Thursday, 31 May 2012

Baio - Sunburn EP

Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio is the latest of the New York quartet to delve into other projects. Following on from other works by his bandmates Rostam Batmanglij and Ezra Koenig, Baio has released a three track EP, ‘Sunburn’. Baio’s role in Vampire Weekend is to maintain the interlocking rhythms; the frantic drums, West-African keyboard sounds and tremolo guitar. However, the music on ‘Sunburn’ is a lot more straightforward, more dance-orientated, and further away from Vampire Weekend’s music than expected.

The EP opens with 'Sunburn Modern', its influence sounding more Balearic than West African, guitar stabs, bongo drums and hand claps integrate with pulsing bass, a shuffling drumbeat and stuttering synth lines. Baio’s ability to harmonise all these different tones is more impressive considering how smooth the track sounds. Third track 'Tanto' features the scat vocals of Matias Aguayo, who also appeared on Battles’ “Ice Cream”. Layers of varied percussion transpire behind Aguayo’s choppy vocal melody, before other synth melodies fade in and out effectively. 'Tanto' is by far the EP’s highlight, and a promising sign of what Baio is capable of, if he can replicate its high standard, another solo release would be welcomed.

At this early stage, it‘s difficult to tell whether Baio has the potential to release more music on his own. ‘Sunburn’ consists of only three tracks, one of which, 'Anonymity 1', isn’t entirely captivating. It sounds fine but it feels like a basic idea that doesn’t really go anywhere. There aren’t many conclusions to draw from this release, it is a side project after all, but for its seventeen minute duration, ‘Sunburn’ makes for enjoyable listening.


Calum Stephen

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Alt-J (∆) - An Awesome Wave

You would have to have been living in a broadband lacking cave recently to miss out on the Alt – J hype which has swept so suddenly over the internet. The Cambridge four-piece dubbed as ‘folktronica’ (which is a fucking stupid label really) have turned heads by being pretentiously named after the command to create a delta symbol on a mac, but also as a result of their tight-knit harmonies and hypnotic guitar lines.

Fortunately for the band, ‘An Awesome Wave’ easily puts to bed any accusations of pretention, as it by far and away the most self- assured debut of the year so far. The band haven’t been shy to explain the references which litter the album. ‘Breezeblocks’ is based on Where The Wild Things Are and ‘Fitzpleasure’ on a book by Hubert Selby Jr. The complex instrumentation of ‘Dissolve Me’, one of the best songs , fades away to almost nothing as Joe Newman whispers ‘she makes the sound/the sound the sea makes/to calm me down’; the most haunting lyric.

‘Matilda’ is calmer than a lot of the rest of the album although it keeps up a high tempo which is consistent throughout ‘An Awesome Wave’. ‘Interlude 1’ is the main interlude of the three which intersperse songs to stand out as it shows off the quartet’s raw talent as the a-cappella track leaves the bands voices free from instruments to build through various harmonies. The contrast between the layers of guitars and calm simplicity ensure that the listener is truly drawn into ‘An Awesome Wave’. The songs can switch from fast paced to washed out and thoughtful within seconds, giving them a sense of unpredictable excitement.

Comparisons have been made to Radiohead and the XX, as the album has been received rapturously pretty much everywhere. It is quite rare for a band to only increase their hype once their album has come out (all of us can think of bands which have promised much from first singles but delivered litte), but alt-j definitely deserve it. Not so much ‘folktronica’, more like ‘layered guitar lines mixed in with stunning vocals and hip hop drums’. Although that’s not quite as catchy as a tagline.


Jessy Parker

Regina Spektor - What We Saw From The Cheap Seats

As a true Regina Spektor veteran I had high hopes for her new album release, her past albums being able to brighten my mood any day with the quirky tunes and cheery lyrics she is renowned for. Thankfully she has not failed to produce such an album again.

Spektor often seems to give the impression that these songs we listen to reflect her life, and I guess this is why we are all left gagging for more. As the album moves on starting with the happy slap cords which we have all yearned for, the songs seem to become more powerful with more echoes of sharps and an eerie ambiance of the strings. It has such a mix of emotions it is an album which you could listen to regardless of your mood.

Her latest video “All the Rowboats” is available now on YouTube and it is a must see. It takes me back to when music videos use to be more creative, not just a contest to see who can hire the biggest breasts to dance erotically next to the star.

Regina is off touring around Europe throughout July playing in both Manchester and London. After reviewing this album I am desperately trying to get hold of a ticket to go see her in Barcelona before I venture to Benicassim festival. I’m positive that she would product a formidable concert with an incredible atmosphere. Overall, Regina has exceled herself in the creation of her new album worthy of a strong pat on the back. I am already keenly awaiting the arrival of album No.7. 


Storm Simpson

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Girls - HMV Forum 28/05/12

Having never seen Girls before and being a pretty big fan, I've heard that they're absolutely amazing live and was not expecting any less and I definitely wasn't disappointed when I went down to their only UK show this year at the HMV forum.
Before Girls took to the stage, support band Weird Dreams, basically a toned-down and less captivating version of Girls - ambled through a set that felt a lot longer than it probably was as each song merged into the next, creating one long song. What didn't help was that Weird Dreams were so low-energy and largely failed to arouse any interest from the crowd. It's safe to say that everyone was waiting for Christopher Owens and co. to hit the stage and blow everyone away. 

Over half an hour of anticipation follows before Girls hit the stage and Christopher Owens is decked out in a white suit and tie - complementing the array of beautiful flowers attached to each microphone stand. Having seen pictures of previous live shows and photos of Owens next to flowers, this came as no surprise but was still equally as lovely. Starting off slow, they open with 'My Ma' and the crowd instantly comes alive as soon as the first note is played, showing their appreciation right from the off. 

A few older songs follow including 'Ghost Mouth' and 'Laura' which come as nice surprises since it's only fair to expect recent material from their incredible second album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost. By this point, Owens has already taken off his jacket, feeling the heat as summer has newly sprung upon us. Throughout the first half of the set, Owens barely shakes his hair out of his face and avoids eye contact with the crowd, only graciously but meekly saying 'Thank you' after each song - a humble gesture from someone who exudes such power and emotion through his songs. He leaves the talking to his band mate J.R White who shares a few words about the last time they played a show in London. 

When it comes to 'Vomit', the crowd is completely enraptured in Girls' live show, dancing and singing along the words as the most indescribable rendition is going on in the foreground; and the gospel singers really come into their stride as one comes forward and belts out her part - sounding even more soulful and vivid in real life than on record. The three backing gospel vocalist serve as hype women throughout as they encourage the crowd to clap and dance along to each song, even when they're not participating in the song with their flawless harmonies. The raptures of applause that ensues is astounding as it feels like the praise carries on for a long time, whilst Owens subtly smiles to himself at the reaction and gets a well deserved break in between songs. 

'Morning Light' causes a moshpit at the front of the crowd, as they have much more energy than would be expected in the sudden sweltering heat in London. Girls bring out more older songs than expected but this is welcomed profusely by the crowd who no doubt are eager to hear a mix of the three outputs from the San Francisco band. Unsurprisingly, by 'Lust For Life', the barely audible sing-a-longs to songs have turned into a mass sing-a-long in the Forum, 'Oh, I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish I had a loving man in my life...', as Owens gets completely comfortable and sweeps his hair out of his face as well as maintaining concentrated eye contact with the crowd.

Afterwards, the band leave the stage but it's obvious that there's going to be an encore and predictably, the band return to the stage for three songs, 'Honey Bunny', 'Love Like A River' and 'Carolina'. Although perhaps 'Honey Bunny' would have been a suitable last song due to being one of Girls' most high energy songs, the three songs were the perfect exit to an amazing set, as the crowd and Owens unite to bring energy and fun to the Forum, and by this point, Owens has unbuttoned his shirt - unable to take the heat in his full attire. 
Christopher Owens may sing 'They don't like my boney body/They don't like my dirty hair' but it's safe to say that everyone was united in love for Owens and his band mates at the gig of the year so far. 

Aurora Mitchell

DZ Deathrays - Bloodstreams

Four tracks into DZ Deathrays’ Bloodstreams, and I think you could forgive the listener for writing it off as another, albeit fairly good, slab of shouty Pulled Apart By Horses-esque indie punk. However, the synths that throb into life on ‘Play Dead Until You’re Dead’ bring an extra burst of life to what is a hugely exciting debut.

As mentioned, the influence of the likes of Pulled Apart By Horses and The Bronx are evident here, but the band merge it impressively with chunks of The Rapture and Death From Above 1979. The thrashy dance of single ‘Dollar Chills’ works brilliantly alongside the Late Of The Pier infused ‘Debt Death’. Throw in some hugely catchy riffs, and here you have a band that knows how to make you dance, but also fight people (in a good way of course).

The production is also spot on. So often music along these lines can lose so much of the live energy when transferred to the studio, but here it’s so loud and distorted it refuses to let the energy dissipate. Even when the band slow it down ‘Dumb It Down’, it’s just a breather before the mental ‘LA Lighting’.

At only 37 minutes, and kept as raw as it is on the production side, Bloodstreams is great noisy fun. The bands ability to switch the focus for each track (between guitar, bass or synths) make the music flow allowing for an album that doesn’t get boring. It’s such a mess, yet it works so well. Fantastic stuff. 


Sean Collison 

Monday, 28 May 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

With an amazing cast including the likes of Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, as well as the usual Wes Anderson casting of Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, plus two 12 year old children who fall in love and run away; it’s hard to imagine that Wes Anderson’s seventh film would be anything less than amazing. Set in 1965 in New England, Moonrise Kingdom is a moving story that shows the journey that Sam and Suzy make as they run away from home together. Although the two children live in very different worlds – Sam, an orphaned Scout and Suzy, a schoolgirl living within a nuclear family; they find out that they’re both emotionally troubled and this makes their 12 years seem like so much more. Despite half of the cast being children, the themes of the movie are more grown up, dealing in violence, love and adultery – perhaps contributing to their emotional instability.

The film deals a lot in physical acting, something that seems to be quite unpopular amongst mainstream audiences but largely popular to independent cinema fans – which has been shown recently in films such as Drive. A lot of the communication between Sam and Suzy comes through their body language and the silences that linger just a second too long. This is especially seen in the scene on the beach where each action is communicated through eye contact as they countdown before jumping into the sea and before they start dancing in their underwear on the beach at night to Francoise Hardy’s ‘Le Temps De L’Amour’, translating to ‘Time of Love’ in English, fitting due to their recent realisation that they have fallen in love. Anderson also shows the pair share their first ever kiss – portraying the reality rather than the Hollywood version of kissing as Sam and Suzy awkwardly lean in and kiss before Suzy lets Sam touch her chest – who reluctantly obliges.

The couple even go as far as getting ‘married’ by Jason Schwartzman who tries to help Sam and Suzy make a getaway but this is stopped due to Sam going back to get Suzy’s binoculars. Throughout the film, Suzy uses the binoculars and says she feels like she has a super power because she can see things close up, even if they’re not that far away. This element of fantasy as well as her constant reading of books reminds us that both Sam and Suzy are still children, despite the complexity of their characters and their relationship. As their relationship develops, their story becomes more moving as we want them to successfully get away from the confines of normal life but at the same time, they have people who love them back at home. Despite Sam not having any birth parents, the Scout Master Ward played by Edward Norton gets emotional when Sam has run away and feels sad when Sam says he doesn’t want to be a Scout any more.

A clinical and cold hearted social worker is played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton and Anderson really shows the harsh reality of Sam’s fate as the only dealing she has to have with him is to check his folder and make a phone call, not thinking about the consequences as she puts the phone down to the Scout Master Ward and Captain Sharp who are shocked, and then goes on to deal with the next person without even a trace of emotion. This is offset by Captain Sharp’s heart-warming gesture to take Sam under his wing, a moving action as Sam’s previous foster parents now want nothing to do with him and ‘cannot invite him back’ due to being ‘emotionally disturbed’.

Moonrise Kingdom is backed with naturalistic landscapes that complement the pastel based outfits that Sam and Suzy wear – as Sam wears his scout uniform throughout, blending in with nature with his khaki green outfit. Suzy wears two variations of a 60s style dress with a big white collar and white cuffs– one in a bright yellow and another in dark peach. There’s even a documentary element to the film as Bob Balaban narrates, frequently cutting to different parts of New Penzance island whilst talking about different facts. On top of everything, the sublime soundtrack fits perfectly in the background – with a variety of moods and types of music – going from Francoise Hardy’s jangly upbeat ‘Le Temps De L’Amour’ to the crooning blues number ‘Ramblin’ Man’ from Hank Williams in between snippets of classical music including parts from ‘The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra’.

Despite parts of the movie being slow paced and the criminally small amount of time that Jason Schwartzman was featured; my high expectations were met with possibly Wes Anderson’s most unlikely film to date. With a great premise, wonderful soundtrack and an incredible ensemble of actors and actresses – Moonrise Kingdom sees Wes Anderson tackle what is essentially a children’s movie in a very modern way, confronting the issue of children growing up too fast as there is teenage nudity, ear piercing, pipe smoking and violent stabbing with lefty scissors amongst other unusual activities for 12 year olds but also showing that at heart, as they settle down at night and Suzy reads books to Sam and later, the rest of the Scout troop; children never grow up as fast as they think they are.


By Aurora Mitchell

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Walkmen - Heaven

In many ways the success of the twitchy pin-sharp punk of The Walkmen’s 2004 single ‘The Rat’ was the worst thing that could have happened to the sharp suited New Yorkers. After several years slogging away under the guise of Jonathan Fire*Eater and a critically successful but commercially disappointing debut album, to have a track good enough to be ranked 13th in NME’s songs of the decade and Pitchfork’s 6th best single of the year put them under intense pressure from their record company to repeat the trick. Like fellow New Yorkers, The Rapture, having a song go stratospheric seemed to send The Walkmen into a tailspin. Their follow-up records 2006’s ‘A Hundred Miles Off’ and a track-by-track cover of Harry Nilsson’s ‘Pussycats’ were not bad but they failed to capture the frenetic energy of their albatross single and their audience began to question whether the group would be able to bottle lightning twice.

Fortunately on 2010’s ‘Lisbon’ the group re-emerged with a new focus. The tracks stopped dealing with life in New York and took off in more ambitious directions and making ‘Lisbon’ both a critical success and gifting the group their highest US chart position to date (28)

It makes sense therefore for the quintet to quickly return to the studio and capitalise on their new found popularity. Heaven is the result and it serves up the best bits of everything they’ve done to date.

The opening track ‘We Can’t Be Beat’ is something of a misnomer, introducing hushed acoustic guitar and doo-wop vocals to the group’s repertoire. The rest of ‘Heaven’ however is split between bright classic guitar rock and the swaggering but thoughtful post-punk on which they’ve built their reputation. In fact, second track ‘Love is Luck’ could be their Elbow moment – when hard-working boys finally crack widescreen choruses without sacrificing the soul beneath. It sounds gigantic but it’s well anchored by Matt Barrick’s echoing drums. ‘Heartbreaker’ takes the Vaccines' sing-along choruses and classic strum for a downtown drive whilst ‘The Witch’ could easily have fallen off Arcade Fire’s ‘Neon Bible’, the moodiness of Warpaint or Interpol backed by weaving guitar lines and organ. Apart from the title track which sounds like the poppier moments of The Cure set adrift in Blondie’s ‘Union City Blue’ the second half of the album is more introspective and melancholic than the first but it feels like a subtle transition, anchored throughout by Hamilton Leithauser’s strong clear vocals. Closer ‘Dreamboat’ takes the album full circle with angelic retro harmonies and a guitar line that recalls producer Phil Ek’s work with Fleet Foxes.

The Walkmen have risen, fallen, grown-up and risen again from the ashes.
Heaven? Close enough.


Max Sefton