Thursday, March 29, 2007

2007: The First Quarter In Review. Part Two - February

So, it's now time to look at the month of February in our three-part mini-review of the year's album releases thus far.

After an understandably slow start to the year in January, February was the month that things started to really pick up in the BIG album release schedules. The most notable release this month was the 'difficult' second album from Bloc Party. A Weekend In The City was met with lukewarm reviews that were often a little unfairly harsh in tone. For me, this was the album that really solidified Bloc Party as one of, if not the best young band in Britain. It's ambitious, poignant, crunchy and frequently invigorating.

Most of the reviews tended to focus on the fact that Bloc Party were clearly trying too hard to make a different-sounding album than its predecessor, but who can blame them for wanting to branch out and show a little more initiative than their peers. A Weekend In The City is an excellent record that shows that a little bit of balls goes a long way, especially in the increasingly redundant and apathetic British indie-rock scene.

Bloc Party - Where Is Home? (mp3)

Speaking of which, Kaiser Chiefs chose this month to inflict the flat, listless Yours Truly, Angry Mob on the public. A Kaiser Chiefs fan I am not, but I have to admit that, prior to this record, they'd shown a canny way with pop hooks in singles such as 'Oh My God', 'Everyday I Love You Less And Less' and the ubiquitous 'I Predict A Riot', but it's clear after just one listen to the new album that they've got absolutely nothing to say.

This wouldn't be such a bad thing if they didn't actually purport to be some sort of mouthpiece for the common man. This contradiction is shockingly evident in the song, 'Everything Is Average Nowadays', in which the Kaisers take aim at the sheer level of complacency that we've settled for these days. The fact of the matter is that the song itself is completely indicative of the "Yeah, that's alright" mindset that they're trying to satirise. I'd like to think it's intentional but if there was one band who you can point the finger of blame at for the current state of British guitar music, it's Kaiser Chiefs. They've taken the template of a song that lives or dies on its chorus and made it into a production line ethos. For bands like The Kooks, The View or The Fratellis, it doesn't matter whether the verse is forgettable, as long as the chorus takes up residence in your brain and, for that, I blame Kaiser Chiefs.

Kaiser Chiefs - Everything Is Average Nowadays (mp3)

To call the release of a Deerhoof album a big event is overselling it somewhat, but for the small hardcore base of loyal fans they've built up over the last decade, each album is met with polite fervour. Always a hard band to pin down, Deerhoof often change tack with each record, but their latest, Friend Opportunity, expands on the ideas of its predecessor, The Runners Four and is yet another bracing, challenging play on standard pop form.

Apart from epic closer, 'Look Away', all the songs here clock in under the three-and-a-half minute mark and display the freshness and wonderment that we've come to expect from them. Deerhoof aren't built to write pop songs but that doesn't stop them trying and with songs like '+81', with its brilliant nonsense chorus, or the sweet, borderline twee 'Choco Fight', they've damn near managed it. Long may they struggle.

Deerhoof - Choco Fight (mp3)

February also saw the release of a handful of unexpectedly brilliant albums, either from artists who you'd already written off or those you hadn't heard of before. For instance, I didn't expect Busdriver's album, RoadKillOvercoat to grab me as hard as it did. His most accessible album to date, RoadKillOvercoat also manages to be his most tripped-out and psychedelic. Hooking up with producers Nobody and Boom Bip proved to be a masterstroke as the songs here are certainly the most outlandish the LA rapper has ever committed to tape.

From the lysergic, acid-soul of 'Secret Skin' or the new-wave-y 'Sun Showers' to the head-wrong party cut, 'Kill Your Employer' or slo-mo torch ballad, 'Dream Catcher's Mitt', there's not a bad song here. A record that should reach further than curious backpackers.

Busdriver - Secret Skin (mp3)

Tigersushi mainman, Joakim released his second solo album this month and it most certainly wasn't what people were expecting from him. In a good way, that is. Choosing to mostly eschew the restless dance-punk of lead-off single, 'I Wish You Were Gone', in favour of a dark, goth-y aesthetic for the main part, Monsters And Silly Songs is an album of dark majesty that, while it may take a few listens to get under your skin, rewards persistence in spades. Songs like 'Sleep In Hollow Tree' owe more to the likes of Bauhaus side-project Tones On Tail or Siouxsie & The Banshees' later work than it does to Liquid Liquid or ESG.

There are club tracks though, like the frantic 'Drumtrax' or the downbeat, but funky new romancer, 'Lonely Hearts', but its in the dark corners and shadows that Monsters And Silly Songs really excels.

Joakim - Everything Bright And Still (mp3)

One release that kind of disappeared under the radar for all but a few of us hardened garage rock enthusiasts was Black Lips' Los Valientes Del Mondo Nuevo. Recorded live in Tijuana last year, Los Valientes... perfectly conveys and embellishes on Black Lips' status as one of the most dangerous, exciting bands on the live circuit. Sure, some of the background sounds have been added in post to further dial up the blood-red ferocity of the band's live performances, but it's a trick that they pull off. Refusing to play it safe and always being ones to 'print the legend', Black Lips are to be commended for their commitment to mad, bad and dangerous to know garage punk.

Black Lips - Boone (mp3)



Of Montreal's eighth and arguably best studio album, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? finally dropped in February after being leaked in its entirety back in September. By the time it was released, most people who wanted to hear it already had and had been given time to fully let this dense, multi-layered concept record sink in. On the surface, it's all psych-pop sheen, but the lyrics are sometimes intensely bleak (they speak of singer Kevin Barnes' breakdown in Norway after his marriage failed), thus giving the album a bi-polar edge that lends it a poignancy and a level of sonic schizophrenia that keeps bringing you back to it.

Catchy hooks and exotic arrangements aside, this is primarily a heartbreaking record that reaches a peak in the almost unbearably frenzied centrepiece, 'The Past Is A Grotesque Animal' - a twelve-minute drama that repeats its melody throughout, forcing you to listen to Barnes' lyrical meltdown. An astonishing achievement from a band working at the top of their game.

Of Montreal - Bunny Ain't No Kind Of Rider (mp3)

We'll do March over the weekend,


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kaiser Chiefs make good pop. And thats it. They've never tried to be cool or be anything they're not. They're making music they like and if other bands want to copy that that's thier fault, not the Chiefs. It's when Kaiser's stop copying everyone and started doing what they do that they got noticed and started selling records.

3:43 pm  

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