27 June 2017

Royal Blood - How Did We Get So Dark?

Second albums by hyped bands, they are a difficult beast to pull off if everyone is honest.  Generally (for any act) this is because you have a lifetime to create your first album, but the second one is produced on demand and it tends to be done on the fly or with tracks which were deemed unworthy of being on the first album, so catching that lightning is harder the second time around.  But for a hyped band, the pressure is double, nay it is trebled as they must live up to their hype for a second time or they are sunk in some people’s eyes.  And this is where we find Royal Blood, they are releasing their second album and the follow up to the monster that was Royal Blood’ (our review cleverlylinked here).  I was really looking forward to this one, but something has been moving in the waters to make my enthusiasm stall.  I think it is some of the single that have been released, also their performance at last weekend’s Glastonbury festival (watched from TV) did not translate too well for me.  Also, I have seen many hyped bands over the year fall on their own sword with their second album, even ones which have reached the top of the charts.  So, how has this album turned out?

01 – How Did We Get So Dark?

Without being cynical here, what has changed from their last album to this one with their opening track?  The riff is loud, the drumming is tight and it is a decent number.  But I am sitting here with the song being repeated and it feels like I am not hearing anything that they have not done before and it is also something that they have done better as well.  I was not expecting something different, but not something that familiar.

02 – Lights Out

Familiarity to their sound seems to be a little dangerous on this number, it reminds me of ‘Name the last track on Royal Blood’ from their debut a little too much for its own good.  The riff is really good, it sounds powerful and it makes the right noises, but they are revisiting their own tracks here, rehashing old glories a little bit too soon.

03 – I Only Lie When I Love You

I have to admit that this song really disappointed me when I first heard it, it is something that the band have done before and they have done it better as well.  It is their standard big hook, plenty of sing along room, stage stomping song that they have been doing for ages.  But they can create better songs than this, it is just a little average for them.

04 – She’s Creeping

This is a poor song, no two ways about it.  They say the words ‘It’s so boring, being what you want me to be’ and I whole heartedly agree, it is piss poor on this song with all the sounds quality of a demo before it is beefed out.  Onto the next song……

05 – Look Like You Know

There is a lot to be said for ‘Look Like You Know’ on this album, it is the first song which feels like it is bring something different to this album if the truth be told.  The stomping riff of the verses is strong, the lighter chorus sections is different and adds a layer of interest and it bounces along with the energy that we have come to expect from Royal Blood.  It is the first song which genially engages the listener and it is also the halfway point of the album too.

06 – Where Are You Now?

Once again, it is an incredibly familiar sound on ‘Where Are You Now?’, one that would have once excited and now it merely entertains and feels like it is old already.  It should not be this way for a brand new song from one of the hottest acts out there, it should not feel like a set of comfy shoes.  It is good, but far too familiar to be honest.

07 – Don’t Tell

Everything has been slowed down on ‘Don’t Tell’ which is about a secret relationship that is keeping you up at tonight, as you are having to do move around in the shadows.  It sounds like quite a macabre and secretive relationship, but I have never been one for keeping a relationship secret, so I do not get the context of the song.  The music itself is one of the best of the album as it at least changes their sound slightly, keeping it tight for the faithful and the bass is singing like an angel in the darkness.  I really like this song, it truly stands out from the pack on this album.

08 – Hook, Line & Sinker

One of four songs that were released before the album was released, ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’ is the best of those releases.  Another song about a torturous relationship, Royal Blood keep things simple on this song with a back to basics attitude.  Due to this, it has the familiar feeling that has been the plague of this album and that is a bit of a shame.  However, it is one of the stand out tracks on the album as well, I cannot deny when the riff kicks in that it hits the sweet spot, even if it reminds me of ‘Figure It Out’ in places.

09 – Hole in Your Heart

The penultimate song of the album has gone all Desert Rock on this album, it once again follows their familiar pattern of quite verses and stomping chorus sections, adding synths and percussion to their sound to beef it out.  It is another song that feels like those comfortable, old jeans that you like so much, they are your go-to piece of clothes and there is nothing wrong with them.  But as much as enjoyable as this song is, it is hardly pushing the dynamics of the two piece act to the raggy edge of their sound. 

10 – Sleep

Ending the album is ‘Sleep’ which does not follow the exact pattern of their first album, as ‘Better Stranger’ was a massive beast of a song.  ‘Sleep’ is the sound of a man in torture as his lover is out with a new spouse and desperation is gripping his soul.  It is a slower number, one that has a dirty sound to the music, the bass rumbling is great for the most part and it is another decent number from Royal Blood.  However, the music ends suddenly and then it drifts away towards the end which hinders the end result of the song and by extension the album as well.

OK, let’s get this over with – this is an album that has not reinvented the wheel, it is well played and it has some decent songs.  The final half of the album is much stronger than the first part, which is in keeping with ‘Royal Blood’ as well, it just seems to be their calling card.  Also, keeping the album to ten tracks is a good thing, it keeps everything short and punchy for them, which is probably their biggest strength.  But (and it is a big but), ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ has also exposed the weakness of Royal Blood, they are a one-trick pony show, an act which make every song sound familiar to the point where they start to merge into one and this album also follows the law of diminishing returns.  I know that there are a ton of bands who have made a career of doing this – AC/DC, Motorhead, Megadeth to name three – but that is after years of trying different things as well.  I know asking a two piece to create something different is like asking a child to build a skyscraper without training, but they are so big on the power of the two piece act that you sort of expect them to follow through on that boast.  This is only the second album from Royal Blood, it is the number one album in the UK as I write this and it is weak sauce when you compare it to their first record.  I am not doing this to be hip and slate the band, but their initial buzz was so big that it was probably impossible for them to release another stone cold killer that soon.  As I stated on the 'Royal Blood' review, it was great to hear a hyped band who did not turn out to be a pile of bollocks, something I still believe.  But they do need to do something with their sound, they cannot stay in the same place forever and this album is proof of that.  The echo of excitement from that first album is diminishing, the second album has turned out to be a bit poor, so now it is down to the third record of Royal Blood which will either make or break them.  Here is hoping that it is the former and not the latter as I do like Royal Blood, but this album is not as good as their first.

6 out of ten – Now I see where you were going, but it is not quite there

Top track – Don’t Tell

You can purchase How Did We Get So Dark? on Amazon here.

You can visit the Royal Blood website here.

You can follow the activities of Royal Blood on Facebook here. 

You can stream How Did We Get So Dark? on Spotify here. 

You can stream How Did We Get So Dark? on Deezer here. 

You can stream How Did We Get So Dark? on Tidal here. 

23 June 2017

Oxbow - Thin Black Duke

Some bands have an aura about them, something which is you cannot put your finger on as the music created is indescribable and it is not for everyone.  Somethings are not to be digested by the masses as it is not a cookie dough, easy fit, one size fits all product.  Oxbow are one of those acts, an act which command respect from all who hear the call and they have little concern for anything but their own sound.  Formed in 1988, Oxbow have been mixing a blend of Avant Garde jazz, noise and pushing the boundaries of what constitutes as a song over the course of their six previous records.  Their last studio album was released in 2007 (the brilliant 'The Narcotic Story'), but they have not been quite in the ten years since that release.  They have released live albums, split EP's, they have toured and they have been making sure that their presence is still felt.  Once the rumblings of a new album started to increase in volume, I knew it was an album I had to review.  I also knew it was one that I would take my time to absorb, you never totally appreciate an Oxbow album on the first listen.  To be honest, it always takes me a long time to sit down with an Oxbow record and to even have an inkling of understanding about everything that they are saying on an album, as the craftmanship that goes into each note, each uttered word, each drum skin hit is inspiring and on a different level to almost every band out there.  Writing anything about a band who are as well read and sublime as Oxbow is daunting, especially for my dyslexic style of writing.  But I feel compelled to write something about this album.  So, as I have lived with the 'Thin Black Duke' for a while now, it is time to write my review.

01 - Cold & Well Lit-Place

Starting with a short intake of breath, a gentle whisper and then the music starts to flow. The mixture of guitars, strings and horns is as smooth as silk, as strong as an elephant on the run and as unique as an individual fingerprint.  It is a beautiful piece, one that is full of contrasts, dynamic shifts and grand gestures that will take your breath away.  It not an easy piece of music, but if it was not a challenge then it would not have been crafted by Oxbow.

02 - Ecce Homo

The feedback at the start of this song sounds like sirens in the night, the whispering voice of Eugene S. Robinson sounds as menacing as ever, the music starts to open up and you could truly lose yourself in this beautiful piece. It progresses with a non-conformist attitude that has always been the calling card of Oxbow, something that continues to reward with each repeat listen and it never fails to deliver.

03 - A Gentleman's Gentleman

Oxbow pick up the energy on 'A Gentleman's Gentleman', giving this song an aggressive edge, almost flexing those muscles that have been hitting precision punches on 'Cold & Well Lit-Place' and 'Ecce Homo'.  The power of the vocals is scary and fascinating, the piano is hit with a vengeance, the drums are loud and the noise is (once again) amazing.  I adore this song, it was the first one on the album I understood, the first one to let me in and it is one of my favourite on this album.

04 - Letter of Note

Music can be more than one thing at the same time, this is perfectly illustrated by 'Letter of Note', which is both powerful and graceful in stature, with a gentle passage that is carried with the strings on this song.  Then it has the harshest passage of music on the 'Thin Black Duke', the screeching and wailing of the band is without a doubt reaches its peak on 'Letter of Note', but it also has other currents at work on this song.  Once more, I found out more about 'Letter of Note' with each listen, it keeps revealing a little bit extra each time.  I am still being taught lessons by this song, even as I type these words and I know this will continue long after I publish this review.

05 - Host

I keep losing myself in 'Host' as it has a shifting feeling and you are given a firm footing by the band to guide you.  It is a good song which expands, contracts, moves in one direction to once again change pace for another avenue of sound.  I love that way changes, but if you are not careful, it will send your head spin. 

06 - The Upper

'The Upper' is the ying to the yang of 'Host', the instant appeal to the harsh challenge, the sound of control over the shifting sands of Avant Garde noise.  Both songs are in sublime contrast to each other and in the hands of Oxbow, they are tools which are used with expert marksmanship.  But 'The Upper' has one of the best passages of music on the 'Thin Black Duke', the howling noise that erupts on this song never fails to impress and its sensual nature is beautiful.   It is such a powerful statement, how could you not be impressed?

07 - Other People

'Other People' is one of my favourite songs of an album full of wonderful pieces of music, one that have not failed to deliver shivers up my spine from the first moment till the last note has long faded out.  The performance is striking, the vocals go from gentle crooner to wounded beast with everything in-between.  The band are composed and ready to ignite at a moment’s notice, adding depth to the strings and horns that form the bases of the music.  It is a perfect moment on this album, one that I adore listening to with a sense of anticipation each time the needle drops.

08 - The Finished Line

Sadly, the album ends so soon, but it is better to be left wanting more than feels as if you want the album to have stopped two or three songs earlier.  Out of a distance howling, 'The Finished Line' starts with the guitar is strummed as everything feels as it is on a come down, but Oxbow are not going to let you out that easily.  This is a six-minute lesson is how a song is meant to sound, how a song is meant to hit you in those places where it hurts.  It feels like time stands still once it starts and that it is over far too quickly once it has finished, it is so hypnotic and delightfully powerful that you cannot help but love it.  The feedback, the quite passages, the howling vocals, the sparse and precise drumming, the whole package is as stunning as anything else on this album.  What a way to end this record......

To say it took a while to understand the 'Thin Black Duke' is an understatement, but that does not mean I did not enjoy it from the beginning as understanding and enjoying an Oxbow album is two different things entirely.  In fact, I was floored at it is a powerful record, the strength behind the music is amazing and I am finding it hard to put into words just how beautiful this album sounds.  It is an outstanding piece of art, one that I am still coming to grips with.  I wish there were more albums created with this much attention to details, with this much passion, determination and skill.  It is a masterpiece, one that is without equal in 2017 so far and one that will be incredibly hard to beat.  I usually try to think of some sort of criticism so that my reviews do not sound like a sonnet, but this review is pretty much a love letter to an album that is hard to love and impossible to put down.  I cannot compare it to any other album out there, it is a unique and beautiful experience that reveals more with each listen and it is still a mystery in so many ways.  For this to be beaten in 2017, someone is going to have to create an opus beyond human reckoning.  If I had to describe this in one word that word would be flawless (or terrifying, I go backwards and forwards on that one).

10 out of ten - This is proof that there is a deity.

Top track - Other People

You can purchase the Thin Black Dude (as well as other past releases from Oxbow) on the Oxbow Bandcamp page here.

You can visit the Oxbow website here (there is a link to a webstore on the website).

You can purchase the Thin Black Duke on Amazon here.

You can follow the activities of Oxbow on Facebook here.

You can stream the Thin Black Duke on Spotify here.

You can stream the Thin Black Duke on Deezer here.

You can stream the Thin Black Duke on Tidal here.

18 June 2017

2017 Album Round Up Review Part 2

Welcome to a round up review!  It is the first of many I will be releasing over the next few weeks, think of them like the bullet point reviews you get in magazines, short and to the point.  I did one of these last year before Christmas, mainly due to the volume of albums that were still left to review at that time of year and this is happening for similar reasons.  There are many reasons for this, the biggest reason of all is time.  Basically, there is only so much time a one man team has available to do the details blogs that I usually post on here.  So, the list of albums that I want to review, promised to review, need to review has grown.  At the moment, it is hitting north of 100 with ease and I need to get that down as there are some other releases that are coming and they need my attention as well.  Now, I will be breaking these round ups down into batches of ten, they will be minus the normal link to purchase of stream the albums (due to space) but you will be able to find these online very easily (legal links, remember - this is not that type of blog).  I will be using the same introduction to each of these blog, if only to save more time.  Thanks for reading - Eddie.

The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions

Alternative Indie/Country supergroup which sort of lives of its own name on this one, unlike earlier album which has a sense of rebellion.  On ‘Whiteout Conditions’, we find the New Pornographers not really doing anything different to what other acts are doing at the moment, more importantly – it does not improve on their sound or add anything new to the sound that is out there and that was always their biggest strength.  It is alright, but there is not spark on this one sadly.

6 out of ten – Now I see where you were going, but it is not quite there

Top track – Whiteout Conditions

Paramore – After Laughter

Paramore have changed their style with each album and on ‘After Laughter’ they have gone New Wave and everything is sunshine.  The album sounds like a party is happening and everyone is having fun, but the subject matter for the songs is always in direct contrast to the music around it.  It is decent, but the uneven production knocks a few points off the final mark.  Also, two things – one) I think they should really drop the Paramore name, just admit that it is a solo project. Two) ‘Hard Times’ is one of the catchiest songs of 2017, seriously I have shaken off colds easier than getting this song out of my mind.

6 out of ten – Now I see where you were going, but it is not quite there

Top track – Hard Times

SikTh – The Future in Whose Eyes?

This is not what I was expecting, it sounds as if it has been produced in the early 2000’s and just released now.  The bass is brilliant and at odds with everything else that is going one, the guitar mix can be too muddy at times and it does not gel as well as previous releases.  They are still interesting, but it is not happening on this one.  Sorry to SikTh, but this is a tad disappointing.

6 out of ten – Now I see where you were going, but it is not quite there

Top track – Century of the Narcissit?

Gnarwolves – Outsiders

When I first read the name, I was expecting a sludge/gore metal band.  So, it was a surprise when some snot nosed, old school punk came out of the speakers from Brighton, UK.  The speciality of the day is anthemic and dangerous punk that does not care what you are thinking, as it is gonna spit on you anyway.  It is a great little record, one that has some great tunes and lots of attitude.

7 out of ten – This is good and worth checking out

Top track – Car Crash Cinema

Fleece – Voyager

Indie Rock meets Jazz?  Sounds like two things that will separate like water and oil to be honest, it sounds like a strange brew by any musical standards.  In some places, it falls apart to be honest.  But in others such as ‘What You’ve Done’ it sounds majestic.  There is something going on here, something that could create a world better.  The best way I can describe this is that the band sound as if they are a work in progress, there is better sounds to come from this experiment and it has (hopefully) laid a foundation for them to progress from.

6 out of ten – Now I see where you were going, but it is not quite there

Top track – What You’ve Done

Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

I found Eisley when I was looking for song to play on my radio show, basically I was looking for some indie pop and just picked a random record to be honest.  What I was not expecting was the depth of the songs on offer here, the emotional baggage that is laid out here and how delicate some of the songs sound.  It has a few points that stray into middle of the road indie territory, but overall it is a delightful album that sounds like spring time and full of hope.

7 out of ten – This is good and worth checking out

Top track – Always Wrong

Electric Guest – Plural

Indielectronica LA specialists Electric Guest have been named dropped for a while and for good reason, they have a special sound that makes claim to the soundscape left behind when you remove the synth machine from 80’s music and add some atmospheric noise.  This is their second album, one which improves on the sound of ‘Mondo’ with style and confidence, this is one of the albums I will regret not doing a full review for as the year goes on.

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

Top track – Zero

British Sea Power – Let the Dancers Inherit the Party

 Not going to lie here, this album is slightly disappointing to be honest.  It is an average shoegazing/indie album, there is a lack of spark on this record which makes it hard to love and it feels as if they went through the motions a little on some of these numbers.  Not a bad album, but nowhere near their best either.

5 out of ten – Not for everyone, but played well

Top track – Electric Kittens

Bleachers – Gone Now

Bleachers have released the sophomore album with ‘Gone Now’, they have created an album that mixes the current New Wave revival, synth pop, indie electronica and an outsiders point of view.  It is a pop album at its very heart and it is a glorious record, one that matches the ambition behind the song writing with a crisp production that feels retro and modern at the same time, each song could be a single and it is glorious – I am gonna regret not giving this a full review, but that is the way it turns out sometimes.

9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost

Top track – I Miss Those Days

All Time Low – Last Young Renegade

Some bands cannot do anything right for you, sadly that is the case with All Time Low for me.  Their brand of pop punk is one that undoubtedly satisfies a lot of people's need for conformist punk, but it does leave me cold and that has not changed with ‘Last Young Renegade’.  I cannot say it is awful, that is not the problem here for me.  The sound is just so dull, I just feel myself drifting every time i listen to this album.  It is produced well and there is no passion involved, what is punk without passion and fire?  I will be polite and leave it there.

3 out of ten – It could have been a bit better

Top track – Dark Side of Your Room

Past sermons

Greatest hits