Laura Marling’s new album ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ is a bit of an odd duck. Before I even listened to it, I was taken aback by its length, 16 tracks and just over an hour in duration. As it turns out ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ is essentially two shorter albums compressed into one. It feels almost as if Marling had a change of heart in the middle of her writing process, perhaps the same change of heart that led her to relocate to America around the time of its release.
‘Once I Was An Eagle’ is divided into two discrete sections, conveniently separated by an instrumental ‘Interlude’. The first part of the album is difficult, even unnerving, as Marling strays from her typical folk style to experiment with amorphous song structures, alternative tonalities, and shifting rhythms. She also seems to have dabbled a bit in larger musical forms, if the album’s first four tracks are taken as one larger body of work, almost like a classical song cycle. The songs are thematically similar and so seamlessly blended that I almost had trouble telling when one track ended and the next began. Fifth track and first single ‘Master Hunter’ (video below) is a raucous closure to those first four tracks, indicating a change in mood to the dark, powerful tracks ‘Little Love Caster’ and ‘Devil’s Resting Place’.
Then comes the ‘Interlude’, which segues from darkness and dissonance to the sweeter, lighter side of the album. (I haven’t seen a vinyl version, but this would be a perfect place to manually turn the record over.) The second half feels more comfortable somehow, maybe because it is, to some degree, more predictable. The songs become less painfully personal and slightly more external in perspective. Two second-person characters are introduced, the eponymous ‘Undine’, and Rosie in the soaring ‘Little Bird’. Marling warms her sound with hints of blues and gospel, notably in the organ’s harmonic progression in ‘Once’. Final track ‘Saved These Words’ builds from a slow, sparse introduction to a full and resonant chorus: “You weren’t my curse / but thank you, naivete, for failing me again / he was my next verse.”
‘Once I Was An Eagle’ is less immediately accessible than 2011’s ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’. Marling’s voice has matured, both in terms of her lyrics and her vocal timbre. She alternates easily between the declamatory, if slightly abrasive, lower register and the sweet, soulful higher range, using her voice to its fullest effect. Likewise, the instrumentation throughout the album is ingenious and inventive, trading raw, ragged folk for a broader, bolder sound. Rather than making a strong emotional connection, the album instead makes a dynamic and deliberate statement of intent about Marling’s future artistic direction.
With no sense of pretence, no dramatic unveiling, New Desert Blues have snuck up on my psyche, with the immense track that is ‘Adam’. The five impeccably dressed lads who sounded raw, and ebbed with potential at The Great Escape at The Fishbowl have created something really special with their debut effort.
Refined, and delightfully genuine, New Desert Blues aren’t bursting with youthful exuberance as you’d expect from a group of five less-than-likely lads. They instead emanate a dastardly sense of cool: whether that is in lead singer James Cullen’s ability to pull of the most pretentious of turtlenecks in Brighton sunshine at this year’s Great Escape, is yet to be uncovered.
Parker’s vocals are delightful on ‘Adam’, with the five-part harmony that the band strike only accentuating the vocal prowess of the young man. The soaring vocals that build to a precipice on each chorus as Cullen laments the bittersweets vocals. Combined with the gently building guitars, ‘Adam’ is a single that has it all and deserves to be a soundtrack to summer 2013, especially with Mumford and Sons threatening to be that soundtrack. AGAIN.
It’s fresh, it’s new and I love it. Check it out in the video below.
‘Adam’, the forthcoming single from New Desert Blues, will be out on the 8th of July.
City and Colour is Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Green, formerly with the post-hardcore band Alexisonfire. Green’s side project started out in Alexisonfire’s heyday in 2004, but he eventually left the band to focus on his work with City and Colour and refine his more melodic folk leanings. Fourth album ‘The Hurry and the Harm’ is a lovely piece, both gentle and exploratory. I am repeatedly struck by how often I am drawn to musicians who have turned their hardcore sensibilities into gorgeous acoustic guitar driven music.
Truth be known, I didn’t even know the genre folk punk existed until a few years ago. Green’s music is a step lighter than the likes of Frank Turner and Rocky Votolato in that respect, more folky and less aggressive than the other two. But with a full band behind him, Green has developed his sound from the quiet acoustic bit that drew him into solo work into full arrangements that offer him an opportunity to showcase more musical style than just the simple voice and guitar of his previous releases. Much more expansive than previous albums from Green, ‘The Hurry and the Harm’ has great drums, guitars and strings sprinkled throughout. Not afraid to experiment with the soundscape, Green still keeps the focus on his strong suit, words and melody.
Full of introspection and insight, the album addresses the very internal struggle of yearning and the quest for meaning. The title track itself is a treatise to the hurry-up society we live in today and how it does nothing to fulfill our deeper needs. Lead single ‘Thirst’ (lyric video above) is the most distinctively different with full drums and distortion filling it out to a full on rock song. ‘Two Coins’ is another heavy with bass that resonates both sonically and lyrically, its stark loneliness matches the rumble of the bass. The tune sets out to contemplate the redemptive quality of trying to find your way: “I’ve always been dark / with light somewhere in the distance / I’ve been so unforgiving / stranded in old traditions”. But there is still plenty that is vintage City and Colour to enjoy. ‘Of Space and Time’ rings clear with just the gentlest of augmentation to round out Green’s dulcet tones. While the searching quality of the lyrics suggests it is just another melancholy lament, it actually hints at reaching the end of the journey and being satisfied.
Perfect for a laid back Saturday afternoon in the garden, ‘The Hurry and the Harm’ could easily soundtrack a lazy summer, cool drink in hand swinging in a hammock. City and Colour will be touring much of Europe in June and will hit the UK for Reading and Leeds in August.
‘The Hurry and the Harm’, the latest album from City and Colour, is out now through Dine Alone Records/Cooking Vinyl Records.
Over three decades in the reckoning, and to the delight of metal aficionados from New Mexico to Beijing, the eponymous genre defining metal band Black Sabbath are back with their original line-up of founding member Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi. The result of this reunion and their exposure to producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin (Foo Fighters, Slayer) is ‘13’, their mammoth comeback to the mainstream and a call to arms to metallers worldwide.
With Ozzy back on vocals after the tragic death of Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi as the axe man, Geezer Butler providing the bass and Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk sitting in on drums, the sound on ‘13’ is suitably triumphant, with a sense of an impending apocalypse. The ominous commencement of the album ‘End of the Beginning’ is Sabbath at their doom filled best, with Ozzy’s trademark vocals cutting deep from the word go as he croons “Is this the end or the beginning/or the beginning of the end”. Rubin’s influence is apparent from square one, with the producer’s epic sounds resonating throughout the record, and epic seems to be what the aim was on this Sabbath record, with seven of the eleven songs on the record clocking in at over 5 minutes.
To enjoy this album though, you need to forget all pretence of any drama within the legendary metal band, and you certainly need to forget Ozzy’s ill-fated solo record and that dreadful duet with daughter Kelly. This record is about a shameless progression of what made the band a pillar of modern metal. Bring Me the Horizon have produced arguably the most progressive and defining metal record of the past 12 months, but in ‘13’, you have a re-emergence of old-school metal. ‘13’ is best epitomized by a line from the opening track, “rewind the future to the past”, and that is exactly what the band have done on ‘13’.
It’s not exactly back to basics, but Black Sabbath were never in any way basic, they were a progression of what was before them and now, they have set a marker to all bands in metal 2013. Sabbath are revered amongst bands and fans of the genre alike, and it would have been difficult for them to go wrong on this record, and that’s why it almost feels like a bit of a safe effort. Single ‘God is Dead’ is undeniably classic Sabbath, from the booming drums, to the trademark strumming of the Iron Man himself Iommi.
The record falls a bit flat with the staccato guitars that intersperse the mid-section of ‘13’. It feels a bit uncharacteristic of Sabbath, and also again feels very safe. But the album does show a lot of the character we have come to expect from a Sabbath record. It’s obvious why they are so well-regarded and are held in such esteem and their relevance is as poignant in 2013, as it was decades ago at the bands inception. ‘13’ delivers in that respect and seasoned fans will lap this record up; however, if this to be the start of Sabbath 2.0 then a more ambitious approach must be considered. For now though, having the original line-up back producing mammoth tunes like ‘Loner’ and ‘God is Dead’, is quite enough for this not so Iron Man.
‘13’, Black Sabbath’s long-awaited reunion album, is out now on Mercury.
By Mary Chang on Monday, 10th June 2013 at 12:00 pm
While I was on holiday in Scotland last month, having finished way too early in the night after the Treetop Flyers gig at Electric Circus, I was bored and flipping through the channels on the telly in my shoebox of a room in Edinburgh and chanced upon BBC Alba, the digital Scottish Gaelic station part owned by the BBC but with most of its content produced in Scotland. Once I got over some of the foreign language that totally went over my head, BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway appeared (looking as jovial as the time I met him at SXSW 2012), then disappeared to let a rock band take the spotlight. I squinted. Wait a minute. These lads look familiar… Isn’t that John Wean? I practically screamed in light of my good luck.
Young Glaswegian rockers John Wean have been on my radar since the summer of 2011, when I heard early single ‘Desperate Dan (She Told Me She Was Single)’. While they’ve been around for a while and certainly have racked up quite a few gigs under their belt (according to their Facebook biography, they’ve supported another band favourite of mine, Stockton’s Young Rebel Set), they’ve only released one past EP and a single here or there. Last summer’s ‘New York Doesn’t Love You’, for one, was a standout. But now the quartet have their second EP out with the very humourous title ‘Rock is Dead. Long Live Paper and Scissors!’ But the content, at least from the start, is no joking matter.
If you’re the type like me who is easily offended by strong language, steel yourself for the opening line of ‘Drive Time’. Despite the poppish instrumentation, borderline cutesy rhyming scheme in the verses and oh oh ohs, this is not a happy song. At all. It’s the distillation of a man’s crushing realisation that the woman he loves is a conniving two-timer: “I’m laughing ‘cos I can’t believe what’s coming out / you’re lying to the bone, and I’m just finding out / I’m laughing ‘cos I can’t believe what’s coming out /you’re crying down the phone, but now I’ve sussed you out”. The song ends, satisfyingly and appropriately, on an unfinished note; this leaves it raw emotionally.
As a music reviewer, it’s a given that you go into a song titled ‘Ecstacy’ bemused. Is this song going to be about making love, or the party drug? My impression is the former, and to be honest, I’m relieved, because it’s so anthemic, with its feel good singalong chorus and noodling guitar lines. “My heart’s beating, won’t you find that feeling?” is the repeated refrain, as the singer explains all the beautiful places he’s found himself in, yet he’s still remembering that moment in winsome vocals, full of the wonderment of…well, something truly special and wonderful. After the pain-inducing ‘Drive Time’, it’s welcome. Another nice touch: the first 5 seconds of ‘Ecstacy’ is a cinematic, symphonic intro. (That didn’t go unnoticed, guys. Nice one.)
Three songs in, and you’re at ‘For the Girl’, which the band recently released a promo video for. (Watch it in this previous Video of the Moment post.) This is more of the John Wean of the ‘New York…’ I remember. It’s the most radio-friendly of the four tracks on this EP, but it’s got the most confounding lyrics. At first, I thought the song represented a single argument between two suitors fighting over one girl. But the more I think about it, I wonder if it was written such that it’s really two separate arguments that are happening in our protagonist’s head: his desire to convince the girl he loves that the boy he’s with isn’t the right one for her, and also to tell off another suitor, “hands off, she’s mine”. All that aside, the incredible catchiness of the song – delivered by a driving drum beat and rhythmic guitar – isn’t likely to be lost on Radio1 and if you’re not a lyrics geek like me, ignore the above and just enjoy the song.
And then we come to the end and ‘November’, which is only what I can describe as chaos: white lines, police fines, street fights, dog bites. Instrumentally, the crashing guitars and drums sound great. But on this EP, I liked this the one the least; it’s more of a germ of an idea than a fully formed song than the other three. But three good tracks on a four-track EP from a very young band just starting to really release material? Pretty damn good.
‘Rock is Dead. Long Live Paper and Scissors!’, the new EP from Glaswegian band John Wean, is out now. Stream EP track ‘Ecstacy’ below.
By Tom Mughal on Friday, 7th June 2013 at 12:00 pm
I’m a huge fan of Belle and Sebastian. And as a huge fan of Belle and Sebastian, I feel like I have to come clean and admit that I have been cheating on them with another Glaswegian indie-pop group who also thrive on their quaintness (quaintosity?); a band more twee than Zooey Deschanel walking a clowder of cats around the garden of her thatched cottage.
It all started in 2010 when I was eagerly awaiting Stuart Murdoch and co.’s eighth album, ‘Write About Love’. Whilst impatiently trying to find something to fill the gap whilst I awaited its release, I found Camera Obscura (or rather, Spotify Radio found them for me). Their latest release at the time, ‘My Maudlin Career’, had dropped the previous year to almost universal acclaim and I decided to see what the fuss was about. I quickly found out. With gorgeous instrumentals and precious vocals, Camera Obscura are without a doubt the closest thing there is to a female counterpart to Belle and Sebastian.
Camera Obscura are a relatively unknown band with a few relatively recognisable songs in their repertoire. ‘French Navy’, arguable one of their best tracks, has been doing the rounds on British television adverts for the past couple of years, which has done great things for their exposure.
Now three years on from my first encounter with them, ‘Desire Lines’ is to be released: the band’s fifth studio album, their first of which to have been recorded in the United States. The album continues the band’s exploration of wistful themes and again brings memories of the long summers days spent doing absolutely nothing in the sun. It’s quintessentially Camera Obscura down to a tee, something that could be its own downfall for some listeners. In other words, the band have not evolved at all since their previous effort 4 years ago. Belle and Sebastian have managed to remain fresh since their first album nearly 20 years ago, something that Camera Obscura have failed to replicate with ‘Desire Lines’. With the exception of a couple of tracks, the album throws the usual catchy, summer pop tunes at you in abundance.
One of the standout tracks on the LP has to be ‘Cri de Coeur’, which my GCSE in French can tell you is roughly translated as ‘Cry of the Heart.’ Down tempo and sentimental, lead singer Tracyanne Campbell truly sings a tale from the ‘coeur’. It’s a welcome turn away from the usual upbeat pop songs that dominate Camera Obscura albums and the hypnotic percussion makes the song almost like a lullaby. (Note to self – business idea: Have Camera Obscura release an album of children’s lullabies. That would sell.)
On the subject of vocals, it would be hard to review ‘Desire Lines’ without paying great compliment to Tracyanne Campbell’s sweet pipes. They carry a sentimental and wistful tone that is without a doubt Deschanel-esque, (even if the band were around even before the world caught Zooey Fever). In fact, the entire album could have been a She and Him album without the Him. Coincidentally, the bands will be touring together for a string of dates this year in the United States.
Campbell’s crooning takes a back seat on ‘New Year’s Resolution’, instead the lead guitar riff takes the centre stage and it works perfectly. Playing almost like a duet between the guitar and vocals, it is a refreshing change to hear the rest of the band take the limelight. Although a great song, the smooth Fleetwood Mac-like track transitions awkwardly into the next song ‘Do It Again’. Any soothing feeling caused by the former tune quickly evaporates and you are once again taken to the usual happy-go-lucky pop song that we expect from the band.
Overall, the Glaswegians-that-aren’t-Belle-and-Sebastian have released a great summer album. While it’s an album that won’t break boundaries in the indie-pop game (and doesn’t even break boundaries for Campbell and co.), it is nonetheless a great listen.
Camera Obscura’s ‘Desire Lines’ is out now on 4AD.