Record of the Week
Emmy The Great – First Love
Earlier in her career Emmy played with Noah And The Whale and the stint grounded her in pop-folk but she has trumped their radio-friendly but bland attempt hands down with ‘First Love’.
This is a cadent and largely acoustic album replete with tales of love and loss, strings, piano and acoustics. ‘We Almost Had A Baby’ is a near-danceable, tragic waltz, backed with endearing ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. Neat little couplets pepper the lyrics and Emmy obligingly, if egotistically if we are judge by her name, coos them across the record. The heartfelt and well-executed homage to Leonard Cohen on ‘First Love’ (even sampling lyrics from ‘Hallelujah’) is the unquestionable highlight. ‘Dylan’ falls just on the right side of the annoying / catchy fence and encourages bouts of smiling and toe-tapping consequently.
There’s some Laura Marling in here for sure, but there’s more of Emmy herself, and it is because she has stamped so much of herself all over the tracks that they succeed. Such an amiable presentation of herself and her song writing is irresistibly charming and will compel her wide-hearted followers to instantly and indefinitely love few others. Emmy has perhaps even introduced some to their first, and last, true love.
Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
“Beauty & The Beast”
Like all good folk-influenced music, Bird has crafted an album which places great importance on the lyrics. What is more unusual is that his tales veer towards the nonsensical, yet still compete for recognition with the rich musical backdrop.
This is experimental folk-pop, if such a thing exists. It’s possible that this genre could be the noble beast of which Bird speaks, as there is a certain dignity in his assonatic poetry and the way it mixes with his warm acoustics. However, there is equally a strong sense of beauty to compliment this figurative, noble beast. The violins embrace the often-plucked rhythms, the handclap-resembling percussion partners the touch of Morricone effortlessly, which drifts across ‘Masterswarm’.
‘Fitz & Dizzyspells’ hints at The Shins and ‘Nonmenclature’ confirms it. ‘Not A Robot, But A Ghost’ even recalls a lo-fi Radiohead, circa ‘Amnesiac’. These are complex tracks with distorted pop at their charming heart. They envelop the listener with comfortable warmth, but may be too comfortable, allowing the experience to bypass the indifferent listener unaffected. There could be a case for having trimmed a couple of weaker numbers to allow that which remained to be the more memorable, but nevertheless Bird’s lush beast is still a beauty.
Wintersleep – Welcome To The Night Sky
“Not Yet Stars”
Yawnsome, adolescent poetry album title aside, Wintersleep have consistently made indie rock with ideas of grandeur. Album opener ‘Drunk On Aluminium’ is as good an example as any and opens in post-rock abandon before slowing to introduce a vocal equally reminiscent of (good era) Snow Patrol and Editors’ work. As true artists know, there is as much beauty in knowing when to hold back as there is in knowing when go for it. Wintersleep employ quiet / loud / quiet tactics to satisfying effect throughout, break into bass lines as catchy at those that Franz Ferdinand employ so regularly here, and hitting the caesural breaks there. Luckily, Wintersleep have mastered these balances.
‘Welcome To The Night’ was originally released in their native Canada in 2007, and that is ultimately the album’s biggest failing. Calling it dated would be to do it an injustice, but to call it groundbreaking would be equally so. To compensate for this, the band have added two bonus tracks for the UK release, but sadly they do not mask the slight sense of having heard all their earnest hooks before. They often seem to have been written specifically to soundtrack poignant moments in programmes like Scrubs, where the camera pans wide and the credits roll after 30 seconds of directorially induced melancholy.
That said, this is a collection worth investing a little time in. ‘Weighty Ghost’ has a gentle alt.folk feel, far from the indie or post-rock moments which line the album elsewhere. ‘Astronaut’ as many have noted is equal parts REM and Editors. ‘Oblivion’ is modern, dancefloor-filling indie-rock of merit, some later tracks even hints at Neutral Milk Hotel, though that could just be the general Canadian-ness of the experience as a whole.
Hotpants Romance – It’s A Heatwave
“Hot Under The Collar And Cuffs?”
Three girls, three chords and little else it would appear on a first listen. This is super lo-fi garage rock, complete with oiksome exclamation and daft, spoken requests for ‘sugar hits’. The twelve tracks are finished in no time at all and leave behind them a whirlwird of energy.
There is a commendable simplicity about their delivery but integrity-wise, questions must be asked as to their sustainability. 20 minutes is luckily enough of this brattish racket. Hotpants Romance however do have a certain appeal, just at the garment in question do. Though, like the micro-short, the appeal will be limited. Like Jay Reatard? Then give these girls ago. At the very least they’re prettier to look at, despite their shambling song construction and screaming vocals.
By all rights, this release should have been Japanese. All that has really been substituted is schoolgirl outfits for lamé hotpants (if the cover is to be trusted) and I’d be disappointed if wrong. Equally, I’d be disappointed if on ‘Blow My Fuse’ the girls don’t indeed rhyme the song title with the peculiar request to ‘Pull My Pubes’.
Strange, appealing but not for everyone, welcome to the world of Hotpants.
J Tillman – Vacilando Territory
“Blue Ridged Folk”
If you are desperate for new Fleet Foxes material then Tillman’s album could stand you in very good stead. It is no coincidence that there are large similarities as Tillman is the drummer for the band.
This is not a carbon copy of his band’s material however, despite the near-a cappella harmonies on the familiar ‘First Born’ and ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’-like chord progressions of ‘James Blues’. Tillman’s voice is equally as soothing as Fleet Foxes’ Pecknold, his acoustic, folk guitar equally as poised and haunting.
Where the albums differ is that Tillman has a long precedent of solo material and his maturity shows. There are no overblown, baroque moments here. This is Nick Drake unplugged, or the product of a very lonely Neil Young. Either way it is an internalised Fleet Foxes, a shyer affair, a Bon Iver reluctant to leave happy isolation.
By no means indispensable, thanks to almost certain eclipsing by Fleet Foxes, Tillman has nevertheless produced a album with aching beauty (Laborless Land) and reverence for all that is good about folky, bluesy Americana.
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