There comes a time in most bands’ careers when the listener knows what to expect from a new release. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it is a pleasant surprise when a band takes a different route or introduces new elements into a well-worn sound. Conversely, it can also be disappointing when a band does not move on and sticks with the same old formula. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will generally falls into this latter category.
The album is Mogwai’s seventh, and comes three years after the brilliant The Hawk is Howling. The record generally delivers what is expected – meandering post-rock soundscapes with lush and layered production. However, its failing is that it does not push Mogwai’s sound any further than it has already been before. Instead, what is offered is somewhat of a purposeless self-pastiche that can be confusing to listen to. This is most evident earlier on, where songs build and build yet ultimately fail to take off.
Whilst this does have some redeeming features (Too Raging to Cheers and You’re Lionel Richie explode out of their sedate beginnings into controlled sonic frenzy), it often feels like an exercise in treading water. The few glimpses of what could have been are tantalising, but ultimately not enough to carry the entire record. Mogwai still have so much potential, it is just a shame that it was not explored here.
Like a fine wine, The Waifs are getting better with age with their sixth record Temptation. Possibly their strongest cohesive vision yet, the band have crafted an impressive batch of songs that will touch the melancholy and heartache in our hearts.
Recorded in just ten days in a Minneapolis basement, the album is indeed tempting. The strength of The Waifs remains their three part harmonies, which inject huge vocal swells into the slow chug of I Learn The Hardway and the gospel-tinged title track.
The blues-inflected Moses recalls a past era of scratched vinyl, whilst Buffalo paves the way with palm-muted chords that meanders beautifully into the plaintive Just Like Me. Drifting Dreamer does just that in the most whimsical of ways.
Highlights on the album are Beautiful Night, which shifts along with a subtle Sheryl Crow-esque groove and the cathartic Somedays, which shows songwriter Vikki Thorn wearing her heart on her sleeve; “Somedays I just want to ditch my responsibilities/leave behind dirty dishes/dirty floors.”
For all of those people who haven’t paid attention to The Waifs since their break out songs London Still and Lighthouse – it would be a damn shame if you neglected this record. At no time does it come across as forced; it’s a truly relaxing listen, best enjoyed with a bottle of red over a candlelit dinner.
From start to finish, Gutter Rainbows is a slice of hip-hop nostalgia. Never one for bells, whistles or over-production, Brooklyn’s finest takes you back to when funk and soul reigned and when rap was just rap: classic, simple and oh-so-good. Originally, Rainbows – Kweli’s fourth solo album – was slated to be a digital-only release, but thanks to a little outside help a physical release saw the light of day.
The album’s title track is an ode to hard-living and triumph, the obvious choice to introduce Kweli’s childhood and the inspiration for the record, while the following track So Low is pretty near perfect, with a blissful hook and infectious beat. Mr International, clearly the most radio friendly, is sultry and sexy and though it may not fit the overall mood of the album, it stands easily on its own. Wait For You is a retro tinged number that benefits from Kendra Ross’ impressive vocals and on the next track, Ain’t Waiting, Kweli and New York boy Outasight reference what seems like every fairytale ever written. Kweli has that rare ability to toe the line between underground and mainstream with ease and that’s what sets him apart from other rappers. While widely touted as one of the best, he receives the kind of respect from fans that is often discarded with commercial success. While Kweli’s heyday may have been during the Hi-Tek/Mos Def years, Gutter Rainbows proves that he’s still one of hip-hops most talented game players.
If Computers and Blues is indeed ‘the final Streets album’, then it would be hard to deny that – regardless of your opinion of Mike Skinner’s coupe de grace – he has made his exit with delightfully refined aplomb. Skinner’s had his share of highs and lows over the last four albums, yet he’s decided not to go out in a blaze of awe-inspiring glory, and nor is he slamming down the phone and storming out in a huff. Instead, he’s leaving after some gentle yet heartfelt reminiscence, a bright-eyed view of the future, a warm hug and, as you would expect from Skinner, a cheeky wink as he walks off into - the sunset.
Skinner’s inclination for earnestness and experimentation has always seen him walk a fine line between critical acclaim and alienation of his fans, but it’s unlikely that Computers and Blues will ruffle too many feathers.
Most notably though, is Skinner’s concern not just for the now, but for the future. You can hear it in the poppy electronic hooks that are laced through the album, at times making it sound more like Moby, Kanye or even The Roots. But you know that it’s not just a coincidence when he sings about it - from Puzzled by People to the modern day perils of facebook relationship management on omg.
A blast of country harmonica greets you to almost every song on this, The Decemberists’ marked counterpoint to their increasingly dense concept albums of late. Fans of Meloy’s lyrical genius won’t be let down – within two songs, he name checks “Hetty Green, the queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab / If you know what I mean?” and by the time June Hymn exudes Colin’s fascination with the quieter, rural life, his turn of phrase is in top gear: “Thrush’s bleeding battle with the wrens / Disrupts my reverie again”. Here the band abandon the conceptual narrative, and just stick with the theme – amazing, reverent country music played to perfection from The Decemberists, a band formed around waltzes and shanties, now lending their craft to the old west for the first time en masse. Only This Is Why We Fight touches on the usual tempo and feel of the previous two albums. And it’s the breakaway that makes this album grand – Meloy and co, paying their dues to their favourite songwriters, with simmering songs about love, loss and the quiet life. Absolute perfection for - this summer.
Watching music videos on Rage until the wee hours occasionally reaps an amusing gem. One of my recent moments of gratification came when Amanda Palmer’s Map of Tasmania flashed elaborately decorated pudendas across the screen. There was even a cameo by the mother of brazen-female-sexuality-to-phat-beats, Peaches. But the catchy indie dance single, featuring British mashpop outfit The Young Punx, is not definitive of its album, Amanda Palmer Goes - Down Under.
Also known as Amanda Fucking Palmer, one half of The Dresden Dolls, the New York-based singer, songwriter, punk cabaret queen’s second solo release is a tribute to her loyal Aussie following. The acoustic folk songs, most with just AFP’s often comic lyrics against her piano or ukulele-playing, aren’t just about Australia; nine out of 12 tracks on the release were recorded live at various venues around the country. While every song on …Goes Down Under may not have translated so well recorded live as its undoubtedly flamboyant rendition in flesh, this intimate album clearly demonstrates Palmer’s seasoned songwriting skills and sense of show.
Stand-out tracks for moi included Vegemite (the Black Death), the aforementioned Map of Tasmania and Bad Wine and Lemon Cake.
Despite an ever-ballooning and intermittently settled line-up, QOTSA is essentially Josh Homme. This 1998 debut album represents his first set of songs since the dissolution of Kyuss. Expectations were high. Which direction would Homme take the band: the pop-influenced swagger path of Demon Cleaner or the trippy, staccato prog funk road of Supa Scoopa? Time proved he could forge a new fork – all of the above and more.
At the time, QOTSA felt unburdened where Kyuss was loaded with baggage. Homme claimed he was going for robot rock, a nothing phrase masking his obsession with discursive Krautrock. But he got it. On Regular John the die was cast – repetition, groove, heft and harmony – the sound of falling up an Escher staircase. Avon and If Only complete an incredibly fluid and riff-heavy troika. To the disappointment of many, things slowed down to an amiable saunter soon after – the tuff gnarl of Mexicola and rabid snarl of How To Handle A Rope providing the only real back-end shout outs. But Homme was always more interested in shapeshifting liquid dynamics, and to complain is to undermine the jazzy contributions of ex-Kyuss bandmate and co-writer Alfredo Hernadez. QOTSA – the album – remains an intriguing vision of a chaotic future. Three extra tracks drop in seamlessly during the album, not as addendums and neither disrupting the flow nor spoiling the original; a further sign of Homme’s restless vision.