Part 2 in my round-up of albums Blogjammin has shamefully neglected to review this year begins with the highly-acclaimed new album from Wild Beasts:
If ever you’re asked to provide a solid example of a band maturing as their career has progressed, I strongly recommend you use Wild Beasts. Smother might only be their 3rd album in a fledgling career still a mere 3 years old, but they have already mellowed out considerably in this time. The difference between the restrained reflections on display in this album and the hyperactive mania of their 2008 debut Limbo Panto could not be starker. They’re still concerned with the same central theme – sex, sex, and more sex – but gone are the playful metaphors flaunted on the likes of The Devil’s Crayon and She Purred While I Grrred, and in their place are more shadowy and sinister ruminations. The new level of maturity comes into play through their cunning weaving of these darker thoughts into a softer and more intimate sound.
My problem with the album is this ambitious formula isn’t captivating nearly as often as I would like it to be. However, the tracks that do nail it are superb. On Plaything the seductive bongo beat coaxes you in to begin with, only for you to be suddenly confronted with a morally questionable relationship characterised by chauvinistic dominance: “You’re my plaything, yeah I’m wondering, yeah I’m wondering, how cruel I have been”. The soft piano keys that usher us into Lion’s Share are equally deceiving, but as soon as Hayden Thorpe’s trademark falsetto has started reassuring his partner that “it was a terrible scare, but that’s why the dark is there”, presumably after he’s finished taking his “lion’s share”, you discover you’ve unwittingly entered some decidedly dodgy territory. Second single Bed Of Nails is another notable highlight in this mould.
Overall though, I just haven’t taken to this album the way I have with their previous two. The voices of the two male leads are still a delight – especially live, I urge you to see them live – but I do prefer the more arresting sound and barely containable enthusiasm of their earlier material. An intriguing change of direction nonetheless, which aptly demonstrates how versatile their sound is, but I’ll be hoping for more energy next time around.
Fantastic Track – Lion’s Share
Yeah, I know. Worst band name ever ever ever ever ever ever EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER………………EVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRR.
HowEVER, and this is what it really comes down to, not the worst album ever. Not by a long shot. I don’t band 8.5s around lightly you know.
Hailing from Belfast in Northern Ireland, ASIWYFA are an instrumental rock four-piece with a penchant for edgy, racing guitar leads and furiously pounded drum-beats. Gangs, their second studio album, might be a bit hell-for-leather and absolutely bloody knackering by the time it’s through with its 45 minute onslaught, but it’s only this exhausting because I’m so thoroughly caught up in it from the first minute to the last.
And man, are this band tight. I derive genuine pleasure still, on my 9th or 10th listen, from trying to keep up with the meticulously structured interplay between the various instruments. All of these tracks move so organically through their various phases and I get the feeling any band member can trigger these changes of direction on impulse. On recent album Gloss Drop, Battles displayed their knack for spell-binding interplay during their own epic instrumentals, and I have now taken to viewing ASIWYFA as Battles’ rowdier, heavier siblings… with the added frenzy of Holy Fuck… and the frantic guitar leads of Dragonforce also thrown in. Don’t worry though, they don’t ever threaten the tedium of Dragonforce’s power metal wankery. In fact, they keep themselves well reined in, and I’ve been genuinely surprised by how often I’ve returned to this album for my fix of wordless pandemonium in the past few months. Gloss Drop, as it good as it is, has barely had a look in.
Fantastic Track – Think: Breathe: Destroy
These 4 young punk rockers from Denmark have slowly been drawing all eyes and ears towards them as the year has gone on, since dropping their debut album New Brigade back in January. I call them punks, mainly because of the short, snappy nature of these tracks and the sheer raw, messy energy that comes spitting out of my speakers every time I brave putting it on, but they could just as easily be labelled post-punk.
This is because there is something decidedly British-sounding about this band. The singer, who bounces his voice all over this crackling mix, at times reminds me of Ian Curtis, at others of The Cure’s Robert Smith and, if you want a modern comparison, The Horrors’ Faris Rotter. Iceage have a lot more charm than The Horrors though and, despite the directness of their delivery, display a commendable amount of invention on this impulsive blast of an album.
Way more fun than all that Fucked Up, hardcore nonsense doing the rounds at the moment.
Fantastic Track – White Rune
The story of Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a curious one; mainly because no-one had the foggiest idea who the band were and what their story might actually be when the track Ffunny Frends appeared out of the blue on Bandcamp last year. This song drew a lot attention to itself but no explanation was forthcoming regarding who was behind it.
Now, having cleverly kept the world hanging on with baited breath, we know more. UMO was founded by Ruban Nielson, a New Zealand native who transported his band Mint Chicks (yeah I know, a much better name) over to Portland in the States last year. Getting vague Flight Of The Conchords connections here.
Having changed their name to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Nielson released this self-titled debut last month and has mostly found the enthusiasm for Ffunny Frends has not quite translated into a similar excitement for the entire album. Personally I think it’s a shame, as I’m rather partial to it. I’m very fond of the lo-fi, crackling production that gives it that retro, vinyl quality and this particularly works well when comparing their style to the likes of Captain Beefheart and Sly Stone.
There is an inherent tunefulness embedded beneath these acid rock flashbacks that means I often find myself humming the melodies as I’m shooting out e-mails at work. The guitar playing is so lovingly lethargic too, like the guitarist managed to pull his finger out just long enough to flap his fingers over the strings a few times before he sits right back down on his arse again. Expect Unknown Mortal Orchestra to get steadily more known as the year goes by.
Fantastic Track – Ffunny Frends
Another one whose very anonymity seems to be a strong pulling point, SBTRKT is a London-based electronic producer who keeps his true identity hidden behind some very funky looking masks.
Having listened to his debut album, I wouldn’t be surprised if the mask is whipped off his face one day to reveal a very sheepish looking James Blake underneath. The reason I say this is that, for a lot of this album, SBTRKT has employed a guy called Sampha to do his very best impression of James “I must sing every syllable as soulfully and emotively as I possibly can” Blake, and is so comparable to Blake I could easily believe this is all one big marketing promo for him. I have to admit, I’m not a fan. This singing style really grates at me actually, veering way too close to contemporary RnB for my liking.
I am a fan of the music that’s beneath it though. And, when Sampha isn’t crooning, SBTRKT invites some far more agreeable female guest-vocalists in to elevate his 2-step reminiscent, heavily syncopated beats to another level. Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano provides the pick of these on album highlight Wildfire; her passionate, shrill delivery dovetailing well with the scuttling electronics beneath her. There are also thrilling moments, like on the excellent Sanctuary, where the layered electronics remind me a little of Flying Lotus, but overall Sampha’s yearning delivery dominates too much of the album for me to be doing any more than plucking the best tracks out for my playlists.
Fantastic Track – Wildfire (Featuring Yukimi Nagano)