London Grammar - If You Wait (US Edition)
Slinking elegantly into the aural void left by the XX and their stark, minimalist ambience, London Grammar are three painfully polite adolescents currently riding high on a seemingly unstoppable wave of mounting success. Their debut album If You Wait was pre-emptively showered with gushing hyperbole by the feral hype-inducing press, based on the merits of only a small batch of online tracks It has gone on to sell 250,000 copies in the UK alone. Meanwhile their international fan base continues to swell like the result of a perfectly placed Mike Tyson right hook to the eye. Britain is there’s for the taking, the daunting prospect of two sold-out Brixton Academy shows, often the high-water mark of most band’s ascension to cultural prominence, loom on the near horizon and beckon the band to stardom. An extensive and thoroughly gruelling festival programme sees the trio alleviated to the arduous task of early evening main stage slots and will leave the band thoroughly entrenched in European and American fields for the duration of the summer. Whilst Britain and Europe has all but fully succumbed to outright infatuation, London Grammar have been making their first tentative steps into the unforgiving expanse of the US touring circuit, one that either ushers superstardom or destroys a band through the sheer extensiveness of the country. Their Coldplay support slots at this year’s SXSW festival have successfully drummed up the media hype, the band’s name being bandied about through US web traffic whilst their performance provided those callous industry-types with first hand evidence of the enthralling and affecting nature of London Grammar’s live offering. Almost a year since European audiences got their mitts on the release, If You Wait has finally been granted its official stateside revealing with the band kindly including a selection of previously unreleased tracks in a US exclusive as well as the plush “Help Me Lose My Mind”- their collaboration with Disclosure, which formed the highlight of the house duo’s game-changing album Settle. You lucky ‘mericans you.
Dark, ruminating and gorgeously atmospheric, London Grammar’s music is foremost languorous and resplendent in its measured delicacy. You only need to get halfway through the breathy piano chords of opener “Hey Now” to understand the prematurity with which Mercury Music Award accolades were thrown at the band with such abandon. Throughout the eleven original tracks and six additional US-only nuggets, If You Wait showcases an enduring restraint. It’s an aural pensiveness only a group of middle-class English adolescents could not only fathom, but adhere to with such stoic resolution. Despite the quintessential English reserve, the odd moment of more propulsive, lively trip-hop breaks and beat-driven extroversion encroaches to supplant the ethereal moods, concocted through extensive echo-chamber reverb and sparse instrumentation. Forming the central focus of the record are the brooding, sumptuous vocals of Hannah Reid, her voice commanding every ounce of attention without relying on grandiloquence, imposing itself through an impeccably strong and flawless projection. Like the band’s reserved disposition, her vocals only stretch towards their limits of capability on the truly startling crescendo on “Metal and Dust”, with band and voice postponing inhibition to reach a truly stratospheric climax. They dabble and tease to enact a similar dynamic exultation on “Wasting My Young Years”, edging toward rapture in a tantalizing build-up before reeling everything back in; resolutely refusing to succumb to our demand that it reach a logical euphoria.
Most of the record however, exists in the realm of the down-tempo and sultry gloom. Yet, tracks such as the aforementioned “Hey Now” and “Shyer” and its gorgeous closing vocal coda are no less engrossing than the more outwardly engaging “Stay Awake”. Sitting on an aural plain that rarely deviates from a certain timbre and mood, If You Wait also exudes a certain emotional uncertainty which permeates incessantly throughout every track. It forms an instantly relatable element to which most young people will be able to meet with affinity. “Yeah I might seem so strong, yeah I might speak so long, I’ve never been so wrong” Hannah sings on “Strong”. Her emotional flux is beguiling and showcases a totalizing introspection that plies the record with a reverence that some may find a little too self-aware.
Dan Rothman’s mellifluous Cocteau Twins inspired guitar lines remain content in their simplicity as melodic counterpoints to Reid’s vocal, keeping to such as stringent single-note minimalism that eschews any inkling of extravagance. As such, it is left to multi-instrumentalist and producer Dot Major to provide much of the textures and ancillary sounds in an attempt to fill at least some of vast and spacious aural palette. The reversed guitar at the intro to “Metal & Dust” is such an example of Major’s expertise in mood creation, whilst he also posits a penchant for the odd domineering beat that is the only musical offering that vies for attention with Reid’s billowy vocal.
Like the band’s forebears in the three-piece ethereal pop outfit The Cocteau Twins, If You Wait is devoid of superfluous instrumentation or unwanted sound effects. Every element has a role, a distinct purpose. Its only detriment lies in its continually prominent air of reverence and the fact it often leans too far toward the profound. But the record is saved from any well-grounded accusations of preciousness but its few moments of extroversion which posit the record as a masterful piece of spectral pop. A quietly versatile and musically sumptuous record that is fully deserving of its accolades.
2:16 pm • 25 April 2014
Cloud Nothings - Here And Nowhere Else
Cloud Nothings have always been a band that fervently belong in dingy toilet venues, thrashing away at their instruments with scant regard for their own or each other’s well-being, enticing mass sing-alongs despite shitty PA systems doing their best to turn their aural assault into a muddle of barely comprehensible noise. Their previous release Attack On Memory, although still very much a clamorous outing of scuzz, simply pales in comparison to the laser-focussed, fuzzed-up assault of their latest release. Here And Nowhere Else is a record of intense urgency, spearheaded by the vociferous drumming of newcomer Jayson Gerycz. The stickman propels the record in a relentless drive and blurry clamour which sees the other band members doing their very best just to keep up with the blistering pace. Cloud Nothings have honed their sound to its zenith, carving their attack into a sharp point of rabid hooks that land with a punch despite the lo-fi nature of the production.
As in their previous releases, including foremost the equally lo-fi but slightly less abrasive Attack On Memory, the band can’t help but dispense hooks with a tremendous frequency. It begs the consideration, that if the group wasn’t riddled with such a collective angst and antagonism that their pop-streak may just leave them playing higher up the festival bills than their current standing. However, the band themselves are clearly uninterested in toning down their sound to reap the hollow rewards. Thankfully, the group’s anger shows little sign of abating anytime soon, especially with the rhythmically incensed Gerycz in tow and Dylan Baldi in a mood of consistent antipathy and outright resentment. In fact, the pair jostle for the spotlight throughout the record, Gerycz’s drumwork granted equal sonic billing to Baldi’s throat-shredding screams of discontentment. On the seven minute “Pattern Walks” Gerycz’s kit resembles a voice in itself, an array of fills stealing the vocalist’s role as Baldi’s own voice is contorted into oblivion by a zealous use of limitless reverb.
Now a trio after the departure of guitarist Joe Boyer, Dylan Baldi is granted the troublesome but not impossible task of tackling both lead and rhythm with his playing, a role that he rises to with a stringent aplomb. His fretwork remains simple and embellishments are limited by the sheer pace of the tracks yet the newfound simplicity leaves tracks devoid of any superfluous elements, the tracks well and truly devoid of fat.
“Psychic Trauma” enacts a sudden injection of pace, sending a track that was by no means languid towards the outer limits of the band’s capabilities with Gerycz seemingly on a mission to reduce his crash cymbal into shards of flying metal. Baldi’s voice breaks on “Just See Fear”, unable to contain his rage any further as his vocal brims with such acerbity it resembles Kurt Cobain’s grainy screams at the chaotic closing of “Territorial Pissings”. The intro to “Giving Into Seeing” on the other hand, bears kinship with the quaint indie peddled by the likes of The Maccabees, although here it is given an almost lethal dose of amphetamines, turning a riff that in certain pairs of hands would come across as dainty into one that is bristling with a barbed tenacity. The brilliant “It’s Not Part Of Me” is a perfect album closer, a song rife with a lyrically damning self-criticism of the band’s success. Detailing how such big-time exposure was never Baldi’s intention for the band, he dispenses sentiments that declare how he will never feel comfortable on the big stages upon which Cloud Nothings now find themselves being invited to play. It’s certainly a bold way to end an album, but the song itself constitutes perhaps the band’s best composition on the record- reeling off hooks in quick succession whilst the chorus is a catchy-as-hell blast of melodic vitriol, the hook line “But I’m not I’m not you/ You’re a part of me, you’re a part of me” demanding to be screamed back by fans sympathizing with the band’s emphasis on integrity.
Direct, confrontational and unrelenting in its furore, Here And Nowhere Else is a record of succinct punk that is nothing short of a pure joy. At just eight tracks, it delivers its payload and quickly scarpers in a flurry, a host of quick-fire hooks left swirling in the frazzled craniums of listeners. Moreover, the album proves that punk rock can exude a catchiness tantamount to any melodic pop trite that fills the airwaves without diluting its sound down to a saccharine sheen. The energy appears limitless, as does the group’s rage, but their ability to mould such potentially chaos-imparting aspects into an abundance of hooks posits Here And Nowhere Else as a supremely infectious nugget of apathetic punk.
Originally posted on TheAltReview
1:59 pm • 25 April 2014
Broken Bells - After The Disco
No longer, it seems, can Broken Bells be referred to as merely as side-project. Quite surely, the success of their eponymous debut, which shifted a whopping 400,000 units in the US, has bolstered the creative partnership of the band’s prolific duo. Brian Burton – aka much-lauded producer and musical chameleon Danger Mouse – once again provides James Mercer of indie stalwarts The Shins with his much-desired production genius that has led to job offers from such behemoth popular music mainstays as U2. After somehow managing to carve out windows in their satisfyingly busy schedules, Broken Bells reconvene with a tangible sense of boldness about their song-writing that cements Burton and Mercer as a bona fide song-writing partnership, capable not only of ludicrous pop hooks but of more sprawling and subtle compositions. After The Disco is emphatically more refined than its predecessor and confident enough to declare itself to the world in a manner more aurally gregarious than their debut, for two tracks at least.
With an insatiable appetite for catchy sounds abounding through both lead single “After The Disco” and teaser track “Holding On For Life”, Mercer and Burton evidently have an ear for a gorgeous hook or two. Yet, After The Disco is far from a record of populist celebratory gesticulation or a repertoire of quick-fix sun-baked pop. Underneath the sleek synthesizers, brightly emphatic falsetto vocal harmonies and hip shaking rhythm section lays an undercurrent of shadowy melancholia that continues to lurk around even amongst the pure glossy pop of the album’s title track. Themes of loss perpetuate the record much as they did their debut, with Mercer obviously unable to rid himself of these emotional shackles despite the potential solutions he offered on their first musical outing.
Placing at numbers two and three on the track listing, Mercer and Burton deliver the most overt pop workouts in quick succession. The eponymous lead single is an emblazoned nugget of pop brilliance, dispensing hooks in systematic fashion. It’s easily the most sleek and effortlessly danceable track on the LP, comprising of superbly executed key shifts and synth lines that etch themselves onto the brain; the desire to hit the repeat button will be overwhelming. It’s this very commercial polish that makes it somewhat of an inevitable scenario, that a request by an enamoured advertising executive to use the track as aural accompaniment to his shiny new automobile, a more than likely situation given Mercer’s previous licensing of Shins tracks to soundtrack McDonalds commercials. “Holding On For Life” sees Mercer’s vocal harmonies reaching the upper echelons of impossibly tight-trouser pitch, his chorus refrain coming across like a Bee Gees doppelgänger in the grand-scale chorus.
The sci-fi influence they hinted at on their Meyrin Fields EP abounds throughout, embodied in synthesizer quirks such as the Theremin sound that opens “Holding On For Life”, appearing like samples torn from the soundtracks of fondly remembered 1950s science fiction b-movies. The pace drops to more laconic levels for “Leave It Alone” whilst the aural sound scape opens into more expansive pastures. Still, the emotional expressivity within Mercer’s vocal abounds, his newly adopted lower octave position crooning amongst sombre violins as he trades off with a choir’s more gospel-orientated inclinations. From here, the album bops along in a pleasant fashion with tracks such as “Angel and the Fool” offering a more cinematic and sprawling aural landscape. Throughout the album Burton utilizes the same minimalist muted bass plod that he secured to his successful Gnarls Barkley project. It’s now somewhat of a trademark although it seems doubtful whether Adam Clayton can conjure a similar groovy swing on the next U2 record.
After The Disco is a certified fan-pleaser that’s riddled with enough hooks to satisfy the most voracious of pop-inclined appetites, additionally boasting a sufficient sound bite quota to soundtrack Apple’s advertising campaigns for the next five years. It exists as a somewhat logical culmination of the pair’s previous work, although the sci-fi concept provides a scope for expanses of possibility that the duo never fully explore. Aside from its existence in a strange psych-pop netherworld, After The Disco contains practically no unorthodox or potential to confuse an avid fan of their 2010 debut. It’s a rather safe and inoffensive outing, but to its credit, it brags much irresistible pop sensibility to reel in a fresh horde of followers.
Originally posted on TheAltReview
11:35 am • 15 February 2014