|The Flaming Lips - The Terror|
Looking back over the last few months, I notice a gap that's been unfulfilled by neo-psychedelia. The Flaming Lips put out their 13th studio album The Terror in April, and I expected it in March - I'll tell you why. "Sun Blows Up Today" didn't make the album; it's an iTunes exclusive, just like the seven versions of Gaga's The Fame. When the most memorable and accessible track becomes a privatised capitalist monetary gain, faith in independent music somewhat dies. Album cuts are no longer thrown away, bootlegged or saved for expansion on a follow-up; they're marketed to other audiences as extras. The difference here is "Sun Blows Up Today" absolutely trumps all other tracks on The Terror. It leaves me feeling empty inside, because I omit the track from my playlist, my album experience must be the actual album.
The Flaming Lips' The Terror passes through time in a trans-like state. It captures the raw essence of psychedelic ambience and production techniques. Wayne Coyne has spent years mastering the lips ability to mess around creating a sauna of sounds. When he acts on experimentation, we're left with a lengthy album of unusual progressions without the standard structure. The audience’s ability to tap along or sing the chorus to "Do You Realize?" is something of the past. Rhythms are lost intentionally and a classical modernism approach is met by music's most cherished and popular theme - love. At the heart of The Terror is Coyne's velvet voice reaching out to us, answering his own questions, realizing love.
The album opener "Look.. The Sun Is Rising", is like turning a page. The Terror is practically a questionable love opera concept album, with Coyne acting as the protagonist, and his heart the antagonist. Its right-sided white noise verses left-sided guitar. the final minute segues in to the following track "Be Free, A Way" perfectly. The synthesizers switch around and Coyne begins to take listeners through a voyage of sound. The Terror follows this pattern, making the audience stick around for the journey. This album isn't made up of two/three singles and filler. It's all one, together.
We hear new gems like "Butterfly (How Long It Takes To Die)" and the climatic closer "Always There... In Our Hearts". The Flaming Lips put us through our senses for 55 minutes. It's not unusual to hear such charismatic instrumentals by The Flaming Lips, they know how to paint a picture. The lengthy pieces of drone make up for the lack of radio airplay. "You Lust" has a big part to play in this. There's a designated guitar riff played throughout the back half of the track with extraordinary synthesis which is shrouded in effects.
Because The Terror is such a constricted and flowing piece, single "Sun Blows Up Today" ultimately doesn't belong. It's holds up everything about The Flaming Lips on its own, but it doesn’t hold the energy, the passion for love and sound engineering as the nine tracks on The Terror. None of which are as significant as the self-titled track, which for six minutes excites the listener to the point of insanity.
|Tom Odell - Long Way Down|
Tom Odell nails down his career to support slots and mediocre receptions with his debut album Long Way Down. We already have several bands and solo artists that go by the same genre of soft rock / pop, which are already popular and are already well followed. Some started off good, Coldplay, others were bad from the start, Mumford & Sons - Odell will automatically fall down the pit of chart hits and executive songwriters with his Keane-inspired piano 'ballads'.
Odell actually has an interesting voice that sounds more BRIT school than Ed Sheeran. His songs follow a routine of simplistic, but smooth piano and an ordinary percussion back-up. At times the listener can lose themselves in his voice, "Sense", but ultimately, audiences end up wondering why, "Till I Lost". Odell clearly wears his influences on his shoulder, he's no stranger to Win Butler's eccentricity with Arcade Fire, something Odell has somewhat aimed for with Long Way Down.
I actually like the opener "Grow With Me", it had a likeable piano riff and the drum beat is perfect for weekend listens in the sun. It's incredibly simple, but perhaps this is Odell's strong point in an industry where simple is the new Rain Dogs. Long Way Down isn't the worst album of 2013, and it's certainly not the worst British album to be released this year. Odell's vocal and piano playing are too good to be ignored, and listeners on BBC Radio 1 can enjoy it equally with BBC Radio 2, I’m sure that's a first.
Long Way Down sounds a little aimless as the listens progress. Even Keane albums follow a basic principle, and Coldplay; well they do their best to make pop concept albums these days. They go for it and have special formulae for success and worldwide recognition, while still being at hands length with artists like Jon Hopkins and Brian Eno, yet Odell won't have this at his disposal. As a solo artist, it's his job to work out a direction, a purpose; because on Long Way Down Odell is just singing to be heard, rather than to be listened to.
|Smith Westerns - Soft Will|
Veteran producer and one of my favourites Chris Coady returns to produce Smith Westerns' Soft Will with something extra that he couldn't quite include on Wavves' recent release and Yeah Yeah Yeahs old foe. Everyone has a soft touch, a certain degree of appreciation for the Chicago three-piece that sound more 70s than Bowie. Their glamorous sound is down to Bolan's boogie, Bowie's big brother and glam rock's Glitter. If Dry It Blonde is something to go by, then Smith Westerns have the world at their fingertips. It's not like the trio sound dated or out of fashion, they fit nicely with the regenerating synth pop generation that made A-ha more than just a video.
Soft Will marks Smith Westerns change in direction from the raw glam-laden lo-fi of their earlier work, to a more sophisticated and synth filled year, where M83 touch the stars with Wild Nothing. Music's deep and longing notion with rhythm and 'singles' has faded to a select few breed of artists. The birth of the studio album as we know it has created Smith Western's third album. Bowie's longstanding tradition of a full album experience is mirrored by lead vocalist Cullen Omori's ethos. Tracks like "XXIII" belong on a 80s Pink Floyd record, whereas "Only Natural" could pass as a 2001 B-side for The Strokes. Soft Will does sway through the decades in a complete and utter nostalgic transformation.
"3AM Spiritual" opens Soft Will with one of Cullen's best vocals, among the synth drops fans of Smith Westerns have learnt to love. It paves the way for a spectacular show that matches the rock-concept albums that gave birth to modern independent music. The same can be said for the follow-up tracks "Idol" and "Glossed". Lead guitar riffs seem almost uncharismatic, though without them, Soft Will wouldn’t succeed. The rhythm guitar makes good use of effects in the latter, while the formers synth delays create a world of imagination for the listeners.
This glam rock sound presents itself throughout Soft Will. "Best Friend" has an enduring guitar riff that could pass off as soft-touch Roxy Music ballad. On the other hand, "Cheer Up" is Smith Western's slow dance ballad for 60s high-school proms. There's a fantastic degree of musical differences on Soft Will, it's something many new synth pop bands fail to achieve on their album releases. Nothing quite captures the youth essence of Cullen and co than closer "Varsity". With its vocal shrieks and rock formulae, this track is destined for ultimate success to 90s kids.
There are no cutting edge structures of phenomenally exceptional tracks on Soft Will, but it all comes together as one giant piece of music. It takes out the general love of Marc Bolan and focusses on finding its own sound. Smith Westerns have certainly crafted one of the more realistic and undemanding albums of 2013 that will certainly still be ringing in my ears come winter.