Record of the Week
The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning
“No Complaints – A Joy From Start To Finish”
Thanks to commendably free distribution of the EP last year, half of this much-anticipated album is already well cemented in my heart. That it comes in a hand-made, screen-printed box set seems equally a present as a purchase.
The Joy Formidable hit lady-fronted, anthemic, indie-rock gold with each of those EP tracks, ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ highlights one of many paradoxes on the album. It is both wonderfully understated yet also completely over the top; it takes the listen from depression to hands-in-the-air chest-beating in one gloomily opulent step. Ritzy Bryan’s repetitive vocals drive the track forward menacingly and equally drive the record deep into the psyche.
‘Cradle’ is a natural extension, more urgent that the opener and punctuated by choice ‘oohs’ to back the ear-filling sound and pedal-filled love in. ‘Austere’ is mildly more tender, yet still full of spikes and fuzz. Finally, ‘While The Flies’ is a huge statement of intent that takes White Lies insipid gloom and injects it with a steroid-infused boost of optimism.
‘Whirring’ starts the newer material, running with the established torch, and it’s a colossal call to arms which should capture the heart of every discerning indie-club goer with its spectral shimmy.
‘9669’ is a change of pace, a acoustic led ballad of loss which features a complimentary and touching duet, ‘The Last Drop’ showcases their potential if not their variety. Again, Bryan’s vocals make the track, stripped to the point of nihilism yet quintessentially urging, appealing to everyone’s wide-eyed rock-star dream. It seems a happy surprise to her that ‘it’s all around me’ presumably referring to the now hoards of adoring indie kids.
Album closer, ‘Ostrich’ is a slow burn, reverb-heavy anthem for those that would shy away from it all, an extending of supporting arms, an understanding and haunting riff picked out as a positive lifeline to stygian fanatics.
An oppressive joy from start to finish, ‘A Balloon Called Moaning’ soars into contention with no complaint.
Beirut – March Of The Zapotec / Holland
Condon remains a precocious talent on this split release. I expected each CD to be complete albums, but the split has not been approved for length reasons, rather style differences. Weighing it at no more than 40 minutes for the two releases strongly indicates that these are pills to be taken simultaneously, despite their differences.
‘March Of The Zapotec’ continues the Mexican death-march stylings, plodding bass and all, and it refrains from such heavy harpsichord-embracing as heard on ‘The Flying Club Cup’ and again weaves a little gypsy square-dance into the rich tapestry. So far, so Beirut. Whilst it would be hard to argue that ‘March …’ is as exciting as ‘The Gulag Orkestar’, it is still a very listenable collection.
‘Holland’ showcases Condon’s latent talent being a composed collection of bedroom electronica recorded under his early-teen moniker of Realpeople. The sound is as warm as elsewhere and his voice so welcome a spanning of the material that it ties the two halves together seamlessly, as does the slight legacy of harpsichord!
I have read someone wittier than I describe ‘Holland’ as the most foreign of Beirut’s current repertoire, which is peculiar for an American called Beirut, equally influenced by Mexican brass, French harpsichord and Balkan dance. However, I do see his point, the electronica is complimentary without argument, completely unobtrusive, but it feels less special and that disappointment felt is foreign to Condon’s work to date.
First Aid Kit – Drunken Trees
“What A Way To Make A Living”
‘Drunken Trees’ is an 8-track mini-album full of sweet, lady-voiced folk. First Aid Kit comprise of Swedish teenage sisters and they peddle a fine line in swoonsome acoustica. Currently, they are most famous for covering the Fleet Foxes ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ and, faithful and pleasing rendition as it is, one can’t but get the feeling they are about to become famous in their own right, no matter the beardy shadow cast across their peer group.
‘You’re Not Coming Home Tonight’ has a toe-tapping country feel to it, daring to talk of hallowed ‘9 to 5’ routines. ‘Jagadamba, You Might’ has a little vocal menace to the strumming and ‘Our Own Pretty Way’ comes close to recalling Neko Case.
These are melodic, melancholic tales of love and loss and entirely suitable for discerning-campfire listening. A little keyboard and a driving bass line (Cross Oceans) lifts later tracks out of acoustic dependence but the whole is still comfortably lazy listening.
‘Drunken Trees’ has an aching beauty at its heart, much like the Fleet Foxes do, but they perhaps lack the depth the latter muster. What they do possess is resonance and First Aid Kit seem perfect for mending many a broken heart. This is music to fall in love to rather than with, a perfect accompaniment to that walk along the beach when you first took a special someone’s hand. Entirely satisfying but frustratingly ephemeral, ‘Drunken Trees’ 8 tracks are over before they began, and as such practically demand an extended stay in the player.
Those Dancing Days – In Our Space Hero Suits
“I’d Have Preferred Birthday …”
Those Dancing Days have produced an upbeat, poppy collection that recalls Ida Maria throughout, though less angsty and at times more wistful. For the most part ‘In Our Space Hero Suits’ is a charming, earnest listen and brings equal parts smile and toe-tapping fun to the party, but there is a nagging throughout that the record as a whole misses bite.
That said, ‘Run Run’ is a worthy, catchy highlight which is infectious enough to cause sporadic bouts of unconscious dancing, which surely was the intention. Jönsson vocals have a serious timbre to them, which recall chart-friendly chanteuse Duffy et al.
That Those Dancing Days comprise of 5 Swedish, practically teenage girls is appeal enough and that, along with their credible indie pop, will earn them quite a following, but does not appease the earlier nag, ‘Actionman’, for example, is anonymous in its naivety.
These girls possess a confidence by which is difficult not to be swept along, the keyboard is considered where it could have been thick, the drums and bass all complimentary and in fact in being so polished they probably missed a trick, as everyone likes a little bit of rough. Too sweet, you see, and there is the real risk of gagging.
The Deer Tracks – Aurora
Aurora is as impressive as its Borealian comparison suggests, a collection of shimmering, post-rock folktronica. Each track-onset is grounded in glitchy, ambient electronica, often building into outrageously unintelligible crescendos. Sigur Ròs must surely approve, Mew must think they have been burgled and M83 must already be reaching for the mixing desk.
This is a collection less classical than, say, ‘Takk …’ but the thanks are entirely ours, the output less frosty, more classic than classical. Warm glockenspiel plays happily in ‘Before The Storm’, but it is album opener ‘Yes, This Is My Broken Shield’ which is the true highlight, every bit as moving as Hoppípolla, every bit as intriguing as a Cocteau Twins release.
The beauty of the artwork matches the music, the cover’s stark silhouette as black and white as the direction in which these tracks are leading, the origamic pop-up, which delivers the CD in the digipak, equally breathtaking.
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