|Fear of Men - Early Fragments|
Fear of Men are a Brighton four piece consisting of two men and two women, the ideal set up for indie pop. At a time where twee has become the new underground rock, indie pop surfaced and regenerated as sweet, sophisticated pop with rock influences. People could argue for years over 'who is better' or 'this genre is better', but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. The truth is that indie pop has a deeper connection between band and listeners than most genres that are not considered singer-songwriter. Fear of Men are among the many elite indie pop artists that can combine great sounds to make a track work, stay ethical to their genre and present the great skill of lyricism.
Early Fragments is a compilation of three Fear of Men singles over the last two years. It features both the A-sides and the B-sides; it's clear which is which. It's what ultimately takes a stab at Fear of Men's catastrophically good back catalogue. As a growing artist, releasing all your singles as a compilation is a great idea, it maximises sales, it adds exposure and it compiles all your early tracks in one album that can be referred back to as they grow and grow. Fear of Men will undoubtedly take off as soon as album number one is released, and I look forward to hearing about the Brighton quartet taking America by storm. There are eight tracks on Early Fragments, which makes three singles. The single releases, "Mosaic", "Green Sea", "Ritual Confession", are the best by far. These three are clear standouts among the others. That's not to say the B-sides are bad, they're just not as good. "Seer" begins the compilation. It's a new Fear of Men track that hasn't featured on any single or EP release. It's an interesting track due to its withdrawn sound and quieter lead guitar. Over the course of Early Fragments, we hear a trend, and "Seer" differs from this. Possibly a direction Fear of Men are taking. It's definitely softer, more atmospherical and relaxing.
It's the vocal harmonies, slow tempos and melodies that make Fear of Men better than their London / Glasgow counterparts Veronica Falls. Tracks like "Born" are exactly what a post-Belle & Sebastian audience want to hear. The lyrics are up to scratch, with Jessica Weiss singing: "We're not just empty vessels making noises." Weiss reminds me of a modern female version of Jonathan Richman. The following track is my personal favourite from Fear of Men's single catalogue, "Doldrums". More surf rock guitars, more vocal harmonies and an even brighter chorus than "Green Sea". Fear of Men have all the basics covered, however none of their singles are advanced enough to make it on to their debut album, par "Mosaic".
|Mazes - Ores & Minerals|
Ores & Minerals is Mazes second album. Their debut album A Thousand Heys never clicked with me, and after seeing the trio live, my opinion hadn't changed. Bassist Conan Roberts is in charge of one of my favourite small independent record labels, Italian Beach Babes. Said label aided the increasing growth of the above band, Fear of Men. Unfortunately Mazes are completely different and in an entirely separate genre. Mazes like lo-fi, they’re big fans of 80s / 90s American alternative rock, and that's apparent on Ores & Minerals.
They show good signs of a Pavement influenced trio with "Significant Bullet", likewise for the sharp "Delancey Essex" and "Bite". The self-titled track adds experimentation into the bands output, with soundscapes and an entirely average electronic drum beat. Without Jack Cooper's guitar, Mazes would be nothing but a Clinic-esque band without the psych influences. The tracks on Ores & Minerals are far from impressive. The averageness of the back third is painful, as well as the poor opening with the repetitive "Bodies". I understand this music, and I know where they're coming from with album number two, but it just doesn’t cut it for me. A Thousand Heys has energy, guys and a band wanting to change the British airwaves with guitar music. Roberts is doing this with the label Italian Beach Babes, but unfortunately for Mazes, they don't quite make it with Ores & Minerals.
It's almost as if I’m waiting for that one track that changes my mind, alters my imagination and view of Mazes, but that track never shows up. This is a trio that have almost vanished from their former self. The lo-fi recordings have been replaced with The Strokes-like left / right sided instrumentation, and this never works in the minimal. Think of what you can do with drums, bass and guitars; you can create a racket, Mazes decide not to do this. The direction they've taken is cooler, quieter and less imaginative. If Ores & Minerals is the re-birth of British guitar music, then I’m living in a fantasy world.
|Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away|
Push the Sky Away is the fifteenth studio album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Nick Cave has never released a bad album in all his 34 years of recording. Known as the king of Australia's musical output, Cave reignites the flame with his long-term collaborator Mick Harvey. Harvey being a very talented instrumentalist and producer, he was the man behind PJ Harvey's 2011 and (in 20 years) soon to be classic album Let England Shake. The connection here is PJ Harvey's relationship with Nick Cave in the mid-90s which spawned one of the best Nick Cave albums, The Boatman's Call. Push the Sky Away has a sombre tone, Cave never fails to grab the audience in his sophisticated singer-songwriter and masculine way, there's no stopping Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
"Waters Edge" is a fantastic track. The dark instrumentation and heavy lyricism reminds me of Kate Bush's unbelievable 2011 album 50 Words for Snow. There’s something quite sentimental about Cave's sound. His vocal is growing stronger in a sort of Tom Waits style, while keeping the mix of innocence and closeted emotions. Of course it had to be Nick Launay who produced Push the Sky Away. The experienced producer mixed The Dreaming for Kate Bush in the 80s. His credible production can be heard with the simplistic minimalism of Push the Sky Away. "Jubilee Street" sounds beautiful with the strings and drumming coming together at once. That also goes for "Mermaids", where we hear the deeper sounds of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Weaving guitar effects and layers of various instrumental, the most prominent an acoustic guitar and a keyboard.
"We No Who U R" happens to be my least favourite track on Push the Sky Away. It sounds like the music you would hear on an advert for Chanel No5 or Jack Daniels. The quite soaring electric guitar on the left side is brilliant, but other than that it’s hard to take a lot from the opening track. It's also hard to be over critical of Cave's musical direction. Grinderman was a brilliant side-project that has been executed with perfection. Push the Sky Away doesn’t sit on the wall. It's a good album and everybody knows this. People stop what they're doing to listen to Nick Cave, and Push the Sky Away is no different. The final track "Higgs Boson Blues" sums up Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fifteenth album: "Who cares what the future holds."
|Panda Riot - Northern Automatic Music|
Northern Automatic Music is Panda Riot's debut album. The four piece have already gathered a huge dedicated fan base through their EP Far and Near released last year. It wasn't that long ago when I talked of shoegaze being a picky genre, Panda Riot fall into the trap so many shoegaze artists try and avoid.
It's not that Northern Automatic Music is a bad album, Panda Riot have done little wrong, they’ve just not done the things shoegaze fanatics describe as 'right'. In a month owned by My Bloody Valentine's third album, Panda Riot decide to release their debut album, an accident. It's like having a TV show on Channel 4 at 7.30pm on week days, it's never going to be seen with Eastenders and Coronation Street about - the same applies with music.
There's not much depth in Panda Riot's sound. I expected a heavier and deeper sound where the guitars and bass shine, instead the lo-fi like percussion steals the limelight. The guitars are far too quiet, making the whole shoegaze aesthetic pointless. It's hard to enjoy music that hasn't been fulfilled correctly in the studio. This album would sound great live, but unfortunately for them, the studio version sucks. "Serious Radical Girls" is a poor track with out of place piano arrangements. "Golden Age" is basically a structural copy of the first track "Amanda In The Clouds". The little elements of Panda Riot's sound don't come together to create on huge ball of power, which is what shoegaze is all about. Without that sound, the texture, the effects and the emotion, it becomes absolutely worthless and just a bunch of people 'attempting' to create an album that's already been done before. "Good Night, Rich Kids" would be my pick of the bunch, apart from this Northern Automatic Music is flat out dull.
|Johnny Marr - The Messenger|
The Messenger is an album I really didn't think would be recorded. Johnny Marr now joins a select group of artists I like to call the old mod elect. Paul Weller is there, Ian Brown is there, Noel Gallagher, his less intelligent brother and now Marr. It's the home of generic British rock, and they all think they're the saviours of music. The Messenger isn't quite as bland as Beady Eye, or as mediocre as Ian Brown's solo efforts. It's just not, and that's it. Like Morrissey’s solo recordings, Marr becomes the next middle aged man to release an album of unwanted material. Sure, there's fans of The Smiths and The Cribs out there that would probably want to hear a solo album from Marr, and now they have it. Is this really what he wanted? I beg to differ. Marr like Noel Gallagher are guitarists, they belong in a band, not as a solo artist. Just because you wrote decent songs and played guitar well doesn’t give you the same recognition as a stand-alone artist. it's why so many solo careers have failed miserably, and Marr's solo career will undoubtedly be the same.
There are little signs on The Messenger to show that Marr was once the legendary guitarist of The Smiths. Do you remember Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce? Respectively the bassist and drummer for The Smiths. Neither are on the tip of everyone's tongue, and Marr / Morrissey have received a bit of stick for never giving their other halves enough credit in The Smith's sound. It's came back to bite Marr, because on The Messenger, drums and bass are the focus. The electric and acoustic guitar Marr plays is pretty much nowhere to be seen. It's there, but it's not individually heard, it's just part of the 'rock' sound. "Lockdown" is a good example of where the sound takes over the individual aspects. You can’t tear apart the separate instruments because they all work in the same way. There's nothing exciting or imaginative about The Messenger. Tracks like "The Right Thing Right" and "I Want The Heartbeat" just sound like late 00s Oasis rips. "European Me" offers a little bit of salvage with a great Marr guitar riff, for once. There's no "Bigmouth Strikes Again", instead there's "Sun And Moon", "The Crack Up" and "Upstarts", three bland tracks with simplistic slow guitar riffs at the heart.
I didn't want Marr to release a solo album because I wanted to remember him with The Smiths, or as a mentor for The Cribs. His work in The Smiths is undeniably genius; he's one of Britain’s greatest guitarist. From "How Soon Is Now?" right the way to "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out", Marr has established an indie pop / jangle pop sound that would of been considered post-punk if it wasn't for the man upfront. The Messenger is nothing like The Smiths, it's nothing like The Cribs. It's an average album with no real meaning behind its creation - this almost sounds amateur.