Friday, August 26, 2005

What's Hot On The SWSL Stereo: August 2005

You may have noticed a lack of decent content round these 'ere parts of late, and in particular a dearth of music-centred waffle (partly a consequence of my shameful gig-going drought). So to go some way to rectifying the situation, here are some long overdue thoughts on a few albums that have commandeered my stereo for long periods in recent months...

Bloc Party - Silent Alarm

When I said long overdue thoughts, I meant long, long overdue. Not least because I've already written about the new first non Silent Alarm single 'Two More Years'.

There are two things I love about this album. Firstly, the spidery guitar lines and clever effects. Secondly, and even more importantly, Matt Tong's incredible epileptic drumming - always inventive and unusual, it gives the songs a twitchy on-edge feel ideally suited to the lyrics. 'Like Broken Glass' and 'Helicopter' are particularly special, but best of all is 'So Here We Are', a brilliant, brilliant song illuminated by Tong's contribution and guaranteed to be right up there in my end-of-year lists.

And of course it's all borne out of the band's impeccable taste in music. If songs this clever and complex can capture kids' imaginations, then there's hope - which is why it would be a shame if 'Two More Years' signals a more direct and poppy direction for album number two.

Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger

At last - a band from Newcastle that I can unreservedly endorse! Maximo Park are never going to oust Mackems The Futureheads from my affections, but then no-one's asking me to choose between them. The world's big enough for the two of 'em, and my record collection certainly is.

Any album featuring three of the very finest singles of the year - 'Graffiti', 'Going Missing' and 'Apply Some Pressure' - and a great double A-side from last ('The Coast Is Always Changing' / 'The Night I Lost My Head') was always going to be decent, but of course the worry was that they'd be the peaks and everything else would seem like troughs. Naturally, on the first few spins the singles do stand out, but it doesn't take long for the other tracks to reveal their considerable charms - 'Once, A Glimpse', 'I Want You To Stay', 'Limassol', 'Kiss You Better', 'Now I'm All Over The Shop'...

Unlike near-neighbours The Futureheads, they steer clear of clattering punk and display more of a pop sensibility, coming across like a rough-around-the-edges and slightly less arch Pulp gone new wave. That template serves them well, and it's only when they abandon it that they find themselves on less solid ground - vocalist Paul Smith might be most proud of his lyrics to 'Acrobat', but the song, co-written with keyboardist Lukas Wooller, is the only dud on the album, as well as the only track that veers towards sounding like their label Warp's more usual fare.

A Certain Trigger is a great debut by anyone's standards. J's standards are rather different to my own - she likes it "because he enunciates really well and you can hear what he's singing"...

The Coral - The Invisible Invasion

It seems that the negative effects of all that pot-smoking are making themselves shown. There have been hints of a darker side to The Coral - witness 'Keep Me Company' from Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker and the lyrics to incongruously jaunty single 'Bill McCai' from second album proper Magic & Medicine - but, as its title suggests, the prevailing mood of The Invisible Invasion is paranoia and sombre reflection.

Nothing wrong with that, you might think - and certainly that's the sort of thing I'm normally drawn to like a moth to a lightbulb. But The Coral are all about fun and playfulness, and in musical terms this all feels rather lacklustre and lifeless alongside the pop genius of songs like 'Dreaming Of You' and 'Pass It On' - 'Arabian Sand' and a couple of others aside, the new tracks just don't grip the imagination in the same way. Little wonder, then, that they looked so disinterested showcasing them at Glastonbury. Perhaps, a few albums in, they've just become jaded.

Even more surprising, though, is the relative lack of novelty and invention - especially given that their last release, Nightfreak..., was stuffed full of fantastic ideas hinting at all manner of possible new avenues.

A disappointment, sadly.

Queens Of The Stone Age - Lullabies To Paralyze

How would Queens Of The Stone Age sound post-Oliveri? Well, pretty much like they did before he and Josh Homme parted company.

True, Lullabies To Paralyze sets off on a disarmingly different tack with 'This Lullaby', a gossamer-light track with vocals by Mark Lanegan that wouldn't have been out of place on the ex Screaming Trees man's last album Bubblegum. But then 'Medication' kicks in, and it's business as usual - primal hard rock to make your ears pop, your head nod and your face grin.

It takes a little while to warm up, but there's a four track sweet spot right in the middle which includes the single 'Little Sister', the softer and more delicate 'I Never Came' and 'Someone's In The Wolf', a stoner jam with a relentless groove that recalls the sound of their eponymous debut.

Sure, it's too long - it could lose the bluesy Billy Gibbons' collaboration 'Burn The Witch' and the tedious 'Skin On Skin', and I wouldn't miss much - and Homme still hasn't quite come up with the album to match the quality of their live performances, but Lullabies To Paralyze is a fine follow-up to Songs For The Deaf all the same.

The Arcade Fire - Funeral

Regrets - I've had a few. One of the most recent is passing up the opportunity to get tickets to see The Arcade Fire when they came to Birmingham in May. The gig sold out well in advance - those who were lucky enough to get tickets, including Kenny, obviously knew something that I, at the time, didn't.

And now I do know it. And what I know is that Funeral is an absolutely stunning album.

The Montreal band are utterly unique - the guitar sound of The Strokes or The Talking Heads, the strings and sense of the epic of Godspeed! You Black Emperor (unsurprising given the involvement of G!YBE's Jessica Moss and Sophie Trudeau), the thumping disco drumbeat of Blondie (courtesy - on record at least - of Hotel2Tango recording engineer Howard Bilerman), the widescreen vision of The Flaming Lips (witness the incredible opening to 'Wake Up') all unfeasibly coalesce to create something quite astonishing which plays your heartstrings like Jimmy Page in his prime.

The first half of the album - particularly 'Neighborhood#1 (Tunnels)' and single 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)', which winds up with vocalist Win Butler sounding mad-eyed and feral - is breathtaking, but somehow the second half is even better. Kicking off with the splendidly queasy waltz 'Crown Of Love' ("I carved your name across my eyelids", "my love keeps growin' still the same, just like a cancer"), it continues with the aforementioned 'Wake Up', gentler interlude 'Haiti' and the frenzied and intense call-to-arms that is 'Rebellion (Lies)' ("Sleeping is giving in, so lift those heavy eyelids") before winding up with 'In The Backseat' in which Butler's wife, keyboardist Regine Chassagne, takes centre stage. Rarely can a song - and a whole album - soaked with the stench of death have been so powerfully uplifting.

To repeat: this is a fucking phenomenal record that you MUST get your hands on, if you haven't already. Beg, steal or borrow, as the saying goes.

You never know, just around the corner there might be reviews of other recent acquisitions: Sons And Daughters, Stephen Malkmus, The Arcade Fire, Sleater-Kinney, Eels, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Shins, The Dresden Dolls, The Magic Numbers, The Go! Team. I wouldn't hold your breath if I was you, though...


Stylus review of Bloc Party's Silent Alarm

Stylus review of Maximo Park's A Certain Trigger

Pitchfork review of The Coral's The Invisible Invasion

Stylus review of QOTSA's Lullabies To Paralyze

Stylus review of The Arcade Fire's Funeral

Kenny's review of The Arcade Fire's Birmingham gig in May

He Who Cannot Be Named's review of The Arcade Fire's London gig in March (scroll down a bit to find it)

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