Boil-in-the-Bag Reviews: Spring 2013
Crikey, this blog is looking dusty.
I must apologise for not posting in such a long while, but my main reason is quite simple: having just come to the end of my second year at university, exams have been holding me prisoner in recent weeks. As such, I’ve had to put pursuits such as bloggery aside for a little while to focus on tending to my degree. However, now that the doors to summer are about to be blown down with full force, I can finally turn to reviewing and rambling once again. Huzzah!
So, to recommence proceedings a little easier, here are some capsule-sized reviews of seven albums, which I’ve had on the backburner for the past few months. I realise that some of these reviews may now seem a little irrelevant, but given my pedantic nature, I thought I should give them a fair airing before cutting them out of my will entirely.
There remain some albums of this year which I have heard but don’t yet feel quite ready to comment on, among them the most recent offerings by Phoenix, Local Natives, By The Rivers, Queens of the Stone Age and Laura Marling. I’ll hopefully be delivering some fresh-smelling full reviews for the latter two albums within the week, but for now, please enjoy perusing and debating my write-ups for the following seven LPs. The scores may be belated, but for the curious among you, here are my judgements.
David Bowie – The Next Day
I won’t pretend that I’m an authority on David Bowie and the 23 studio albums he released prior to The Next Day. However, while this doesn’t put me in a great position to judge his explosive return in comparison to the rest of his discography, hopefully it means I can consider it against the wider world of music with a little less baggage. And as an album in its own right (and not just as a hallowed comeback), The Next Day holds its own rather magnificently. Fiery, impassioned, and musically lean, it’s a thrilling and thoughtful listen; one that firmly proves that Bowie retains his gravitas as both a master storyteller, and a commentator of modern times.
From the swagger of the title track to the dread-laden march of Heat, The Next Day is by turns bitter, fun, energetic, furious, and emotionally sharp. Although it houses one or two minor slips across its duration, it largely gels as a consistent and cohesive listen. The skyscraping brilliance of The Stars (Are Out Tonight) swoops into Love Is Lost‘s chilling claustrophobia, and the charged drama of numbers such as You Feel So Lonely You Could Die mark The Next Day as a marvellous addition to anyone’s canon. It’s great to have Bowie back, and on this evidence, he’s still got plenty to offer.
“They can’t get enough of that doomsday song / They can’t get enough of it all.”
Bastille – Bad Blood
There’s nothing wrong with writing a good pop single, and Bastille have achieved pretty remarkable success in that field: Pompeii ate the airwaves upon its release, and Laura Palmer is doing the same right now. With their big hooks, big choruses, and fronted by the quavery tones of Dan Smith, the formula for radio success was pretty nicely set for such three-minute tasters. Sadly, when spread over 40 minutes, that formula wears very thin, very fast.
As Bad Blood continues, the style and sound of Bastille can’t help but sound increasingly more vapid, with each song wafting by in an all-too-familiar mesh of lo-fi synthesisers, flavourless piano lines and “oh-oh-oh” refrains. And unfortunately, that voice becomes very, very grating, especially on overblown ballads such as Oblivion and Overjoyed, both of which struggle to assert themselves as anything more than sop. It’s a shame, because there are earworms and a handful of lyrical nuggets to be found, such as on Icarus and Laura Palmer, both of which manage to inject proceedings with a dash of urgency and finesse. But on the whole, when packed into a single unit, the music of Bastille is too inoffensive to satisfy.
“And if you close your eyes / Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
To lay my cards down at the offset, Mosquito is the weakest of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ discography so far. It lacks the raw power and continuity of their previous releases, and there is less of a stylistic through-line, which results in a slightly sporadic, unpredictable listening experience. This isn’t necessarily a weak point, but when some of the cuts on offer meander rather than soar, the parent album can’t help but feel as if it sags here and there.
On the flipside, as a bag of glam-punk pick-n-mix, it’s brimming with colour and character. Sacrilege is a stick of dynamite which blows Mosquito open with a holy bang; Under The Earth groans and grinds deliciously, and the closing couplet of Despair and Wedding Song ends the whole show on an achingly beautiful high. Mosquito isn’t mindblowing, but it carries with it a few treats which are well worth seeking out.
For my full Mosquito review, bounce on over to The Boar Music.
“Through the darkness and the light / Some sun has gotta rise.”
James Blake – Overgrown
James Blake‘s self-titled debut was one of the strongest albums of 2011: an exquisite collage of neo-soul, dubstep and experimental music, all coagulated into one sumptuously cohesive whole. Its follow-up, Overgrown, doesn’t find its creator moving away from that original’s template too drastically, but it does find a stronger sense of confidence and maturity at its disposal. It’s clear in Overgrown‘s title track: a painfully intimate comment on stardom’s dislocation from intimacy. Strings swell, the beats click along stoically, and Blake’s cracked (but impressively-expansive) vocal blossoms into a perfect encapsulation of loneliness.
Although the arresting potency of its opening salvo doesn’t quite last the entire length of the album, Overgrown should be commended for its tonal consistency. Blake’s focal moods are conveyed throughout the likes of Digital Lion‘s fog just as well as the more overtly dramatic cuts, such as the disquietingly off-kilter single Retrograde. Building to a finish which offers a strikingly barbed catharsis (“we’re going to the last, you and I”), Blake’s second album is a sonically enveloping experience, yet one which is never inaccessible.
“So if that is how it is / I don’t want to be a star / But a stone on the shore…”
The Flaming Lips – The Terror
We’re a long way away from the rainbow-coloured art-pop of The Soft Bulletin: The Flaming Lips‘ thirteenth studio album is a dark, disturbing listen, and not one for the faint of heart. Following the density of 2009’s Embryonic, The Terror represents a shift into even thicker, smoggier territory, with mechanical, dystopian textures now dominating the whole board. Sidestepping expectations following the upbeat single Sun Blows Up Today, the suite of songs which compose The Terror are unrelentingly bleak, with the fluidity of the album reflecting the depression, future fears and the twin paranoias of Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd.
Coyne’s voice never fully breaks through the saturation of distorted synthesisers and mangled effects, instead remaining subdued and heavy-lidded behind a harrowing wall of sound. As a manifestation of the album’s namesake, it’s a brave stylistic move, though this does make The Terror a tough record to stomach across 55 minutes. Indeed, such an intense, despondent design does become exhausting in the album’s latter half, when the fledgling hooks begin to blur dizzyingly, but for its refusal to compromise – as well as the clarity of its singular, twisted vision – it’s certainly a significant monument in the Lips’ career.
“Ugly and magnificent / Your selfish eye can’t see itself.”
Tribes – Wish To Scream
If you weren’t familiar with the backstory of Tribes before clamping their sophomore record over your ears, you’d be forgiven for not realising that the four-piece actually hail from Camden. Such is the big, brash stamp of Americana on Wish To Scream that they sound closer to the wide open plains of Route 66, rather than the boroughs of northwest London. In itself, this shouldn’t necessarily pose a problem, but the music itself now sounds so overproduced and ham-fisted, that any real mettle within Tribes‘ music has been lost in translation.
Some of their sounds remain pretty, but there’s little substance behind the surface sheen. Dancehall, Never Heard Of Graceland and Englishman On Sunset Boulevard are all-too-heavily loaded with lyrical bluster, and feature guitar parts which grunt rather than bite. It’s this lack of any real steel which is Wish To Scream‘s biggest flaw, and despite a few saving graces here and there (among them the rumbling How The Other Half Live and Wrapped Up In A Carpet‘s baggy thump), Wish To Scream flails where it wants to fly.
For my full Wish To Scream review, bean across to The Boar Music.
“Twisted and bent out of shape / We might need a change of direction.”
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
To get it over with quickly, the biggest qualm I have with Random Access Memories is that its pacing is a little sloppy. But if that’s the most prominent problem I can find with this album, then it speaks volumes about the quality of the music itself. Indeed, Daft Punk have delivered admirably with their great return to the fold of studio albums.
Led by the biggest Fuck-Off World-Eating Single of 2013 so far, Random Access Memories is an epic, sweeping journey through many musical realms. Old-school fans remain catered-to with Fragments Of Time and Doin’ It Right (which seamlessly incorporates the tones of Panda Bear), but there are delights from other genres in abundance, too. The album’s centrepiece, Touch, is an eight-minute passage of grandiose glory, seguing from otherworldly, rumbling beginnings into a Disneyish swell of choral vocals and Paul Williams‘ piano-bedecked laments on needing something more. (Also, any other children of the 1990s get Croc vibes from that jazzy interlude?) Such freewheeling joie-de-vivre seeps through damn near every song on offer here, and even though the record’s tempo fluctuates with each entry, the pervading atmosphere is one of a feelgood tonic for the ears and the hips.
Yes, it’s a splattery platter of genre-hopping, copious guest stars and only five of its tracks clock in at under five minutes. Kind of chaotic, then, but oh-so-much-fun. Embrace the lush production and unashamedly theatrical aesthetic: this is a record built on foundations of pure enjoyment. Here comes the summer…
“… and I said, ‘wait a second… I know the synthesiser – why don’t I use the synthesiser which is the sound of the future?'”
Posted on June 25, 2013, in The Music World and tagged Album Reviews, Bad Blood, Bastille, Daft Punk, David Bowie, James Blake, Mosquito, Overgrown, Random Access Memories, The Flaming Lips, The Next Day, The Terror, Tribes, Wish To Scream, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.