All entries for September 2006

September 30, 2006

Duels Duels Duels

Writing about web page


I’ve always been searching for a good fun indie band channelling early-Bowie (well, okay, Hunky Dory-era Bowie, i.e. not Suede) into modern pop songs with youth and vigour. Over a year ago I happened across Duels who had come out with a little song called What We Did Wrong. The quirky piano melody was there, the la-la-la harmonies and thick lead guitar lines, it was pretty much perfect. Their website heralded a few more gems in the form of a radio recording of Young Believers and a few snippets of songs here and that they were in the process of recording.

With just two full songs I was hooked.

I’d just arrived in time for a single, Potential Futures, another stomper of a tune that lead me to my first online digital purchase; I was that enthralled. For the next six months though, there was no news of album recordings and a seemingly lacklustre follow-up single in Pressure On You. Time passed and earlier this year I caught wind that they were recording again, and the resulting album, The Bright Lights and What We Should’ve Learned, has turned out to be a cracker. It’s an album which I’ve rarely found, where a band actually lives up to that first promise you heard in them with so much hope. And a British one at that.

Full of these wonderful melodies and hooks, with the tracks I loved re-recorded with even more relish (that they deserve), giving songs like Pressure On You a bigger kick that just wasn’t present before. It’s hard not to mention the obvious influence of the Britpop era in songs like Animal and Brothers & Sisters but they manage to couple the more upbeat driving tracks with a more paranoid undercurrent in slow burners like The Slow Build (duh!), Young Believers and Taxi Song, showcasing a bit more depth to their sound.

The album came out at the end of July but being out in NZ it took me a while to actually realise it. They also have an EP to be soon released with the title track, Once in the Night, which I’ve included here alongside Animal. I’ve also included the first demo version of What We Did Wrong which captured me in the first place. If you dig around the website to find the ‘Little Monsters’ section then you’ll be treated to a few more free musical treats such as a rather sweet cover of the Talking Heads’ Heaven ( which funnily enough has also been covered by Discothéque favourites, Voxtrot ).

The Bright Lights And What I Should've Learned (2006)
Duels - Animal - MP3 Expired
Duels - Once in the Night - MP3 Expired
[Buy from Amazon]

Bonus: Duels - What We Did Wrong (demo) - MP3 Expired
Duels YouTube Channel

September 05, 2006

Modern Times: First week's listening

Right. It’s been over a week since Bob Dylan’s Modern Times was released. I was going to do a review on the day it came out, just to be flashy, but I didn’t have the time. Now I’ve had a better listen anyway.

1. Thunder on the Mountain
2. Spirit on the Water
3. Rollin’ and Tumblin’
4. When the Deal Goes Down
5. Someday Baby
6. Workingman’s Blues
7. Beyond the Horizon
8. Nettie Moore
9. The Levee’s Gonna Break
10. Ain’t Talkin’

Can’t be bothered to put the times for you, but it’s 63 minutes over 10 tracks, so.
This album is not a terrible disappointment. Neither is it overwhelming. As suspected, style-wise it is very close to his last two albums, in that the sound is Roots Rock & Roll all the way. People are already saying that this is the third installment of a trilogy with Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. Dylan himself says that if anything, the trilogy starts with Love and Theft.

Modern Times opens in a, how shall I put it, grandiose way, as if to say “My last album was a masterpiece, it’s been 5 years, I’m back, look at me!”. To great relief it very quickly calms to a rolling blues jam session. Talking about about Alicia Keys in the first verse didn’t impress me at all. “Have more taste”, I think to myself. Other than that, the lyrics are up to Love and Theft standard on Thunder on the Mountain, and it’s actually a better opener than Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum.

On first listen the stand-out tracks are Spirit on the Water and Workingman’s Blues #2. This remains true. I’ve heard that an early reviewer remarked that there were “at least 3 masterpieces” on Modern Times”. These two, with the addition of Nettie Moore must be what he’s talking about, no others could be called masterpieces.

Spirit on the Water comes in just like Mississippi does on Love and Theft, a slow number after a brisk opener, and as soon as Dylan’s voice comes in, you know it’s going to be a classic love song. They share similar themes:
“All my powers of expression, I thought so sublime, Could never do you justice, in reason or rhyme”
“when you’re with me, I’m a thousand times happier than I could ever say.”

One thing to notice about this album, it’s much more piano driven than Love and Theft or Time out of Mind. Gone is Hammond man Augie Meyers, truly worthy of Al Cooper’s mantle. I don’t know why Dylan has made this decision, perhaps he now wants to recall artists from before the electric organ was around. Though “Spirit on the Water” is a stormer, it’s certainly not helped him throughout the album.

The intro lead guitar on Rollin’ and Tumblin’ actually hurts my ears. Though Dylan, once again, redeems himself by churning out a decent song by the end of it, the lead guitar track is never attractive. Apart from that, I think the levels are a bit awry on this one. It’s self produced, maybe that was an off day, maybe the engineer was out to lunch. It’s a sure rip straight from Muddy Waters in title, music and lyrics; it’s essentially a glorified cover, except Muddy Water’s song felt somehow more natural. God, that guitar track, what was he thinking?

Lyrically, the album pretty similar to Love and Theft,but with considerably less literary and other references (how could it fail on that score?). One I notice is “I sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the hall” which is an excerpt from an old folk song called Take a Whiff on Me, “I got a woman, six feet tall, sleepin’ in the kitchen with her feet in the hall”. Elsewhere, stories within stories abound. On the gorgeous ballad Working Man’s Blues #2, it starts out quite political, about low wages and “competition” in the veign of North Country Blues or Union Sundown, then two thirds in he infuses some love-centred lyrics, then slips in and out of the two stories. He mentions the “place I love best”, which I assume to be a reference to Minnesota. It certainly fits with the blue-collar imagery of the song. The rythym guitar on this track, all on-beat muted and choppy is a the centrepiece of what is a rare example of this band reaching the heights of the 2001 touring band. Overall, they’re nowhere near as interesting. The double-bass playing is fine (oh! just happens to be the only one who appeared on Love and Theft) but I yearn terribly for Meyers and Campbell and Sexton.

The title and first line of the chorus of “Nettie Moore” is apparantly a rip-off of a 40s song. If the title of Love and Theft expressed his love for Roots and the admition that on that album he was stealing a lot, the title of this album must be piss-take. Modern it is not. Nettie Moore is a soft song, minimalist percussion, and perhaps his finest vocal and lyrical performance on the album. Here lies the funniest quip on the album, “I’m in a cowboy band”, and a menacing “before you call me any dirty names, you better think twice” and “when I’m through with you, you’ll learn to keep your buisiness straight” reminiscent of his “I’m not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound” on Floater, that was lifted from an obscure Japanese book about a former Yakuza boss.

The drums are mainly done with brushes on this album. It’s certainly rocks less than Love and Theft. I hate to think he was losing any energy. I was thinking the other day, and a friend pointed out that Dylan is still only 65, 10 off of expected age. There’s a possible one or two albums left in him if he decides to do it. I’d be very surprised if he decided to change styles now. For some reason I really thought Love and Theft was going to be his last album. I’m glad it’s not. This is certainly worth having.
It’s three and a half stars out of five, a 7 out of 10. No more. It’s a more consistant album than Time out of Mind (Time out of Mind had way too many of what I would call “average blues-rock, and an awful closer), but then again has nothing to compete with Not Dark Yet (even the casual listener has noticed that until the overdone Make You Feel My Love, every odd numbered track is excellent, and every even numbered track is average) . As for Love and Theft, comparing these two in terms of quality is madness.

Your standouts are:
Spirit on the Water
Workingman’s Blues #2
Nettie Moore
Ain’t Talkin’

Your average Blues-Rocker are:
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
The Levee Gonna Break
Someday Baby

Your over-sentimental pap is:
When the Deal goes Down

September 02, 2006

No Hope Left

Hope Of The States

So, Hope Of The States are another band to add to the list of disbanded-ness. I followed this band early on, intrigued by their brand of ambitious post-indie-rock and anxious to grab every music snippet I could find on the web and rummaging through NME every week (I was that sad, I know) for news on the album. When the album, The Lost Riots came, I had already heard many of the songs but still loved it all the same, especially when coupled with the deluxe string bound liner ‘medical’ notes (yup, still that sad). I was never a huge gig-goer at the time, and so missed on their apparently great live show. Of course, when years went by the fancy CD packaging didn’t fit with the rest of my collection, and all opinion on the band kinda got lost in the ether…

When Sing It Out was released earlier this year, I was completely flummoxed, this didn’t seem to be the same band I had loved a few years ago. And when album Left came out to a number of discerningly average reviews, I was even more inclined to ignore them in lieu of all the other bands I had been discovering in the meantime. This announcement is a disappointment by either way, because their debut was a stormer.

This song is a B-side off The Red, The White, The Black, The Blue single, which came together with the album. Hope you enjoy it…

Hope of the States – The Last Picture Show MP3 Expired /> [Buy The Lost Riots]


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