Archive for the 'CD Reviews' Category

CD Review – The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love (Rough Trade, 2009)

It’s fair to say that here at The Indie Credential, we like The Decemberists a littleok, a lot.

The Hazards Of Love

One of the things which appeals so very much is their penchant for storytelling, something that on The Crane Wife (and The Tain) they began to spread across song cycles – rather than just songs. So, when they announced that the new album, Hazards of Love, was going to be a concept album, it really didn’t come as much of a surprise. They’ve been building towards this for years. Lead singer/songwriter Colin Meloy is, for all intents and purposes, a writer who happens to put his stories into song, rather than a musician who happens to write lyrics. I think he’d probably be rather pleased if I described him as a modern-day minstrel – creating and reworking folk tales, allegories and morality tales.

Hazards of Love is quite an achievement. It manages to be a completely over-the-top ’70’s-prog-style concept album, a morality tale and a proper melodrama all rolled into roughly 60 minutes of song.  By virtue of being a musical the production has to have coherent songs and songs need things like choruses and repetition so precious time is taken being, well, songlike and the plot and the characters suffer; but because it’s a story it has to have a plot so the songs lose out on being really coherent, stand-alone songs because they have to drive the plot forward and tie together in the way that the songs on a pop record simply don’t. I hate musicals. I don’t hate this, but the result leaves me feeling slighly unfulfilled and wishing for a proper record, with, well, pop songs.

Despite this failure, which is not the fault of The Decemberists’ songwriting but a shortcoming of the format they’ve chosen, The Hazards of Love is a very enjoyable listen. There’s some great hooks and catchy bits and while I have very little time for guest singer Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and her rather shrill singing voice, the gothic, menacing vocals of My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden are among the highlights.

What has me turning round in circles, and somewhat let down, then, is the plot itself – which really doesn’t go very far or say very much. Just to explain (and this is a spoiler so if you really don’t want to know the story, stop reading here):

William, our hero, was rescued as a baby by the menacing forest Queen who turns him into a fawn by day and a human at night. He gets himself caught in the underbrush where Margaret, the “heroine” stumbles across him. She goes to help him and while she’s untangling his hind legs he turns into a human. They fall in love and consumate the relationship. Margaret gets pregnant out of wedlock – and since her true love is part animal nobody knows who he is but she’s unrepentant. They want to be together so William begs The Queen to allow him his relationship by evening if he promises to return to the forest by day. They’re happy for a while. Then The Rake, a man whose wife died giving birth to his fourth child and who murdered his other three kids cause he didn’t like being a widower, kidnaps Margaret and takes her away to have his way with her.  The Queen is thrilled and helps The Rake get to safety with his captive by enabling him to cross the deep and rapid river – thinking William will be left to her in the forest. Instead, William makes a pact with the river to let him across to rescue her – saying the river can have him on the way back once she’s safe. As he makes his way to Margaret, the ghosts of The Rake’s murdered children swoop in for revenge, Margaret is freed and united with William and the two of them plunge into the river where they’re swept away to their death – together, still declaring their love for each other.

It’s over the top, it’s outrageous and it’s entertaining. The tunes and the use of instruments provide an ambiance to the tale – The Queen and The Rake get crazy heavy metal guitars while William’s parts are soaring folk melodies of standard Decemberists fare. The standout theme becomes “The Wanting Comes in Waves,” a refrain which repeats itself throughout – foreshadowing the ending when William and Margaret are swept away by the waves to their watery ending.

However, digging further into the story the holes appear. For starters, it seems Colin Meloy has plundered his own back catalogue for ideas. The fawn becoming human is reminiscent of the Crane Wife, herself. The kidnap (and the surrounding crazy guitars) are reminiscent of “The Island.” The Rake could be that same villain at a later date. The ending is akin to “We Both Go Down Together.”

Next, what exactly are “The Hazards of Love”? If this tale is correct the hazards are 1) rescuing random fawns can lead to falling in love with supernatural creatures; 2) falling in love with supernatural creatures might land you with a rather unpleasant mother-in-law; 3) pregnancy out of wedlock can cause fate to deal you an ugly hand – kidnap and drowning; 4) falling in love with a woman that your crazy mother doesn’t like can cause her to side with your wife’s kidnapper and let you drown. I’m not sure where these “hazards” arise – nobody gets a broken heart, nobody gets broken or damaged as a direct result of their emotions – only as a result of their massive character flaws and the cack-handed way they handle the situation at hand.

William is weak-willed, following Margaret blindly, rushing to his death – and he’s not the one who rescues her. And then there’s the women… Now in a morality tale (in particular in a Victorian morality tale), the heroine is actually a heroine. She makes a mistake, learns from it, redeems herself and has a happy ending – see the blind woman who gets her sight back at the end of Mary Barton. Or, perhaps, her mistake is so fatal that even if she learns from it, she dies anyway. In this instance, however, nobody learns anything so the story doesn’t actually achieve anything. In fact, the characters in this tale remind me a bit of Heathcliff and Kathy in Wuthering Heights – another haunting tale – but one in which the lovers got what they deserved because of their own inability to handle their emotions and act like decent human beings.

The second problem is the way the women are characterised – they are victims who do nothing but pop out babies and die (The Rake’s wife), they are flighty, selfish and demanding – and pop out babies (Margaret), or they are venomous and vengeful (The Queen).

Margaret, for her part, rescues the fawn, and for this she is a heroine – but this simple act of kindness is one any feeling person would offer. Rather, once she’s fallen in love and fallen pregnant she refuses to name the father and instead, retreats to the forest unrepentant and without a care, selfishly singing “And I may swoon from all this swelling / But I won’t want for love.” When she is kidnapped and in mortal danger, even knowing her true love’s promise to The Queen, she begs for rescue by him – without fear for danger to him.

The Queen for her part is wonderfully evil and menacing – but her maternal feelings are also of jealousy, anger and vengeance. If she cannot have the son she rescued as a baby all to herself, she would rather see him dead. She helps The Rake across the river, thanking him for “removing this temptation” – and sadly she’s right – Margaret is bad news. She’s misjudged her son’s feelings for the temptress, but does not come to his rescue as he drowns.

And this is where my brain really started churning… The format of the tale means the characters were always going to be half-formed and Colin Meloy would be stretched to deal properly with complex plot strands in the space of an album. But looking backwards across The Decemberists back catalogue it seems he’s struggled to write female characters from day one.

With the possible exception of Valencia, his Romeo and Juliet-style heroine in “O Valencia” off The Crane Wife, his adult female characters all fall into the categories above – helpless (Leslie Anne Levine’s young mother, the female lover in “We Both Go Down Together”), evil temptress (“The Bagman’s Gambit”), flighty and weak in the face of love (the narrator’s mother in “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”) – or even the object of comedy and derision (“A Cautionary Song” – he may be tender, but he’s still mocking the fact that the recipient of the tale has a mother who’s a whore). The only real saving grace in his portrayal of women is in the recent Always the Bridesmaid songs – but even here, “Valerie Plame” is remembered by a former lover (and is possibly the same villainess from “The Bagman’s Gambit”) and the other women, while sympathetic, are a little pathetic. “Raincoat Song” describes a Bridget Jones-style character. “Days of Elaine” is about a middle-aged woman stuck in her glory days of youth.

Ultimately, if you don’t mind a bit of prog rock melodrama, then The Hazards of Love is an intriguing, complex and entertaining listen but it is not without its faults – partially as a result of the limitations of trying to combine a story and a pop record into the same project, but partially because Meloy’s storytelling still needs development and because he needs to learn to flesh out his female characters into the three dimensional and sympathetic portraits he paints of his male characters.

The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistle Undone)

The Decemberists – Margaret In Captivity

The Decemberists – A Cautionary Song

Posted by JustHipper on 27th March 2009 at 12:03 am | comments (6)
File under CD Reviews,colin meloy,decemberists,mp3.

CD Review: Vanilla Swingers – Vanilla Swingers

It’s very rare that you come across a debut album that’s as confident and well-rounded as that of Vanilla Swingers, a duo comprising Anne Gilpin and Miles Jackson whose eponymous effort is a concept album, no less. But don’t let that put you off because it’s a damn fine concept album, one where the songs all serve to advance the plot but also stand up in their own right when taken out of the context of the story they seek to tell.

The story is of two lovers who escape their dead end town for the bright lights of London, travel back in time to 1985, split up and meet again 30 years later in 2015. Musically the album swings from acoustic ballads to chilled electro-pop with great ease and, coupled with the excellent and detailed lyrics, the general vibe is that of the low rent metropolitan romanticism that the likes of Jack, Pulp and Band of Holy Joy have pedalled to great effect in the past. Another obvious reference point is Black Box Recorder. Gilpin’s voice is a dead ringer for BBR’s Sarah Nixey – which is surprising since she’s from Belfast –  and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve put the wrong CD in when you first hear tracks like “Danger In The Past” or “Goodbye Lennon”.

The album kicks off with the low-key “The Town” which does its job in setting the scene before the excellent “Like Straw Dogs”, which starts off at a similar pace to its predecessor but picks up halfway through and ends with a terrific guitar workout. There’s more good guitar work in “I’ll Stay Next To You”‘s simple but extremely effective riff, but the song, probably my favourite on the album, throws a curveball near the end and morphs into a pretty decent “West End Girls” pastiche – a clever precursor for the trip back to 1985 that occurs in “The Hive”, the sprawling 8 minute album centrepiece that follows. “The Hive” shifts and changes and even goes a bit proggy towards the end as the protagonists arrive in 1985 and take advantage of their journey to the past, getting to see The Smiths and spending time at the bookies.

“Danger In The Past” is a fine slice of electro-pop that owes a debt to the Pet Shop Boys and would be an obvious choice for a lead single. On the post break-up song “The Way She Walked Out The Door” the duo stop trading lines and give the song over to Band of Holy Joy’s Johny Brown, who also wrote the lyrics, in what is another brilliant move: the song recalls Brown’s band at the height of their powers in the late Eighties and breaks the album, and the couple, up nicely. They meet up again in “Goodbye Lennon”, another slice of classy electro-balladry set in 2015 where “Robbie’s dead but Pete’s alive”.

There’s enough in the way of great tunes, melodrama and surprises on Vanilla Swingers to keep you going back for more and it would be a great shame if it doesn’t reach the wider audience it deserves. It is available on CD from Rough Trade for just £4.99, albeit in a limited run of 1000, and as a free download here.

Vanilla Swingers – Like Straw Dogs

Vanilla Swingers – Goodbye Lennon

Posted by The Ledge on 4th October 2008 at 12:32 am | comments (5)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews.

The Hold Steady UK Tour – CANCELLED

Craig Finn of The Hold Steady live in Manchester UKIn case you haven’t heard, The Hold Steady have cancelled their entire UK tour to have started tonight, 29th September. Apparently all dates will be rescheduled. The email from Ticketline regarding the cancellation states:

Ref: The Hold Steady at Manchester Academy 29th September
> ’08
> Unfortunately this gig has been postponed due to one of the
> band members
> being ill. If you wish to attend a new date when it is
> announced, please
> keep hold of the tickets you have received. We will advise
> you of a new
> date when it becomes available however we also advise you
> to keep an eye
> on the website for further information. Alternatively
> please return your
> tickets by secure mail to the address below for a face
> value refund.
> On behalf of the promoters of the event and the band, we
> apologise for
> any inconvenience caused.

Pity, as we’ve been looking forward to this for months!

If you’re reading this lads, get well soon, and please don’t reschedule on a really awkward night…..

For those of you who are gutted at having to wait, here’s a teaser:

Posted by JustHipper on 29th September 2008 at 5:57 pm | comments (4)
File under CD Reviews,hold steady,manchester gigs,News,Rant.

CD Review: Jaguar Love – Take Me To The Sea (Matador)

I was never much of a fan of Pretty Girls Make Graves. We’d seen them a couple of times and they were very good live but we never felt compelled to go out and buy their albums. Since their demise, however, the post-Pretty Girls musical projects are getting a pretty high hit rate at the Indie Credential. First there was The Cave Singers, featuring bass player Derek Fudesco with a backwoods country sound that’s a million miles away from the urgent emo rock of his previous band, and now we have Jaguar Love, formed by drummer Jay Clark with two members of Blood Brothers, who are much more in keeping with the spirit and sound of PGMG but, to these ears, much better.

Jaguar Love’s debut, Take Me To The Sea, is a densely packed, frenetically paced art-rock gem of an album that might take a while to get into but which rewards with repeated listens. Be warned, this album will not be for everyone thanks to the astonishing vocals of ex-Blood Brother Johnny Whitney which some people are going to find shrill and annoying. Not me though. The first few times I listened to the album I was suitably impressed with the singer’s vibrant Riot Grrrl-on-helium vocal style, evoking memories of Babes In Toyland’s Kat Bjelland, and it wasn’t until I read the release notes about a week later that I realised the singer was in possession of a pair of testicles. Or at least I think he is.

The album gets off to a cracking start, dispensing with perhaps its three most approachable tunes in the first three tracks. “Highways Of Gold” is a heady rush of guitars and ear-shredding vocals while “Bats Over The Pacific Ocean” is a tale of eviction and relocation that has perhaps the album’s most infectious melodies. Best of all, however, is “Jaguar Pirates” which opens with a Franz Ferdinand-esque guitar riff, courtesy of the excellent Cody Votolato, before morphing into an infectious glam disco stomper of the kind that Of Montreal did so well on their Hissing Fauna album of last year.

Even after this stellar opening there’s plenty on the rest of the album to recommend. The lush, soulful “Georgia” offers a welcome drop in tempo and gives way to the “Vagabond Ballroom” which, quite frankly, sounds like At The Drive-In sung by chipmunks, and which is actually pretty great. “The Man With The Plastic Suns” is a brilliant tale of gambling debts, mafia threats, murder and suicide in Las Vegas in which Whitney’s super-charged vocals ride along on a guitar and piano led glammy groove.

It can be an exhausting listen given the raw energy of Whitney’s vocals and the sometimes intense and complex nature of the songs but Take Me To The Sea is one of the great indie rock albums of 2008, something it might take you more than a few listens to realise.

Jaguar Love – Bats Over The Pacific Ocean

Jaguar Love – The Man With The Plastic Suns

Posted by The Ledge on 2nd September 2008 at 9:01 pm | comments (4)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews.

CD Reviews: Simon Connor, Ten Kens, Broken Records, Rose Kemp

We’ve had a bunch of CD’s kicking around Indie Cred HQ that we’ve been meaning to review. I’m going to do a quick run through on some of them. The Ledge will follow this up with a couple of more detailed ones, hopefully this week.

Seaside Surprise – Simon Connor

First up we have the four-track Seaside Surprise EP by local Manc singer-songwriter Simon Connor. We saw Simon back in February opening for Light Syndicate and found him very enjoyable and very good with a looping pedal. On this EP, however, he’s recruited help from some local bands including The Beep Seals, Light Syndicate and Cats in Paris as backing musicians. This is singer-songerwiter music so it’s earnest, melancholic and fairly acoustic. It’s also far too intelligent to just tick the usual guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar boxes. Connor is heartfelt and drawn to minor keys, but he also paints interesting, mournful landscapes with his lyrics and he has a good ear for arrangements – knowing when to stick to sparse guitar and when to use noise and sound to re-inforce what he’s singing about. I’m very much against using violins to suggest gravitas, but the violins here work really well to help build a mood of longing and melancholy on both “Open Fire” and “Brittle Branches”. Connor isn’t a one-trick pony though, there’s even a pop moment in the form of “Seaside Surprise” which sounds like it would have been on American college radio around 1997. This is a great introduction which holds a lot of promise. Seaside Surprise is currently on sale in Piccadilly Records on Oldham Street and Manchester and will be available for purchase on iTunes from 8th September.

Simon Connor – Brittle Branches

Gig EP – Broken Records

Last time we saw the Twilight Sad, I bought a copy of Broken Records Gig EP. It gives a teaser of things to come on their debut record and sums up what we took away from their live performance. They operate in that manic, Scottish territory occupied by Sons and Daughters but are more folky and less predictable. Opening track “If the News Makes You Sad, Don’t Watch It” makes me think of The Waterboys at times. They have a bit of the chaotic atmosphere that comes from a Broken Social Scene live performance but they sound distinctly Scottish at the same time, making good use of a violin and an accordian to drag the sound back towards European folk which also aligns quite nicely with the sorts of tunes being written by the Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit, without, perhaps, those bands’ nods to post rock.

Broken Records – If the News Makes You Sad, Don’t Watch It

Ten Kens – Ten Kens (FatCat, 2008)

A band that do draw firmly on their Toronto roots to great effect is Ten Kens on their debut album called Ten Kens. Making great use of reverb and twangy guitar with deliberately obscured vocals, they manage to be somewhere in between the great noisy, rock and roll anthemic chaos and anticipation produced by Broken Social Scene and a more earthy, organic alt-country mood, although they also swap the twangy guitar at times for hardcore-influenced riffs and shouting. This is a band that I suspect are going to be fantastic on a stage as they certainly make a great rousing, emotional cacophany of noise which still manages to be melodic and occasionally soft and thoughtful. The album is out on 15th of September on FatCat and is worth checking out.

Ten Kens – Downcome Home

Unholy Majesty – Rose Kemp (One Little Indian, 2008)

Entirely at the other end of every spectrum is Rose Kemp with Unholy Majesty. This is not the sort of record that usually makes its way onto CD players at Indie Credential HQ, but mainly because we don’t tend to go for gothic female singer-songwriters that write lyrics such as “With the rope from your car / Just for you / Yeah, knotted and bruised / With my hair done all nice / Just for you / Yeah bloated and blue / With the rats at my shoe / Just for you / Yeah, gnawed and chewed”. Having said that, this is actually pretty good at doing what it aims to do. Rose Kemp sounds suitably tortured, vocally somewhere in between the woman out of Evanescence and Siouxie Sioux. At times she even invokes PJ Harvey, at PJ’s more snarly, crazed moments from her early records.  This ticks the goth boxes it intends to tick, going back and forth between melodramatic quiet, emotionally tortured moments and noise, screaming moments full of guitar feedback and angst. Needless to say, the delivery of the above lyric sounds a lot better than the lyric reads in the liner notes. While I can’t say this CD is going to get much regular listening here, there are a lot of people who wear a lot of black and velvet and rarely go out in the sun who are going to absolutely love this. Unholy Majesty by Rose Kemp is out on 1st September on One Little Indian.

Rose Kemp – Bitter and Sweet

Posted by JustHipper on 31st August 2008 at 4:05 pm | comments (12)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews.

Album Preview: The Hold Steady – Stay Positive (Rough Trade)

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive coverReturning home from work to find the new Hold Steady album sitting on our doormat, two months before its release and before any reviews have appeared on the internets, is just about the most exciting thing that’s happened to this us since we started this blog almost three years ago. Things got even more exciting about thirty seconds later when we pressed play to discover that this is definitely not the album that I had feared it would be. Having become familiar with the title track, with its multiple references to other Hold Steady songs and Boys And Girls In America style singalong power chorus, I was worried that this would be Hold-Steady-by-numbers, an album that practically wrote itself, an attempt to repeat the success of its predecessor at the expense of a wee bit of their considerable integrity. I was wrong: yes, this is undeniably a Hold Steady record but it reaches further than anything they’ve done before and for a large part, eschews those big choruses in favour of added nuance and complexity.

Opener “Constructive Summer” has a verse that is all Hüsker Dü and a chorus that recalls Reckoning era R.E.M., though I’m pretty sure that that comparison flashed into my mind because the songs mentions watertowers a lot. Anyway, it’s a cracking opening and the quality doesn’t let up through the whole eleven song set. Far from sounding jaded after their constant touring through 2007, the band sound energised with Craig Finn’s extraordinary lyrical prowess intact and Tad Kubler at the absolute zenith of his powers. There are horns, harpsichords and synths all serving to expand the sonic palette yet there’s no major advancement in the band’s sound but it’s certainly a more mature piece of work than Boys And Girls with Finn sounding more like Bruce Springsteen than ever before. Aside from “Constructive Summer” other highlights include “Jokes About Jamaica”, “One For The Cutters” and epic closer “Slapped Actress”, although it already sounds like one of those rare albums where your favourite track changes from day to day, with every track a contender.

I’ll probably review this in more depth nearer to its release by which time I might have calmed down a bit but at the moment Stay Positive sounds like it will give Separation Sunday a run for its money in the best Hold Steady album stakes and is a sure-fire contender for album of the year.

The Hold Steady – Stay Positive @ Manchester Academy 2, 26th Feb 2008

Posted by The Ledge on 15th May 2008 at 12:04 am | comments (3)
File under album review,CD Reviews,hold steady,Reviews,stay positive,the hold steady.

CD Review: Tindersticks – The Hungry Saw (Beggars Banquet)

Tindersticks - The Hungry Saw album coverThough they were probably my favourite British band of the mid-nineties, having released two stunning, and eponymous, albums by the time that Britpop was in full swing, Tindersticks seem to have fallen off my musical radar in the five years since their last album, Waiting For The Moon, was released. I gave that album short shrift and came to the conclusion that the band were long past their peak and were on a bit of a downward spiral since 1999’s brilliant Simple Pleasure. With the release of the new Tindersticks album, the excellent The Hungry Saw, I’ve been compelled to retreat and reappraise the band’s noughties output and while both Can Our Love… and Waiting… are, in fact, crammed full of quality tunes, they somehow don’t come together as a whole in the way that Simple Pleasure and those first two eponymous albums did.

The Hungry Saw, then, marks a return to form of sorts, though it can well be argued that the Tindersticks were never really off-form. Despite the band shedding three members to slim down to a three piece, there’s no great stylistic departure here; they’re still dealing in late night, cigarettes and wine balladry, heavy on piano, acoustic guitar and violins, with Stuart Staples’ unmistakable baritone croon at its heart. Which is a very good thing, because they do it so very well.

The album begins with the sparse, mournful piano-led instrumental “Introduction”, a curiously sombre opening that takes its time to reveal its bittersweet melody. “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” laments the passing of time with soulful guitar stabs and brassy swells while “Come Feel The Sun” and another instrumental “E-Type” hark back to the band’s early years, the former a short, sparse arrangement that would have felt at home on any of their first three albums. A third instrumental, “The Organist Entertains” acts like a theatre intermission, giving us a breather and settling us down for the album’s brilliant closing stretch. The title track sets a brisk pace, its upbeat nature at odds with its grisly imagery. “Mother Dear” slows things down again with languid organs and a distant timpani heartbeat until an uncharacteristically bellicose guitar bursts in to prompt the song’s majestic conclusion. “Boobar Come Back To Me” is another slice of classic Tindersticks that recalls the likes of “Rented Rooms” and “Travelling Light” and may well be the best thing on here. “All The Love” runs it close, though, getting maximum mileage from a simple repeated melody as it builds gradually and gracefully, while “The Turns We Took” displays the sort of shimmering soul vibe that the band brought to their sound with Simple Pleasure.

The Hungry Saw is undoubtedly the best Tindersticks album in almost a decade, the last five tracks being worth the admission alone, and for anyone looking to rekindle their dying love affair with the band, it is a must, as well as being a good starting point for the uninitiated as it is as good a representation of the band’s legacy as there is.

Tindersticks – The Flicker Of A Little Girl

Tindersticks – Boobar Come Back To Me

Posted by The Ledge on 27th April 2008 at 11:23 pm | comments (2)
File under CD Reviews,mp3,Reviews,the hungry saw,tindersticks.

CD Review: Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight (FatCat)

Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ FightThis record has barely been off my CD player / out of my car / off my MediaMonkey playlist for the past three weeks. I’ve had nights where the chorus of “The Modern Leper” or the first verse of “My Backwards Walk” has done endless somersaults through my brain, refusing to let me sleep. This album is so good it could seriously damage your health. Or at least leave you feeling a bit drowsy in the morning.

Frightened Rabbit have come on in leaps and bounds since their excellent Sings The Greys debut. While that record was a little rough around the edges and lacked focus, what with it being a fleshed out mini-album, The Midnight Organ Fight is a fully-formed indie classic-in-waiting, unerring in its consistency over its fourteen track length. The aforementioned “The Modern Leper” kicks things off in blistering style with an epic chorus that would fill the heart with glee were it not an outlet for Scott Hutchison’s monumental self-loathing. It could well be the best track on the album but this is one of those albums where the best track changes from day to day, listen to listen. “Fast Blood”, with its gorgeous Sonic Youthesque guitar riffs, and “Good Arms vs Bad Arms”, with its beautiful, keening chorus, are regular contenders, as is “My Backwards Walk”, which builds and builds to a surprising conclusion when the drum machine bursts in out of nowhere. There are three minute-long tracks – an instrumental, a reprise of another song and a curious album closer that sounds like a work-in-progress – and they all work well as stop gaps, allowing us just enough time to digest the greatness of the previous few tracks before readying us for what is to come.

There’s quite an obvious folk influence over much of the album, with shades of bluegrass on the jaunty “Old Old Fashioned” and a debt owed to Will Oldham on the excellent “Poke”. Catchy choruses abound, some of which could be described as positively anthemic, though Hutchison’s lyrics keep the songs grounded in the grim reality of his personal life: the meaningless drunken sex, the self-loathing, the “other man” he wants to kill, the not being in a relationship, the being in a relationship you want out of. The Scots are very good at this sort of thing and he is no exception. There’s even a note of optimism late on in “Floating In The Forth” when, after another break-up, he finds the strength to “save suicide for another year”. It’s another superb song at the end of an album that will surely mark 2008 out to be the Year of the Rabbit.

Frightened Rabbit – The Modern Leper

Frightened Rabbit – My Backwards Walk

Posted by The Ledge on 16th April 2008 at 12:45 am | comments (3)
File under CD Reviews,frightened rabbit,mp3,Reviews,the midnight organ fight.

CD Review: Colin Meloy, Colin Meloy Sings Live! (Rough Trade, 2008)

Colin Meloy sings Live!Ahh, Colin Meloy. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I harbour a particular fondness for The Decemberists. I’ve seen them live on a number of occasions and enjoy the theatricality of their performances and the sheer amount of activity on stage and the mad swapping of instruments. As Colin Meloy has never brought his solo show (and hence, the chance to buy his solo tour-only EP’s – grr!) to the UK, scratchy bootlegs aside, we’d never had the opportunity to assess what one of his solo performances would be like.

Funnily enough, on his first solo album, Colin Meloy Sings Live!, we do, indeed, get the opportunity to hear him singing, in, shockingly enough, a live setting. The album is Colin, his guitar and an audience. It’s nice. He’s warm, he’s personable, he’s often very funny, and he gets the chance to showcase some of the quieter Decemberists songs that the band do not often play; songs which, to be honest, if they did play at a gig, I would wonder why they were playing them. Songs like, “The Gymnast, High Above the Ground” and “The Bachelor and the Bride” which would slow down the momentum of a Decemberists gig, as those are usually quite upbeat and festive, but which in this setting really brought out the stories in the lyrics. The tone is, as it must be when it’s just one guy and an acoustic guitar, distinctly more toned-down. Colin himself tells the audience that he wants a “campfire” vibe and he encourages a singalong, although you can only hear the crowd on the few occasions when he stops singing and lets them take over.

The live show, along with enabling him to showcase some of the quieter Decemberists moments, also gives him the opportunity to play a couple of non-Decemberists tracks including an old Tarkio song, “Devil’s Elbow” which sounds like something Mark Kozelek might have written in his Red House Painters days, and some covers, most notably “Barbara Allen” by Shirley Collins, from his tour-only EP Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins. Strangely, on this track, he tells the crowd that on CD it has electric guitars and they should headbang in order to capture the harder feel he wants to evoke. Now, in my mind, if he can’t capture the song the way he wants to tell it, then really he should choose a different song. But it sounds nice enough, not having heard the Shirley Collins EP. He also plays what he says is the worst song he ever wrote. It is, in fact pretty bad – easily as bad as he says it is. Bad enough to have me thankful for “The Bagman’s Gambit.”

On the whole, it sounds like a great gig. “Red Right Ankle,” “The Gymnast, High Above the Ground,” and “A Cautionary Tale” come across very well and I found myself struggling not to burst out singing along to “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect,” “Red Right Ankle” and “The Engine Driver” as we were listening to the album driving across the Pennines from Leeds. I think my singing would probably have caused The Ledge to drive over the side of the M62, so I held back. As great as the softer songs sounded, “We Both Go Down Together” very much misses the full band, and the strange and sometwhat abrupt segue into the chorus of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac at the end of “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” makes very little sense in the context of anything. The segue into a haunting, soft version of “Ask” by The Smiths at the end of “California One Youth and Beauty Brigade” works far better.

Ultimately, as great a performer as Colin Meloy is, both on his own and with The Decemberists, this live CD falls into the same trap as 99% of all live CDs in that listening to a live performance in the car, or sitting at home in your lounge or while cooking dinner, cannot possibly capture the atmosphere of the live performance and as a result always ends up either sounding sterile, or in this case, leaving me feeling like I’ve missed out on something. It’s essentially the same feeling as having a friend describe the amazing night out they had that you missed because you were home sick with the flu. This sensation was doubly emphasized by Colin explaining his stage set and the meaning behind it. While it gives the listener some greater idea of the setting, it also leaves the impression that something gets lost in the telling. I won’t spoil the comedy of the description by recounting it.

So, if you’re a Decemberists fan, this CD is certainly worth the purchase price, especially if you’ve never had the chance to catch them live. The acoustic renditions of the songs more than do them justice and are worth hearing. Ultimately, although I have no doubt that this CD is going to get worn out over the next few months from repeated listens, it just makes me a bit mournful about the tour that was cancelled last October and eager for either Colin on his own, or the whole band, to record a new album and get their backsides over to the UK.

Colin Meloy – The Gymnast, High Above the Ground (Live)

Tarkio – Devil’s Elbow

Posted by JustHipper on 23rd March 2008 at 2:28 pm | comments (0)
File under CD Reviews,colin meloy,decemberists,mp3,Reviews,shirley collins,tarkio.

CD Review: Destroyer – Trouble In Dreams (Rough Trade)

Destroyer - Trouble In Dreams
It’s over two years since the release of Destroyer’s last album, the utterly brilliant Destroyer’s Rubies, but Dan Bejar barely seems to have been away, releasing albums with The New Pornographers, Swan Lake and Hello, Blue Roses in the interim. Though I love his work with the New Pornos, I haven’t heard anything from the other two albums that would convince me to buy them. The release of a new Destroyer album, however, is something I have been looking forward to for some time.

Trouble In Dreams doesn’t throw up any great surprises, and it doesn’t have the consistency, nor the intensity, of Rubies, but it is still an excellent album, as long as you give it the time of day. As with most of his work, central to the album’s appeal (to me at least) are Bejar’s lyrics and his unique voice. Though I haven’t a clue what he’s singing about most of the time, I love Bejar’s lyrics, the way that every once in a while a line will jump out at you from nowhere; and the almost arch manner in which he sings them, a bit like Dylan but with crystal clear enunciation so that you can hear each and every word. He seems to acknowledge the cryptic nature of his lyrics on the low-key, and ultimately disappointing, opener “Blue Flower/Blue Flame” when he teases the listener with “I’ll tell you what I mean by that / maybe not in seconds flat / maybe never”.

Second song in the album really gets going with the exhuberant “Dark Leaves Form A Thread” and builds from there. The gorgeous “Foam Hands” is one of the most straight forward, uncomplicated songs that Bejar has ever written, and one of the best. It’s followed by “My Favourite Year” which starts with a delicious guitar riff and halfway through has Bejar yelping the line “beware the company you reside in” over and over. Either side of this outburst are two cracking verses that contain the finest vocal melodies on the album and more of Bejar’s obtuse lyricism (“let me just sit here and eat these almonds”). But these are just appetisers for the main course which arrives at the album’s mid-point in the form of “Shooting Rockets (From the Desk of Night’s Ape)”, an eight minute slow-burning epic that builds and builds and has another wonderfully simple guitar part running through Bejar’s words like a fresh water stream through a dense forest. It’s also full of the sort of lines that can jump out and hit you square in the face should your attention have been caught wandering – “Saw you down in Strathcona Square devouring an After Eight” (what’s with all the eating?) and “It’s not that I quit. It’s not that my poems are shit” being of particular note.

There’s no way left but down after this and the album tapers off, never again reaching the heights of those three previous songs. “Introducing Angels”, “Rivers” and “Leopard Of Honor” are all excellent but “Plaza Trinidad” and the closing “Libby’s First Sunrise” have yet to really sink in, though I’m sure I’ll warm to them eventually.

Trouble In Dreams is unlikely to bring in too many new fans in the way that Rubies did, but existing fans will probably devour it. Like an After Eight.

Destroyer – Foam Hands

Destroyer – My Favourite Year

Posted by The Ledge on 21st March 2008 at 1:17 am | comments (2)
File under CD Reviews,dan bejar,destroyer,mp3,Reviews,trouble in dreams.