Everyone needs a little respite so we decided to take a little time out last week to rest our ears from musical engagement, clear the passages before we stride into the next few weeks of New Born reviews. We are slightly behind the mark with releases this week but thanks to (and welcoming) our newest Contributor, we sneaked in the very recent release of How To Dress Well. And yes, Chrissie Hynde, from The Pretenders is still songwriting and last week released a solo album, produced by Bjorn of Peter, Bjorn & John. Jack White continues to churn out album after album and we take a listen to Lazaretto and determine whether or not he is the driving force for musical stamina. The Fresh & Onlys try to keep shoe-gaze alive and dream-pop creators Craft Spell release a 2nd album that shows complete sign of maturity and confidence that may well ride the train of success that Wild Nothing, Real Estate and Beach Fossils jumped on over the last year.
Artist_ Chrissie Hynde
Album Title_ Stockholm
Label_ Caroline International
Genre_ Pop Rock, Alt Rock
Moments Of_ The Pretenders, David Bowie
Stand Out_ You Or No One
To herald a legacy such as that of The Pretenders is no easy feat. Following their inception in the late 70s, The Pretenders signature sound has permeated pop culture for over the last 30 years, their front woman a rock queen personified in the form of a sizzling, unapologetic Chrissie Hynde. With the release of he first solo effort Stockholm Hynde exudes a certain vulnerability, but some over zealous turns in production take away from an album that could have had some very palpable potential.
There has always been a very special place reserved in my heart for the likes of Chrissie Hynde, or more specifically women like her (cue Brass In Pocket chorus, ‘I’m special! (special) so special … (special!)… You know the ones I mean, those whom inherently possess that trailblazer blood, who push against societal expectation not because they are deliberately trying to rub people the wrong way but because for them, there is simply no other option. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for anyone who shirks conformity, something I may very well identify with on a spiritual or creative level, not entirely sure. Intrinsic or not though, Hynde has just always oozed that stirring brand of disaffected charm, or at least in my head, she personified it. So when I heard that Hynde was releasing a new album, I was pretty stoked. She’d already been immortalized in my brain as this sauntering, impenitent, counter – culture goddess of rock so I was very interested with the potential angle she might take here. So needless to say, my expectations may well have been unrealistically high.
Stockholm acknowledges the albums place of birth, which was a welcome relief because if it were in reference to the syndrome, I’m not sure that I would have many places to go with that. Its also an unusually collaborative effort from Hynde which she assures us is deliberate, the likes of Bjorn Yttling co – writing and producing as well as some very fascinating cameos too, appearances in the form of crooning legend Neil Young and confrontationally shouty tennis cyborg, John McEnroe (I know right, who knew).
Hynde’s voice is still very much the force it was some 35 years ago, a bonafide lilting contraption, devoid of diffidence but still sassy and seductive as ever. However, and this just seems of late, I have noticed that with many an artist that have been staples in the music industry for an inordinate amount of time (by industry standards at least) the comeback albums are regrettably ‘shiny’, so polished that their raw potential is often lost in translation via the production process. First track on the album ‘You Or No One’ is a slinky, retro affair that hearkens back to the nostalgia of 60s Britpop whilst Dark Sunglasses is a scathing, bitter venture into allegation on a former paramour, reflecting on bitter loves lost, quite possibly the closest thing to standard Pretenders fare on the entire album. Tourniquet is a heart wrenching minimalist affair, replete with fatigued vocal and suitable devastation. Neil Young rips on Down The Wrong Way whilst A Plan Too Far is an echoic, brooding number,
Stockholm is a potentially tenuous affair for Hynde, one that unfortunately teeters on the brink of innocuous predictability. There are turns toward modernistic techniques, which Hynde has dabbled with on occasion but the polished final product, which may well just be a benign attempt at modern currency comes at the expense of real, weighted potential. I’m very fond of Hynde as I mentioned earlier, but Stockholm was a lackluster affair for me. I would have liked to see a bit more ambition, something more than those signature vocals wrapped in the fanciful whims of modern day production. She’s still a stone cold fox in my book all day long, Pretender or solo act stumbling in an attempt to find her new sound.
Artist_ Jack White
Album Title_ Lazaretto
Label_ Third Man Records
Genre_ Alt Country, Americana, Indie Rock
Moments Of_ The White Stripes, Alabama Shakes, Gary Clark Jnr.
Stand Out_ Temporary Ground, High Ball Stepper
“Thank God for Jack White!” exclaims Jimmy Fallon in a recent interview whilst discussing the innovative Ultra LP version of Jack’s newest album Lazaretto. This is just one project from one of the busiest men in rock and roll today; former White Stripe, member of The Raconteurs (Saboteurs in Australia), The Dead Weather, multiple collaborator, producer, record label owner and occasional actor, it’s amazing he finds the time to write and record, tour and promote this new album. And by no means has it been done by halves.
Whilst many would associate Jack White with huge riffs and Seven Nation Army style stadium amplitude, working now as a solo artist has given Jack the chance to explore various methods and genres on this second album (as a follow up from the widely successful Blunderbuss). We always knew that he had country in his veins, hinted at in White Stripes classic Hotel Yorba and the two Raconteurs albums feature a distinct country flavour throughout. Country legend Loretta Lynn also had Jack’s help in producing her album Van Lear Rose in 2004. Even his Third Man Studios in based in the home of country music, Nashville, TN. Jack comes into foray on this album with examples such as ballads Temporary Ground, Entitlement and I Think I Found The Culprit that display his aptitude for the genre with his own flare and variation. The boy-girl vocal play on many of the songs also adds another element; as we know Jack is never far from his female collaborators. Remember his all girl backing band on the Blunderbuss promotion and album tour? Just listening to the lyrics in album opener Three Women reminds us that he ‘gotta have a woman to blow these blues away’.
But wait, don’t stress that you wont be hearing any classic Jack White guitar and distinctive, innovative rock and roll. First single High Ball Stepper is an instrumental journey into his freakish mind of fuzzed riffs, screeching vocal noises and licks played in reverse. As an album teaser it was exciting to hear what more we could expect, especially from those fans who grew to love Jack through a decade of White Stripes madness and reinvention. Title track Lazeretto (which, according to the internet, is the name given to a quarantine station for maritime travellers), is a mash up of everything Jack does well. Distinctive bass riffs, crazy guitar solos, country flavoured fiddle arrangements and oddball lyrics. Considered by some as one of the greatest living guitar legends, this album does plenty to help justify why he has earned such acclaim. Jack also featured in guitar documentary It Might Get Loud in 2008 that gave a greater insight for fans and guitar music enthusiasts alike on the technique, gear and history of Jack’s musical career.
There really is a little bit of everything on this album. Like on Blunderbuss, this variation in styles will surely alienate some fans of the minimalistic, bare bones blues-tinged rock and roll of the White Stripes albums or the powerful delivery and psych leanings of The Dead Weather. However many will appreciate an album that continues to strike an ear with each song, swaying in style like a winding road in a dense forest, where you never know what to expect next.
White has sculpted many an influential ear of a teenager of the 00’s, as a result having such an impact as to affect the sound of new music today. The appeal of an artist such as this is different to everyone, whether it be the progression and variation in his sound, the bizarre obsessions, the women, the collaborations, the part he has played in the resurrection of vinyl or just his controversial appearances in the media. Love him or hate him, it is impossible to ignore the presence and inventiveness of Mr White.
Artist_ The Fresh & Onlys
Album Title_ House of Spirits
Label_ Mexican Summer
Genre_ Americana, Ballad, Downtempo, Folk, Folk Rock, Indie Folk, Shoegaze
Moments Of_ The Shins, Conor Oberst, Thee Oh Sees, Billy Bragg
Stand Out_ Bells of Paonia
This album has the bare bones of some brilliant folky shoegaze, but sadly it falters and falls short of any real substance– minimal matter behind the melodies and fuzz means that my ear-attention fails to be held beyond some pretty imaginings. Which is really, really, sad because you can hear some genuine scraps of earnestness and emotion in amongst the blandness. Better luck next time boys, this situation warrants the symbol that expresses all that cannot be said, the sad emoji: L. Except I’m going to say it all below. READ ON, FRIENDS!
One of my favourite things when listening to music is when an artist manages to evoke a place in your mind with their music. A song flows into your mind, tangles with your memories and ideas, and constructs a story complete with smells, sounds and warmth to lose yourself in for the next three minutes. Augie March’s One Crowded Hour is one that does it for me; as soon as it plays I am whisked to a crowded party full of everyone that I have ever slept with for some reason, and as the music swells, it’s warm, dim and hazy with cigarette smoke and completely comfortable and happy. I think Freud would be rubbing hands at that little mental sex life metaphor, but we’ll leave it at that shall we?
Where I was heading with that was The Fresh & Only’s whole album manages to evoke a place in my head, a perfectly constructed image. As soon as the first bars of Home Is Where rolls over me I am transported to a tangible warm old house, dirty and comfy – a cross between a shack owned by an old bushman I saw when I was little, where the carpet was covered in lint and dog hair, and Kerouac’s description of his cabin in Big Sur. This imagery peaks in Bells of Paonia. A warm reverb fuzz settles over the song and muffles the sharper edges of melodies, like dust in a musty old sunroom. The band then gently forays into Animal of One, another warm, folky ballad that flows and washes itself to the four minute mark and fades into oblivion.
Sadly, after all this imagery and metaphor, there really isn’t much else to say. Cohen’s lyrics start of strong in each song, but by the end I don’t feel like I heard anything, they seem to peter off like a half formed idea – and that kind of sticks with you throughout the whole album. I do love bassist Sartin’s strums and thrums in each song, they seem to add another dimension to a 2D effect the lyrics seem to give each tune.
There seem to be a half-hearted attempt to return to the band’s glory of Play It Strange with the tracks Hummingbird and April Fools, but darn, they just fall short – energetic guitars and whimsically ambiguous lyrics just aren’t enough, guys.
The closing track Madness, is quite sweet, however. A pleasant shoegaze fuzz weaves its way around the bass, and Cohen’s vocals are deep and mellow, kind of Billy Bragg. Man, if he’d kept this up over the whole album it would have been fucking beautiful. Actually, Billy Bragg is another mirage-evoker for me – definitely not as sex-related as Augie March though, eeurrkk.
As beautiful as the imagery that this album evokes is, it’s sadly not enough to keep this album afloat. The happy place might stay in your head, but the music will sink into a boring background fuzz of half thought out lyrics and mediocre folky shoegaze. There are some musically stellar moments – Cohen & co. are great musicians – but sadly not enough.
The album cover is beautiful though, the stuffed chicken just speaks to me for some reason. Nice one.
Artist_ Craft Spell
Label_ Captured Tracks
Genre_ Dream Pop, Indie Pop, Melodic
Moments Of_ The Album Leaf, Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing, Real Estate, Destroyer
Stand Out_Nausea, Twirl
In down right hip Brooklyn town, there is music scene that has buzzing and simmering nicely for the last few years and with record labels such as Captured Tracks signing up and nurturing some great bands, there is little sign that the scene is withering. The record label supports Craft Spell, also provides shelter for bands like Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils that share the same dorm as Craft Spell, melodic and dreamy pop/ Lead singer and songwriter Justin Paul Vallesteros pens gentle pop song with quirky synths and laid back Californian vocals. Nausea is the second album from the talented young writer that shows clear signs of maturity, releasing an album that of warm, content and effortlessly laid back pop and goes to prove that the more you listen to an album the more you discover its hidden gem.
Nausea is one of those many recent albums releases that would be quick to review with a sense of nonchalant, despite my love for this genre of music, being a very big fan of bands like The Radio Dept, Destroyer, Beach Fossils and Real Estate. The problem (or rather the easy thing) with this genre of music is its lack of need for change, preferring to play content with a sound that is inoffensive, gentle and just easy on the ears.
Nausea is however one of those albums that the more and more you take the time to listen, the more you discover a sense of beauty in Vallesteros’s skill as a very talented songwriter. Opening album title track Nausea, is quintessential dream pop to the core, twinkling keys, shuffling drums and gently strummed guitars that plonk away for a generous 4 and half minutes with gliding vocals and harmonies to an instantly catchy chorus.
There is no real shift throughout the album apart from a few samples thrown in for good measure but what is does offer is consistency, you can pretty much settle in for a ride that you know the ending too, no surprises here.
Things take a slight groove with tracks like Changing Faces, Twirl, Laughing for My Life and Breaking the Angle Against the Tide that hurriedly shuffle up-tempo with quirky 60s inspiration and cant help draw inspiration to Wild Nothing and Real Estate. Lyrically, like many of these dream pop writers, the content describes vulnerability and nativity set against lonely landscapes and young love.
The biggest track on the album is Breaking the Angle Against the Tide and shows Vallesteros more mature in sound and direction, packed with intricate layered melodies, topped off with lush strings that did remind me of early Belle and Sebastian when Stuart Murdoch realised that he was actually quite a songwriter. You get a sense that Craft Spell feel the same after listening to this track and kind of paves the way for a sound that Id hope they take on to their 3rd album. Another band to add to my 2014 discoveries for ones to watch.
Artist_ How to Dress Well
Album Title_ What is This Heart?
Label_ Weird World
Genre_ Ambient, R&B, neo-soul
Moments Of_ Youth Lagoon, Jai Paul, Oscar & Martin
Stand Out_ What You Wanted, Repeat Pleasure
Tom Krell, better known under the moniker of How to Dress Well,has taken a new direction with his recent album release What Is This Heart? His previous records, 2010’s Love Remains and 2012’s Total Loss, are often stylistically termed as (PR)R&B, characterised by vocals shrouded in a plethora of musical textures and vocal effects. What Is This Heart? is his first endeavor into the world of ‘pop’ music, an album full of promise for Krell’s future musical exploits.
The opening track 2 Years On (Shame Dream), a heartfelt testament to Krell’s older brothers that suffer from Asperger’s, encapsulates what we have come to expect stylistically from How to Dress Well. Krell’s feeble yet soulful vocals are virtually unaccompanied, exposing the listener directly to his melancholic and meandering lyrics that are characteristic of his previous releases.
By the second tune What You Wanted, it is clear that Krell wants to take us in a different direction. Thematically, there is an exploration of the nature of unconditional love, which we find in his other work. However, Krell’s lyrics, and the accompanying emotional narrative on which he takes us, emerges as a deliberately highlighted feature of the album. Words I Don’t Remember further exemplifies his pop music orientation on What Is This Heart?, allowing for richer instrumentation and exploration of audio effects that Krell seems to love.
However, I feel that on certain tracks, like Pour Cyril and Childhood Faith in Love,the album loses direction and gets a bit messy. Krell’s stark and intimate lyrics – that are presented in a really appealing way on other tracks like What You Wanted – get lost in the distorted audio effects and string accompaniments on Pour Cyril. The exploration of new musical textures is in itself commendable, but sometime they are implemented overzealously on this album. It is almost if Krell gets preoccupied in his attempts to break away from the (PR)R&B genre and explore the pop music dimension.
Nonetheless, this is an intriguing and promising musical endeavour, a more rich and diverse instrumentation combined with outstanding production by Rodaidh McDonald – a man who was worked with The XX and King Krule yet I’m unable to pronounce his name without embarrassing myself – provides an interesting counterpoint for the listener to How to Dress Well’s trademark melancholy lyricism. In essence, it has allowed Tom’s strong vocal talents and song writing to really shine through, in a way that was arguably less effective on his previous albums. He credits the stark and intimate nature of the lyrics on the the album, to a confidence that he gained through touring with a full band following the release of his 2012 release Total Loss, and it certainly does provide us with a unique sound.
Those who championed 2012’s Total Loss praised the way in which it presented the listener with surprises and greater depths hidden within a plethora of musical textures and audio effects. How to Dress Well’s new popular music enterprise, although allowing Krell’s vocal abilities to feature, does not deliver the same intriguing ambiguities. It could be argued that What Is This Heart is Krell’s impasse between his two musical guises and it isn’t clear which he would ideally like to be defined.