Sunday, 30 September 2012

Tame Impala - Lonerism

TameImpala could very well be the 21st centuries answer to Pink Floyd. 2010’s “Innerspeaker” was received exceptionally well be pretty much every music publication around the world. Australia isn’t the best place to look for innovative new music, but Tame Impala want to change all of that. All the recordings are by frontman Kevin Parker. He is essentially the only person in Tame Impala; however he has several others perform with him live creating the band format. 

Since releasing Innerspeaker in 2010, Tame Impala have collaborated with idols The Flaming Lips on the track “Children of The Moon” for the compilation album “TheFlaming Lips and Heady Friends”. This track is specifically drone-like and psych rock heavy. Tame Impala have taken a massive influence from The Flaming Lips, among many other psych bands on “Lonerism”. Similarities in sound can be put down to Tame Impala utilizing David Fridmann (The Flaming Lips / Mercury Rev) producing Lonerism. 

Lonerism is a perplex album which sounds remarkably British in the James Bond / 60's mod craze sense. The synth loops are utterly fantastic throughout this album. Opening track "Be Above It" is an early indication of what to expect. D.I.Y and lo-fi drumming with 70's synthesizers and vintage textures are amidst Parker's brilliant vocals. "Endors Toi" is just as vintage and psychedelic as the previous track. A whole range of effects are used on the acoustic guitar and the synths. The synths trickle from the left side to the right side and back, while the acoustic guitar primarily sticks to the left and wah-wah's its way in and out of focus. The real deal happens 90 seconds in when Parker's vocal enters. An echoey opening verse triggers the fast paced and exuberating bass guitar. The track draws to a close in a matter of minutes, but not before a chaotic electric guitar rips through the effects and parallels the bass guitar. It's a fantastic opening five minutes to Lonerism, one of the most psychedelic and ear-pleasing opening segments I’ve heard so far this year.

It doesn’t stop there. "Apocalypse Dreams" opens with a heavy vintage piano on the left side, alongside the steady bass guitar and simple drumming on the right. Secondary piano enters shortly after with Parker's reverberated vocal. This track is extraordinary because it seems to cross genres with its overdrive and sporadic structure. It's ultimately several tracks in one, with the first segment flowing directly into the second with a slower bass riff or a more composed drum pattern. At two minutes, the synth loop on the right takes over with a very withdrawn left sided guitar solo. Parker sings, "Whoa, am I getting closer? Will I ever get up? Does it even matter?" The breaks in music act as sections, stories and time to think. Lonerism is an album that makes the listener think. Part two of this story enters three minutes in. The music stops and a loud synthesizer rips through with the already heard drum pattern and bass riff. One thing I adore about this section of the track is Parker's lyric straight after the gigantic shift in music structure, "Nothing ever changes." The only thing I can mark Apocalypse Dreams down for is the one minute fade out, because I think fade outs are cheap unless they're used effectively. Note that Jay Watson receives a credit for piano on this track. He’s the only other person to receive a credit other than Kevin Parker.

I'm not really impressed by "Mind Mischief". I just think it's a little in your face and left-field. It's certainly experimental and unusual when compared to other tracks from this album. The bass is very heavy and forward, and so is the guitar work and drumming. It's just a little under produced and too effect heavy. In contrast, I think "Music To Walk Home By" is a spectacular track. The structure is spot on and Parker's vocal is arguably the greatest on the album. The left sided synthesizer is fantastic to hear. It works perfectly with the bass and Parkers withdrawn vocal. He's unusually quiet on this track with the bass again in focus. Again, the structure is extraordinary and the music only improves with time. Synth lines loop and build up as the left sided guitar tabs fade and refrain with the wah-wah effect. Adding to that, the wah-wah effect is heavily overused on Lonerism and it's one of the reasons why Lonerism isn't a unique and get it now album.

The lyrical presence can be felt on the later tracks on Lonerism. "Why WontThey Talk To Me?" is self-explanatory. Parkers feeling of isolation is a topic he covers on pretty much every track. This track is lighter and smoother compared to the previous explosive tracks. Every album needs that one track that questions the listener, giving them time in the process. This is that track. The acoustic guitar and layered vocals are my favourite individual sections of this track, along with the track titles refrain, "Why Wont They Talk To Me?". 

"FeelsLike We Only Go Backwards" is another excellent track. The bass is excessively heavy and it's an annoyance throughout the album, however the melody of this track stands out as the best piece of music on the album. I absolutely adore Parkers layered vocal on the chorus and the tracks ballad-esque structure. "Keep On Lying" never really takes off. The samples are a great inclusion but other than that, it's just a standard Tame Impala track that’s clustered with psychedelic sounds. The monotonous synth/piano stab throughout the track is lovely and brings The Doors to mind with the left sided organ towards the final minute of the track. 

Pre-release single "Elephant" actually doesn’t grab my attention as well as some of the other tracks on Lonerism. The synth riffs and stark bass riff are a clear single indication but other than that it doesn't show or tell me anything. The second half is a progressive rock section with magnificent synths and effects, but its ultimate downfall is the lack of interesting features. The drumming is the same as previous tracks, as is the bass. The vocal is toned down and the synth that takes control only just scrapes double figures in seconds. I can't see why this was picked as a single when there’s a perfectly good single in Feels Like We Only Go Backwards. To clarify, nothing on Lonerism is orgasmic. It's not quite authentic or rock, in the traditional sense. It’s all rather electronic and synth based rather than guitars such as with debut album Innerspeaker. Tame Impala are like a heavy, synth and Australian version of John Lennon's solo work. I think the use of synths and tracks such as "She Just Won't Believe Me" ruin this connection. 

"NothingThat Has Happened So Far" continues the mass amount of synths and drum looping. Drum machines have been used more effectively than the authentic drums from the debut album. Parker's vocal is far more relaxed and calm, especially on this track. It’s quite a nostalgic album with samples, odd ball effects and twirling psych synths. Keeping with the nostalgic theme, the album ends with "Sun's Coming Up". The piano is very child-like again, with emphasis on the heavily effected vocal. It’s a delightful end to the heavy and abrasive album; however the final minute of synth features kind of ruin the final piece for me. The album then closes with white noise.

Listeners shouldn’t expect Innerspeaker, because these albums are clearly different in the choice of influence, topic and instrumentation varieties. Tame Impala have a solid follow-up album with a number of very good psychedelic tracks; it just doesn’t surprise me or take my breath away. An excessive use of wah-wah and chorus is a clear negative on the album. Clustered material is down to Parkers sole role in Tame Impala. On more than one occasion, the bass takes focus instead of what would be ideally the drums or acoustic guitar. The synths are nice I'll admit, but they're never a highlight for me. The lyrical theme and progressive rock nature of Lonerism are the high points. The structural changes and progressions are absolutely beautiful such as on Apocalypse Dreams and Feels Like We Only Go Backwards. Lonerism never quite grabs me and keeps me listening. The synths and bass become off-putting and that’s a real turn off for me. The authenticity of Innerspeaker has been lost with a mass amount of effects. It can be the best album of the year to some, and the worst to other. For me it's up there as one of the most adventurous albums, but also one of the most fulfilling albums.


Submotion Orchestra - Fragments

Let’s face it, we live in a world which is being dominated by dubstep and its many subgenres. Being an electronic music producer I’m also being surrounded by would-be dubstep DJ’s and enthusiasts. And while I was once quite taken with heavy drops, buzzing LFO basslines and edited reggae vocals it didn’t take long for me to get tired of the sound. One thing I never seem to get tired of though, is dubstep fusion, especially when it’s done right (like, for instance, the new Muse album).

Leeds based 7-piece band Submotion Orchestra is a band that does it right. Mixing genres like downtempo with live instrumentation reminiscent of Jazz and Reggae with low and grimey basslines and Dubstep rhythms. Their first album “Finest Hour”, released in 2009, succeeded in peaking my interest and as a result it managed to stay in my most played list for a few months. I’m surprised that a band this big is able to put out a new album the year after. 

With this release we see a band who has found its footing and is now really putting themselves out there. The whole jazzy thing is back (thank the heavens), as are the low basslines albeit in a less moody way that I came to love them for. This, however, is not something that is sorely missed. The intro of the album goes further than most intros on albums do. It’s a valid and interesting introduction to the matured, well-established sound of the first album and while it manages to comfort the listener with the fact that the band didn’t have many great changes sound-wise, it leaves no illusion that the band is still stuck in 2011.  "Blind Spot" is a killer track that showcases the great groove and feel for layering that this band has. The soulful vocals of lead singer Ruby Wood surrounds each track with a sense of mystery and wonder, a gentle guide through the intense listening experience that lays ahead of you. "Thinking" focuses more on the percussion than the vocals, with melodies creating a thick structure. "Snow" is a beautiful laid-back track which wouldn’t sound bad in a late night jazz club in San Fransisco and this trend continues on "Sleepwalker". The album picks up pace on track six, "Bird of Prey" and mixes the established sound up with some UK grime on "Times Strange". The track stands out for its dissonance and the inclusion of an MC. The moodiness of the first track is back in full force, and then some. The only track on here that could be classified as closest to dubstep is the apologetically titled "It’s Not Me, It’s You" and whilst chilled out and laid back it’s the only track that very heavily features synths as a melody. 

It’s an intriguing listen. The album is interesting enough in its own right and even though there’s enough dynamic content to make you press the play button after it’s all said and done it does fall flat on one end: it’s tiresome. While every track is unique and memorable and has its own character it has one big flaw; it all starts to sound a bit like the same trick in a new disguise. It’s the same buildup to the halftime drum with saxophone and warm vocals. Sometimes it can even get a bit boring. But does that spoil the fun? It depends. If you’re expecting a dubstep album with jazzy segments, you’re in for a bad surprise. If you’re looking for jazz with an edge however, this album may just be in luck! This is a very nice update to moody night-time jazz, a film Noir soundtrack for the modern (wo)man. I will shelve this for the time being, but I will surely get it out again to enjoy on a rainy night with a nice glass of whiskey and one of the cheap cigars I’ve got saved up in my closet. 


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Muse - The 2nd Law

When we look at the history of pop music, there is no denying that artists have taken the liberty of borrowing styles and sounds from other established artists. Improving on them or disfiguring them in the process, depending on which way you look at it. And English progressive-electro-orchestral rock band Muse does this like no other band can. With a lead singer who is trying hard to be like Freddie Mercury and Beethoven and backed up by a band who is feverishly building on the sound of Radiohead and Queen, they have seen their fair share of controversy. With a catalogue of multi-platinum albums and a few direction changes under their belt they now release upon the world their next chapter: The 2nd Law.

And how could we forget? The album garnered enough hate well before it was even released because of a trailer that was more Dubstep than actual rock and many a devoted fan was disappointed by their grandiose performance at the 2012 Olympics in London. So it’s safe to say that people reacted lukewarm when the release that was announced. But now that it is finally here we can wonder: is it really that bad?

As it turns out it’s not. The minute the first track, the ominously titled “Supremacy”, falls upon your ears you are greeted by the grandiosity you have come to expect and (as some do) love. Bellamy’s one dimensional lyricism about rising up for something lays comfortably under an orchestral piece that would be perfect for a James Bond soundtrack. It is as beautiful as it is pretentious, and it doesn’t fail in its intent to draw you into the solid wall of sound they have created. If their aim is to bedazzle and overpower their listener, they have certainly succeeded.

But this album will divide it’s listeners. On one hand you have the Muse purists, the fans that were there when Showbiz was released. The fans that loved Muse but started to get restless when The Resistance was released back in 2010. On the other hand you’ve got the more open-minded listener, one you perhaps enjoys the whole Dubstep thing that is raging over the world at the moment. Whilst the latter will certainly enjoy this album, the former might have a few gripes with this particular release. All the attributes that make Muse Muse are there: the Queen-ish phrases of Bellamy, the grandiose guitar work and the raw basslines. All make an appearance. It’s Muse through and through, but with an added element. That element is, of course, Dubstep. Korn was there first, with an album that featured the likes of Skrillex and Noisia and they released unto an album that was not ready for the blending of these 2 albums. It sounded less like Korn and more like Skrillex. Muse, however, does it differently. When they step away from their normal sound to experiment with electronic music, nothing that makes them Muse is lost. This is most evident on "Follow Me", a track that reminds me of a mixture of Dubstep royalty Nero and some of the older works by DJ Tiësto.
The track "Save Me" is co produced by Nero. Everything about this track screams Muse, even though there are no guitars, no live drums, no nothing. It’s not supposed to work, but it does. And it does it well.

The whole album feels like one huge buildup, becoming louder, then softer, then increasingly louder until you reach track twelve, the first part of a two-parter: "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable". The dreaded track from the trailer. And in all honesty this is the track that sticks with me the most. It’s loud, it’s heavy and dynamic and most of all: very well done. The second part of the track "Isolated System" gently swoops you down from the height the album has brought you on and shows you that Bellamy is still more than able to conduct a full symphony orchestra with as much grace and skill as he plays his guitar.

This album is not what many thought it would be. It saw the band move even further from familiar territory and the outcome is both terrifying and fantastic. Personally I was afraid that the band would screw up this new found interest in dance music but I am relieved to report that they did not. The band feels right at home with this new direction and are at their strongest when they play ballads ("Madness", the fantastic "Animals", and the powerful "Explorers"). This is an album that will certainly put a distance between their old fanbase, but it will also attract a fresh new batch of listeners. And I for one am not disgusted by that idea. Touché Muse, touché.


Tender Trap - Ten Songs About Girls

Tender Trap namedrop Edywn Collins, songs about girls and My BloodyValentine on second track MBV. It's a straightforward concept of indie pop and its influences / predecessors. Tender Trap are not your usual indie pop/twee pop band. They're comprised of previous indie pop band members for a start. They're no Orange Juice or Belle & Sebastian, but they have their own thing. This 'thing' isn't the most respectable aspect of their music. This idea of being 'indie' is beyond me. The members of Tender Trap are over 40 years old, but they don't care about age... Ten Songs About Girls is another beautifully arranged indie pop album for a modern audience. 

Two years have passed since 'Dansette Dansette' was released; nothing out of the usual has happened to Tender Trap since that release. The question on the tip of my tongue is 'what is the point?' It's something that needs an answer. 'MBV' doesn’t answer this, but it clearly tells the listener what they are, what they like and what they've always been about. 'Train FromKing's Cross Station' has lovely lyrical moments. For instance, "I left you behind, but you are always on my mind" / "Finding these lost young hearts to someone new. But now I cry, what can I do?" The guitar work is arguably the best on the album. Harmonies are present, supporting vocals and loud effective bass. 

Ten Songs About Girls opens with a handful of exciting tracks; as expected. 'Could This Be The Last Time?' can be defined by its extraordinary chorus, "Could this be the last time you tease me? Could this be the last time with you? As your days above disappear. Could this be the last time of my life ‘round here with you?" The melody is spot on, the progressions are spot on and the lyrics draw everything in to focus smoothly. 'Leaving Christmas Day' is an achy breaky love song which would be ideal for a break up around Christmas. The lyrics are not spectacular, but they provoke reactions. It's not just the progressions, the melodies or the outstanding backing vocals. It's the imagery Tender Trap put across that captures the listener, well it certainly captures me.

In 'Step One', Tender Trap lay down some 'rules', if you'd like to call it that. Rules on how to become a successful indie band with little care in the world for talent. Lyrics such as "Find like-minded girls" / "Write a great chorus, never mind the verse" / "Buy a pink guitar." Tender Trap are should surely be charging for this winning combination of steps. Jokes aside, I think this is a brilliant track with a great working class ethic at its heart. Mocking the scene they're in only justifies why they still release music to today.

The first half of Ten Songs About Girls is definitely better than the second half. The back album tracks cannot compare to those first few fury tracks of twee pop greatness. Tracks such as 'Memorabilia' and 'May Day' don't cut it for me. The basic structures, lack of instrumentation and predictable progressions do enough to put me off. They’re neither exciting nor emotionally provoking, when that should be their intended purpose. 'Ode' has faster guitar work, louder guitar work and an eruptive bass riff. Ode has timed breaks in the instrumentation and support vocals that improve the tracks overall sound. The punk-esque structure mixes with the twee theme, but that’s not a bad thing.

'Broken Doll' starts with more punk-like noises and an almost Shonen Knife carbon copy of structure. The hand clapping, female vocals and guitar chords have energy and passion within them. It's not the strongest track on the album, but it's certainly the most energetic Tender Trap track I’ve heard. 'Love IsHard Enough' is more down to earth and melancholy than the previous few tracks. I like the vocal harmonies; however I don't like the instrumentation around the chorus. That's because it sounds cluttered and almost in your face.

On Ten Songs About Girls, Tender Trap utilize their age and experience to continue releasing music. It's not a unique album, but it is a Tender Trap album and we can't take that away from them. What was the point of this album then? Was it to keep listeners informed that Tender Trap are still alive and kicking, or was it something extra to refer to when performing live at the many indie festivals on the summer circuit. I think it's a little from column A and a little from column B. It's not significant enough to hit the high marks. Its release was quiet and almost transparent in the blog community, which is surprising given their stature as a twee pop band.