Album Review – The National

The National – ‘I Am Easy To Find’ (4AD)

The National could have quite easily titled this, their eighth album, I Am Easy To Love, and they would have been absolutely right. Over the course of sixteen tracks, this is 62 minutes you’ll want to listen to again and again. Right from the digitally manipulated guitar line that starts off album opener ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ to the beautifully sad closer ‘Light Years’ this is an album that gently brings you in, and you don’t want to let go.

Perhaps the thing that regular listeners to the National will notice is the use of female voices throughout the record. I keep changing my mind about what is the best track here, but the Gail Ann Dorsey- assisted ‘Roman Holiday’ is one of them. Other vocalists who appear throughout the record include Sharon Van Etten and Lisa Hannigan. Their contribution is far more than mere backing vocals; think of the way that Gram Parsons would bring in Emmylou Harris, or Leonard Cohen worked with a long list female vocalists. It’s that kind of special effect.

Yet at the basis, it’s the songs, dammit. Too many highlights to list individually, but they make up one hell of a collection of songs. While the National may be seen as being a critics and bloggers sort of band, the reality is the deserve their ever-growing fanbase. It’s a very unique kind of melancholy from a very special band. Make sure you spend time with this record.

****1/2

I Am Easy To Find is released on May 17 on 4AD.


Album Review – Cranberries

Cranberries – ‘In The End.’ (BMG)

I must confess to feeling a little guilty. Around the time of their first two albums, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We and No Need To Argue, the Cranberries were never far from the tape deck. Yet somehow, I’d stopped paying attention around the time of the third album.

I have to say, though, that the release of their eighth, and sadly, final album, appropriately entitled In The End, is a fantastic record that reminds me of why I really loved them all those years ago, and shames me into going to investigate the years I missed out on them.

Lead singer Dolores O’Riordan sadly died last year. The Limerick band decided to finish the album, which in many ways seems to have been heading full circle back to how they had sounded when they had started, over twenty-five years ago. What that means is that there’s a soft-sung voice, music that runs from the folk sound of their native country meeting the US grunge sound. ‘Wake Me When It’s Over,’ for example, evokes the 1994 single ‘Zombie’ but cleaner in its sound. There’s the anger within, meeting the gentle, which made this band so winning to start with.

Too many artists will have their final work poured over for signs of premonitions that they were making their last record. It’s not healthy; instead focus on what they have achieved and how they had come together to make a record that should bring old and new fans into the fold. This is the sound of a band who sound reawakened. The title track is melancholy, and reflective, and a fitting end.

Remember Dolores – and the band – this way.

****

In The End is out now on BMG

I’m back…actually I never went away

Indeed. A couple of weeks ago, just as I was attempting to write a link to my review of Craig Finn’s excellent new album, I Need A New War, there appeared to be difficulties with actually posting anything on the blog. This was followed with problems trying to find out who and how to get it sorted.

So here I am, and finally, here is the link to said review over at God Is In The TV:

Craig Finn – I Need A New War

Just to whet your appetite:

EP review – Munya

Blue_Pine_artwork

Munya -‘Blue Pine EP’ (Luminelle)

Munya is the stage name of Canada’s Josie Boivin. Raised in Saguenay, Quebec and based in Montreal, this is her third EP and the final in a trilogy. Following on from last year’s North Hatley (named for one of her favourite villages in Quebec) and Delmano EPs (the latter named for the Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg), we now have the Blue Pine EP. Blue Pine is a mountain in Twin Peaks – so not a real place, but as David Lynch is an important influence on her work, pretty real for her.

The trilogy of EPs very much sit together (so if you haven’t heard the previous two, get on with it!), making a coherent whole – in fact they’re available. Her sound is that of gorgeous electronic pop, with a lightness on the surface, but a sadness that’s just beneath. Comparisons (not to put her down) could be made with the likes of Stereolab, and also Grimes, Air and Zola Jesus.
As with the previous EP releases, this is a three-tracker, and all songs stand very much on their own terms, rather than simply being one single bulked out with a couple of bonus tracks. ‘Blue Pine’ perhaps shows the David Lynch influence strongest, not as a rehashing of the music from the TV series, but in terms of the dreamy electronic spirit. Seriously, you can imagine Sherilynn Fenn swaying to the music on the jukebox in the Double R Diner. While Munya has recorded in both French and English, ‘Benjamin’ the second track is the first time she has recorded a bilingual song. It’s perhaps the most French-sounding track (even without the singing) on the EP, but what is impressive is that it refuses to become cloying, instead being sophisticated and dreamy at the same time. On the final track -‘It’s All About You’ we get an eastern influence, with a sitar providing an interesting juxtaposition with the sophisticated French pop. Dreamy enough to be shoegazing, and certainly music to lose and find yourself within, though much less rocky than the music that has generally comes from that genre.
On the evidence of this latest EP, Munya confirms what her previous releases suggested, that she really is a fantastically talented writer and performer. It’s harder than ever to make a living as a musician in this day and age, but I keep getting dragged back to this EP (and the others), and I hope that she gets the recognition she deserves.

****

Blue Pine EP is out now on Luminelle

 

Rest in peace, Keith Flint

Keith Flint

Dear God. Please don’t let 2019 turn into another year like 2016, when celebrities dropped like flies and every time you saw a name trending on Twitter you started fearing the worse.

News has broken in the last hour that The Prodigy’s Keith Flint died this morning at his home in Essex. He was just 49. According to the Prodigy’s Liam Howlett, he had taken his own life.

It would be dishonest to claim that I was a Prodigy fan from the off, because I wasn’t and for much of the first half of the 1990s, I didn’t get much dance music. This was far more to do with me being a moody teenager, seeing boundaries that weren’t there, and nothing to do with the music itself (though the fact that I can’t dance for toffee may be something to do with it). I didn’t care much for these tracks at the time – I now recognise them as representative of much of the great dance music coming out of Britain then.

 

But The Prodigy – along with many other acts, such as The Orb, Underworld, Orbital, Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers changed my approach, along with the more down-tempo sounds of the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead.  When I heard the news, there were so many songs I wanted to hear. Sure, they may have been the hits – but what hits they were.

The year after I left school, they topped the charts with ‘Firestarter,’ a song that blistered visually as much as sonically, with a video that was supposedly too scary to be shown on TV (the following year’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ would put it into some kind of perspective, along with Aphex Twin’s ‘Come To Daddy’ video).

This was followed by the even-more exciting ‘Breathe’ which mixed Joy Division bass-lines, punk energy, seemingly several different styles of dance music (I was learning by now) and Keith Flint and Maxim leading this brilliant monster out of our stereos. Perhaps like Massive Attack, they were a British band who managed to combine so many different styles to produce something that was reflective of where Britain’s many tribes were coming from and how they had come together.

Frustratingly, the only time I saw them live was at Glastonbury in 1997. Keith was on fine form, even if the electrics gave out after the second song, and Dennis Pennis had to keep things going by singing to the crowd in Hebrew (no, really). I headed off to China a couple of days later, but not before I picked up a copy of Fat Of the Land, their third album, released the Monday after Glastonbury. Perhaps I drifted apart from The Prodigy after this period – I didn’t much care for the ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’ single in 2002 or the Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned album from 2004 (which didn’t feature Keith), but my interest was reignited with 2009’s Invaders Must Die album and listening to two of the singles from this album again, they deserve to be shared. What also struck me as interesting – I was teaching by this time – was how many of the kids I taught loved The Prodigy, too.

I never met Keith Flint, but according to those he was a lovely guy, and always very appreciative of the crew who worked with The Prodigy. His death, seemingly from suicide, is heartbreakingly sad, but he leaves behind some utterly awesome music.

Album review – George McFall

George McFall

George McFall -‘XIV: Surrounder.’ (Tenement Records)

It’s been nearly eight years since his first album, God Save The Clean, but the artist who formerly recorded as Clean George IV, is back with a new album which has definitely been worth the wait.

Towards the end of last year, McFall unveiled the first track from the album ‘Autumn.’ If so have still to hear it, it’s a wonderfully dark track, which genuinely feels like that time of year when the days are getting shorter. It was a perfect taster for the album, fitting in with the peculiarly Scottish melancholia of bands like Mogwai and the Twilight Sad, Sad and sounding as if it had been processed through the post-punk electric sounds of Gary Numan and John Foxx-era Ultravox, them finished off with addressing of prime 1970s German progressive rock. It broods with barely contained menace, as if any moment it might jump out of your speakers and attack.

However, it’s not an album which simply xeroxes the lead single to diminishing returns. The following track ‘Practice’ comes in two parts, the first part coming on like a fight song meets mantra, before slowing down into a soundtrack that evokes the opening of space doors onto unimaginable horror. Our George could have a bright future scoring Hollywood soundtracks if the fancy took him. Meanwhile songs like ‘Repetition’ and ‘Change’ channel the ghost of a young Mark E. Smith (circa 1979) and head for the dancefloor, dragging you along with a supernatural power, sneering at Kasabian that anything they can do, McFall will surely outclass them.

Several listens before reviewing this album demonstrate on each listen just how excellent this album is. Legendary Edinburgh drummer Murray Briggs (Aberfeldy and Oi Polloi) plays drums, but otherwise everything else is played by Mr. McFall himself, leading to the feeling of an album that’s entirely as its creator intended (no A&R fool bleating about the lack of a single for the American market here). There’s a huge number of influences within, but they are interwoven so effectively that there is no question of this being written off as mere record collection rock.

Interviewing McFall earlier this year, he told me that he intends to finish two albums under his own name this year. For us as listeners, on the strength of this album alone, that’s a treat being dangled in front of our ears and noses. Yum Yum.

A resounding success.

****

XIV: Surrounder is out now on Tenement Records

Andy Anderson remembered

Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson, with his father Cliff Anderson, a well-known boxer in the East End of London.

Jeez, not a good week, is it?

Andy Anderson drummer for The Cure between 1983-84 and frequent collaborator with other acts, including Iggy Pop, Isaac Hayes and Peter Gabriel,  died on Tuesday aged 68. He had been battling cancer.

His death was announced by former Cure member Lol Tolhurst. Tolhurst wrote:

‘It’s with a heavy heart, I have to report the passing of a Cure brother.

Andy Anderson was A (sic) true gentleman and a great musician with a wicked sense of humor which he kept until the end, a testament to his beautiful spirit on the last journey. We are blessed to have known him.’

The Cure in 1984

The Cure in 1984: (l-r) Phil Thornally, Porl Thompson, Robert Smith, Andy Anderson and Lol Tolhurst.

So as a tribute, some of the tracks Anderson played on.

He first played with Robert Smith, in the side project The Glove, who released one album, Blue Sunshine, in 1983:

He first played on The Cure’s top ten hit ‘The Love Cats’ seen here on Top of the Pops in late 1983. The track was first compiled on the Japanese Whispers album later that year.

Andy also played on The Top studio album and the live Concert, bothreleased in 1984. ‘The Caterpillar’ was another top twenty hit.

Mark Hollis remembered

Mark Hollis

Of all the band’s whose evolution over their lifespan might not have been expected, Talk Talk might well top the list. Lead by Mark Hollis, who died today aged 64, they went from being seen as possible new romantic rivals to Duran Duran around the time of their 1982 debut, The Party’s Over and its accomplished follow-up It’s My Life (1984) to laying the groundwork for Radiohead and post-rock over the trio of records that is The Colour Of Spring (1986), Spirit Of Eden (1988) and Laughing Stock (1991).

So here, in tribute, a track from each of those five albums, and one from his only solo album.

From 1982’s The Party’s Over, the eponymous single ‘Talk Talk.’ Sure you can hear the similarity to acts like Duran, Visage and A Flock Of Seagulls, but there’s a scope here that suggests they are thinking beyond the nightclubs of London town.

 

From 1984’s It’s My Life, the title track (later covered by No Doubt). This wouldn’t be the last time there would be an animal flavoured video.

From 1986’s The Colour Of Spring ‘Life’s What You Make It.’ Another animal-featuring video…one of their best known songs.

 

Whilst 1988’s Spirit Of Eden didn’t produce any big hit singles, it showed that the band had moved on leaps and bounds even from the changes that had come about on their previous album. It shows a link with pastoral records like Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (1983) and points to post-rock, particularly bands like Sigur Ros.

The band’s final album would become even more minimalist – and links to bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and possibly full circle to early 80’s contemporaries like David Sylvian. This opening track is seemingly about suicide but utterly beautiful.

Mark’s sole release under his own name was his 1998 eponymous album from which this is taken. Just brilliant.

He retired from the music business to focus on bringing up his two sons. 17 Seconds sends best wishes to his family and friends.

Presenting…Rev Magnetic

Rev Magnetic

Rev Magnetic are based around the core of legendary Scottish musician and writer (Sweetmeat, Jelly Roll, Venus As A Boy – all worth reading) Luke Sutherland.

An occasional member of Mogwai, his musical project Rev Magnetic are now signed to Mogwai’s Rock Action label, and ‘Gloaming’ is the first fruits of the partnership. The single is released on 7″ at the end of this week, out now on digital, and an album is to follow.

This is glorious – and the video is fantastic, too.

 

New from Chaka Khan

chaka-khan-hello-happiness

I’ve been a bit quiet round the blog lately, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up.

Rather that life is keeping me busy. But I’m still listening, reading and writing.

At the moment, I’m enjoying the final part of Stuart Cosgrove’s epic soul trilogy, Harlem 69: The Future Of Soul. It follows on from Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul and Memphis 68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul. The fast-moving tale of soul is intertwined with the politics of the period, and it’s educational not just about music but also about history, politics and sociology. The advantage of the modern age is that you can make a list of the music you are reading about and go and investigate it at the touch of the button…though this probably works more to the benefit of the consumer rather than the artist.

One of the people who appears in the pages of Harlem 69 is a young Chaka Khan. She’s just released her first album in twelve years, Hello Happiness. Somehow I missed last year’s first track from the album ‘Like Sugar’ which is just awesome. Fortunately, when it comes to doing my end of year Festive Fifty lists, one of my rules is that a track can qualify even if it was released as single the previous year…if it is released on the parent album that year. Seriously, check this out…

 

 

This is the title track, which is also rather fine.

 

 

Hello Happiness is only seven songs long, but it’s a joy to hear. Take the time to do so!