It is another games of 7’s this week and we cant seem to break the pattern, by that we mean, how many lamb tokens we honor each album reviewed. Its time to deliver some 9 out of 10 lambs we think. Where are you?? Okay, so there were real no stand outs for us this week, despite 2 big names on the deliverable table, Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and the return of Interpol. Both accomplished album but equally quite removed from their back catalogues. Karen O brings together an album of heart felt tracks penned over the last few years that show a delicate side to her usual edgy demour. Interpol become a three piece after the bands spine, their over so talented bassist left the band, the question we ponder is whether it is really good enough? Mutual Benefit, aka Jordan Lee from Austin Texas, delivers a soothing EP to soften a heavy heart or a weekend blow out. Zeus, who are signed by the outstanding Arts & Craft record label, return with the 3rd, unique take on pop unlike Half Japanese, to some the god fathers of scuzzy punk pop do what they do best, create edgy punk music that bows to Iggy Iggy Iggy. Finally, Def Jam deliver Method Man’s, Wu-Tang Clans first solo album full of clever lyrically hitting hip hop with a dark twist.
Artist_ Karen O
Album Title_ Crush Songs
Label_ Cult Records
Genre_ Acoustic, Ballad, Downtempo
Moments Of_ Laura Marling, Angus and Julia Stone, Feist
Stand Out_ Rapt, Day Go By
Despite having worked on a number of collaborative projects outside of her work with widely influential NYC-based band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O (full name Orzolek) has only now released her first solo album. Recorded mostly alone in hotel rooms in 2006 and 2007, this is definitely a side step from her art-punk loving days fronting the YYYs. With this album being released by Julian Casablancas’ (of The Strokes fame) label Cult Records, no doubt a lot of hype has surrounded this album. For fans expecting a variant of her bands’ work will be disappointed, but may also find a new interest in something uniquely touching, stripped back and heartfelt.
Accompanying the hard copy of the album (on both CD and LP) is a copy of a hand written note by Karen O, explaining the meaning behind this album. It goes on to say that “when I was 27 I crushed a lot….they are a soundtrack to an ever continuing love crusade.” Not surprising, as most of the songs were recorded during and after her drawn-out breakup with renowned director and producer Spike Jonze. On the 15 songs, each not spanning past three minutes, Karen strums basic chords on an acoustic guitar whilst her distinctive vocal dances over each track. Some songs, like Body, feature some additional (yet basic) instrumentation, like mouth clops, sleigh bells and keys, or a rudimentary drum machine on Visits, but the basis of the entire album is a basic, home recording set up of Karen and a guitar.
The notion of a home recording for a major label release would surely be absurd, but if you’re Karen O you can do almost anything. And by home recording, this is not an understatement. Most songs feature tape whirr, imperfect guitar playing, abrupt endings and a very relaxed vocal style. Native Korean Rock even ends with over a minute of complete silence – whether or not this was an intended feature or is again just the elemental nature of the record, we are not to know. Album closer Singalong is exactly what it says it is, as Karen enlists some friends to sing with her, and a few good whistlers, to comfortingly end the track with a laugh from our leading lady.
The most intriguing thing about this whole album is the delightful nature and whimsical melodies that are spread throughout the 15 tracks. Sure, this nothing that any half decent singer songwriter with a decent voice would be able to achieve in his or her bedroom, but it is also the novelty and art value where Crush Songs appeals most. Karen has already displayed her skills as a solo artist and a collaborator, on such projects as the original soundtrack for the film Where The Wild Things Are (credited as Karen O and The Kids), The Moon Song with Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig for the film Her, as well as work with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo soundtrack and with noted director David Lynch for a song on his first solo record Crazy Clown Dream. Karen has worked hard to establish herself as a distinguished artist with both her work with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and as a solo artist, so this adventure into a personal and reflective, lo fi but intriguing solo album is not unsurprising.
As well as an album, Crush Songs is a painfully personal insight into the world of Karen O when she was 27 years old. In saying this, it is also a collection of songs that would have most likely have been great therapy for her as she made her way through her ‘love crusade’. And just as Karen signs off on her album detailing note as mentioned before, she hopes that these songs can provide company for anyone experiencing similar feelings. So without doubt, this is an album to be listened to while lying on the floor of your bedroom, reading along to the lyrics, and hopefully finding your own piece of therapy in Karen’s sincere and ernest performance of her very own Crush Songs.
Album Title_ El Pintor
Label_ Matador Records
Genre_ Rock, Indie rock
Moments Of_ Editors, Paul Banks
Stand Out_ All The Rage Back Home, Anywhere and Everything Is Wrong
Interpol is a band name that you would have heard of before, but they seem to be one of those bands that people can’t remember their hits. Their 2002 debut album Turn on the Bright Lights featured what is probably their biggest hit to date, Obstacle 1. This album was hugely successful and was even certified Gold, following the shipping of over 500,000 copies. After having a lengthy 4 years off, Interpol’s much-anticipated fifth studio album El Pintor, released September 8th, is finally here!
‘The Painter’ or El Pintor in Spanish, is actually an anagram of Interpol. Am I the only one who finds this way too cool? Anyways, getting that out of the way, the three guys have seemingly gone back to their older sounds that we heard on their 2002 Turn on the Bright Lights and their 2004 Antics. This 10-track album opens with their leading single All the Rage Back Home, released August 12th. Trust me on this one ladies and gents, listen to this song past the fifty second mark and it turns into a completely different track that is less calming, distant and hypnotic and more of an up tempo head bopper. Choosing this song for their leading single was such a perfect choice as it showcases Banks’, Kessler’s and Fogarino’s vocals and instrumental skills straight away and in the best possible way.
Following a dynamite opening track comes My Desire and let me straight up say that I am not disappointed. Lead singer, Banks, has never given away the stories or meanings behind his songs, and surprise surprise, nothing changes for this album El Pintor, as it too stays mysterious and untold. So I’m sitting here humming along to My Desire not realllyyy knowing the lyrics (but since when does that even matter?), as I eventually acknowledge the lead guitaring from Kessler and the scampering and sensational running riffs. It may just be me, but as this song picks up in intensity I feel like it is trying to escape something, especially when Banks sings the chorus “Play me out, Play me out”. Call me crazy but it ALMOST reminds me of the song Helicopter by Bloc Party. Obviously a much much slower and less chaotic version of Helicopter, but it must be the combo of the drums, bass and guitar work that triggers this thought in my abstract brain.
Third track Anywhere oozes old Interpol styles heard on Turn on the Bright Lights. It actually reminds me of Obstacle 1 and shares some similarities. “I could go anywhere! I could go anywhere!” Banks repeatedly sings throughout the song in an almost desperate and loving tone. Anywhere is a very typical instrumental and standard vocal recording, as opposed to Everything is Wrong, which shows a smoother atmospheric sound. Banks’ vocals sound effortless and heartbreaking, whilst being backed up and harmonized by Kesslers soft voice.
10/10 of these songs have outstanding bass licks and instrumental works on them. Though I found the middle of the album to be somewhat stale and quite uninteresting at times, Interpol’s musicianship and works are always generally stunning. That being said, album closer Twice as Hard really missed the mark for me. Its big orchestral sound featuring piano, viola and violin was just overdoing it. It sounded to me like they were trying too hard for a big heightened finish to the album, which just fell short.
Interpol have definitely reconciled themselves with El Pintor since their last album in 2010 self-titled Interpol was a huge let down to so many long awaiting fans. This album definitely gets back to the old Interpol sounds and feels a lot more natural. If you are looking for a guitar driven record as well as solid vocals and an easy listening rock album, El Pintor may just be the perfect choice for you.
Album Title_ Classic Zeus
Label_ Arts & Crafts
Genre_ Indie, Folk, Indie Rock
Moments Of_ Dr. Dog, Plants & Animals, Bahamas
Stand Out_ I Miss My Friends, Straight Through the Light
A cheeky album title from the Canadian folk-rockers. It is a classic, perfectly orchestrated, mastered and arranged. It serves as a classic album too; you’ve never listened to Zeus before, don’t bother with a ‘Best Of’ to get you started, and just stick with this album.
Happily infectious without being too pop. Subtle enough without becoming background noise. These guys have the formula pretty darn correct.
As soon as Where is My Love strums into your ears, it’s like you’ve been transported to into an indie feel-good film. Everything has a nostalgic tint and everything is quirky and sweet. Xylophones, background harmonies, nothing offensive here. Heck, I think I even see a Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl on the horizon. Whatever Zach Braff’s next project, this will probably feature on the soundtrack.
At first it seems Miss My Friends has a poppy-calypso hint of Vampire Weekend; not quite, maybe more the languid educated-white-boy twang that serves V.W so well. Each song is almost startlingly short, or seems that way – actually they are mostly longer than the 3 minute pop-song average, but the slow steady beat pulls you in deceptively, it feels like no time has passed at all. A good sign I guess?
Is this Americana folk? It is Dr. Dog – right down to the saloon-style tinny piano solo, but Dr. Dog has more of a country twang, an earnestness that is lacking here. Not in the lyrics, but in the musical arrangement itself. Sure it’s folk, but that sincere twang, is replaced by a languor that adds a nonchalant style. Maybe this on purpose, being Canadian and all – Canadiana Folk?
Whatever the style, Classic Zeus is an indie folk gem. Tasty morsels such as One Line Written In and Straight Through the Light will never make it beyond swirling around sweetly in your subconscious, but are delicious all the same. Indie on.
Artist_ Method Man
Album Title_ Tical (Deluxe 20 Year Anniversary Edition)
Label_ Def Jam/PolyGram
Genre_ Hip Hop
Moments Of _ Wu Tang, Mobb Deep, East Coast Rap
Stand Out_ Bring The Pain, Sub Crazy, Stimulation
Theirs is a legacy influential. The Wu Tang Clan are widely considered pioneers of East Coast Rap as well as being referred to on numerous occasions as the ‘Greatest Hip Hop Group Of All Time’. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Method Man’s debut solo effort Tical in a deluxe two CD edition replete with 13 bonus tracks. This week I look back at the impact of such an iconic contribution to hip – hop and pay homage to the creative influence of Method Man’s Tical.
Growing up in Auckland in the 90’s wasn’t a bad gig. You could play out in the streets with your cousins and it was relatively safe, trade Saved By The Bell cards at school with your mates and on weekends and after school you could turn on your local radio station and blast the latest NKOTB if you were so inclined. When I was growing up, and still til this day actually, I listened to Mai FM. It was mostly R & B mind you, sometimes there was stuff a little more hardcore, like Naughty By Nature or Dr Dre.
Now, most of us back in little ole’ provincial New Zealand were blissfully unaware of the East Coast/West Coast rivalry that permeated throughout rap culture at the time. In a way it was good because we listened impartially and enjoyed the art for arts sake. Wu -Tang had solidified their status as hip – hop royalty with Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) and although East Coast had dominated in terms of the more hardcore in the late 80’s, NWA had catapulted West Coast into the spotlight with their iconic Straight Outta Compton. Still, by the time Tical came around, there already existed a fairly solid underground fan base for the Wu Tang Clan. What’s with the name though? Inexplicably, ‘tical’ is actually a street term for a blunt, a given indulgence for most hip – hop artists and during that time a fairly common form of psychotropic recreational drug – and by today’s standard the equivalent of the Purple Drank.
I love this album with great fervor, there is an honesty on it that was revelatory to me, even as a 12 year old kid. The first release track off the album was Bring The Pain assisted vocally by Booster. Its classic hip – hop goodness with murky percussion and sparse keys accompanying Method’s rapid – fire vocal. It’s reminiscent of everything we love about this era. It peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100 and marked a much darker, brooding outlook with the use of Method Man’s ominous lyrics and gloomy minors. It was followed by Release Yo’ Delf , a noticeably more buoyant track that paid homage to Gloria Gaynor’s 70’s cross dressing and anthemic I Will Survive. Its one of the lighter tracks on here and possibly the most mainstream friendly (if you could call in that) but still gritty and primal, weighted by Method Man’s fluid dexterity and flow. There is a legend that Method Man possessed numerous styles prior to the release of Tical, which marks his now signature flow, a flow that makes him a complete juggernaut in the company of his East Coast Counterparts.
There is no denying that this album is one of the pioneering ilk. Looking back over the last twenty years, hip – hop has become commercial, diluted and even farcical at times (we may be able to single handedly blame Young Money for that, who’s with me?) but albums like Tical remind us of that visceral nostalgia that helped us to fall in love with hip – hop in the first place. A stellar debut from Method Man that still holds up, even twenty years later.
Artist_ Mutual Benefit
Album Title_ Cowboy’s Prayer EP
Label_ Other Music
Genre_ Indie Folk, Chamber Folk
Moments Of_ Youth Lagoon, Bon Iver, Coma Cinema
Stand Out_ Auburn Epitaphs, Backwards Fireworks
The Cowboy’s Prayer EP is arguably one of more interesting new releases of this year – mainly because it is not a new release. Jordan Lee, performing under the Mutual Benefit moniker, originally produced the Cowboy’s Prayer EP in 2011 before he really received any Internet blogosphere attention. Lee’s sweet, fragile yet distinctive vocal style, complemented by his experimentation with interesting effects, introduced the world to Mutual Benefit’s unique take on the alt folk style. However, it took until 2013’s Love’s Crushing Diamond before we finally gave Mutual Benefit the recognition that he deserves. Conversely, the reissue of the Cowboy’s Prayer EP gives us a good opportunity to reassess how it stacks up alongside Love’s Crushing Diamond and Lee’s other more recent work.
I originally discovered Jordan Lee and Mutual Benefit last year in one of my uni study sessions, which in reality was procrastination of the highest order. Combing through music blogs and listening to certain tracks from Love’s Crushing Diamond on Soundcloud it was clear that Lee had a knack for producing some quality if not outstanding tunes. In fact, majestic and gorgeous album track “Advanced Falconry” was one of my top songs from 2013. This made the re-release of Cowboy’s Prayer EP – on the back of 2013’s LCD – all the more unusual for me.
Delving into the EP itself, opening track “Auburn Epitaphs” is a surfeit of effects and ambling guitar riffs. Amongst these, Lee’s voice – sweet, fragile yet prominent and distinctive – is still developing it’s own unique little niche. “Passenger” is plaintive and mysterious at first but builds to a bright and clear chorus, finally swept up amongst swirling synths. The tracks blend into one another, which allows for the album to ebb and flow. Mutual Benefit managed this particular nuance effectively on Love’s Crushing Diamond also, possibly even more effectively than on Cowboy’s Prayer.
By “The Cowboy’s Prayer” – the third track on the EP – it’s clear that Mutual Benefit enjoys himself some polyphonic synth effects in complicated time signatures. Lee’s overdubbed and reverbed vocals accompany this plethora of effects. There’s undeniably certain musical elements from LCD that shine through these songs. “Backwards Fireworks” perhaps is the best example of this, a heartwarming quasi-ballad that – through the canonic percussion and distorted vocal harmonies – almost has a hypnotic timelessness to it. It’s not quite as nourishing to the ears as LCD is (quite possibly because there are less tracks on the Cowboy’s Prayer EP), but some of the elements that made Love’s Crushing Diamond outstanding are certainly present on Cowboy’s Prayer. However, the latter lacks a certain polish and quality that is in abundance on LCD. Perhaps this is understandable – Mutual Benefit toured extensively in the two years following the release of Cowboy’s Prayer and developed some solid musical chops prior to the release of Love’s Crushing Diamond. Nonetheless, despite the adventurousness musically through the use of different effects and manipulated sounds, Cowboy’s Prayer is almost split between musical ambition and naiveté.
Love’s Crushing Diamond would easily fall within my top 5 releases of last year – Mutual Benefit had really established a fascinating and gorgeous sound. To put it more bluntly, I fuckin’ love the album for so many reasons. Listening back to it now, it’s as good as it ever was if not better. I have no doubt in my mind that Jordan Lee is a great songwriter and creative musician. This is what makes reissuing Cowboy’s Prayer all the more perplexing. It’s album that screams ‘I’m a super talented and potentially prolific musician but I’m still finding my feet so take it easy on me Internet!’ It is Mutual Benefit as we know it, but well and truly within its nascent stages.