After a week's hiatus ...
Record of the Week
The Veils – Sun Gangs
‘Clear To Land’
Finn Andrews continues his Jeff Buckley-cum-Nick Cave-circa-Murder Ballads vocal odyssey as the figurehead of the seemingly perennial outsiders Veils. Peddling earnest piano-ballads and considered indie rock with a solid dash of Echo And The Bunnymen-gloom, Bernard Butler-produced ‘Sit Down By The Fire’ sounds as it ought to, a bit like Dog Man Star. ‘The Letter’ is what Interpol’s Our Love To Admire should have sounded like, all spooky walls of sound and aimed at the correct distance from the charts.
It all goes a little Dig, Lazarus, Dig on ‘Killed By The Boom’, the emotive vitriol becomes spoken and frenzied. Ed Harcourt bobs in from time to time with his Hammond organ. Assorted strings and a change of pace and mood in ‘The House She Lived In’ provide welcome variety, if not heavyweight merit. Nowhere is Veils’ maturity however more evident on the deservedly indulgent and epic ‘Larkspur’, which rolls around the tale-end of the album, writhing like colliding weather fronts before releasing pouring anguish after a lull before the break. Andrews exorcises over tribal drumming, heavy, gothic bass and protesting, high-end guitar work. Remember, this album started in Suede-country, and closes in cyclical piano outro, acknowledging the fact with the track’s title, ‘Begin Again’.
Sun Gangs is an inventive experience but one that rarely challenges. It is somehow a natural extension of both albums before it, yet sufficiently different to discuss evolution. The Veils started in the 60s with a respectful collection of light and fragile jangles before embracing the dark, eye-linered side and allowing their inner, love-spurned romantic out. On Sun Gangs, this battered heart is lifted and offered to the listener, literally on its sleeve.
Slow Club – Yeah, So
Whilst cynics will focus on Slow Club’s infinitesimal level of twee and Charles’s questionable ability to hold a tune, they would be wrong to do so. Beneath the sweet harmonies and fun folk on offer, there is more to be found. Album opener, ‘When I Go’ is a touching tale about getting older and not wishing to do so alone that contains whistling and lyrics that flirt with cliché but ultimately land on the right side of the fence. That it does so curiously and thematically resembling the Beatles ‘When I’m 64’ is pleasing, if not world beating.
‘Giving Up On Love’ see Slow Club plug in the acoustic and introduces the merest touch of garage-rock to comparatively rousing effect, and when ‘I Was Unconscious, It Was A Dream’ breaks, it does so with a shoegaze-like drone. Even Radiohead’s considered and wilfully artistic piano-driven plodder ‘Morning Bell’ from the Amnesiac album is brought to mind on ‘There Is No Good Way To Say I’m Leaving You’.
However, it is on the fourth track when Slow Club start to become most at ease entering Rilo Kiley country, in both its senses, to showcase a wildly infectious and simple pop-folk number to recall Emmy The Great’s commendable work earlier this year. This alt-country feels is reprised on the enviably finger-plucked ‘Trophy Room’ made entirely their own with a generous serving of original percussion.
A harsh review could say that whilst their preceding EP was excellent, newer tracks either recall those verbatim, or are less substantial in comparison. This shows in that Yeah, So’s highlight still comes from that EP. That said, ‘Dance ‘Til The Morning Light’ would be a credit to any singer-songwriter, a poignant and truthful track charting the ever-popular and inspirational love and loss. It would be a harsh review indeed then to cite indifference towards Yeah, So, despite that title’s apparent push in that direction.
Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose
After a long time coming (the EPs here comprised were released February and October 2007), this much anticipated release sees the light of day, now that the band have completed their A-Levels of course. Oh, wide-eyed youth! On one hand, you have good-for-their-age artists like Tiny Masters of Today and Smoosh, and genuinely talented acts like this one, no matter their age. Their shaking loose of the blues could be seen as a metaphorical shaking loose of the shackles of child-to-teenage-hood and the subsequent entering into the adult world, where the band are starting to meet hitherto-unbeknownst and staunch adult critique and judgement, and some much stronger, and carrying greater gravitas, than mine.
Their fragile indie-rock pop is fronted by the trembling vocals of Jack Steadman and is mostly efficient done-by-numbers stuff recalling EP-era Ra Ra Riot with whom they may share a future pigeonhole. Other comparison allows Steadman’s fractured vocal to hint at Conor Oberst in places, notably on album opener ‘Lamplight’. Single, ‘Evening/Morning’, however, starts in math-rock intricacy and displays this collective’s devotion, or obsession, to their craft. ‘Always Like This’ is far more interesting, a track of two halves that comes on like a credible Vampire Weekend in its nu-world approach, later switching into an atmospheric build and bridge format, which is very effective.
‘Magnet’ is the key to this release and both draws in the listener and simultaneously repulses him. It jitters in Interpol country, though on a smaller and more upbeat scale naturally, before first deforming into the aforementioned Tiny Masters’ good-for-their-age schtick that elsewhere they avoid so successfully, and then flirting with ambient nonsense. Perhaps a little less naivety could have caused this ship to steer away from such waters, the same waters in which inhabit the ego-denting Scouting For Girls comparisons that some band about and which, harshly, in parts, are justified, but generously can be overlooked. Solid rockers like ‘Cancel On Me’ go a long way to helping resolve this debate.
Bombay Bicycle Club are not yet the institution their shorthand purports to be, but, for the most part, have constructed an affecting, charming and beguiling release, which, with worldly exposure, ought to lead to greater things.
British Sea Power – Man of Aran
‘The Power Of The Sea’
In 1934, an intrepid Brit cast off from the isle of Aran in a squalling storm, back towards the mainland with tens of hours of heavy-reel footage under his arm. The sea mist hampered his journey, but did not compromise the contents of his film. Stumbling across the echoing harbour, Robert Flaherty aimed his vessel ashore before beginning his slow descent back to civilisation. There, he would arrange an atmospheric score to soundtrack his bleak, documentary-style film, before such a thing existed in the annals of time.
75 years later, in a surprising, but not shocking move, the entirely bucolic and aptly named British Sea Power would release a re-envisaged score to that windswept reel. Whilst some distance from 2008’s indie-rock stomper, Do You Like Rock Music?, BSPs fascination with all things anti-pop continues. To be fit for purpose, it is out with flag-waving, alt-chart acclaim and in with post-rock meditation and classical strings and horns. Their Man Of Aran is almost completely instrumental so as not to intrude too greatly on Flaherty’s work, the only vocal coming on a frosty cover of Jeff Alexander’s 1964 track ‘Come Wander With Me’.
Valid comparison comes in genre stalwarts Sigur Rós. The gentle lapping of strings and the sparse build to crescendo of ‘The South Sound’ are Agaetis Byrjun without the shoe-gazing and incomprehensible vocal drone. Elsewhere, the swelling and ponderous menace of ‘Tiger King’ brings Godspeed! You Black Emperor to mind. Opening with whale sounds, then early Joy Division, Warsaw-like, taught post-punk guitar work, the nervous and crashing post-rocker, ‘Spearing The Sunfish’ lasts 11 minutes, yet, in a good way, never seems complete.
As an isolated album, Man Of Aran requires patience. It is less eager to please than Sigur Rós, more discreet, yet more direct, than Godspeed! In being constrained by Flaherty’s work, BSP seem only to be a whistling wind, caught in between Sounds. Without those shackles, this album could have soared, rather than ebb and flow entirely satisfactorily. As a soundtrack to the film, generously provided with the release, Man Of Aran ticks all the boxes and is as such best enjoyed in context.
Note: Original score not included.
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