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Album Review: Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives

 
By on Wednesday, 21st November 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

By this point in his career, Benjamin Gibbard can effectively be called indie-royalty. Having led Death Cab for Cutie out of obscurity on the West Coast of America with a series of fairly alright records, Gibbard really got his break during the hugely acclaimed ‘Transatlanticism’ era. Not only did it see Gibbard and co appear on The OC, but it saw them make a huge step-up in audience. From there, it’s been an enjoyable and successful career in music. Even his side project the Postal Service has seen its Sub-Pop release break the platinum mark. So it’s rather surprising to see him make a solo record.

This then, is the Ben Gibbard side story. The one not reflected in the moods of his other endeavours and one that we’re asked that, even given his recent lack of colour, that ‘Former Lives’ will fill in the gaps with vibrancy and understanding. This promise starts well as the scene is set in a raining west-London as Gibbard, accompanied by himself a capella sings the romanticisms of a lonely evening before the album sets its scene in ‘Dream Song’. Written in third person, you wonder what the point really is, but it’s entertaining enough with the simplistic chords and rhymes as you would expect of a slightly folksier attempt at a solo record. It breaks into ‘Teardrop Windows’, a similar track only instead of being entirely about its writer, becomes an ode to The Smith in Seattle. It makes for another listenable track.

Yet three songs in, you’re already starting to get bored. It’s his own fault as well. In writing this record, Gibbard is hardly departing from his own outfit like Kele did with Bloc Party, he’s not in between acts like Conor Oberst and he’s certainly not branching out like Jack White. In making ‘Former Lives’, Gibbard is simply pointing us in the directions he almost went and didn’t. Whilst ‘Bigger than Love’ has the pulsating drums and guitars of an Arcade Fire hit, the story lacks in your ability to empathise with him. And even the centrepiece of the record, ‘Something’s Rattling’ lacks in anything hugely bold aside from a brief spell of mariachi.

The further into this record you delve, the more of a formality it becomes. ‘Duncan, Where Have You Gone’ has supposedly been a work in progress for a long time; but released today it sounds lost somewhere very close to Blur’s ‘Under the Westway’. (It’s even set in London.) I’d argue that if ‘Hard One to Know’ was placed second in the record, you’d be far more intrigued and who knows? The rest may sound more interesting but again, it’s a mere formality to a man you’d expect far better than a plainly listenable record from. Maybe that’s the problem, we’ll never know.

4/10

‘Former Lives’, the debut album from Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard, is out now on City Slang. The singer/songwriter will play at London Union Chapel on the 3rd of December.

 

Interview: Matthew Healy of the 1975

 
By on Monday, 12th November 2012 at 11:00 am
 

“I just want to make a record that makes people feel the way I did about certain records, like ‘Original Pirate Material’ or ‘Bad’ in a way.” Matt Healy is on the phone in between takes in the studio where The 1975 are putting final touch after final touch onto their debut record. The Manchester band’s debut EP ‘Facedown’ (review here) gained them plays on the likes of Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe’s Radio1 playlists, as well as seeing them temporarily rocket up the iTunes charts. With the coming of their second EP, ‘Sex’ (review here), you can tell that the 1975 are out to prove a point.

“With [the] ‘Facedown’ EP, ‘The City’ was the big standout track. We’ve got songs like that by the bucketload, but with these EPs, we want to put across what we’re really about. We don’t want to be one of those bands that puts out an EP that’s just a single with a few remixes; If you’re a band that wants to connect with their fans, you need to give them a wealth of material.” Of course they’ve had plenty of time to build up this wealth of material. The trio have been a band for around 5 years now, and having gone through a multitude of names such as The Slowdown, Drive Like I Do and Talkhouse; it seems now they’ve finally settled on The 1975.

Having been a band for this long though, and not having released more than the occasional track to the internet has led to a huge amount of change in the band, and with that change has come a certain confidence. Matt explains, “Our natural progression as people reflects the progression of us as a band. Some of these songs have been around since we were 19 years old, and we’ve saved them until we knew we were ready. We find it hard to be content with what we’ve done. The first time we really were happy to put something out was ‘Facedown’, so we did!”

Matt seems to get excited when talking about the overall sound of the band, citing inspirations from the likes of Michael Jackson through to Peter Gabriel in terms of influence for the “big, ambitious sound that we think albums should be all about”, yet you can almost hear parts of his brain tick as he attempts to describe the more intricate parts of the lyricism in the band. “Our personal affinity with the music is very important to the band because The 1975 is a very personal thing to me. I feel like I can only speak from personal experience, and tracks like ‘Woman’ are very personal to me as are all the songs; they’re experiences through my eyes, but I try not to be too…” He struggles on his words and moves to my next question which takes from Mary’s Quickfire Questions interview with him last month in which he touched upon the influence that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road gave him and the band as a whole.

“I guess we were like a lot of impressionable 19 year olds who read On the Road, in that we were whisked away in the decadence and blazing about of the whole affair. The very unabashed and un-afraidness of youth has become a very important feature of the1975”. At first, I struggle to understand, given the variety of quieter tracks on both the ‘Facedown’ EP and the forthcoming ‘Sex’ EP, but he continues: “Songs like ‘Sex’ came about from that, as more of a reaction to the lack of identity rather than anything economical.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if the resurgence of the likes of Kerouac’s work assists the 1975 in gaining an audience, especially considering how many acts take from romanticised American history. Mumford and Sons relied heavily on John Steinbeck circa 1935-1940 to fill out the tales in their debut record, and Bombay Bicycle Club were inspired by Joseph Sterling’s Age of Adolescence series in the 1960s in the creation of ‘I Had the Blues But Shook Them Loose’ (the cover art is one of Sterling’s photos from the series). Of course, the band’s influences are broad, but you can’t help but feel that a part of Kerouac’s decadence has remained romanticised in Healy. “I grew up in a boring middle class town near Macclesfield, so I think reading American literature was important to us as a band; the whole counter culture, but I’ve found myself focussing more on my own thoughts than that kind of world these days.”

So what’s next for the group as they launch the second of three planned EPs and for the first time going ‘On the Road’ on their own headline tour? “I just want to make an album that people can connect to, and I know that sounds like a cliché but we do just want to make an album we love. I don’t want to sell a million copies; I don’t expect to sell 40,000. We played the Barfly like 6 months ago and five people watched us and now we’ve sold it out and that humbles me.”

He laughs; there’s a quiet confidence behind the band. They write and produce the music themselves; getting a little help on the way from the likes of label and tour buddies Little Comets so at the end of the day, his own confidence is all he has, especially as he claims to not pay attention to much of their press. You can’t help but feel that he’s not quite telling the truth, but there’s a judged honesty behind him. I ask what happens if people don’t like the album and it doesn’t “work out”. He pauses and simply responds, “I guess we’ll just make another record. I try not to think about expectation because the phrase ‘working out’ is abstract. The moment we start worrying about acceptance is the moment we lose conviction.”

And with that, I let him get back to the studio. It seems that whether we like it or not, The 1975 are here to stay, but given their latest material and the idea that they’re holding back on a few things suggests that whilst they’re building a buzz now, they think they’re capable of so much more. I’m inclined to agree.

Catch the 1975 on tour in December. Their next EP, ‘Sex’, is out on the 19th of November on Dirty Hit.

 

Album Review: The 1975 – Sex EP

 
By on Wednesday, 24th October 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

After the moderate disappointment of the ‘Facedown’ EP, the 1975 have a lot to prove with this, their second EP in 4 months. The feeling with ‘Facedown’ was that the group were holding back, only putting one ‘big’ track ‘The City’ on it. Whilst other tracks, namely ‘Woman’, were powerful growers that displayed the group’s ability to calm down and produce quiet tracks with raw emotion, it wasn’t the EP many were expecting. So, what does the ‘Sex’ EP have to offer?

Well, for starters, an intro to match that of any strong record. It’s got a more upbeat feel that signals what’s to come. Its slow build into a blend of Star Slinger and late Kings of Leon whilst still maintaining a lyrical subject that doesn’t drop their Manchester nights-out roots pushes their sound as a unit forward more than anything on Facedown and it’s a refreshing change.

After this excitement though, the second track, ‘Undo’ is a sad return to filler music. It sounds like a track that’s had more effort put into the delicate production than the actual music it forms. Could it sound good as a powerful track? Probably, but we’ll never find out. The disappointment doesn’t last long however as the centerpiece of the 1975’s hype up until now, ‘Sex’ pulses through your ears next. With every confident beat leading up to the “and this is how it starts”, you feel that the potential that’s desperately been trying to burst out of the Mancunian group has finally found a home and as the refrain of “she’s got a boyfriend anyway” blares out, you can almost picture venues nationwide shouting it right back at them with understanding adoration. Top this off with the glittering guitar line of ‘You’ closing the EP, you feel that they’ve finally achieved the sound that will see them survive.

They may have had multiple name changes, re-recordings and the rest of it, but the 1975 have stayed true to themselves and whilst their current sound is that of shiny production, it’s still got the raw power at its heart that should see their debut record push them forward, come the new year.

8/10

The 1975’s next EP ‘Sex’ is out on the 19th of November on Dirty Hit.

 

Album Review: Dog is Dead – All Our Favourite Stories

 
By on Monday, 8th October 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

When you’re one of the top breed of ‘new summer bands’, playing the kind of sound perfect in June but not so much in December, It can prove complicated to release your album in the autumn. So when Dog is Dead announced that their debut record would be released in October, a few heads turned. And rightly so. With baited and slightly colder breath than anticipated, what does ‘All Our Favourite Stories’ have to offer?

For starters, it’s got ‘Get Low’. It’s got more funk in its saxophone and bass lines than you can shake your jazzy stick at and its build welcomes listeners into ‘All Our Favourite Stories’ in fine style. From here on in, it’s ambitious indie-pop from the Nottingham group as almost every track from the record stands on its own feet as a single. And half of them already have been exactly that: ‘Glockenspiel Song’, ‘Talk Through the Night’ and ‘Two Devils’ stand out instantly. The highlight of the record, however, is nestled neatly in at track three. ‘Teenage Daughter’ builds with the characteristics of an indie ballad and then breaks out into something that sounds like it’s taken influence from the biggest of Bowie tracks with added chorus harmonies and the closing vocal lines not too dissimilar to Los Campesinos! You start to wonder if Dog is Dead could be the real deal.

Sadly, whilst ‘All Our Favourite Stories’ will have festivals nationwide practically spawning grass in the cold to try accommodate the five-piece on their land, the summer is over and with it goes the kind of atmosphere that makes Dog is Dead’s dangerously overly shiny, heavy reverb and massive sounding re-recorded versions of 2010 and 2011 yearbook tracks a big deal. While listening to the likes of ‘Do The Right Thing’ and ‘Hands Down’ isn’t a tedious task, it’s made to seem more interesting when you’re dancing to them and singing out of tune; away from that, it just sounds average. That’s the problem with this album. So many times it borders on greatness but only a few times (‘Teenage Daughter’, ‘Two Devils’ and ‘Glockenspiel Song’) does it actually achieve it. Let’s not even talk about those last three tracks. So close, yet so far.

6.5/10

‘All Our Favourite Stories’, the debut album from Nottingham band Dog is Dead, is out now on Atlantic.

 

Album Review: The Killers – Battle Born

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd October 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

“What are you made of?” roars Brandon Flowers as the Killers sing “flesh and bone!” in powerful unison. The guitar line bigger than a Las Vegas casino, the ambition flowing out like the hopeful punters hitting for the big time. It’s always been this way though for Flowers. His theatre of Killers isn’t so much second nature to him as pulsing through his blood; you almost expect him to bellow ‘Born to Run’ out of those powerful vocal chords of his.

Whilst theatre is entertaining however, the band have plenty of making up to do. Since the ‘Day and Age’ times at the turn of the decade; the least well received Killers record to date, an increasing amount of skeptics had begun to wonder if the days of noughties standout ‘Mr. Brightside’ would ever come back around as the band seemingly vanished and lead singer Brandon Flowers created a lackluster record of nearly-good tracks. The issue here though is just that. Bands change as their influences do, as the people they’re surrounded by bring different sounds to their musical palettes, as they grow up and adapt. In the Killers’ case, whilst their propensity for the stadium sound and their belief in a certain form of breed of American music all remains, they’ve lost that edge that made them an enjoyable. Everything that put them on the iPods of the masses has been lost to an ambition to be almost as dull as the Nevada desert whilst waving surrender at the American dream and everything Springsteen still plays with more heart than any beat of ‘Battle Born’ will ever exude.

Whilst it opens well, from there you can listen to the whole thing in one continuous stream of average monotony. The likes of ‘A Matter of Time’ have the kind of haunting power behind them that makes the Killers still feel like they could be an epic band. But from there, tracks such as ‘Deadlines and Commitments’ are borderline embarrassing in their monotony and even ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’, which would have had a huge pulsing line going through it, comes off as wet and deeply uninteresting.  

‘Battle Born’ then, is ‘Flamingo’ (Flowers’ solo record) meets the B-sides of ‘Sawdust’ to ‘Day and Age’ with none of the naive schadenfreude pop belters of ‘Hot Fuss’ and even less of the romantic yet powerful narrative of ‘Sam’s Town’. The Killers, then, seem doomed to have created two hugely successful and acclaimed records and at least two deeply average ones that, had it not been for their predecessors, almost no one would ever buy. That’s a shame, because the theatre of Flowers was always an entertaining one.

 3/10

‘Battle Born’, the fourth album from Las Vegas band the Killers, is out now on Mercury.

 

Album Review: Lucy Rose – Like I Used To

 
By on Monday, 10th September 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Lucy Rose’s half-decade career has been well documented. From her gold record with Bombay Bicycle Club, her extensive touring on the festival circuit and slow drip of new material over time to keep the wave of acclaim building, it’s a career that’s already reached heights that most only ever dream of. So, can she keep it up with this, her highly anticipated debut album ‘Like I Used To’?

‘Red Face’ opens with a crash before settling into her almost trademark gentile vocals and from there, you’re trapped. Deciding to listen to something else before this album has finished is a challenge, from listening to it on travels to even just lying in bed. You want to keep listening through the familiar yet fresh sounding ‘Middle of the Bed’ and continue through all eleven tracks.

But it’s the two newest singles ‘Lines’ (Video of the Moment here) and ‘Bikes’ (Video of the Moment here) that steal the show. There’s a simplicity to both of them that seems to erupt into the kind of tracks that Laura Marling’s sets have been needing of late: energy.  They build the kind of atmosphere that similar songwriter Ben Howard has been pushing to the top of the billing for the last year or two. And it’s the style of music that could see Rose through success beyond that of both. The comparisons in terms of overall sound to Marling are sparse, but let’s not forget that she came through Noah and the Whale to get her foot in the door.

Elsewhere on the record, it’s hard to find a weak spot. Whilst some of the album tracks sound a bit too similar to make for a hugely original record (‘First’, ‘Shiver’ and ‘Night Bus’ [Watch Listen and Tell video from 2 years ago at the end of this post] are all in danger of falling into this category), it’s not that Lucy Rose is hugely different or original that makes her an interesting artist. It’s the honesty and endearing nature of her songwriting. If you heard a track like album closer ‘Be Alright’ on a Coldplay or Mumford record, you’d flush it out as overglazed “what you want to hear” music; in Lucy’s repertoire though, there’s the uplifting nature of what feels like a story we don’t know behind it and that’s almost so relatable, it’s a cliché. Luckily, by this point in the album, you’re so fond of these semi-autobiographical songs that clichés are lost to honesty, and that’s what makes this album so special.

8/10

‘Like I Used To’ is out Monday the 24th of September on Columbia. John interviewed Lucy at Reading last month; read that interview here. You can also catch Rose on tour in October and November. Update 19 September: Thanks to her lovely PR people, you can stream the album below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aei31Nj_pdA[/youtube]

 
 
 

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