Other reviews (cont.)
Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti Is … Skyscraper
‘A Boost To Cross-Border Crime Fighting’
It would be a fallacy to assume any review of … Skyscraper would fail to mention Interpol, as Julian Plenti is Paul Banks, their relatively innocuous frontman. An immediate distance is declared in producing a solo album under a pseudonym, though purists and fanatics need not fear too greatly, for that distance is hardly a gulf.
The two openers whiff identifiably of Our Love To Admire, a record that it could be argued Banks, I mean Plenti, has superceded. Where Interpol’s collective awkwardness dripped audibly from tracks like ‘Mammoth’, Plenti is freer in his isolation. That said, the considered plod of ‘Only If You Run’ could nestle comfortably, in a good way, on that nevertheless ill-fated record. Nowhere is the atmospheric Turn Out The Bright Lights brought to mind. Similarly, Antics’ noir party, well, antics, seems a long way off. Those hoping for a retread of either album may be disappointed.
It is where Plenti deviates that we get results. The interludinous and crying strings of ‘Skyscraper’ are a melancholic and satisfying aside later reprised in the similarly short ‘Madrid Song’. Here, the confidence to eschew an obvious, historic template proves worthwhile. The catalogue-congruous acoustic plucking of ‘On The Esplanade’ is definitely an idea worth taking to Dengler and Foggerino, as is the track’s spoken vocal sample and the gentle vocal distortion of album closer ‘H’.
As can be expected however, it is not all good news. ‘Games For Days’ is, to its credit, complimentary but is also generic alt-disco night fodder, and the optimistic horns of ‘Unwind’ are best described as misplaced. ‘Girls On The Sporting News’ is wallpaperishly anonymous, but is rarely representative.
This album could have killed Banks, Plenti and Interpol. It will not be a rampant success, so the solo hiatus will not be indefinite. If it had been an embarrassing disaster, the naysayers would have been celebrating, slapping themselves on the back, happy in their ‘had it, lost it’ predictions. What … Skyscraper does show is that there is plenty (ahem) of promise for the future of cross-border crime fighting.
Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The Snake
This second release in as many years sees the spooky, barely-there atmospherics of the debut, Heartcore, reprised and injected with a dose of arty pretension. Mariam Wallentin’s octave straddling marries her husband’s whispery percussion and tribal drumming to stark effect. Flourishes of jazz, pop and, in particular, the blues pepper the record, but are not to be found on the echo-y, Gregorian a cappella opener. Wallentin’s here curiously deep vocal is then paired with only tribal drumming patterns for accompaniment on ‘Chain Of Steel’.
Not until track three are we presented with a ‘song proper’, light percussion, xylophone and the lightest wash of calypso steel drum all stand up to be counted. Next up, it is back to religious world-beating, didgeridoo-like throat singing, other vocal oddball-ness as well as cymbals and piano to provide the super slow melody. The aforementioned blues strains appear at the album midpoint, along with clopping woodblock percussion. ‘Today/Tomorrow’ continues this theme and Wallentin affects a complimentary 50s blues warble to partner the drums, all of which devolves into a manic, Mardi Gras finale.
The Snake’s hindquarters provide most interest however. This kitchen-sink minimalism of the opening tracks has the potential to upset the carefully orchestrated draft that Heartcore created, but where it combines most successfully on The Snake, we are given lush, tribal almost-pop to recall a more acoustic Telepathe. The final two minutes of ‘Great Lines’, along with the catchy ‘Liar Lion’ and frosty sleigh-ride of a stripped back closer ‘My Heart’ show that Wallentin and cohort look good with flesh on their bones. The latter of these tracks brings to mind the anti-pop, red-cheeked freshness of Beach House and Mechanical Bride.
Too intellectual for your local scenester and too cool for the pop fan, Wildbirds & Peacedrums are nevertheless doing for simple what Animal Collective are doing for complex.
We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls
Until an in-form and much-missed Idlewild return Messiah-like to our lives, those with a penchant for shouty, Scots indie-rock will have to content themselves with releases such as this. Despite many a lazy comparison with Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad, all these boys really share with their compatriots is a thick tongue and a desire to impress. Jetpack’s (it’s easier) brand of rock is expansive and comes served with a generous helping of pop appeal, an appeal not at all evident however on the throbbing and menacing opener, ‘It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning’.
Starting in the fabled lull of the storm, it quickly introduces Thor’s own drums to an anthemic, if lyrically limited, rocker. Never sounding contemporary, yet singing of the modern Scotland portrayed in the ever-reliable Red Tops, this opener sings of someone ‘punching out my lights’, ‘Ships With Holes Will Sink’ about the inevitability of ‘stab wounds’ as well as the attraction of adhesives. This last point could well be lost in translation though. Sadly, the latter of these tracks does not capture the primal excitement of the former, nor does ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’, both nevertheless lollop along happily in safe, quiet-loud country.
‘Short Bursts’ returns These Four Walls to the ring fists balled for an oddly patriotic call-to-arms that will do more for Scottish solidarity than whichever sport they’re losing at this weekend. All this and they have still the time to combust with the power of Explosions In The Sky at its crescendo, confirming the post-rock, Mogwai-like influences that were suggested on the bubbling interlude ‘A Half Built House’.
‘Conductor’ returns the listen to sky-cracking grandiosity, all Arcade Fire bluster but fed on a diet of raw, Northerly winds and withdrawn promises of future technology. The acoustic onset of this track is as close as they come to fulfilling the mostly-misplaced Frightened Rabbit analogies. ‘Quiet Little Voices’ is an irresistible showcase of hi-hat, indie-club toe-tappin’, one perhaps overdone with emboldened ‘ooh oh a ohs’.
Jetpack clearly know their peers and are not afraid to borrow Biffy Clyro’s neat trick of repeating memorable lines first quietly and then IN CAPITALS. That they then choose to underline these examples with Kings of Leon’s own whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ on ‘Moving Clocks Run Slow’ is all the better. ‘Right foot followed by the left foot’ they sing on ‘It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning’ and These Four Walls closes with that prediction on ‘An Almighty Thud’, less a God-bothering crash to earth, rather a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, pensive walk home in the Scottish perma-drizzle. A walk home you’ll notice. Jetpacks indeed.
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