All entries for September 2009
September 20, 2009
This review is most likely to be fairly short and snappy, partly like the band itself, but more because I’m already halfway through the month of another set of cracking albums to write about… so let’s get started and have a little dance shall we?
Sky Larkin race out of the blocks in almost every single song, recalling that great raucous indie rock bounce of 100 Broken Windows-era Idlewild, but fronted by a wild woman in Katie Harkin. She seems to share the same passion for the absurdist lyric as Roddy Woomble, belting out seemingly unrelated rhymes purely for the sound of their syllables than any sort of connection to a coherent meaning. Check out Antibodies, with its choral line – ‘Sentiments stretched over sediment and soil / Throw it overarm… / Throw it…’. Delightfully delivered in the same way Bjork might spit out an oddly lost-in-translation line whilst meaning not a jot.
It matters just as little though, as the band racket through the riffs, arranged around that godly trio of guitar, bass and drums with the occasional keyboard peeking in, but hammered on with similar gusto. The longest song here One Of Two, is actually the only one that outstays its welcome, not much benefit arising from its repetitive chorus, with the following Matador faring much better, its Spanish inflected beat allowing much more room for manoeuvres. It’s a simple formula that’s blitzed through the twelve songs, some riffs naturally larger than others, but all offering some opportunity to rock out.
For that reason, I can listen to this straight through, grinning madly at the sheer exuberance on display, devoid of any pretense, and sing along blindly to the nonsense, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t too.
September 19, 2009
I spend a lot of time reading about music (duh) but whereas in the past I did buy and consume music magazines with some sort of religious fervour, these days my efforts are focused on the online realm – as seems to be the natural modern course of events. You have the behemoths of the online music critic world in Pitchfork, who like anything popular, have their set of disciples as well as their avid detractors, but then you can also reach down to the minnows of the same world in the many music blogs out there through aggregators like Elbo.ws. Basically what I’m trying to get at is this is probably one of the few albums (maybe even only) that I’ve bought off the strength of a single blog (Song, by Toad – link below), and one which I think is absolutely fantastic yet have not seen hit hard anywhere else.
Meursault are a band from Edinburgh that peddle (or even meddle) in that weird space between folk and electronica, that people have given ridiculous names to, but while I’ll hope not to stoop so low (although I practically already have), what I can say is that they really make and take the best from both libraries of sound, nailing an exciting dynamic throughout this set of tracks.
Seriously, listen to any one of these eleven tracks (okay, make it nine without the two connecting passages) and tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. Opener Salt Pt. 1 kicks off a minute into its gentle intro with an Idioteque beat – only taken out of the Ice Age to warmer corners – whereupon singer Neil Pennycook appears to belt out the first verse over this sparse backdrop, and lets out a strangled whoop, before a fuzzed-out keyboard line rips it up like the Postal Service would if they actually had any balls between them. And that’s probably an apt comparison, because whereas that ‘band’ (pair? duo? couple?) had a sampled sound that felt remarkably cold and impeccably delivered, you can hear here every loose yell, every bit of fuzzy feedback from the home recordings, the clicks and whirrs as new elements are brought in and out. Maybe it’s out of necessity rather than a calculated decision, but it works so well bringing a warmness and reality to the usually harsh electronic tones.
The band have a remarkably good sense of when to let all these elements run loose, like in the delightfully messy the Furnace, replete with ukelele, Spectrum feedback and a thumping backbeat, or when a song can be allowed to rise and fall as gently as you please with no electronics to sully it, just waves of acoustic recordings (see Salt Pt. 2, A Small Stretch of Land). The standout for me for their dynamic talent however is A Few Kind Words. A simple rising melody line, chords chiming out, with the storm supplied by that returning industrial beat, a barked out lyric, when suddenly the elements cut out halfway to a 1-2-3-4 alarm bleep signalling the explosion of the song into noise and complete brilliance no matter how many times I’ve returned to it.
Neil’s voice could prove a mite too much for some folk, frequently turning to a wail to break through some of the tougher parts of the melody, but it’s hard to criticise the emotion and passion that backs up the delivery in all of the songs here (and check out some of the videos in the link below as proof of the live equivalent), especially where it rides front and centre.
It’s an album I could walk through song by song to highlight all the moments that give me goosebumps but I won’t bore you silly here. All you need to know is that there are highs that are low, lows that are loud, yells and clicks and beeps and strums and plucks and that, importantly, every track here is worth your time to listen to and, most importantly, buy.
September 10, 2009
“Could there be such a thing as beautifully flawed?” Roisin sings on Through Time, one of the highlights of Ruby Blue, and you could say by the evidence of this record, she’s right…
Everyone obviously knows the impenetrable sheen of Moloko’s classic single Sing It Back, but on the band’s break-up, Roisin turned to the experimental producer extrordinaire, Matthew Herbert to produce this, her debut solo album. I’d never heard much of her previous output besides the obvious, but was drawn in by Herbert’s presence, having been a fan of Scale, an album that took his experimental pazz-jop to create a song for every major key.
The results are surprisingly effective and, less surprisingly, quite diverse, knowing Herbert’s past using everything from Bodily Functions to things Around the House to obtain his samples. The album’s truly great section begins with the voodoo midnight jazz rattle Night of the Dancing Flame, the aforementioned low-key (all soft pads, muted jazz organ and shuffling beat) ballad Through Time, to the absolute dancefloor stunner Sow Into You. I’m actually surprised I’d never heard this as a single anywhere, because it’s so perfectly formed for the album, mixing the brass and pad elements heard before dancing around that classic ‘snare-bass-snare-bass’ beat to a chorus that subtly grows every time it approaches, to the curveball of a bridge and back again through scores of Roisin in each speaker ripped and sampled till it breaks down to singular final angelic rise.
And as you’d hopefully expect, the vocal performances are definitely of note, with a great range offered by Roisin here, from the pop diva as we know her, to the caberet closer, to a sometimes (I can’t think of another way to describe it) Missy Elliott aping pout (just listen to the chorus of the title track – “You neva…get too cleva…”). And it’s not just the lead, the backing vocal, that at times winds around itself, haunting choruses or general harmonies or those previously mentioned slight vocal tics glitching up the beat or as a simple sharp hollaback to the main character (Dear Diary).
There are a few times when the experimental line to unlistenable is crossed though, Off On It serves little purpose apart from making it take longer to get to the closer, and Ramalama (bang bang) almost rescues itself with the rest of the arrangement but the detuned ‘bang bang’ of the title grates along with nary a nod to the rest of the album’s pop nous.
Knowing that though, Roisin rather aptly follows the opening quote with, “We all make mistakes and then / life is the art of / learning to live with it…” So yeah, I can live with this, a great album here in a genre I wouldn’t normally visit and a lot of joy to be held to your ears in that opening half.
(Slightly geeky note: Listen to the intro to ‘Through Time’ and you know, I can’t help but be reminded not of Stevie Wonder, which I’ve read elsewhere, but of the music you hear at the World’s Largest Ball of Twine from the LucasArts adventure game, Sam ‘n Max Hit The Road… look it up…and then play it.)