Filed under: album review | Tags: album review, contra, los campesinos, romance is boring, vampire weekend
Vampire Weekend – Contra
It seems much longer ago than two years ago that Vampire Weekend emerged onto the music scene with the release of their self-titled debut album which got a lot of attention in the media with their African influenced indie pop sound. “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” helped soundtrack the summer of that year with the band playing a whole host of festivals and shows. Since then, they had very much slipped off of my musical radar and their album had had very little attention so I was almost surprised to hear that this album was out at the beginning of this year.
The first thing I noticed when listening to the album was that it had a much deeper (with regards to pitch rather than depth of the sound) and how much mature it sounded with the percussion and bass seeming to be at the forefront of their sound even more.
Contra opens with two rather mellow songs that perfectly demonstrate how their sound has evolved but still very much has the Vampire Weekend feel to it; the opening track “Horchata” containing drumming that encapsulates part of their sound and the following track “White Sky” containing the falsetto, nonsensical vocals that brings back feelings of their first album.
The rest of the album keeps up the more mature and slightly more mellow feel with some of the song intros being deceptively bouncy, such as “Holiday” and “Run”, but they mostly go back to the same plodding feel that the album seems to have. That all sounds a bit negative but it’s not meant to be; I really like the album. I think it may be due to the fact that keyboards have seemingly taken on a much more prominent role in the overall creation of this album compared to the guitars that were previously at the fore which has taken away some of the boisterous feeling from before.
“Cousins” seems an odd choice for the first single off the album to me as it feels a little out of place with the rest of the songs and it feels a little bit awkward as though it is trying to act as the bridge between the two albums. For me the best song off the album is undoubtedly “Giving Up The Gun” with it’s pulsing synth bassline, simple vocals and the well constructed percussion that keeps the whole song going.
Overall, I quite like the album and the shift of sound that the band have gone for. The album has held my attention well since I first got it but the songs do get a little samey for me and can feel a little downbeat at times.
4/5 horse riding monkeys
Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
Sporting one of the more ‘interesting’ album covers of the last few months, “Romance Is Boring” is the third offering from Los Campesinos! following the release of both of their first two albums back in 2008. LC are second only to Frank Turner for total number of plays on my last.fm thanks to their fantastic debut album which has had so many listens that I’m surprised the files haven’t burnt themselves out on my ipod. However, I was very underwhelmed with their second album which felt a little rush and seemed to lack the energy and fun factor that “Hold On Now Youngster” had that kept me coming back to it so often.
This album has taken me a little bit of time to get into as it seems to fall between these two albums with regards to it’s sound. It still has some of the upbeat indie pop tunes that made me love the first album so much, such as “There Are Listed Buildings” and “This Is A Flag. There Is No Wind”, but it has a little bit more of a grownup sound around it like “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” had but it feels a lot more complete this time round.
I’m being pretty vague I know but I can’t quite put my finger on what I like about it more than “WAB, WAD” (what a great acronym) but I also get the feeling that I may have been a bit harsh on that album in hindsight. That all said, I do think this is a better overall album and a bit of a return to form as there are plenty of tracks I really like including the title track and, my possible favourite “We’ve got Your Back” with the line “I’ve learnt more from toilet walls than I’ve learnt from these words of yours” which helps show that the band’s obscure but brilliant lyrics are still in place.
A couple of tracks don’t work for me, such as “Plan A” which I just can’t listen to, but there are other songs that lean towards another sound of theirs which I really like. The song that most comes to mind being “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” and this is a sound I’d like to hear more of from them.
Altogether, I think this album is an improvement over their previous one but sounds much closer to that than their debut album. However, there are a number of songs on the album that hint at another sound of theirs that I look forward to seeing them build on while still producing some top quality indie pop.
Oh, and does anyone else think the end of “Straight In At 101” is a real ripoff of the Superman Revenge Squad sound?
4/5 arty monkeys
Filed under: album review, music | Tags: audio antihero, benjamin shaw, nosferatu d2
Audio Antihero (or Jamie as his mum would call him) is an unusual idea for a record company; release albums that you like in the knowledge you may never even break even let alone make money. They even label themselves as “specialists in commercial suicide” which sounds reassuring.
But on the flipside, you have to admire a guy who loves an album so much that he will do all of this to ensure at least a handful of other people can get their grubby little mitts on a record made by a band that no longer exist. A full interview with the man behind the label can be found here. As interesting as the whole backstory is, that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to talk about the music. So I will.
Nosferatu D2 – We’re Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise
Sporting one of the longest album titles I know, the debut (and most likely only) release from ND2 comes a mere two years after they split up. The band are (were?) made up of two brothers; Ben and Adam Parker. If there is anyone out there who you could call a ‘regular’ to this blog will most likely recognise the first of these names as Ben now performs under the title of Superman Revenge Squad, someone who I’ve spoken of a few times in the past. It’s due to the fact that Ben was in the band that first drew my attention to the album on it’s release.
As with SRS, Ben takes responsibility for vocals and guitars. Unlike SRS though, this time he’s plugged in and sticks purely to ‘singing’ rather than using spoken prose which makes SRS so distinct. This leaves Adam with the responsibility of providing the percussion for the band which he does brilliantly with some frantic and relentless drumming throughout the album. The two of them provide a very raw sound between them that easily flits between slow, plodding tunes and an all out thrashing of their instruments. Both of these provide a backing for Ben’s vocals which may not be to everyones liking as it’s fair to say that he wouldn’t exactly get far on something like the X Factor..
The sound of the vocals almost doesn’t matter as the content of the words, rather than the sound of them, is what matters as they seek to find the depressing side of all the mundane things in life with Wetherspoons food, queuing in Tescos and even Christmas day all in line to receive the Parker treatment and it’s in this where the band shows its strengths. The songs don’t completely rely on the lyrics though and in some songs, such as ‘Springsteen’ and ‘It’s Christmas Time (For God’s Sake)’ everything comes together to create some great little songs.
Altogether, this is an interesting album to listen to. For me, it’s difficult to talk about the album without making comparisons to SRS (if you hadn’t noticed) and so for me, it feels like ‘SRS: the punk rock years’. Or something. As a package it feels a little hashed together at times but when everything comes together it works really well.
4/5 sad monkeys
Benjamin Shaw – I Got The Pox, The Pox Is What I Got EP
Benjamin Shaw is Audio Antihero’s only other artist and the EP is his first commercial release. With just six tracks, it’s easy to talk about each track on the album as well as the album as a whole.
The opener “Thanks For All the Biscuits” starts pff with a whole muddle of noise until it eventually settles down on just Benjamin’s ukulele/guitar and his timid vocals singing about “how everyone’s gone”, with some gentle percussion joining in to create a beautiful, minimal song. This ends with more noise that leads into the next track which just features his voice and a piano that almost sounds as if it’s being played underwater.
The rest of the EP is more of the same with gentle guitars accompanying Benjamin’s gravelly, fragile vocals that sound as if they could go at any point. The occasional addition of gentle backing vocals, quiet drumming, and harmonica and guitar solos at various points give the songs an extra layer and stops them getting too boring and samey.
Overall, it’s not a record you could listen to over and over again but that doesn’t mean it’s bad; I said the same thing about the Antlers’ album which was my favourite release of 2009. Benjamin’s vocals are very distinct and a whole host of adjectives can be used to try to describe them but it’s almost impossible to do so. The songs mostly have a wonderful minimal feel to them but every now and again descend into something a bit different and something that Graham Coxon would be proud of.
4/5 singing space monkeys
You can buy both records from the Audio Antihero store!
Filed under: album review | Tags: album review, grace and the bigger picture, johnny foreigner, our first american friends, tubelord
Tubelord – Our First American Friends
Long time followers of the blog will now that Tubelord are a band I’m rather fond of and have managed to catch live twice. You’d also know that I’ve been longing for them to release an album ever since I got wind of them and now they finally have!
‘Friends’ is exactly what we’d been waiting for from a Tubelord album; all their best songs off the various singles they’d released together as well as recordings of songs they’ve been playing live for ages and new material all at the same time. All the ‘classic’ tracks such as Night Of The Pencils and I Am Azerrad all feature on the album (although, curiously, not Feed Me A Box Of Words) and they sound as good as they ever did.
On the first few listens I didn’t know what to make of the production of the album as it felt as though it may have been a bit overdone but now I appreciate the better quality of sound that the album gives but I still respect the raw sound of the older releases of theirs.
The album itself is well paced throughout with the opener Your Bed Is Kind Of Frightening setting the scene perfectly with it’s slow, minimal intro before launching into a full on Tubelord assault; harmonies, singalong sections and furious little riffs. The older material is nicely dispersed through the album and provides a good backdrop to some of the different newer stuff with the more electronice Stacey’s Left Arm and the wonderful acoustic track Cows To The East, Cities To The West providing a slight change of direction.
Overall, the album is what I’d hoped for but I can’t help but think it’s six months to a year overdue. That said, it was well worth the wait.
Highlights: Night Of Pencils, Propellor
Sounds Like: Tellison, Colour
Rating: 4/5 shocked monkeys
Johnny Foreigner – Grace And The Bigger Picture
First things first; I never owned the first Johnny Foreigner album but heard bits and pieces of it every now and again. I’m not sure why I never got it as I didn’t dislike their sound, in fact it’s one I quite like, but I didn’t. As such, this album is written completely on it’s own merits and not with the possible difficult-second-album tag attached to it for me.
As a whole, I quite like the album but there’s something about it that stops me from really enjoying it. There are a couple of tracks on there that I absolutely adore, Feels Like Summer and Criminals being the main ones for me, but the rest of it seems to fall a bit short of their standard. The two songs I mention are brilliant indie-punk-pop tracks that build up and bounce along brilliantly. However, some of the other tracks just don’t quite seem to manage the same thing; some meander along and repeat themselves without ever building up or climaxing.
The album also has quite a few little filler tracks linking parts of the album together and these work with varying success. I’llchoosemysideandshutup, Alright is a brilliant piece of music and it’s a shame it only ended up as a 90 second piece rather than a full track.
The album as a whole is well worth a listen as there are some cracking tunes. But for me there are just too many average songs on the album and I can’t help but feel that bands like Los Campesinos and Dananananaykroyd do this sort of thing better these days..
Highlights: Feels Like Summer, Criminals
Sounds Like: Los Campesinos, Dananananaykroyd
Rating: 3/5 scary monkeys