Thursday, April 19, 2007

2007: The First Quarter In Review. Part Three - March

Apologies for the delay with this post but, hey, it's here now.

Each week in March saw the release of a notable new album from some part of the musical landscape or another, with impressive albums coming from the likes of Chigagoan power-punkers The Ponys, minimal techno wiz Gabriel Ananda, brain-damaged psych-pop combo The Aliens and ex-Shangri-La, Mary Weiss among others. It also ushered forth a few disappointments in the shape of Ted Leo's first really weak album, the pedestrian Tracey Thorn record and Air saying "Will this do?" with Pocket Symphony.

We're not going to focus on those though, so let's have another look at seven albums, all out in March that were either unsung, unfairly panned or justly praised from the heavens.

Easily the most talked-about and eagerly-anticipated album of the first three months of 2007 has to be Arcade Fire's Neon Bible. The follow-up to the nigh-on universally-adored Funeral, it's an album that shows a bit of a thematic volte-face on their part, but in the end just rings that little bit hollow in comparison. Sure, by any other band's yardstick, Neon Bible would be something approaching a triumph, but the fact that it follows arguably the best debut of the decade thus far is just something that I, for one, can't seem to overlook.

Lyrically, it deals in lighter sentiments than its death-obsessed predecessor, but as a result, it lacks that record's catharsis. In its great moments, and it has a few, Neon Bible is the sound of a band fully in charge of their own craft and hitting all the marks that they aim for. In the church organ-driven strum of 'Intervention' and its themes of shaken faith and everyday drudgery, Arcade Fire display a deftness with subjects that would seem tropey in the hands of lesser lights. Also, the re-recorded version of 'No Cars Go' from their debut EP achieves the heights of joyous unification that their first full-length had in spades.

Elsewhere though, there's a liberal sprinkling of filler. For every 'Black Wave/Bad Vibrations', there's a song like the non-descript title track and for every '(Antichrist Television Blues)', we've got the overblown and preposterous 'My Body Is A Cage'. I'm probably being a little harsh, but the Arcade Fire of Funeral just wouldn't have let a song as rote and as uninspired as 'Windowsill' slip through the net ("MTV what have you done to me?". Come on! You're better than that, Win!). That song pushes all the right buttons in that the strings sweep and the sound swells, but it does so in such a functional manner that it winds up frustratingly dull. I know some people are going to want my head on a pike for this, but hamstrung by previous success or not, Neon Bible is just not good enough.

Arcade Fire - Black Wave/Bad Vibrations (mp3)

Nick Cave returned this month with a fired-up, stripped-down version of The Bad Seeds as Grinderman. Alongside regular cohorts Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn Casey, he set to making an album that was more in the spirit of his pre-Bad Seeds days with The Birthday Party and pretty much succeeded. A raw, gloriously unrefined riot, Grinderman is a menacing, fire-breathing, punchy, often hilarious record that works as a counterpoint to The Bad Seeds' wonderful bombast. Streamlined and effective, most of the songs here are like a kick to the throat, from the laugh-a-bar 'No Pussy Blues' to the 'Woman's Hour' and 'Gardener's Question Time' refs of 'Love Bomb', but Grinderman also has its more downtempo moments in the slink and moan of 'Electric Alice' or the short, sweet 'Man In The Moon'. In deconstructing the ornery of his day-job, Nick Cave has brought to bear a side of him many have thought was long lost.

Grinderman - Depth Charge Ethel (mp3)

NME buzz band, The Horrors released their debut album, Strange House in March to what could best be described as a mixed reception. In truth, when reading some of the reviews from both the negative and positive angles, the reasons some give to like it are exactly why others hated it and vice versa. For instance, The Guardian praised it for its clear credentials, while Stylus panned it for its slavish facsimile of better bands from the past. They're both kind of right though as Strange House is as derivative as it is fresh. The influences are sign-posted (The Cramps, The Fall, Jonathan Fire*Eater), but really, is there anyone making music like this anymore? At least in Britain there isn't and, pantomimic as it is, it's the closest that young Britain has to a band that might actually scare their parents and that's to be lauded, in my book.

The Horrors - Draw Japan (mp3)

Most of the bands that emerged during the punk-funk resurgence a few years back were ineffably awkward, anaemic and alabaster-white. The emphasis for most of those bands (The Rapture, Moving Units, Erase Errata) lay on the punk aspect, but who'd have thought that the band with probably the punkest background (in bands like The Yah Mos and Popesmashers) would end up being the most likely to bring the funk?

Although they look like a bunch of geography teachers (albeit geography teachers you suspect would light up a jazz tab or two in their spare time), !!! know how to get on the good foot. Myth Takes, their best album yet (a fact I've only recently come around to having dug out Louden Up Now and finding it to be not as good as I remember), sees the band indulging in JBs-like tight jams, shot through with the frenetic pace of punk. Also, isn't 'Heart Of Hearts' just the most fun song to dance to of the last five years?

!!! - Heart Of Hearts (mp3)

It's easy to see why people completely lost their shit and indulged in some serious hype-mongering upon hearing Panda Bear's new album, Person Pitch, as it sounds tailor-made for us mp3 bloggers who like pop music, preferably prefaced with the word indie and experimental music that isn't, y'know, all that experimental. There's nothing on Person Pitch that is truly ground-breaking, but it does sound like it was recorded on a planet other than this one. The touchstones are evident on first contact - Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Silver Apples - but it's distinctly idiosyncratic and further displays that Animal Collective are masters of their own craft and are, through their band albums and solo work like this, racking up a body of work that ranks among the strongest in modern music.

Panda Bear - I'm Not (mp3)

The most prominent hip-hop release, at least for people versed in the genre's underground, in March was El-P's I'll Sleep When You're Dead. Fine record it is, but in my opinion, the most enjoyable rap release this month was Devin The Dude's Waitin' To Inhale. Devin's been well respected on the underground scene for best part of a decade, but the dude cannot catch a break. This hasn't made him bitter, like it would with most MCs. Nah, Devin just rolls with it, rolls another and gets lit up. His only ambitions are to get fucked up and get fucked and they are the two major preoccupations on his latest record. Some of the lyrics may be a little tart for some people's tastes, but the guy is just one of the most likeable rhymers around, with his slow, THC-addled Texas drawl and hilarious way with smutty one-liners ("I tried to run, I tried to duck, but I couldn't get away she was wide as fuck" - 'She Useta Be'). An acidic, dumb/witty delight.

Devin The Dude - What A Job (feat. Snoop Dogg & Andre 3000) (mp3)



Well, was it ever going to be anything else? I'll keep it short because I've sang this album's praises more than enough over the last few months. Put simply, Sound Of Silver is an astonishing pop record by one of the few people working today for whom it doesn't seem much of a stretch to call a genius. If you haven't heard it yet, what the hell are you doing reading this?

LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver (mp3)

I'll probably do another one of these in July, you know.

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