Tracks Monkeys With Lasers

New Album Reviews – Vampire Weekend and Los Campesinos!
February 9, 2010, 9:06 pm
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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 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

New Album Reviews – Tubelord and Johnny Foreigner

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

New Album Reviews – Maybeshewill and Miike Snow

Maybeshewill – Sing The Word Hope In Four-Part Harmony

Maybeshewill finally released their second album last Monday but I’ve been listening to it for a fair while after picking up a copy at their show last month.

After their first release ‘Not For Want Of Trying’ in 2008, which was one of my albums of the year and possibly my favourite post rock album, they had a lot to live up to. All their previous work, both the first album and the ‘Japanese Spy Transcript’ EP, has a slightly heavier, more intense sound than a lot of post rock bands and it’s this, along with their use of movie samples, that has always endeared them to me and with this album it is definitely more of the same.

The opening track ‘You Can’t Shake Hands With A Clenched Fist’ sets the tone for the album brilliantly with loud, sharp guitars creating an sound that could accompany any apocalyptic movie scene before launching into Co-Conspirators which contains everything a good Maybeshewill track should, as does How To Have Sex With A Ghost.

Elsewhere on the album, This Time Last Year and Last Time This Year both feature which was something of a surprise to me as they’d both featured on a 12″ split (with Her Name Is Calla) that they released last year. However, they’ve been reworked and sound better than ever here. Accept and Embrace is a strange track that I sometimes love and am sometime indifferent to but for no real reason. Our History Will Be What We Make Of It is an unusual track, comprising just spoken dialogue overlying a minimal electronic track. But it works.

To close, we have the title track of the album which starts out in a very sedate manner with just the piano and slowly building and building before the specially written dialogue comes in.

Altogether, this is a fantastic album for me that builds on the previous work perfectly. It does feel a little short at 38 minuts (with the final track having a couple of minutes of silence at the end of it) and this feels even more apparant seeing as two of the eight tracks have already been released. It may not quite be as good as their first album, but it’s still one of my favourite albums of the year so far.

Highlights: Co-Conspirators, Our History Will Be What We Make Of It

Sounds Like: 65daysofstatic, And So I Watch You From Afar

Rating: 9 wise monkeys

How To Have Sex With A Ghost

Miike Snow – Self Titled

Monday also saw the release of the debut album from the Swedish trio, Miike Snow, which comprises Andrew Wyatt, Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg. The three have known each other since 2004 when writing material for another artist. The album wasn’t a success but the three remained in contact and in 2007 they formed the band.

The album is strong throughout but, for me, the first three tracks are by far the best; Animal kicks off the album with it’s light, ‘bouncy’ synths and minimal vocals over the top. Burial, possibly my favourite track, follows in a similar vein but builds to a bit more of a crescendo in places, before leading to Silvia, the darkest song of the three, which builds and drops in a fantastic manner.

The rest of the album has a fairly similar feel to the opening tracks but every track manages to be different enough so that the album never feels overly repetitive. While this may be a good thing as the sound they do produce is something I possibly wouldn’t normally listen to but something I enjoyed. However, it does feel as though they found their sound but were afraid to experiment too much which is a bit of a shame. Here’s just hoping they’ve saved some big ideas for the second album.

Highlights: Animal, Burial, Silvia

Sounds Like: A chilled out mix somewhere between Animal Collective and MGMT. But not.

Rating: 7 snow monkeys


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