Record of the Week
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Letting Go
Will Oldham welcomes Dawn McCarthy of Faun Fables on guest-vocal duty for this frosty release, which is paradoxically easier to love than its predecessor, Master And Everyone, because it is harder to love. Master And Everyone was a very able collection of safe, alt.folk/country Americana, The Letting Go is much colder, much more sparse, yet at the same time more inviting. In toning down the country, and returning to the evocative, acoustic singer-songwriting of earlier releases (notably, I See A Darkness), Oldham has here crafted an album representative of where it was recorded and where he is heading.
Iceland has warm people and large swathes of unearthly, inhospitable terrain. It also produces oddball musicians like Björk, but also Mugison - a sort of Artic Daniel Johnston. The madness of the surroundings must have rubbed off on Oldham because 'Cold & Wet' recalls Mugison's whimsy; 'Then The Letting Go' employs McCarthy in a 'Walking In The Air'-type, ethereal falsetto to recall Aled Jones at his finest.
Yet there are still hints at the underlying origins of the record, 'I Called You Back' hints at country in the vocal, 'The Seedling' comes close to shadowing I See A Darkness's title track's sweeping and purposeful majesty. That it is also swathed in glacial allegory is even more beguiling.
There are only slight detractions, perhaps in being a little overweight on its diet of roll mop. Weighing in a little shy of the hour mark, lesser numbers like the untitled, textual outro could have been dropped. Warm and cold, only a master like Oldham could manage it. Long live the Prince.
King Of Spain - Battleships And Aeroplanes
'Baddleships and Aeropains'
King Of Spain are distinctly less continental than their regal moniker suggests. They are London through-and-through and sound like Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man tackling Libertines covers. Their spoken-word shanties are beard-and-cider-approved knees-ups in parts (Not The Machine, Em Song) but all too infrequently. Sadly, these moments do not offset the large-scale, inconsequential exercises in smuggery that pepper the remainder of this saggy album. A cheeky grin and cheekier, jaunty repertoire may get you so far, but not so far as to paper over chasms of insubstantial, folk-ish, indie whimsy.
Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual!
If unintelligible noise-pop, peculiar samples and indiscernible shrieks and bubbles of vocal are your thing, you may enjoy Ice Cream Spiritual! Conversely, you may not. These cooler-than-you Americans come on like musical terrorists Deerhoof, splicing the odd hook into their brand of arty and generally aimless post-punk and punk-funk (Die Allman Bruder, for example). The expected cowbell accompaniment never arrives however, for that was then and Ponytail aim for now.
Sadly, they fail to create a niche of their own, recalling (m)any Japanese noise-rockers, and the yelping and pointy guitars that pique the interest early on quickly become wearisome. That said, there are plus points: the album's energy and its refusal to kowtow to being anything other than it wants. Siegel's vocal is a condensation of petulance, her musical backdrop a collection of art-punk whimsy. It all clatters in discordance, yet just keeps its head above water, and that is an art in itself.
The Rolling Stones - Black And Blue
'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll By Numbers'
Black And Blue is a peculiar Stones release, nevertheless immediately identifiable from a textbook, guitar lick within the first three seconds of 'Crazy Mama'. Elsewhere Black And Blue is less black and white. It houses wholesale dashes of experimentation as Mick and the boys attempt to settle with their Taylor-free line up. Jagger's drawl is a constant throughout, though arguably not as raw or strutting as elsewhere in their catalogue.
Second track 'Fool To Cry' and fifth 'Memory Motel' employ the organ to peculiar effect, recalling the opening credits to Twin Peaks in retrospect. The former is a slow track that pertains to being a lighter-in-the-air, gentle anthem but falls just short despite its soulful intentions. 'Melody' is a jazzy, bluesy number that nods along satisfactorily, but also uneventfully.
Here the album takes its oddest turn. 'Cherry Oh Baby' is a heavily ska-influenced shuffle, the organ now tuned firmly to 'Trojan' and 'Specials'. That it also contains some frankly daft yodelling should tell you this is one to miss. Happily, 'Hand Of Fate' treads an entirely more successful rock 'n' soul path, and album closer 'Hot Stuff' brings the funk, though it is mightily repetitive.
Despite the scattergun approach to genres, short length and obvious misses, this is still an album that possesses a certain something in its effortless, stab-happy approach to theme. Sad then that overall, it fails to hit hard enough to give the bruises that the title promises.
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