We honestly don’t mean to keep choosing such brilliant albums each to review, we have been longing for a butcher for some time, but what are we to do when the world delivers all but gems. Again this week we bring you a cracking selection of albums that all our contributors had a soft spot for. I guess it just goes to show you our love for damn fine music and urge to share. Whether its a bit of dance music from the always unpredictable Hercules & Love Affair, the Baroque Pop of Owen Pallett (a genre new thanks to the request of our Contributor) and his lyrical queerness or the melodic personal journey of the very talented songstress Sharon Van Etten. There can be something quiet special about husband and wife duet albums, and this week we were excited to here of musical meeting of Dee Dee from Dum Dum Girls and shoegaze rocker Brandon Welchez, the result? Read on.
Artist: Hercules And Love Affair
Album Title: The Feast of the Broken Heart
Label: Moshi Moshi Records
Genre: Electronica, House, Dance
Moments Of: Glass Candy, Hot Chip, The Juan MacLean
Stand Out: I Try To Talk To You (feat. John Grant), My Offence (feat. Krystle Warren)
Andrew Butler, the New-York based mastermind behind Hercules & Love Affair, has pieced together another club-dance album, even more sassy and flamboyant than the last. The Feast of the Broken Heart is their third album release since self-titled debut album in 2008, and Blue Songs released in 2011, each demonstrating Butler’s love and knack for reconstructing vintage house music.
Any fan or follower of Hercules & Love Affair would know that their first album, headlined by the brilliantly haunting Antony Hegarty (of Antony & The Johnsons) is a tough act to follow, however their latest release stars a new selection of vibrant and memorable guest vocalists, including Krystle Warren, John Grant, Gustaph and Rouge Mary.
I heard their new album for the first time on the radio before I knew of their latest album release. I was curious and liked the song enough to ‘Shazam’ the track and find out who was responsible for the familiar catchy house beats and intriguing vocals. I was stoked to see Hercules & Love Affair light up my phone, with one of their new tracks, I Try to talk to you, featuring John Grant.
The album kicks off with another version or remake of Hercules Theme, which gives the album a strong and powerful entrance. From this point, it does not take a breath, rolling onto each song with just as much enthusiasm as the last. UK pop singer/songwriter Krystle Warren makes an early appearance on the album, in the song My Offence, showing off her strong, soulful and slightly husky voice. She reappears further through the album on The Light, a spooky track using sampled vintage telephone beeps and slide guitar, that she is able to own and make sexy.
I try to talk to you, featuring once Czars front man John Grant, was my introduction to the album and has since become my stand out track. His masculine, but serious and sad sounding vocal tones gives the song depth; grounding the playful and jumpy, high-pitched keyboard chords and excited drum beats. The contrast works, but may be confronting to some, as he captures the sorrow and darkness of gay culture, contributing his story of becoming HIV positive.
Gustaph and Rouge Mary have their own input, injecting their personality into the album giving it versatility and sass, as disco-divas have the ability to do.
The Feast of the Broken Heart provides a funky upbeat rhythm throughout the album, which is uniquely accompanied by a downbeat classic deep house groove. The two things I love about dance music. However, due to the concept of Hercules & Love Affair, Butler has put himself in a position where the track can only be as good as the singer. Therefore, it is impossible for me to not comment on the absence of Antony Hegarty, a guest vocalist and friend of the group, who appeared in their self-titled debut album in 2008. How do you follow on from the song ‘Blind’, and find a subsequent vocalist who can offer something just as unique as Antony, an intriguing character who has a voice strong enough and beautiful enough to touch your heart and feel your soul through dance music? The first album has had a lasting impression on me; however Butler has managed to bring together a talented group of powerful vocalists with enough edge and personality to bring uniqueness into each track.
Butler has successfully delivered an album that he deems to be “impolite” and “aggressive”, as well as an impressive polished performance reinventing old-school dance music, from acid house to funk flavoured disco.
Artist_ Owen Pallett
Album Title_ In Conflict
Genre_ Indie Rock, Baroque Pop
Moments Of_ Sisyphus, TuneYards, Placebo, St. Vincent
Stand Out_ The Riverbed, The Passions
In Conflict is the fourth studio album from the baby – faced, multi – instrumentalist machinations of Owen Pallett. In 2010 we saw the release of Heartland, Pallett’s first undertaking as himself, prior to that having sported a seemingly ingenuous pseudonym of Final Fantasy. More recently Pallett has risen to notoriety for his collaborative works with the likes of The Pet Shop Boys and Arcade Fire, specifically William Butler, their collective efforts resulting in an Oscar nominated turn for their work on the score of Her. In Conflict is seemingly more biographically than Pallett’s previous work, albeit still relatively reserved. I had the opportunity to look at this virtuoso’s latest digs.
In Conflict marks a new kind of venture for Pallett, whom in previous works had fashioned a kind of, working albeit decidedly fastidious persona that served as a point of discordance throughout his creative efforts – meticulous in projection, a caricature of nonchalant virtuosity, or perhaps just the musings of someone who is unnaturally comfortable speaking in allegories. Not to say that it was contrived by any means but it’s most certainly a very chaotic bag of tricks, a vested amalgam if you will. Oddly enough, also in Pallett’s wheelhouse lay a plethora of other seemingly innocuous instruments that combine to make In Conflict such a beautifully wistful yet still very technically sound album. I think its nice that despite his obvious proficiency, Pallett refuses to succumb to complacency, or simply resting on his raucous violin playing chops which is a pleasant surprise. Also featured are some solid forays in production combined with weighty, orchestral swoons, homogeneous rapid – fire percussion and Pallett’s occasionally sedate, incongruously sleepy choir – boy vocals.
As a writer, I also make mention of Pallett’s dexterous manipulation of device. There are points where the commentary oscillates between inconsequential irreverent, fodder to painfully candid. These lyrics are, deliberate, thoughtful and at times heart breaking. On I Am Not Afraid, Pallett laments with haunting candour I’ll never have any children/I’d bear them and eat them/my children. I’m gonna change my body in the and shadow of suspicion. The finality of the lyric and its imagery, although metaphorical speaks profoundly on a subliminal level, ironically posing potentially as a direct reference to Pallett’s homosexuality, perhaps a play on gender inversion or a simple show of camaraderie to those who are biologically unable to conceive. The title track In Conflict a violin looping furore with repetitive lyrics to match and Song For Five and Six presenting a frenetic, all out diatribe of sonic collisions, a humbled chaos anchored yet again by that easy, somnolent timbre. The Passions is a brooding, sullen expression where pinkie fingers and fellatio fumble with lack of intent and The Riverbed is an initially nostalgic revisit complete with horns on the intro, before barreling to its rock infused verse and chorus. There was a Placebo type sensibility in this track, which I really enjoyed as well.
I had always viewed the violin as a puritan type of instrument, and I don’t think I’m alone on that one. That view could be construed as irrational or just plain asinine but an artist with the ability to reconcile contemporary music with this instrument invariably gets my snaps. Not to mention boys just got mad skill. In Conflict is a rousing display of baroque pop enmeshed with some fairly impressive, technical ability. In Conflict of what though you ask? I can’t be sure, but the confusion was welcome all the same.
Artist_ Sharon Van Etten
Album Title_ Are We There
Genre_ Moments Of_ Mazzy Star, Adele, Karen O
Stand Out_ Your Love is Killing Me
This week is a conundrum for me; a talented songstress with beautiful melodies to boot pulls an Adele. But it works, as it always does with Sharon Van Etten. Are We There is an album that truthfully records Van Etten’s joy, anger, despair and all other emotions and musings on her relationships. Instead of joining the flock of self-pitying singer-songwriters that seem to own the genre of heartbreak music, Van Etten offers something more visceral, immediate and musically emphasised. Read on to watch me squirm over my principles of strong women in music.
Sharon Van Etten’s music generally stands for what I don’t like; relationship albums. Think Adele, Duffy, songstresses who are brilliant in their own right, yet seem to focus all their talent on heartbreak and the tragedy of losing a man. Yep, you knew it was coming, feminist on the loose. Sure, there is a market for heartbreak songs, heck, I’ve made my share of gratuitous self-pity playlists that feel so darn right when you’ve just been dumped. Nothing like singing along to Lorraine Ellison, that scene in The Boat That Rocked pretty much hit the nail on the head when it comes to my break-up pattern of behaviour. Sometimes, though, when it’s a whole album, or a songstress’s main repertoire, it feels a bit tired, and to be honest, a bit pathetic. Come on woman! Stop wallowing, pick yourself up and realise there is more to your identity than your relationship status! But we’ve been side-tracked, back to Van Etten.
As I said, I usually am not a fan of this kind of album, but there’s something in this that I love. Sure, you can tell it’s about relationships. There is raw emotion, vulnerability, downright terror, anger and all that in here. But it’s still listenable. Is it the grunginess that balances it out? Adds some meatiness to an otherwise pop-driven genre?
Your Love Is Killing Me is my favourite. But it seems to be everything I hate – “You like it / When I let you walk over me / You tell me that you like it / Your Love Is Killing Me”… Could there be anything more grating to the ears of anyone with a basic idea of gender equality? But the song itself is so amazing. Her voice soars and echoes over a marching drumbeat, it’s easy not to listen to what she’s actually saying. Not that that is any excuse to condone abusive relationships, but it does help a conflicted listener like me. Am I reading too much into this? Is it merely a truthful and emotional woman’s album of her relationships, and that’s how she likes them? I don’t know, because the next song, Our Love, is as sweet as the previous was harrowing.
Our Love is anthemic and gentle at the same time, Van Etten crooning about a confusing and uncategorical, but still real, love affair. I feel myself swaying and murmuring along to the chorus. Van Etten, this is my kind of relationship song. I think it’s the way Van Etten pays just as much attention to the orchestration as to her voice, it muffles the emotion in the song in a way that makes it more palatable. Maybe its because she looks really hip and together in her latest video clip , and I want to be her. I’m even wearing a black turtle neck like she is, twinsies! Maybe I’m just making excuses, I Love You But I’m Lost and Break Me prove that I think. Everything I am against on principle, but I love ‘em.
So what have we learnt here? That I like to parallel my personal life to hilarious English feel-good films. That I think Adele and Duffy’s talents are wasted on soppy breakup songs. That sometimes there are exceptions to my rules, and Are We There is one of them. There are some moments that deserve some criticism from a feminist perspective, but sadly, healthy relationships rarely make for good song writing material in Van Etten’s case it seems. Excuses and critiques aside, this is a relationship album, and it’s a good one. So listen in.
Artist_ Haunted Hearts
Album Title_ Initiation
Label_ Zoo Music
Genre_ Art Rock, Dream Pop, Indie Rock
Moments Of_ The Kills, The Horrors, No Joy, The Jesus and Mary Chain
Stand Out_ Something That Feels So Bad Is Something That Feels So Good, Johnny Jupiter
Initiation is the debut release from Haunted Hearts, the moniker of husband and wife duo Dee Dee from Dum Dum Girls and Brandon Welchez from Crocodiles. With both boasting a musical resumé rich with indie dream pop and fuzzy post punk macbre, the collaboration has sparked much attention for fans of their respective bands and those just curious to see what they could accomplish. The album was recorded in San Diego in 2012 (the first taste Something That Feels Bad Is Something That Feels Good was also shared in 2012), mixed and mastered in New York and now finally the finished product released in late May 2014.
Taking influence from gloomy New York winters, a mutual love for Motown and Krautrock, the initial idea and concept for this album was to bring a soundscape for an underground S&M party in downtown Manhattan in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Whilst the themes and lyrical inclinations most definitely hint on such secluded fantasies, the overall sound and feel of the album is somewhat more modernised.
First single Something That Feels Bad Is Something That Feels Good is a jaunty road-trip bounce, until you listen to the lyrics. Dee Dee’s smooth vocals are as seductive as ever whilst encouraging you that ‘it’s alright, you can tie me up if I can tied you down.’ Current single Johnny Jupiter and also Up is Up and So Is Down follow a formula of solid dream pop, perfect for late nights, gloomy weather, cheap spirits and longing for that someone so elusively lost. In comparison is the ballad Love Incognito, an 80’s tinged confession letter highlighted by singing guitar solos and Dee Dee’s effortless melodies. Album closer Bring Me Down is the epitome of an album closer, lulling you into a wonder of soothing vocals and atmospheric organ tones. Almost like the apology after the album has taken you through a wonderment of emotional deviations.
The main problem with two piece bands is that you only have two people in the band. It’s kind of obvious but it’s really a major logistical issue in terms of utilisation of instruments. Some are able to do I really well, providing a massive sound irrespective of there limited personnel. Or in some cases a more stripped back sound is the aim of the game, and you have all the instruments you need. In terms of Haunted Hearts, at times they aim for engrossing and layered textures, and it can feel slightly manufactured when you know that there is only so much a drum machine and a loop station can do. It would be great to hear what this album could have been if indeed they recruited a whole band to piece it together the old fashioned way. Or maybe that is the allure of it, especially for the artists as a duo in their personal world of fuzzy guitars, retro synthesisers and the romantic boy/girl vocal play.
While in itself there is nothing innovative about Initiation, it’s more of a homage to the scene they emulate as well as the musical relationship between the duo. The album itself is like a forbidden affair; half an hour of weaving and caressing your ears before you know it it’s all over.