For Emma, Forever Ago was self released way back in 2007, which seems like an age ago now considering that we are still awaiting the follow-up nearly half way in to 2011. Justin Vernon has kept himself pretty busy though, with side projects such as Gayngs and Volcano Choir along with high-profile collaborations with the likes of Kanye West. We also had the Blood Bank EP, which I personally think was underrated and often forgotten. Calgary is the first taste of the self-titled follow-up album due out next month (although if you’re in to the words, then the album lyrics are up on the Jagjaguar site).
That debut was always going to be a hard record to follow, partly due to its reception but mainly because of the unique circumstances in which it was recorded, and how integral that was to its appeal. Everyone loves an album with a back story but there’s no way that this guy was ever gonna go back to that cabin by himself and record a new batch of songs, for this reason there is going to be a portion of the hardcore fan base that might feel disappointed with the extra instrumentation and flirtations with electronica. Although none of this should come as a surprise to anybody, the entire basis of Gayngs is collaboration, and Volcano Choir was pretty experimental in terms of studio manipulation. Calgary eases you in slow though, a sombre organ introduces Vernons distinctive falsetto, the song dies temporarily before swelling louder around a similar refrain. The third time around, drums and a few synthesised melodies are added to the mix. The trick is repeated for a fourth time by which point the full complement of sound is present and the song feels fully formed with guitars audible for the first time. It’s a clever trick, taking a stripped back idea and repeating it each time building up the layers. It makes the final quiet passage of acoustic guitar and vocal all the more sombre and stark. I’m enjoying this song quite a bit, it’ll be interesting to hear how it compares to the sound of the rest of the album and how it fits in with the other songs. By itself though it stands up pretty well, hopefully the album will be able to exist outside of the shadow of that debut.
Listen through the video below or head over to Jagjaguar for a download.
Walter Schreifels deserves a little more respect than to be labelled as ’emo’, it’s a detestable genre tag at the best of times but with an emotive voice and a solid history in both hardcore and post-hardcore, it’s one that he would do well to avoid. His CV is impressive and he will be remembered critically for Quicksand, commercially for Rival Schools and criminally not at all for Walking Concert. As well as all of this he released a solo record and of course featured in the legendary hardcore bands Youth Of Today and Gorilla Biscuits. With such a stellar career to date it is a shame to see the new Rival Schools album being largely ignored and in some cases written off by certain circles, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Schreifels had the dignity to distance himself from the ’emo’ scene (that he arguably contributed to creating) before it got too ugly.
Like so many others, United By Fate soundtracked a certain point in my life, mainly my years 17-20 and whilst this review might read a lot like that of The Get Up Kids comeback album, this is unashamedly the kind of shit I listened to back then. So what can Rival Schools bring to the table a decade later? True to previous form they have delivered 10 SONGS of driving guitars, passionate melody and bittersweet lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, they haven’t added a whole hell of a lot to their arsenal, nor will they convince anybody that doesn’t want to be convinced but this is more than a decent album. From where I am sitting I am finding it hard to argue with 80-90% of these songs. You may dismiss this review as my younger self speaking, but I don’t think so. I’m not one to suffer a dodgy comeback gladly, nor am I one to pay this much attention to a lacklustre cash fuelled resurgence.
A few years back an internet leak proclaiming to be a scrapped second Rival Schools album surfaced online, some say it was merely B-sides but either way, when you measure Pedals up against said release, it is clear that it did Rival Schools good to take their time. After listening to Pedals almost religiously over the last week I was ready to claim that it stands tall alongside United By Fate. Before making such a bold statement I decided to re-visit their debut and of course, it’s nowhere near. I would however, attribute this to the pure quality of United By Fate rather than detracting from Pedals. This new release lacks anything that comes close to the intensity of ‘The Switch’ and they are still yet to better ‘Undercovers On’. Pedals is full of highlights though, ‘Wring It Out’ and ‘Racing To Red Lights’ provide ample melody and anthemic choruses whilst ‘Eyes Wide Open’ brings a bit of that intensity to the fore. Overall that much loved rawness is missing and Pedals is far more streamlined and polished than previous efforts. When all is said and done though, I am always happy to hear from Schreifels, he is an incredible songwriter and remains one of my favourite vocalists of all time. With Pedals, I sincerely believe that he has produced some of his best and most appropriately timed work to date.
Check out the video for ‘Wring It Out’ below, I can’t be as complimentary about this ropey ‘made for Kerrang TV’ video as I have about the record, but the song is great.
The new Strokes record is streaming on their official website, a whole week before the full release, presumably because it has leaked elsewhere. After spending pretty much all day listening to it on repeat, I am feeling more disappointed than blown away. Under Cover Of Darkness got me very, very excited about this album, You’re So Right got me preying that it was a B-Side. Angles as an album is pretty much everything in between. There are some very good songs but unfortunately they sit alongside some very forgettable ones. Sound-wise, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a Strokes record, Two Kinds Of Happiness sticks out initially, the band parts like the sea, allowing the vocals to soar Tom Petty style before abruptly closing back in for the chorus. Not particularly usual for The Strokes but it’s about as unusual as Angles gets. They do have a knack of underwhelming initially only to prove themselves right under the scrutiny of retrospect, this might be the case with Angles but I was kind of hoping for an album full of Darkness type anthems. I also wonder having listened to this album, and concluding that the songs have been spread thin, whether Casablancas might have been better off saving the better songs from Phrazes Of The Young and creating ten knock-out songs and potentially a Strokes classic. This is by no means a review, just wanted to jot down my initial thoughts after living with the record for a day or so. I will persevere.
So, The Strokes may have left me cold (for now) but I can’t say the same for Amon Amarth. Check out the first cut from their new album Surtur Rising below. The song’s called War Of The Gods and it pretty much has everything I would want from a death metal track the vocals switch impressively, the riffs are heavy, there is head-turning melody and above all else, it fucking slays!!!!!! The term viking-metal is cringe-worthy, but put that to the back of your mind and check the track out below:
And finally, Robyn just rescheduled her cancelled UK dates for later on this year in September. Coincidentally enough, the below Teddybears video featuring Robyn just found it’s way online. Not the greatest tune but worth checking out just for the awesome vocals.
I have been putting off committing any kind of opinion on The King Of Limbs for a while now. I think largely because whilst reviews have been dropping like bombs around me since its release, I have struggled to shake the feeling that I haven’t run with it enough. Some of the reviews out there have come across as slightly premature and I don’t want to fall in to that trap.
Before even dipping in to how it sounds and how good it is I have found it to be completely compulsive, almost hypnotic. Thinking nothing of listening three or four times on repeat, it has been my go to album ever since its release, through little more than impulse alone. If I were to be honest, this addictive draw can probably be boiled down to the fact that this is a Radiohead album and as with all Radiohead albums there is that constant need to “get it”, to explore it and learn all of its nuances, crevices and charms, akin to something like licking a dinner plate clean. It might of course have something to do with the albums length, Sufjan Stevens recently passed off an 8 track release that was substantially greater in length than this album, as an Ep. The King Of Limbs won’t test your patience but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it an Ep, it’s too cohesive for that, It’s a short album, but an album nonetheless.
‘Bloom’ gets things underway with some piano tinkering that quickly gives way to skittish beats that sound erratic and almost improved, as much of a dichotomy as this sounds it provides the foundation for the entire song. Immediately it blurs the boundaries between live musicianship and studio trickery, bearing close resemblance to Kid A and Amnesiac as well as Thom Yorkes solo album ‘The Eraser’. Yorkes vocals are layered over the top almost as an afterthought, there seems to be little correlation between the music and the vocals but what brings the song together nicely are the horns. They subtly build and release in the background, swelling to mini crescendos whilst the song drives forward on those beats. When you couple these with the almost jazz like double bass, that again has an air of improv about it, it’s easy to see why people are drawing parallels between The King Of Limbs and Cosogramma.
This aesthetic and non-traditional song structure is continued through second song ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ which features more memorable melodies and from what I can tell, guitars for the first time. Again, with this song I am picking up a strong sense of layering but what I like is how these layers are occasionally peeled back to let other elements breathe, it’s a good way of giving emphasis to a vocal or guitar melody and keeps the song interesting. The dominant theme so far has been electronica and this continues throughout the entire first half of The King Of Limbs, culminating in its boldest of statements; ‘Feral’. The track is almost entirely instrumental save for the use of wordless vocals that have been treated and manipulated beyond recognition, these serve almost as additional instrumentation. ‘Feral’ pushes the envelope for Radiohead and wouldn’t sound out-of-place on recent releases by Caribou, Four Tet and even James Blake.
The second half is more organic sounding, kicking off with lead single ‘Lotus Flower’ which sees Yorke singing in a soulful falsetto over shifting textures, more shapeshifting beats and hand claps. Things get much more relaxed from here on in and Johnny Greenwoods influence is more prominent in the score like orchestral elements. ‘Codex’ features some beautifully distorted piano and probably my favourite vocal performance on the album, there is still lots going on here but it sounds less busy and hurried. ‘Give Up The Ghost’ continues the mood with some acoustic guitars, gentle hand percussion and call and response vocals. ‘Seperator’ closes the album out on a nice middle ground between electronic and organic, it’s Radiohead at their prettiest with some gorgeous backing vocals and almost as a reminder that they are a band, some delightfully melodic guitar refrains.
I’m not one to agonise over where TKOL will sit in Radioheads discography, nor am I one to compare and contrast. But it can’t go without saying that this is by no means Radioheads greatest, it does have a tendency to pass you by and never really demands the kind of attention that previous albums might have. What has interested me whilst reading various discussions and comments about the record is that every song here has been singled out as a favourite by more than a few people. There is very little by way of a standout song but rather they each stand shoulder to shoulder with one another and form a consistent and rewarding listening experience. Inevitably The King Of Limbs will divide opinion but there is nothing new there, every Radiohead release since OK Computer has instigated furious debate. What this album will do is re-affirm already cemented opinions, providing ammunition for detractors as well as fuel for the fire that burns deep in the heart of Radiohead purists, thankfully I sit firmly in the latter camp.
I know next to nothing about Walk The Moon other than that they are an American indie/pop/rock band and they have a song called Anna Sun. This particular song has been lodged firmly in my head space for at least the last week, it’s by far the catchiest thing I have heard this year. What drags me in most is that it reminds me so strongly of Bleed American era Jimmy Eat World, it’s refreshing to hear a band pride themselves on pure pop melody unashamed and undeterred by any trends of distortion and lo-fi production. Furthermore the lyrics are great, “Your hands on my cheeks, your shoulder in my mouth, I was up against the wall on the West mezzanine, we rattled this town.” Most importantly they add that secret ingredient of retrospect, without which the whole thing would be un-relatable, after all I have no interest in the reckless abandon of todays youth, only the hedonistic memories of those my own age. I strongly recommend this tune, check it out below:
Walk The Moon – Anna Sun MP3 (Right Click / Save As)
So, apparently Glassjaw releases are like busses, it’s been 9 long years since ‘Worship & Tribute’ but now in a few short months they have released two new Eps (check out my rather wordy review of the last one HERE). This particular release is being made available at shows the band are playing across America, and it feels more substantial than the last one, mainly because the material is unfamiliar. At six tracks and half an hour-long, ‘Coloring Book’ is gonna surprise a lot of people.
If ‘Our Color Green’ was nothing else, it was aggressive, across it’s five tracks there was very little in the way of actual singing and there was very little respite between riffs. ‘Coloring Book’ could not be any more of a contrast, there is nary a scream to be heard, there are verse-chorus-verse song structures and even a couple of tracks that could be described as being a little light on guitar. It is instantly evident that GJ have specifically grouped these two sets of songs together separately but what’s perplexing, is the reasoning for this. I’m wondering if this is an ‘All Delighted People’ kind of scenario whereby ‘Our Color Green’ was used as a kind of exorcism, an opportunity to get out of their systems a set of songs that have been hanging around for a long time but never released in studio format, a cleaning of the slate you might say. If this is the case then ‘Coloring Book’ must be seen as a dramatic change in direction for the band, I’m not convinced though. I see this new collection of songs as a companion piece to the last, both complimenting and contrasting one another. Very little light will be shed on the thought process behind this release though, no doubt GJ will remain tight-lipped on the subject.
Other than the shift in pace, there is also a very prominent change in mood. There seems to have been a very distinct progression from anger and aggression to a dark nervousness, there is a moody tension to this Ep not just in the vocals but in the production and use of very simple repetition in certain guitar refrains. It kind of reminds me of the Portishead album ‘Third’, not necessarily in style but in the industrial atmosphere and specifically the percussion. ‘Black Nurse’ kicks things off with some intense guitars and some menacing sound effects, Daryls vocals come in sounding particularly soul full here and it seems GJ have discovered groove. The first track makes way almost seamlessly for ‘Gold’ which initially seems like it is going to be a more typical GJ stomp, but the percussion and guitars make way for soaring choruses and again, more groove. This thing is heavy and intense, nobody should panic, it’s just that the band are approaching things in an entirely new way, this is the most experimental that I have known GJ to be.
Elsewhere, ‘Miracles In Inches’ provides one of the most memorable choruses over weird guitar effects and pulsing beats. The remaining two songs are quieter still, ‘Stations Of The New Cross’ features keyboards and some of Daryls best vocal work yet, his voice really shines when there is no need to strain and compete with his band losing it in the background. ‘Daytona White’ is both one of the quietest yet effective moments of GJs cannon so far, reverb laden guitar and soft rolling percussion provides an eerie and relaxing backdrop to Daryls emotive and soaring wail, check it out below.
I’m unsure as to how the GJ faithful will react to this Ep, I’ve been listening non-stop and the songs intricate nuances are still becoming apparent to me. But if the average GJ fan has nothing else, then they have patience so it is unlikely that this will be overlooked. Personally, I’m loving every song here and I find the shift in focus and style refreshing, I can’t help but feel though that if these two Eps were combined and mixed up a bit, we might be looking at the best GJ album yet.
This delightful number is lifted from the new Beach Fossils Ep ‘What A Pleasure’, I am loving the intro – the lush rich sounding guitar that gives way to the verse. I always mention Beach Fossils in the same breath as Wild Nothing, perhaps because they share a label but more likely because they share a certain aesthetic. Wild Nothings Jack Tatum actually features on ‘Out In The Way’, which is a great breezy lo-fi pop song that has plenty more going for it than reverb and shoegazy textures. Check it out below:
Beach Fossils – Out In The Way MP3 (Right Click / Save As)
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, mainly because I have been trying to work out if I like it or not. I just keep asking myself; “When is a Mogwai song, not a Mogwai song?” There’s no punchline, but what I am getting at is that Mogwai have stuck loosely to a tried and tested formula throughout their 15+ year career and in doing so have established themselves as a go-to band if you want to listen to some long, drawn out instrumental, crescendo-climaxing post-rock. There are loads of bands that operate in similar circles but Mogwai execute it better than most, they are synonomous with the genre and have almost become spiritual godfathers. Understandably the restriction of being pigeon-holed has not sat comfortably with Scots and every now and then they get restless and deviate from the well-trodden path. Hardcore is one of those detours, featuring shorter, far more accessible songs, vocals and even a dash of electro. These songs remind me of those smaller more condensed versions of the broadsheets that are sold at train stations, more compact and manageable versions of their parent publications designed for people on the go. Similarly with Mogwai, If you’re at home on a Sunday morning you might reach for Young Team or The Hawk Is Howling, but if you have a fifteen minute walk to work, Hardcore might serve you better. Like Mr. Beast, Hardcore flirts with traditional song structures and the addition of vocals, this is Mogwai so it’s never as straight forward as it sounds. In ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ the words are whispered before Mogwai decide to go all Can and Kraftwerk on us, and on ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’ the vocals are heavily manipulated. They certainly haven’t gone all singer-songwriter on us.
It could be argued that vocals are entirely necessary on this album; after all, when the songs are shortened they lose something. With traditional Mogwai, patience is required as the songs gently build to the reward of the crescendo, the journey is half the fun though. When they are shortened, they become more conventional and something is lost, they become relegated from sonic odysseys to mere instrumentals. The vocals serve to plug the gaps, but unfortunately Hardcore is lacking in spare fingers. Vocals are only utilised on few occasions and the results are mixed, where they are left out, the songs just feel half baked. It’s not like there is nothing here for the grumpy Mogwai fan that is afraid of change though, album closer ‘You’re Lionel Richie’ is the only song that significantly breaches the six minute mark and serves as a reminder that they haven’t entirely forgotten how to take their time.
I know how bad it sounds to moan that a band is trying something new but the saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ just keeps popping to mind. I’m all for growth, progress and evolution but the bottom line is that when I want to listen to Mogwai, I won’t be reaching for Hardcore.
All I know about Morgan Greenwood is that he is from Calgary, and I don’t even know this for sure. What I do know is that his album Winter is a gorgeous yet harsh juxtoposition of Stars Of The Lid type ambience and bustly dubstep’ish micro beats. Like the wintery scene from the artwork, this is music for snowy landscapes, it is to rural winter what Burial is to urban nightscapes. Like an IDM Bon Iver, or not, I don’t know. I do know that Sam is a beautiful way to spend three and a half minutes in the warm.
The full album can be downloaded from his bandcamp here for $5 CAD.