New Borns: The Prodigy, Courtney Barnett, Death Cab For Cutie

It is not only rabbits that celebrate Easter, but also Lambs.  It’s been a big week in music, in fact massive, with the sad news of Joni Mitchell, who is however thankfully recovering at the time we write this, while some very wealthy musical celebrities release this thing called TIDAL….meehhh…to the more important release of some truly exciting albums.  The downside here at TWL HQ is some of us lambs took time out to make the most of the weekend so we could only manage 3 new borns this week.  Let us not forget however the release of Sujan Stevens, with a beautifully reflective and delicate album, Laura Marling released Short Movie, to mixed reviews but nothing beats that delicate voice, The Go! Team delivered their fourth album with a definite dream pop influence to boot.  Meanwhile, this week we still managed to listen to three anticiplated albums.   Courtney Barnett finally releases her debut after a copious amounts of touring the world, and boy did it pay off.  The Prodigy, take a plunge back into their landmark electro-punk sound and deliver what you would expect. Finally, writer Matt’s new born is the new one by Death Cab For Cutie, and a fan that he is, remains sceptical about their reach for commercial substance.  Do they still have the influential cred they once had?  Read on, read on.

 

PRODIGY DAY IS MY ENEMY ALBUM COVER APR 2015Artist_ The Prodigy

Album Title_ The Day Is My Enemy

Label_ Take Me To The Hospital UK

Genre_ Electro-punk

Moments Of_ Kraftwerk, Sex Pistols, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine, The Prodigy

Stand Out_ Beyond The Deathray, Invisible Sun, The Day Is My Enemy, Wild Frontier

jameslondon_ben_solidcolorSix years on from previous long-playing effort “Invaders Must Die”, ravers’ favourite Essex electronic noise merchants The Prodigy return with a warped take on a classic Cole Porter line, “The Day Is My Enemy”. The flipside? If that is the case, then logically, “The Night Is My Friend”.  Thus, composer Liam Howlett and manic vocal mates MC Maxim Reality and Keith Flint, together with drummer Leo Crabtree and guitarist Rob Holliday, attempt to unleash the audio equivalent of a pack of snarling wolves prowling the streets. Twenty-five years into their career, does studio album number six still bite, or is it just a bit of a bark and nothing too lethal beyond that?

Let’s take a moment to set the scene for this synopsis. I’m one of those types who was, naturally enough, aware of The Prodigy during the 1990s through their radio-TV hits “Breathe”, “Firestarter” and “Poison” (for example). But I’d never honestly sampled an album by the lads all the way through. In the meantime in my listening life I have, however, come to enjoy more electronic music. A helpful pre-initiation, then.

From band leader Liam Howlett’s perspective, “The Day Is My Enemy” should be the record that cements The Prodigy’s place among the greats of British popular music. No, really. In January he told Ian McQuaid of London’s Guardian that he, MC Maxim Reality and Keith Flint should be viewed as just as vital a part of the British music story of the past 20 years as contemporaries OASIS and Blur. And Howlett dared to suggest something even further back in time. Adding 20 more. “When you trace the lines back to the Sex Pistols, the Clash, we are in that line”.

In attitude, sure. In pop sensibility, perhaps. In outright genre labelling? I doubt it.

There’s been a steady stream of singles released from this LP – no less than four so far – but it’s the deeper cuts that tend to reveal the best of The Prodigy on this outing. Check out the terrific, minimalist, understated instrumental “Beyond The Deathray”, almost a direct extension of 1990s-era “The Trick” with its piano drop-ins over a buzzing undertow. Give Howlett a film soundtrack contract asap. Or penultimate “Invisible Sun”, with its lovely slow-crashing drum machine tempo combining with a neat touch of guitar and scurrying, heavy-breathing synth caterpillars crawling around your ears. Arguably these tracks demonstrate The Prodigy, and particularly Howlett’s capacity for pleasing arrangements, at their inventive and experimental best. Other solid tunes include the opening title stanza, which sounds like someone machine-gunning beats into your brain. This is obviously a band with serious sonic aspirations. If you pay attention, there’s an awful lot going on in terms of dynamic range, with sparkling synths cutting through the presumed air of generalised (deliberate?) gloom. “Wild Frontier” harks back to the bombastic dip, duck ‘n’ weave blast of the band’s 90s classic “Breathe”, while “Medicine” seems to trade on the memories of previous effort “Poison”.

Stuff that just doesn’t quite seem to hit the mark this time around? Try “Nasty”. Max and Keef shout together in their best Cockney that they’re “triple X rated!” and “so raw!” It hard to tell how meaningful a statement it is, though, given the guys are all into their 40s and still trying to descend into blip canyon mania. The novelty value of “Ibiza” (mercifully brief at just over two minutes) also outstays its welcome. Then there are the riff-scraps dotted about the landscape that seem to deserve an extension beyond six or even eight minutes (see “Destroy”).

The Prodigy has given us all 14 news songs across 57 minutes to convince the masses that they remain the real electro deal. They manage it at least half the time. There’s a brilliant EP’s worth of material here that would totally showcase all that is great about the band. But some of the pitch for public popularity may get lost among the sheer weight of audio noise. Creative? Sure. Clever? Perhaps. Cool? It’s debatable. Overall, this collection comes across like some sort of thriller movie franchise series. Very well done if you like that kind of thing, although for others there will be more a lingering sense of bemusement or even bafflement at times. But if you want to get super-sweaty by pogo-ing for an hour in a sauna, knock yerself out.

6

 

 

 

dcfc-kintsugiArtist Death Cab for Cutie

Album Title Kintsugi

Label Atlantic Records

Genre Indie Rock

Moments Of Band of Horses, The Postal Service  

Stand Out Black Sun, Ingenue

jameslondon_Matt_Hopkins_solidcolorWith the departure of one of their founding members, Chris Walla, Long-time indie rock pioneers Death Cab for Cutie welcome album number eight, ‘Kintsugi’. Having toed their way into the view of mainstream audiences, the Washington band have continue to shape their music towards accessibility, similarly to their previous LP ‘Codes and Keys’. Having been the poster-band of sad young adults everywhere, ‘Kintsugi’ has received mixed reviews, often criticised for straying too far from their roots.  

You can’t help but feel bad for bands that want to deviate from the sounds they were built on. People grow, influences change, and it’s absolutely understandable that Death Cab for Cutie would be growing tired of releasing the same old albums. It’s also fair to say that Death Cab never really had that problem, as the deviation in sound on each record was always towards a more mature, polished version of its predecessor. This kind of evolution can only ever last as long as the band wants it to before the writing grows stale.

The album kicks off with ‘No Room in Frame’, reminiscent of the beginning of ‘Narrow Stairs’, with building drums and keys that flourish into the main theme of the track. Following on is stand out track ‘Black Sun’, a mellow and well executed piece with plenty of ups and downs throughout. Unfortunately, things become quite nondescript for the second half of the album. There isn’t much that’s memorable or really stands out, with tracks often blending into each other as one, big, moderately paced tune. It does pick up at ‘El Dorado’ and standout track ‘Ingenue’, slowly building with bright guitar strums, maintaining the same theme throughout the layering of bass and drums over an odd vocal chant that makes for an interesting piece.

As with any Death Cab record, the most enjoyable aspect is usually Ben Gibbard’s amazing ability to bring his songs to life with vivid and precise lyrics. Same goes for ‘Kintsugi’, with Gibbard often presenting a clear story or message on each track, though the content is a little more depressing this time around. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as these themes have been thoroughly explored in the bands earlier albums, but in light of Gibbard’s recent divorce from actor Zoey Deschanel, it’s easy to assign context to his words.

Maybe I’m being selfish with my constant yearning for Death Cab to return to their former ways. To be honest, I’m like that with a lot of bands I’ve listened to for a long time, which I guess, is pretty unfair. Gibbard touched on this thought recently: “I completely respect and understand why people love Transatlanticism or We Have the Facts… or Narrow Stairs. And I would hope that as we move forward, people listen with as little prejudice as they can and try to hear the music for what it is and not what they want it to be.” I tried, Ben, I did, but I just can’t feel the same enthusiasm in ‘Kintsugi’. There are some nice moments in the mix, mostly at the beginning of the album, but otherwise, it’s all a bit bland. I’m giving ‘Kintsugi’ a 6, mainly because I’ll always have a soft spot for the band that guided me through plenty of tough times.

6

 

 

 

CourtneyArtist: Courtney Barnett

Album Title: Sometimes I Sit & Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Label: Milk! Records

Genre: Indie Rock

Moments of standout: Small Poppies, Depreston

jameslondon_Jakob_solidcolorAussie favourite Courtney Barnett has been dabbling in the hearts of Australian music fans’ hearts for the past two years or so through the releases of EP’s I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose.  Having built a solid reputation in the Australian music scene, Barnett has kicked off 2015 with the release of her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. The album sees Barnett showing off what she’s best at, and is sure to be one of a lot of peoples’ favourite albums of the year.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is Barnett’s biggest and definitely mots anticipated release to date. Having scored a spot on Ellen to perform second release single Depreston, there was already a lot of hype building around the album leading up to its release.

As it turns out, the album is very, very good.  One of the key aspects which has set Barnett apart from so many Australian acts, is that she actually maintains her natural accent whilst singing (and pulls it off).  The only other person doing so who is also seeing a great deal of success in the modern Aussie music scene is Will Wagner from The Smith Street Band, making Barnett’s female vocal range in the Australian accent a very nice breath of fresh air to the ears.

Lyrically, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is amazing. Every song is a narrative, exploring characters that do such day-to-day things like skipping work, going to the post office or watching TV. I think that’s why what Barnett offers to the table is so appealing to so many; she just seems so gosh darn NORMAL. Like, she is just a normal person singing about normal things that happen in other normal peoples’ lives. She’s extremely authentic; in that you don’t get the vibe that fame has changed her. Not only that, but she just seems like one of those people that can get along with literally everyone, one of those people your friend would introduce you to and EVERYONE loves them straight away, and you want to dislike them for being so respected but you can’t because they’re just so god damn relatable and cool.

Anyway, back to the album.  In my humble opinion, the 3rd and 4th songs were the best out of the lot, these were Small Poppies and Depreston. Small Poppies is one of the most laid back types of songs, using a bit more experimentation in her guitar playing jumping from low to high chords seamlessly whilst her voice perfectly fits in the middle, acting as a bridge from the lower notes to the higher ones, making the jumps seem effortless and very nice to hear. Depreston on the other hand, is also an extremely chilled song. It is very simple in its structure, but is one of her strongest songs to date. If there were a song which best-showcased Barnett’s overall sound, it would be Depreston.

Overall, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is a very, very good album. It is definitely one of the more consistent albums you could hear, with every song maintaining a very good standard, a very solid album indeed. My only criticism is that it is TOO consistent. In that, every song is very good don’t get me wrong, but at the same time, every song kind of sounds like the last. You get the feeling like she just wanted to make an album she knew people would like and therefore just stuck to what she is good at rather than experimenting a bit and showing some more versatility.

For example, she could have done a song, which was lead predominately by piano chords rather than guitar, her voice and writing style combined with a strong piano hook would be a serious contender for a top 5 spot in triple j’s yearly hottest 100 countdown. But, she played it safe rather than taking a risk, in doing so made a very cool album. I give it 8 lambs.

8

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