Saturday, 18 December 2010

Hello, It's Us Again

I know we've been awfully quiet for a while now, but we promise to make up for it. We've changed hq, joined a new team, and now you can find us here at IMACS. Hope you'll enjoy this new site and the articles.

UPDATE 14 February 2011. And just in case you were wondering, we use our real names on the new site. I'm Raluca, Nancy is Ana. Thought you should know about this. Enjoy the reading. Love, Leilana.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Same Music

Some called them one of the most influential and innovative British bands of the '90s. Others called them too experimental and obscure for their own good. Whatever your opinion is, one thing is clear: Stereolab are not a band that can just be ignored. They've been around since 1990, released nine studio albums to date, and managed to survive a lot of line-up changes (including the death of one of their members back in 2002).

However, even the toughest of us need a break every once in a little while. Last year, it has been announced that the band will go into indefinite hiatus – and that probably broke the hearts of many people. In spite of that, or maybe because of that, they also scheduled for November 2010 the release of their tenth studio album, called Not Music. Now, you might ask: Not Music as in "This is not music, this is something above music, and you should be grateful you listen to it" or as in "We're making no music for you from now on, ungrateful bastards, so listen to this and realise what you had lost!!!". Who knows? Perhaps both of them.

If there is one thing Stereolab were especially good at (except the fact they always made people believe they have Marx's photo hidden in their wallets), then that must have been their amazing ability of making music that managed to sound different each time, and yet still the same. In time, that became their trademark, and of course the surprise element had been lost. So it will be only natural for you to think Not Music follows the same pattern they got us used to.

And it does indeed. First, Laetitia Sadier's mysterious vocals are the same as always, and it will make you wish you were born a French able to speak English (and thus able to understand her better). Second, the sound had not changed a bit. In a way, that's a really good thing. It spreads the same vintage and warm feeling in the air as it always did, making you feel at ease. Unfortunately, this is not enough to keep your attention all of the time. It surely is nice as background music, but it lacks any kind of sparkle. Sadly enough, perhaps the most interesting moment of the album is Atlas Sound's remix of Neon Beanbag, but that does nothing but to prove you what a great musician Bradford Cox is.

It would be exaggerating and unfair to call Not Music a bad album. Rather than that, this is the type of album, you hear, play and enjoy without truly loving it with all your heart. In a way, it makes you think it's better Stereolab decided to take a break, but it also makes you wish for them to return in a couple of years with a new release able to remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place. Let's say that for now it will do.

*Photo courtesy of Stereolab's official site.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Not Yet, But Close Enough

Suede is not a band that needs any introductions, as you've probably heard thousand of times things like "the resurrection of British music", "the band that appeared on a cover of a magazine before even releasing a single" or "the ones that started the Britpop movement". So I'll start this article by mentioning a simple fact. When they disbanded, back in 2003, Brett Anderson stated "There will be another Suede record. But not yet."

This year, Suede reformed and that made the hearts of many people beat faster. At this moment, however, it's still unclear if the above mentioned new record will ever see the light of day. What it's truly clear is that they still love each other, and if the gigs played until now weren't enough proof, the release of their new material surely is. "New" is perhaps an inappropriate way of describing it, as it seems to be a memento rather than a comeback. The material is called The Best of Suede and it's their first official release in seven years. Chris Potter was involved in the remastering of the songs, together with Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler. Yes, that Bernard Butler. Who said that miracles ceased to exist?

The album spans two discs. The first one features all of their singles, with the exception of Positivity (nothing surprising there, as Anderson talks about this song as being the one that destroyed the band) and Attitude. The second disc is a mix of various songs from their first three albums and several B-sides that also appeared on their Sci-Fi Lullabies compilation.

While it's true that Suede's lyrics were never too diversified (we all know Anderson's lyrical obsessions with drugs, relationships and fashion and how he could never get rid of them), it's also true the instrumentals are pure genius in all aspects, even after so many years. And that's it. No more words are needed, as it's impossible to properly describe songs like The Drowners, We Are the Pigs, Trash or Killing of a Flash Boy without writing in caps lock the word "epic" after each one of them. And honestly, reading a whole "epic" paragraph serves neither your purposes nor ours.

In more simple words, The Best of Suede is finger-licking and a wonderful way to (re)introduce the audience to their music. If you're familiar only with their singles and unfamiliar with the rest of their songs, this disc will serve as a perfect beginning for you. If you're a connoisseur, the best you can do is put your headphones, close your eyes and remember how damn good this band is. And who knows? Perhaps Anderson will remember his own words and in a few months we'll be able to write about the sixth Suede album.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

All His Songs

Moronic and douchy behavior seems to be the standard nowadays. And it’s mostly the people who call every band that seems different or they haven’t heard of a hipster hence douche band. (Yes, we know hating hipsters is cool now and, guess what, this makes you cool… hence a hipster) Sadly, Toronto-native John O’Regan, better known as Diamond Rings, is bound to get the same treatment. With his blond Vanilla Ice-like coif, rainbow eye make-up, choreographed Gaga-like videos and words like “highly anticipated” used by the whole of the blogosphere, he does seem like an easy pray.

Luckily, for the rest of us, he is in fact just a very creative artist who is not afraid to explore and experiment. Irony, pastiche and all things concerning postmodernism aside, his love for 80’s new-wave and 90’s techno beats, his nostalgia for all things neon-coloured and all glittery eyeliner, his Ian McCulloch-scented voice are all beautifully entangled on his “long awaited” (yes, I did) debut, Special Affection.

While O’Regan might put up a mask in his videos, his lyrics are like a bleeding heart. When he said the writing the words to his songs is his favourite part, he sure wasn’t lying. They do tie up the album wonderfully. It’s all about one big catharsis, a stand for independence (and sometimes he sounds like a woman trying to break free from all conventions), all wrapped in the album finale All Yr Songs. I’ve been bad and mean to you, but you right my wrongs/ I do try, you know I love to sing all your songs he muses as he finally says it loud and clear that it was all about needing someone who hurts and is hurt by him.

His songs are built on a great simplicity: he uses pretty much the same two drum-patterns, some synth work and a lot of his heavy voice. But what makes him finger-licking is the shamelessness with which he creates one infectious POP song after the other out of so little. Glitter, smeared makeup and no apologies. And while it’s all just the extension of one Bowie-esque flamboyant persona, he spreads his wings more than once. The intro, Play By Heart, creates strange goth layers thanks to its piano and soaring vocals. He dwells in cheerleading chanting like on Give It Up. The cinematic It’s Not My Party uses heavy distorts to build up a wonderful tension before the ‘show it all’ last track. And, while Show Me Your Stuff is not on the album, You Oughta Know fills in the shoes of the hard-glittered new wave song just wonderfully.

Sure, most songs have been around since 2009. But this does not take away any bit of the album’s greatness. And, if it was necessary to say it anymore, Special Affections with all its RESPECT ME vibe is a wonderful almost 10/10 pop gem, melodies sparkling with a force that laughs hard in the face of all douchebags who think he is nothing more but a poser.

Friday, 22 October 2010

All You Need Is Just A Little Patience

When you hear someone saying Wish You Were Here, the first thing that comes to your mind is Pink Floyd. So I guess this might be a good reason for The Concretes to call their new album WYWH instead of Wish You Were Here. After all, everyone wants to be original, right? However, in certain aspects, this band is not exactly your type of regular indie pop band. They started as a trio back in 1995, now they're eight and only a person left the band. Pretty unusual.

But let's focus on their new release, because that's the main reason you are reading this article, no? It's hard to say something about this album after the first listening other than that it's the same old recipe. As you might have guessed, it's not because the songs are a hard pill to swallow whole. The Concretes are well known for composing songs that include heavy orchestration, while being at the same time pop-friendly and light. The tracks on WYWH make no exception, being really nice and lovely and bringing you peace in your soul yada yada. The problem is that this is the only impression you'll be left with after the first listening. The album serves as a really nice background – too much friendliness, but no sparkling.

However, if you're a person who does not give up too easily, you'll probably press the play button again. And it will definitely serve you right. It takes two, even three listenings to completely understand and enjoy the instrumentals. Yes, they are light and keep a simple path, but sometimes it takes a lot of hard work to achieve simplicity. It's true there's nothing chaotic here, nothing anxious, nothing that will change the meaning of the world as you knew it. But every single drum beat, every guitar chord, every organ note seem to be especially written to illustrate the meaning of the word "harmony". It seems like The Concretes wanted to prove us there are two things that will stay the same until the end: the law of gravity and their music (and I'm not quite positive about the first one).

And after you've listened to this album three times, you might be surprised to realise that there are actually some songs that ask for their rights to your love and appreciation. Like Good Evening, the first track, a song built on a really simple drum beat, with guitar coming as reinforcement. Or Crack In the Paint that starts with a really interesting organ and throws in every now and then some horns. There's also Sing For Me with its eerie instrumental that serves more as a background for the amazing vocals and WYWH, perhaps the most catchy song on the album, with a rhythmic beat that will force you to tap your foot from the start till the end.
And while WYWH might disappoint those of you who are not patient enough or/and in a hurry, these tracks prove that, if you'll pay enough attention, you'll realise there's much more of it than it seems at the first listening.

*photo courtesy of The Concretes' MySpace.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

An Autumn Dream

Some say autumn is perhaps the most depressing season of the year. Dead leaves, cold rains, the feeling that everything that has a beginning also has an end... you get the main picture. Thus, to call an album Autumn, Again might seem self-explanatory, perhaps even a bit disappointing for those of you who are craving after complicated and sophisticated metaphors. However, it's A Sunny Day in Glasgow we're talking about here, so leave behind every preconception you might have.

The story of this band is rather a happy one, including two critical-acclaimed albums (in spite of the multiple line-up changes). So it's only natural for you to ask yourself with what they've come up this time. Well, if we were to talk in terms of sound change, there's nothing much to say. But A Sunny Day in Glasgow was never the kind of band that can be labeled or associated properly with other bands and music genres. Even from their first album, it seemed that their main goal was to reinvent the meaning of the word "dream". And the story continues successfully with this new release.

You get it from the first seconds of listening. It's still there, you can feel it: a sound as delicate as you knew it, simple without being boring. It makes you feel dizzy, happy, nostalgic, and takes you far away, into a world where everything is possible, including floating on the air. The songs merge into each other so well and naturally, that you'll probably reach the fifth song without actually realising what happened. The impression of a never-ending dream is accentuated by the vocals, which are as eerie and beautiful as you remember them.

There are indeed certain moments (less than you'd maybe want) when the dream becomes more colourful. Fall in Love, the second track, will amaze you with its rhythmic beats, bubbly electronic sounds and voices that seem to be taken directly from heaven. Drink Drank Drunk is the kind of song which makes you dance while sleepwalking, whilst How Does Somebody Say When They Like You? carries a feeling of insecurity and timidity that will strongly remind you of your teenage years. And Calling It Love Isn't Love (Don't Fall In Love) is a wonderful mix of acoustic and electronic guitars – exaggerating a little, we could call it the "rock" moment of the album.

Autumn, Again might not be A Sunny Day in Glasgow's finest moment (their debut album keeps holding successfully that position), but is a really fine release, nothing less than we expected from them. Don't miss it, it's for free. I really mean it.

You can download Autumn, Again from here

*Photo courtesy of A Sunny Day in Glasgow' official site.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Panda World

Yes, we are completely aware yesterday’s post was about Avery Tare and today’s post is about Panda Bear. But this is in no way turning into an Animal Collective appreciation blog. We promise. In fact, we even promise to bitch about them if given the opportunity. Which means that right now we’ll just be happy that Panda Bear has a pretty awesome new single, You Can Count On Me. It kinda feels like a song straight out of Lion King so we can reminiscence about our childhood and those carefree days. It’s eerie and creates a dream world so it turns out to be a wonderful timeless recording. It’s so soothing that you can easily leave it on repeat for hours without even realizing it.

Where You Can Count On Me is sparse and leaves each instrument space to breath, Alsatian Darn, the single’s b-side, while maintaining the tribal feel and the dream-like state, is much more dense and darker. If the a-side is simple, the b-side has layers that are introduced with each second that passed and just when you’d think there was nothing else Panda could bring to the table.

Opportunity to bitch: when is Tomboy EP coming out, goddamn? Fall/winter 2010 is not a proper answer, ok? But I guess it’s only fair to say that, for now, these two songs will do just fine.(For now!) So press that repeat button and let yourself immerse in Panda Bear’s world.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Up and Down

It's safe to count Animal Collective amongst those bands that have at least a disc release every year. Let's not mention their side-projects. Apparently these people are too creative for their own good. So I guess no one actually got surprised when Avey Tare announced he will release a solo album. Actually the thought that it was about bloody time might have crossed many people's minds. Some say his favourite animal, the crocodile, played a big role in Down There. Fair enough, if we think at the artwork, and also weird. Not that weirdness would be something unusual in Avey's world.

The first single Lucky 1 made even more people bite their nails and wait impatiently for this album. The obsessively repetitive sounds in the background and the dreamy vocals were not something one could forget that easily. It was wonderfully disturbing. So of course one would expect for the record to follow the same path. And in a way, it really does.

The release as a whole is dark, claustrophobic and absurdly insane. You can almost imagine Avey with a know-it-all smile on his face, whispering softly "Hi, I came to play with your heads, do you mind?". And indeed, Laughing Hieroglyphic, the first track, starts with some words that are impossible to understand and continues with an obsessive and simplistic beat, dubbed by Avey's mesmerizing voice. It's perhaps one of the best opening tracks we've listened to in a while. And the awesomeness continues with 3 Umbrellas, an enigmatic, chaotic and complex piece, vocally as well as instrumentally, the kind of song that requires numerous plays to be understoond properly.

Ghost of Books' electronic beat will hammer your head and haunt you for days and most likely you'll end stalking your friends, trying to explain to them how that beat reinvented the meaning of "awesome". Cemeteries can be called the more relaxed moment of the album. Its instrumental and vocals make you believe you don't actually listen to it, but rather you dream of it. Then Heather in the Hospital carries you so far away from your time and space, that at the end you are simply unable to explain why you liked this track so much.

It's true, at certain points (most notable in Oliver Twist), Avey's craziness becomes way too much for one to handle, and the sound switches from insane to insanely boring, making you repeatedly wonder what's next. But despite this, Down There's a really nice release, and if you want to feel the effects of some illegal drugs without actually try them, then I guess this is the best choice you could make.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Age Of The Odd

Sufjan Stevens comes from a weird place. Spiritually weird place. He’s one of those artists who, even if hearing for the first time, are able to send instant chills down your spine and the sheer memory of their songs (a string here, one lingering vocal there) gives you goosebumps. With one album, Illinois, that can be considered a symbol of US indie and a series of Christmas installments, Sufjan is the kind of man who one could expect just about anything from. The fact that he was said to go full Digital Ash In The Digital Urn on us with his newest album was something like a new colourful ball added to the collection.

The Age of Adz aka the latest release is still strange for an electronica album because, at first, it doesn’t strike you as a ‘very electronic’ album. And by “at first”, I mean the opener Futile Devices. Title-aside, this two-minutes plus is nothing but a haunting string wonder and probably the only electronic thing about it is the fact that electricity was involved in the recording process. Not that this would be a bad thing.

So very much greater is the surprise when the rest of the album turns out to be a menacing yet heartwarming Flaming Lips-gone-rogue-after-too-much-pink-robot-love trip. Mind you, it’s still not what your Regular John calls electronica (but he has never spoken to the Regular John, has he?) and it still manages to capture the very essence of Sufjan’s musical persona (the ‘a string here, a lingering vocal there’ mentioned before). While on the surface it feels like an entire army of robots is marching to war, there’s an underlying layer made out of the same material the like of Chicago was.

Sufjan also does a wonderful thing. He creates a schizoid world inside each track. Sure, Age of Adz starts like a batshit crazy combination of random sounds, but it morphs into a dream-like sequence, soft echo-y vocals barely touching the surface of the instrumental, trumpets, strings and a gentle crescendo guiding the listener to a whole new dimension. Yes, the bleeps and scratches that open up I Walked are the ones that stick in your mind but this is merely the packaging: the gentle orchestral arrangements and the choir turn the song into a doe-eyed experience.

It is true that there are moments when bringing together the piano and church-like feel of Now That I’m Older and the 80s game-boy synth of Get Real Get Right, the slow-motion water-y loops of Bad Communication and the grand choir of All For Myself seems like patchwork. But on a closer look, it is clear that they send over the same message: that dream world is ever present, those chills never cease to go down and up your spine and Sufjan hits the spot just right. He doesn’t make just music, he create a fantasy world that, as strange as it might seem, turns quickly into familiar land.

What’s even more endearing is that he doesn’t want to play with you or mislead you. For with each step one tales closer to the last track, an emotional 25 minutes blend of bluesy wailing guitars, echoes, marching drums, loops, bubbly twee-pop and lines like “But all I want is the perfect love”, it is clear that Sufjan’s sheer purpose when adding abrasive electronica sounds to his music was to enhance every emotion and add a peculiar depth to the lyrics. We are not here to offer predictions as to what The Age of Adz will be for US indie in 5 years time. But we are here to enjoy one of the strangest and warmest releases this year.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Royal Failure

Somewhere, inside me (well, more like close to the surface), there’s an indie snob who puffs and moans at the thought of a new Kings Of Leon album. An indie snob who thinks Caleb should grow that beard back and start mumbling his lyrics again. An indie snob who finds it unacceptable that so many are listening to Kings Of Leon now, when back in the day they wouldn’t’ve touched them not even with a ten-foot pole. And, yes, one who wants to congratulate that pigeon. But there’s also a part of me that is happy the guys are enjoying some success. A part who thinks that Only By The Night is a good album. Sure, not as amazingly fingerlicking as the band’s previous records, but a good album nonetheless.

And even so, the indie snob wins if we are talking about Come Around Sundown. Which is a whole new level of low by anyone’s standards, let alone the ones who penned Youth and Young Manhood. Yes, I will bemoan the loss of the beards and hair locks and pissed off guitar riffs and their embracing of the phrase “We want to be U2 and want to fill that stadium faster again and again”.

Sure, Followills, you can rip The Breeders’ Cannonball bass as long as you’d like and Caleb can try wailing his way through the song. But Radioactive is still a poor joke of a lead single. And it pains me to say, but Radioactive turns out to be one of the best outfits on Come Around Sundown as it is capable of lingering around. Something one can’t really say about the rest of the songs. With all the downplayed reverbs, all the cheesed out guitar solos, all the annoying aching vocals, the band’s fifth album proves to be a hit-and-miss.

The list of faults seems endless. It does require a few more plays to actually see that, well, the talent is still there but, after those plays, you also see that there is no driving force or any reason to be enthused about the album. It tries to recreate a 50s vibe, but it isn’t daring enough and gets boring and repetitive way too fast. The lyrics are not even worth quoting. Caleb said he freestyled the lines and it shows as the words are more than cringe-worthy and add up to the impression that this album is put together in a rush and not actually something they put a lot of thought into. And as if this wasn’t enough, the far-too-polished production makes Come Around Sundown a bloated album that knows nothing about the joys of sharp corners. Coming from the band who did Four Kicks, yes, it’s a very depressing thing.

And no, I will not accept the whole “new direction, band is evolving” crap. No one in their right minds should accept it. Because there are far too many times when it feels like this album is in fact a step back (hell, many steps back). It’s a lazy record, heartless most of the times and deeply unengaging. It lacks the passion of their previous work and, without that passion, it seems blatant Come Around Sundown wouldn’t stand the trial of time. And by time, I am thinking of something like “two months”.

Songs Of Love And Hate

I like to believe that if you don’t like Belle & Sebastian, you have no soul. Your heart is beating for the wrong reasons and you should put yourself and the rest of the world out of the misery fast and make it stop. Then again, I believe in redemption and second chances so I will take their latest album, Belle & Sebastian Write About Love, as something that might save you from perdition.

Sure, some might argue that non-believers will not be convinced by the eleven new tracks. The record is, after all, nothing new for the Scottish group and is not what one would call their best. Or a musical triumph. It’s actually average and feels to sugar-coated for many. It lacks the force of the Stuart Murdoch’s social comments. It is not even adventurous sound-wise and stays on territories the Glasgow-based band knows all too well: fizzy indie pop.

But what Write About Love lacks in development, it makes up for in artistry. And, while taken as a whole, it has its moments when you can’t help but call it ‘dull’, there are pieces that sparkle. Like the bittersweet disco-scented I Want The World To Stop with its shimmering drums, full-blasted chorus and backing vocals. There’s undeniable sweetness in the drums and pianos that create the main layer for the ode-to-simpler-things I Didn’t See It Coming. And while Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John, the Norah Jones featuring, is far too easy listening and quickly becomes one of those boring moments, the Carey Mulligan duet, Write About Love, feels like a little gem. Indeed, its 60s aesthetics make it a wonderful first single and, even if the lyrics are a bit gauche, it’s still hard not to see it as a perfect singalong.

What might upset some as well is the happy-go-lucky feel of the whole album. Yes, Belle & Sebastian are no longer writing sad songs and, as I’ve said before, there is a certain gaucheness in penning socially aware lines. But Write About Love is hardly an album the band should be ashamed of. Or the fans, for that matter of fact. Because if it’s one thing this record deserves applause for, besides some exquisite musical pieces, is the fact that is marks the return of one of Scotland’s best bands.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

99 Red Balloons

There are some people that never seem to sleep. Like David Andrew Sitek of TV On The Radio. He is a member of one of the craziest and most original bands around. He is what one would call a sought-after producer with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Scarlett Johansson and others in his portfolio. I seriously doubt the man lays his head on the pillow. Still, he pulls another string of sleepless nights and adds one more thing on the ‘what I’ve done so far’ list: Maximum Balloon.

He does them both here, songwriting and producing. It’s the singing bit that he leaves to a number of guest vocalists and “star-studded” doesn’t even begin to describe the album. David Byrne, Karen O, bandmates Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, the Swedes from Little Dragon to name some.

Hipster wonderland this is but the rules Sitek lays down are more pop than anything. He cites Prince, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper as influences for this project and drops the intricacy of TVOTR for a neon-lighted fun-fair. It still is wonderfully layered and thick, noisy even, but its funk and glamour are more important than anything.

There is also a lot of the singers’ persona here. Communication feels like something that would follow Yeah Yeah Yeahs It’s Blitz, with Karen O seductively taking hold of the spotlight. Apartment Wrestling is the perfect embodiment of just every reason why David Byrne is so great. Tunde Adebimpe makes Absence of Light a remarkably dark beast, the bleeps and howls adding a sense of urgency.

Sitek knows there is no need to be coy and goes full throttle on the listener, leaving no real moment for us to take our breaths. From the highly infectious 80s synth and luscious vocals provided by Celebration’s Katrina Ford on Young Love and the gameboy-scented outfit If You Return, its masterfulness enhanced by Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano vocals, to the almost surrealist background of The Lesson, it all feels like a whirlwind of great pop tunes.

It’s hard not to feel terribly excited about this album. Sitek’s talent seems to have no boundaries and neither does his boldness. And, amongst all the fun and incredible song crafting, what makes Maximum Balloon so great is the terrible sense of unity, not once leaving you that stale taste that this is sheer patchwork, not a solid record, like most featuring albums do.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Hymn To Modernism

John Hughes did many great movies and with those movies can the soundtrack of a generation. Right up there, next to Psychedelic Furs’ Pretty in Pink, are Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark with their If You Leave. Having long ago secured their place in pop history, OMD have nothing to fear now, in 2010. Besides the fact that this, History of Modern, is the first album the classic line-up has recorded since their break-up in 1990. There must have been at least a hint of emotion and some butterflies in their stomachs when thinking what the fans will make of their studio return.

And truth is they should be a little worried. History of Modern sounds sickening and frustrating because there are far too many moments when it sounds like New Order would after having too many fizzy drinks and after Peter Hook took one too many happy pills. There’s a certain clumsiness here and it’s frustrating hearing it manifest itself so freely. Sometimes is particularly annoying with its loops and scratches and female vocals. Just the synths and Andy McCluskey’s voice and it would’ve been a perfect song.

There are, what you’d come to believe after one hour, happy moments. Fortunate accidents. New Babies: New Toys could be this decade’s If You Leave and The Right Side? is a masterful tribute to Kraftwerk and their Trans-Europe Express. The first and the last track. What comes in between is so pastiche it’s painful. It sounds too cheesy and too forced. In the 80s? Sure, anytime. Well, not really But today? Down right unaccaptable. The Future, The Past, And Forever After makes your ears bleed with its high notes and cars through the Autobahn noises in the back. Lyrics and unnecessary oxford comma ignored for our own sake.

Hymn to modernism? Yeah, right. History of Modern, sadly, fails to impress. Wrong direction, wrong time for such an album, wrong ideas all crammed on one record. We could give them credit and hope that the greatness it still there, somewhere. But we’ll also need it to resurface and we need OMD to make a decent album if they want to go down gracefully.

Postcards From South Wales

There is no proper way to start a Manic Street Preachers review. Sure, we could talk about Nicky Wire and his latest over-quoted rant. We could wonder where is No Manifesto and why do they delay its release. We could reveal our unhealthy obsession with everything about the guys and make a joke about Sean Moore’s gun collection or James Dean Bradfield’s love for pies that only hardcore fans will understand. No, there will not be any lamenting over the disappearance of Richey Edwards, deal with it. But what bothers me the most is that I don’t know what to make of the band’s tenth studio album, Postcards From A Young Man.

It is a strange release. Not that it is something (completely) new to the Manics: it is somewhere in the vein of the grand orchestrations of Everything Must Go and the over-the-top choruses of Send Away The Tigers. Sure, it’s nowhere near their previous work, Journal For Plague Lovers, but it shouldn’t amaze anyone as it comes from a different place. We were even prepared for this at times overblown sound by statements like “last shot at mass communication” and “Van Halen meets The Supremes”. (While others might be appalled, we Manics fans giggle with joy when hearing such things.) It is pretentious and tongue in cheek, just what we’d want from it.

And there is no denying it has moments when it outshines all the glitter in the world. The first single, (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love, is annoyingly catchy and creeps under your skin only like a proper Manics anthem should. Some Kind Of Nothingness features the delightfully silky voice of Ian McCulloch and lovely choirs. A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun builds up tension wonderfully, Duff McKagan’s bass gracing the airwaves. I will even ignore how tone-death Wire is and say that The Future Will Be Here Forever (yes, I am also ignoring the stupid song titles) is endearing.

Truth is, it is a very good album, bar the occasional cringe worthy verse that is, after all, one of the many reasons we love Manics. The trouble with Postcards seems to be how un-engaging it is. Maybe because it comes straight after Journal, a release that takes hold of you instantly and, somehow, I expected Postcard to do the same thing. Maybe some people are right and this album was recorded too soon after Journal. Maybe it just requires a few more plays before actually sinking into its world.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Back In Business

There are many bands that release an album (or two), enjoy success then disband and become history. Few of those bands decide to reform after almost two decades and release a new album.The Vaselines are one of those few bands. They were born back in the '80s and disbanded shortly after the release of their first full length album, Dum Dum. In 2008, they got back together, initially only for a charity event, but things became more serious. In fact, things became so serious, that now you have the occasion to enjoy their second album, Sex With An X.

The band picks up from where they let us more than twenty years ago. However, the sound is far from being obsolete. The album is a story about broken relationships, which is no surprise if we think about the relationship between Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee. But it’s not a sad album. On the contrary, Sex With An X is sarcastic and, in its own twisted way, full of energy. This is obvious even from the first track, Ruined, which starts in a very passionless way, giving you the impression that you listen to your great-great-grandmother's gramophone. After less than 30 seconds, you are completely turned upside down by the craziest guitar you can imagine. And just like that, the journey starts.

It seems that these twenty years have passed only in our minds, because The Vaselines sound as fresh as they did back in the '80s. The guitar riffs are annoyingly catchy, the only real exception being the last track, Exit the Vaselines, a really nostalgic piece, lyrically as well as instrumentally, on which the band slows the train, proving you they also know the meaning of the word "ballad".

But the best part is the lyrics. "You feel so good, it must be bad for me / Let's do it, let's do it again / You look so right, it must be wrong for me / Let's do it, let's do it again", Kelly sings on the title track, Sex With An X. Free translation: do not go there! But Kelly and McKee believe the both partners are guilty if a relationship goes wrong. Lyrics like "I've got the devil, the devil's inside me, I've got the devil in me / And it won't let go / He made me fight, he made you fall / He made me push you against the wall" make it pretty obvious. It's the story of two people who know their qualities and especially their defects, a dialogue full of irony and at the same time, full of strange tenderness. The climax is reached in It Wasn't All Duran Duran, which brings auto irony to the highest level you could ever imagine. "What do you know? You weren't there / It wasn't all Duran Duran Duran Duran / You want the truth? Well this is it / I hate the '80s 'cause the '80s were shit".

If it's true that few are the bands that decide to come back after a very long period of time and release a new album, then it's also true that even fewer manage to come up with a decent release. This is one more reason for you to appreciate Sex With An X and give The Vaselinesa warm round of applause.

*photo courtesy of The Vaselines' MySpace

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Gin In Teacups

There’s this series of burning question I ask myself each time of Montreal take out a new album. Are they taking the piss? They must be, right? Art Snob Solutions, anyone? Suffer For Fashion or… or whatever? It is just their irony-free love for Eno, Bowie and all glam rock the source of all the flamboyance? And why is Kevin Barnes prancing naked on stage? Elephant 6 and all Prince references aside, of Montreal are here with their I-lost-count-and-hell-if-I-care album, False Priest. Who, you know, could be the indie star they were talking about on Gronlandic Edit.

We could, of course, beat around the bush, write a two-page review about how it sounds and how Barnes is one crazy cupcake. About how False Priest really manages to be sexy and funny, put a smile on your face each time that cupcake pens another lyric about love-making, lyric that will be sang in a blasé or high-pitched voice and that will charm us even when the reverbs are off the hook. How the piano is bubblier than Robby Bubble. How the little pink cupcake is still, inevitable, a depressed and miserable one because glitter is not the answer to everything. And how, just as inevitably, the cupcake drowns in melancholia and sadness disguised as overly-dramatic pianos, movie references and whispered lyrics.

Or we could just draw the line and say that Barnes doesn’t really want to change his persona. That tongue-in-cheekiness, funk, groove and strange arrangements are all here, present for the party. Well, I think the first one is here, maybe Barnes disapproves. That, no matter how rough the guitars get the disco ball still lights the room in which Barnes dances to 70s-pastiche tunes. That even if they go and have a duet with Solange Knowles, of Montreal still love ungodly mood shifts, schizoid instrumentals and too-intense-for-you quirkiness. With an extra touch of strobe lighting.

Yes, of Montreal are still divine and worth taking in heavy doses each day. False Priest feels like one would be when they’re high on marzipan. It swiftly grabs the limelight and asks you to take a ride with it in the fun fair teacups. And while it might not be particularly better than Hissing Fauna or a step forward, it still provides many moments that will reassure us that loving of Montreal is the right thing to do.