[Album Review] Thomas Tantrum – Mad By Moonlight

June 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

On Mad By Moonlight, Southampton’s Thomas Tantrum offer up addictive melodies, vocals that charm and captivate, and instrumentation which invokes dreamlike musings. This faraway imagery is a device rather than an accidental outcome: the band based the album on sleep, and the problems that a lack of it can create. With guitar riffs that recall The Cure’s lighter moments, and vocals with the intonation of an early Gwen Stefani mixed with the tones of Chew Lips’ Tigs, these songs are light-hearted yet laden with emotional tones, drawing the listener into a world that is meaningful even in its light-hearted moments. « Read the rest of this entry »

Christina Aguilera – Bionic

June 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

The only reason I’m writing about this album is because surprisingly I don’t hate it as much as all the critics had me thinking I would. I’ve heard very few positive things said about the record, so I was expecting to dislike it from start to finish. However, at least a couple of positives can be found amongst all the rubble…

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Jónsi – Go

April 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Sigur Rós frontman has released his debut solo album, and it’s lush, ethereal and utterly wonderful. It’s not all airy and lightness though, there’s real substance here, found in the fast paced drum beats and complex layering of instruments. This is an album you’ll listen to many times and hear something new with each play.

Thanks to the good guys over at Spinner you can listen to it in it’s entirety here

The first single is Boy Lilikoi, hear it below:

Broken Bells – Broken Bells

March 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Broken Bells are James Mercer and Brian Burton, better known as founder and front man of The Shins, and super producer/musician Danger Mouse. One may worry what might happen when you cross Oh, Inverted World with the stupidly over-played ‘Crazy’, but there’s no need to panic (or frankly, be a little scared).

At first listen, you may be mistaking for thinking you are indeed listening to some kind of updated Shins album. It is the familiarity of Mercer’s vocals that will lead you into this trap, but as the record progresses and develops, you’ll find it is something altogether different. Unquestionably there are certain similarities to be found, every now and again in the guitar rhythms and vocal patterns, but songs such as ‘Mongrel Heart’ and ‘The Ghost Inside’ show that this collaboration is anything but lazy in its efforts. The sounds here are less organic and slightly more electro, with Burton showing off the producing skills that have made him so popular and well-respected. The impressive thing is that the synths, handclaps, piano parts and unnameable electronic sounds do not stand out from the organic sounding guitars and strings; they fit together as one and make you wonder how they ever could have been apart in the first place. The lyrics are what you’d expect from Mercer (i.e. brilliant) [Remember what they said / There’s no shortcut to a dream / It’s all blood and sweat / And life is what you manage in between]

This isn’t a record to set your world on fire. It’s a slow burner, but a very enjoyable one at that. This seems to be what Broken Bells set out to do, they aren’t looking to change the musical landscape forever, more flex their musical muscles and show what two individuals can do when they come together to form an unexpected bond. This particular bond is a successful one; listen to Broken Bells on a lazy Sunday morning, and let their sound ease those good-god-will-this-recession-never-end-blues.

Blood Red Shoes – A Fire Like This

March 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

A Fire Like This is an incredible album. The kind of incredible that makes you excited, makes you grin from ear to ear, and makes you believe in the power of music to lift you from your existential funk. Or, to quote Butch Walker, maybe it’s just me.

I’ve never really paid much attention to Blood Red Shoes before. Not because I didn’t rate them as musicians, or even because I didn’t like the sounds they created. It was down to a sheer feeling of being overwhelmed. I was living in Latin America at the time their debut album, Box of Secrets, was released, and the amount of new music you hear over there is somewhat limited to say the least. When I returned to England, tanned, relaxed and with a strange American accent, I attempted to get a handle on what I’d missed. I remember reading an article (I hate to admit it may have been in NME) about the best bands of the past year, featuring Blood Red Shoes, Vampire Weekend and Lightspeed Champion amongst others. For reasons unknown, I decided Blood Red Shoes weren’t for me, spent a whole lot of time listening to Vampire Weekend, MGMT, Cajun Dance Party, Black Kids, Los Campesinos! and never gave the Brighton duo a second thought.

Now I see the error of my ways. As soon as I heard the first track on A Fire Like This, ‘Don’t Ask’, I knew I was in love. From the rapid rhythm of the drums to the ever-so-slightly-yelling vocals; the simple yet perfect electric guitar riffs to the punkish lyrics, the whole record is polished to a gritty perfection. The band have been placed into many genres by fans and critics alike, but none of them really seem to stick (or, in fact, fit in the first place). They have always described themselves as ‘punk’, in attitude if not in sound, and found that many people were surprised when they listened to their music and didn’t find the lighter indie pop sensibilities of bands of the same time period (see Vampire Weekend, Los Campesinos!). There is definitely something darker and deeper lurking underneath the chant along lyrics that these guys throw out. Whether that be the rebellious mindsets they developed as teenagers listening to Fugazi and Sonic Youth, or simply the cries of a youth that has “heard it all ten thousand times”.

Comparisons to The Subways are far too obvious to be of any use, for while both feature boy/girl vocals, Blood Red Shoes are more like what would happen if We Are Scientists (circa With Love and Squalor) ate The Subways. For me, The Subways always lacked a certain kind of spark that took their music from above-average to towering-above-average. I compare Blood Red Shoes to We Are Scientists not because they sound extremely similar but because they both have that something special that makes their music stand out amongst the bands who surround them in their particular field. A Fire Like This is an album filled with energy and excitement; pent up angst that explodes with exuberance and charm. Miss this at your peril.

Ellie Goulding – Lights

March 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

For someone who has received such an incredible amount of attention, Ellie Goulding certainly seems to be taking it all in her stride. In interviews she comes across as a grounded and level-headed individual who is doing what she does to the best of her ability and not taking much notice of all the media attention. Which is probably an attitude that will keep her from going insane with the release of her debut album ‘Lights’ this week. The record itself seems to have taken a backseat. Critics, magazines, TV and radio stations have all become so eager to jump on the bandwagon and grab a slice of the Goulding pie that the music seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. But with ‘Lights’ currently sitting at number 1 on the iTunes album chart, a position it has been enjoying practically since first thing Monday morning, there must be something underlying all of the hype. Right?

‘Lights’ opens strongly with Guns and Horses, a track that will already be familiar to Goulding fans. It has received a slight update, with smoother yet more complex production, but retains the same sound that made people fans to begin with, myself included. Selecting this song as the opener was a wise choice, letting existing fans know that the girl they know and love hasn’t changed all that much, whilst letting new fans know what they are in for.

From the beginning of the album, there’s a very familiar feel to it all. Not in a ‘I’ve heard this before way’, it’s more a feeling that you’re already comfortable with everything that it sets out to do. A sense of comraderie if you will. Obviously already knowing almost half the tracks on the record contributed to this, and those who are brand new to Goulding’s music may not feel the same, but I believe it lies with the the sound of the record, and not my preexisting familiarity with it. Ellie’s voice is vulnerable yet powerful, and pertains a quality throughout the album which draws you in and makes you feels like you are listening in on her private thoughts, her dreams, the things she whispers to a loved one. Her lyrics are beautiful in their simplicity, tracks such as ‘This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)’ and ‘Every Time You Go’ telling us of the the problems faced by lovers – heartbreak and it’s ability to weaken those involved. Love is a recurring theme throughout the record, but not in a sickly over dramatic manner, it’s more an exploration of the world of young love, and all the excitement, freshness and powerfulness that comes with it. This is mirrored in the production of the songs, with tracks such as ‘Wish I’d Stayed’ and ‘Your Biggest Mistake’ containing both heavy drum beats as well as charming melodies and vocal layering. Stand out tracks come in the form of ‘The Writer’, a track which opens with tinkling synth and keyboard melodies and builds into crashing beats and xylophone parts, and the previously mentioned ‘Guns and Horses’ and ‘Wish I Stayed’. Interestingly, another highlight comes in the form of iTunes bonus track, ‘Lights’. Whilst it provides a very valid reason to buy the album from iTunes, those who don’t will truly be missing out. The song features one of the best beats of the whole album, some of Goulding’s best vocals, and charming yet haunting lyrics.

The vulnerable and open nature of Goulding’s songwriting is the best part of the album. And with that lies my only problem with the record – it’s all a little too overproduced. Not in a technical sense, Starsmith has done a fantastic job of creating sparkling electronic pop songs that actually contain many more layers than they may first appear to. My qualm lies in the fact that this isn’t necessarily what Goulding’s songs require. Pre-album release, it was tracks like ‘Not Following You’, a quiet yet captivating track featuring just vocals and an acoustic guitar, that made me a fan. That track wasn’t selected for the album, which I am thankful for as had it been chosen, it no doubt would have been sped up, layered with guitars and synths and probably ruined. I’m definitely not saying that the tracks which were selected have been ruined. Far from it. ‘Starry Eyed’ and ‘Under The Sheets’ have already become classics in my mind completely because of their ability to combine pop simplicity with something more enchanting, a dance edge, an electronic pulse that makes them unforgettable. Perhaps what I was craving from this album was variety, stomping dancefloor tracks alongside simple acoustic numbers that let Goulding’s voice take the front seat. Although having said that, it still completely does. The fact that there are no simpler numbers on the record only serve to make me excited for live performances, future albums, and the promising future that Ellie Goulding is undoubtedly going to have.

Marina & the diamonds – The Family Jewels

February 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Marina Diamandis is quite an enchanting being. This is apparent even in the first fifteen seconds of her eagerly anticipated debut album The Family Jewels, released yesterday (22/02/10) on 679 Recordings. The album’s opener, ‘Are You Satisifed?’, begins with lyrics addressing Diamandis’ feelings concerning her record deal (I was pulling out my hair the day I got the deal / Chemically calm / Was I meant to feel happy that my life was just about to change); right from the start we know this is going to be an interesting listen. We are given the impression that this record is going to be open and candid with the listener, inviting them to ruminate on what exactly they are willing to do for a more than average life, and whether or not they will feel fulfilled if they achieve it. And as the piano and drums kick in, accompanied by strings and synth, our ears know they are going to be entertained as well.

Prior to the album’s release, Marina commented to NME that we should expect “a body of work largely inspired by the seduction of commercialism, modern social values, family and female sexuality”, something that perhaps drew as many scoffs from critics as it did squeals from her fans – Diamonds to give them their correct name. Pop music has never been a particularly respected source when it comes to profound and insightful lyrics, instead being considered as the music we turn to when we just want a damned good sing along or something to dance to. In response to this, many an artist has tried to shun, shake off and distance themselves from the ‘pop’ label. Marina Diamandis is not doing this. And whilst it would be easy to listen to The Family Jewels and only hear superb pop songs, if you take a closer look you’ll find that she really does have something say. In fact, it starts right on the cover, where what may look like a pretty font choice is actually a reference to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, founded in 1969 to explore and document the cult of celebrity that so captivated him. Parallels can be drawn here with Diamandis’ current single ‘Hollywood’, the seventh track on The Family Jewels. Critics taking the song at face value have knocked the lyrics for being self-indulgent, especially the line Oh my god / You look just like Shakira / No no, you’re Catherine Zeta / Actually my name’s Marina. If they were to listen to the song a little more carefully they would see that this line is a reference both to the way typical fame-crazed L.A. girls speak, and how quickly fame can push you towards being something you’re not.

‘Hollywood’ is not a track in which Diamandis claims she has it all figured out. She sings about Hollywood both attracting and repelling her, letting us know that her mind is (or at least used to be) All filled up with things benign. The same can be said of the album as a whole, it is more of an exploration into the life of a young woman trying to escape the pitfalls and traps of modern living than it is a solution for said problems. ‘Mowgli’s Road’ tells us of Diamandis’ struggle to know exactly just who she wants to be, similarly in ‘The Outsider’ she contemplates whether feeling out of place is something that should be accepted or challenged. It is these self-questioning tracks that seem to work the best. There isn’t a song on the album which isn’t enjoyable, but these two, along with ‘Girls’ and ‘Oh No!’ are my personal favourites. On the latter, Diamandis sings of watching herself become what she said she would not. The track is laden with keyboards and stomping drum programming, which manages not to sound too artificial, instead achieving a captivating sound that makes you want to turn this one up LOUD. ‘Girls’ references the tendency women have to cut each other down, obsess over calories, and live by the values society dictates to them, all the while accompanied by a rumbling drum beat, throbbing bass line, and a chorus that will stick in your head for days.

‘Mowgli’s Road’ starts off with a Cuckoo, just one of many vocal quirks that are found throughout the record. Lyrical content and implied beliefs aside, Diamandis’ voice is the real heart of the album. Some critics have panned her for trying too hard, producing annoying vocals, making herself sound highly unnatural, but in my opinion every single enunciation, stress and inflection adds to the character of the album. Obviously there were critics who felt being a British female warranted comparisons with Lily Allen and Kate Nash, and came out with the opinion that Diamandis was trying to emulate them. Not true. It has always been my opinion that Allen and Nash made their vocals so ‘interesting’ because their songs weren’t, and I have never been anything but annoyed by them (Allen/Nash fans have berated me for this opinion many a time). In this case however, the vocal nuances truly add to the songs. In ‘Hollywood’ the previously highlighted line draws attention to the meaning of the song, in ‘I Am Not A Robot’, the staccatoed vocals add irony to the statement I am not a robot, and in ‘Mowgli’s Road’, the Cuckoos add to the lyrical implication that Diamandis is bewildered and somewhat lost as she faces life’s many decisions. Perhaps my favourite moment of the whole album is found in ‘The Outsider’ in which Diamandis declares I grinned at you softly, cos I’m a fucking WILDCARD.

It’s not all upbeat, ecstatic energy though. One of the album’s finest moments comes in the form of ‘Obsessions’ a song in which focuses more on piano accompaniment than electronic elements. The vocals here are heartfelt and loaded with emotion, as Diamandis sings about a love affair filled with doubt, unpleasant thoughts and, well, obsessions. Here we see that Marina Diamandis is not just a quirky pop star. There is much more to her. In fact, when you take the album as a whole, this is the feeling you are left with. She may indeed be quirky, but more than that, she is individual, and she doesn’t want to follow anyone else’s path. If the coming months and years bring more music of this quality, Marina & the diamonds is going to be a huge success.

Listen to The Family Jewels here.

Buy The Family Jewels here (and help knock bloody Glee from #1), where you can also find ‘Rootless’ as iTunes free single of the week.

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