MusicRadar new album round-up
In the second of our monthly album review round-ups, we cast an eye over a few of the noteworthy new records that have graced MusicRadar's stereo over the past weeks.
This time around we bring you our verdict on - among other things - the return of some bearded British indie favourites, new offerings from a couple of talented electronic producers and the first full-length from either side of the Gallagher family post-Oasis.
Don't forget that MusicRadar continues to bring you our in depth track-by-track reviews of some of the biggest releases each month - check out our recent features on Radiohead's The King Of Limbs and REM's Collapse Into Now.
First up: Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
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Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
Fifth full-length from the British indie-rock favourites and the follow-up to their Mercury winning 2008 album The Seldom Seen Kid.
It took a while (four albums in fact) for Elbow to achieve the proper commercial success that they found with 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid. That’s not necessarily because the band suddenly made any major stylistic changes or had a sudden push to write a more radio-friendly album, it just seems that it took the mainstream a few years to catch up with the not-quite-stadium-rock music that Elbow have always been making.
The position that they occupy, they do very well - not particularly experimental or wilfully obtuse, but never quite as straight-forwardly accessible as say Coldplay or U2 - and on Build A Rocket Boys! Elbow continue to do more of the same without letting the quality slip.
The song structures and chord progressions are all fairly accessible, melodic stuff but the band have obviously put a lot of time and effort into lovingly crafting string arrangements and multi-layered guitar parts rather than going for instantly big choruses. As ever vocalist Guy Garvey’s lyrical content is relatively unremarkable, but his delivery on songs like Lippy Kids and Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl is passionate and warm.
Even with success Elbow will never be egotistic stadium rockers, they’re still just a group of bearded Northern men who make semi-anthemic rock music with a bit of heart.
They will inevitably play the sundown slot at Glastonbury, their songs will appear on numerous trailers for BBC nature documentaries and sports broadcasts, the festival-going masses will enjoy it, Elbow will keep doing what they’re doing and there’ll be no complaints here.
Listen: Elbow - Neat Little Rows
FaltyDL - You Stand Uncertain
Second album from the eclectic, New York-based electronic producer.
FaltyDL - aka Drew Lustman - first emerged in 2007, gaining instant praise for his slightly outsider, bedroom take on dubstep and UK garage music. As a resident of New York, Lustman’s production style has always felt slightly separate from the London-based acts that obviously influence his music - think Burial, but reinterpreted via a filter of internet blogs and online mixes.
You Stand Uncertain follow on from two excellent long-form releases in 2009 - debut album Love Is A Liability and Bravery EP - all of which have been released on acclaimed electronic label Planet Mu. Here, as on both those releases, FaltyDL builds his music around fairly lofi, shuffling sampled beats and glitchy atmospheric melodic sounds.
The noticeable difference, however, is the presence of proper vocalists on several tracks this time around. The three tracks that feature female vocalists Anneka and Lily Mackenzie help to bring a more human feel to the album that helps to tie it together.
If you can bring a criticism against Lustman, it’s that with all the unique, sampled sounds he uses to piece his music the album as a whole can, at moments, feel a little unfocused and difficult to get into. You Stand Uncertain only grows better with repeated listens though, and it’s hard not to appreciate Lustman’s talents as a producer. This is the sort of standard every computer-musician should be aspiring to.
Listen: FaltyDL - Gospel Of Opal (feat. Anneka)
J Mascis - Several Shades Of Why
The first ‘proper’ solo album from Dinosaur Jr. frontman and grunge-guitar icon J Mascis.
Despite being pitched as Mascis’ debut solo album, Several Shades Of Why is far from the first time that the Dinosaur Jr. mainman has released music where he takes the sole songwriting credit.
Following the dismissal of founding bassist Lou Barlow in the '90s, much of Dinosaur Jr.’s mid-career output was a largely J Mascis driven affair. Then there’s his semi-solo work as J Mascis And The Fog, the various live sessions and his largely forgotten album of acoustic reworks and covers, Martin + Me…
That said, Several Shades Of Why is certainly unique within Mascis’ catalogue of work, and definitely worthy of exploring. Recorded entirely in his home studio, the record sees him shun his trademark Fender Jaguar in favour of working entirely acoustically (with only very occasional use of a distortion pedal).
It shows off Mascis’ broad skills as a guitarist excellently; demonstrating an ability to write fantastic fingerstyle folk and country-inspired rock songs like Make It Right that go beyond the blistering solo-driven grunge he’s known for.
There’s some impressive talent backing Mascis on the album too - Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and Band Of Horses' Ben Bridshaw both turn up in supporting roles, among others. The album’s title track, meanwhile, is a genuinely lovely duet between Mascis and Godspeed You! Black Emperor violinist Sophie Trudeau. A highly recommended listen, and not just for Dinosaur Jr. fans.
Listen: J Mascis - Several Shades Of Why
Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding
Assuming that you’ve somehow managed to avoid the considerable column inches devoted to Liam Gallagher’s ‘new’ project, the premise is thus: Noel quits Oasis in 2009, leaving the remaining members - including touring drummer Chris Sharrock - to regroup. Bassist Andy Bell moves back into the more familiar role of guitarist alongside Gem Archer. Meanwhile, sessionplayers are recruited for live bass and keyboards. One slightly silly band name later and the wheels are ready to roll…
In the fine tradition of bands that rise Phoenix-like from the dying embers of greatness, are Beady Eye New Order to Oasis’ Joy Division? Or are they merely David Van Day's Bucks Fizz Show for anorak-wearing 30-somethings still feelin’ Supersonic?
Steve Lillywhite’s production job is a crisp ‘60s stew that recalls (inevitably) The Beatles, The Who, and Satanic Majesties-era Rolling Stones. So far, so Oasis. Yet despite gushing four-star reviews in major mainstream music publications, we can’t help getting the impression that Different Gear, Still Speeding is the sound of a vehicle on bricks in a cul-de-sac.
Sure, Liam’s unmistakable sneer is still a formidable force in the recording studio, but a solid backing band and planet-sized self belief are no substitute for the kind of mass-communion through song that melts the hearts of 80,000 inebriated football hooligans in a muddy field. While Noel’s output in the last decade has rarely scaled the same heights as his mid-nineties peak, too many songs on Different Gear, Still Speeding feel like outtakes that would never have seen the light of day on The Chief’s watch.
If Beady Eye are to carve a place in the nation’s heart then it’s the rousing glam stomp of Bring The Light that shows the way - white knuckle piano and female backing vocals at least indicate a willingness to wriggle free of Britpop’s child restraints and find that elusive different gear. Chris Vinnicombe
Listen: Beady Eye - Bring The Light
Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
The second album from Swedish songstress Lykke Li, whose 2008 debut Youth Novels gained much critical acclaim yet little commercial success outside of her native Sweden.
Lykke Li’s debut album was one of the great forgotten gems of 2008, never quite managing to make any dent on the wider consciousness in the way it deserved to.
This follow-up sees her once again playing with many of the ideas she developed on that debut record, but this time sounding more confident with them, creating a fuller, more up-front record.
Fans of the recent releases from similarly powerful female artists like PJ Harvey, Adele and Anna Calvi will find a lot to like here. Lykke Li matches her strong voice with pounding percussion throughout; particularly on the album’s sexually-charged standout track Get Some.
Recent single I Follow Rivers owes a certain debt to fellow-Swedes The Knife, while the more down-tempo Sadness Is A Blessing bears many of the hallmarks of the previously mentioned Ms Polly Harvey.
A tight, well crafted album that we hope will pick up more mainstream recognition over here than its predecessor.
Listen: Lykke Li - Get Some
Egyptrixx - Bible Eyes
Bible Eyes is the debut album from hotly-tipped Canadian dance producer Egyptrixx. It is also the first full length LP to be released by the fast-rising label Night Slugs.
Throughout 2010 London-based Night Slugs established itself as one of dance music’s most exciting record labels thanks to a string of excellent house and dubstep inspired singles spearheaded by Girl Unit’s synthy floorfiller Wut.
Even amongst the impressive list of artists who released singles and EPs on the label last year, Canadian producer Egyptrixx - real name David Psutka - carved himself out a niche as something of a unique. Early releases on the label showed a talent for combining the funky, synth-driven sounds of his London-based label mates with an ear for classic techno.
His debut album Bible Eyes expands on this in numerous different directions. On the album’s title track Egyptrixx layers squelchy power-synth sounds over a classic techno beat, Liberation Front is seven minutes of minimal house while Fuji Club and Barely bring beefy dubstep basslines into the mix.
As a whole Bible Eyes is a confident and impressively eclectic debut that makes an interesting, consistently enjoyable listen for any synth fanatic out there. It also does nothing to damage Night Slug’s reputation as one of the most reliable names in cutting-edge dance music.