The great thing about our weekly New Born Contributors is the diverse opinions we get. Each week our Contributors take their pick on a handful of albums that we throw up for grabs with the idea that they may well review an album that isn’t particularly their kind of thing. Well this week’s New Borns struck lucky for each of our Wandering Lamb’s as they certainly reveled in their choices. We take a listen to the majestic vocal and musical talent of Swedish songstress Lykke Li, to the soul rock inspired sounds of Curtis Harding. We maintain the quintessential indie vibe with the delicately pure melancholy release from Papercuts and the unmistakable but now more psychedelic-infused return of The Black Keys. Yep, it’s another mixed bag of New Borns that urge your musical ears to tune in to. Over to you….
I Never Learn is the third album from the Swedish pop songbird who has come full circle in the completion of this latest release. Following on from 2008’s Youth Novels and 2011’s Wounded Rhymes, the progression in styles and emotions reflects upon her romantic rollercoaster. Almost in a cyclic manner we follow her search for love, not finding the love she longs for and finally finding the love she seeks and leaving it. Recorded and produced with Björn Yttling (of Peter, Björn and John fame) and Greg Kurstin (who has worked with Lilly Allen, Tegan and Sara, The Shins), the album’s release was also accompanied by a short film starring Fares Fares, who also appeared in Lykke Li’s video for I Follow River.
Where Lykke Li first caught the ear of critics with the release of her debut EP Little Bit in 2007, it was the experiment bass bounce of indie pop stylings and electronic party tunes that had everyone talking. Taking influence from sources as broad as a childhood love for Michael Jackson, first breakups and artistic mentors, Lykke (full name Lykke Li Zachrisson) uses her music and creativity as a kind a therapy, providing courage, strength and diversity in her music. She has even worked with cult director/visual artist/musician David Lynch on the song I’m Waiting Here for his album The Big Dream released last year. It is no surprise that an artist with such varied artistic background and worldly life experiences is able to craft such complex and extraordinary songs and with this, an album as rich and deep as her dreams could take her.
On title track and album opener I Never Learn, we are eased gracefully into the mood by a strong acoustic rhythm, string accompaniments and a surprisingly strong and projecting voice from a reinvigorated version of the Lykke Li we have come to know. It seems that the courage that she has gained during her musical career has finally started to shine through and is most effectively represented in this last offering. Other examples include No Rest for the Wicked and Gunshot where smooth but powerful instrumentation and catchy pop melodies are juxtaposed against the almost stadium ballads that scream for the open road or a rainy night at home with the one you love.
Even the themes and complex lyricism featured throughout the albums do more that to just hint at the tumultuous history of Lykki Li’s relationships. Whether it be crying out for real emotions on Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone (‘even though it hurts, even though it scars…will you love my scars so I can heal’) to the album closer Sleeping Alone where she reassures herself that the heartbreak won’t last forever and that ‘someday, somehow…if you save your heart for mine, we’ll meet again’. It’s most definitely a complex mix of sentiment, desire and affection which have provided the backbone for this album; hence it feels almost natural and effortless how the construction and presentation of the melodies meld with the renewed and smooth voice of Ms Li. As if a weight has lifted from her shoulders, she has shaken off the fears of being able to express her true feelings without hesitation and thus the real spirit of the songs are able to unfold.
It seems like this trilogy of albums has been fittingly concluded with I Never Learn. Does this now mean that we won’t be hearing anything more from Lykke Li? Or will she be reinventing herself once more? It’s somewhat exciting to imagine what could happen if she does find some stability and the one she really loves finally returns with an open heart. In the meantime, open your own heart to her story and enjoy the adventure.
Artist_ Curtis Harding
Album Title_ Soul Power
Label_ Burger Records
Genre_ Soul, Grunge, Indie Rock
Moments Of_ Curtis Mayfield, Jeff Buckley, Al Green, The Spinners, Robert Cray
Stand Out_ Castaway, Heaven’s On The Other Side
There’s been sufficient buzz around Curtis Harding and with good reason. He’s backed the likes of hip – hop heavy weights Cee – Lo Green and Outkast, whilst gaining traction playing with his band, garage – soul Georgia natives Night Sun collaborating with the likes of Black Lips guitarist/vocalist Cole Alexander; their mutual love of gospel music serving as a mortar in numerous artistic collaborations. Harding also featured as an artist for the St Laurent Music Project (the fashion house features numerous rock stars in their attire, both modern and vintage) as well as chipping away at his debut solo effort. His blend of garage rock and soul sets the tone for Soul Power, a curious mix of sounds that is contemporary and bold with all the necessary trimmings of soul and some BB. King inspired riffs to round out the arrangement with appropriate gusto.
I had stumbled upon some of the Michigan raised Harding’s work via social media but hadn’t really given it much of a second thought. I came up pretty chuffed though after giving this one a decent whirl. Soul Power is an interesting amalgam. I think I half expected to hear Aloe Blacc with a douse of the other Curtis thrown in for good measure (indeed, I am referring to the late great Mayfield here) but I was pleasantly surprised with the nuances on this record. Its meek at times but raucous when called for. Despite being humble in its execution, its wonderfully relevant although at times I feel slightly polite. There’s a pleasantly modern sheen on here, which could have easily gone the way of predictability or even worse, mediocre to the point of teetering towards obscurity. But if you’ve been privy to any of Night Sun’s stuff, you may have already expected some pretty progressive efforts, the Atlanta underground scene having the courtesy of being thoroughly acquainted with their digs. Yet Soul Power showcases a much smoother side to Harding, a little bit of old mixed in with something new. He dubs his distinctive brand of melodic fare ‘Slop n Soul’, harking from the Southern slang of ‘slop’, meaning to be made up of ‘bits and pieces’.
This album delivers, I was pretty pleasantly surprised and it managed to go a few rounds on repeat over the last week at mine. Next Time serves as a modern soul offering, opening with a smooth, bluesy vocal, Robert Cray inspired riffs and crunchy, irreverent percussion. Castaway proffersa beautifully crafted lament that pulses with doo – wop sensibility (Winehouse would approve) longing and loves lost, haunting but tetchy enough to keep you on your toes. Keep On Shining a direct homage to the other Curtis with all the classic soul tropes present complete with horn section plethora and John Legend timbre, one of the highlights on this one for me. Freedom churns with earthy beats and the caress of muted ride symbols beneath a floating falsetto and Surf is as garage as your bicycle complete with air guitar – worthy solo. Heaven’s On The Other Side perhaps a real standout for me, replete with Nile Rodgers inspired backing punctuated by brass medleys and general feel – good grooves.
I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. Harding’s take on modern soul is resplendent with 60s/70s fusion, coursing horns and moody hooks whilst still being stripped – back and punchy. There’s enough variety on here to satiate most of your social scope as well as your in-laws at Sunday brunch. Soul Power is a gem, a vibrant debut that sparkles with promise and honesty, the very kind that comes effortlessly when everything still feels new.
Album Title_ Life Among The Savages
Label_ Memphis Industries / Easy Sound
Genre_, Downtempo, Dream Pop, Indie Folk
Moments Of_ Kurt Vile, Beach House, The War On Drugs
Stand Out_ Life Among The Savages
San Franciscan performer/producer Jason Quever – AKA Papercuts – has released his fifth album, and it is pretty darned good. It’s not interesting, or new, or challenging, but this could be where its charm lies. Quever creates dreamy, uplifting indie beats to fill your headphones without being too boring. Marching to a steady beat, this is a solid (as solid as woolly pillow pop can be) and well-composed album.
Normally I’m pretty skeptical about consistent indie albums of this nature. “Heard one heard them all” would be too cruel and generalising a phrase to use, but something along those lines. This album though, while it ticks all the boxes for being in the sleepy, forgettable, safe-for-parents-and-dinner-parties category, seems something a little different and more pleasurable. I couldn’t tell you exactly why though.
The album opens beautifully, Quever launching into the rich and swelling Still Knocking at the Door. It’s a sweet and mournful song that incorporates orchestral instruments without seeming pompous – a rare feat. Maye it’s because Quever is such a master of orchestrating music himself; every instrument has a particular and subtle place within each song, whether it’s a violin, guitar or synth. Nothing is overused, his breathy vocals included.
The title track Life Among The Savages is easily the standout. It’s cut from the same cloth as the rest of the album, but it seems like the only coherent and full song within itself. Must be because it’s the closest to being catchy, the chorus tolling through the fog of unremarkable that threatens to cover the whole album.
Tourist, the albums final track, is a nice finale. It’s such a lovely day for taking a stroll down the rabbit hole… What? Quever’s vocals always blend with his songs so nicely, the actual weirdness of the lyrics sometimes seem a bit of a surprise. The piano riff that echoes behind this song is really lovely, a little goodbye march off the stage as the album ends.
All the songs, while not really that interesting or memorable in themselves, are wistful and lovely, and together make up an album worth paying attention to. Sure, you can put this on your work or background playlist, but you won’t be able to help awkwardly drifting off mid-conversation to listen.
Turn Blue is the eighth album from the incredibly funky blues rockers The Black Keys. Since their 2011 release of El Camino, producing tracks such as Lonely Boy and Gold on the Ceiling, The Black Keys have been hard at work, writing and recording Turn Blue, released on the 13th of May.Front man, Dan Auerbach, has heavily impacted the mood of this album, after his 2013 divorce. From the first track on the album, Weight Of Love, right through to the eleventh and last track Gotta Get Away, Auerbach has definitely not been shy with sharing his emotions.
Before you put your dancing pants on (don’t even try and act like you don’t own any), I warn you that this album is packed with mesmerizingly relaxing and psychedelic tracks that I think The Black Keys have nailed. The majority of the material on the album is melancholy and takes on a much slower paced mood in comparison to El Camino and Brothers.
6 minutes 50 seconds for a Black Keys song? CORRECT. First song in, Weight Of Love, being the lengthiest track the band have ever recorded, is an amazingly, catchy and heartfelt tune. Though the lyrics in this song are quite obviously on the sadder scale of things “I used to think | Darling, you never did nothing | But you were always up to something | Always at a run in…”, I can’t help but get a slightly sexy vibe from it. It’s very likely that Auerbach’s deep and soothing vocals, or maybe it’s the slow electric guitar assisting me in thinking this. Either way, I am completely in love with this track from start to finish.
I have a huge confession to make guys and gals… I was wrong about Turn Blue’s lead single Fever. On my first listen, I somewhat dismissed it as ‘just another indie pop track that we have all heard before on the radio’. That being said though, listening through the album as an entirety, the song is somehow refreshing within the context of the album. It is no wonder why this track was chosen to be released as the leading single. Fever (currently being the biggest track off the album) displays extreme amounts of trippy synth vibes, whilst also depicting plenty of emotion through the lyrics. It is the perfect amount of dance, funk and rock.
The last track on the album, Gotta Get Away, has such a rhythm and bluesy feel that just makes me want to slap a tambourine whilst sucking on a piece of straw, wearing overalls and a funky hat. You can picture it right? …Okay stop picturing it. Any song that allows you to sing ‘Kalamazoo’ at the top of your lungs, is 100% fine by me… “I went from San Berdoo to Kalamazoo, Just to get away from you.” The chorus is so damn catchy that you find yourself singing along to the lyrics the second time it rolls around. They have cleverly left the brightest and catchiest song till the end of the album. I am definitely not saying that the rest of the tracks are boring by any means, (though, personally I found Turn Blue to be fairly average).
Though The Black Keys appear to have returned to the groggy psychedelica, which they first explored on 2008’s Attack & Release, loving fans seem to be having an overwhelmingly positive reaction. I strongly suggest grabbing your best pair of headphones, a comfy beanbag, a delicious bev and getting loose with the slow burning warmth of this charming album!