Other reviews (cont.)
Lay Low – Farewell Good Night’s Sleep
As wilfully experimental as the cash-strapped Icelandics are, to my knowledge, they have never before tried their arm at country and western. Lay Low is Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir and she is, as such, in audacious and unchartered waters, without local peers, but with bucket-loads of respect for the chosen genre. Her collection of light toe-tappers is overlaid with her eiswine-like vocal, sweet and frosty, ressembling fellow Icelander Emilíana Torrini’s slightly ethereal and lingering delivery.
The gentle and atmospheric alt-folk of ‘By And By’ is an extension of First Aid Kit’s lady brand of Nordic campfire pleasers, and is representative of the washing-overly pleasant and unchallenging sound echoed across the album. Sadly, this easy-listening quality has brought unwanted and unfair Norah Jones comparison, an inept mistake that is blown out of the water on ‘The Reason Why My Heart’s In Misery’, a stunningly effective country plodder with piano, percussion and peddle steel aplenty. Such is its simple power that other moments of anonymity are easily forgiven in its wake.
Farewell Good Night’s Sleep is not rousing enough to bid that promised farewell to nocturnal rest and is all the better for being more inclined to lull the listener toward a well deserved forty winks with its soporific melodies. A touch less like aural wallpaper and Lay Low would be caused to stand proud.
Bowerbirds – Upper Air
‘In The Ascendancy’
It is said that upon hearing Bowerbirds, Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver fame, no longer wished to release For Emma, Forever Ago for fear of having been trumped. He needn’t have worried his beardy head because whilst Upper Air, and its worthy predecessor, Hymns For A Dark Horse, are both high calibre alt-folk, singer-songwriting releases, Vernon held the trump card. Bowerbirds are boyfriend and girlfriend and live in an Airstream mobilehome in North Carolina and possess a certain degree of smugness, acquired by their enviable existence and simple way of making a living. Vernon had clearly lost his Emma, and as such his brand of confession was cathartic and atmospheric. Upper Air is like that, only less so.
It is difficult not to compare the records further. For example, the sparse harmonies of ‘Ghost Lift’ are a straight lift from For Emma. However, there are other valid points of comparison. Phil Moore’s vocal recalls Andrew Bird, as do several tracks, notably the opener, ‘House Of Diamonds’, after its minimalist opening when the strings arrive. His ladyfriend Beth Tacular adds accordion and the occasional reedy vocal to the mix.
The biggest point of reference however is their own debut, Hymns For A Dark Horse. In essence, this is a verbatim retread, pleasant afresh, but still not revolutionary. There are notable elements of progression however, ‘Silver Clouds’ is their strongest track to date, the purely acoustic and poignant ‘Skinny Love’ of Upper Air, until the tempo is upped with 40 seconds to go. ‘Crooked Lust’s finger picking adds variety and introduces a desire to return the album, which without may well not have been present thanks to the relative non-event of rolling album closer ‘This Day’. Upper Air isn’t stratospheric, nor really a spreading of wings, but Bowerbirds are certainly in the ascendancy.
Sweethead – The Great Disruptors
‘Heads For Familiar Ground’
Queens Of The Stone Age’s Troy van Leeuwen and two members of the Mark Lanegan Band (no, not the ubiquitous collaborator himself) ought to make a better poppish, punk-rock, supergroup EP than this. Despite initial concerns, and presumably thanks to front-woman Serrina Sims and her smooth, come-hither vocal, the Sweethead ensemble have put together two (including the title track) promising QOTSA-meets-Garabage rockers to show Brody Dalle’s new Spinnerette which way is up. Two lesser numbers fill out the ranks, a little lost amongst Leeuwen’s trademark, fuzzy bass. The EP is capped with an entirely complimentary but unnecessary cover of the Kinks’ ‘Tired Of Waiting Of You’ to round off a harmless but indifferent release.
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