for page, hurdle all the waitings up, know it wasn’t wedded love, 4 long minutes end and it was over it’d all be back, and the frost took up the eyes". The focus for many tracks lay on rhythm and melody instrumentally and vocally. It can difficult to purchase a hold on anything concrete, which is the beauty of Bon Iver. The addition of a bicycle bell on this track is gold.

'Wash.' with its haunting single piano line is a thing of pure emotion, sparse as anything on the LP, so much can be conveyed through such simplicity. The skill of the composing is clear, and the tension evoked through it something to behold, very cinematic. 'Calgary', another city in the middle of nowhere, is one of the great songs on this album. That voice, like none other, is what made the debut album stand out. Here on Bon Iver, and captured most of all in this track, the magic of his voice and the tightly produced skill of the new people involved musically, comes to a perfect culmination. Rob Moose served as string arranger after working with Antony and the Johnsons, Arcade Fire and the National.

Vernon's voice-as-instrument is as compelling as ever, and just seems to be getting better. The structure of the album, with each track seguewaying into the next make it one to listen to in its entirety. Raw, earnest and timeless, the placement of tracks have them flow like a river found the cover to the album. From the west of Australia to Canada's remote wilderness, Bon Iver is one trek around this lonely planet as a cohesive whole. 

- Dave Roberts, July 4, 2011

Calgary

Bon Iver (USA)
From the album, 'Bon Iver' Jagjaguwar.

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Perth (Paper Tigers remix)

Bon Iver (USA)
From the album, 'Bon Iver', Jagjaguwar.

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RECORD REVIEW: FORD & LOPATIN - CHANNEL PRESSURE
Reviews
Sunday, 26 June 2011 00:28

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Software/Mexican Summer

Buy and mash ups interspersed with poignant, almost eastern sounds. 'Voices' is a triumph as it takes the soft rock genre and makes you proud of it. Now when could you ever say that? With a chorus that will stick in your head for days giving you many of those 'shower moments', it rounds out the first half of the album perfectly and even leaves you forgiving the use of the vocoder.

'Joey Rogers', the star of the futuristic concept aforementioned is an instant winner with its shimmering synth work combining nicely with the soulful R & B vocals demonstrating Ford's growing ability. Indeed, the interplay between him and guest vocalists Jeff Gitelman from the pop and soul act, The Stepkids and Autre Ne Veut is one of the album's best assets. The heavily R & B 'Break Inside' is perhaps the best example. 'Surrender' possesses a rock solid bass line that sets up the slow jam vibe perfectly. The vocoder is back in spades on the jaunty 'Worlds Of Regret', a pumper of a track that is perfectly placed to give the album the spritely send off it deserves.

Ford & Lopatin have probably copped the inevitable swipes about unoriginality but to to see this record as simply a rehash of times past would be a grave mistake. It's far more than that just a rehash of the 80s. While definitely nostalgic in form, there is also a futuristic sound at work, very much in keeping with the forward looking history repeating the them against us theme. What's impressive is the leap that the duo have made in mastering the machinations of the studio. There are dozens of little studio quirks amid the album's clean and crisp sound that serve it well and are indicative of their growing talent in both an artist and producing sense. While their work as Games was good, Channel Pressure elevates Joel Ford and Daniel Lopatin into the realm of electronic pop gold.

James Stocker - June 26th, 2011.

 

Joey Rogers

Ford & Lopatin (USA)
From the album, Channel Pressure', Softward/Mexican Summer

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RECORD REVIEW: LAMB - 5
Reviews
Monday, 20 June 2011 05:03

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Strata Music

Buy going, and what we have in store over the next hour or so. Synthesised bells and keys give way to 'Butterfly Effect', showcasing an ever changing pitch line from Barlow's bass. The essence is clear by this point of how the stripped back nature and darker, edgier feel of 5 set it apart from previous work, while retaining the qualities of the original debut. 'Build A Fire' has a great build up, cutting loose with electric guitar over the chorus, and is one of the heavier songs found on the album.

'Wise Enough' saunters through a soft percussion and string background, with layers of synths adding to the atmospheric nature of the track. 'Existential Itch' at just over two minutes is the shortest on the album featuring double bass with layers of those beautiful vocals. 'Strong The Root' is strong on percussion with an electro edge that builds up nicely with an almost industrial force. 'Rounds' highlights Rhode's vocals, is heavy with reverb and soothes its way to a strong finale with drums joining in over the last chorus. 'She Walks' has that bass featured throughout as a standout feature. The time signature of Rhode's voice fluctuates on this one, adding an other-worldliness vibe to the track. 'Last Night In The Sky' is an example of a new direction for Lamb's sound, relying on larger than life vocals, percussion and guitar. And finally, the album closer, 'The Spectacle' featuring Damien Rice is an electro rock ballad with golden strings, piano, and of course amazing vocals. 

Like the second album they would have made with hindsight, 15 years after their debut, Lamb have returned to form with 5. Their solo work has helped create a new direction (this album is definitely of our time) but the formative echoes of Lamb's 'Lamb' are all over it, in a way subsequent albums were lacking. There may be no 'Gorecki' on this one, but that's the point.

- Dave Roberts, June 21, 2011

 

Another Language

Lamb (ENG)
From the album, '5', Strata Music

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RECORD REVIEW: GANG GANG DANCE - EYE CONTACT
Reviews
Sunday, 12 June 2011 00:00

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4AD

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"I can hear everything, it's everything time". And so begins the fifth album from Gang Gang Dance, a genre defying band with an interesting past and no doubt a bright future. Based in NYC, they have been toying with sound for ten years, across three labels. Now with 4AD, Eye Contact is a tightly produced, adventurous journey over fifty minutes and ten tracks. It's a trip around the world playing out in one coherent set, not skipping a beat and leaving you wondering where you will end up next. Broken up into four parts separated by infinity symbols as track titles, some parts of the soundscape contained within this magical LP feel like you are indeed diving into an infinite abyss, through a wormhole where the destination is a lush tropical party on a beach, where the time is always happy hour.

UK label 4AD seem a good fit for the band, having artists such as Ariel Pink, Deerhunter and tUnE-yArDs on their roster. The transition from 'lo' to 'hi' fi is a delicate one, running the risk of alienating long standing fans. But handled with care by band and label, this logical step can prove essential and help expose Gang Gang Dance to a wider audience. And while 'purists' may wallow in dismay they too must realise they heard it for the first time, once, also. 

The beginning of this voyage is a slow burning lead up, brimming with anticipation in the knowledge of what lies ahead is going to be a treat for the ears and for the mind. 'Glass Jar' at eleven minutes long is the perfect opener. Lead singer Lizzi Bougatos enters the fray at six minutes, swirling and sparkling synths glistening like the milky way before the percussion picks up and slowly recedes over the remainder of the track. This leads beautifully into the first interlude of what sounds like yoga chanting, invisioning the blissful atmosphere of a WOMAD festival before we slide into 'Adult Goth'. Bougatos' vocals Pokies demostrate the range and skill that would give the likes of Kate Bush a run for their money, with a Bollywood feel and staccato guitar riff rounding out this track.

'Chinese High' with its sampled indecipherable looped vocals at the start has a definite island feel, steel and bass drum beat resonating throughout. Bassist for Pink's Haunted Graffiti Tim Koh, features on the track offering a counter melody bass line complimenting the Asian influenced sounds. 'Mindkilla' is a standout track, heavily layered with pure pop sensibilities and playful lyrics but underlying a darkness amongst distortion and synth driving hard through the heart of it. 'Romance Layers' takes things down featuring Alexis Tayler from Hot Chip, retro sounding but still firmly planted in the 21st century. As with many tracks here it is oozing soul which is no mean feat from a band which sounds like Gang Gang Dance. The final track is 'Thru And Thru' and a worthy way to close out the trip of an album Eye Contact is. Stomping percussion is the feature stand out of this one, along with those ethereal vocals, it sounds like it could have been on the soundtrack to Orwell's 1984. Middle Eastern sounds dominate the final part of the track, as it does part of the album itself, finishing with a robotic voice whispering Big Brother-like "Live Forever". This is an album that will do just that.

Capturing the sound of our world today, pulling in global influences, shaking them up and regurgitating them into their own very unique sound, Gang Gang Dance have created music like no other. Eye Contact is a kaleidoscope of colours and cultures, each track unique and yet part of a cohesive whole, playing out like a DJ set. This band can hear everything, and it seems like all the good bits are found here on this LP. 

Dave Roberts - June 12, 2011

 

Mindkilla

Gang Gang Dance (USA)
From the album, 'Eye Contact', 4AD

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RECORD REVIEW: CASS McCOMBS - WIT'S END
Reviews
Saturday, 04 June 2011 04:19

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Domino

Buy takes us through an unsettling tale of a drunk and his eternally suffering wife.

The chamber like 'Buried Alive' continues that mood and contains a nod early 2000's ode to the French duo, Air with its pulse like interludes among McCombs simple chord structures and deadpan vibrato. The piano bar like simplicity of 'Saturday Song' with its repetitive ebbing piano chord could almost have you transporting yourself to atop a swish New York hotel only to find a dose of honesty present rather than the usual flakes and fakes.

The second half of the album begins with the carousel yet funereal like, 'Memory's Stain', with McCombs trembling voice and the instrumentation of harpsicord and baritone clarinet being utilised to great hypnotic effect across the tracks second half ushering itself carefully to its conclusion. You get the feeling that something's gone very wrong somewhere when the quick two step on the initially childlike 'Hermit's Cave' is rudely interrupted by a repeated loud hit of the snare, sounding almost like a gun shots. Repeated listens will reveal its appropriateness.

 'Pleasant Shadow Song' continues McCombs penchant for circular chord structures as guitar wraps around his vocals, intertwining one another in perfect symmetry. The final song, 'A Knock Upon The Door' is a ragtime waltz that runs just shy of ten minutes uses woodwinds and brass to full effect as a relentless bell is struck throughout. McCombs sets up the story of an would-be artist who would sell his soul and his muse, that is his creativity, to the highest bidder as he awaits that knock upon the door.

While McCombs borrows heavily from traditional structures in a music sense on Wit's End he nevertheless has created something that renders them something only he in his uniqueness could produce. It sees him keeping company with the lineage of great songwriters; Cohen, Drake, Taylor and Smith, such is the fullness that marks this album. McCombs remarked in a rare written 'interview' recently that he wrote the album for those who are already on board and he congratulated Domino, his label since 2007, 'for having his back'. And there is a very real danger that some may not come with him on this one, such is the sparse change in direction. But such independence of mind are what distinguished and distinguishes the careers of the aforementioned quartet. While I might be castigated for throwing McCombs in with these luminaries, I too care little for what others, who don't get it or can't appreciate the fundamentally important contributions being made in music today, may think.

James Stocker - June 3, 2011.

 

Memory's Stain

Cass McCombs (USA)
From the album, 'Wit's End', Domino.

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RECORD REVIEW: WILD BEASTS - SMOTHER
Reviews
Monday, 30 May 2011 05:43

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Domino

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When a gothic-horror book from 1818 is cited as an influence on an album you have an idea that what is to follow will be an interesting listen, and Smother is certainly that. The third studio LP from England's Wild Beasts has been released with high anticipation and they have delivered a soulful and sexy mix of songs that have cemented this band as one of the UK's leading indie acts. A BBC music reviewer has said "(They) are, right now, the most inspirational, intriguing, effortlessly enrapturing band at work in Britain. And Smother might well prove to be the album of 2011". Well there's a few months left of 2011, but this follow up to Two Dancers is going to be up there in the running. 

Apart from Mary Shelly's 'Frankenstein', other influences that have shaped the sound of this release include moving to Dalton, East London, the music of noise-pop band Fuck Buttons and the works of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. The latter author was considered revolutionary in her country, with her first book written as an interior monologue, a connection easily found in the introspective nature of Smother. More synth pop than its predecessor, Two Dancers, the ten tracks found here are (all bar one) under five minutes but this is not a case of making anything remotely radio-friendly. The tracks smoulder and burn, with trademark vocals from Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming creating something of sheer beauty that the masses in the mainstream will never likely hear, on purpose anyway.

The vocal magic found in Wild Beasts is two fold, a double dose of incredible frontmen whose interplay make these tracks goose-bump material at times. Whereas Two Dancers found them splitting the bill, here on Smother tracks are shared, such as opener 'Lions Share' and to great effect on 'Reach A Bit Further'. Falsettos never sounded so good. Add to this the talent of Chris Talbot on percussion, creating the atmosphere underpinning the album and it's a lineup that was meant to be.

'Lion's Share' is the opener, minimal from the outset with a pulsing synth and gorgeous piano accompanying Thorpe and Fleming's call and response; "Boy what you running from? Boy what you running from? - It's a terrible scare, but that's why the dark is there, so you don't have to see what you can't bear". Almost sinister at times if you listen carefully, "I take you in my mouth like a lion takes his game", you wouldn't know it with the sweetness of the delivery. 'Bed Of Nails' begins with a hark back to the 80s, synths up front, and features the aforementioned reference "Our love Online Pokies, Frankenstein in nature and design, like the Shelley's on their very first time, when our bodies become electrified, together we bring this creature alive". This album does seem to have one thing on its mind, as Thorpe continues "Surround me like a warm bath...I want my lips to blister when we kiss".

Fleming takes the reins for "Deeper", smooth as silk with some very subtle electro layered back in the mix, gaining strength as the track progresses. 'Plaything' is a steamy track, kick drum percussion throbbing like a heartbeat, "New squeeze, take off your chemise, and I'll do as I please" it sounds like it could be ramped up into a blaring Fuck Buttons track any moment if given a tab of LSD. "I've ransacked myself, I've flat-packed myself, for your ease,
you know that the second I saw you, I was rendered the very voyeur, I concur, I concur". After a cold shower it's back to Fleming for 'Invisible', beginning with just a piano and his golden voice before layers of guitar, synths and grandfather-clock like ticking kicks in. It all drops away for the last few seconds to leave us with the sweet line "Your lips to my lips, I cease to exist". 'Reach A Bit Further' is a standout from Smother, almost like a showdown between the guys here, both front and centre and playing off one another like split personalities of the same person; "I was crude, I was nude, I was rude...I was not in the mood - Yes I will... do all the things that you ask of me". The breathy vocals of Thorpe seamlessly blending into those of Fleming, almost but not quite overlapping, it's infectious as hell.

The last track clocks in at seven and a half minutes, 'End Come Too Soon', by far the longest song on Smother giving it more room to wander around a bit and explore the landscape. Backing vocals are used to full effect as is the atmospheric piano and synth, notably in the middle section of the track before Thorpe's voice washes over everything. It would be easy to imagine this track finishing off a gig by the band, as cheesy as it would be considering its title, but just the thought of it would have me booking tickets. One spin is not enough for this LP, to get the most out of it repeat listens are what's needed. And for some, it won't be leaving the turntable / cd player / playlist for days on end.

Dave Roberts - May 30, 2011

Wild Beasts Official Site

 

Albatross

Wild Beasts (ENG)
From the album, 'Smother', Domino

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RECORD REVIEW: THE ANTLERS - BURST APART
Reviews
Sunday, 22 May 2011 00:23

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Frenchkiss

Buy ending. 'Tip Toe', a meditative instrumental, serves as a breather before the beautiful 'Hounds' where synths, slow percussion and brass gel together with vocals creating a tenderness The Antlers do so well. 'Corsicana' is another minimalist wonder, wispy and laden with synths and crystalline vocals, it drifts away to a void. The closer is one of the strongest songs to found on Burst Apart, 'Putting The Dog To Sleep', more poetry in motion "Well my trust in you, is a dog with a broken leg, tendons too torn to beg for you to let me back in". The lyrical skill of Silberman is evident across all the work here, raw honesty, brutal at times, teamed up with the delivery is what make The Antlers so special to the multitude of fans they have aquired. Since originally self-releasing Hospice two years ago as a full band, and beginning with Uprooted in 2006 as a solo project by Slberman, they have created a niche which Burst Apart has helped to cement their ownership of. 

The confidence found on this album is clear, while having no over-arching theme the songs stand on their own merits. After a few listens you have a feeling that this is in fact Hospice's opposite. The mood may at times be similar but it doesn't come over as a eulogy, rather it speaks of the sunburst after the storm. The cover art seems ideal, a burst of energy through the darkness which is exactly what this album is.

Dave Roberts - May 22, 2010

*The Antlers are currently touring North America, having played sold out shows at the Bowery Ballroom and Music Hall of Williamsburg before heading over to Europe where they have added more dates. You can check out all the info at their website below.

The Antlers Official Site

Putting The Dog To Sleep

The Antlers (USA)
From the album, 'Burst Apart', Frenchkiss

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RECORD REVIEW: OKKERVIL RIVER - I AM VERY FAR
Reviews
Sunday, 15 May 2011 00:00

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Jagjaguwar

Buy it all.

The cleverly constructed 'We Need A Myth' exposes the fragility of human beings in their ability to confront the truth whether personally or collectively. It just seems all too difficult to grasp anything other than the blissful simplicity of a religious myth, 'to get two nails through the wrist, to get covered in blood and to get covered in spit, and to forgive, And if all we're taught is a trick, why would this feeling persist, and with the truth closing in, I must insist, we need a myth'. The wistful longing of 'Mermaid' is perfectly placed on the record, almost musically a cathartic experience.

'Show Yourself' begins with a delicate mixture of unsettling guitars, slide and otherwise before giving way to a glorious, yet simple and subtle hook merged with expertly crafted effects. The bass then nicely rumbles along before the track breaks into dissonant guitars for its finale. The almost tropical 80s throwback, ''Your Past Life As A Blast' has a catchy three chord bass line and sports barely noticeable guitar strumming as its rhythmic base as Sheff asks alternatively, 'will you come over here and do me violence...will you stand up tall and be my shelter'. A telling line ends the song, 'because no-one is going to stop me from loving my brother, not even my brother'.

A waltz of the rock variety does appear in the form of 'Wake And Be Fine' where dreams seem to have gone very wrong. The song maybe gives you the impression that all the overt and covert instances of impending dread, doom and violence that pepper the album is all in Sheff's head. Of that we'll never know. The closer continues the dream like state, this time musically, as intensely constructed orchestration ebbs and flows across layered vocals. The finale sees beautiful harmonies duel with off kilter instrumentation and raucous yet restrained drum fills, a perfect ending.

This is a special album, one that won't immediately occur to you in that sense. However, I Am Very Far soon makes a place for itself in both the musical and intellectual parts of the brain. The subject matter at time can be relentless in its misery but if you delve carefully behind the menace, there's seemingly a laid bare humanity that's discernable. All the immediately impressive musical qualities that Okkervil River have displayed throughout their nine year recording career shine through in spades on this record. What gives further pleasure is the mystery created through obscurity. There's nothing wrong with directness in lyrical compositions and that directness suited albums like The Stage Names. With I Am Very Far, you'll want to delve beneath the almost impenetrable surface to unearth context and meaning, to find the shades of light, to determine whether indeed humanity deserves or has a future.

James Stocker - May 15, 2011.

 

Wake And Be Fine

Okkervil River (USA)
From the album, 'I Am Very Far', Jagjaguwar.

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RECORD REVIEW: FLEET FOXES - HELPLESSNESS BLUES
Reviews
Saturday, 07 May 2011 06:45

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Sub Pop

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When Seattle's indie folk outfit Fleet Foxes released their second EP Sun Giants, followed by their debut self titled LP, they must have realised what a great year 2008 would turn out to be for them. A mammoth tour schedule to support these releases ensued with critics lavishing praise upon them. Building an original fan base mainly by that time honoured method, word-of-mouth, Fleet Foxes proved their worth while supporting Blitzen Trapper, with many punters saying they blew the main act out of the water. The full length debut received 9.0 from Pitchfork, five stars from The Guardian calling it "A landmark in American music, an instant classic" and it made 17 best album of the year lists topping six of them.

Now, the dreaded second LP, the all important follow up weighted with expectation and often impossible stripes to live up to. Helplessness Blues was borne out of much struggle, soul searching, and at times personal and financial heartache (scrapped recording sessions cost the band sixty grand of their own money). While retaining the baroque harmonic beauty that was so pivotal to their success, frontman Robin Pecknold has said of the new LP, they wanted it to sound "Less poppy, less upbeat and more groove based". They wanted the album to be recorded quickly, capture a pure sound with vocals "being recorded in one go, so even if there are fuck-ups, I want them to be on there. I want there to be guitar mistakes. I want there to be not totally flawless vocals. I want to record it and have that kind of cohesive sound. Van Morrison's Atral Works, to me, is the best sounding album because it sounds like there were only six hours in the universe for that album to be recorded in. So I want it to have that feeling."

The album opener, 'Montezuma' begins the introspective atmosphere prevalent throughout the twelve tracks. "So now I am older, Than my mother and father, When they had their daughter, Now what does that say about me", Pecknold sings with a worldly authority far beyond his 25 years. The lush guitars and harmonies continue into 'Bedouin Dress', featuring mandolin and a Middle Eastern flavour with violin adding to the many layers found on all the tracks here. There is also a theme of nostalgia present on Helplessness Blues, found in the subject matter and intrumentation. Twelve string guitar is used, as well as the Marxophone, a fretless zither (patented in 1912), flute and mandolin leaving percussion very much in the background. 'Sim Sala Bim' explores the 1940s world of 'Dante the Magician' who coined the nonsense phrase of the title in his travelling show. 'Battery Kinzie' is one of the most accessible tracks, a pop-friendly tune coming in at under three minutes, one of three tracks to do so. This format is disrupted with some tracks on the more experimental side, 'The Shrine / An Argument' is a standout of the album. Clocking in at eight minutes it drifts in focusing on the strings and vocals, stronger than ever on this track. Four distinct parts, divided equally, shift time signature, mood and lyrical content. The track descends into an unexpected free style jazz outro for the final two minutes, a brave move and one that pays off.  

'Lorelai' has more emphasis on percussion than the other songs, and again we hear Pecknold lamenting youthful times. "So I guess I got Old, I was like trash on the sidewalk, I guess I knew why, often it's hard to just sweet talk". The waltz like structure makes it a delight to listen to and the arpeggiated chords highlight the skill that sets this band apart from the others.

Listening to the album conjures images of the red velvet, stained glass and dark textured wooden frame of the Spiegeltent. The ideal venue for a band of this calibre and grace. Fleet Foxes' follow up has proven to stand up, graceful indeed and testament to the hard work and faith imbued within it.

Dave Roberts - May 8, 2011

 

The Cascades

Fleet Foxes (USA)
From the album, 'Helplessness Blues', Sub Pop

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Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes (USA)
From the album, 'Helplessness Blues', Sub Pop

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