This week The Wandering Lamb (TWL) did some serious music listening thanks to the abundancy of worthy releases this week. Many of our readers ask us how we choose what to review, given the fact that there are so many albums released each week. We choose a handful of New Borns that cover a broad range of genres with the idea that we offer enough musical breadth to our readers to encourage you to listen to new music. Each week our writers choose from a list of albums from a “first in first serve basis”. It means that we too are encouraged to listen to artists we may have otherwise ignored. It can go either way..that is the fun of it. This week epitomizes what the weekly New Born post is all about, from the big releases (Flo and the Machine, The Vaccines), the pretty big releases (Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Jamie XX) and the not so big (or shall we say “known”) releases, that being Valet. Whatever your musical taste, we hope you enjoy our thoughts and views on this musical album collective. Thanks for reading.
Title How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Genre Indie Pop, Baroque Pop
Moments Of Kate Bush, The Pretenders
Stand Out How Big, How Bold, How Beautiful
From the inception of 2009’s Lungs, Florence + The Machine have been putting the proverbial light in all of our lives. Their sophomore effort Ceremonials proved that their popularity was by no means accidental and this week marks the release of their third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Fervent anticipation accompanies the arrival of this third album given the amount of time that has lapsed between said album and Ceremonials so there was always going to be pressure as to whether this one was going to be any good. This week, I made my own assessment.
With her gothic brand of fairy like whimsy, Florence Welch managed to capture my attention fairly early in the piece. I’m going to attribute it to that wonderfully confusing dichotomy where the artist is an irreverent force of nature on stage yet in person seems utterly petrified by celebrity and its imminent trappings. And lest we forget that voice. My goodness, when this woman belts sometimes it feels out of body to merely hear. I suppose the dramatic orchestral fills (thank you + The Machine by the way) serve the melodrama as well. It’s a kind of curious picture outwardly, as if Edgar Allan Poe were reincarnated raven-haired with major operatic chops. But what it conveys or impresses more importantly is artistic license in full abandon. These visions come from another place, another time. And when we are privy to them, boy is it something else.
Thus we arrive at How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Confessional to be sure. What we can infer for a certainty is that our poor gothic pixie has had a hard time of it relationship wise. Quite possibly the most telling in the form of What Kind Of Man. It’s heart-wrenchingly candid and when she bellows the title in the chorus, there is absolutely no question that Welch is accusatory, angry and feverishly incensed. Ship To Wreck is in keeping with a chronicled kind of expose on love lost or at the very least love gone wrong. These songs are unapologetically personal and at times it feels like you’re shamelessly rummaging through Welch’s diary. You get to glimpse a seemingly intense, residual decay of a relationship, which can be occasionally beautiful, bravely revelatory but namely, haunting. The title track How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is actually amongst my faves on this album, melodically its just impeccable with the incorporation of horns, this is one of the lighter tracks on the album. There is something triumphant about this song, which is set adrift amongst a sea of dreary odes lamenting about how awful things can actually end up being in a relationship. Its that slither of silver lining that suggests that things do actually get better – eventually.
I loved this album. It was sincere, thought provoking and dramatic. It was a cohesive piece that shows a kind of growth for Florence, a metamorphosis from Lungs that is very raw, uninhibited and decidedly bold. This is an album that by far deserves your attention, if not a prized place amongst your collection.
Album Title English Graffiti
Genre Garage Rock, RockPop, Britrock, Punk
Moments Of Palma Violets, The Libertines, The Cribs
Stand Out Handsome
The Vaccines have a distinct reputation to uphold after 2011’s What Do You Expect from the Vaccines? Being Britain’s new cheeky lads we all love – songs like If You Wanna cemented my expectation for this release as pretty darn high, especially when Artic Monkeys have gone all Josh Homme USA!USA! on me. But maybe I’m expecting too much? Have a listen and see if you agree, it just wasn’t the strong follow up I was hoping for.
This album has the best opening track I’ve heard to date. Handsome makes you want to dance like a pogo stick and be a pretty young Englishman so the song applies to you. Remember 2011’s Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra)? This comes close to that. But then the vibe takes a turn and Dream Lover sounds echoes the cool languor of BRMC, losing all cheeky britboy charm. Every band needs to develop their sound BUT I WASN’T READY SO PLEASE GO BACK . The remaining nine songs echo this transition; it feel like the band are trying on new sounds in every song – Minimal Affection has a La Roux electronic iciness, while I Want You So Bad tones it down to an early Alex Turner earnestness.
The Vaccines are a British band; even their influences stick within that sphere, even that generation, of British music. But it’s a good sound, this album seems like they’re still working it out, so I’ll be keen to see what they’ve decided on by the next release.
Album Title Multi Love
Genre Art Pop, Indie, Electro-pop
Moments Of Prince, David Bowie, MGMT, Opossum
Stand Out Multi Love, Like Acid Rain, Can’t Keep Checking My Phone
Portland, Oregon via Auckland band Unknown Mortal Orchestra return to the scene with their third album and second with Indiana label Jagjaguwar, entitled Multi Love. Ruban Nielsen, songwriter and mastermind behind the band, has continued to produce tracks brimming with unique sounds and concepts heard on the first two albums (S/T and II). Multi Love also sees him experimenting with slightly funkier, smoother sounds using less guitars and more synths – while still retaining indie sensibilities and approach to the recording and producing process.
It seems to be a common trend in the music biz that more money means flashier albums, more advertising, greater pop chart positions and as a result, a new feeling of unrest from the old fans. When a record company gives you a heap of money to make your album, most people would be more than likely to take that money and record in a popular studio and get the big names to produce, mix and master it for you. In the case of Ruban Nielsen, he’s done the exact opposite. Like his first two albums, Multi Love was recorded and produced in his home studio (which is featured on the cover of the album) with the help of his brother Kody (who also played with Ruban in the NZ noise pop band Mint Chicks) and his dad Chris.
Keeping it on the down-low and away from the industry influence has certainly resulted in a fiercely unique sounding album which strays away from the modern expectations of indie albums – and instead takes a nod to the greats. Critics have compared songs from Multi Love to Stevie Wonder, Prince and Giorgio Moroder, which is honest enough but not definitive. There is a significant shift from the first two albums from quirky indie rock towards a more R&B or funk vibe, with great examples being the singles Multi Love (with smooth soul organs an swelling vocals that you could imagine to be a new Foxygen track) and Can’t Keep Checking My Phone (bouncing funk beats and disco bass lines that wouldn’t go astray on the new Hot Chip release). Both songs are fantastic examples of how this album is almost a mash-up of early genre pioneers and new world ideas, beats and arrangements. This results in songs are that insanely addictive, because there’s a familiar feel blended with the right amount new concepts to certainly get people talking.
These songs sit comfortably between more downbeat moments like the one on Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty, which ebbs and flows on a psych-synth cloud ride, or on the other end of the spectrum, the more classic indie rock of album closer Puzzles. Such sonic variation must result in an interesting live experience – the band is fleshed out by bassist Jake Portrait and drummer Riley Geare, but as it looks they have added an additional keys player to the current live lineup.
Multi Love may cause a slight bit of confusion for fans of UMO’s self titled or II albums. The engaging indie guitar work remains (he did play in a noise pop band after all!) and the hooks are everlasting. However this time Ruban has moved into new territory and expanded the banner under which UMO could possibly fall. Which, in conclusion, is the sign of an artist who can safely grow, evolve and experiment – resulting in some of his best work to date.
Album Title In Colour
Label Young Turks
Genre Downtempo, House, Garage
Moments Of 90’s British raves, The XX, Jon Hopkins
Stand Out Loud Places
Quiet sensitivity married with modern dance-floor ready beats? Or slow, superficial beats fashioned with bad cheese? Jamie xx’s solo debut In Colour is making waves and garnering acclaim from nearly all angles. It’s looking likely that this will go down as one of 2015’s defining albums, with plenty of hit-making material is to be found. With all this said, it’s quite possible that this album may not stand the tests of time for dance music purists and date poorly.
In 2009, The XX’s self-titled debut struck a special chord with fans around the world, fusing stripped back instrumentation with a folksy, indie appeal into something fresh, revitalising and personal. Today, fans revisiting the album may find it falls short, with saccharine melodies that no longer please and predictable patterns across the eleven songs. In Colour may fill this void for many, repackaging recognisable sonic signatures and guest appearances from Jamie XX aka Smith’s band members into a modern dance framework ready to conquer 2015. However, if you really have moved on, you will find only a lot a filler and uninventive recapitulations of a dated sound.
Beyond the rehashed, dreamy melodies of The XX is a reimagining of Britain’s 90’s rave bangers. Gosh opens the album with a step in the wrong direction; highlighting Jamie’s obsession with heavy, heavy beats and the harder side of dance productions. See Saw and Loud Places add Romy Madley Croft softly romantic vocal performances to the mix, creating playable hits that are instantly recognisable. Smith really capitalises on this stylistic niche in Loud Places. Undeniably alluring, it’s a refreshing palate cleanser for listeners tired of regurgitated house crap churned out by acts such as Disclosure.
Perhaps the album appropriates 90’s dance music whilst missing something of the nearly-formal experimentation of underground techno and deep house epitomised by artists such as Terre Thaemlitz. Smith does a great job of cohering the album with a consistent voice, applying it to an impressive number of song types and genres. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) is a catchy R&B tune, if shameless attempt at a club crossover hit, whilst The Rest Is Noise shows Smith’s keen sense for the development of rhythmic and melodic material, with sections that slip and slide into one another with Jon Hopkinsesque style. It’s a shame the album’s nicer moments are undermined by the unimaginative filler tracks like Obvs and Stranger In A Room, which show that Smith’s sensitive style can come across as passé, pathetic, weakness.
There’s a lot to be admired here – Smith’s made a real attempt to find a unique voice despite trying to satisfy a broad audience. The title In Colour suggests a forward step away from minimalistic songwriting with a maximalist approach, and the big sound that results is sure to grab people’s attention for years to come. Hopefully the success of this album will be help him cultivate his own artistic direction without worrying about maintaining his previous fan base.
Album Title Nature
Moments Of Spacemen 3, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, WindowSpeak , The Velvet Underground
Stand Out Sunday, Clouds
Honey Owens lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Armed with a guitar riddled with delayed washy pedal effects and a dream weaving voice, this the third album released throught he very cool Portland-based Kranky record label. Valet sees Owne teami up with her partner Fauria and multi-instrumentalist Mark Burden.
Portland may very well get mocked for being the birth place of “hipster” and the U.S. state that made “Is it Organic?” an important question when ordering complicated breakfast, but for all its mockery, it is bloody cool place to be when you take a look at what the city continues to churn out musically.
Honey Owens is “no flash in the musical pan”, she is a long time staple of Portland’s various underground music circles having played in some seriously cool underground influential bands like Jackie O Motherfucker, Nudge, World and Dark Yoga. Going under the name Valet, Owen released her debut Blood Is Clean in 2006, many tracks recorded in just one take, Kranky signed Owen then re-released the album, supporting her as she released a follow up and an EP a fews years later. With a small break to focus on other more dance focussed project (of which you can hear in the album), she teamed up with her partner to reconnect with her evident love for shoegaze music.
Opening track Sunday, could easily be confused for a return single by the members of Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine supergroup, not a bad combination, but perhaps a little too same same. Having grown up immersed in the shoegaze scene this is not entirely a bad reference, but had me question the struggle that artists have in this digital age. Back in the 90’s, Owen would have a huge following, thanks to such a close knit community of shoegazers who had nothing more than music mags and borrowed CDs to bridge their commitment to music. Today, with so much music to choose from, it baffles me how anyone can get through the musical noise of so much bloody music. Anyhow, I am getting off the topic of an album review.
Second track , Nature, like all the tracks on this album, glides on a wave of ethereal soundscapes and droned reverb while Owen’s vocals simply wash around, lyrically poised but irrelevant in content to some extent.
Nowhere, an instrumental, shows the many facets of Owens musical inspiration, talents and ability to step off the predictable path, the track is a perfect 5 minute soundscape into Clouds, perhaps the most upbeat and electronic track on the album.
There is absolutely no denying that closing track Child is a nod to Spaceman 3, it could well be a cover with its smacked out bluesy jam feel, incoherent ghost like vocals and so much lethargy, it barely gets up off the floor.
Having played the album on repeat as I plug away at this review and edit the Sunday New Born post, it comes clear to me that Honey Owen is indeed a damn talented musician and her influence and respect in the Portland indie circles is earnt. If I were to score this album after 3 listens Id offer 5 lambs, but 6 rotations in on repeat, it gets better and better. Let’s go for a very comfortable 7 woolly lambs.