Record of the Week
Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing
‘Cry Me A River’
Southern-fried grunge is not (yet) a genre, yet Manchester Orchestra have made it one. On a record much bigger and louder than the debut, Atlanta’s second finest (behind Black Lips) blend Nirvana’s gravel, with the Kings of Leon and the various guises of Connor Oberst’s nasal holler, all to engaging effect. The accompanying guitars rock purposefully to recall all of the former but with a dash of Weezer. Oberst’s incarnation as Desaparecidos is as useful a reference as his Bright Eyes and solo work, see the bonus track for a carbon copy of his Bright Eyes sessions, for example.
‘I Can Feel A Hot One’ is more in line with a sentimental Kings of Leon tearjerker, said Oberst on plumbing duty; elsewhere the merest hint of emo-rock allows these tears to flow more freely. Hull positively cries the vocal on ‘The River’ and the title track’s name is squarely and ambiguously emo but for absent parentheses.
Despite a couple of late plodders like the awfully named ‘Tony The Tiger’ and the title track, ‘Mean Everything To Nothing’ has a commendable energy and an ear for American (though Americana would also be acceptable), commercial rock and pulls it off with a style not heard since the Hold Steady’s Stay Positive. If you are thinking ‘Titus Andronicus’ at this point, you wouldn’t be far wrong. As an album, it might mean everything to nothing now, but this album deserves to mean something to quite a few in the near future.
The Thermals – Now We Can See
The Thermals have now long since been consistent purveyors of irrepressible garage-rock. They successfully mine a similar vein to Black Lips, only with an injection of Weezer’s summery pop-punk. Nevertheless, they are rockin’ garage-rock through and though, not afraid of a riff or two as heard on the title track (infectious smile, listener’s own).
Like all Thermals releases, ‘Now We Can See’ lacks immediacy, but knowledge of the catalogue and persistence allows this deceptively simple collection to become effective. There are plenty of trademark, fun time rockers all with a dark edge. ‘Liquid In, Liquid Out’ is a good example, chronicling misspent years. A smattering of quieter, but no less appealing numbers (see ‘At The Bottom Of The Sea’) result in an album less rousing than the debut, or ‘The Body, The Blood, The Machine’, but one no less comfortably able.
Perhaps the Thermals have always lacked originality, but with the distinctive vocal and the charm of their if-it-ain’t-broke attitude allow them to carve a deserved niche in a healthy collection.
The Horrors - Primary Colours
Few people have ever been in doubt that the Horrors have cracking record collections, a collective eye for natty threads, as well as coercible hairdressers. It was a pity therefore that they seemed intent on strangling their musical endeavours with a selection of broken pedals and their own hype. They were black and white, style over substance.
That was then. Primary Colours now shifts their monochrome focus into a more vivid arena. Nothing has been cut however from Strange House, but plenty has been added. Notably, it’s in with intelligible organ, Joy Division homages and My Bloody Valentine drone. Tellingly, it’s out with schlock-shock screaming, faux-goth and stubborn resistance to include a tune. Primary Colours contorts from curiosity into contender really rather quickly.
As Strange House hinted at surf-punk, Primary Colours hints at spectral girl groups, distorted, of course on ‘Who Can Say’. ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ has persuaded Spiritualized's ‘Come Together’ to guest on its own re-imagining. Elsewhere it's Bauhaus grooming a fledgling Cramps, the title track is Jesus & Mary Chain as fronted by the sombre ghost of Ian Curtis. 7-minute closer, ‘Sea Within A Sea’, is a joyously optimistic show of synth, which, if a little light in itself, is a krautrock paean to triumph in adversity, a tacit statement of self-assured self, a told-you-so to the naysayers.
Its knockers will still cite originality as a major downfall, but there is an art to pastiche, an art in which the Horrors have become proficient. Their former incarnation as skinny clotheshorses has allowed them to evolve and run confident streaks across the record like a rainbow breaking out of a storm, spreading the primary colours of Loveless, Pyschocandy and In The Flat Field across their canvas. Pastiche with power, it's as easy as one-two-three: red, green, and as blue as White Lies.
The Invisible – The Invisible
‘Neither Transparent, Nor Invisible’
This eponymous collection, if not invisible, is certainly not transparent. It appears harmless, pleasant even, but there is much more at play. Friends with kitchen-sink popstress Micachu, The Invisible share her approach to creating unobvious music. Okumu’s vocal, for example and for sure, recalls TV On The Radio in parts; elsewhere it has the funk and croon of diminutive, purple goblin Prince. But there is more still, The Invisible share a drummer with Hot Chip, and it shows. This intriguing ensemble peddle a fine line in relaxed, but danceable, indie with a host of extras at play.
Album opener, ‘In Retrograde’ is a mute affair with whispery quartet-like vocals, guitar FX and a smattering of disjointed beats to recall a lesser Radiohead circa Amnesiac. Herbert’s electronic wizardry, here present, surfaces throughout. ‘Constant’ has a quiet funk set to one of the Cure’s bass lines to create a party warm-up number, something like Friendly Fires might have produced with greater access to downers.
Lead single ‘London Girl’ is a fine slab of relaxed electro-indie, whereas ‘Baby Doll’ is straight indie-rock by numbers, bringing a poppier Talking Heads to mind. ‘OK’ reprises ‘Constant’s 80s feel, and is seemingly borrowed from Tommy Lee’s anarchic Joker’s ipod. Closer ‘Time Waits’ is the best Radiohead, TV On The Radio, Black Mountain mash up you will ever hear.
The problem comes despite all this. In being adventurous, the resultant soup is a little muddled. The Invisible are a darker shade than they imagine, a brown concoction that pleases, but fails to let its best elements shine. It is silky smooth, highly polished with soothing and considered vocals but amounts to little more than a dignified sway when these influences clamour for more.
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