Apologies for the hiatus, mine and that of TripleAre. Damn that RL.
Record of the Week
Bonnie Prince Billy - I See A Darkness
I came late to Will Oldham, but 'I See A Darkness' is a near perfect collection of acoustic singer-songwriting. It starts with the gentle nod of 'A Minor Place' which recalls the Decemberists' literacy and Neutral Milk Hotel's pronounced sense of atmosphere and place. This opening is relatively upbeat. From then on in, his gentle, forlorn tales of love, and more commonly loss, make contemporaries Iron & Wine sound playful, newcomer Bon Iver sociable.
There is an awkwardness to the spotlight, but one that is compensated for in the virtually unparalleled beauty of Oldham's craft. This is a condensing of Neil Young and Nick Drake. 'Today I Was An Evil One' allows the country influences to shine, 'Knockturne' and album closer 'Raining In Darling' are piano-led ballads to rival those of Nick Cave. But it is the title track that steals the show, an unplugged prophecy of doom of breath-taking and tear-jerking beauty equivalent to, if not surpassing, Jeff Buckley's 'Hallelujah'.
As close to perfection as is possible for the genre.
Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls
1986 is popular once more thanks to recent releases from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Crystal Stilts and to a lesser extend The Manhattan Love Suicides. Even The Shop Assistants have been reissued from those halcyon days. Vivian Girls follow the revival, fuzzing along happily in a `proper' indie kind of way. There is little in the way of stand out material, but their frenetic jangle, pleasing, echo-y `whoa ohs' and the occasional surf-rock riff, à la Jesus & Mary Chain, serve them well.
There are a few Raveonettes echoes to be heard: the spectre (ahem) of 60s girl groups in the background. Despite having little bite to it and being over and done in just over 20 minutes, Vivian Girls still capture the heart in a summertime-whimsy kind of way. But then, come to think of it, so do quite a few girls!
Navvy - Idyll Intangible
'More Devvo Than Devo'
Navvy like to think they are embodying the spirit of Gang of Four and Devo, but in reality they are closer to art-school oiks Art Brut and Thomas Tantrum. They plough a line in angular post-punk-pop which flirts constantly with the plain annoying. Their lo.fi bounce is thanks to the repetitive, angular bass riffs lifted from their desired forefathers, but the vocal stylings anchor them to the contemporary influences.
However, this is not an unlistenable collection and for the most part, despite their detractions, they pull it out the bag. There is a commendable energy to their approach that sugar-rush bands like Be Your Own Pet bring to the mix, and a telling sense of tongue-in-cheek such as Help She Can't Swim supply.
Nevertheless, overall the feeling is insubstantial, one of frustration. Few will tolerate their brand of perky art-punk-pop for long, fewer still will fall in love with it. Those with a particular interest in hearing Eddie Argos fronting Devo, Jemima Pearl on backing vocals, may however find a very welcome home.
James Yorkston - When The Haar Rolls In
'Rolls In Unnoticed'
The Haar is a fog that rolls in off the sea and over the land, and Yorkston has taken this productive imagery to create an album that washes over the listener. Unlike the fog however, there is little chance of losing yourself in the album. Whilst it plods along happily and unquestionably prettily, it ultimately does so uneventfully.
This is an earnest but immemorable collection of inoffensive but bland folky, acoustic mumblings. Yorkston's vocals are, as ever, disinterested and as such hard to engage with, his words more spoken than sung. His songcraft here is able but uneventful. There are moments that recall Absentee's esoteric grit, gentle swellings of strings that recall The Tindersticks, but in comparison to these and others, `When The Haar Rolls In' falls short.
Michachu - Jewellery
Michachu probably doesn't festoon herself in tawdry baubles. However it would appear she has quite the magpie's eye (or ear) for samples. She has emplyed the 'kitchen-sink' approach to create a lo.fi, alt.pop 'n' beats mash-up. It's the sort of thing a younger Beck may have made on a sugar high.
Lead single 'Golden Phone' is the bouncy highlight, a triangle and keyboard shuffle. Elsewhere the simple sample is less effective but happily not here. An acoustic loop plays with a clicking-clapping beat.
Micachu tackles modern matters in a modern sound, singing about STDs and whatever Curly Teeth may be, often to an abrasive selection of rhythm. Chart-friendly radio humpers these are not. Album opener 'Vulture' flirts with dnb and breakneck changes in rhythm, 'Eat Your Heart' is lunatic street performance stuff. 'Curly Teeth' is a simple and effectice layering of acoustic guitar, fuzzy beats and squeaky sample. 'Ship' is a head-nodding, freestyle MC show with bedroom grime influences. Heck, there's even an ode to a calculator on here.
Eclectic yes, madcap yes, but crucially, enjoyable yes.
Darker My Love - 2
'Uppers & Dark Downers'
Darker My Love have a delicate late-night, stoner quality to their album '2'. It nestles happily in the reverb heavy mix of pysch. and rock. Album opener 'Northern Soul' comes on like good-era BRMC with an injection of Jim Morrison.
'Two Ways Out' is Supergrass circa 'I Should Coco' drowning in loveable and lethargic fuzz. 'White Composition' is not far from MGMT's summertime swoon. The strings on 'All The Hurry & Wait' are the pyschedelic twist Noel Gallagher has been searching for on a track that starts like a lost Aliens number.
Like fellow drug lovers The Warlocks on an 'up' day, '2' sounds large scale. It is squarely rock with a thick coat of pysch, rather than the other way round. It veers towards mogadon territory in places but belies its pop-rock heart.
Album highlight 'Talking Words' draws the album towards its close. It's a foggy trawl through reverbia, taking in the best that BRMC could ever muster and letting it loose in a playground full of West coast hippies. If that's not appealing imagery then this one's not for you.
Delta Spirit - Ode To Sunshine
Delta Spirit bring soul to the alt.rock, alt.country party. They are equal parts Cold War Kids and healthy fascination with Gram Parsons. They are a sun-flecked Kings of Leon with a dash of Dylan and have an uncanny knack of sounding like Southern-fried Strokes.
The dancing piano of `Strange Vine' recalls the Walkmen, the tortured vocal of `People C'Mon' the Veils, albeit with a stomping injection of soul. Some tracks reproduce Songs in A&E's template of simple done well, though these are much sunnier.
Delta Spirit are not afraid to rock out, `Streetwalker' is pure Stones. Elsewhere they harness Doves' pounding relationship between galloping drums and bass. Ode To Sunshine neither fears borrowing Americana's harmonica nor Band of Horse's sense of heart on sleeve. The album is as happy is gentle acoustics (Tomorrow Goes Away) as it is in rocking yet restrained anthems.
Ode To Sunshine harnesses all of these influences and yet still sound unique, what it is ever-present is the thorough dusting of sun-blessed, West-coast, Southern-sounding, alt.country and rock. All that is missing is a failing to capture the excitement of the live show on the record, but that only serves to make the live show truly special.
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