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Category Archives: Album Reviews
I know a lot of the talk around the internet at the moment is about the new Daft Punk album, and I feel The National have been playing second fiddle. Which is a bit unfortunate for them. Due in Australia at the end of July for their one-off Splendour in the Grass headline set, The National will be dropping their 6th studio album and highly anticipated follow-up to critically acclaimed High Violet.
Trouble Will Find Me confirms the Brooklyn-based group’s status as one of indie rock’s flagship bands. The somewhat nerdy five-some have an obvious talent to turn melancholia into catchy rhythms. While the album does not quite reach the heights of High Violet or even Boxer, the album has a strong melodic charm to it. It’s the sort of album that fits perfectly with a rainy day and a cup of tea. Which is precisely what I’m doing now as I write. But even this doesn’t quite seem sad enough. I mean, when Matt Berninger is singing about depression in lead single Demons, I can’t even pretend to understand. Apparently he gave up smoking before recording this album. This could explain why the vocals have such a more profound emotive quality to it, but I’m no scientist.
Highlight of the album in my view comes in the form of Sea of Love. There’s a part of me that loves when a song references the album title, and Sea of Love’s chorus “if I stay here, trouble will find me” gives me great satisfaction. It is bound to be a hit from the album, and a likely highlight of their upcoming tour. There’s a sense of intricate delicacy in the flow of tracks. Although it mostly follows the melancholia, the flow of chords and keys adapts through the album. Ranging from the more up tempo second single Don’t Swallow The Cap which features a delightful female backing vocal, to the more mellow Slipped there is a vastness to the album that needs an accomplished band to pull off.
For those people that were lucky enough to get tickets to Splendour are in for a treat. Trouble Will Find Me adds to The National’s already outstanding catalogue and will feature heavily in what promises to be a highlight of the festival. There are rumours that they will return for Laneway next year, a set that will be heavily anticipated.
I love lists. Especially best of lists. This is a list of my favourite albums from this year. I’ll also do a list of best songs, best gigs and best musical moments of 2012. Then I’ll have a list of lists. It’s turning me on just thinking about it.
In no particular order.
Cloud Nothings – Wasted Days
“Can I feel so utterly unreal but nothing I could do would make things changes”
He might sing in an annoying, nasally, out of tune voice, but Dylan Baldi has made one of the years best punk records. Teen angst is a common theme throughout.
‘Cause greed is glory and god is money, government is government it’s all so fucking meaningless!’
My favourite Australian album of the year. Which is a big call because there has been some brilliant albums this year. There’s just something in the roar emotion from lead singer and song-writer Will Wagner. Also being from a nearby suburb makes this album particularly relatable for me.
Grimes – Vision
“To look into my eyes and tell me la la la la la”
Clare Boucher finally gets the break she deserves, with this electro-pop masterpiece.
Tame Impala – Lonerism
“You know that you’re dreaming about being loved by him. Too bad your chances are slim”
Obligatory Tame Impala mention. It is a great album, and has been on repeat since I caught them at Meredith last week. The Perth lads have the world at their feet at the moment.
Pond – Beard, Wives, Denim
“Now I live with a yeti and a caterpillar king. I wanna make love on everything”
I am pretty sure I prefer this album to their companions Tame Impala. More psychedelic, more 70s more enjoyable. Pretty great listen.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
“If at first you don’t succeed at love just dream a little dream about a girl so real”
You might have guessed that this is a more mature work than previous Pink records. He does manage to retain some quirkiness though and his ability to write a killer pop track
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
“And if they try to slow you down, Tell em all to go to hell”
It’s been a good year for Canada, with Japandroids being the second Canadian acts on my list. Go Canada!
Boomgates – Boomgates
“Mixed messages I was receiving, or at least that’s what they said”
A Melbourne indie-pop supergroup formed from members of Dick Diver, Eddy Current, Twerps amongst others. Laid-back pop rock has been getting great reviews from those in the know
DZ Deathrays – Bloodstreams
“24 hours and I’m lying on the kitchen floor. You wanna use me? Well, use me fast.”
It’s been a staple in my playlist this year from when it came out earlier on. Topped off a great year for the duo by winning an ARIA award. Great stuff.
Spiritualised – Sweet Heart Sweet Light
“Well you got good style and you a little taste. Carved your name right into my face”
Only started getting into these guys three weeks ago, but my lord are they awesome. Barely a bad moment in this one.
At this stage is hard to tell if The Vaccines are really just having a laugh at us all. With their debut album mercurially titled What Did You Expect From The Vaccines maybe they were making an ironic statement of sorts against the backdrop of online media hype. Anyway if you ask the question what did you expect from their second album you probably would have had a short list of maybe more complex songs that were longer than 2 minutes, perhaps a more evolved sound or at least something a bit different from their first album.
Unfortunately on all those counts The Vaccines haven’t changed much at all from their debut album. Indeed its all a bit samey. Maybe the songs are a bit longer but its hard to see any changes musically or otherwise in their approach. The one redeeming feature of The Vaccines is that they have ridiculously catchy choruses but really we have heard all of this before and maybe the 1 year time span to spin out another album was a bit too short. It just feels like another slick production that doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Maybe that’s what Young is going for that laconic quintessential British rock attitude of not caring about the audience and just making music for himself. That’s probably the most favourable interpretation that I can think of for this album which over promised and under delivered – not helped by the NME hype machine.
The Vaccines have fallen into that trap of second season syndrome, Come of Age is anything but.
I’ve been in that kind of mood listening to music like Youth Lagoon and Washed Out. So it’s probably no surprise that I am loving Wild Nothing’s new album Nocturne. It’s probably a bit early but this has definitely got to be up there for album of the year. Think Cut Copy’s Zonoscope but more subtle with a greater emphasis on guitar then synth. This album is a wonderful continuation of their earlier album Gemini and the subsequent EP Golden Haze it sounds a bit richer because of the greater incorporations of strings as diverging melody but it still has that Wild Nothing feel – the oh so sweet croning of Jack Tatum accompanied by catchy bass riffs.
For a dream pop group created in the college dorm rooms of Virginia, Wild Nothing have come along way. Tatum is still the sole songwriter but you can hear in this album the subtle intricacies that moving to a recording studio with the acclaimed producer Nicholas Vernhes (Deerhunter, Animal Collective) has had on the album. In particular the emphasis on arpeggio riffs I feel is something that has been brought in a bit of Deerhunter and the experimentation with sounds seems a bit like Animal Collective albeit in a less abstract way.
It’s interesting that Wild Nothing is again another example of how independent songwriters are staking their claim in the musical world. Although this time Tatum actually had a drummer rather than using programmed beats everything was conceived of by Tatum. This is probably a trend that has been exacerbated by the proliferation of home studio recording which is making everything that much more accessible. I think this makes Wild Nothing’s effort even more commendable and perhaps a bit of inspiration to us all really on the fact that you don’t really need that much fancy equipment to record some good tracks.
I highly recommend this album it’ll hook you after the first listen and even after a couple of repeats it still has moments that’ll surprise you.
Top Tracks: Shadow, Nocturne, Only Heather
Ariel Pink has had a cult following for a while now. Mature Themes marks his ninth album, but importantly only his second with Haunted Graffiti. You see, Pink is an enigma. His first seven LPs were produced more or less in isolation, recording in his home and for 8 years he went about his business gradually collecting fans. In 2010, he signed to 4AD and called upon a band, forming Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. 2010’s Before Today received rave reviews, as Pink moved to a more polished sound and Mature Themes continues this notion.
In some ways, Mature Themes is an apt title, as the album has a far more mature sound than his earlier work. Of course, this must be taken with a grain of salt as Pink maintains his quirkiness. While there is a number of great pop tunes, it wouldn’t be an Ariel Pink album without a song about Schnitzel or Nymphomaniacs. Only In My Dreams has the former covered as an unmistakable love song. The jingle-like guitar riff at the beginning masks the generally sadistic mood of the song. The socially awkward narrator of the song imagines this fantasy world were he can be with his dream girl. But while there are these sociopathic tendencies throughout the track, it is easy to just get taken away in the catchy guitar jangle that makes this a perfect pop song.
Sticking in the pop mood comes the title track Mature Themes. Sticking with a similar recipe from Only In My Dreams, Mature Themes has a similar synthesised guitar riff, with further synth parts setting the mood throughout the verses. It seems the narrator is the opposite from that in Only In My Dreams, as this one is more confident, rather seeking to please his girl, rather than simply idolising her.
The third ‘normal’ track on the album is a cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s song Baby and it is probably the least weird track on the album. It is a soulful arrangement that has Pink sounding like a young Marvin Gaye. It is possible that Pink takes this one more seriously because it is a cover and is required to work within a certain boundary, but it does not excite me as much as some other tracks on the album.
On to the more zany songs, Symphony of the Nymph uses Pink himself as a character with nymphomania. It’s of little surprise that Pink himself claims to be a ‘nympho.’ It suits him somewhat and it’s the sort of song that only he could pull off. Featuring a wide range of samples, includes various horse noises. The classic line ‘I don’t mean to burn any bridges, but I can’t get enough of those bitches’ is incredibly unsurprising for a person of Pink’s mental state. If it wasn’t for the strange topic covered in the song, you could draw comparisons to the likes of Pink Floyd or more succinctly, Hawkwind. The fact that Pink can write a song about Schnitzel and put it on an album is hilarious. Schnitzel Boogie makes me question why he would order a schnitzel with lettuce, tomato and onion only. Obviously he isn’t a fan of the Parma.
It seems for this album, Pink has two ideas. First there’s the singles, the pop songs that are quite well crafted and deliver an ultimately emotional message. Secondly, the weird that he is used to. By entering into a studio to record this album, his reputation will be enhanced but he will continue to move further away from his zany past. But if this means more songs like Only in My Dreams and Mature Themes, I would be quite welcoming of that.
Along with the upcoming album by TOY, Holograms has been one of my most anticipated albums of the year in the post punk genre. Like most European punk bands you have to wonder how they manage to have such impeccable English, although there are some weird phrases from this Swedish group I’m sure you could regard such errors as Scandinavian lyrical genius. In the mould of most punk bands (and I’m sure the long winter days also have something to do with it), Holograms is an album that couldn’t really be described as uplifting. Quite frankly they just seem to take the piss out of Sweden – a sport not so unfamiliar to Australians in the wake of the Julian Assange fracas. On first instance you could categorise this album as one of those cliché post punk bands with a digitally processed, album cover that harks at nostalgia by attempting to recreate the silver halide of film. This was a mistake on my part, Holograms, manages to capture some of that nostalgia and add to it a modern perspective in light of the societal problems facing contemporary Sweden.
The strongest element of Holograms is definitely the bass line which gives the album a great sense of urgency. This is evident in the first track Monolith which is just one of those songs where you can already imagine the lighting tech laughing maniacally as they have a field day with the strobes. The bass beat is ever present as the album edges towards the climatic You Are Ancient (Sweden’s Pride) which at first seems like a celebration of right wing nationalism. So it’s understandable that superficially this song could be misunderstood as a jingoistic anthem much like Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. However Holograms frequently lament at some of Sweden’s darker history such as Lutheran fear mongering and the general antics of the bunch of scallywags known as Vikings. Once again some pretty typical punk stuff, angst and all.
However what makes Holograms atypical is the way in which they manage to meld so many contrary elements whether it be the seemingly formulaic bass rhythms and drum beats characteristic of punk, the quirky New Wave synth that peppers most of the songs with melodic hooks, or the ironic lyrics which actually have quite a lot of thought put into them. Honestly its hard to imagine how a punk band with catchy uplifting melodies that canvass Sweden’s shameful past, could possible work – but it does. This is album is definitely a grower, and I think maybe it will be one of the top releases of the year. It’s a solid debut album and bodes well the future of a band who can hopefully now leave menial labour in Stockholm ‘s warehouses behind.
Highlight Tracks: Chasing My Mind, ABC City, Stress
Similar Music: The Horrors (excluding third album), TOY, ICEAGE
Staying current by interacting with the meta is always an odious task. Take for example the decision last year by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary to remove the word cassette tape whilst adding others that unfortunately sum up global culture in a nutshell; the troika of words – sexting, mankini, retweet. So it should perhaps be even more celebrated that unlike an institution such as the Oxford Dictionary that resolves a tension between past and present by simply deleting words; DIIV can somehow meld together musical genres which seem to be conflicting – of course I’m talking about the manifestation that is dream pop. The unique mix that DIIV bring is the fusion of world music influences such as Baba Salah, a Malian guitarist, and other artists closer to home such as Nirvana and C86 bands.
I know a lot of people like to make comparisons so here is problem the most pertinent band comparison that you can make with DIIV. They are like The Cure. If you know The Cure you’ll immediately get a sense of what I mean, if not, well you should give them a listen because like it or not The Cure are one of those stalwarts that are quite convenient for name dropping. So you can make a vacuous statement like ‘Robert Smith is such a genius’ and most people will just nod their heads in sage agreement. Although to be fair The Cure weren’t exactly the sound that DIIV were going for when they were in the studio; it turns out that lead singer and main songwriter Zachary Cole Smith had never heard of them (apparently he loves them now) until they were brought to his attention by some internet reviewers.
The main professed influence for the band is Krautrock, at least for Zachary Cole Smith which is particularly significant given that this band incarnation of DIIV is more of a touring vehicle for Smith rather than a collaboration of ideas; in the sense that Washed Out is a live band for Ernest Greene. This is a phenomenon that has become more prevalent; I can speculate to say this is just an example of labels and their increased cost cutting so the development of an already refined solo artist who can readily be transformed into a touring group is preferable. However this is not to say that the band is not made up of some very talented individuals such as Colby Hewitt (ex Smith Westerns), Andrew Bailey and Ruben Perez who form the rest of the band.
So what’s the album like? Considering that DIIV changed their original name from Dive due to respect for a pre-existing Belgian band the action in of itself does say a lot to the demeanour of the band. DIIV are careful to pay homage to the multitude of influences without bastardising them. In this sense its not surprising that there isn’t really a standout track to this album, it really is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole. Maybe this is just particular to this genre but to fully appreciate this album you can’t just go about looking out for hit singles. Whilst it does escalate into a grand crescendo with tracks such as Sometime and Doused at the end of the album to get to this unadulterated high the experience of going through the delicate arpeggios in How Long Have You Known which is refreshingly tranquil.
Oshin is an album that is firmly entrenched in the ‘grower’ camp, it won’t overwhelm you at first but it definitely is worthy enough to be our album of the week. If you enjoy this album I would recommend checking out some stuff by Beach Fossils which have similar guitar melodies that are arguably more uplifting.
Lex Hives is not their greatest achievement – it has a few stand out tracks “Come On” and “Patrolling Days.” These are both classic Hives tracks, filled with rambunctious energy from the Swedes, who have been a band for nearly 20 years. The fact that they are just now releasing their fifth studio effort illustrates exactly what this band is all about – Live shows. Nothing can compare to the energy of the Hives live. I saw them twice in three days last year and these two gigs still stand out in my memory as the best performances I have seen.
The opening track has been a mainstay of the Hives live show now for some time, and it serves this role of introduction perfectly on the album as well. Howlin’ Pele’s distinctive voice rings through, supported by Nicholas Arson strumming his guitar like a madman, and the grinding, driving drums creating a perfect storm of pop-punk: Come On really makes you want to get up, dance and scream, even on a lethargic hungover
Saturday Sunday Tuesday night such as this one.
1000 Answers is another catchy track that makes little lyrical sense – a perfect storm as far as The Hives go. Pele pleads with the listener, “I have a thousand answers, one of them’s gotta be right.” Particularly pertinent for a recently completed arts graduate with a philosopher minor.
Patrolling Days begins with an addictive guitar hook; followed by the best bridge of the album. “And with every little step I blow your mind away” matched with calling guitars and responding drums reminds us why we fell in love with the Hives in the first place. Their sound maintains a garage rock feel while being able to fill a stadium with noise; this coalescence is as unique as the Hives continuously changing uniforms.
The album is seemingly a completion of another chapter in the Hives’ history. They have conquered the world many times over, and now they are simply riding high, relishing their reputation as the most entertaining band in the world. For a band that can tour Australia not having released an album for three years and force the entire amphitheater waiting for Kanye West to sit down by sheer force of will, little is unachievable. Fortunately, this has not led to complacency, and this album still manages to deliver interesting and catchy tracks.
Pele rather mysteriously sings “Without the money their just like me and you” Ignoring the fact that the Hives are probably now quite well off, despite extensive medical bills at the cause of stage antics. It is here however we still see the Hives as the young band from a boring industrial town in Sweden, wanting to become the greatest rock band in the world. That impregnable drive towards greatness is what makes the Hives, it is their self-belief and positive attitude that shines through both on their album and in their live shows. It is what makes them so great, and makes us love them for doing it.
“I have a plan and they say I can’t but yes I can” Pele declares in My Time is Coming and listening to the band play their damn hearts out everytime they get up on stage, I begin to realise they can.
Arrogance matched by talent is a rare thing – but I really think The Hives do manage to pull it off. This album however is only a taste, a teaser, a trailer, a fraction of their potential power, their explosive live show expands exponentially from their recorded tracks.
We at No Jackets are big fans of Fiona Apple, and rightly so as this is our album of the week. To be honest it’s quite an onerous task to review this particular album; not only are expectations high (we’ve only been waiting seven years) but Fiona Apple’s albums are inherently complex and consequently take awhile to fully process (just have a look at the 26 word title). Sure there are intricate piano phrases that as a child of a piano teacher even I can appreciate although I don’t profess to have any of the skill that Fiona Apple does; but what really holds this album up is the range of emotions that Fiona Apple manages to evoke whether it be through her wonderful vocal register, the raw lyrics or of course her brilliant piano playing.
My first impressions of this particular album were particular favourable; whether it be the chromatic sequences or the catchy jazz progressions that draw you there is always something that makes you want to put a specific song on repeat. It’s because you notice a fragment of a phrase which makes you go back and then you suddenly discover something else that you completely missed the first time through – that’s how complex this album is. Don’t mistake this album as one of those that pretentious critics seem to enjoy (hello pitchfork) of course musically this album has some great technical details, I have no qualms with stating that, but what really makes this album transcend above the rest is how raw Fiona Apple is to world with this album. It’s her fourth studio album and in typical fashion every intimacy imaginable is unabashedly revealed.
The first track gives some indication of this ‘every single night’s a fight with my brain’ and from there the album descends via clashing diminished and minor chords into a frenzy of emotion. The repeating chromatics provide a perfect platform for that confused emotional whirl of a dervish that Fiona’s life experiences seem to traverse across. At times she pleads for help in an aching falsetto at others she laments that ‘I stand no chance of growing up’ and at the end of ‘Periphery’ you can hear the scrapping of shoes on pavement – the arduous trudging of life. It’s a depressing album at times because it speaks at what is most precious and complicated in social interactions – love and death. You definitely feel for Fiona as you vicariously share some of the negative experiences that she has gone through, it’s not easy listening but after you’ll definitely be rewarded whether or not you’ll be prompted like me, to hit the repeat button.
Emerging from my exam-induced slumber, to get back into the swing of things I’m going to list my favourite albums so far in 2012. Coincidentally, today is the winter solstice and a good time to look back on what we’ve heard this year.
DZ Deathrays – Bloodstreams
My favourite album for the year so far, which showed that DZ Deathrays could live up to the hype. Currently on tour in the US and Canada, Bloodstreams has taken them through Europe and will return back home for Splendour in the Grass in a few weeks. One of Australia’s most exciting bands to watch.
Best Track: Dollar Chills
Pond – Beards, Wives, Denim
Another exciting Australian act, the Tame Impala side-project have taken a massive stride to come out from the shadows. Psychedelic rock can be a difficult genre to attack, but Pond make it seem effortless.
Best Track: Fantastic Explosion of Time
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
If you haven’t heard Cloud Nothings this year, you haven’t been living. Although Attack on Memory is their third studio album, it is the first that showcases their song-writing ability to such an amazing extent. Wasted Days is one of the best songs of the year.
Best Track: Wasted Days
Shearwater – Animal Joy
A side project from the blokes at Okkervil River, this is one of my favourite indie rock albums from the year.
Best Track: Animal Life
Sigur Ros – Valtari
Long been an underground favourite, Sigur Ros returns with another brilliant album. I always find Post Rock to be somewhat difficult to analyse, but the textures and sounds throughout Valtari are immense.
Best Track: Ekki Múkk
The Walkmen – Heaven
The New York group just keep plugging away. A career that has spawned three brilliant albums, a guest spot on The OC, and the greatest hit that never was culminated in their most professional album to date. How they haven’t found more commercial success is beyond me.
Best Track: No One Sleeps
Jack White – Blunderbuss
There were always going to be questions about how Jack White would go releasing a solo album. The result was quite unexpected. Combining a blend of classic blues rock and the more modern garage rock that White is renowned for, Blunderbuss shows that White has some talent left in him yet.
Best Track: I’m Shakin’
Howler – America Give Up
Minnesota-natives Howler have come on leaps and bounds this year. America Give Up is the perfect testament of surf punk, full of songs about girls and beaches.
Best Track: Beach Sluts
The Shins – Port of Morrow
After five years in the music wilderness, The Shins have returned with a brilliant fourth album. James Mercer returns with a completely new band, but with the same musical mastermind behind the tracks, it is a classic Shins album.
Best Track: Bait And Switch
Grimes – Visions
I’m a bit against the popularity this album has gained through the likes of Pitchfork, but after much deliberation I actually quite enjoyed the songwriting. Grimes is effortlessly cute, just watch the clip for Oblivion below.
Best Track: Oblivion