The Importance of ‘mbv’

Image

Saturated with technology, information, and the never ending influence of the ever connected world it’s easy to ask “how can something pure last?”. It would seem that Kevin Shields, centre of the shoe-gaze collective My Bloody Valentine, holds the answer to this question.

22 years of empty promises, rumours, and hype have led to what might possibly be the most highly anticipated album of all time; My Bloody Valentine’s third record simply titled ‘mbv’. Like its predecessor, the unquestionably unique 1991 release ‘Loveless’, ‘mbv’ was met with critical acclaim. Praised for its confidence, composition, and beauty the album challenged 2 decades of weighty expectation and defied all doubts and fears that were planted in every muso along the way. However, not every critic was filled with enthusiasm when it came to the release of Kevin Shields’ ethereal effort. Chastised for its alleged similarities to ‘Loveless’, ‘mbv’ turned out to be criticised as much as it was praised. These criticisms of similarity have left me questioning whether a direct follow-up to ‘Loveless’, 22 years on, would be such a bad thing.

The modern world’s disposable “click-of-a-button” culture has led the music industry to become impermanent, constantly moving with the times and fashions year upon year, trying to stay ahead of the game and play off what they think “the people” want in order to change the current “voluntary payment” attitude towards music that piracy and online services have created. This approach has led to a lack of honesty and timelessness in modern music as the industry continues to search for cash cows and constant hit-makers that consumers will be happy to pay for instead of giving bands and artist who have something to express a chance.

I feel that Shield’s patient (often misconstrued as “stubborn”) approach towards music completely challenges the throw away culture that is reflected in the music industry.  Shields spent 22 years, on and off, trying to transport the sounds in his head onto tape, refusing to release sub-standard music just to meet the constant demand and expectations surrounding a follow up. The album bypasses musical influences that have come and gone over the past 22 years and chooses to develop on a sound centred around personality, discovery, and self-expression. Shield’s story is the perfect example of something pure refusing to give into a shape shifting and ever changing culture and, amazingly, standing the test of time.

Although the expectation and attention that was given to ‘mbv’ rides on the back of the success of an album released before the digital age, My Bloody Valentine’s 3rd effort demonstrates that you don’t need to produce something “relevant” to be heard, you don’t need to compromise your vision for success and you don’t need to be backed by the industry to gain the attention that anyone with an honest creative output deserves. Hopefully, Kevin Shield’s attitude towards music can steer aspiring musicians and artist away from frivolous trends and fashions and give them the hope that a genuine and honest approach towards making music can solidify your place in history.

Advertisements

EP Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘Blue Record’

Ruban Nielson treads on unfamiliar ground with this unusual yet endearing acoustic release.  

image

Following writing, recording, and touring the critically acclaimed and bitter-sweet sophomore album ‘II’ you’d think that Unknown Mortal Orchestra would relish a long break from music. However, Ruban Nielson and co refuse to slow down and lose momentum as they prepare to drop their second release of the year in the form of ‘Blue Record’, a 5-track acoustic EP that sees Nielson not just “stripping down” UMO tracks you know and love but giving them a complete make-over with his unique approach to acoustic composition.

The EP eases you into Nielson’s world with the familiar finger picking leanings of ‘Swim & Sleep (Like a Shark)’. Nielson’s flawless harmonies highlight the honest and gentle nature of the song which sees Nielson admitting to wanting to be like a shark just so he can “hide till the end of time”. Nielson’s spacious and harmony centred approach to ‘Swim & Sleep (Like a Shark)’ gives the track a new dimension, putting more emphasis and focus on the sentiments of the song instead of the pop-y hooks drowned in psychedelic effects. However, the track that follows is where true reinvention can be found on the EP. ‘Faded in the Morning Time’ is the most notably “stripped” track out of the 5 featured.  Where ‘II’s version begins with an abrasive beat phased to overdrive, ‘Blue Record’s version starts as you’d expect: with a humble count in from the illusive man himself. The piercingly distorted riff found on ‘II’s version surprisingly lends itself to the acoustic guitar with ease without feeling dumbed down or forced. Nielson manages to completely adapt what was once a harsh document of a hazy morning into a romanticised account of the experience, dropping the tortured vocals for a softer delivery filled with nostalgia. Being one of the gentler tracks from ‘II’, ‘So Good at Being in Trouble’ remains unchanged musically as the melody transfers from the more auxiliary version to this unplugged rendition smoothly. Although the foundations of this song still remain, it’s the lack of rhythm and groove that really changes it. This version feels like a more personal affair as it’s just Nielson and his guitar telling this heart-breaking story of love, loss, and loneliness.

As well as giving his own tracks the acoustic treatment; Nielson makes room for two covers that round off the EP. The first of the two being a straight forward cover of the Dirty Projectors track ‘Swing Low Magellan’ which slots in perfectly among Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s material. The cover may capture the delicate nature of the track but there’s a distinct lack of personality to it as Nielson chooses to accurately mirror the original version instead of putting his own slant on it. However, EP closer, Beck’s ‘Putting It Down’, is everything a cover should be. Nielson makes this song his own by bending sound, warping vocals and playing around with the speed of the track to match the droopy and broken sentiments of the song.

‘Blue Record’ is a testament to Nielson’s song writing. Even when his tracks are stripped of everything that makes them unique, the distorted hip-hop beats and cosmic effects, there’s still the tell-tale signs of quality song writing left behind.

8/10

Track Review: Thomas Cohen – ‘Honeymoon’

image

Following the split of his band S.C.U.M earlier this year, it’s surprising that the newly married father of two, Thomas Cohen, has returned to music. However, this reverb soaked return is more than welcome.

Cohen’s dreamy debut track, ‘Honeymoon’, sees the ex-S.C.U.M frontman experimenting with instrumentation and composition, laying down free-jazz saxophone on a bed of synth-y subtleties against the backdrop of a warm and spacious chord progression. The romantic ballad builds to a satisfying solo which shines a light on Cohen’s eclectic influence as heavy distorted guitar lines bleed into a glam-rock finale before falling back into the arms of the ethereal chorus.

This ever-flowing enchanting effort manages to combine many different musical ideas confidently without sounding at all confused. This is most definitely a bold and ambitious first step for Cohen as a solo artists that has left me hypnotized and wanting more.

Track Review: Tycho – ‘Awake’

Image

Man of many talents, Scott Hansen, takes a break from graphic art and updating his minimalist design blog, ISO50, to follow up his ambient projects dreamy 2011 release ‘Dive’.

‘Awake’ is the first single to be released from Tycho’s forthcoming LP expected next year. It features everything you’d expect and want from a Tycho track: warmth, depth, and atmosphere. ‘Awake’ perfectly demonstrates Hansen’s ability to create a visceral experience as this (unusually) guitar driven tranquil landscape of a track manages to evoke a longing nostalgic feeling for a coastal life I am yet to live.

Album Review: Pontiak – ‘Echo Ono’

Bearded brothers return with a more focused and fuzzy effort.

Image

It would come as a surprise to anyone who has been exposed to the psychedelic fuzz of Pontiak’s music to find out that the band live a very quaint and quiet life. The three brothers Jennings, Van, and Lain Carney all live on a farm together in the Blue Ridge Mountain area of Virginia, tending to their crops and feeding their chickens. However, in the midst of this isolated orchard lies a home studio where Pontiak find time to challenge any ideas you have formed of their music based on their lifestyle. The band has managed to release 9 genre defying records over the past 7 years drawing influence from the likes of Led Zeppelin to Mudhoney. However, their latest release demonstrates Pontiak’s new found ability to create a coherent album instead of a collection of songs that give example to their eclectic taste. ‘Echo Ono’ is heavy, loud and far removed from the wistful folk leanings you’d expect from a family band living on a farm together.

As soon as you drop the needle on this record you get an accurate idea of what to expect from the 34 minutes that follow. The overdriven opener, ‘Lions of Least’, perfectly captures the nature of ‘Echo Ono’, or at least the nature of the first half of the album, as the trio deliver a jangly concrete opener which, whilst guitar heavy, leaves room for the relentless rhythm section to take centre stage. ‘The North Coast’ follows, lulling you into a false sense of security as the scattered chords sit comfortably on a solid groove which builds to a surprisingly raucous finale.

‘The Expanding Sky’ provides some respite from the immediacy of the first half of the album as the spacious ballad focuses less on sinister grooves and more on creating an atmosphere as the brothers harmonise, with such uncannily similar voices, beautiful lines such as “Just try again because then I’d miss/What I came to see/ The sweet skin of trees dripping in/ Their own sweat”. Tracks such as ‘Silver Shadow’ and ‘Stay Out, What a Sight’ follow in ‘The Expanding Sky’s footsteps as they each, in their own right, paint pretty pictures against acoustic laced tracks littered with distorted guitar subtleties.  However, ‘Echo Ono’ manages to claw back its urgency towards the end of the album as the almost closer ‘Royal Colours’ builds tension with a repetitive bass line and drum pattern that bleed into a sludgy jam centred around a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on any Black Sabbath track.

‘Echo Ono’ feels like a fresh start for the brothers as they shed their self-indulgent tendencies, with a more focused and thematic approach, and experiment with the texture and colour of “loud music” to a successful end.

7/10

Track Review: Arcade Fire – ‘Reflektor’

Image

Once again, Arcade Fire have challenged my expectations of them. This is not to say they haven’t met said expectations but have exceeding them by giving me something I didn’t know I wanted: a relentless groove-centered dark-disco epic based upon the Montreal based art-pop outfit’s fear of a technologically saturated world. Who Knew?

‘Reflektor’ demonstrates a stylistic departure for the band as Arcade Fire stray away from the Springsteen leanings of ‘The Suburbs’ and seem to gravitate towards the dance-able melancholy of such 80’s artists as Depeche Mode and New Order. However, there is no need to fear this change in direction as ‘Reflektor’s thoughtful underbelly and grand cinematic surface confirm that this is still most definitely the Arcade Fire you know and love.

Album Review: Yuck – ‘Glow & Behold’

Slacker-pop shoegazers return, following the departure of their frontman, with a rather confused follow-up.

Image

It’s unusual for a band to continue after the departure of a lead singer. However, the London-based Dinosaur Jr. worshipping shoegazers Yuck decided to carry on without Daniel Blumberg earlier this year. The departure has allowed the former lead singer, Blumberg, the opportunity to focus on his new lullaby littered solo project, Hebronix, whilst allowing Max Bloom, former guitarist, the chance to shine as a frontman as he fills his shoes.

Bloom’s gentler approach to singing and songwriting has invited change in both the sound and dynamics of the band as Yuck shed the youthful nature of their debut for something a bit more composed and mature. Not all is lost though, as glimmers of who Yuck once were can be heard throughout the record. However, it’s the moments where the band truly captures who they really are now that are the most exciting.

Centred around a gentle droning riff, opener ‘Sunrise In Maple Shade’ demonstrates where Yuck’s loyalties now lie as the track focuses more on warm guitar subtleties, synth-y nuances, and crisp production as opposed to the fuzz soaked immediacy of their debut. That’s not to say that the immediacy of their debut is completely missing from this record though, it can just be found elsewhere on the album in the form of Bloom’s approach to lyricism. I can assure you that there will be no metaphorical equivalent to ‘Suicide Policeman’ on this album as Bloom avoids veiling his thoughts and feelings and, in turn, goes for a more direct approach. Whether he’s screaming “I want you now!” on ‘Middle Sea’ or sigh fully exclaiming “I don’t wanna be alone anymore” on ‘Somewhere’, Bloom’s honesty is undeniable. This honesty, however, is not always in his favour as lines like “I don’t wanna live forever/but I don’t wanna die together now”, found on the forgettable closer and title track ‘Glow & Behold’, feel less endearing and more awkward, like they’d feel more comfortable being delivered by a teenager brimming with angst.

The highlights of Glow & Behold can be found in the brooding slow-burners that are scattered across the album. ‘Memorial Fields’ is the perfect example of Yuck balancing their new found gentle dynamics with the bite and tension of their first record as Bloom’s dreamy vocals sit comfortably on building arpeggios which lead to one of the most satisfying chorus’ of the album. Melancholic instrumental ‘Chinese Symbols’ and the thoughtful ‘Somewhere’ follow in the footsteps of ‘Memorial Fields’ and feel like the natural progression you’d expect from Yuck as they elaborate on ideas planted in tracks like ‘Rose Give a Lily’ and ‘Suck’ from their debut. However, the confused nature of the record can’t be ignored. Whether it’s the fuzzy debut throwbacks ‘Lose My Breath’ and ‘Middle Sea’ or the soft-rock leanings of ‘Nothing New’ and ‘How Does It Feel’, it feels like this is less of a confident follow up and more of a second attempt at a debut as Yuck avoid creating something coherent which plays to the strengths of their new band dynamics.

Glow & Behold provides a comeback that is welcome but far from perfect. Let’s hope that Yuck’s next effort avoids falling back onto the pillow of their debut and manages to shake the premature stadium soft-rock, and instead, provides a more focused and confident experience.

6/10

Album Review: Christopher Owens – ‘Lysandre’

The mysterious frontman ditches Girls to tell the tale of a long lost lover.

Image

From spending the best part of his youth travelling the world with a religious cult to living in Amarillo with a wealthy oil tycoon, it would seem that Christopher Owens has had a rather colourful life. So it’s no surprise that when Owens moved to San Francisco to become a famous artist he instead, after meeting Chet “JR” White and bonding over similar tastes in music, formed the band Girls. Two successful albums into his new found life as a musician and you would have thought that Owens would be getting comfortable with his situation and would be ready to leave a scattered life behind, but unfortunately, the ever changing nature of both the band’s line-up, and the frontman’s life, led to Owens walking away from Girls and searching for stability in life as a solo artist.

The topic of Owens’ debut album: a long lost lover he met on his band’s first tour. You might even go so far as to call this record a “concept album” as it, chronologically, delivers the bitter sweet love affair piece by piece. The album documents the excitement of touring (‘New York City’), the joys of falling in love (‘Lysandre’), and finally the difficulties of saying goodbye (‘Everywhere You Knew’).

The record begins as it means to go on in the form of a melancholic melody that courses through the record; ‘Lysandre’s Theme’ kicks off the album and concludes a lot of the tracks featured. The melody manages to highlight the beautiful instrumentation of the record by giving the unusual choice of instruments a chance to shine, ranging from the glam rock guitar concluding ‘Here We Go Again’ to the honking saxophone found at the end of ‘New York City’. Owens has created something completely original and fresh by combining a range of unique instruments. From the sweet vocal harmonies and woodwind instruments to the harsh brass and heavy guitar, Owens has produced a very different experience from anything he has done before.

In terms of song writing, Owens has never been more honest. The hopeless romantic has avoided veiling his feelings with decorative language or figures of speech; instead it seems he has chosen to go down a more direct route with his song writing. For example, Owens couldn’t be more to the point as he tells the sad story of a broken friendship on the wistful track ‘A Broken Heart’ and how he wishes they hadn’t parted ways. However, the song writing highlight of the album is found in ‘Everywhere You Knew’ which demonstrates Owens’ captivating storytelling. This sweet and humble tale of how Owens fell in love can be construed as “cheesy”, thanks to such lines as “when I took your hands in mine and I kissed you/I don’t think there was anybody else in the world”, but I like to think that this is an example of Owens’ warm sincerity which is dotted across the record.

Every song on this album is necessary for the purpose of telling Owens’ story but some tracks on this record could be characterised as necessary evils.  ‘New York City’ tells the story of Owens’ first trip to New York with his band but in such a way that makes you cringe from start to finish. I am aware that Owens wrote all the lyrics for this album in one evening (apart from the beautifully folky closer ‘Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)’ which was written on a separate occasion) which sheds light on how such lines as “Look at us in New York City/Everybody’s listening to me/Here we are in New York City/Rock and Roll in New York City” have turned up on the record. ‘Love is in the Ear of the Listener’, on the other hand, is a very self-indulgent declaration of Owens’ fears of being judged. Regardless of the honest sentiments behind this track, it wouldn’t sound out of place on an episode of Sesame Street. It seems that Owens never gave the lyrics featured on the album a second thought and had a very “in-the-moment” approach to writing, which at the best of times provides an honest, sincere, and focused account of his story, but at the worst of times comes across as rushed and lazy.

The striking instrumentation and refreshing song writing on this album have led me to the conclusion that ‘Lysandre’ is as bold as a debut album can be; it has flaws, but is the perfect example of a solo artist finding his feet.

7/10

Album Review: Kurt Vile – ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’

Warm and unhurried slacker-rock at its finest, courtesy of your favourite long-haired space man.

Image

Two hazy home recorded albums released on indie labels and another 3 into his residency at Matador Records and it’s starting to feel like Kurt Vile knows how to craft an album. With the 2011 release ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo’ Vile refined his sound giving it a crisp, clear, and delicate tone and things seemed like they were coming together for the man with the droning mind.

However, ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’ has elaborated on everything that ‘Smoke Ring…’ did well whilst providing a more open and expansive experience, all the while, moving at its own pace, happily wandering without  direction or destination in mind.

As soon as you drop the needle on this record, you can instantly feel the warm and unhurried nature of his music being channeled through the strum of the first few chords, whilst the dreamy lead guitar accompaniment eases you into the 9 and a half minute, almost, title track ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’. The introduction to this daze of an album takes you through a morning in the life of Vile, happily letting the phone “ring off the shelf” as he enjoys wondering why he ever “goes away”. This track seems to be the perfect opener, giving example to the relaxed and spacious approach of the album whilst lyrically introducing you to Vile’s new outlook on life as a happily married family man. Regardless of the impression the first track has left on the listener of Vile’s content life, he returns to his reflective roots on tracks like ‘Girl Called Alex’ and ‘Too Hard’. ‘Girl Called Alex’ touches on his fears of rejection as he admits to an obsession with a marriage, outside of his own, he once thought to be happy. ‘Girl Called Alex’ is also reminiscent of earlier work as Vile drops a line that wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘My Sympathy’ from his second full length album ‘God Is Saying This To You’: “For the sake of this drift I could be cruising/ In the comfort of a sportscar illusion”. Vile seems to be touching on previous fears of a white collar lifestyle and the comforts that one would provide. ‘Too Hard’ features a more mature Vile making a list of things he promises to give up, such as smoking and partying, as he adjust to family life. These tracks are perfect examples of a wordsmith maturing and honing in on a more honest approach to writing whilst retaining the personality, edge, and mystery of previous records.  Musically, they provide slow and sparse ground for the sentiments to take center stage. This is especially true on ‘Too Hard’ which is heavily centered around Vile’s classic folk fingerpicking leanings as opposed to the more dreamy slacker rock feel which the rest of the album encompasses.

The shorter and more immediate tracks on the album see Vile returning  to a more current state of mind as he happily declares that his heart has “overgrown” with a risk of “exploding” on the 4 minute long ‘KV Crimes’. This track perfectly demonstrates that even though the sentiments behind most of Vile’s songs have changed dramatically in comparison to the gloomier ‘Smoke Ring…’ he is still able to deliver muddy riffs with a lot of attitude. ‘KV Crimes’ sounds like everything ‘Puppet to the Man’ from Vile’s previous effort  was trying to be and is further proof of the refining of his sound.

However, the highlight of the hypnotic trance that is ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’ is found in ‘Shame Chamber’ which sees Vile being so openly melancholic, in a similar fashion to Kurt Vile classic ‘Runners Up’, whilst capturing the sunny vibe of the record. Vile cries that “I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror” and questions “Why should I?” to, arguably, the catchiest and most hook riddled track featured.  He openly admits in the finale, ‘Goldtone’, that he concentrates his hurt “into a gold tone” and that is exactly what he has done with ‘Shame Chamber’.

Overall, ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’ effortlessly fluctuates between Vile’s old ways and new expansive approach without sounding confused and all the while fully capturing the beautiful imagery of the title. A lot of love has gone into this album and it is one that begs to be listened to over and over again until every tiny detail in this landscape of a record has been appreciated. Vile’s latest effort truly takes you to another world and allows you to “chill on a pillowy cloud” for 70 minutes worth of bittersweet tunes.

8/10