28 April 2015

Moonbabies - Wizards On The Beach

I do like surprises; especially in the form of a flattering email (I knew my pretentious name would work eventually)!  Anyway over the last few days I have received an email from a band called Moonbabies from Malmö in Southern Sweden, bringing to my attention their latest release 'Wizards on the Beach'.  Formed by husband & wife duo Ola Frick & Carina Johannsson in 1997, they originally started off as a shoegazing/indie band in the style of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins, but since 2004 they have started to incorporate more electronic influences to their sound.  Several years have passed since their last release which was called ‘Moonbabies at the Ballroom’ and according to the press stuff they have taken time to find their sound without betraying their artistic sensibilities.  Now based in Berlin, they have taken influence from the local house scene and added to their own sound.  It is actually quite ironic that I got the email as I am sure I seen their name bouncing around and was looking to review it anyway - so I got to have a peak before the release. The cover is beautiful and looks very intriguing (another plus point in my book and would have made it a contender for the musical roulette game I play when I review artist I do not know based solely on the cover of the album).  But as the end of the day, the music is what we are here for; we are here to find out how good this album sounds, so let's find out.....

The track opens with the sound of a door opening and the band are straight into “Pink Heart Mother”, with a swirling mix of sounds that the audience have to jump between to find a rhythm to hold onto; it is an instant opening that gives way to a euphoric chorus that fill the world with a sense of joy and positive feelings.  There is a desire for change in this song in the lyrics (maybe it has been inspired by their change of global location), whatever the cause the music is catchy and reminds me of bands such as Ladyhawke and The Big Pink – a really good opening that fades to the strumming of an acoustic guitar and the background noise that links the song to the title track “Wizards on The Beach”.  A mixture of fast bass, looping guitar tones, basic drumming patterns and atmospheric sounds that keep this track moving at a fast pace; it is a contrast in style that works really well, there is ambition here that is match by the talent of the band.  I like it when bands have big ideas and they pull off what could not be achieved by other similar artists – I really do like this song an awful lot.  The third track is called “Raindrops” and sure enough it starts with the sound of rain as the instruments fade in to a solemn mournful sound, it actually reminds me of a song by Suede (not as in copying, but in regards to atmosphere) called “The Big Time”.  It is the sound of an ending in the rain and the desire to disappear to a more innocent age when everything was easier and not as complex.  I appreciate the song, it comes to an end with a halt for me; but it is still a good number.

Next up is “Eli In The Woods” which brings the energy back to the record; it has a happy go lucky (mostly) instrumental piece that swirls around and could actually be from a different decade with the rhythm and style that keeps on building up till the band once again hit the euphoric spot where it all seems like summer once more; but it also ends too soon for me, but at least it has a gentle guiding pattern down this time.  After this we are dropped into the psychedelic world of “Bird Lay Frue” which is led by Ola Frick through this dream-state song that feels like a drone in places and crosses over into 60’s/70’s montage sequence music when the couple are enjoying a pleasant afternoon in a field and relaxing in the hazy sun.  It is a relaxing number and when I say drone it is not looking down on the song; this review is being wrote by a man who love Sunn 0))) and sometimes listens to noise music to relax (closely followed by Prince), it just has a repetitive quality that is so easy to get lost in that (much like a dream) it is easy to focus on it and lose track of time whilst you are lost in this charming dream.  After this comes “Playground Dropouts” which in the first instant is my title of the album; I have an image of kids just saying stuff this and walking away from the crowd (much like I did in my youth), if only I had this song to play at the time as a walking away song.  This reminds me of MGMT and Lemon Jelly in places and it once again has a psychedelic edge to the music, mixed in with the electronic influences that makes this another little gem to be lost in; I really like this song a lot, it is different and keeps this interesting record moving along.

The seventh track is called “24” which is not a remaking of the theme from the popular USA TV series where Kiefer Sutherland is shot at a lot, but it is another atmospheric trip that begins in the distance and slowly fades in and gains focus until you can hear the drums, clicks and keyboards properly, then the acoustic guitar comes in and the song has a minimal vibe in the verses that really appeals to me, the lyrical enigma that can have different meanings to the author and to the audience, the chorus which adds everything back; the song is very strong and once more keeps you in that sweet place between waking and dreaming.  In fact I think I would say that it is my song of the album, it is a great number that keeps on revealing more with further listens. Starting with the sound of waves “Summerlong Wave” we are introduced to another fun filled number, which brings to mind those summer days at the beach and it also sounds like it would go down well on a summer’s night out or at a party.  The song is just another uplifting number on this album that takes all the album to another places; however once again (much like “Eli In The Woods” it ends a little too soon for me, but as I said I sometimes like songs that are pretty much the length of an album – so what would I know).  The penultimate track is “Chorus”, which was the first single to be released off the album.  The track itself once more keeps the relaxing tone that has been one of the calling cards of this record at the forefront of their sound, but this is the first pieces that feels a bit mellon collie to me; but this song regarding a love that is ending is beautiful pieced together and whilst sounding like a more focused version of Empire of the Sun, Moonbabies are guiding the listener to the end of the album.  This comes in the form of “The Ocean Kill”, which is the longest track on the album; this song is a huge statement, the drum beat is very Kate Bush, the sounds are fantastic and the building is perfect – it is a great ending to this album and ends with the sound of the sea fading away into the distance.

This album is a beautiful release, it has a strong nature feel (which is helped with a lot of the samples used throughout the album); the dream pop nature of the record is something that is very appealing and mixed in with a huge dose of psychedelic tunes & the shoegazing (once in a while drone-like) nature of their music is great.  I also like the way they present themselves and their music, it is positive to see the way they have invested in this project and how passionate they are about it as well.  As I said, a few of the songs could have been extended for me; but that is a personal thing and does not detract from the fact that this is a great release, it is a relaxing record that will be a great addition to this summer’s soundtrack. 

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

Top track - 24

You can visit the band's website - you can order the album here

You can follow their activities on Facebook here

You can listen to some of their songs (plus a track from this album) on Soundcloud here

You can also see what they are doing on Twitter here

You can purchase the album directly from the band via Bandcamp

You can stream the album from Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you 

Finally, for our Tidal users - here is a link for you guys

26 April 2015

James Bay - Chaos And The Calm

You can really tell that I no longer pay any attention to some sections of the press - until two days ago, I had heard nothing about James Bay; nowt, zilch, the square route of jack.  This is not really a surprise in some ways, but the guy has won a Brit Award already before he had released this album (he had released some EP's beforehand though), came second in the BBC Sound of 2015 list and seems to be taking the world by storm with Hoizer (someone else I am going to be look at shortly).  The main reason he has passed me by is that I am no longer looking at the hype for some bands, it just makes me cynical and I tend to wonder if the talent is from within or from other people. I do have a couple of good points before I start - Mr Bay has had a hand in writing all of his songs, there is not one cover here (thank the deity) and it only has one producer in the form of Jacquire King who has worked with Kings of Leon, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse amongst others.  This is something that gives me hope before I listen to the record, there is an apparent idea of control over the album from the outset.  I will be reviewing the standard version of the album, there is a deluxe version (which has an extra three tracks) and all that jazz; on a side note, deluxe versions were supposed to be released a year after the original - not on the same day! It is not something that is unique to James Bay, it has been happening in metal music for far too long as well.  So, without any hype what so ever, it is time to here if he was worth it in the first place?

Starting the album is the track "Craving"; a tale about wanting something, but not knowing exactly what it is that you want.  It also describes the unchangeable nature of small towns and how existence can be the same one day after another, something that can drive people to their wit's end.  It is a tale which is used time and time again, musically it is interesting enough to engage the listener; it is not 100% my type of thing as it reminds me of the music of Jimmy Nail (the actor/singer from the North East England), not in vocal style but in delivery.  The second track is called "Hold Back the River" which is a story about how life (and people's ambitions) can get in the way of being a couple.  It has more than a healthy dose of Jeff Buckley to it, if he was alive he might has been wondering if it was his song.  It is well play and there is nothing wrong with it, the only thing is that I have heard this type of song before and the delivery was just as good (if not better).  But, it is a lot better than a lot of the current pop charts; this is a big bonus in its favour.  What has surprised me whilst researching for this blog was that this was a UK top ten song; it is good to see a song which is not the same as the standard pop icons doing well.  Next up is "Let It Go" which is a slow guitar plucking number, another love song about the bitter end of the relationship when it all heads south.  The sadness to the number is an obvious heart-tugger and once again, it is an experience that is universal and is easy to identify with.  It is a little bit too obvious in places, the man knows the emotional buttons to push and it is played really well; once more I am not falling for its charms, but I can see why people would be captivated by this song and I fully expect it to be used on a soap at one point when a couple are breaking up in a montage.  The fourth song is called "If You Ever Want To Be In Love" and this song is the first one to make me take more than a passing interest, the lyrical delivery about pleading for love is the same as ever; the music feels like it has an Elton John vibe (something that I have no shame in admitting is something I really approve of); it also has a guitar tone that more than nods it head to Dire Straits - basically this touches all the base points for old school classic rock.  

"Best Fake Smile" follows on and tries to stomp its way to your heart with a cautionary tale about ignoring someone who is trying to make their world seem better than it is.  It is once again a decent number, it is once again not rocking my world but I am also seeing why this would be popular. "When We Were On Fire" is another tale of song that dealing with the stick/bitter ending of a relationship, this time looking back at how the relationship was when it was in a better place and there was not some much baggage.  It still has a hopeful pleading part, asking the recipient to go back to how it was before.  Musically I am hearing a lot of Tom Odell in this number, it is decent enough and it is not doing anything wrong; but once it is over, I am not chomping at the teeth to listen to it again.  The sixth number is "Move Together" is the first song where I just cannot connect with, it fails for me on an emotional level (something that the song is trying to create from the beginning).  It is well played, but it is untimely boring for me; next!  Following on is the song called "Scars", pleading for love to come back to the singer as he wishes to grow with the person in question.  This is much better "Move Together", it is another that takes a little piece of the soul of Jeff Buckley and tries to make it the property of the owner.  Whilst music is not always original, mainly due to the fact that there is only some many variations of chords and notes; but this song is a number that owes its existence to another artist, it wears its creative heart on its sleeve and it is another song trying to be an anthem.  A pattern is emerging on this album which I will get to at the end of the review.  

However, "Collide" is a refreshingly different number for this record - it is just a good honest song that is not aiming for that moment that makes the crowd sing in union.  It just comes out with a bit of a bite and it is a welcome burst of energy for an album that was in danger of falling under the weight of its own vision.  "Get Out While You Can" sounds as if it was created by Kings of Leon, the riff and tune remind me of "Use Somebody" quiet a lot (not to the point of being a word and note duplicate), but considering that Jacquire King produced the album that "Use Somebody" was taken from, it would seem as if he has a signature production style.  As for the song, it is a decent number and keeps up the energy created by "Collide"; but there is not originality to it.  Acoustic opening "Need the Sun to Break" is another anthem for the broken hearted and for people who desire a change in their luck.  It is one of the better soulful numbers on this album, the performance is gentle when it needs to be and this heightens the chorus for that moment when the audience does participate; it feels a lot more organic than other numbers on this record and that makes a difference compared to a lot of the album.  "Incomplete" is where the album ends for the standard version, it is combines Mr Bay on the acoustic guitar, a choir and the rest of the instruments playing lightly to emphasise the emotional matter of walking away from a love that is ending (another song about this matter, it makes being in love sound like a minefield).  It ends the standard version of the album on a gentle number, well played but nothing that is making this man shiver with emotion or connect with the singer.

This is something that has to be said - not every song needs to be an anthem to unite the masses.  Seriously, I blame Snow Patrol for this and when "Run" was shown on the TV at Glastonbury years ago and the whole field was joining in, ever since then a lot of artists have attempted to make an album when every song is an anthem.  James Bay has attempted to do that here and in places when it feels organic and natural then it works, but that is not the case for most of it.  I cannot criticise the album in terms of performance or vocals, the man is obviously a talent lad and (as I mentioned before) it is a nice change to the other artists at the top of the charts (also he pisses all over Jake Bugg and his "Lightning Bolt" which still send shivers of pain down my spine).  I would really be lying if I said it was my type of thing, but I can also not condemn it either.  A decent album which is not for me, but might be the album of the year for other people.

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

Top track - If You Ever Want to Be in Love

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the James Bay website here

You can also follow his activities on Facebook here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you

Finally for our Tidal users, here is a link for you

25 April 2015

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Australia - a country on the other side of the world from me, a places that looks amazing in pictures, full of lots of creatures (some nice, some not so nice) and home to a really strange, but beautiful rock scene that always seems to have something interesting going on. Over the past few months, the name Courtney Barnett has been cropping up a lot; it has also been suggested that I see what her album is like.  This is the debut album from the 27 year old lady who has been getting the attention of the American press and used to play in the Immigrant Union with Brent DeBoer from The Dandy Warhols.  With three EP's released before this album, she has been getting quiet the reputation.  Before I move on, I want to talk about the cover; the cover is very simplistic and does have that indie chic vibe about it, it is a straight forward cover that will have people with OCD going crazy as the colours go between the lines.  It looks like a rough design that looks as if it was the basic idea, but then it looked so go that the lady decided to stick with it.  I like the basic nature of it, it does not give away too much of what the music is about and it is not just a random band photo.  Anyway, time to find out what the music is all about....

Starting the album is "Elevator Operator" which comes across as a modern take on the works of Lou Reed and Velvet Underground, but with a lot less pretentious musing (look, I love both Lou Reed solo stuff and Velvet Underground - it does not mean I do see it for what it is, it is part of the charm).  It has a story telling narrative of a man trying to escape his life (not through suicide, but through viewing the world in a different perspective).  It is a good opening, it does sound a bit like "Waiting for My Man", but again that is not a bad thing - it is a good piece of storytelling.  The second track is called "Pedestrian At Best" which seems to bring out the inner punk of Ms Barnett; sounding like a long lost Elastic track that has just been discovered, it is all spiky, loud guitars, indie sensibilities with a huge dose of humour and irony at its heart.  It is not as charming as "Elevator Operator" if I am honest, but it is a different beast; it is an inward monologue with a sense of danger - it is just as good but a totally different style of song.  The third song is called "An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)" is another rambling tune, I really love the style that is actually out of step with the faceless chameleons that grace the charts.  It is not something that has not been done before, but in these times it is really refreshing and so far it is holding its own.  The fourth track is actually a game changer for this album; the song is called "Small Poppies" and this blues number has a soul that would charm the most stern and feral beast into a state of wonder, this is a storming number that makes the hair on my neck stand up - it is a great song that keeps the album going and the solo is fantastic.

Keeping the mellow vibe and slow nature going, "Depreston" starts off with a plea for love and companionship; whilst one person is wanting to broaden their horizons and the new home is a house of depressive emptiness.  It has a slightly country vibe to the sound and goes along nicely, it is not as engaging as the opening four tracks if I am honest but it is not a bad number at all.  The next number is called "Aqua Profunda!" which all about finding adventures in embarrassment in a local swimming pool.  We all have a story when we have been distracted and done something silly in front of a person we want to impress; the track itself reminds me of early Liz Phair, it is has a lazy tone which is charming on the ears.  When I say I lazy, I mean it is not in any hurry; it might be a short track, but it is a good (albeit one that sounds as if it is being done with the minimal effort - and sounding so good too).  The seventh number is called "Dead Fox" which goes back to the rambling sequence of event, the music is very gentle on the ear and the Lou Reed comparisons are starting to form in my head again.  I like this song, it does not exactly explode like a supernova; but it has something else about it, something that keeps this album going along very nicely.  After this we are introduced to "Nobody Cares If You Don't Go to the Party" which is about opposites attracting, wanting to have your cake and eat it all at the same time; this has a punk and psychedelic feeling about it, the contradictions of styles and meanings to the number are massive; it is one of the more out and out rock tracks here and it adds a huge ball of energy to the record - another good track here.

"Debbie Downer" is a song which for me could have come straight out of the 60's, musically it is simpler garage rock and has a great organ sound to the tune; lyrically it is about being liked and paranoia, it is a decent number but I found that I could not warm to it.  Nothing really wrong going on here, but nothing that makes me as excited as the other songs on the album.  The penultimate number is "Kim's Caravan" which starts with strange noises from a guitar which fade in slowly, being helped with cymbals and a bass guitar showing the way; the build is slow and the music is haunting, the lyrical content is fantastic and the harrowing quality to the song is really good.  There is just one issue, which is Ms Barnett's voice on the song; it does not match the drama that is going on here during the verse.  The beat poet sections that work so well on "Elevator Operator", feel clumsy on this number; which is a shame as the later section of the album when the music sounds like a tidal wave hitting over the audience (and where she is delivering the passion to the number) is really top draw stuff.  It could have been the song of the album, but alas it is not to be.  Ending the album is acoustic "Boxing Day Blues" which is a gentle number about that has a slow vocal delivery mixing up the lyrics which could have so many different meanings that a Rubik cube genius would have to take a lie down after trying to figure it out.  It ends the album really well, not going out with a whimper, but not with some sort of hipster wall of guitar noise.

Overall, this is a really interesting and quirky record; there is something different about this that works for the best majority of the album.  With a more off the wall feeling to the record, the beat poet/Lou Reed ramblings are charming and sound as if Ms Barnett is letting the stream of consciousness fall from her mind as rain falls from the sky.  When it does not work, it hinders the record; such as on "Kim's Caravan"; but it does not stop this being an interesting and charming album that is actually worth the praise that it is receiving. 

7.5 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check

Top track - Elevator Operator

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Courtney Barnett website here

You can stream the album from Spotify here

If you use Deezer, here is a link for you

For people that use Tidal, here is one for you guys

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