Future Islands, Foster The People, Lyla Foy and Bryce Dessner (The National) & Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)

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 Artist_Foster The People

Title_Supermodel

Label_Columbia/Startime

Genre_Electronic Rock, Indie Pop, Synth Pop

Moments of_ Vampire Weekend, Blur, Artic Monkeys, Bombay Bicycle Club

Stand Out_ Ask Yourself, Best Friend

CALI-FOR-NI-A popsters Foster The People took a bit of time out, grew up a little, reveled in the success of their first album Torches and return with their decidedly anticipated and eager second album, Supermodel. Unlike their debut that delivered so many “pumped-up” tracks packed full of sunny vibes and very catchy pop tunes (aka Pumped Up Kicks), Supermodel shows signs of three boys growing up and reeling in their funny bones. The album is a clear journey of re-discovery for these likely lads, but reminds itself that life also has its good times.

When Pumped Up Kids was officially released in early 2011 many of the top DJs around the world embraced it with excitement and jubilation but apart from its catch chorus, I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about however on good listen to the lyrics, it all made sense. A pop song that refers to American School Massacres and as dark and sinister as this was, from a song writing point of view, it was clever and poignant. I began to appreciate the song and soon purchased Torches, the debut album that had catchy songs, quirky sounds and generally an all round brilliant debut.

Oh the pressure of a second album, why do bands generally write their best albums first? Is it the fact that is a first released that hold no grudges or is it some deep seeded psychological listening experience that just makes us think “the first album always reigns supreme”. (Well, that is a whole other feature story so stay tuned for that one!). Unlike Foster The People’s debut, Supermodel comes across as a deeper, darker album in comparison, which is not always a bad thing but may have past fans a little uncertain of their relationship.

Opening track gets right to business with Mark Foster (Lead Vocals) punching into some great lyrical action against rolling drums and bass, it’s a kicking track and a nice lead on from Torches. Actually there a lot of tracks that are kicking on this album without bordering cheese-American-type pop, despite a lot of the “Na Na Na Nah” that I think only American bands can get away with.

First single from the album Coming of Age, it’s a clear single on this album with power chords, great synths and an impressive chorus that deserves its merits. Foster’s vocals are outstanding on this track and so much different from what he delivered on Torches. Nice track.

The problem with this album is the “first album”, the band (or its fans or the amount of times we heard Pumped Up Kids) is that there are too many sound variations that make the album sound uncertain of itself. Tracks like Nevermind, Goats in Trees and Fire Escape show a band who have quickly grown up with sentiment lyrics and stripped back sound. Again, it isn’t all that bad, just unexpected.

Fans and festivals will be happy to hear Best Friend and A Beginners Guide to Destroying the Moon (think Blurs Song 2), no doubt would get a bit of mud slinging at Glastonbury this year. Hang on, are they playing Glastonbury?

So, to slate this album would be unfair, although many already have been a little nasty, it’s just that it wasn’t what we were expecting I guess. Supermodel has some real stand-out moments but perhaps just not enough or will it be that after the release of album three we will look back and realise what these boys wanted to achieve with Supermodel.

6 5

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 Artist_Lyla Foy

Title_Mirrors The Sky

Label_Sub Pop

Genre_Downtempo, Melodic, Accoustic, Indie Folk

Moments of_ Kate Bush, Martha Wainwright, Stevie Nicks, Feist, Bat for Lashes, Dido

Stand Out_ I Only, Easy

 Lyla Foy is a talented young singer from London who got signed to Sub Pop Records, after dropping her stage name Wall and now joins the ranks of similar genre players like Beach House, Washed Out and Iron & Wine, who also appear on this label. Her debut Mirrors The Sky is a gentle debut that bridges the gap between laid back beats, folk soaked harmonies a few synthesizer oddities that match quite nicely with Lyla Foy’s dusty and soft vocals.

There is something that I find instantly captivating when I hear a voice that sounds so delicate, all it really requires is a great big hug to fix. Lyla Foy has a great voice, not in the ability of range, but in the ability of vulnerability and this pretty much sums up this album, one of vulnerability. Opening track Honeymoon begins with a lethargic drum beat and quietly mixed guitars and keys that can really only be heard on headphones but like most of the tracks on this album, it is Foy’s voice that is the real winner. This track in particular cant help me thinking of Martha Wainwright at her melodic best.

The most up-tempo song on the album is I Only and one of the best tracks on the album with its catchy chorus and lightly funky bass rhythm, it is a direction that Foy should really play a little bit more with as most of the other tracks on this album retain their down-tempo and slightly sombre feel, although she does this rather well.

Tracks like Impossible, Rumour and Warning reflect a folk influence that appears to be where Foy is most comfortable at, her voice so well suited to this style and the simplicity of the music on these tracks help define the unique voice that she delivers.

The first single from the album Feather Tongue, like Only Human are stripped back songs with lyrics of love and its uncertainty. There is not much to these songs but the minimal space and repetitive beats make these songs the perfect accompaniment to just laying back in a semi-state of consciousness.

In a little over 35 minutes the album comes to a sudden end and what you are left with is a sense of familiarity and softness in your ears. This is a modest debut from a very talented songwriter who has quietly stepped out from her studio bedroom with a sweet offering.

7

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 Artist_Future Islands

Title_Singles

Label_4AD

Genre_SynthPop, IndiePop

Moments of_ Tindersticks, Destroyer, Elton John, The Postal Service

Stand Out_ Seasons (Waiting on You), Back In The Tall Grass

 From now where came an dubious looking man in slacks who held a microphone with such intensity and emotion whilst dancing like your “uncle at the wedding you didn’t want to be at”, belting out lyrics like it was the last day on earth. I’ll explain all this in a moment. Future Islands are a band out of Baltimore and now signed to the impressive 4AD (they know when they hear something special) and made up of three unlikely men who write synth-pop songs but not like what you have heard thanks to the melodramatic vocal of Samuel T. Herring.

By now you may have already read about a band that performed live on Letterman that had some fella darting around the stage in a pair of trousers with a tucked in shirt belting out their recent single Single with such melodrama against a dead-pan band. Well this was Future Islands and to date over half a million views, not bad for a band fresh off the mark. Well, this is all good and well but is this a case of YouTube creating hype for all the wrong reasons? Many may laugh and mock Samuel T Herring, but you don’t have to listen hard to think beyond crazy moves and realise that this is such a great song.

There is so much life on this album, from opening track Singles (Waiting on You), Spirit, Sun In The Morning, Light House and A Dream of You and Me, each of these songs carries the almost (already) trademark constant bass strum and circling synths that guide Herring’s emotively captive vocal. It should be added that it is so nice to hear the Bass Guitar playing such an important part on an album (coming from an ex-Bass Player).

I couldn’t help think that the song Singles is what Elton John would sound like if he decided to go all “synth-indie” as Herring really does have Elton moments when the chorus kicks in. I may have ruined the song for many now, sorry about that.

The quieter moments on this album are equally powerful thanks to Herring continuing to belt out songs with such passion and urgency, you could easily mistake yourself for being caught up in the melodrama of the 80’s. Many have tried to capture this whole 80s thing over the last few years but Future Islands, who would have lived through the 80’s in their late teens, hit the sound right on the mark and are not afraid to bare their cheesy hearts.

Herring sings Fall from Grace with such fierce intensity that his aching vocal turns to one of pain and death-metal where at 1 minute 36 seconds a demon takes hold and growls out the most unsettling vocal. I felt rather disturbed.

Singles may well be the most unique and original album release we will hear this year (okay Perfect Pussy may be on equal par) and this is an album that although may not win the hearts of a few musical listeners out there, really needs a good few spins to appreciate the intensity and slight tongue-in-cheek element to this band.

I urge you to watch this clip and start learning the moves of Herring in preparation for what will be a band that has to be seen live to be appreciated. Good times!

7 5

 

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 Artist_Bryce Dessner (The National) & Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)

Title_St Carolyn by the Sea/Suite from “There Will Be Blood”

Label_Deutsche Grammophon

Genre_Classical, Experimental

Moments of_ Krzysztof Penderecki, Aaron Copland, John Adams, Iannis Xenakis

Stand Out_ Raphael (Dessner)

The National’s guitarist Bryce Dessner and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood make their label debut as composers for orchestra on prestigious German classical label Deutsche Grammophon in performances by the Copenhagen Phil conducted by Andre de Ridder. The album features three compositions by Dessner together with a suite of music drawn from Greenwood’s score to the film “There Will Be Blood”.

Most attempts made by musicians from outside the field of “classical music” proper to write fully notated music have been fairly terrible. If never quite as hilariously atrocious as Michael Bolton’s album of opera arias they have often had an air of “vanity publishing” to them as if made in a literally pretentious attempt to prove themselves. Thankfully both Dessner and Greenwood appear to have nothing to prove. Dessner has a masters degree in composition and classical guitar from an ivy league university and Greenwood (despite apparently leaving his academic training unfinished) has never hidden his interest in music “outside” the genre in which he works.

Of the two sets of work on the album I find Dessner’s the most successful (in a reversal of my preferences for the bands that have brought them the fame that made this album possible in the first place). “St Carolyn by the Sea” for electric guitars and orchestra is inspired by Kerouac’s evocation of the seascapes of Big Sur. Thankfully it manages to avoid sounding too derivative of its obvious models in the orchestral music of fellow Americans Aaron Copland and John Adams. It is definitely an “American” music, opening with a sense of vast open spaces and building to a climax based on short rhythmic motifs which are strikingly cut off at the end. It is in some ways too well orchestrated for its own good as the material is developed only by changes of colour and I found myself wishing that something meatier had been done with the memorably snappy rhythmic figures. I found the most interesting piece to be the sombre “Raphael” which is a conscious tribute to the drone music of the 1960s and suspends slowly moving, melancholy harmonies over a softly dissonant chord on a wheezy old harmonium.

Greenwood’s music for “There Will Be Blood” impressed me in the context of the film itself but is neither as formally inventive nor as convincing as Dessner’s and remains I think far less interesting than Radiohead. Like other Greenwood works for the orchestra such as “Popcorn Superhet Receiver” it is an odd mixture of “normal” diatonic harmony with string effects deriving mostly from the avant-garde of the 1950s (yes the effects are that old). Shorn of their original context and meaning (the massed string glissandos invented by Xenakis in 1953 were originally entirely abstract in their intention) they sound like mere embellishment juxtaposed with rather basic materials. A rather disappointing ending to an album that opens with promise.7

james2

 

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