In a world where the album chart seems to have become the musical equivalent of a shelf full of cheap plonk, it’s good to know that, not too far out there, artists are still embarking on quests to create records that don’t immediately pander to the instant gratification of fair weather music fans.
A case in point could be Arcade Fire‘s new double album ‘Reflektor‘ where, first off and most importantly, this band have taken quite a shift in musical direction. With LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy, they have fruitfully twisted and reconstituted aspects of their hard-to-categorise mixture of indie, rock, New Wave and slithers of European folk in order to create something more than a little different.
As the world and its wife already knows, Alan McGee has always been the possessor of an uncanny musical Midas touch, spotting talent which has gone on to achieve stratospheric success and often culturally define an era, Oasis and Primal Scream being obvious cases in point.
One of McGee’s chief characteristics is the passion he has for new music, of signing talent that he fully believes in. Is Pete MacLeod, a fresh signing to McGee’s new 359 Music label, another potential success story to add to his long and extensive portfolio?
It’s easy for the cynics to dismiss Midlake; they say if they were a colour, they’d be beige. If they were a car, a Volvo. A country? Try Belgium.
Superficially of course, their music has lent some credence to those points of view, second album ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther‘ – steeped as it was in the MOR visions of the American Mid 70s, with the band’s driving force Tim Smith speaking openly of being influenced by those cred-crushing flute botherers Jethro Tull.
This ignores the singular fact that ‘…Van Occupanther’s ‘Roscoe‘ was one of the most sublime tracks of 2004, interweaving the Laurel Canyon sound with nods even further back to Crosby Stills & Nash, a stoner brio which preceded the rise of new folk mavens like Fleet Foxes. Lots of water has flowed beneath the bridge since, most notably their underplayed contribution to John Grant‘s brilliant ‘Queen Of Denmark‘ album as session men, but more recently in the guise of Smith’s departure. This parting resulted in the scrappage of almost eighteen months worth of material the previous line-up had put together, although the process for ‘Antiphon‘ seems to have been cathartic, their first effort in the post-Smith era being completed in a mere six months.
It’s true that one of the phrases you rarely hear whilst going about the activities of daily life is, “Hey, I could just do with some rather earnest Canadian indie rock right now – where dy’a think I could get me some?”
Undaunted however, Les Jupes (That’s The Skirts, for those of you who never did listen much in high school French) are determined to bring you something you didn’t know you wanted until they gave it to you – hence ‘Negative Space‘, a four track EP the contents of which are culled from a portfolio of around 30 new songs written since the 2011 release of their début album ‘Modern Myths‘.
‘Innocents‘ is Richard Melville Hall’s eleventh studio album in a career that first had him hitting the limelight as a solo artist with the dance classic ‘Go!‘ back in 1990; the former multi-instrumentalist-punk morphing into a techno producing DJ and gun for hire, who not only released a steady output of his own albums throughout the 1990s, but remixed tracks for a number of other leading artists, including The Prodigy, Smashing Pumpkins and Orbital.
Of course – as the world and its mother knows – Moby really went stratospheric with 1999′s ‘Play‘, which was everywhere at the start of the millennium, containing a whole host of tracks that not only graced the upper echelons of the charts in all corners of the globe, but also popped up in car adverts, nature programs and hard hitting documentaries for what seemed like forever.
No-one seemed without a copy, and the mild mannered, unassuming vegan suddenly found himself with a level of fame that went way beyond his previous cult, slightly word of mouth, left-field status.
Subsequent releases have achieved comparative success, but have almost appeared, from the outside looking in, a little like he has been chasing his tail, quite unsure where to go, and at odds as to whether to continue with a winning formula or veer off in a totally different direction.
Watching Haim‘s Glastonbury performance back from this summer is a fairly disorienting experience.
Here are the three sisters dressed in not very much – mini dresses, hot pants, leather biker’s jerkins – all cussing like bin men on a hot day, the vaguely boho whiff of their LA upbringing dispensed with for attitude, screeching guitars and the strutting dynamics of a real rock n’ roll show.
Why so confusing then? Well, it’s because the three women on the Pyramid Stage – who frankly make out like they’re having the time of their lives, squawking like Pat Benatar, Suzi Q or any other female of the last 40 years with dirt under their nail polish – don’t appear to be the same trio that made ‘Days Are Gone‘, that’s why.
The release of ‘Mechanical Bull‘ at least quashes any rumours floating around that, as a band, Kings Of Leon have reached the end of the road following a number of inter-related problems which dogged the quartet during the making – and touring – of their last record ‘Come Around Sundown‘.
Intriguingly, ‘Rewind The Film‘ is the result of an abundance of material recorded during sessions at Faster studios, as well as at the famous RockField studios, with producer Alex Silva – one of two records that have been constructed and described, by the band, as being part of a two pronged assault in the final phase of the history of the Manic Street Preachers.
To all intents and purposes, the album deals with themes which do not deviate too far beyond their usual bag of muses; mainly concerning personal and collective feelings of despair, hopelessness,alienation, loneliness, frustration and, as each member enters middle age, reflections on growing older.
What is different is the way in which they have gone about composing, and delivering, the songs on this record. For the large part, electric guitars are excluded in favour of a more intimate, acoustic affair which suitably avoids the twee elements of folk, and instead focuses on the spirited expressions of each member’s individual musical interests; not only Sean Moore‘s love of brass, but also Nicky Wire‘s dalliances into noise and electronica.
Youngsters seem to be everywhere – taking old influences and putting their own spin on things. And we’re not talking early twenty-somethings, but kids in their mid-to-late teens.
First there was Jake Bugg, who burst onto a UK scene starved of songwriters with a rough around the edges, working class appeal. More recently, industry heavyweight Alan McGee has thrown his weight – and a new label – behind a 15-year-old Doncaster songwriter called John Lennon McCullagh (yes, that’s his real name), whose howled folk points to a big future.
And then there’s The Strypes, four lads out of Cavan, Ireland who play 60s R&B and are, as you might have guessed, still in their teens.
Glasvegas have forged a meandering path since their number two chart peak of the football-terrace-anthem-laden debut in 2008, with poor sales of the more dreamily contemplative follow-up ‘Euphoric Heartbreak‘ seeing the band dropped from their Colombia label in 2011.
However, an uncertain future for the band subsided with the announcement of a major-label deal with BMG for the release of third LP ‘Later…When The TV Turns To Static‘.
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