Bore me again. The Beatles are finally on iTunes, and as usual it's in their own rip-off style. £10.99 for each album, £17.99 (!) for the double disc greatest hits albums and the white album.
Singles 2001 - 2005
Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro have conveniently rounded up their singles from 2001- 2005 in one handy CD. Following the band's departure from Beggars Banquet, this compilation has been criticised as a contract filler - but the problems with it stretch far beyond that. If a compilation of 12 radio edited singles can't sell a band I don't know what will.
Biffy Clyro's surf-drenched sound may be reasonably unique for a British band (and particularly a Scottish one), but it's a far less unique proposition on a global level. Stone Temple Pilots? Check. Nickleback? Check. Point Break soundtrack? Check. In fact the dates covered by this compilation (2001-2005) provide the most confusion, as you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd fallen through a wormhole and landed in the post-grunge mid 90's. Receiving comparisons as prestigious as 'Nirvana!' over the years, at best they are a struggling Smashing Pumpkins homage, at worst not dissimilar to our very own surf-rockers - Reef (R.I.P 1993 - 2003). This is medium heavy rock, primed and ready for use in an unleash-your-inner-rocker style mobile phone ad - as a mainstream corporate beheamoth attempts to rebrand itself as 'down with the kids'.
While the emotional lyrics are all there on paper (blackened skies, heartbreak, sitting mournfully on the beach) I'm pretty sure the troubles drift away as they paddle out into the Newquay surf. It's rarely offensive or unlistenable, but there's just not much here to recommend. You might be better off trying last year's album proper Puzzle....or Nevermind, by Nirvana.Read more 2 star reviews
Elegies to Lessons Learnt
Having never heard or heard of iLiKETRAiNS, I was instantly appalled at how they chose to present their already wacky name. Making it one word was bad enough but to then have all the i’s lowercase screamed of a desperation to be unique. This pretentious attempt at making a statement is understandable, given that every band needs a name. To coin a phrase I decided not to judge a book by it’s cover, so I approached the first album by the Leeds based with little preconception.
To describe the iLiKETRAiNS sound would be best in one word, miserable. The entire album travels along at a snails pace, any descents and peaks are very slow to emerge. The overall sound is also in no way unique and is very reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai and many other instrumental post rock outfits. They never touch the heights of the aforementioned bands, but they do unfortunately have the addition of a vocalist. If the guitars, bass and drums sound dead, the singing only adds another dire dimension to the setup. Sung low, slow and very flat there is little reason to care for the lyrical content.
After listening to the album from start to finish just the once, I had an overwhelming feeling of life been too short to have to put myself through these eleven painful songs again. I have dipped in and out of the album hoping to catch myself off-guard and hear a song I could stomach, but I'm afraid it has never really happened - with only instrumental track Epiphany even coming close.
The National are a rare and special commodity indeed, they seem to exist in an alternate reality all of their own. They have an almost Teflon power to repel any concrete judgments that aim to stick to their ethereal outer surface. Though they never claim to make music that breaks boundaries, creatively they exist in a bubble. Their sound recalls artists like Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen but even as I write this my head's telling me "well not really." Artistically they follow their own path religiously. You would never catch Matt Berninger penning an openly anti-war lyric, instead he expertly crafts word groupings that defy imagination and meaning yet inspire a certain magical imagery that is totally unique to them. The write up on their myspace page puts it perfectly. "The band sings about the kind of dreams that ruin lives, and they make of those dreams the kind of music that saves them."
With Alligator, their 2005 debt for Beggars Banquet, The National pricked up the ears of music critics, bloggers and any one with a heart and at their London gig at Koko they looked openly stunned as the rapturous crowd sang along ecstatically to ever line. It's easy to create honest and unadulterated art in virtual obscurity but how do you do it when your last album genuinely changed lives? Well, Boxer is how.
This follow up contains not a single trace of self awareness. It is as honest and unique as its predecessor and for that reason is like discovering the band all over again. It uses Alligator as a starting point and goes deeper, plumbing newer and far more richer depths of sound and mood. Musically they show a remarkable maturity using great washes of strings to block in their dream-like landscape then send out a resounding boom across this land with pounding piano and the best drumming this band has ever produced.
From the outset it's pretty clear we're in for a treat. Fake Empire is just the kind of opener you want to hear from a band with this much expectation. A rumbling piano counts in Berninger's voice which is gloriously baritone and heralds the first glimpse of the awesome drumming we see so often on Boxer. Mistaken For Strangers has more bite to it, with chugging guitars accompanying the pounding drums. Songs like Green Gloves and Slow Slow just ooze from the speakers with thick, all consuming quality. Slow Slow's gently strummed structure ticks along with a majestic string accompaniment and ends up soaring on a beautifully toe-tapping rhythm. Matt Berninger writes with almost stream-of-consciousness fluidity and his strange tales of diamond slippers, gay ballets on ice and rosie minded fuzz seem to drip from his tongue with such ease that it's quite hypnotic. Unlike previous albums Berninger never raises his voice on Boxer and the blood curdling scream of songs like Sad Songs' Available and Alligator's Abel has all but vanished. Instead we get a voice almost unfathomable in depth which seems to be used as much as an instrument as a conveyor of narrative.
If I had to include one slight complaint it would be the choice of ending on the record. Gospel brings things to a close on a relatively week note especially as the song preceding it is so wonderful. In my opinion Ada would end this album with more of a lasting power with its haunting melancholia and gently simmering unease. But it seems foolish to dwell on this as you'll rarely be listening to this album once and pretty soon you'll have had it on repeat so often that you wont know how it ends.
This album has a strange power. Its depth is slow releasing and after the third play you'll wonder if someone has switched cd's on you. The myriad of layers encoded in its rich tapestry will reveal themselves to you with ever emerging magnificence until its overall splendor will have you open mouthed in awe and wonder. If it hasn't got you after the fifth listen then there's something wrong with your brain or your audio equipment. You can't do much about your brain but if it's the latter then I recommend hiring a Bentley for a weekend and giving it a go on that stereo. Believe me, it'll be worth every penny.
The Great Awakening
With their debut LP only recently slipping from heavy rotation, The Early Years are already back in business. While their outstanding debut had it's fair share of 5 star classics - it did somehow have a hint that the best was yet to come with these guys. In between a lot of touring and shows (including a brief stint as the backing band to Can's Damo Suzuki), plus ramping up the debut album for release in the US, the band have still found time to record four completely new tracks for this EP.
Stomping first tune Say What I Want To plays on all of the debut albums strengths, pounding beats layer and build upon like a tidal wave. On Fire applies the same method, but with a minimal electronica slant. There's a slight Edge jangle to the guitars on those last few tracks - which give it a nice 80's indie sound, almost on a Stones Roses vibe.
As The Early Years start to meet their early promise, let's hope that things only get better and a second album builds even further in the same direction.... Viva ze Early Years!