FKA Twigs has surprised everyone by releasing an Aphex Twin-sounding, five-song EP entitled M3LL155X.
Weirder and more brashly experimental than her 2014 debut album, this EP - named after what the songstress calls her “personal female energy” (Melissa) - could be a statement of intent, as if to say that she now has the freedom to throw the rulebook out the window and let her sonic freak flag fly.
This follow-up to LP1 features ‘Figure 8’, which was debuted during her live shows on this summer’s festival circuit and the previously released ‘Glass & Patron’. These two tracks stand out, the former because of its industrial beats and nightmarish backing vocals and the sexually charged latter due to its skittish beats.
Added to these two highlights are the unsettling sensual ‘I’m Your Doll’, which boasts the lyrics “Love me rough, I’m your doll / Wind me up, I’m your doll” and the textured ‘Mothercreep’. While this final track impresses a lot more than the previous’ icely sparse electronica, it’s the more up-tempo ‘In Time’ that sticks out the most, convincingly fusing Asian-sounding riffs with pulsating rhythms.
The EP proves just how versatile her musical palette is and how sophisticated her brand of R’n’B can be. More than that however, it shows that much like Bjork before her, FKA Twigs has created something enticing: a strong persona that cultivates mystery, unashamedly merges experimental hooks with seductive lyrics and one which adds a fearless burst of artistic creativity to a R’n’B scene that has become oversaturated with faux subversive, media-famished antics.
The Icelandic comparison is also warranted considering the cover art of M3LL155X, signed Matthew Stone: the Brit artist's work is oddly reminiscent of Bjork’s Homogenic album cover.
M3LL155X is not for everyone and isn’t exactly easy listening. However, if you’re fed up of the tried and tested pop bangers plaguing the airwaves, its innovative sounds are worth H34R1NG and 499L4UD1NG.
Key Tracks: 'Figure 8', 'In Time', 'Glass & Patron'.
- D - 18/08/15
New York alt pop duo Lizzy Plapinger (MS) and Max Hershenow (MR) released an elegantly theatrical, edgy and overlooked debut album in 2013: Secondhand Rapture boasted some dark dreampop that promised much.
Sadly, MSMR have followed it up with a disappointingly generic sophomore LP, one which reeks of desperation to achieve mainstream success at all costs. They’ve traded in their catchy menace for uninspiring dance beats, making How Does It Feel a sterile affair which lacks sincerity and development.
The repeated vocal loops on opener ‘Painted’ make it one of the most upbeat yet infuriatingly bland tracks released this year. The “What did you think would happen?” lyrics set the tone for the rest of the eleven tracks, which uninspiringly merge into a synthy-disco-dance whole that only finds redemption in the chart-tailored ‘Criminals’ and the refreshingly emotional ‘Wrong Victory’.
Plapinger gives her best Florence Welch impression throughout but fails to conjure up any genuine chills. No matter how impressive her shouting can get, nothing can deter from the monotonous pop clichés on show.
As it stands, the band have jumped feet first into a crowded sonic landscape that boasts better players. Considering their second album could be rhetorically titled, the only thing left to do is to answer MSMR’s question:
How does it feel? Like disappointing second album syndrome.
Key Tracks: 'Criminals', 'Wrong Victory'.
- D - 15/08/15
Of Monsters And Men’s 2011 debut My Head Is An Animal (still haven’t quite figured that one out yet) was a folk-pop hit that boasted instantly infectious “hey hey” choruses. It confidently propelled the Icelandic newbies onto the airwaves.
Now time for that notoriously difficult second album...
The quintet have delivered what feels like a natural yet darker extension to their debut album. The songs don’t stray far from their indie-rock formula but the harmonies don’t feel as warm, as whimsically carefree as they once did. There’s no track on Beneath The Skin that has the immediacy of ‘Mountain Sound’ for instance, meaning that those looking for another set of sing-a-long anthems might end up feeling short-changed. However, their sophomore effort doesn’t suffer from its less catchy content. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The opening single ‘Crystals’ shines due to its tribal drum beat, while the following ‘Human’ and ‘Hunger’ have a more sombre feel, especially the latter with its repeated “I’m drowning, I’m drowning” plea. Singers Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar Porhallsson still harmonize beautifully, creating rousing crescendos that defined their debut album's sound; however, each of them have more time to individually shine this time around, especially Hilmarsdottir, who assumes the position of leading vocalist on many songs. Her crystalline pitch makes the biggest impression on ‘I Of The Storm’ and album highlight ‘Organs’. Its lyrics “I take off my face / Pull out my tongue / Cough up my lungs / Because they remind me of how it all went wrong / But I leave in my heart / Because I don’t want to stay in the dark” make his slow ballad the most heartfelt piece Of Monsters And Men have delivered to date. Its gems like this one that show there’s much more to them than radio-friendly tracks designed to get festival crowds chanting.
Not that there aren’t any memorable melodies; the moodily rousing ‘Wolves Without Teeth’ and the rhythmic ‘Empire’ are the closest heirs to their earworm hit ‘Little Talks’. However, the songs' compositions and lyrics, while retaining a certain otherworldly sound, feel more layered and poetic; as the album’s prophetic title suggests, the band have decided to peel back the layers and investigate what lies beneath.
Beneath The Skin is the slow-burning sibling of their perky debut, a more mature and less light-hearted effort that will distance some listeners in search of first-hour feel-good material. It won’t sell as well as the crowd-pleasing My Head Is An Animal but is just as rewarding, if not more so. There are a couple of throwaway moments on the album (‘Slow Life’, ‘Thousand Eyes’) and while Of Monsters And Men haven’t completely distanced themselves from their established sound, this polished and brooding second album sees them thriving in darker, more wintery terrain.
Key Tracks: 'Hunger', 'Organs', 'Black Water', 'I Of The Storm'.
- D - 12/06/15
A recent conversation with fellow blogger the Rabbit Hearted Girl:
D: Muse's drone crap is getting on my tits. Every song contains the bloody word...
RHG: Your tits don't even exist. Can you imagine in what shape mine are with their nonsense??
Muse hit rock bottom in 2012 with The 2nd Law. It was a messy and self-indulgent affair that saw the Devon trio trying out a new direction (read: adding some dub-step beats to their trademark grandiloquence) and failing miserably. Still, let bygones be bygones...
Their seventh studio album, Drones, promised much: leading man Matthew Bellamy went on record, stating that a return to basics approach was on the agenda and would redeem past faults. The pitch? Ditching the cacophony of musical references and instead re-introducing heavier guitars. What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, plenty.
Drones is the stadium rock band’s attempt at a concept album, trying to follow in the footsteps of Pink Floyd and The Who. Set in a dystopian future, it follows an unknown citizen trying to escape a despotic government’s rule. The oppressed hero is indoctrinated, manages to defect and tries to salvage what he can from the remote-controlled rule that sees the titular machines targeting non-conformists.
There’s plenty to like about the ambitious premise and it cannot be denied that musically, Drones sees Muse edging their way towards steadier footing. However, this new material remains light-years away from their best work.
The problem isn’t so much the repetitive nature of some decent riffs, the grating falsetto or even the godawful artwork... (Even the previous album managed to get the cover art right.) It’s the fact Bellamy’s lyrics are unavoidably awful. The songwriting makes him sound like a pouty teenager who can’t expand his foot-stamping vocabulary further than the words “drones” (name-checked in pretty much every song), “soul”, “control” and “oppression”.
Every potent riff that they manage to deliver is undermined by Bellamy’s borderline autistic fixation on conspiracy theories and calls to rise up against the suppression of the truth. Lead single ‘Psycho’ embodies this quite well: it has a terrific tune but is burdened with the embarrassing drill sergeant audio clip and the lines “Your ass belongs to me now” and “Your mind is just a program / And I’m a virus / I’ll turn you into a super drone / And you will kill on my command”.
All tracks are tainted with Bellamy’s faux-intellectual and childishly-preachy ramblings, so much so that even the return to heavier and rockier pastures can’t manage to salvage Drones. After all, there are only so many times one can listen to “You rule with lies and deceit / The world is on your side / You’ve got the CIA baby / All you’ve done is brutalize / Drones!” before anything else sounds like a merciful respite.
If you can make abstraction of the laughable lyricism, you'll quickly find that every song on Drones can be separated into two neat categories: standard radio-friendly rock (opener ‘Dead Inside’ and its grating robot vocal effects; the piano-lead ‘Mercy’; ‘The Handler’ and its opera-rock aspirations) or overindulgent guff. This latter category is basically the entire second half of the album, with stand-out duds being the closing quintet: ‘Defector’ and its “I’m free from societeeeeeee / And you can’t control meeeeee” cries; ‘Revolt’ desperately trying to be a Queen song; ‘Aftermath’ veering into cheesy soft rock territory; the pompous 10-minute long ‘The Globalist’ redefines OTT with Ennio Morricone and Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ shoved in for good measure; and the titular track bafflingly ends things with an a cappella dirge, closing with the word “Amen”.
Only an angst-ridden teenager discovering George Orwell and Michael Moore for the first time could take these clumsy songs as seriously as Muse do.
As per usual, they will get away with it; the band are a formidable stage presence and their energetic live shows will sugar the pill. However, the truth (the one that Bellamy seeks harder than Fox Mulder on crack) is that Drones is the sound of three talented musicians who have lazily rehashed their own melodies one too many times and who are sounding wearily entrenched in their ways.
The saddest thing by far is that you can just imagine the band taking any criticism in their stride, blindly convinced that their bombastic concept album is simply too ahead of its time and will only be truly appreciated in years to come. Read it here first, ladies and gents: it won’t be. Drones will only be remembered as an attempt at course correction, one that still made even the most dedicated Muse apologists shake their heads and beg for a new lyricist.
Key Tracks: ‘Psycho’, ‘The Handler’.
- D - 08/06/15
4 years have passed since Florence + The Machine’s sophomore album. The long wait now over and their third album - How Big How Blue How Beautiful - released, it’s time to answer those three would-be questions...
Despite claims that this record would be calmer, Florence Welch hasn’t traded in her operatic hollers and orchestral flourishes for a more stripped down sound. HBHBHB is less Wagnerian than 2011’s Ceremonials but the grandiose sound still remains. Many tracks have boisterous hooks that seem tailored for live performances: the thunderous guitar chords and belted vocals on the infectious first single ‘What Kind Of Man’, the tribal beats on ‘Delilah’ (which doesn’t quite manage trump the dance-floor banger ‘Spectrum’) and the blaring brass on the titular track, courtesy of Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory.
However, HBHBHB is undeniably more varied than its lavish predecessor. There are gospel-fuelled songs, rockier tracks and more intimate ballads. The broody ‘Long & Lost’ stands out, with Welch offering a fragile delivery that has until now never been this tender.
This brings us to...
HBHBHB is a more personal album, one that is not as anchored in fantasy as the previous LPs. Welch has stated that she’s had her fair share of heartache since the release of Ceremonials and this earth-bound turmoil can be felt throughout. Even the most upbeat melodies make no attempt to mask the darker implications the lyrics offer up.
Like many tracks on this album, the opener ‘Ship To Wreck’ is the sound of her addressing her demons. Its buoyant buzz can’t hide the confessional frankness at the heart of this tale of self-destruction: “Oh, my love, remind me, what was it I did? Did I drink too much, am I losing touch, did I build a ship to wreck?”. ‘What Kind Of Man’ sounds incredibly cathartic with some trademark hollers and the excellent ‘Queen Of Peace’ contains some up-tempo beats that brilliantly clash with the soaring strings and the “All that’s left is hurt” lyrics.
Then there are the more introspective ballads. ‘Various Storms & Saints’ joins ‘Long & Lost’ as one of the calmer moments on the album, while the hymnal ‘St Jude’ shines due to its synthy organ and appealing restraint.
Finally, we come to...
“I’ve always been more comfortable in chaos”, sings Welch on ‘St Jude’. While the more diverse range of songs on HBHBHB could imply a chaotic listen, the polished yet grounded production from Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Bjork, Coldplay) and the leading lady’s impeccable vocal performance throughout assure that the bombastic numbers merge well with the calmer ones. It is this careful construction that makes the album a cohesive and hugely enjoyable listen.
That being said, HBHBHB isn’t completely airtight. A lull begins with the generic sounding ‘Caught’, which jars with its superior predecessors. It is followed by the grating ‘Third Eye’, a number that tries too hard to be anthemic but that will undoubtedly go down beautifully live. The explosive closer ‘Mother’ is also a lesser song, a damp squib whose psychedelic ending fails to do justice to the album's final stretch. Only the aforementioned ‘St Jude’ manages to redeem the disappointing final act.
Regardless of the shaky ending, these closing songs don’t overshadow the immaculate hooks and melodies that precede them. This third album may not have the distinctive atmospheric and ethereal flights that Lungs and Ceremonials immediately offered but it nonetheless reels in the listener and merits its title.
Key Tracks: ‘Ship To Wreck’, ‘What Kind Of Man’, ‘Queen Of Peace’, ‘Long & Lost’, ‘St Jude’.
** FYI, if you're looking for another opinion on How Big How Blue How Beautiful, allow me to refer you to the Rabbit Hearted Girl and her review: Rabbit Hearted Girl - HBHBHB. **
- D - 01/06/15
Nadine Shah’s immersive debut album, Love Your Dum and Mad (please stand and clap for the title), was a claustrophobic listen. The smoky-voiced songstress sang of suicide and regret, wrapping the listener in a gothic shroud that felt warmly intoxicating.
Her sophomore effort, Fast Food, sees Shah continue her deeply personal journey, whilst simultaneously avoiding that pesky ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. She revisits some of the same themes with a particular fondness this time around for toxic relationships.
The opening titular track and the rhythmic lead single ‘Stealing Cars’ sound like the most radio-friendly tunes she’s recorded thus far. Combined with the comparative lack of piano on the album, in favour of guitars and percussions, you get the impression that some of the darkness has dissipated since 2013.
Rays of light aside, the album’s true strength comes from Shah’s impeccable voice and her sultry tales, which range from the bitterly resentful to the surprisingly tender, as heard on the gorgeous ‘Big Hands’. Whether it’s about long-distance relationships (‘Divided’), mourning a past flame (the PJ Harvey-reminiscent ‘Washed Up’) or accepting the dirge-like hypnosis linked to falling in love (‘Nothing Else To Do’), Shah goes beyond wallowing and doesn’t succumb to predictably. Instead, she sings about love and obsession with a tempered confidence.
‘Fool’ is the crown jewel here, a scathing attack aimed at a man who imprudently scorned her. The spikey guitars merge with her taunting lyrics aimed at a predictable Nick Cave and Kerouac aficionado who is advised to take his business elsewhere: “let the other girls indulge the crap you excrete”. No prisoners are taken here, nor on the reflective ‘Living’, which sees her taking the lover figure down a peg... or five.
Assured and polished, Fast Food merits a continuous listen. It does lack its predecessor’s rawer qualities, its coherence inhibiting some of the powerfully cathartic moments heard on Love Your Dum and Mad. No track quite manages to equal ‘Dreary Town’, which still induces some powerful palpitations. Nevertheless, this second album proves that beyond the PJ Harvey / Anna Calvi comparisons is an artist capable of making the gloomy sound sublime.
Key Tracks: ‘Fool’, ‘Stealing Cars’, ‘Washed Up’, ‘Big Hands’.
- D - 15/04/15
When removing the CD from the case of Noel Gallagher’s first solo album, an image peered from underneath its transparent plastic confines.
Yes, believe it or not dear reader, there are still some of us who enjoy and take great pride in physically buying a CD once in a while. The act of actually visiting your local record shop, purchasing a release, unsheathing it from the frequently unwrappable protective layer and appreciating booklets, liner notes and images is sadly becoming a lost art.
But I digress.
The picture read: “Stunned that something so simple can be so good”.
Without belittling Noel Gallagher’s 2011 effort, this image resumed proceedings quite accurately: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds delivered a set of immediately catchy tracks with each arena ballad expertly growing on you with every listen.
Moreover, and in case there was any doubt, this debut effort revealed how the older Gallagher brother was always the brains behind Oasis.
Indeed, both brothers have taken diametrically opposite paths since the split: the elder’s career continues to burgeon while Liam’s lacklustre efforts ended with the (thankful) disbanding of his new outfit Beady Eye. This clear dichotomy engrains itself with Noel’s second outing and while the new album, Chasing Yesterday, doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, he and his High Flying Birds have reassuringly stuck to familiar grounds.
Haters will label it lazy; aficionados will rejoice at the sheer number of massive sing-a-long choruses and potent melodies. The truth of the matter is that Chasing Yesterday is an enjoyable listen that simply shows a contented Noel doing what he does best.
There are high points, namely the Beatles-quoting and saxophone-featuring ‘Riverman’, the ‘Masterplan’-reminiscent ‘The Girl With X-Ray Eyes’, the rockier ‘Lock All The Doors’ and the particular standout ‘The Ballad of the Might I’. This closing track features a Johnny Marr solo and is the most memorable here.
There is a sense that Gallagher is willing to tread new ground, with the inclusion of horns and some funkier basslines for instance, but all in all, the album doesn’t see him steer too far away from his ever-dependable stadium-filling anthems, as evidenced by the lead singles ‘The Dying Of The Light’ and ‘In The Heat Of The Moment’. The latter has a slightly cloying ‘na-na-na-na-naaaa’ refrain but does sum up the singer songwriter’s main strength: while it may sound familiar and even if it may veer towards the saccharine, it’s still heads and shoulders above the competition. And you’re still singing along. Again and again.
Chasing Yesterday is undeniably one of those ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ albums. It doesn’t rehash anything but nevertheless cannot be accused of being ground-breaking. Still, if you’re looking for some feel-good melodies and reliably catchy tunes, Gallagher Snr has stuck to his very own masterplan and done it again.
Key Tracks: 'In The Heat Of The Moment', 'The Girl With X-Ray Eyes', 'The Ballad of the Mighty I'.
- D - 08/03/15
Following his departure from band Fleet Foxes, Josh Tillman created the persona of Father John Misty and released his first album under the moniker in 2012. It was an eccentric and magnetic collection of songs, brimming with self-deprecating humour and catchy tunes.
Now, for his second album under the pseudonym, he’s crafted a concept album of sorts, one which chronicles relationships, inspired by his recent marriage… As he stated in an interview leading up to the release of I Love You, Honeybear, he “just want(s) to write about love without bullshitting”.
Throughout I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman uses his persona to say the things he might not be able tactfully say in polite society, as if Father John Misty allows him to write and sing unapologetically about love, freed from the idealised notions many graft onto an ungraspable concept. It is an album that is earnest, often caustic and very, very funny.
The humour usually comes from a dark place, driven by cynicism and self-loathing, but also by an openhearted wordiness that makes it the perfect album for those who appreciate lyrics and their often complex nature. Because I Love You, Honeybear is a wordy album, one which understands that behind humour often lurks seriousness and that no matter how simple something may seem, sometimes Ockham’s razor doesn’t quite cut it.
When Father John Misty is professing his love on the title track, he has to inject a certain darkness: “My love, you’re the only one / I want to watch the ship go down with”. As if the looming gloom wasn’t enough, he chooses to marry it with a helping of lush strings, beautifully orchestrated harmonies and a solid dose of Omen-related cheek: “The neighbours are complaining / That the misanthropes next door are probably conceiving a Damien / Don’t they see the darkness rising? / Good luck fingering oblivion.”
This opener quickly reveals that throughout the album, Tillman constructs anything but straightforward songs. The literacy and emotional weight on show is always coupled with seemingly simple melodies. It is this dichotomy of the torturously honest and the lush-sounding tunes that makes for a surprisingly layered listen.
Like the opening song, nothing is as it seems in the catchy ‘Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins)’. The narrator is sweetly singing the praises of the woman he loves but wry elements acerbically sneak in: “I haven’t hated all the same things as somebody else since I remember”. Then suddenly… mariachi trumpets. Their sudden introduction is far from jarring, making the horns the perfect addition you didn’t know the song needed and ensuring it remains one of the album’s standouts.
This intoxicating complexity continues with the string-laden ‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me’, the rock stomp of ‘The Ideal Husband’ and the biting ‘The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.’ The latter shows that what would have been a melancholic retelling of a past one-night stand in the writing hands of another is here elevated to something altogether less saccharine. In Tillman's hands, the song is a vicious and very funny evisceration of the pixie figure: “She says, ‘Like literally music is the air she breathes’ / (…) I wonder if she even knows what that word means / Well, it’s ‘literally’ not that.”
The last three tracks of the album are an ineffable joy. The deeply satirical ‘Bored in the USA’ is a sparse piano-lead tune which points out the failings of the self-professed ‘Greatest Country in the World’. Tillman tears down what many believe to be the country’s star-spangled brilliance by putting the spotlight on its flawed education, its “sub-prime loans” and its naïve frivolity. In doing so, he also adds canned laughter, a backing track of derisive chuckles which shows that at no point does he lose his self-reflexive and deprecating demeanour.
The acoustic ‘Holy Shit’ follows with a catalogue of seemingly heteroclite elements that lead to a powerful climax. His voice is never better than on this soaring song, especially when he reaches its conclusion: “Love is just an institution based on human frailty / (…) Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity / But I fail to see what that’s got to do / With you and me." Its bite makes it a worthy companion piece to ‘Bored in the USA’ but the ending adds a loving and poignantly resonant spin to a superbly tortured song.
As for the album closer, ‘I Went to the Store One Day’, it gently wraps things off by going back to the beginning and telling the listener how the narrator met the love of his life. Once again, he honestly depicts the effects such a meeting can have (“I’ve become jealous, rail-thin, prone to paranoia when I’m stoned”) but never once succumbs to the darkness he introduced so early on in the album (“If this isn’t true love someone ought to put me in a home”).
Witty, tortured, poetic, self-aware, harsh, cynical, dream-like and tender. I Love You, Honeybear is all these things.
Josh Tillman / Father John Misty’s second album has its mood swings, its simple yet layered compositions (choral harmonies, violins and sporadic guitar twangs all have their moments to shine), and is filled with a complex but relatable range of emotions. It also has something to say about love, something very few artists manage to truthfully achieve.
You won’t find Sam Smith or Chris Martin and his high pitched “oooh ooh ooh”s ever coming close to something as poignant as “When you’re smiling and astride me I can hardly believe I found you / And I’m terrified by that.”
Only two months into the year, it’s plain to hear that I Love You, Honeybear will stand out as one of 2015’s very finest.
Do not let it pass you by.
*** Incidentally, do make the effort to buy the actual CD – the packaging is terrific, the main lyrics booklet is a treat and the extra ‘Exercises for Listening’ booklet offers recipes one can choose to follow per song: some funny, others poetic… A lot of attention and care was put into crafting a genuinely aesthetically pleasing whole, one which not only complements the music but that is worth every penny. ***
Key Tracks: ‘Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins)’, ‘The Ideal Husband’, ‘Bored in the USA’, ‘Holy Shit’.
- D - 10/02/15
Bjork has released her new album Vulnicura almost two months ahead of schedule after many of her new tracks were leaked online. She is the latest to be forced in this position, after Madonna had to make parts of her upcoming album available following their mysterious appearance online. This prompted the veiny 79-year old to describe it as “artistic rape”.
However, Bjork took the leak in her stride and refreshingly beat the hacking scallywags at their own game by rush-releasing the whole of Vulnicura… all done without bitching about it like the aforementioned leotard-obsessed scarecrow. Instead, the Icelandic songstress prefaced the new release by saying her first studio effort in four years was “a complete heartbreak album” and that “hopefully the songs could be a help, a crutch to others and prove how biological this process is: the wound and the healing of the wound… Psychologically and physically”.
It turns out that Vulnicura is just that: a break-up album. The title says it all: the listener will be faced with the artist’s vulnerability and the cure for the heartache. As if that wasn’t enough, the album cover (see above) also announces this heartbreak thematic quite clearly: Bjork is pictured as missing her heart, showing off a chest wound that is ever-so reminiscent of a vagina. No accident here as the album is one which also explores femininity and motherhood, even if its core is the chronicling of her split from her longtime partner, American artist Matthew Barney.
The digital booklet splits the 9-tracked album into three distinctive and chronicled sections: the first three songs are labelled “… months before” (the breakup) and the second three “… months after”. The final trio are purposefully not tagged: they sound and feel like the healing light is finally obtainable.
The ‘before’ triptych starts with the string-heavy opening track ‘Stonemilker’, a wonderfully affecting song that talks of “open chests” and “shut down chances”. It is the preface to the breakup, followed by the lush dissonance of ‘Lionsong’, which explores doubt (“Maybe he will come out of this loving me”). The lover’s lament that is ‘History of Touches’ is an intimate and raw flashback on tender moments: “Every single fuck we had together is in a wondrous time-lapse with us here at this moment.”
The break-up aftermath of the ‘after’ songs begin with the sombre ‘Black Lake’, a complex, layered and bewitching song which will captivate as well as test the patience of others. The ominous start to ‘Family’ shows the singer’s role shifting from wounded lover to family protector. The last of the ‘after’ songs, ‘Notget’, is a strange creature: it simultaneously sounds like an oriental sea shanty and a lively fairytale.
The last third of the album is the healing process. The haunted ‘Atom Dance’ (featuring Antony and the Johnsons’ Antony Hegarty) tiptoes towards the light and ‘Mouth Mantra’ feels less introspective, due to the omnipresence of varied and glitch-like beats. This final phase culminates with the electronically ethereal ‘Quicksand’, the lyrics of which mark the acceptance of necessary mourning within everyday life.
Beyond the ambitious relationship narrative, a chronology which some might consider overly cerebral, it also turns out that Vulnicura is a welcome return to more traditional songwriting. It is calmer than the angry cacophony that was 2007’s Volta and not as complexly abstract (read: verging on the impenetrable) as 2011’s headache-inducing Biophilia. Instead, these 9 intense and emotional tracks are blessed with melodies, something worth mentioning since Bjork’s last two albums were often lacking in this department. This eighth effort is a good middle ground between layered pop and avant-guardist flights of fancy, one that will nevertheless disappoint fans who are still yearning for the return to Bjork’s less oblique pop beginnings.
While Vulnicura is often abstract, it is a profoundly rewarding listen. Blessed with copious amounts of string compositions, multifarious beats (courtesy of co-producers Arca and Haxan Cloak) and reined in experimentation, this confessional concept album might just be Bjork’s most essential listen since 2001’s Vespertine. Fantastic.
Key Tracks: 'Stonemilker', 'History of Touches', 'Black Lake', 'Atom Dance'.
- D - 22/01/15
In Belle and Sebastian’s ninth studio effort, co-vocalist and violinist Sarah Martin sings that she will “write a different story, a new final act”.
While Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is hopefully not the Glaswegian indie ensemble‘s final act, it is an album that shows that after a lengthy career, they are capable of incongruously embracing renewal.
Indeed, for their first album since 2010’s Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, Stuart Murdoch and his lot have released a bemusing collection of songs, which intriguingly sees their classic chamber-pop and poetically humorous lyrics faced with a decent helping jaunty dance influences. They’ve even written a song about tortured poet Sylvia Plath in Europop style…
It all kicks off with the affecting ‘Nobody’s Empire’, a song about the frontman’s chronic fatigue syndrome. What could have been a sombre affair considering the main thematic boasts layered lyrics (“there’s beauty in every stumble”) and crucially, is very catchy. It’s a stunning opener and could be one of the band’s best since Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ ‘Step Into My Office Baby’.
What follows are upbeat tracks with political aspirations (‘Allie’ and its talk of “bombs in the Middle East”), string-heavy ballads (‘The Cat With the Cream’), 80s pop numbers about “sexual tensions by the fridge” (‘Perfect Couple’) and optimistically-sounding songs which tackle the heartaches of everyday life (‘Play For Today’).
Standouts include lead single ‘The Party Line’, where disco beats and Pet Shop Boys synths reign supreme, the could-have-been-on-Tigermilk ballad ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’ and the surprising ‘The Everlasting Muse’. The latter starts off as a gentle bass-lead tune before weirdly switching into a Hellenistic stomp, a sort of rhythmic marching band explosion, trumpets included.
While it’s not all perfect (the previously mentioned ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ may be fun to listen to but takes the EDM-beats too far into Neil Tennant territory), this album entertainingly flip flops between low-key numbers and electronic romps. This description may make the album sound like a heterogenous headache, but the constancy of Murdoch’s witty lyrics and excellent melodies make it a triumph.
Put simply, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is the unpredictable sound of Belle and Sebastian whimsically taking your hand in order to lead you towards the dance floor for a sway or two. You’d be foolish to decline.
Key Tracks: ‘Nobody’s Empire’, ‘Allie’, ‘The Party Line’, ‘The Everlasting Muse’, ‘Play For Today’.
- D - 21/01/15