Friday, 19 April 2013

James Blake- Overgrown

Artist: James Blake
Album: Overgrown
Record Label: Polydor

James Blake expands his sound into structured, textured loveliness on album No.2

For a while, the direction which James Blake would take following his self- titled debut album in 2011 seemed to, in the minds of many, jeopardize the promise that record had given him. His follow up EP, "Enough Thunder" was a stricken, blubby set of songs that had many critics worrying that he would become "Experimental Electronica"'s Usher.

Thankfully though, "Overgrown" is in some ways everything critics and fans alike could have hoped for. Any blubber is not dramatized and in stark reminiscence of his pre- debut work, more space is given to the music itself to unfurl into often beautiful expanses. These are more succulent, full- grown compositions than the sparse, skeletal shapes of his debut, the enveloping, soft string arrangements of the title track proving this from the word go. More evidence can be found on "Voyeur," all cowbells and a driving, distant house beat accompanied by kaleidoscopic bleeps and drones; it's the closest Blake has ever got to a club banger.

"I Am Sold" is Weeknd- tinted R'n'B comprising of distant funk shrouded in layers of cymbal hiss. Best of all though are the collaborations. "Take A Fall For Me" sees Wu- Tang Clan's production figurehead the RZA spout a sensitive, strangely prophetic plea of heartache. "Digital Lion", a collaboration with Brian Eno is all dark, shuddering bass and ominous, hypnotic vocal samples.

For the time being, Blake seems to have managed the balance between lyrical sensitivity and imperative song craft rather well. On "Overgrown" the tunes are given enough room to develop and add layers without being weighed down by "woe is me" vocal proposition. As I said, ALMOST everything you could hope for.

Key Tracks: Digital Lion (feat. Brian Eno), Take A Fall For Me (feat. the RZA), Our Love Comes Back

For fans of: The Weeknd, Bon Iver


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Kurt Vile- Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Artist: Kurt Vile
Album: Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Record Label: Matador

Kurt Vile turns his hazy jams into meandering epics on album No. 5

Kurt Vile, like Destroyer's Dan Bejar, is a man whose music feels (in the most positive sense possible) of a certain time and place. It's secretive, seductive, idiosyncratic. It feels like a blissful, remote Island in the pacific; in some ways it's entirely of itself, but as songs like "Society Is My Friend" from Vile's 2011 opus "Smoke Ring For My Halo" prove, it also has a much more universal appeal.

The magic of "Wakin On A Pretty Daze" is both the ever stonery, surrealist haze of Vile's story telling, but also the fact that almost every track here is a bout of euphoric, near perfectly- structured loveliness. "Air Bud" is a succulent 6 minute journey into swirling, lucid yet tightly performed bliss. The longer passages like "Was All Talk" and the deliriously pretty closer "Goldtone" lure you in to serene but virtuosity drenched soundscapes without losing focus. "Pure Pain" flits effortlessly between punchy, improvisational chord sequences and indulgent, meandering acoustic interludes.

Kurt Vile's elegant marriage of epicness and cryptic social and personal analysis is more prolific than ever on "Wakin On A Pretty Daze." It's one of those rare records that is both musically engulfing and often catchy. No other record should be the primary soundtrack to your summer.

Key Tracks: "Air Bud", "Pure Pain", "Goldtone"

For fans of: Destroyer, Bruce Springsteen


Friday, 12 April 2013

Local Natives- Hummingbird

Artist: Local Natives
Album: Hummingbird
Record Label: Infectious Music

It's nice background music, at least

Local Natives' second album "Hummingbird" would make almost perfect listening for a sunday afternoon overlooking one of their native L.A.'s golden beaches. It's not entirely beige, but only very rarely does it actually have the impact that it aims for, as on the subtly gorgeous Radiohead- esque "Mt. Washington" or the robust quiver of "Woolly Mammoth." The distinctly average sonic pastures don't evoke any real emotional substance to tap into either, but it's nice background music at least.

Key Track: "Woolly Mammoth"

For fans of: Grizzly Bear, Radiohead


Grouper- The Man Who Died In His Boat

Artist: Grouper
Album: The Man Who Died In His Boat
Record Label: Krunky

Liz Harris' 5th is endearingly pretty but devoid of audible lyrical substance

Liz Harris, aka Grouper, is a woman who seems to operate on the premise that beauty is most compelling when words are not important and atmosphere is vital. "The Man Who Died In His Boat" sounds sonically idyllic, as though it was recorded in a secretive glade deep in a distant forest.  However, awash with lo- fi production and blurred out lyrics that all too often sound like the moans of sirens, mostly it's too opaque to gain an emotional attachment.

Key Tracks: "Cloud in Places"

For fans of: Julianna Barwick, Tim Hecker, Warpaint


Suede- Bloodsports

Artist: Suede
Album: Bloodsports
Record Label: Suede Ltd.

Deprivation, shagging and euphoria; it's all in abundance on Suede's mighty return

Whether it was conscious on the bands' behalf or not, it's quite easy to fit each of the Britpop giants with a certain image. Oasis were the football lads, knecking Carling and Strongbow and chanting Beatles lyrics from rooftops in fluorescent raincoats. Blur were the private school boys who would nip to the toilets at lunch to snort coke. Suede were the gutter rats; shagging people they shouldn't be shagging, injecting copious amounts of heroin and wandering the streets trying to maintain the image of the stately, foppish low- life romantic.

"Bloodsports" is Suede's first album in 10 years and the follow up to the poorly received "Head Music." The thing with "Bloodsports" is that in many ways it's a classic Suede album, all deprivation, shagging and heartbreak in abundance. The thing that really matters however is that it contains some of the best songs they've ever written.

The songs here follow the same structure as always, but they're turned up to 11 and dragged into expansive, resounding epics. The rhythm section drives and rumbles behind glammy, slightly twangy and ambidextrous riffing, before synths explode over the top in what feels like a very natural progression. It's the formula that turns opener "Barriers" and one of the rare moments of positivity here, "Hit Me", into hook- laden powerhouses. Best of all is "It Starts and Ends With You", simple in its 4 minute trajectory but easily the most heart- burstingly large moment here, akin to earlier classics "Metal Mickey" and "Animal Nitrate" in magnitude.

It's a structure that also allows the band to delve into the darker recesses of their minds, and it's here that Brett Anderson's lyrics become most prolific. On "Snowblind" he speaks of a deeply regrettable one night stand, emphasising the awkwardness of the situation the following morning as he sings "we find our keys on the kitchen table, and forget what's done." "Sabotage" finds Anderson almost suicidal after the supposed loss of love, imploring us with dark, medieval imagery towards the end as he sings "I climb to the scaffold, smiling, my hands on the cross." "What Are You Not Telling Me?" is perhaps the most sobering moment, a cold, drumless shimmer in which Anderson exposes the process of ending a relationship falling apart.

It's not all as emotionally evocative, or as deeply moving, but Suede's greatest trait was never consistency. It was their ability to amplify the darkest of human emotions into sweltering anthems that act as poetic rhetoric of the human condition more than anything else. And there are plenty of those on "Bloodsports."

Key Tracks: "It Starts and Ends With You", "Sabotage", "What Are You Not Telling Me?"

For fans of: David Bowie, Pulp


David Bowie- The Next Day

Artist: David Bowie
Album: The Next Day
Record Label: ISO/ Columbia Records

David Bowie's first in 10 years is not necessarily his most consistent, but it is his most vital in a long time

There will be many people who feel that David Bowie, one of the most enrapturing and influential musical presences of all time, has nothing to prove. When 2003's "Reality" received a considerably poorer than usual reception, it didn't seem to matter, because the past 30 years of Bowie's career still shone brightly and effervescently in comparison. 10 years on and it's completely reasonable to suggest that nobody really knew what to expect from "The Next Day." Numerous health scares had halted activity, and when Bowie released the first single from "The Next Day", the docile and subtly grandiose "Where Are We Now?" although it was largely received as the gorgeously warm slow burner it was, it didn't necessarily give any ideas as to what the direction of the record would be.

It's probable that nobody was expecting to turn on the opening title track and finding it to be a rush of cocksure confidence and swaggering charisma. "Here I am, Not quite dying" churls Bowie over a rollicking riff. He barely stops for breath from this point forth.

"Dirty Boys" lavishes in smutty honky tonk filth, parps of brass intervening and putting a soulful sheen on the sleazy crawl. "Love Is Lost" and "Valentine's Day" traverse along a more measured and stately approach but are still punchy and sonically memorable. A dip in extravagance in the middle however is countered immediately afterwards by "If You Can See Me." Skittish, hyperactive and yet anthemic, it's almost entirely new territory for Bowie if not one of his most favourable tunes.

"Dancing Out In Space" is a jiving, cosmic marriage of spacious beauty and heydey '80s finger- clicking funk. Perhaps finest of all though is "(You Will) Set The World On Fire" a fiery fist- pumper of epic proportions which can safely be considered one of the most life affirming songs Bowie has written since his golden era.

In reference to any previous speculation about Bowie's return, "The Next Day" is not one of Bowie's best albums ever, but it is one of his most important. When it slows down it's textured and moving, and when it's upbeat it's life affirming. Bowie doing Bowie then, and in a more vital manner than he has done for years.

Key Tracks: "(You Will) Set The World On Fire", "The Next Day", "Love Is Lost"

For fans of: David Bowie, The Rolling Stones