The War on Drugs, Francois and the Altas Mountains, Tycho & Sisyphus

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Artist_The War on Drugs

Title_Lost in a Dream

Label_Secretly Canadian

Genre_Rock, Folk Rock, Melodic, Prog Rock, Synth Rock, Alt Country

Moments of_ Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Big Star, Richard Ashcroft

Stand Out_ Under The Pressure, Burning

The War on Drugs released the severely under-rated outstanding ethereal 2nd Album Slave Ambient in mid-2011, an album that boasted confidence and strength, blending epic soundscapes with delicate alt-rock/country ballads.  It was an album that many (including us) listed as a Top 10 release for 2011/2012. Lost in a Dream is the bands 3rd full length album that continues the band ethereal journey into epic and often beautiful song-writing.  

Lead singer and songwriter Adam Granduciel used to write music with Kurt Vile. Back in 2008 and previous, they were kindred spirits and wrote music that patched together all the influences they aspired to be including Velvet Underground, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed.  With Kurt Vile going his own way, Granduciel built his band to where they are today.  Lost in a Dream is another grand and emotional album that will finally give The War on Drugs the recognition they completely deserve.

Unlike Slave Ambient that tended towards the more soundscape jam out feel with hugely epic songs, this album takes a more modest step back without compromising its immense intensity to create a full sounding album.  The influences are still there on Lost in a Dream with Granduciel still sounding like Dylan and Petty’s (Tom) and the music itself could easily sit alongside a “how to play like Springsteen and his band”.

The first two opening tracks Under The Pressure and Red Eyes (first single) flow with such great urgency thanks to the endless rolling drum and bass combination, they surge through the speakers.

Granduciel equally writes such delicate ballads that are not too dissimilar to The Verve in their later days, tracks like Suffering, Lost in a Dream and In Reverse show a complete open heart side to the band and play out so beautifully.  Their gentler songs are just as powerful as the bigger driving songs and they provide a perfect combination on this album. Matched with their now trademark interludes and short instrumentals, the album is put together as if to be heard from start to finish. Having read that Granduciel went through a very emotional break-up during the album, it is clear that the heart pours out honestly on all of these songs.

An Ocean In Between The Waves sounds like a pumped up Dylan while Disappearing takes a step back into the 80s with an impressive reverb sounding drum beat and weeping guitars.  The sound is a slightly different angle for the band but again, sounds well-suited to the album.

Lost in a Dream  is an immaculate album that shows a band capable of sheer power, confidence and a touch of vulnerability.  Although not as epic as their previous album and perhaps more in keeping with the days of Kurt Vile, Lost in a Dream is an accomplished album that damn right should get these guys the recognition that they deserve.

Having seen them live last year in the oddly chosen Northcote Social Club, the band struggled to reach the heights that they did on the album Slave Ambient but hopefully with an achievement and slightly easier listening album, they will storm the stage live, not to mention the bigger venues they will no doubt fill.

9

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francois piano ombre

Artist_Francois and the Atlas Mountains

Title_ Piano Ombre

Label_Domino

Genre_ Electric Folk, Indie Pop, Electronic, Synth Pop

 Moments of_ Stereolab, Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura

Stand Out_ Bien Sur, Bois, La Fille Aux Cheveux De Soie

Francois and the Atlas Mountains are British band that sing in French and sometimes a little bit of English.  This is all thanks to front man Francios Marry who likes to sing in his native tongue despite the band forming in Bristol.  This is the bands fourth album following on from their warmly reviewed album E Volo Love.  Piano Ombre is an album of genre diversity taking us through their usual quirky sounds but this time around, showing a more developed and produced sound, that doesn’t lose its fun and sprinkles of pure happiness.

I quickly gained a soft spot for Francois and the Atlas Mountains after first hearing their most famous single Les Plus Beaux on BBC Radio 6 a few years back.  I was in a great mood that day (for some reason I can’t recall) and this catchy, laid-back pop song sung in French sneaked through the speakers and charmed my ears.  It was Francois and his band singing something in French and whatever he was saying it sounded lovely and sweet.

There is however more to this band then their sugary radio-friendly French pop with many of their songs sounding a little dark and sad.  Then again, as I can’t understand French, they could well be singing about the complete opposite.  Nevertheless, Francois & the Atlas 4th Album (2nd album with the brilliant Domino Records) is a moderate step forward for the band and sound like they have found a nice stride and happy medium.

Yes there are a few sugar coated songs on Piano Ombre (meaning Shadow Piano), but take for instance opening track Bois with it’s eclectic mix of layered drums, vocals and experimental prog-pop.  Swirling trumpets towards the end reminding me of Spiritualized’s Cop Shoot Cop, a fantastic opener to the album and at a complete tangent to their previous work.

Most songs are sung in his native tongue but they of course try not to alienate their non-French types and sing a few songs or some verses in English and adds a nice dynamic to their unique sound.

First single La Verrite (means the Truth) is eccentric and up-tempo with  squeaking organ sounds, jangly guitars and an almost lyrical rap by Francois Marry that is lifted with a cool sounding wah wah guitar effect (good to have it back).  A bit of brass thrown in for a bit more pleasure and what you have is an instantly catchy song.

The Way to The Forest has Francois singing in French and English, the english accent gives it complete charm, as he sings about running into a forest and being out of breath while La Fille Aux Cheveux De Soie  (translates as The Girl with Silk Hair) takes a turn for midnight shuffling sounds, perfectly suited to downstairs dive in deep dark Paris (In a strange moment in my own little head, I heard what Morrissey would sound like if he decided to sing in French.) This is a gorgeous song and one of my favourites.

The sound of Summer of the Heart takes lead from the success of their Les Plus Beaux with its rolling drums and laid back feel.  Title track Piano Ombre almost had me rushing for the translator to understand what Francois was crooning about, but I fear I may ruin the ambience and affinity that I have for the band.

Bien Sur (meaning Of Course) is a wonderful closing track that had me thinking of the love I had for Stereolab during the “Ketchup” days.  The song is built with sweeping violin and gentle keyboards, its quirky, innocent and rather beautiful. All the things you will either love or hate about this band.  The track works itself up to a synth-crescendo and glides us gently down for a comfortable and completely enjoyable experience.

8

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Tycho

Artist_Tycho

Title_Awake

Label_ Ghostly International

Genre_Ambient, Dream Pop, Electronica

 Moments of_ New Order, Bent, Bonobo, Boards of Canada, The Album Leaf, Washed Out

Stand Out_ Spectre Ss

Tycho AKA Scott Hansen has been writing electronic, blissed-out instrumentation for over 10 years although not many would have heard of this sound sampling mistro.  Having self released his first EP back in 2002, Tycho’s sound has developed through the years and with the follow up release to Dive (2011), Awake again comes packed with a collection of dream-pop, synth and guitar effect lead instrumentals.

In it’s entirety, Awake sounds like it could have come right out of the late 90s early 00’s  with its layered guitar effects, simple drum machine beats and atmospheric soundscapes. Following on closely from his well-received album Dive, this is another album that fills your ears with beautiful soundscapes that would sit nicely as a soundtrack to any art house movie release.

This is an album that really only works when heard from start to finish as there really are no stand out tracks, rather a journey of chilled-beats, repetitive guitar licks and atmospheric samples.  Opening track Awake sets the tone for the rather short 35 minute journey.  What sets Hansen apart from many similar artists of this genre is the predominate use of rolling bass guitar, that shows clear signs of New Order, thanks to its simplicity and strumming nature.

Montana is a perfect example of this with layered and delayed guitars introducing a brilliant bass riff, you are almost waiting for Bernard Sumner or the like to take grip of the microphone.  Third song in L lifts the tempo of the album with some hand-claps and reverberating guitars that completely feel your ears.  It’s a great track and has a real sense of life and euphoria about it.

The album hits a peak with See as it leads into an almost free jam of guitars, keys, bass and samples leading into Apogee with an almost drum and bass intro before resting into what Tycho does best.

Spectre has the biggest production sound on the album with an addictive New Order inspired drumbeat reminiscent of the Substance album released all the way back in 1987.

Fittingly, the album finishes with the drifting kaleidoscopic sounds of Plains that see Tycho focus on the wondrous layering sounds of his guitar that leads into a swirling soundscape right to the end.  An album that really should be heard with headphones on a night of solitude and happiness to be enjoyed and appreciated.

7

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Artist_Sisyphus

Title_ Sisyphus

Label_Asthmatic Kitty

Genre_Experimental, Rap, Electronic, Electronica, Hip Hop

 Moments of_ Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, Massive Attack,

StandOut_ Rhythm of Devotion

Sisyphus is a collaboration of Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti and Son Lux that saw these artists collaborate through the inspiration of artist Jim Hodges.  This conceptual and completely diverse album was commissioned by the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music, advocators of collaborations through classical experimental streams.  The result is an album of contrasts and luscious moments that show amazing production talent from all three artists.

With just one quick listen to Sisyphus you can tell that this is most definitely a collaborative effort between three passionate artists.  You can hear every bit of ambition throughout this album as every song has 3 distinct layers, a unique sound that clearly shows three minds hard at work.  I know a bit about Sufan Stevens works, particularly the fantastic work he did with the soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine and the brilliant album Illinois. His work is accomplished, structured, well-considered and quite masterful in its production.

Calm It Down is the first track and rips straight into a rap number, a genre that continues throughout this self-titled album, while the second track shows clear signs of Stevens influences with sweeping vocals, with Son Lux leading the way with the introduction of the darker beats that remind me of Massive Attack during their Mezzanine days.The true collaboration starts with Rhythm of Devotion, where Serengeti raps with some aggression before Stevens takes vocal lead with a gentle response, it works in the most peculiar way and is a stand out track on the album.

There are so many sounds here that are worked into one track, not much comes close to it.My Oh My is another collaborative example of 3 minds at work at once, it is somewhat disjointed but has moments of goodness although like some tracks on this album, gets a little messy and loses direction.Hardly Hanging on goes deep and dark with Stevens ghostly sampled vocals washing over some harsh constant synth sounds and mixed up drum beat, before rolling into the muted grungy beats of alcohol that tells a story of the effects of alcohol and what appears to be a message delivered from the influence of Jim Hodges work.

As far as an album goes, this is very much a conceptual album, spawned from the influence of a rather abstract and dark artist whose subjects tell stories of sex, AIDS, drugs, loneliness, fear of death, love and beauty.  Understanding this gives the album a little more clarity so should be listened to this with such elements in mind.

To be reviewed as album, well that is a hard one.  Listen at your own peril, perhaps I need to learn more about Hodges work to appreciate this album.

4 5

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