This week AC/DC returned with their 15th studio album and although it wasnt selected by our contributors this week, it was worthy of a mention. An album that clocks in at least then 35 minutes, but hey, for a bunch of agining rockers, that is a BIG 35 minutes. The album wasnt without its issues, in November, the drummer was arrested for attempting to procure the murder of two men. Talk about some rock n roll publicity. Anyhow, whether it is a good album or not is besides the point, the rockers deserve a moment. On to this week we offer an eclective mix of music from complete ambience in the form Scott Morgan aka Loscil, its soothing, gliding and sleepful bliss. Ty Segall is popular amongst many here at TWL so we take a listen to his latest release, well singles compilation released between 2007-2010. Simple Minds suprise us with quite an impressive return, its nice to hear. She & Him aka M. Ward & Zooey Deschenal deliver an album of classic soul music, including an outstanding cover of Stay Awhile by Dusty Springfield. See you next week for the final New Borns of 2014.
Album Title_ Classics
Label_ Columbia Records
Genre_ Jazz, Ballad, Soul
Moments Of_ Dusty Springfield, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra
Stand Out_ Time After Time, Don’t Look Back, Stay Awhile
More well know as Zooey Deschanel and M.Ward, pop duo She & Him have released their fifth album (and their second covers album) entitled Classics. Stating exactly what it is, Classics is a collection of time-honoured jazz and pop standards from the champions of the genres from the last century. The release of this album comes timely for the onset of christmas; given they’ve already put out three originals albums and now done the Christmas album, is this a cash cow intended for the hard-to-buy-for relatives or an album worth it’s own merit, displaying the true interpretive skills of this well-loved duo?
It makes some sense for She & Him to put together a project like this. Coming together as duo after Ward met Deschanel on a movie set, their mutual love for Phil Spector and George Martin records was a catalyst for Deschanel to also pursue her love of music and songwriting with Ward’s help. After three albums of accomplished original work, it was only a matter of time until interpretations of their favourite songs were able to be recorded in just the fashion it deserved. With no less than a 20 piece orchestra (the score was arranged by Ward) and recorded live, She & Him have put their own flair and flavour into some of history’s greatest songs.
Sure, in this day and age, any man and his dog can record a cover and upload it for all the world to see, with the multitude of music sharing platforms available online today. But to cover some of the world’s most loved songs, live with a huge band and with voices untouched and live to record, that in itself at least deserves some commendation. Deschanel’s voice is well suited to the style of music she choses to sing; airy, relaxed, clear and controlled. This talent, despite being her second art of choice, is really the one that shines in comparison. The extended vocal range on songs like Oh No, Not My Baby (originally recorded by Maxine Brown) really feels like a walk in the park, both vocally, but in the stylistic interpretation of the song. More well loved songs such as the Dusty Springfield hit Stay Awhile, Frank Sinatra’s Time After Time (on which Ward’s smoky, smooth croon makes a brief appearance in duet form) and even Unchained Melody get the She & Him treatment, all presented for a pleasant and likeable result.
It’s all and good to release something that is easy listening, appealing and of notable merit. But in reality, Deschanel’s voice is lovely – but that’s about as far as it goes. No diva standards here. M.Ward’s arrangements and soothing jazz guitar is valuable but nothing out of the ordinary. Like their Christmas album of 2011, A Very She & Him Christmas, which too is a cool collection of Christmas classics, it really does feel like a bit of a push for sales on this one. You could buy your Gran Classics for Christmas this year, but she’s most likely have no idea who these people are on the cover, and would probably prefer a collection of the original or early versions, the one’s she remembered. True, She & Him are bringing jazz along with Burt, Dusty, Frank and Ella to the hipsters, but is it credible enough for that repeated spin? Probably not.
Album Title_ When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return (Remix/Remaster)
Label_ Sub Pop
Genre_ Indie, Rock
Moments Of_ The Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer
Stand Out_ Deluca, The Shins
Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Flake Music were essentially the pimply teenage predecessors of indie legends The Shins. Drawing heavily from similar artists of the late 90’s, this reissue of the bands lone 1997 album is like an adorable baby picture that your dad had scanned into the family computer and then printed out for your entire family to see. Enhanced, a little embarrassing, but so cute you can’t help but keep listening.
Before The Shins became the titans of indie rock that they are today, they started life as the lesser known Flake Music. Formed by founding member James Mercer in 1992 under the name Flake, the band changed their name to Flake Music shortly after. They released one album, ‘When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return’ in 1997 before trading places on stage to form The Shins. This remixed and remastered reissue offers a look at a time long before we knew the success of ‘Wincing the Night Away’.
The album opens with the enthusiastic ‘Spanway Hits’, punching you straight in the face with a fist full of poppy nostalgia. This continues through ‘Blast Valve’, offering twinkling guitar passages straight from Billy Corgans fret board, proving that Flake Music certainly weren’t afraid to showcase their influences. Obvious example ‘Structo’ is a track that could have been on any number of Weezer records, though the gesture has a certain endearing charm to it. There’s something that I find so appealing about the slightly unpolished and hesitant feels of a new-born band that I’m sure any musician can appreciate. The hallmarks of a group trying to find its place in a school yard of musical giants. Enter ‘The Shins’.
Vocally, Mercer toys with a lot of different styles, but ultimately seems to find his feet on tracks like ‘Deluca’ and ‘The Shins’. These tracks stand out from the bulk of the album and ooze a sense of confidence from the entire band. The song structures are sound and flow comfortably from beginning to end. That’s not to say that the rest of the album is not as good, as a whole it’s incredibly enjoyable, but these particular instances pinpoint the moment when the guys knew they were on to something great. ‘Rozier’ and ‘Candy Dish of Diamonds’ are two shorter instrumental tracks that feel a little out of place in the greater context of the album, but are nice nonetheless.
Maybe it’s the heady teenage memories talking, but I really enjoy listening to ‘When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return’. It encompasses everything that made 90’s indie rock great, all in a nice, 30 minute long package. It’s dreamy, adolescent tones really invoke the feelings I had when I first heard The Smashing Pumpkins ‘Siamese Dream’. Sure, Flake Music had some fairly obvious inspirations for a lot of the album, but these are easily forgiven when you consider the bigger picture and the success of The Shins. Whether or not you’re a fan of The Shins doesn’t really matter, listeners will find something to adore here. The only disappointing part about this album is that I didn’t know about it sooner. Take a trip down memory lane, you’ll thank yourself for it.
Album Title_ Big Music
Label_ Caroline International
Moments Of_ Simple Minds, New Order, The Cure
Stand Out_ Honest Town, Midnight Walking, Spirited Away, Kill Or Cure
Glasgow’s finest electro-pop merchants from way back when, Simple Minds, return with their new long-player “Big Music”, again mainly written by vocalist Jim Kerr and old sparring partner Charlie Burchill (guitar). However, there are also telling contributions this time around from Mel Gaynor (drums), Andy Gillespie (keys) and Ged Grimes (bass). For those less familiar with 35 years of Minds history, the band these days doesn’t include either original keyboardist Mike MacNeil or vintage bassist Derek Forbes. But they were responsible for such 1980s classics as “Promised You A Miracle” and “Don’t You Forget About Me”. For those in the know, they’ve always been so much more than that.
You really can forgive these five Scottish lads the slightly silly title. For Simple Minds, this is big music news indeed. It’s confirmation of sustained relevance. It’s Jim Kerr beats Bono. Shock, gasp, true. Would you believe it? But yes Big Music really is (whisper it), track-for-track, superior to the you-all-download-it-regardless release Songs Of Innocence. And this is from someone who has a considerable level of admiration and appreciation for what U2 tries to do, too.
So why is Big Music such a great representation of where Simple Minds sit at present? Importantly, first and foremost, it’s a reasonably solid collection of tunes, and Kerr and his longtime writing partner Charlie Burchill still have something to say to their audience. Said audience has of course stuck with the Minds for more than 35 years now, which is also saying something in itself.
“Settle down, you’ll see, there’s still something between you and me,” sings Kerr on what’s arguably the key song in the first half of the album, “Honest Town”. And he’s right. It’s like welcoming home an old friend when the majority of these sounds meet your ears.
Perhaps surprisingly, the record is also consistent in tone despite the scattered pieces of initial songwriting it seems to have been constructed from, with some ideas originally conceived by Kerr for his second solo album. He had the good common sense to flick them over to old mate Burchill and company.
Essentially, the album kicks into life with a great opening trio of songs and likewise closes with a hat-trick of intrigue. In the middle there are a few ups and downs to navigate, of course, but importantly, Big Music gives the impression of a “big value” release. Where predecessor Graffiti Soul felt like a padded-out EP, here you get 12 songs covering 52 minutes – definitely worth your $20.
The first three hits are just that – comeback singles, all of them. “Blindfolded”, “Midnight Walking” and Honest Town” drive out of the speakers at a thumping pace, locking straight into a groove echoing urban urgency about the flow of life. “Midnight” is a Gillespie effort, and this one should definitely turn up in the setlist if he gets a vote, alongside new touring electronics guru Catherine Davies and backing vocalist Sarah Brown. “Honest Town” is all pulsing, fading and wiping-out background drones. It’s a real re-branding of the band in terms of the public eye.
At the other end of the disc, the gallop into the proverbial sunset works well through “Kill Or Cure”, “Broken Glass Park” and “Spirited Away”. “Kill” was one of the initial Kerr solo tracks, very industrial pop with a direct and low, menacing tone, as if conducting a hushed conversation between two characters from Graffiti Soul opener “Moscow Underground”. Impressive, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome, proving the surprise cut of the record, really. “Broken Glass Park” returns Kerr to his school days on the south side of Glasgow, with a distinct hint of teenage kicks among those sparkling keys. But the best is possibly saved for last, as “Spirited” is simply brilliant. Almost harking in the direction of New Order and The Cure, Kerr could easily be ruminating here on a loved one departed for the heavenly realm. It’s powerful stuff, and hopefully a pointer towards album 17, which Kerr claims the band’s already working on. It’s working title “The Future”. As it should be.
Elsewhere, higher points include the pleasantly expansive ballad “Human” and the jaunty “Let The Day Begin”. Lesser lights are the title track – perhaps a bit too retro for it’s own good – and the brief, choppy workout of “Concrete And Cherry Blossom”.
Overall, though, Big Music does exactly what its makers presumably intended it to. Building on the promise of a cohesive band line-up exhibited on the 2012 5×5 Tour, this is a very good Simple Minds album. In fact, bar 2005’s Black And White, Big Music is probably the best thing they’ve done in at least the past 15 years. It tops Graffiti Soul, and going back further, stands above Cry and is at least equal to the rather-excellent-if-under-rated Neapolis (1998).
Album Title_ Sea Island
Genre_ Ambient, Electronic
Moments Of_ Olafur Arnalds, The Album Leaf, Boards of Canada
Stand Out_ Holding Pttern, Lona
Scott Morgan makes music of the mind, a deep pulsating sound that delves deep into emotion using frequency and pulse. Likened more to interactive music for art events and experiences, this return album sees Loscil collaborate with pianist Kelly Wyse, with whom he worked with on previous compositions and continue the journey through soundscape and emotive reverbations.
It is right when they say an album is best appreciated when you are the same head space as the band, or in this case, composer. To have first heard of Loscil and deciding to take the first lesson while driving in a car to a party, or stumble across it while surrounded by screaming children may well ruin any chance of me thinking this is an album I would rate highly on my list of great albums for the year.
Luckily for me, with a tired head and sore mind of over stimulation, I took to the sound system with Loscil on standby. What transpired was an album that cured many ills on this uncomforatbly winters day in December in Melbourne, Australia. Loscil is the perfect match for this weather, for my mind and for my emotional state. IT soothes gently through gliding frequencies, the twinkling of delicate keys and the oscillation of sweeping synths. Nothing much happens in the first hanful of tracks but this, it is gentle, distant and mesmerising.
Track 5, Lona sees the first transformation into ryhthm as it builds through the 8 minute track, if you can imagine being transported into a Blade Runner world where you woke to find that there was no one but you and anxiety slowly kicked in. Its euphoric but a really un-nerving feeling. Holding Pattern, the stand out track on this album, with no change in tempo it is the repetition and the simplicty of Wyse piano that really lifts the ambience to subtle but emotive new level. Sad but up-lifting.
Loscil is the name given to a sound function on a Csound, a computer programming sound and quite obviously, this is a fitting name, where each track is a roll on effect of a man who is scientific when it comes to his music, a mad scientist transfixed by his potions and experimentation.
On the track Sturgeon Track, the journey starts to draw to end, if this were a soundtrack to a space odyssey, the purpose starts to make sense and the closer you get, still the answer seems so far away, perhaps there is no purpose to this whole experience, perhaps it is just what it is, an endless soundscape of sparcity and dark emptiness. To where heart on sleeve for a moment, as we listen to En Masse, we realise there is little to be found, the melody played by the piano can easily make you cry, it is timed and played beautifully, this is beautifully powerful stuff.