9 April 2016

James - Girl At The End of The World

At the moment there are a flood of releases from indie acts who were at the top of the charts as I was growing up - The Wonder Stuff, Primal Scream as well as James.  Not James are a band I have not release listened to since the album 'Whiplash', although I have been advised that since coming back together in 2007 that they have been going from strength to strength and have good in a different direction and added more synth/electronica to their sound; now I was not too sure if I would be reviewing this album, but I had another moment in a record shop where I heard a song from the album and my curiosity was plucked.  So, once more we are looking at an album based on a random listen to a song in a shop and I am reviewing an album to see what is different in the world of James since I last encountered then - let us see how things have changed.

Starting off the album is the overly sarcastic and beautiful "Bitch".  It builds on a dirty bass line and progressive swirling pattern that reminds me of Neu! & the brilliant Holy Fuck, it is a sound about being a bitch, both to the world and that life is the proverbial one as well.  For the first two minutes are just pure build, it just keeps rising till it gives way to the vocals of Tim Booth giving one of the best performances I have heard from an indie band in years.  After such a long time away from the band, it is refreshing to hear them sound so alive and striving for something new; as opening tracks go, this one grabs my attention from the opening and refuses to let me go.  "To My Surprise" is probably the most apt title to follow "Bitch" and really could have been the title of the album as well.  Starting from a simple electric drum beat, a haunting guitar comes in and then the words, those beautiful words enter the song and I am even more excited about this song that the first and I am sure I am currently listening to the unexpected hit album of 2016.  Might be calling it a bit too early, but back to this song.  It has a driven spirit behind the music, it seems that the band have hit a new green patch of form at the very beginning of this album.  Starting with a mandolin and slowing down the pace, "Nothing but Love" is a beautiful number about that mysterious emotion which cause people to do so extraordinary and sometimes silly thing to win over the heart of one's affection.  It is all about how there is nothing but love behind the person's motives and that it there is some much love that it is the size of hills, mountains, etc.  It is a decent song, not as spectacular as the first two but still not a bad song at all.

"Attention" begins with a piano sequence as Tim Booth sings his gentle rhyme over the music, then the bass comes into the song and the song sounds as if it is not going anywhere.  But that is not the case my dear reader, not even slightly as the band are building towards what can only be described as one of the best passages of music I have ever heard from James.  The layers are added slowly and with skill, patience and craftsmanship; when they let the noise die down and then bring in the noise and it sounds like a hailstorm of synths, trumpets, passion and electronic rapture as the vocals and guitars sound as if they are being created my computers.  It is one of the true highlights of this album, truly one of their best songs in my opinion.  "Dear John" has an oriental feeling to the music with a song about the end of a relationship, the classic letter to an ex in the form of music.  Due to reflective nature of the music, the regret which is based at the very core of the song, it is one which I enjoy but I have yet to embrace in the same way that I have other songs on the album; it is a good song, but due to the topic it feels a bit empty and hallow.  "Feet of Clay" marks the halfway point of the album with a gentle alt. country number, it is pedal steel guitars and wistful lyrics as time slows down to a crawl and everything becomes very relaxed and reflective.  You cannot fault the song or the performance, but it is one of the weaker moments on the album for me.  It does not contain the same level of excitement for me, but it is still a good number to bring the first half of the album to a close.

"Surfer's Song" brings back the energy to the record that was in danger of drifting away if I am being honest, it mixes the usual brand of James indie rock dream scape lyrics and throws in a ton of electronica.  With a buzz running around the music for this one, it has pace and a dynamic mixture that will please any James fan in a way that has not been achieved since the days of 'Laid'.  It will probably be misused by the makers of football TV in the next few weeks, but it will still be one of the best songs that James have wrote in many moons for me.  "Catapult" is a good, but confusing number for me; it should be relaxing and gentle with the music and the self-deprecating lyrical content, but the synths & bass on this one give the song an energy that clashes with the rest of the song.  Do not get me wrong, it works when it should rightly sound like a shit storm - but as it works I cannot help but like this confusing beast of a song that makes me happy/bemused/intrigued at the same time.  "Move Down South" is a song that I am not confused about, from the opening rumble of bass and massive drums, the band are on fire and in complete control of their sound and destiny on this number.  A song about movement and desire, it never loves that initial excitement from the opening to the end.  Even the bridge in the middle gives you the chills, it is the best song of the album and definitely one that will end up in our songs of the year poll.

"Alvin" is a little rock number and is one of the shortest songs on the album, it is a tribute to the singer Alvin Stardust musically.  If not, it does nothing short of bringing his music to my mind’s eye with that classic soft rock sound from the 1970's that will make men of an older generation weak at the knees (and I mean older than me).  It is a fun number, with a great bass line pumping through and layer upon layer of vocals mixed into the number.  The penultimate song of the album is called "Waking" and the guitars are looping around in a happy way on this song, it is one of those songs which is so simple, but once you hear it the sound is burying deeper and deeper into your subconscious.  Seriously, I have woken up humming this tune and had to suppress the urge to sing it out loud at my real job - it is one of the most fun songs I have heard in ages.  Ending the album is the title track "Girl at the End of the World", this song takes the audience to the end of the album in a gentle way with an array of instruments, loops and a sound like a heartbeat towards the end of the song.   It has the sound of a wistful goodbye added to the sound of the song, but this goodbye is not dragged out too long & it is not short and sweet either.  It is in the Goldilocks area of sound, it is not too hot or cold - it is just right and the album ends on a high note.

This is quite possible the most surprising album I have heard in years, I will not lie and say that I was hoping for a great album and James delivered up to a high standard - until I finished listening to this album, I cannot think of the last time I had listen to or enjoyed a full album by James.  But this album has won me over, the new sound really suits them at this period of their career and I really hope that they continue on this rich vein of form.  The combination of their traditional sound and the added electronica elements has given them a new lease of life, it is a great surprise and one of those genuine jaw dropping moments.  James - I salute you!

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Move Down South

You can purchase Girl at The End of the World.

You can visit the James website here.

You can follow the activities of James on Facebook here.

You can stream Girl at The End of the World on Spotify here.

You can stream Girl at The End of the World on Deezer here.

You can stream Girl at The End of the World on Tidal here.

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