Title_ Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
Genre_ Indie, Alternative
Moments Of _ The Magnetic Fields, Kool and The Gang, Fanfarlo
Stand Out_ The Party Line
For all intents and purposes, Belle and Sebastian are, for the most part, delicate hipster eccentrics with a penchant for snazzy album names (I mean Tigermilk? Nuff said). We all love a good coming of age story and given that our favorite indie darlings are the poster kids for the lulled, disaffected genre its really only fitting we exercise some light observation at this point. Now, as a band whose genesis is steeped in delightful left – of – center fare ie: performances in dissimilar and often quirky spaces well, it proved problematic when trying to craft a live experience, it had initially been somewhat of a slow burn.
So early shows would suggest that although fairly slovenly, B & S delivered material intrinsically fresh and delightfully real but namely, in keeping with their vision for the band. Thus with this checkered and decidedly florid history, there are certain tropes that we have come to expect from B & S, over the course of a recording career spanning some 20 years or thereabouts.
However their ninth studio album Girls in Peacetime Like To Dance offers an entirely different spin on the cannon that most of us are accustomed to with these misfits. Girls is something, well … very different.
The scope is arguably more stylistic, not to mention this one just feels a lot slicker, in both production and in delivery. Is it bad? No, I certainly don’t think so. If anything it served as a rather welcome backdrop to a surprisingly steadfast addition to the S & B catalogue. Secondly, the subject matter seems a little … well, deep. Stuart Murdoch’s ongoing battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has made for some introspective and expectedly dark subject matter here but it’s appropriate and given in sufficient measure. Nobody’s Empire is the first track and whilst not a complete departure from the form we all know and love, it’s tinged with nuance and lilting melody that perhaps lulled me into a false sense of security. Certainly, there are still elements of the traditional S & B formula that are pervasive in the miasma; perhaps it’s really just a ploy to ease all in. Whereas say, The Party Line is an intently raucous affair, which should perhaps come with its own neon light and box of Panadol to help you recover after the fact. Its unashamedly disco, like you wouldn’t believe and yet in every level it works. Enter Sylvia Plath has a similar oeuvre and it gives a kind of melancholy sheen across the material that assists in the quirk factor. Despite their claims that we are indeed dealing with ‘modern’ fare, there are still many lush, vintage sensibilities here on production. Also The Cat With The Cream gets an honorable mention simply because it feels like it may have been meant to go the track list four and a half albums ago, see how you feel when you listen.
My thoughts? Versatile, ambitious and filled with little surprises you’ll love. It’s a departure, for sure but in all the right places. This one goes off at Friday work drinks or as a sing along deliberately designed to drive your boyfriend nuts on the way to work. A summertime must have.
Album Title_ Vulnicura
Label_ One Little Indian
Genre_ Art Pop, Avante Garde, Experimental
Moments Of_ NONE OTHER THAN BJöRK
Stand Out_ Lion Song, Atom Dance
Originally planned for release in March 2015, the ninth studio album from the incomparable Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk was leaked on iTunes and to the world on the 20th of January. Produced by Arca (who has also worked with Kanye West and FKA Twigs) and The Haxan Cloak, the album is a particularly powerful and emotional piece both for the listener and to Björk as a songwriter – the catalyst for this work being the “complete heartbreak” that Björk experienced post the dissolving of her relationship from partner Matthew Barney. The title itself, is composed from the Latin words ‘vulnus’ and ‘cura’ giving a general translation of ‘cure for wounds’.
Since departing from the Sugarcubes in 1992, the sheer volume and complexity of Björk’s back catalogue may seem intimidating to the novice listener. However, the nature of her work, her great ability to continually produce progressive, modern and innovative material with every album is astonishing – it’s all part of the wonder the surrounds her. Without doubt there are still expected ebbs and flows of every artist’s career, and Björk is no stranger to those as well. But with Vulnicura, a significant life event has generated the ideas and material for one of her most distinguished albums yet.
Björk worked mostly alone on the majority of this album, including the string arrangements, before enlisting the help of collaborators and production. For her, it was a journey, a therapeutic process and a “way out”, with the main intention of healing her broken heart. The album was structured chronologically, with three songs representing prior to the break up, and three after (the album features nine songs in total, with the assumption of giving allocation for three songs as ‘during’). The entire feel of the album is truthfully represented by this ideal – in essence a vibe, an unconscious feeling and emotion that is conjured by each song. You will hear her familiar singing style throughout the album, irregular structures, unique melodies and angelic tones, along with the fantastic string arrangements by Björk herself, leaving a trademark feel to the album. Arca has definitely provided an unblemished fit and an understanding notion to the beats on each of these songs. They are certainly unconventional, and are not for the faint of heart. Tracks like Lion Song focus on a magical vocal layering and melody, with a simple strings arrangement. What makes it feel fresh are the almost hip-hop inspired beats floating above the strings line, while Bjork sings a desperate plea for reconciliation.
On the other side of the album, Atom Dance, a collaboration featuring Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, we hear what feels like a futuristic transmission of Antony’s voice, crumpled, over-layered but allowing for his unmatchable voice to shine through on this track. This song, along with album closer Quicksand, are an emotional triumph. The process has come to an end, the healing has completed, and you can hear the anticipation of a positive future. It’s also a great way to close an album, where the listener is uplifted and smiling, knowing that Björk is too.
Countless numbers of spectacular albums are written and recorded in the midst of heartbreak. Think of the greats from Jeff Buckley, R.E.M., PJ Harvey or The Cure, for instance. In Björk’s case, as well of creating one of her best albums in years, it has also provided one of the best forms of therapy she could ever consider. Hopefully that this inspiration may diffuse onto the listener, providing a sense of, at first, despair and longing, confusion, contemplation and then relief, positivity and wholeness. You hear it in her lyrics, her unconventional melodies, and feel it in the complex beats. A piece to not just to listen to, but to absorb the true meaning and outcome of. Just try being in a bad mood after listening right through, it’s almost impossible.
Album Title_ No Cities To Love
Moments Of_ Talking Heads, Buzzcocks, Nirvana
Stand Out_ Fangless, New Wave, Bury Our Friends, Fade
Like last year’s other punk comeback album, The Buzzcocks’ “The Way”, the first-in-a-decade release from Washington State trio Sleater-Kinney asks the same question of the listener. What relevance remains for the band after such a long period away from the general public limelight? And, perhaps most importantly, do the tunes still cut it? Released on Nirvana’s old record label, Sub-Pop, the female trio of Corin Tucker (vocals, guitar), Carrie Brownstein (guitar, vocals) and Janet Weiss (drums) were of course era-mates of the Seattle crew in question.
Coming after the well-received and presumed career-ender “The Woods” (2005), “No Cities To Love” apparently took more than two years to write. Yet, it sounds as fresh as hearing the ladies’ rehearsal from your neighbor’s garage.
Elsewhere around the major critic publications in the United States, this has been getting rave reviews, averaging 9 out of 10 according to Metacritic.com. My own view is that it’s a very good slice of almost art-punk.
The first two songs set the tone and the pace of the entire record. “Price Tag” kicks off with a clipped, jangly rhythm section pairing of Weiss and Brownstein (the latter tuning her six-string guitar so low that she essentially performs bass duties). It’s all funky, rollicking pop, with a definite melody you can latch onto. Tucker’s singing for some reason seems very reminiscent to me of the sharp-edged, awkward conversational style of former Talking Heads frontman Dave Byrne (yes, really). Tucker asks what is the price of consumer culture – starving kids sitting in a shopping mall, never checking to see the real value of products or people, but as she says “when the cost comes in, it’s gonna be high!” There’s also a not to Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave or even pearl jam inasmuch as S-K is about something real, saving the world and fighting the powers-that-be, so to speak. And the screeching guitar finish is pure Adrian Belew fun. Next up it’s “Fangless”, with more terrifically solid drumming and guitar tones that alternately bubble and rumble as the boiling undercurrent to the band. It’s taut, precise and powerful, done so well.
The other notables include the polished and well-produced title track, slight on guitar pattern mania but with a nice, subtle organ in the centre and “New Wave”, which combines more of the deliberately jerky phrasing and syllable pronunciation of Byrne with music that comes across as an early Nirvana workout (think “Incesticide”). There’s a delight in Tucker’s voice as she claims “every day I throw a party, fitting, fitting, and every day I go a little higher”. The chorus then arguably gives a clue to the band’s reformation: “invent our own obscurity – no outline will ever hold us, it’s not a new wave, it’s just you and me.” If this is obscurity, they might find themselves pretty well known indeed by the end of this year when top albums are awarded.
The appropriately big-sounding finale arrives on cue with “Fade”. Tucker sounds like she was mic’d up at the bottom of a swimming pool, before there’s a ping-pong set of notes that bring to mind the Guns N’ Roses classic “Sweet Child Of Mine”. Then a quick-step switch to a hesitant shuffle and a cooing vocal, complete with time for one more shaky guitar solo. If there’s such a thing as a three-minute epic, this might be it. It’s not necessarily the pinnacle of the record, but it is a solid ending.
“Surface Envy”, “Gimme Love” and “Hey Darling” seem less effective but overall it’s a reasonably consistent outing, sound-wise, for S-K, and no doubt those familiar with them will be super-pleased to know they’re back. For those not quite as in-the-know, think of it like this…If you’re a Nirvana fan lamenting the loss of that classic 90s pummeling post-pop trio, then Sleater-Kinney might just be the new classic 90s pummeling post-pop trio to try and bend yer ear to. If you missed them during the classic 90s, that is.
Album Title_ Viet Cong
Genre_ Indie, Post-Punk
Moments Of_ Joy Division, Interpol, Guided by Voices
Stand Out_ Silhouettes, March of Progress, Death
Following their 2014 EP ‘Cassette’, Canadian indie lads Viet Cong have thundered back with their self-titled debut album. Keeping the music dark and their lyrics darker, the group have delivered an impressive and pummelling listening experience that sets itself apart from similar releases. For anyone that’s only heard the albums two singles, originality might sound like a bit of a stretch, but give the full-length a chance and you’ll understand what I’m getting at.
Viet Cong was conceived from the ashes of well-regarded Calgary band Women by three of its original members. After the sudden death of fourth member Chris Reimer, the band had decided to create a new project rather than carry on with the former. Like many before them, the group draw influence from the likes of Joy Division and Interpol, but have injected an impressive amount of originality into the work that stamps it as their own.
The lyrical tone of the album can be easily summarised in the content of ‘Pointless Experience’. If the title didn’t already hint at where I’m going with this, vocalist Matt Flegel’s line “If we’re lucky, we’ll get old and die” should clear up any doubt. It’s fairly heavy and almost feels as though Reimer’s untimely passing compelled them to keep things on the darker side. On paper it all sounds like a bit of a downer, but rest assured, the air of unpredictability in the delivery makes it an extremely engaging experience.
With an album comprised of only seven tracks that are each so well written, it’s hard to choose one that stands out among the rest, so I chose three, fight me. Exceeding the 6 minute mark, ‘March of Progress’ is the point where the album starts to stand out from others around it. Dense electronica and synths give way to a cleaner timbre accompanied by Flegel’s vocals. Jingling guitars return and deliver an immensely satisfying crescendo. While we’re on the subject of longer songs, album closer ‘Death’, clocking in at almost eleven and a half minutes, features a drawn out build up that slows way down to pummel you over and over again. It’s exhausting, but in a good way that’s not often achieved with these sorts of songs. Album singles ‘Continental Shelf’ and ‘Silhouettes’ are the only songs that really wear their influences on their sleeves, but this in no way detracts from their enjoyment.
While it’s not exactly technical by means of instrumental mastery, the precision and complexities that have been put into each track are astounding. Not that the music world needs any more meaningless labels, but if there were such a thing as ‘Technical Indie’, Viet Cong would be at the forefront of the genre. Everything in the mix feels contextually relevant and part of a greater message. The vocals are dark and impeccably accented by layers of heavy synths and a plethora of different guitar tones, at times shrouded by blankets of effects that made me wonder if they were even guitars at all. Even the drawn out, repetitive sections feel perfectly warranted, almost to the point that if they weren’t there, the songs would convey a completely different result. Viet Cong have exhaled an ironically grim breath of life into a genre that’s already explored almost everything it possibly could.
Album Title_ Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Label_ Domino Recording Co. Ltd.
Genre_ Electronic, Experimental, Dream Pop, Neo-psychedelia
Moments Of_ Animal Collective, Avey Tare
Stand Out_ Mr Noah, Tropic of Cancer
Finally, the excuse and opportunity I needed to explore what is Panda Bear. Noah Lennox has been releasing experimental, neo-psychedelia music under the name Panda Bear since 1998 and has just released his 5th full length album; Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. And although the album title suggests a bleak and ominous listen, the album is energetic and lively, successfully incorporating funk behind the chaos and even finding a place for scattered outbursts of weird distorted computers and at times whimpering dogs.
Panda Bear has a very similar sound to Animal Collective, and anyone who knows the two will piece together the obvious connection. Lennox is one of the cofounders and solid members of AC. With several solid albums behind them, and tracks such as My Girls from Merriweather Post Pavillion and Fireworks from earlier album Strawberry Jam, the band has earned not only a cult following, but a broad and devoted fan base. Panda Bear on the other hand has continued to slide under the radar, producing music that might be too unapproachable to enjoy. It appeared to be something the cool kids and muso’s seem to appreciate, but music I never understood.
For me, I need to feel the rhythm of a song, no matter how experimental and different. I appreciate less chaos and a clear, minimal back beat to string a track together. That’s probably why I found Panda Bear so hard to listen to; albums often filled with hectic instrumental clutter, monotonous vocals, and simplistic repetitive lyrics. However, the use of added effects and impressive vocal layering and looping, gives Panda Bear a particular unique identifiable sound. The opening track, Sequential Circuits reminds us of this, and who it is we are listening to. An easy entrance into the album, constant and drawn out, the vocal effects sound like harmonious chanting.
Mr Noah and Boys Latin are standout tracks, both singles released before the album. Tropic of Cancer is also a favourite of mine, appearing towards the end and slowing down the pace of the album. The track cuts the clutter and focuses on two elements of the song, a beautiful harp sample from the Nutcracker Suite, and Lennox’s classically trained voice, with lyrics invoking the death of his father. Lonely Wander appears soon after and flows the same way, incorporating a composed piano piece, and demonstrating his impressive vocal range in a different light. And even though his lyrics are always simple and succinct, they are joined together in poetry, often implementing rhyme and repetition.
With very little opinion from others, it is hard for me to tell how well this album will be received. The album could be the next best thing for Panda Bear and best new music in 2015; cementing a few more partially invested fans. Or it could be another album that people surpass, seeking something more easy and enjoyable.