Arctic Monkeys – Humbug

August 26, 2009

arcticmonkeyshumbugPast fans of UK based band Arctic Monkeys may be somewhat disconcerted and may even be disappointed by full on rock numbers being largely displaced by slow burning numbers on their third album, but if the songs on Humbug lack some of the front loaded force of previous releases, they more than make up for it with their moody, often very heavy arrangements and generally rich atmosphere. This is not to say that the album is entirely bereft of rockers, as it kicks off with two good ones, “My Propeller” and the first single, “Crying Lightning,” while others work themselves into rock crescendos, like “Fire And The Thud” (which features Alison Mosshart of the Kills and the Dead Weather) and “Dance Little Liar.” And while their musical approach has been altered, their lyrics remain as witty and sardonic as ever. I imagine Humbug will divide fans, but all in all, this is a solid record for them, and worth checking out. Standout cuts: “My Propeller,” “Crying Lightning,” “Dangerous Animals” and “Pretty Visitors.”

whiteliesTo Lose My Life…, the first album from London based band White Lies, debuted at number one in January on the UK charts, the first UK band to do so in 2009. The music is sweeping, anthemic and very much rooted in early 80’s New Wave influences, recalling current bands like Interpol and the Killers, and past bands like Ultravox. For the most part, White Lies gives their music an undeniably powerful kick, though sometimes this translates into over the top bombast, with lyrics that occasionally follow suit, all subtlety out the window. In general, missteps aside, To Lose My Life… is a pretty enjoyable debut, and recommended mostly to music fans that like their vocals, guitar and synthesizer riffs on a soaring, epic scale. Standout cuts: “Death,” “To Lose My Life,” “Fifty On Our Foreheads” and “From The Stars.”


January 6, 2009

glasvegasThe debut album by Scottish band Glasvegas arrives on American shores with some rapturous UK press, notably from NME, which declared it “the best album of the year (2007).” Having now listened to the album, I recall a critic reacting to record industry ad that touted an Echo and the Bunnymen album with the rhetorical question, “Best album ever?,” by writing, “It’s neither good enough to be true, nor bad enough to be funny.” Glasvegas would have been nowhere the top of my best album list of 2007, but that said, it is an earnestly made, promising pop debut, which will justifiably earn them some the Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons, as they share with that band a fondness for droning guitars and “Wall of Sound”-style percussion. Glasvegas also shows some serious 50’s and 60’s pop music influence in their music, but whereas the Raveonettes and Clinic can draw from the same sources and have the result sound positively menacing and weird, Glasvegas opt for a more traditional, less edgy approach, though they certainly are not shy about dropping the F bomb from time to time. Glasvegas could be capable of great things if they maybe roughen up their decidedly glossy edges next time out. For now, they’ve produced a solid, appealing debut. Standout cuts: “Geraldine,” “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry,” “Polmont On My Mind” and “Daddy’s Gone.”

After a couple of underwhelming albums in a row, Manchester based band Oasis finally find their footing again with Dig Out Your Soul, a stunner of a record shows they’re a band still capable of making some great music. They’ve eschewed ballads for the most part, save for “I’m Outta Time,” and instead made a straight ahead rock and roll record, with the usual nods to the Beatles. They kick things off with the swaggering “Bag It Up,” one of my favorite songs here. “The Shock Of The Lightning,” comes four tracks in and sounds like classic Oasis, and it’s a solid choice for a lead off single. It’s eclipsed in quality, however, by “Falling Down,” a slow burning, ultimately soaring rocker, followed by the sitar heavy “To Be Where There’s Life,” which provides the record with one of its doses of psychedelia. I have to say it’s gratifying to hear a band that made some of my favorite music in the 90’s return to form. I can’t say Dig Your Own Soul reaches the heights of the first two Oasis albums, but it’s nevertheless a collection of songs so uniformly good for the most part that I had trouble deciding which cuts to choose as standout cuts. Oasis fans will eat this up, I think, but more casual fans will have a reason to start listening to them again. Standout cuts: “Bag It Up,” “The Shock Of The Lightning,” “Falling Down” and “To Be Where There’s Life.”

James – Hey Ma

September 16, 2008

Like fellow UK band the Verve, Manchester based James has regrouped and put out a new album, Hey Ma, which arrives on the US shores with modified cover art. The original cover art depicted a baby reaching for a gun amidst some toy blocks that spelled out the album’s name. The modified (or censored, dependent on your point of view) cover has the baby staring somewhat menacingly amidst the blocks. The intent of the original cover art was to draw attention to the band’s alarm with the rising gun culture among UK youth. It was controversial there, and apparently too controversial for the States. All that said, how is the music? Well, pretty good, really, and sometimes excellent. James returns with their anthemic, grandly scaled sound fully intact and updated, all their wicked playfulness, irreverence and warmhearted capacity for empathy and hope still in place. The playfulness and irreverence go down here not as mere irony and sarcasm, however, but instead are coupled and delivered with genuine feeling, elevating a lyric like “Hey ma, boys in body bags, coming homes in pieces” into a cry of protest invested with indignation and despair. Leader Tim Booth sounds as good as he ever has, and even has a sense of humor about himself all but absent from most self-serious front men: “My mum says I look like Yul Brynner, too old for Hamlet, too young for Lear,” he sings on “Whiteboy.” Hey Ma is the sort of comeback that makes it seem the band never left, as James sounds as vital as they ever have. Plus it rocks. James fans should be rejoicing. Standout cuts: “Bubbles,” “Hey Ma,” “Oh My Heart” and “Whiteboy.”

The Verve – Forth

August 26, 2008

For those worried that the Verve’s first album in eleven years, Forth, is either a cash-in or a futile attempt to recapture past glories, fear not, this collection of ten songs is neither of those. Instead, Forth is a work that can easily stand alongside the best of their work in the 90’s. Picking up where they left off on 1997’s Urban Hymns, Forth immediately draws you in with the cool, soulful neo-psychedelia of “Sit and Wonder,” with forceful lead singer Richard Ashcroft sounding as good as he ever has. The band is working on a large canvas here, combining psychedelia with Britpop and straight ahead rock and roll, frequently allowing themselves to jam out a bit, as on the eight minute plus “Noise Epic,” one of the highlights of the album. At least half the album is taken up by tracks that push past the six or seven minute mark, though this can hardly said to be a record given to meandering. Instead, it’s thrilling, edgy work, with not a wasted minute to be heard. Definitely recommended for longtime Verve fans, but Forth will make a lot of top ten lists at the end of the year no matter how familiar listeners may be with their past records. Standout cuts: “Sit and Wonder,” “Love is Noise,” “Valium Skies” and “Appalachian Springs.”

Second album from Brighton, UK based band the Kooks lacks much of the snap and fire that made their debut such a power pop pleasure, but Konk is hardly a dud. It’s just a pretty good album as opposed to the great one fans, myself included, have no doubt been anticipating. The good material here is very good: “See The Sun,” “Always Where I Need To Be,” “Down To The Market” and “Tick Of Time” are some of the highlights. Though the Kooks clearly fancy themselves a guitar heavy power pop group, some of the best material on Konk is when they slow things down a bit and do some harmonizing, as on “Tick Of Time,” one of the few tracks where it really seems like they’re enjoying themselves. The final hidden track, “All Over Town,” continues on in that vein, though it’s a darker song. For devoted Kooks fans, I definitely recommend getting the Limited Edition, which includes a second CD called Rak with nine additional tracks on it, all worthwhile listens, with at least three standout tracks, “Watching The Ships Roll In,” “Nothing Ever Changes” and “Hatful Of Love.” The two CDs together, 22 songs altogether, form a much better whole than just the single CD edition of Konk. This is a limited edition well worth your added investment, as it’s a much more satisfying album overall.