Thursday, 17 May 2012

Perfume Genius 'Put Your Back N 2 It' album review (for

View the original article HERE.

Described on his record label’s website as ‘…a gorgeous soundtrack for anyone trying to keep it together in everyday life,” Put Your Back N 2 It is the latest release from Perfume Genius, aka Seattle singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas. Hadreas himself states, “Everyone has stuff. Staying healthy can be more depressing and confusing than being fucked up. But I want to make music that’s honest and hopeful.”

It may then come as a shock to some that this album made me want to curl up into a ball and die. It is fairly obvious from this collection of slow, sad but sometimes sweet, macabre sonnets that Hadreas has fought some battles in his life, and it seems he carries the remnants of them heavy on his shoulders. Rest assured, this makes for great creative fodder, and the tracks are truly heartfelt, powerful, and emotionally charged. “Honest” is definitely a word I would use to describe them. “Hopeful” is not.

While tracks such as “Dark Parts” (about Hadreas’s mother) and “Take Me Home” (a self-professed “pop song about hookerism”) have elements of hope about them both lyrically and musically—as well as being slightly more upbeat and uplifting in their musical traits—the bulk of the tracks have a slow and morbid sound with lamenting and reflective overtones. His constant use of brooding piano, ambient background arrangements, and heavyhearted subject matter coupled with his listless, almost whispering vocals, can make the album quite draining on one’s psyche. While I’m sure this is what was intended—to make the listener come to terms with their demons and their shady past and accept them for what they are—I’m not sure that’s what I want to do when I sit down to listen to an album.

Various tracks, such as “17,” “All Waters,” and title track “Put Your Back N 2 It,” touch on the trials and tribulations of being a gay man and give beautiful and raw insight into a life that some of us will never know. “AWOL Marine” and “Floating Spit” touch on how far human beings are willing to go before they hit rock bottom, juxtaposing the subject matter with light and airy piano melodies, synthesizer, and samples. The standout track is definitely “Hood,” a melodic, soulful, fast-tempo ballad of what comes of baring your inner self to someone else.

While this is a truly emotional and honest album from Hadreas, a blatant and no-holds-barred baring of the soul, brought together it can become overbearing and just too much to take in. It’s good that people going through the same life experiences can realize they’re not alone through Perfume Genius’s music, but an album of this bemoaning ilk is not going to make them get up, shake off their demons, and move on with their life. Beautifully crafted, heart-achingly honest, but way too heavy both lyrically and musically.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Air 'Le Voyage Dans La Lune' album review (for

Amour, imagination, rêve (love, imagination, dream). This is the backronym Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel constructed to form Air in 1995. Since then the duo from Versailles have been delighting us with just that—albums full of love and great imagination that take us into dreamlike states and beyond. The very same can be said in regard to their latest work, Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon).

A celestial work with twinkling synthesizers, heavenly harmonies and spacey computer tones, Le Voyage dans la Lune is the definitive soundtrack to any space voyage. The slow, heavy tom-toms and blasts of brass in “Astronomic Club” serve nicely as an opening track, giving a sexy yet sinister feel as rocket ship captains prepare to enter the unknown. “Moon Fever” is a soft, calming, melodic space ballad, perfect for floating weightlessly through the cosmos, taking in the Moon and all its splendor. “Parade” and “Cosmic Trip” bring a nice element of disco-rock to the album, with “Cosmic Trip”’s heady monotone male and female voice-overs welcoming you on to your space voyage and ensuring you will have a pleasant trip and “will return home safely.”

Inspired by Georges Méliès’s classic 1902 silent science-fiction film A Trip to the Moon, Air recently had the honor of composing an original score for a new version of the film, which is currently being played at film festivals worldwide, and a better duo they could not have picked. Air’s work transports you into outer space with the greatest of ease and leaves you flying high with each and every listen. Another fine effort from a musical act for whom it seems creativity knows no bounds.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Maccabees 'Given To The Wild' album review (for

The UK’s favorite lads the Maccabees are back with their highly anticipated new offering, Given to the Wild. With such fine efforts given previously in Colour It In and Wall Of Arms, the band set the bar quite high and have failed to disappoint.

There’s no question Given to the Wild differs greatly to their previous offerings and is a much more intricate album. The tracks have a lot more depth and weight to them involving an eclectic range of instruments, lots of layering, and some great production. The album has an almost esoteric sound, like the whole band went on a month-long Yoga retreat to find themselves, and what they found was utterly creative and inspiring.

The first single from the album, “Pelican” is pretty much the only solid-sounding rock song present. It’s punchy, poppy, and has the Maccabees’ usual edge to it. The remainder of the tracks play like a soundtrack that run into one another in a dreamlike state, ebbing and flowing across a rich musical landscape. The starting track, “Given to the Wild (Intro),” opens almost like a soundtrack with minimal vocals and soft instrumentals, leading into “Child,” which starts off slow, but eases into a faster finish with the band’s signature disco drums and high-paced guitars.

“Glimmer” does just that, with sparkling guitar riffs and floating melodies, followed by the eerie and macabre “Forever I’ve Known,” which features less of the higher-toned vocals you hear throughout the album and more of the old English-accented vocals we’re used to. “Went Away” is one of the more electronic-sounding tracks on the album, an upbeat piece with good solid drums and sweet dripping guitar melodies. “Go” is another electronic-based track with nice fades, interesting bass lines, and some beautiful guitar solos.

Given to the Wild is by far the most complex album produced yet by the Maccabees. It takes you places you never thought they’d go, and they do it well. But one can’t help feeling they’ve lost a little of their musical innocence on this album, which was part of their allure and charm on previous albums. The vocals and guitar effects are much more heavily produced, and the little simplicities of the previous two efforts that brought them such critical acclaim have been lost. That said, all bands must grow up at some stage, and the Maccabees are surely one you can take home to Mum. They have definitely matured beyond their years musically and created an album already fit for the top ten of 2012.

Gotye 'Making Mirrors' album review (for

Gotye has been playing around the traps in Australia for many years now, so it’s nice to see him finally getting some critical acclaim, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. His latest album, Making Mirrors seems to have taken over the world, with the first single “Somebody That I Used to Know” (featuring Australian female artist Kimbra) charting in the top ten in over twenty countries, six of which were at the number one spot. It also won a whopping six out of a nominated seven ARIA awards in his country of residence, Australia.

With one listen of the album, you can see why. With his expert use of varied instruments, keen ear for sampling and loops, and heartfelt lyrics, Gotye has hit the mark with this album. “Somebody That I Used to Know” is a great track, but definitely not the standout on the album.

“Easy Way Out” is a weighty tune featuring 60s-style guitar riffs and some nice drum fills, with whispering verses leading into a heavy mod-esque chorus. “Smoke and Mirrors” features some old-school-sounding keys, tribal drum beats, and some fine sampling work, a laid-back, eerie tune. This is followed by the modern Motown tribute “I Feel Better” (reminiscent of one of his previous hits, “Learnalilgivinanlovin”—if you don’t know it, look it up), an upbeat, soulful track that makes you instantly feel better (funnily enough). “In Your Light” is about as Australian as it gets as it transports you with an acoustic guitar and some hand clapping into the sunshine on the beach. And “State of the Art” is an amazing tribute to a man and his instrument, an insanely innovative and imaginative song that basically takes you through Gotye’s creative process in his lounge room, all done in a vocal effect akin to Lurch from The Addams Family. Definitely the show stealer for me.

Gotye’s pure talent at bringing together such an eclectic use of instruments, samples, loops, and vocals shines through on this album. It is original, interesting, passionate, and inspiring. He has managed to harness an international flavor while keeping his Australian undertones, which is what makes him unique, and he fully deserves every piece of success and critical acclaim that comes his way.

Tasseomancy 'Ulalume' album review (for

I sat down to review Tasseomancy’s latest effort, Ulalume, alone in my house at night. Possibly a questionable idea. A melodic and beautifully haunting epic, the album could almost double as the soundtrack to a weird, twisted psycho-thriller, perhaps set in an abandoned mental hospital or ancient graveyard, or a once enchanted forest now taken over by the Dark Lord.

Formerly known as Ghost Bees, Tasseomancy consists of Canadian twins Sari and Romy Lightman. Ulalume is their second full-length release and tends to move on from their earlier, more acoustic-based arrangements into experimental, ambient, and brooding tones laden with the sisters’ uniquely sweet and harmonic vocals (not unlike those of Karen O or perhaps fellow Canadian songstress Feist).

“Heavy Sleep” features a nice, slow, tambourine-soaked drumbeat, and eerie and intense keyboards with high-pitched ethereal vocals floating over the top. “Diana” has a choral, almost hymnlike sound to begin with, then transcends into a harmonious chorus backed by 60s-style keyboards and light acoustic guitar. “The Darkness of Things” is the only track containing male vocals, with an angelic female accompaniment—a sweet and light track conveying that there is perhaps a light through the darkness. “Night” starts off lighter and happier also, but then draws you into the dark night with heavy guitar breaks and menacing riffs.

Named after the Edgar Allen Poe poem “Ulalume,” wherein a man finds himself following the night sky and wrestling with his jaded heart, only to find the moon and stars have led him to his long-lost love Ulalume’s grave on the year anniversary of her death, it’s no wonder this album is as haunting as it sounds. Though it may not be a crowd favorite at parties, I must give credit where credit’s due. Ulalume is a creative and uniquely original work and a fine second effort from the Tasseomancy twins.

Mark Lanegan Band 'Blues Funeral' review (for

Blues Funeral is the latest album to hit the airwaves from the Mark Lanegan Band. His seventh release, and first release of new material in eight years, it would make you think he couldn’t go wrong. But alas, you’d be wrong. Unlike its title suggests, it lacks any semblance of what is generally considered blues, unless the actual death of blues is what he was going for (hence the funeral).

Lanegan’s deep, sultry, smoky vocals are the only thing that holds the album together, along with the one standout track, “The Gravedigger’s Song,” which opens the album with a gritty, heavy bass line, eerie guitars, and spooky synthesizers—a walk of the damned, if you will. After this, the album falls apart like a decomposing corpse. “Riot In My House” and “Quiver Syndrome” are two good basic rock songs, but lack any standout riffs or the edginess we’ve witnessed from the band on albums past. “St. Louis Elegy” features some nice Latin-esque country guitar riffs in the chorus, which would prove handy for a Mexican standoff, and “Deep Black Vanishing Train” is a quieter, moodier piece, with some nice deep vocals and haunting cellos to match. But though the aforementioned are bearable, it seems most on the album are not.

“Gray Goes Black” does nothing of the sort and stays a banal and bland shade of gray. “Ode To Sad Disco” is exactly that—sad, contains elements of disco, and goes for 6.24 minutes too long. And “Tiny Grain of Truth” completely misleads, with any true musical talent being lost in over seven minutes of hippie, trippy, esoteric synthesizer improvisation that makes you wonder if the machine simply got stuck on a loop.

The primary track is exciting and outstanding, which makes the rest all the more disappointing. An avid fan of his past work, it pains me to say it, but I wouldn’t even play this at a funeral.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Steffaloo 'Meet Me In Montauk' album review (for

It's the simple things in life that are usually most pleasing and Steffaloo lays testament to this in her latest release 'Meet Me In Montauk'. A photographer, musician, traveler and general lover and liver of life Steffaloo has comprised a selection of mostly acoustic tracks that strive to restore beauty in the basics.

With soft and whimsical vocals reminiscent of Feist yet tinged with a hint of Karen O, laden with acoustic fingerpicking, clicks, claps and melodic harmonies 'Meet Me In Montauk' is bare, raw and often shows how simply enigmatic music and words can be when stripped back to the bare essentials. The production is minimal, the instruments perfectly paired and the lyrics sincere and heartfelt. Tracks such as 'Oh My God', 'Just Strangers' and 'On Fire' tug squarely at the heart strings, while the more upbeat 'A Song to Sing', 'The Letting Go' and title track 'Meet Me in Montauk' definitely have a more island-hopping stolling-through-the-sand feel to them. The only oddity of the album is final track 'Fly Away (version ii)' and it's horrible use of a synthesized vocal effect that does not sit well as the last brush stroke of her masterpiece.

While the vocals are melancholy and the lyrics intriguing the constant use of barely-there acoustic guitar lets the songs run into one big lovely soft lullaby for grown ups. The music is simple and effective but can lull you into forgetting which track it is you are in fact listening to. The album is a fine one overall but one waits with anticipation for a more definitive album. That said it may be Steffaloo's creative simplicity and undefinability that eventually propels her into greater success. A self-professed '…hippy heart… wanderin' soul' it's easy to see her wandering her way with her siren song into peoples hearts the world over.