May 2010

So there are new Arcade Fire songs, and the album’s coming out on the 2nd August in the UK. I am really very, very excited about this, not least because the two songs available to stream on the band’s website are an entirely new prospect for the band – they sound as though they’re finally having fun.

‘The Suburbs’ is a piano-led jaunt that, whilst not entirely joyful in tone, shows a far lighter sonic side to the band, whilst ‘Month of May’ is a punky onslaught, complete with self-referential lyrics about making a record. It’s a strange new world for everyone’s favourite Canadians, and it’s seeming like a brilliant one.

I won’t post the new songs, partly because you should buy them (direct download is available from their website for only $1.99), partly because if you don’t want to buy them you can stream them, and partly because I feel that if I did post them the Web Sheriff would be shutting me down quicker than you can say ‘Une Annee Sans Lumiere’.

So here’s ‘Une Annee Sans Lumiere’.

Arcade Fire – Une Annee Sans Lumiere (YSI)

Once you become an ‘established’ blogger (i.e. get onto Hype Machine), you inevitably start receiving emails from PR companies, filled with hyperbolic praise and often untrue assertions as to what you’ll be hearing if you give them a listen. Inevitably, a lot of the PR becomes pretentious drivel and, on some blissful occasions, completely ridiculous to the point of hilarity. I recently received a copy of Bear In Heaven’s album Beast Rest Forth Mouth to review for This Is Fake DIY – I haven’t listened to it enough yet to form a proper critical opinion (although the signs aren’t great as yet) but if there’s one thing biasing my opinion toards the negative end of the spectrum, it’s the PR.

Here are some choice cuts:

‘Bear In Heaven have trapped echoes, tremors, winds and fading light. They’ve redefined time, and folded it. They’ve unbuttoned sound, and realigned it.’

‘As a four-headed organism, Bear In Heaven has now found a sonic stride unlike any in their history.’

‘Acknowledging the importance of the number four, the album Beast Rest Forth Mouth (think “East West North South”) was a conscious product of the 4 compass points, of the 4 makers, and of the inevitable confusion that manifests from that crossroad mentality: 4 directions that could lead you anywhere and everywhere.’

WHAT THE FUCK DOES ANY OF THAT MEAN? The entire press release steadfastly refuses to tell you anything concrete about the music on this album (surely a bad sign in itself) whilst managing to simultaneously make me furious and despair at the state of humanity all at the same time. It is without doubt some of the worst advertising I’ve ever seen – I already know that they’re a Brooklyn-based psychedelic band, I don’t need to be reminded that they’re a bunch of art school pricks who think more of their music than they should do. The icing on the cake is that Pitchfork have bought into it with incredible gusto, saying that the band have ‘figured out how to render bodily sensations’. Neither the PR nor the Pitchfork review attempt to couch any of this horseshit in simile or even metaphor, it’s all said with a seemingly matter-of-fact tone. I’m starting to wonder whether it’s all a big joke that us non-New Yorkers aren’t privy to. I am aware that music reviewers, with myself most defintiely included, can become a little silly over new bands and make insane sonic comparisons, but this is just taking it way too far – to the point where I just want to punch the fucking idiocy out of the PR guy who wrote it.

To calm down, let’s all listen to some straightforward rock ‘n’ roll and remember that not everyone is a complete douche. Yet.

Harlem – Be Your Baby (YSI)

PS. I think the guy on the left of the picture wrote the article.

Before the mega-hype surrounding High Violet, I’d never quite got around to listening to a National song, let alone an album before. There’s only so many times you can hear ‘epic’, ‘drumming’ and ‘baritone’ without it all becoming a bit of a haze, to be honest. However, when offered the chance to grab a copy, I thought I owed it to myself to take a listen to them. I’ll have a review of the whole album up soon on For Folk’s Sake, but for now I’d just like to talk about three particular songs that make up the centre of the album because, frankly, they’re just brilliant.

‘Afraid of Everyone’ utilises the skills of one Sufjan Stevens to create a song that, with its gentle backing vocals and measured buildup should by all rights be quite irritating, but as quick cuts of shivering guitar creep in and the beat builds it becomes a far more nervous affair. You’ll probably have heard ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ by now, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll love it for its sense of drama and the sheer irrepressability of the drumbeat (turns out all that talk of drumming I ignored was right actually). Finishing this triumverate is ‘Lemonworld’, a stately little number that draws you in and doesn’t let you go until the final notes – Matt Berninger’s droning, hypnotic tones can make even ‘doo doo doo’ sound like an emotional lyric.

I don’t think it’s a perfect album, there are moments where it falls a little flat, but as a centrepiece, these three tracks are a wonderful little journey in themselves – tension, release and perfect calm. Now I just have to hope they can match that on their older records.

The National – Afraid of Everyone (YSI)
The National – Lemonworld (YSI)

PS. Bloodbuzz Ohio was a free download so I imagine you can find it just about anywhere you care to look on the internet by now.

I’ve put off relistening to Jesus H. Foxx for a long time. My first listen didn’t bowl me over, but I’m not sure what that song was now, and I’m not even sure what it sounded like. Upon listening to ‘I’m Half The Man You Were’, I’m now also not sure how I could’ve disliked what I heard. Whatever it was, this song stuck in my head and made me smile from the first time I heard it. It could seem like some standard indie fare, but when you notice just how cool the deep, spoken vocals or the not-quite Afro-pop guitar flourishes are, followed by Flaming Lips-esque backing ‘ooh’s and the kind of tempo/tone changes that make you rewind just to hear when it changed it becomes clear that this is something really rather different indeed. I won’t be making the same mistake twice, I’ll be listening to more Foxx soon.

Jesus H. Foxx – I’m Half The Man You Were (YSI)

PS. I just realised that I’ve blogged about two Song, By Toad artists/releases in a row and it makes me seem a little smarmy but, you know, the man has taste, what can I say?

I’ve tried to be less exuberant on this blog recently. I mean, it hasn’t worked, but the fact is I’ve tried. So the new Meursault album provides me with a problem – I’ve listened to it through, excluded everything else in my life other than the sounds of the album, almost looking for problems. You can probably see where this is going. I’m convinced that Meursault are the best successors to Radiohead for the throne of the changeable-yet-unified band sound (by the way, comparing a band to Radiohead is about as exuberant as it gets for me).

That probably needs some explaining. I’ve always believed, somewhat biased-ly, that Radiohead are the only band I’ve ever heard who can completely alter their sound from album to album and yet still have a ‘Radiohead sound’. Just listen to The Bends, then OK Computer, then Kid A (no, really, do it now, it’ll be fun). There’s no doubting those are all the work of one band, and yet they have a completely different aesthetic from one another. It’s incredible. I never thought another band would be able to pull that off in my ears. Well, over the course of two albums and one EP, Meursault are proving me wrong.

Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues was a big, fizzing ball of energy, intercut with songs of such grace and simplicity they were breathtaking – there hasn’t been as surprising a twosome of tracks as ‘A Few Kind Words’ (bleeping explosion of merriment) and ‘A Small Stretch of Land’ (so beautiful you can’t help but close your eyes to listen to it) in a very long time. On the other hand, the Nothing Broke EP dispensed with the electronics and let loose four tracks that showed off their folk chops and included another devastating twosome, William Henry Miller Parts One and Two, a handclap ‘n’ banjo-heavy borderline pop tune and a howling lament respectively (and about a hermaphrodite Scottish politician no less).

This all brings us nicely around to their newest effort, All Creatures Will Make Merry. On the surface, it bears an auditory resemblance to the first album, at least in its ebb and flow. The band clearly know how to toy with their listeners’ expectations, and those moments of abrupt changes in tone come just as wonderfully as before. But with a real listen, the new tricks and complexities reveal themselves with aplomb. The band have delved back into the electric instruments cupboard, but come back with some equipment a lot more serious than what they’ve showed us before. When this album gets loud, it does so in a deep, almost scary way. ‘What You Don’t Have’ sounds like a tornado (complete with a tranquil eye of the storm) set to the drums of a marching band from Hell itself, whilst ‘New Ruin’ could be a Celtic war march, all trepidation, mandolins and incredibly powerful beats. But as the album gets quieter, it hooks you just the same. ‘One Day This Will All Be Fields’ is produced in, for want of a better word, a really, really cool way. Starting as a simple uke and vocals track recorded on what sounds like a hissing tape recorder, when it reaches the chorus a second set of clear, echoing vocals are overlayed, creating the wonderful effect of the song transcending its own recording.

That’s not to say it’s all about the music. Neil Pennycook’s vocals are as arresting as they’ve ever been, carrying you along before they soar upwards in a rich, tuneful howl. And I haven’t even talked about the lyrics! Starting a song with a line like ‘So long ago/That I’m not even sure/If the eyes that meet me in my sleep/Are yours at all’ will never fail to make me swoon with a difficult combination of happiness and envy. What I’m trying to get across to you is this: All Creatures Will Make Merry is my favourite album of this year so far. It’s amazing. It lives up to my Radiohead ideal by coming up with completely new ideas but never comprimising on that aspect that makes Meursault what it is (whatever that might be). You should buy this album right now, and I can give you one very good reason for that – in finishing this review, I know I haven’t even covered half of what I love about this album. I think Meursault have confirmed to me a startling fact – they’re one of my favourite bands.

But I promise I won’t be this exuberant again any time soon. Maybe.

Meursault – Crank Resolutions (YSI)
Meursault – Sleet (YSI)

Buy It Here

It’s my birthday today, and last night I received a really rather nice present – I’ve become an editor of the music section for my University newspaper. This means I have some really rather incredible experience coming my way, but may mean this blog becomes even more sporadic, but for now I’ll try and make it a little more frequent. Right now though I’m off to open presents and drink booze, bye!

Regina Spektor – Edit (YSI)