Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Discovery: James Younger - Monday Morning

James Younger is a new artist coming out of Canada with his Brit twang. His debut album Feelin' American is to be released in June and this is the first single from said album. You should check this out because there are not many indie pop artists making this much of an impact on the indie scene these days. Sure, there's your old guard still releasing music, but there’s not much of new music coming out of this scene. Younger fits the bill with his quirky vocals and energetic guitar work reminiscent of The Strokes with that Belle & Sebastian structure.

"Monday Morning" might just be the answer you're looking for. The crisp pop sounds are present and will seemingly be a recurring theme on Feelin' American. Will Younger's debut album be more pop than rock? I doubt it, he seems like a well-rounded and intelligent singer-songwriter who has an ear for influence and guitar based artists. This track is his first single and it's a great start for the Manchester born lad. He doesn't sound Mancunian or relate to the Manchester music scene in any way at all, which might just be his calling card for success. 

Discovery: Modern Heist - Dance Number

From San Diego with love comes Modern Heist, a combination of blues, folk and modern rock. The four piece released their debut album this year and the quality of it is dependent on its mix of genres and influences. Some say Tom Petty is the greatest influence on modern day American rock and roll, I’m sure Modern Heist wouldn’t oppose that notion. We have an array of sounds coming from the heart on Modern Heist's debut album, none more so than the fifth track.

"Dance Number" features a distnictive electric guitar riff and a standard drumming pattern. Vocalist Cassie Thompson sings a sexuak song about dancing: "Move your hands to the sway of my hips, we fall together we were made for this." At times, "Dance Number" can come off as sligtly repetitive and basic. The easy percussion and bass do little to combat that negative, however the elctric guitar standsout with thompson's forward vocal. The structure is lovely and works with the lyrical theme, a nice little track for saloon / bar dancing. 

Vondelpark - Seabed

People have been too quick to disregard Vondelpark as James Blake knock-offs. That may be uncanny, as Vondelpark have been recording and making music long before Blake's first release. Vondelpark are signed to R&S with label mate Blake, who has of course gone on to bigger things since releasing his EP's CMYK and Klavierwerke. The not quite as substantial Vondelpark EP's were also released by R&S, Sauna and nyc stuff and nyc bags - the latter being an incredible downtempo mix of r&b and ambient. Tracks "Camels" and "TV" introduced the listeners to a hazy and minimalistic British electronic trio. A powerful group who have the whole world of electronica at the end of their finger tips. In 2011 Vondelpark performed as Blake's support act. After I thanked them on their triumphant performance, the trio sounded bemused and showed gratitude. They never expected the rollercoaster ride of electronic fame, but the trio have found themselves a label that can take them the whole way. Debut album Seabed is the start of a new era for Vondelpark, an era they expect to control. 

Pre-release single "Dracula" was magnificent. The light synthesizers, vocal loops and a disturbing structure made for late night driving saw Vondelpark follow on from nyc stuff and nyc bags with more of the great minimalistic r&b. It turns out that "Dracula" imposed Vondelpark's ideas from both EP's with the mystery that shrouds the London trio. Seabed follows the pattern of UK garage / r&b with the ever so soothing ambience of Steve Reich. Opener "Quest" has all the ingredients of a rock band turned electronic. Vondelpark once dabbled in rock with Lion Club, slowly maturing with age in to their influences with today's Vondelpark. Imagine Radiohead's Amnesiac, however with Cocteau Twins dream pop soundscapes, this is "Quest", this is Seabed. Following track "Blue Again" quickly establishes the mood. A fast paced percussion works with a hauntingly beautiful synth line and Lewis Rainsbury's at ease vocal work. Listeners can feel the trickling soundscapes, like rain drops running down a misty window. The reverberated percussion is fantastic and exotic sounding with the early two chord synthesizer running wild.

The trio are in fact a band in the analogue age, with synthesizers among their hefty guitars / drums / bass instruments. Digital production has been applied and of course the computer makes its appearance as expected, but I’m making a point that Vondelpark are more than just beeps and bloops on Fruity Loops. Seabed's rendition of "California Analog Dream" is as close they'll get to soft rock perfection. Meanwhile, "Come On" shows off the beat making process and glitch like production. The synthesizer sounds are breaching the guitar notes with what appears to be a heavily effected vocal stab. Likewise with "Always Forever", a beautifully constructed track designed for late night driving. Soft vocals appear in a primitive form, as Rainsbury sings his fast paced, delayed vocal over a track of witch house. 

There’s a raw essence of beauty on Seabed. Vondelpark's debut album is somewhere in between Balam Acab's wonderful Wander/Wonder and Brian Eno's Another Green World. Take "Closer", a delicious acoustic track with melodic vocals: "Never getting off this rollercoaster, someday, some day," sings Rainsbury. Self-titled track "Seabed" is among the better tracks on the album due to its highly electric synth pattern and relaxing notion. Rainsbury's vocal is again hidden amidst a spectacular amount of reverb. 

Seabed doesn’t rely on the strength of its singles. The back half of the album is arguably the better side, featuring one of the best track names of the year, "Bananas (on my biceps)". This track is also Vondelpark's best use of sampling, taking Aretha Franklin's "Wonderful" and removing all aspects of soul to create a powerful drum 'n' bass track worthy of the digital dubstep age.

Vondelpark's debut album closes with "Outro 4 Ariel", mirroring the "Outro For nyc" from nyc stuff and nyc bags. That being said, "Outro 4 Ariel" sounds as if it belongs on nyc stuff and nyc bags. Rainsbury's deluded hazy vocals and a powerful synthesizer set on default create the light atmosphere for Seabed's closer. This track leaves the listener in a dream like manner, like much of the album. Seabed isn't designed for the club, in no way are Vondelpark influenced or leaning towards a dance craze. Their previous EP's and previous career as Lion Club are resolutions to the then emerging dance market. Vondelpark create their songs with a specific mood, audience and time in mind. Its late night, its summer, and it could even be winter, that doesn't matter. You're not going to be playing this on a Friday night birthday party, it's intended for privacy. Seabed is an album you can put on and drift away too. It's not at all boring, it's far from it. Vondelpark have released an album of sophisticated and relaxing electronic music for fans of Burial, Balam Acab and The XX. The mystery still surrounds Vondelpark as they go on into the darkness, yet as we listen to Seabed at midnight, we can't help but imagine the trio playing to a sunrise.
~Eddie Gibson


Eddie's Album Round-up: April

British Sea Power - Machineries of Joy

Track one's have been the all important factor on British Sea Power albums. "All In It" was used to shoegaze simplicity on Do You Like Rock Music? "Who's In Control" evoked the raw hipsterisms of protest summed up by: "Sometimes I wish protesting was sexy on a Saturday night," an ode to making protesting seem cool, though in reality that's far from the truth. It was almost an ironic opening track that instead of combating the issues, highlighted thug violence which mirrors the Green Street ethic: "Would you ever go down to fight, fight, point and stand, point and stand and fight?" Valhalla Dancehall was a barrel of joy for fans of British Sea Power, and this year's Machineries of Joy is no different with the self-titled opening track.

The sound of guitar shrieks, ambience and a cymbal build-up is significant in British Sea Power's musical creations. "Machineries of Joy" opens up in a Neu! fashion, with its krautrock melody. It quickly turns into one of the best written British Sea Power songs to date: "We’re primitive abolition, like a hobbyist of deranged proportion. Or the wait is yours and we’ve failed again, the fleshy existence you keep to yourself, insecure." We are indeed, magnificent machineries of joy, as Yan sings it out loud.

Taken from their BSP EP1-6 demo's from last year, British Sea Power went about recording in Brighton in November. These sessions created Machineries of Joy, one of their best albums to date. The sixth track "Monsters of Sunderland" is especially monumental with its trumpets. Likewise the brass heavy "Radio Goddard". It moves British Sea Power away from their soaring guitars, creating beauty with brass and an acoustic guitar as opposed to a distortion heavy electric. This toning down is seen on the final track "When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Glass" and "What You Need The Most". There's nothing wrong with these acoustic tracks per se, it's the anti-heavy or rock that takes British Sea Power out of their current 'British indie rock' status.

British Sea Power still have their bulging opening track to fall back on, but ultimately Machineries of Joy takes listeners on a voyage that probably won't see British Sea Power return to their former arena rock greatness. Tracks like "Waving Flags" and "Lights out For Darker Skies" only come around once. I like the brass instrumental segments and some of their new toned down material, what's not to like about Yan's literal lyrics over brass. It just doesn’t live up to the audience’s expectation.


Snoop Lion - Reincarnated

Being an avid fan of reggae music, I was pleasantly excited to find out Snoop Dogg was going to reinvent himself as a Rastafarian and release reggae album. Perhaps I was slightly deluded as Snoop Lion's Reincarnated is potentially the worst reggae album in the history of the genre. I'm not going to smoothen the blow, because I listen to reggae for pleasure, not for pain. Reincarnated is possibly the worst experience of music freedom I’ve ever witnessed.

Snoop Dogg's turn isn't exactly a turn for the ages. He says he's dropped the hip-hop for reggae, when in fact Reincarnated is just a hip-hop album with louder bass and a Rastafarian vocal approach. Snoop is covering the worst of Jamaica’s music past times, dancehall. Here's me thinking Snoop was going down a Nas & Damien Marley Distant Relatives root, boy was I wrong, or should I say... Mooonn was I wrong.

Nas actually had a Marley when he broke in to the reggae fusion genre; Snoop was only influenced by a Marley. There's a difference, and Snoop was handed a death sin when duo Diplo and Switch produced Reincarnated, under their Major Lazer moniker. Guest artists include Drake, Rita Ora, Akon and Miley Cyrus. Wait, what? Yes... Miley Cyrus sings on "Ashtrays and Heartbreaks". Listing these artists makes me shudder, especially as the combined group, including those beat murderers Major Lazer are killing a genre and its vibe. We've gone from Augustus Pablo's "Keep On Dubbing" to Snoop's "Fruit Juice". An astronomical downgrade. And if Snoop's false gentrification isn't enough to turn you away, perhaps Akon's "Tired of Running" is. I've dreamt of the day Akon stopped recording music, just so that god damn awful "CONVICT" sound fucks off.

Reincarnated isn't exactly fun or relaxing. I would definitely refrain from playing this album on a sunny day, that's left for reggae artists. It is however, interesting. Snoop manages to combine his love for the Rastafarian movement with the music of 'his' people, so to speak. He does it in shoddy, half arsed pop way, but he does it. Snoop met Bunny Wailer while in Jamaica, and I’m sure Wailer probably wouldn’t approve of the reggae turned electronic style of records these days. There's a point to reggae, not as a movement of genre, but as a personal connection between the listener and the artist. Snoop doesn't take that in to consideration, Miley Cyrus doesn't, Rita Ora doesn’t, Drake doesn’t and neither do the Majors of Lazers...


Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart

‘This is Tape Deck Heart, the brand spanking new album by Frank Turner, the most important album of the year,' said somebody paid to say it, when in fact it's as far from the truth as you'd imagine. Understanding Turner seems to be an increasingly difficult task. left-wing / right-wing followers cohesively attempt to take Turner as their own, but Turner has no political obligation other than the Chomsky libertarianism. The singer-songwriter who turned folk after a hardcore punk career has released four albums prior to Tape Deck Heart, and after listening to his back catalogue it's easy to see why people struggle to grasp Turner.

He so eagerly denounces being a protest singer, though his fore founder of folk punk Billy Bragg disagrees entirely. It's heard on tracks like "I Still Believe" and "Reasons Not to Be an Idiot" that Turner is in fact a protester against social norms and 21st century evolution. One listen to "If Ever I Stray" deciphers his life philosophy; he's a good guy singing personal songs. Turner attended Eton College alongside political leaders and royal family members. Born with a silver spoon, Turner can never sing Richard Ashcroft's "This Is Music" with honesty. He can uphold his opinions, his music, but he can't change his past nor should he. Turner doesn’t give a rat’s ass about his family’s fortunes, or his pension fund that won’t be requested to be paid back. He sings from, as the album suggests, the heart. Tape Deck Heart being his reflection of a broken down relationship. it's now clear Turner has gone through his personal sweep of thoughts to full-on female-obsessive-Bragg. "Recovery" being the highlight and the first track.

"Four Simple Words" isn’t as interesting as the build-up suggests and "Losing Days" takes an even sharper turn away from his folk punk. On paper, Tape Deck Heart should be Turner's most imaginative album, he's an intelligent guy after all and using a break-up for musical output should favour the big personality. For some reason Turner struggles for lyricism on this album, it sounds like an aggressive Mumford & Sons album with that sense of post-hardcore. The structures are rather simple and Turner never sings with clarity like he used to with Love Ire & Song. People are pushing Turner to a left-wing ideology, however Turner doesn't want that, or to be pushed to his general consensus of conservatism. This album serves as a good 'fuck you' to commercial gain, the happy ever after outlook in film and a let loose, broken heart listen. The track "Tell Tale Signs" is a highlight, where Turner sings: "You will always be a part of my patched-up patchwork taped-up tape-deck heart." Turner's strange placement of tracks has always bugged me. For instance I would put "Recovery" somewhere in the middle, "Tell Tale Signs" at the end and "Four Simple Words" as the opener. It happens on every Turner album, like with "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous", which is the first track when it should be the last track. These little things get to me, and the audience can feel the difference of a full-album experience to a collection of songs.


Wavves - Afraid of Heights

Wavves' sound varies from post-punk to surf rock with that all important garage rock. King of the Beach streamlined Nathan Williams' musical output from that of a lo-fi artist scratching the surface to a full blown male opposite to Best Coast with more skill. Wavves' fourth album Afraid of Heights opens with a bang, "Sail to the Sun". After the light percussion intro, reminiscent of a primary school music lesson, Williams then continues to align Wavves' direction in a post-punk fashion. Instead of the glossy psychedelia that mirrored third album King of the Beach, Williams and co go full on Deerhunter.

"Demon To Lean On" is the standout track on Afraid of Heights; it's also the pre-release single. Simplistic guitar chords and a dreamy rhythm guitar that goes a long way with Williams' swooping vocal. Afraid of Heights follows this pattern. "Mystic" being a hazy track with distorted vocals, "Dog" having the child-like effect Wavves have ever so often and self-titled track "Afraid of Heights" being a splendid track of grunge and typical American indie rock.

It's not all exciting and invigorating on Wavves' fourth album, at times it feels bloated. "Cop" adds that nostalgic feel, but falls short on the instrumental. "Paranoid" is similar in style and that distorted guitar structure, like heard in early Wavves albums, becomes increasingly repetitive. But Afraid of Heights does have the extremely cute "Gimme A Knife". It also bears one of Wavves best instrumental structures with "I Can't Dream", the longest track on the album that finds itself at the back.

There's always a sense of imagination when listening to Wavves, it's the sheer nostalgia Williams possesses. Afraid of Heights has its strong and weak points, like every album, this one in particular falls down with the distorted vocals and aimless instrumentals that take the listener nowhere on the back side of the album. I like hearing the clarity in Williams' voice, such as the standout "Demon To Lean On", arguably their best track to date and most commercial, easily topping "Post-Acid".