Archive for broken social scene

Gold Soundz: Songs for the Summer

Posted in Feature, List with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2015 by David Hall

Summer has definitely, belatedly made its way even to the UK, which you can tell probably most reliably not from the weather outside, but when you see releases like this being made. Obviously this is money-grabbing of the most blatant variety, those aren’t summer hits any more than any other time of year; they aren’t season-specific. Which begs the question, just what is summer music? Would any of us actually know? Well, in an attempt to answer this never-asked question, I sought out some albums that would actually suit a nice day rather well. Sometimes there’s no telling what will happen to a record in a new context, and the only way to find out is to throw it in the pool and see if it sinks or swims. So let’s get this particular witch trial underway:

Warpaint – Warpaint

Warpaint’s confident self-titled second album stands out as music perfectly suited to a stiflingly, paralysingly hot day, which demands barely a toe-tap or a laconic head nod with closed eyes. Plumbing its hazy, druggy depths proves almost mirage-like in the heat, bassy swells washing over the listener in great droning waves. ‘Keep It Healthy’ begins the album brightly with melodic guitar lines, a pleasant morning with dawning sun that hasn’t quite gotten its claws into heating the earth just yet. Compare that with the atonal and sticky twilight of ‘CC’, which pours viscously like molten magma from the listeners’ speakers with almost perceptible heat. Lead single ‘Love Is To Die’ cavorts about the listener mockingly, circling a coastal bonfire at midnight, chanting and flitting out of the moth-ridden darkness. There’s also more than a hint of feverish threat in the death march of ‘Disco//Very’, which forges aimlessly onwards into the heady evening, verses and choruses melting and melding into one another thrillingly. The overwhelming sensation however is fearsome midday heat in Warpaint; you can almost hear the buzzy chirrup of cicadas in ‘Biggy’, its keyboard riff emerging from a blanket of heat haze, whilst ‘Feeling Alright’ falls asleep in the shade, vultures circling overhead.

Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon

The lengthy evening shadow of Woodstock looms large over Joni Mitchell’s third album, from the brightly sparkling curtain pull of ‘Morning Morgantown’ through to the thrumming, throbbing keys of Woodstock and the existential nursery rhyme closer ‘The Circle Game’s choral chant. It’s a sparsely arranged album, sounding particularly in the title track like a slow drive through the Californian desert, lonely humanoid cacti gliding by in scrubland by the secluded roadside. Though sparing and often unadorned, Mitchell’s material is heady and perfumed, such as on the gorgeous title track. ‘Morning Morgantown’ is the most perfect capturing of a summer dawn as is imaginable, a charmingly and seemingly earnest paean to the possibilities of a new day. However, ‘Woodstock’ is much more arch, sun scorched and serious, almost apocalyptic at times in its imagery – “I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky” Mitchell sings – but ultimately hopeful in its assertion that “they were turning into butterflies above our nation”. Even the atmosphere of ‘Rainy Night House’ and its interspersed choir and cello, suggests a dusky summer evening thunderstorm rather than autumnal downpour. To paraphrase Mitchell herself, sunlight streams through curtains of ‘Conversation’s setting, her open-tuned chords sounding effervescent and thriving. Plenty of Mitchell’s output, particularly her early-to-middle period exemplified by the later Court and Spark, invokes the sunshine of the American west coast.

The Avalanches – Since I Left You

First and foremost, Since I Left You is quite simply an incredible album. It’s like the best party you’ve ever been to, and everyone has been invited. From the moment you press play, it never lets up for a moment. It’s as full of ideas and self-reference as its copious use of samples suggests, motifs recurring throughout like it is its own little self-contained universe. Track after track tagteams in, each bringing with it their own distinct personality, like ‘Two Hearts In 3/4 Time’s cut-and-paste vocal melody bleeding through ‘Avalanche Rock’ into the juddering, jungleish, almost blaxploitation-flavoured ‘Flight Tonight’, before bass dips in and out of ‘Close To You’ as if being heard through the walls. As a whole, Since I Left You is a big, open-sounding record, easily enough so to be a played at an outdoor party at great volume and be equally pleasing to all ages. It’s a sunkissed, optimistic thrill to dip casually in and out of (the bouncing beats of ‘A Different Feeling’ into ‘Electricity’ prove to be highlights, and quite rightly form the spine of the album), or to listen through.

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

From the quietly percussive videogame soundalike intro of ‘Get Innocuous!’, Sound Of Silver album stretches its limbs up to a cloudless, frighteningly blue sky. The opener is soon swarming around, all clattering drums and multitracked vocals, then peeling itself back before crowding in once more. Throughout, James Murphy’s sophomore LCD record proves a very urbane album. It reeks of uncomfortably overheated concrete, of opened windows breathing out the hot air from within and shines with the fierce glare of steel and glass under a summer sun. Sound of Silver longs for night to fall and for the city’s dingy nightspots to open; it feels busy, populated. The informal party atmosphere tells tales of a misspent but regret-free youth, most notably in ‘All My Friends’, which along with ‘Someone Great’ and ‘Us V Them’ flanking it, elevates the album to a genre and period classic. The production is about as crisp as seems possible, each instrument on ‘Time To Get Away’ focussed sharply enough to cut yourself upon even as the track clutters. Finally, ‘New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down’ feels like a late night or early morning train ride home anywhere in the world, spent but already reliving the previous evenings’ exploits.

Radiohead – In Rainbows

Radiohead have always harboured a tendency to create soaring music, often hiding this light under a bushel; frequently very well, as on The King Of Limbs, which really only breaks out into the open on final track ‘Connector’. So, perhaps deservedly given the glacial atmosphere of albums like King Of Limbs or the chilly Kid A, they have earned themselves something of a maudlin reputation. To suggest In Rainbows is Radiohead’s summer album then? Surely not. And yet it works. It’s a record on which the band decided to go as full-on pop as they’ve ever been, sounding natural and full of enjoyment. On ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’, Yorke describes the all but alien environ of a club – like, a nightclub, with people smiling and having a good time and stuff – over a danceable rhythm section with looping, whirling guitar parts encircling his vocal. ‘Reckoner’ stands as the highlight of the album, its monolithic, triangular upswells of strings creating giant blocks of sound in a desert-like atmosphere. ‘House Of Cards’ follows in its churning wake, again with eastern-sounding strings and a spacious, yawning mix suggestive of gigantic panorama. ‘All I Need’ sounds sunburnt and migraineous, fully realising the bands’ intention to mirror the overwhelming sonic concussion of a band playing loudly in a small room. Rumbling bass synth impels Yorke’s voice to loom over the track, who in turn seems to recognise and stoke the sweltering atmosphere, “I’m an animal, trapped in your hot car” he sings in a cloying, and disarmingly unrequited lovelorn lyric. Following up from Hail To The Thief’s form-finding swagger, In Rainbows found Radiohead in loose but immediate form, and suits long, warm days beautifully.

The Field – From Here We Go Sublime

Track after track from The Field’s much-praised debut album lolls in on the breeze, like hearing a distant radio playing loud but broken snippets of songs, somewhere off in a housing project window. ‘Everday’ for example cuts and pastes Fleetwood Mac’s polite radio pop of ‘Everywhere’, drawing out from a harsh, hacking synth until Christine McVie’s vocal is whisked into a constant, looping hook that throbs and pummels and never lets go. ‘A Paw in My Face’ stretches Lionel Ritchie’s treacly ‘Hello’ into gorgeous, bleeping techno, ending as an authentic-sounding early 90’s slow jam rather than the lampoonable mid-80’s radio ballad of the original. Centrepiece ‘The Deal’ is minimal techno loving life in the open air, freed from bedroom laptops into a world of lawn sprinklers and dizzying heat.

Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene

It’s hard to choose just one record from the Canadian supergroup’s catalogue to sum up that summertime feeling, as all do it so perfectly. I’d love to go with the often-overlooked Forgiveness Rock Record, if only because it presents an opportunity to give that album a well-deserved day in the sun. The real winner however must be their second eponymous record, which is every shade of summer, from blissed out (‘Our Faces Split the Coast in Half’), through joyous (‘7/4 Shoreline’), to sweet and smiling (‘Swimmers’). Each track is a near-whitewash of vying noise, a roaring cacophony, constantly on the point of clipping. ‘Ibi Dreams of Pavement’ features Kevin Drew’s half-shouted vocal struggling to be heard above the shrieking squall of drums, synthesizers and brass, relentless and near-blinding. ‘Superconnected’ comes on like a rush of heated air, even the tempo rocketing after a much-needed midsection lull including the simmering, shimmering ‘Swimmers’. The saturated sound of Broken Social Scene perfectly encapsulates the heady, giddy thrill of the season. Days spent so long in the searing sunlight that your head throbs, that your sight is funnelled with brightness when stepping back indoors. It’s a time of overwhelming, endless-feeling possibility, a sensation that Broken Social Scene’s work encapsulates joyously.

Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

A jammy, noodling affair, Kurt Vile’s fifth solo album is like the most pleasant of commitment-free summer days, which starts when it starts and just keeps pressing onward irrespective of time. The opening title (ish) track stretches on endlessly towards the horizon for nearly ten minutes, seeming both longer and shorter like some sort of perspective trick, its riff repeating hypnotically and ploughing through half-formed solos and drawled verses, at once impressionistic (“Don’t worry about a thing, it’s only dying” Vile sings at one point) and at times smartly focussed and astutely observed, “I gotta think about what wisecracks I’m gonna drop along the way today”. Song titles are repeated like mantras, Vile venturing out in verses only to return to the touchstone, punning and messing with the words playfully. ‘Goldtone’ is a case in point, with its morphing chord sequence spiralling outwards like a galaxy as Vile explores the lyrics’ phonetics, all strange annunciations and unexpected rhymes and declarations. Again like the album as a whole, it feels improvisational, informal and open-ended, just as the season it represents and celebrates should be; Pretty Daze is as pretty and meandering as a summer stroll.

Sufjan Stevens – Come On Feel the Illinoise!

Twee, but never overbearingly so, Come On Feel the Illinoise! is painstakingly researched, a lush and vibrant concept album exploring the geography, communities and history of the state of Illinois. Nothing short of a tour de force, it’s spirallingly lengthy and stands as the pinnacle of Stevens’ career; it took him five years and a dramatic shift in both direction and approach to properly follow up. Even tales of cancer death, religious cults (‘Casimir Pulaski Day’) somehow manage to sound at once uncomfortably specific and personal, but also expansive and macrospective. If it’s expansive you want, Illinoise has that aesthetic in spades. Segueing in and out of characters, places and landmarks throughout its considerable running time, this is an album that demands a free afternoon or a long journey, to sit and be appreciated in full. Track-by-track however, Stevens is also generous with the hooks and choruses, with earworming chord progressions and lovely, lapping melodies that wash like sunlight onto painted walls. ‘Jacksonville’s, sawed, scale-hopping strings give way into banjos and wandering, tremulous guitar lines and pattering drums before brass pogos the track into a pleasingly ornate chorus. Also muscular in places, instrumentation towering around Steven’s trademark barely-whispered vocal on the bristling, anthemic ‘Chicago’, choirs rising and falling along with flutes and woodwind, marching band cymbals crashing like breakers all around. In amongst all this grandeur and splendour, moments like ‘Concerning the UFO Sighting…’ and the breathtaking, eerie ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ provide goosebumps, a darker, more overbearingly intimate Sufjan Stevens explored further in this year’s exceptional Carrie & Lowell, further signposting how vast and vaulted Illinoise was by comparison. It’s an album of scorching, state-sized beauty.

Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted

Like Broken Social Scene, many of the 90’s alt-rock icons’ five albums would be welcome on a summer playlist, reflecting the Californian locale of the bands’ surroundings. However it’s their charmingly shambling, and correctly acclaimed, debut Slanted and Enchanted that crackles most brightly with almost solar-powered energy. The untutored, gleefully-pounded drumming of ‘Summer Babe’ opens the album as it means to go on, guitars buzzing full of warm distortion. ‘Loretta’s Scars’ jangles more, Malkmus and Spiral Stairs finding a beautiful range of textured tones for their guitars to occupy throughout Slanted, ‘Zurich is Stained’ played almost entirely cleanly for example. Melodic, high-fretted bass hovers delightfully over blankets of distortion on ‘Jackals, False Grails’, its bashed-out drum track and frenzied soloing recalling an image of sunlight breaking repeatedly through a canopy of tree branches. ‘Our Singer’ sounds frazzled, ‘No Life Singed Her’ appropriately fried and frayed around the edges, there’s barely a track that doesn’t imbue some kind of warmth. Malkmus’ drawling, free-associating wordplay mesh with his infantile, sing-song vocals is sweetly addictive and permanently optimistic-sounding. As mentioned, most if not all of Pavement’s output stands up as excellent summer material. The alt pop of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is a fantastic soundtrack to a sunny day, the more structured material making for a slightly more coherent listen, with more dynamism and more build-up and release of tension. Away from the obvious single cuts ‘Range Life’ and ‘Cut Your Hair’, ‘Stop Breathin’’ and ‘Gold Soundz’ provide the keening, sun-bleached moments of uplift on Crooked Rain. Even their eclectic Wowee Zowee! middle period and more restrained and studied later records retain the same shambling, slacker mood than makes Slanted and Enchanted such a summer delight.


Still Life Still – Girls Come Too [Album]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by David Hall

Test review, never previously published.

When you hear the name Arts and Crafts, what immediately springs to mind? Broken Social Scene and Stars; if you think William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, you’ve been watching too much ‘Bargain Hunt’. Joining those successfully romantic Canadian indie stars are Still Life Still, releasing their debut album a full decade after forming. Girls Come Too is a typically experimental progeny from the Arts and Crafts sire, an appropriate metaphor given the record’s principle theme; sex, sex and more sex.

The album kicks off with Danse Cave, a pulsating hi-hat drive with a great ¡Forward Russia!-style guitar riff, which goes on to disintegrate into a Foals-like spacey clang. It’s great fun, immediately danceable and quirky. As a band performance it’s high energy and tuneful, with a stellar, uptempo drumming performance. The singer’s voice sounds a lot like Conor Oberst’s work with Desaparecidos; he may not be a classically ‘good’ singer, but neither is he irritating or too abrasive. After Danse Cave’s manic start the album settles into a mellower You Forgot it in People vibe with Flowers and a Wreath. It’s nowhere near as hooky as the opener, sounding polished smooth as alabaster, the chorus only marked by a proliferation in the distortion levels. Apart from the chorus in which the title is endlessly repeated, Flower and a Wreath’s lyrics are verbose and scrapbookish, with irregular rhyme patterns which slot together pretty much whenever and wherever. It’s an effective move – almost accidently so – continued in shortest track Lite-Bright Lawns which suddenly seems to stumble upon the very creepy, voyeuristic line “that third person is watching”. Lite-Bright Lawns is very Broken Social Scene, complete with clicking rim shots reminiscent of Cause = Time’s drum intro. The most noticeable element of the album so far is the vocalist’s languid singing style, offset against what is frequently multi-faceted and frenetic music.

Kid reverses this trend to a certain extent with an introspective atmosphere in which the vocals unexpectedly sound like the soft tones of Armor for Sleep’s Ben Jorgensen. It manages to stay away from the subject of sex for the most part, but finds time to reference it indirectly in the ‘fucked-up mom’ line. Another cool guitar riff supports the interesting use of metallic cymbal clashing noises which sound like steel sheets blowing in the wind. Neon Blue may be more straightforward indie-rock but is all the more enjoyable for it in a generally experimental album. It marks the beginning of an immediate-sounding section of the album, maintained on the following track. Pastel, which featured as title track to an EP earlier this year continues the album’s consistently great guitar performances with an Interpolish riff. The imploring refrain “We really need to be friends” is the song’s highlight, which is probably the best track since opener Danse Cave.

Ever noticed the way that albums sometimes have a habit of subconsciously summing themselves up in one line? Whether that’s the listener or the band’s subconscious is up for debate of course. You can find it in Kid A’s denial of a suddenly-alien Radiohead sound, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening” or The Holy Bible’s nihilistic admittance in Faster’s “I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing”. Similarly, here on Pastel we find the refrain “I really wanna be serious, Don’t really wanna be serious, I’m really, really, really serious”. True to form, it’s impossible to tell whether Still Life Still want to make grown-up, textural music (Flowers and a Wreath, Kid) or make giggly classroom sexual observations. At times the album sounds a little like an episode of ‘The In-Betweeners’. That said, Pastel’s outro – an incredible blanket of white noise over which guitars spasmodically jerk along like a car stuck in first gear – is undeniably great.

It all goes a little bit Boards of Canada on Planets, recalling Dayvan Cowboy’s aquatic chimings. It’s as icy cool as the depths of space, experimentative and celestial, and once again happens upon a nice little refrain and societal comment, “It’s a family of wolves out there yeah, they bury their young”. Knives in Cartoons is broken-footed and hyper, the guitars and drums threatening to collapse in a heap on themselves at any moment but somehow flapping onwards. A raucous and dissonant breakdown somehow sorts the track out before it trips back into the former flailing groove and finally another astoundingly noisy outro. Girls Come Too still resides in the Rape Me-like land of metaphor at this point in the line “kiss your open cut”, but that quickly changes. If you thought nothing in a song could ever shock you anymore, you’re duly directed towards T-Shirts, whose chorus I doubt I should even repeat. Let’s just say it involves a rather unconventional swapping of rather unconventional bodily fluids. “It’s love, it’s love, it’s love” the singer assures us. I’m not so sure it is, mate. Sounds more like porn to me. To debunk a cliché, this album isn’t so ‘charged with sexual energy’ as it is obsessed with sex like a desperate, spotty adolescent. Girls Come Too is hornier than a Chinese pharmacy; you’re best off downloading it, the CD would probably hump your leg.

There are good songs and bad songs to do with sex. And far be it from me to give lectures, but the good ones are hard to pull off, no pun intended. Venus in Furs is successful in retaining the sleazy, damaged, transgressive sexuality of its subject matter, as does Nine Inch Nails’ Closer for instance. Thing is, apart from some notable examples (Lay Lady Lay, Wicked Game), songs about sex are very rarely sexy. Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On? Puh-lease. That song’s so clichéd and oft-used it barely retains any of its original meaning today. Years of being played in sitcoms over a soft focus, slow motion POV shot of somebody attractive has ruined it. It has surely become more funny or cringeworthy than sexy.

And therein lies the problem with Girls Come Too; it’s pretty awkward and equally silly. Let’s face it, massively rare exceptions notwithstanding, indie rock isn’t exactly sexy. Garden State lied to us, if you played The Shins to flirt with someone they’d not only neglect to call, they’d probably change their number. You could say that Girls Come Too encompasses everything about the human experience, as Kid’s childhood references are followed by Lite-Bright Lawns‘ imploring “Let’s have a baby, let’s have a baby”. Other aspects of relationships are progressively explored until Scissors Losing Weight finally pops the question, “I’ll marry you someday, we’ll grow on faultlines”. The undernourished closer Wild Bees is close-to-the-bone and very affecting, sounding suspiciously like it addresses a character on their deathbed. You could say all this, but it may be giving the album more credit than is due; it really might be as shallow as it first appears. Anyway, aside from the taboo-trampling T-Shirts, it doesn’t really say anything that new or fresh. In conclusion, I’d hesitantly recommend this. And yes, the title probably does mean what you think it means. You animal.

7 out of 10.

Pastel on Spotify
Laconic and at times lyrically uncomfortable EP track is this album’s conceptual lynchpin and whose outro provides one of the highlights.

Arts and Crafts
Still Life Still on Myspace