Record of the Week
We Rock Like Girls Don’t - How Did It Get To This
‘Ronseal Of Approval’
Balls out rock with a dash of blues, this release peculiarly comes courtesy of two girls. They pedal a battery of drums and FX’d guitar with little pretence to be anything other than are. Vocally these girls recall a straining PJ Harvey throughout, and at their quietest do so musically, recalling ‘Rid Of Me’ on ‘Photograph’ and at the start of ‘I’ll Take What Comes’. The latter of these two later explodes into a bluesy riff-monster, speaking of ‘moanin’ to call to mind a much heavier Mr. Airplane Man. Such is the allure of Ms. Harvey that even her producer lends a hand on the crashing ‘Power Of Three’.
Where the album carves its own niche however is in the blend of popular song-craft and the juggernaut delivery of the would-be Kyuss pedal abuse. There is little substance beyond the smiles this mighty mélange achieves and groundbreaking is not a known concept, but since when did that matter?
Official Secrets Act - Understanding Electricity
Understanding electricity took Franklin, Faraday and Edison years. I cannot imagine this album took more than one to conceive and produce, and it shows. Granted, it has an irrepressible, radio-humping charm. Futurehead-level hooks and Franz Ferdinand-aping bass lines ensure the album is very much in the latter category of its post-punk-pop genre.
So, ahem, ‘Mainstream’ it almost fails to hit its target indie-schmindie, there are welcome distractions with splashes of cute electro here and there and the considered plod of ‘A Heart For Herod’ comes stamped with Arcade Fire’s approval. Name checking 80s icons Japan and Tears for Fears scores you some points, as does borrowing their keyboards. However, that straying from the template does not last long, the album soon reverting to wetter hunting ground. ‘Bloodsport’, for example, whiffs of late-90s, also-rans Monaco. FYI, not a good thing.
Some secrets are better left that way, and for the most part … well, you see where I’m heading.
Crystal Antlers - Tentacles
Beasts with tentacles tend to have plenty of them, and Crystal Antlers all seem to have many, such is the number of instruments played simultaneously. Granted, they have two drummers and two guitarists but their collective noise is more than individually could be suggested.
Part prog-rock noise, part blues-punk drone, all with a liberal dash of psychedelia, Tentacles jitters in variable tempos and against walls of FX’d reverb. The culmination is some sort of acid-garage rock with which Comets On Fire comparisons have been made. Tellingly, Ikey Owens of noise-terrorists Mars Volta fame has the production credits to this cacophony.
Despite the complex soup of arrangements and raucous result, the underlying melody suggests a depth of song-craft beyond the engaging fuzz. Bell’s vocals wail and howl a little like Liars, the screaming guitars wail back. ‘Painless Sleep’ opens with the Doors’ Hammond organ, a sound ever-present throughout the album. One or two tracks even dare to introduce a tune. But for my money, it is epic closer ‘Several Tongues’ that steals the show, building to a deafening and unintelligible crescendo.
Leisure Society - The Sleeper
‘Sedate Society ’
Calling your band ‘Leisure Society’ and your album ‘The Sleeper’ strongly indicates that you do not pedal in death metal. So, it comes as no surprise to hear swirling ukulele, banjo and mandolin dancing amidst glockenspiel and flute on this release. All eleven tracks are full of pleasant, twee melodies suggesting Sufjan Stevens and sun-kissed 60s pop such as the Kinks. The sparingly used strings hint at Fleetwood Mac.
Their pastoral, shuffling pop-folk comes across timelessly, a sort of every-age, English brand of Americana. Whilst there is little to fault Leisure Society on, save for being uneventful in parts, there is conversely little to commend. It is the sort of unchallenging soundtrack with which to drive your grandparents to lunch in the country on a sunny day. It would be unfair to call such releases the dregs of the Americana / folk revival but too much of this safety may encourage other, even less adventurous, ensembles to follow suit. It ends now please.
Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
Let us get Kate Bush out of the way. Yes, Natasha Khan is a bit of an oddball and is prone to the occasional squeak or Tori Amos-like dalliance. However, neither of these girls served up an epic slice of druid pop-rock on a bed of Cure-d bass lines (‘Glass’). 30 seconds in and she’s off, whispering about ‘knights in shining armour’ across dreamscapes of timeless but modern atmospherics. Her voice drifts across the bridge between the Cocteau Twins and sanity like an incoming mist.
However, it’s not all good news. ‘Moon And Moon’ is an unchallenging, if pretty, ballad. ‘Peace Of Mind’ is harmonised banality that falls short of PJ Harvey. Elsewhere there is an over reliance on synthesised beats to induce and implore radio play. That said, it has worked a treat. ‘Daniel’ is deceptively simple and wildly attainable because of it, despite whiffing of Fleetwood Mac. Her package is wrapped in a thin, but credible, alternative veil.
It’s not all pop though. The back end of the album contorts into an introspective shuffle, far away from the heady, click-clack beats of earlier tracks. ‘The Big Sleep’ even welcomes Scott Walker as operatic accompaniment for a poignant lament more in line with Antony Hegarty’s ‘Daylight & The Sun’ than with shimmering, pop-princess ambition.
Khan has grown in ambition with Two Suns. It is more adventurous and more polished. ‘Fur And Gold’ was intriguing but not all it could be, Two Suns is a giant leap towards fulfilling her potential and an impressive achievement. However, like Björk, she should continue to evolve and shake off any shackles of expectation. We, the listener, should demand those next steps with urgency.
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