Japandroids, Celebration Rock [Polyvinyl Record Co.]
Every year there is one album which, coming from a group either ensconced in, associated with, or at the very least strongly influenced by a traditionally non-mainstream scene (in this case punk), captures the imagination - and with it the unconditional adoration - of the alternative world's music critics. Pitchfork gushes uncontrollably; the music press, generally, breaks into hysterical worship. Last year it was Fucked Up's David Comes to Life; this year, it's Celebration Rock.
Japandroids, for their part, capture the imagination because they bring to their music a raw, fuzzy blend of rock and punk that evokes acts from Springsteen and Petty through to The Bronx and At the Drive-In, alongside an extremely rare combination of wisdom, sincerity, urgency and optimism. Both members of the duo - guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse - are 29; the age around which so many musicians make their last-ditch effort to make a critically successful record before throwing in the towel (in fact, this is where the group was at before releasing 2009's Post-Nothing). But instead of engaging in navel-gazing of their current predicament or morbidly pontificating their future, they look back to grasp the energy, spontaneity and emotional peaks and troughs of their youth. King is not concerned with nostalgia or reminiscence, but with seizing the day, sucking every last piece of marrow out of the bone of his youth. On paper, his lyrics are clichéd and amateurish, if not also cringe-inducingly sentimental – particularly on The Nights of Wine and Roses, Adrenaline Nightshift or Younger Us, where King sings, “Remember saying things like ‘we'll sleep when we're dead’/and thinking this feeling was never gonna end/remember that night you were already in bed, said ‘fuck it’, got up to drink with me instead!” Yet when screamed by King over fuzzy guitars, surplus feedback and what must be a respectable collection of low-fi and delay pedals – their youthful optimism wasn't the only thing they collected on their return to the ‘90s – King exudes such confidence and earnestness that you don't feel the need to question his message. This is perhaps the group's greatest strength – planted attitudinally for the moment between The Vaccines and The Hold Steady, Japandroids are old enough to know better, but are still too young to care.
Billy Corgan supposedly swore off the album format a couple of years ago in favour of releasing his ongoing Teargarden By Kaleidyscope EP series, but this eighth Smashing Pumpkins album apparently works as an ‘album within a larger cycle’. The fact that Corgan represents the sole original member amidst a new line-up of hired hands is likely to represent a divisive factor for some long-time fans. Despite these portents, though, Oceania offers the closest thing to a classic Pumpkins album, something that's perhaps not that big a leap when you consider that Corgan played pretty much everything bar drums on most of the band's biggest moments. All of the signature elements remain firmly in place on the 14 tracks here; skyscraping guitar arrangements, glam-tinged vocals and crashing live drums (Mike Byrne providing a worthy successor to the departed Jimmy Chamberlain), all tempered with Corgan's ambition and lack of restraint.
Compared to the extremely compressed sound of The Pumpkins' later albums, there's an increased airy sense of looseness to the mix that harks back to the sorts of sounds explored on Siamese Dream. There's also an increased presence of synths on tracks such as Violet Rays and One Diamond, One Heart, but here they call to mind New Order's streamlined subtlety more than the electronic experimentation of Adore. Against all odds, Oceania is a way better Smashing Pumpkins album than it could have been.
When James Brown decided that rhythm was king in the mid-‘60s the message was received in some unlikely places – including postwar Germany, which birthed Can’s textured, psychedelic funk. This group responded to black American rhythm on its own terms and combined wide-ranging musical interests that brought together modernist composition, Pink Floyd’s oceanic landscapes and The Velvet Underground’s potent avant-garage rock. The result was absorbing, richly blended music that was utterly unique – danceable, strange, loin-stirring and noisy in equal measures.
Like the aforementioned Pink Floyd, it becomes clear when embarking upon the thrilling trawl through the three discs comprising The Lost Tapes (which encapsulates the band’s history between 1968 and 1977) that Can was comprised of meticulous artisans, so only the absolute best music made it onto the albums. This meant that a considerable bulk of material was relegated to the vaults – some of the finest.
A substantial review of this previously hidden music from keyboardist Irmin Schmidt has unveiled gems spread across this long-awaited set. It begins with freedom-loving experiments when the group included original vocalist Malcolm Mooney, such as the eight-minute excursion into blunt sonic weirdness in 1968’s Waiting For The Street Car. Elsewhere the rewards are many, including the atmospheric that turns into loose and spiky score piece, Dead Pigeon Suite, and the live wild trip on disc three, somehow aptly titled Networks Of Foam.
It's been four years since New Zealander Pip Brown released her debut self-titled album Ladyhawke, and in the wake of that record's breakout success both here and in the UK, it's been curious to see the mixed reception that's greeted the anticipated follow-up Anxiety.
As the title suggests, it's certainly slightly darker lyrically, but the biggest change here is the increased presence of guitars, with an additional level of rock crunch present in all of the ten tracks here. Perhaps most importantly, though, it's a collection that's noticeably geared towards larger venues and festivals. Opener Girl Like Me rolls with a barbed guitar swagger that calls to mind mid-period Blur as handclaps and angular bass runs add a vaguely glam-rock vibe to Brown's vocals. The Quick & The Dead leans closer to the likes of Garbage with its arena-filling guitar fuzz and frazzled electronics.
Above all, this is a collection that openly wears its guitar-pop influences on its sleeve, whether in the title track’s Runaways-meets-PJ Harvey chorus vocals, or in Cellophane's knowing keyboard wink to Wings (listen closely – it's there). While there perhaps isn't a single to quite match the immediacy of My Delirium or Paris Is Burning, there's a greater sense of substance here with the preceding album's synths replaced by meatier rock hooks and more confident song-writing.
Sigur Ros are an acquired taste. To ‘get it’ you must first get past the invented language, lack of structure, plodding pace and weird texture. Ten years ago this stuff was the shit; hypnotic, vague, otherworldly and without anchorage in the contemporary musical landscape. Amongst the nu-metal noise and burgeoning garage scene it stood out by virtue of its tranquillity and mystique. It didn’t quite belong anywhere and being Icelandic took Sigur Ros that little bit farther beyond comprehension.
For the most part Valtari is epic. Sweeping orchestration and ethereal vocal lilts that barely rise above a canter. Sigur Ros work best when they can stretch out and explore melody, but justification is required. And there’s not much in the way of pay-off here – it’s all build, hinting at the possibility of crescendo and utter refusal to tackle opportunities. The back half of the album drifts into desolate nothingness. The ambient noise of Fjogur Piano is hardly revolting, but it lacks the languid grandeur of any random Stars Of The Lid track.
The artificial crackle of Ekki Mukk sums it up perfectly; replicating the sound and anticipation of an old vinyl record, it’s rooted in mimicry – a facsimile of passion and a shortcut to emotion. Valtari might well be redemption for fans that stuck it out through the lean years of soundtracks, side projects and silence – but let’s not confuse epic with grace or emotion.
Right from the start The Tearaways’ full-length album Tones Of Dirt And Bone sets out to make an impression. With polished, crisp production that soars without over-compression while lighting up the catchy blues-influenced lead guitar, it’s a recording that’s easy on the ears while maintaining a level of raw punk energy.
Sometimes bordering on folk-punk territory, the feel of the songs is soulful and energetic. Tracks like well-crafted Her Town engage the listener and expertly fly the punk-rock banner. The vocals lock tightly into a husky, anthemic, sing-along style, delivered with an Australian twang that’s always refreshing. Lyrics centre around the usual trials and tribulations of young musos in the punk scene; romance, identity, politics and counter-culture ideals. There’s an influence of Rancid and Operation Ivy-style punk icons throughout, especially in Rags To Rags, a reggae-ska hybrid complete with organ and halftime upstroke guitar.
If I had one criticism it would be that there isn’t much new territory being explored here; though well executed it’s a sound that’s been done before plenty of times. That said, if the Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords ‘90s punk sound is your thing it’ll be a solid dose of the good oil you love. Overall, Tones of Dirt And Bone is a satisfying solid release which, despite not covering much new ground, does what it does so well it’ll leave the listener satisfied.
Twin Shadow’s Confess plays out like a guilty pleasure. An irresistibly catchy and fittingly cheesy ‘80s throwback so unabashedly cemented in its ways you can’t help but go along with the ride. But Confess is as much about pathos as it is convention. George Lewis Jr. (aka Twin Shadow) has created an album of familiar pop songs with surprising emotional depth. He spits out age-old clichés with conviction and poise. It contrasts well with the 8/8 drum patterns, sharp, infectious synth lines and guitars that seem permanently plugged into flanger and delay pedals. Lewis’ love affair with everything ‘80s is apparent on every single second of the album, with only a few samples of modernity.
But being made in 2012 has its advantages; Confess is marginally darker and has a level of intensity not found in pop music released during the ‘80s. On songs like Five Seconds and Run My Heart there is a true sense of urgency and almost punk-rock energy. The up-tempo vibe of the album never really lets off, with most tracks pumping and stomping their way through Lewis’ sincere, cocksure voice.
Confess indulges so much in its ‘80s roots that it never feels satirical or ironic. An album you may feel embarrassed for liking – but you’ll still like it. If you one day find yourself desperately searching for your old Phil Collins album and just can’t seem to find it, go buy Confess instead.