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Archive for the ‘General Reviews’ Category

Grizzly Bear – Cheerleader

Normally when an album has been as anticipated as much as Veckatimest has, it inevitably sinks under the weight of expectation. In the case of Grizzly Bear, everything they have done since 2006’s Yellow House has signalled a band nearing their creative peak. (more…)

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M. Ward’s new album will benefit greatly from the mainstream exposure that She & Him brought and I know it will do well in its critical reception…I’m just not sure it deserves to. Sure, it’s enjoyable – but the amount of recycled material here is staggering. So many of the melodies and chord progressions retread old ground that they are literally a pale imitation of what has come before. If you are approaching M. Ward’s music from any sort of unfamiliarity, please, please seek out Transfiguration of Vincent, Transistor Radio, and End of Amnesia first. You’ll be glad you did.

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Beirut – La Llorona

I’ve had the new Beirut release for about a month now and it’s definitely a departure…but not one I have taken to the way I would have hoped for. For a start, it’s two EPs together rather than an album, each half distinctly different both from each other and everything that came before. The first part is a collection of Mexican funeral march arrangements conducted through a brass orchestra, the second a gathering of ’80s inspired keyboard pop recorded in a bedroom under the new name Realpeople. It’s not without its moments, however. Instrumental ‘No Dice’ is a blast of kitsch fun and penultimate track ‘The Concubine’ is a gem. I would post the latter here but I am not legally entitled to do so. However, it will be on my forthcoming mix CD!

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Jenny Lewis – Tryin’ My Best

When Jenny Lewis released her solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat, two years ago, she felt safe in the knowledge that little was riding on it. Had the low-budget independent release failed to impress, there was always the success of Rilo Kiley to return to. Yet not only did the album outsell anything the Californian band ever released, but the one thing that reviews for the group’s subsequent album could agree on was Lewis’ potential star quality. (more…)

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Beck – Gamma Ray

I had almost given up on Beck. I’ve always felt that Sea Change was the album of his career, that it not only showcased his songwriting abilities but underlined what he is capable of when his music gains a focus. Since then, however, every album has been billed as “a return of the Beck we all know and love,” but instead merely offer a collection of ADHD-driven tracks where he faffs about, distractedly tinkering with a combination of cruising beats and forgettable ideas.

So when the press campaign behind the new release began on the same note, I was wary. (more…)

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There seem to be two sides to Jackie-O Motherfucker’s “Flags of the Sacred Harp”: there’s the serene, meditative folk, steeped in tradition…and then there’s the avant-garde, boundless explorations of atmospheric sound. Of course, Jackie-O Motherfucker are decades too late to be considered ground breaking in either field, but the difference between the two halves of their efforts is that the folkier side to things leaves you with a good taste in the mouth, wanting more…whereas the experimental element divides the album irreconcilably, rendering that taste a distant memory.

The cycle of the mantra-like “Nice One” start things off on a tranquil note, its calm-inducing waves making it easy to picture yourself lying on a beach with eyes shut as the sun rises. After it drifts into an extended run of static, droning interplay, “Rockaway” resumes matters with another slice of daydreaming acoustics, delivering some of my favourite lines from any album this year:

“I’m goin’ up to Heaven, gonna talk to the good Lord above / If I can’t get me no angel, send me back the one I love.
Tombstone is my pillow, graveyard’s gonna be my bed /
Blue sky is my blanket, pale moon’s gonna be my spread.”

This is as straightforward and simple as the quartet get, and arguably, their most effective…and that momentum, that warm, absorbing streak they seem to get rolling, is continued with the blissfully sedative “Hey Mr. Sky.” Combined, the crux of the opening three songs provide a brilliant, mouth watering invitation to float away on a slow burning album.

However, before its final notes have even completely faded out, an entirely different direction is undertaken, with the 11 minute long enigma “Spirits” proceeding to dismantle that climax by smashing it into smithereens.

Inspired and titled after an American songbook of traditional hymns and anthems from 1844, it’s doubtless that there is a deconstructive statement to be found here, but in music terms alone, Jackie-O Motherfucker leave the listener with quite a conundrum. A fragmented album stemming from two different entities, the potency it promises early on spills open and washes over whatever remains like the sour, rusty cello that picks at the bottom of “Loud and Mighty.” In the end, it will all boil down to how open you are to the lengthy and perhaps testing digestion process, but if you’re familiar with their oeuvre, you’ll know Jackie-O Motherfucker are not here to fit neatly into any system of comprehension.

 
Artist / Group:
Jackie-O Motherfucker
Album:
Flags of the Sacred Harp
Label:
Atp
Released:
5th December 2005

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Arab Strap: The Last Romance

             Ostentatiously Scottish, Arab Strap’s “The Last Romance” is a harrowingly open insight into the bleak realities of dead-end relationships, meaningless sex, and drug-induced mid-week slumps. Not the most gifted vocalist or creative melodicist, Aidan Moffat’s lyrics often sound simply like spoken poetry, absorbing the focus of all the attention and virtually rendering the music secondary.

              Although one could just as easily perceive the hard rain of Arab Strap’s misery as either uncomfortably revealing or refreshingly direct, whichever way it strikes you, make no mistake – this does not make for easy or instantly accessible listening. In fact, it’s hard to believe that this is the same musician behind the serene, instrumental hypnotics of Lucky Pierre – a soundscape that now seems its polar opposite…a place far, far away from here.

 
Artist / Group:
Arab Strap
Album:
The Last Romance
Label:
Chemikal Underground
Released:
17th October 2005

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