We are fast heading into the hump of 2015, and almost time to start thinking about what albums will, and could, make the albums of the year. Its been an “okay” year for albums and already we can think of a few contenders. This week, we sampled 3 very different albums. First up, Brandon Flowers returned with a follow up solo album that shows he is completely partial to a bit of pop, not so much can be said about Faith No More. 18 years since their last release, a lot can be said about a band who laid quite a bit of influential pavement and with their latest delivery, Sol Invictus, sees a band who are as divese and creative as ever. Devoted fans will not be disappointed. Finally, its over to London and the constantly evolving Hot Chip, with their 6th studio album full of joyful goodness, moments of meloncholy groove and just damn fine musicianship. Over to you.
Title The Desired Effect
Label Island (US), Virgin BMI (UK)
Genre Indie Pop
Moments Of The Killers, Haim, Richard Marx, The Pet Shop Boys
Stand Out Still Want You
Like any other reasonably displaced child of the 80’s, I too welcomed the inception of The Killers. They perforated a landscape saturated in pop obscenities and a deluge of blonde weaves. They brought a nostalgic yesteryear kind of sensibility. They brought a sufficiently appealing front man. But most importantly, they brought synths. This week Brandon Flowers unveiled his sophomore effort The Desired Effect as a follow on from his 2010 solo debut Flamingo. I listened. I thought. I reviewed.
Ah, The Desired Effect. I suppose from the outset one might be forgiven for asking the glaringly obvious – what is it precisely? I’m going to go with safe but also on occasion, suitably innocuous. My 21-year-old self might have a few things to say about that previous comment seeing as I was a rather early convert to The Killers and am, for all intents and purposes a fan. Admittedly there hasn’t been a tonne of output from these lads of late, but you could count on a kind of polite eccentricity in their music, particularly in the wordplay of their songs. This has always been one of Flowers most redeeming qualities as an artist and although he may not fare as your most conventional front man, he possesses a kind of reluctant magnetism I always found quite fascinating. There is a distinct lack of gyration. There are no shirtless solos. Just a sufficiently awkward guy who seems to have somehow seamlessly transitioned into a rock icon.
That’s not to say the status isn’t warranted. In fact, Flowers has been on the creative end of some massively prolific refrains over the last decade and only recently you may have stumbled across him doing a bit of a Yeezy in the media. He claimed that The Killers have experienced a distinct lack of appreciation and some static about them being the best band in the last 15 years, whether people want to accept it or not. Whether this speaks to ego or genuine dissatisfaction I’m not entirely sure. But if this album is anything to go by, I’d say that perhaps Flowers played it a little safer then he had initially intended.
So The Desired Effect. First off, I have to make mention of Ariel Rechtshaid on production duty here who has been doing massive things with the likes of Haim, Vampire Weekend, Tay Swizz and basically anyone who has churned out a pop banger over the last 2 years. His sensibility is inherently 80’s so this feels like an organic choice and he brings some good confectionery to the album. But at times, its just far too busy. Can’t Deny My Love is glaring example of this production at play, it actually feels very loaded in places where as on a track like Haim’s Falling it felt exciting and unpredictable, here it feels a bit cumbersome and frenetic. Like maybe Rechtshaid went postal on all of his instruments here. Whereas Never Get You Right showcases more restraint and felt like Richard Marx at the height of his career. There is a simmering undercurrent that makes this song feel potentially like a hit but it just never fully gets there. And the rest I could probably take or leave to be perfectly honest. In contrast, Untangled Love felt more organic and in keeping with The Killers cannon, lyrically clichéd at times but perhaps something that had been left on the cutting room floor of a prrevious albums.
Verdict? I love Flowers but this album in all honesty felt a bit pedestrian and unadventurous. I expected something a little more, daring but this one fell a bit flat for me. I think true fans will appreciate all the things they love about Flowers but I wasn’t elated with this album. Did it have the desired effect on me? I don’t think so. But if you are a diehard fan, then by all means.
Album Title Sol Invictus
Genre Alternative Metal
Moments Of Tomahawk,
Stand Out Separation Anxiety, Superman
Another week, another band back from the dead. Released on frontman Mike Patton’s own label Ipecac, Faith No More return from an 18 year hiatus to deliver ‘Sol Invictus’. After reforming for a string of reunion shows, the US group showed no signs of working on new material until we got the album’s first single ‘Motherfucker’ earlier this year. Weaving a long legacy of critically acclaimed albums, the pressure to live up to such standards would surely be immeasurable.
Well would you look at that, after 18 years and a handful of reunion shows, Faith No More actually released a new album. Like many before them, attempting new material after such a lengthy hiatus is a fairly risky endeavour and few manage to do it well. Along with that, many of us have come to expect the same level of quirky innovation that comes with anything that has Mike Patton’s name attached to it, a tower that’s bound to falter at some point, right? So is it the real thing or just a midlife crisis? (I couldn’t help myself!)
Opening with the smooth sounds of title track ‘Sol Invictus’, Mike at times sounds like a brooding Nick Cave before the resounding chorus hits with the amazing voice we were all expecting. Flowing into standout track ‘Superman’, the album starts to show some promise. Drawn out, heavy chords and that classic Faith No More rock sound coupled with Mikes aggressive voice work firmly puts this track at the pinnacle of the LP.
Unfortunately, not much else stands out as much as ‘Superman’ and leaves most of the experience sounding a little flat. Not bad, just not as exciting as one would hope. ‘Separation Anxiety’ is an interesting track that showcases Patton’s incredible vocal range, changing from a hushed aggression to a soaring chorus to manic screams effortlessly. THIS is what I was waiting for and what I wished there was more of.
Lyrically, Patton is pretty pissed off, again. Themes of humiliation and shaming are rife and so beautifully executed you can feel his vitriol dripping out of the speakers with every word. ‘Cone of Shame’ is a great example of this, spitting lines like “I’d like to pull your wings off” over one of the heaviest riffs on the album feels so satisfying you’ll be wearing your best head-nodding frown.
Unfortunately for Mike and the rest of Faith No More, the legacy that they paved throughout the 80’s and 90’s was one of innovation and uniqueness that’s hard to follow up. With a back catalogue of albums that each improved upon its predecessor without losing their defining sound, yet introducing new flavours, only heightened the pressure that time created. Sol Invictus stands up to the challenge, but only just. It’s a release that feels half baked, short and missing that final touch. Had they spent a little longer refining the tracks, I have no doubt that it would have been an absolute 10. Luckily, the good tracks outweigh the bland, they just forgot to add that new flavour this time around. That being said, we still care a lot, guys!
Album Title Why Make Sense?
Label Domino Records
Genre Electro-pop, Indie-pop, Art-pop
Moments Of LCD Soundsystem, Metronomy, Moby
Stand Out Huarache Lights, Dark Night, Need You Now
London’s Hot Chip return in fantastic form with Why Make Sense? marking their sixth LP release and second on prestigious UK label Domino. Produced once again by Mark Ralph (who also worked with the group on 2012’s In Our Heads), Why Make Sense? sees Hot Chip returning with a familiar feel of dance-floor ready and indie-tinged electronic music, but with a greater exploration of new genre influences. This makes for an impressive album from a group that continues to present innovative but accessible music to the masses, without succumbing to commercial pressures.
Why Make Sense? is the electronic album for the people who don’t like electronic music. With such a stark artistic contrast to the banal pulse of festival ready EDM, Hot Chip are here to show the world that electronic music is not just for singlet-wearing-steriod-pumped new age dudes. Whilst releasing a slew of hits throughout the noughties (including the Grammy nominated Ready For The Floor), it must also be noted that after six albums, the group are still pushing boundaries and releasing inventive material. Why Make Sense? presents a mix bag of stylistic affections that refuses to leave you un-entertained as the album visits everything from mellow balladry to funk, hip hop and 90’s grooves.
Kicking off on full energy, first single and album opener Huarache Lights comes in with a futuristic synth groove backed by live drums, guitar licks and punctuated by a rap break. All with a mid tempo, classic disco feel that is sure to cause some chatter in the blogisphere. Similarly, second single Need You Now shifts to 90’s house music complete with a sample from Sinnamon’s 1983 disco hit of the same name. Be sure the check out the video below – the concept of Groundhog Day versus Looper in the midst of lost love will leave you perplexed.
On the complete flip side, Why Make Sense? shows it’s diversity by slowing down (for a short while only) for tracks like White Wine & Fried Chicken, a piano led easy listening ballad sprinkled with vocoder, and So Much Further To Go, letting Alexis Taylor’s distinctive vocals shine along side a 80’s elevator soundtrack. This certainly is dipping a toe into new territory for the group, where previously the large majority of tracks follow a strict mid or high tempo backbeat, whether or not it be live drums or the electronic version.
Those live drums are accentuated on further exploration of genre on tracks like Started Right, which is in essence a funk track, where the chorus and bridge meld effortlessly with an undeniably Hot Chip sound. Which itself is mostly hard to pinpoint, but distinctly present. Whether it’s the pop melodies which are carried by a seamless blend of live instruments and synthesizer directions, or the vocal harmonies, real-life lyrical content and radio ready tracks.
While Hot Chip are indeed widely loved around the world (almost 11 million plays on Spotify for 2006’s mega hit Over and Over does a pretty good job of representing that), they do what a lot of groups cannot, which is to remain true to their art, while exploring the boundaries of the electronic genre. There hasn’t been any mid-career mainstream moves, a dubstep phase or any ridiculous radio/club/festival remixes that have overtaken the original release. Hot Chip continue to be the thinking man or woman’s group, who change and evolve just as much as any new artist – except that they are now album number six. Not many artists can say that they are still releasing cutting-edge material after almost fifteen years, where Hot Chip maintain to be that exception.