Album Reviews


One morning, about a week ago, I woke up with this raspy male voice singing a really catchy tune inside my head. At first I thought it was another dream-induced song that I would never hear again, which always leaves me disappointed. However once the brain cells began to kick in, I realized that it was actually Paul Kelly’s voice that was echoing in my mind.

So who’s Paul Kelly then?

Well, he’s the front man of The Martial Arts, a four-piece Glasgow band that makes stripped down, energetic indie-pop like so many other bands today (Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, The Delays etc.). With that said, It could be easy to just write them off as just another indie-band in the bunch, but The Martial Arts have two key-features to their advantage: Kelly’s voice and some great melodies.

On their debut album, “Your Sinclair” the boys deliver one pop gem after the other which just as easily could give one an much needed energy boost on a Wednesday morning, as get the party started on a Friday night. “Your Sinclair” isn’t groundbreaking or anything, simply a good indie-pop record by a band that deserves a wider audience, which I’m sure they will accomplish eventually.

One thing needs to be said though: as the record is written by Kelly, I often get the feeling that this is his project, and the rest of the boys (Joe Kane, Gregor Mackay, Sean McGrath) are only there to back him up. Granted that it started more or less as a solo gig, with Kelly feeling a bit lonely in the recording studio, but as a whole the band still don’t feel completely moulded yet.

I’m quite confident though, given some time, that The Martial Arts will be kicking some serious ass together.

“Your Sinclair” is available in stores now via Groover Recordings.

Question: What could possibly make Modest Mouse’s music even more tantalizing to the eardrums?

Answer: Add in the riffs and embellishments of Johnny Marr from the Smiths fame.

For me Modest Mouse has always been about the vocals and lyrics. Not saying that the music wasn’t good – it was/is fabulous – but the highlight has always been Isaac Brock’s quirky lyrics and absolutely unique vocal style. This strength shines once again on their latest album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, but the music, all those instruments, unusual percussion, noises, and backing vocals supporting Isaac’s lead vocal, has become a mind blowing aural (no, not oral) experience.

What I am trying to say is that the addition of Johnny Marr to the band may have seemed like a highly unusual choice, it did for me, but it really works. Everything Modest Mouse is still there, wholly intact, but there’s something extra that wasn’t there before.

Despite undeniable commercial success, Modest Mouse has always flown just under the radar of wide popular acceptance making them irrepressibly ‘indie cool.’ Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint on such matters, this album is set to change all that. It is so undeniably tasty from the opening accordion sounds on “March Into the Sea” to what sound like howling wolves of the closing track “Invisible” that this album is going to go big. As an aside, those wolf sounds made me think of Grandpa Simpson, “I’m cold and there are wolves after me.” For me, this broadening popularity of Modest Mouse makes me happy as more people should hear this band, know about this band. On the downside, the days of being able to see these guys in a smaller venue are likely coming to a close.

Modest Mouse’s musical mastery on We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is such that they can send you into a reflective happy trance, then jar you out of that complacent state with discordant vocals and guitars, then get you up and dancing to disco inspired bass and drums as you sing along to the melody…all of this often in the context of one song. That’s mastery. The opening track, “March Into The Sea”, is a prime example of this phenomenon.

The first single from the album, “Dashboard” (see the video above), showcases Johnny Marr’s influence on Modest Mouse, his embellishments and guitar tone absolutely shines. It is a highly danceable and singable song, destined for wide radio play. If it doesn’t end up there…well then the DJ’s are idiots. Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ.

The only downside to this album was learning that I am nothing more than a carbon thief. On the plus side, it’ll all come full circle under some karmic rebalancing mechanism, for “Someday [I] will die somehow and someone’s gonna steal [my] carbon.”

One last time, and for greater clarity, this album is going to make existing Modest Mouse fans ecstatic. For those that haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced to their music, there’s never been a better time. Buy this album. It’s fucking awesome.

David Morley

Band
MySpace


Ahh, the cover song. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes disastrous and always subject to scrutiny. Truthfully, it’s rare that a cover is worthwhile. Typically, a cover will fall into one of 2 categories: 1)at best, they are simply stale retreads of the original (see: Billy Idol’s ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’) or more frequently 2)at worst, they are misguided attempts to reinterpret or update a classic with predictably horrible results (see: t.A.t.U.’s ‘How Soon Is Now’).

Now, this is not to say that a cover can’t be brilliant. There are those rare artists that take an original and really make it their own. For instance, the Hendrix versions of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ & ‘Sgt Peppers’, Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ or Iron & Wine’s ‘Such Great Heights’. These just tend to occur less frequently than the aforementioned trainwrecks.

Which brings us to the subject of my post, one Miss Eliza Lumley. She is currently preparing her release of ‘She Talks in Maths’, a series of Radiohead covers done in jazz & classical styles. Of course, this isn’t the first time Radiohead has been subjected to the covers/tribute treatment. In the past few years we’ve seen a reggae tribute, a rap tribute, a string quartet tribute, a horrible, horrible suck the soul out of every song tribute & even a series of lullabyes for the kids.

Given such an abundance of tributes/covers/etc., one has to ask the question, do we really need yet another artist taking on the Radiohead catalogue? The answer in this case, sadly, is no. Miss Lumley’s voice – pretty as it is – does not bring anything new to the equation and tends to fall into category 1 for covers. Whereas a creative backing band/arrangement could have elevated this work beyond simple ‘covers’ territory, the lack of variety only serves to amplify the similarity in each song. That ‘sameness’ might not be so noticeable if not for the fact that the source material is so varied and held in such high regard. Sadly, overall, this album plays as a tribute to a tribute rather than a fresh take. Which is a shame, since we’ve seen compelling creative reinterpretations in recent years with bands such as Nouvelle Vague not to mention the fact that I think Lumley could do quite well given the proper material.

Now, far be it for me to assume my opinion is the only one…so please check the music out and decide for yourself. She has three takes streaming on her Myspace: Black Star, Street Spirit and How To Disappear Completely. The entire cd can be purchased here.

Eliza’s Myspace

The Arcade Fire
Neon Bible

Imagine that you are standing on a dark, deserted beach. The last strings of sunlight are touching the ocean, and the water turns from dark blue to pitch black. Complete silence surrounds you.

Then, the first wave comes crashing onto the beach.

This is the image that appeared in my mind when I first heard the opening track of The Arcade Fire’s new album “Neon Bible”. I’m not going to get too poetic though, I just felt that I had to share this imagery to set the mood, per se. However nearly every song is like dark waves crashing over you and sweeping you out into the ocean; sometimes you’re riding high, other times floating peacefully.

The Arcade Fire have really outdone themselves, and possibly every band in their genre with this album. There’s not a single err among the songs, all richly arranged with full-on orchestra, mandolins, intense vocals and you name it.

The album as a whole is as intense and theatrical as their previous efforts, although perhaps a bit more dramatic as well as more put together. And, they’ve gotten quite catchy as well: “Keep the car running” is sure to be one of the first songs to stick to your brain for good couple of days, followed by the sombre title track, “Intervention”, “Windowsill” and “No cars go”.

But these are really only examples. Trust me when I say that every song has something to offer, whether it throws you into a thrashing current, or a calming flow.

Just jump in and let the tide lead you to the lighthouse.

Believe in the Neon Bible!

U.S. release date is March 5 on Merge Records

UK invasion band with a “The” name

I don’t fully understand the “the“ trend with band names but considering I had to look up what a Fratelli might possibly be, maybe its worthy of a THE. (Fratelli in Italian means brothers, and while their press says members include Barry, Mince, and Jon Fritelli, bassist Barry Fratelli is the only true Fratelli and other members just adopted the name).

The Fratellis won the British Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards on Valentine’s Day just last week. You might recognize their single “Flathead” which was featured in the most recent installment of Itunes/Ipod commercials and “Chelsea Dagger” may have had you dancing during Safeway’s commercial Super Bowl Sunday. Playing up their endorsement deal, they put out an ep recorded at a London Apple store performance.

Picture The Libertines as a marching band freakin’ out, pumping trombones as they saunter down main street. “Henrietta” is sung on the down beat equally upbeat as an ipod commercial should be, the kind you can’t help but doing a lil foot shake in your office chair. While at times the production on Costello Music is a bit grating on the ears, “Whistle for the Choir”, simple and crisp, is the love song I want written for and sung to me.

The album is Happy Birthday! upbeat without feeling like a sugar-coated pill. OH and there’s a triangle! Y’know you haven’t heard that since choir practice. Costello Music will make you want to sing along in an Art Brut sort-of way.

“I love the way you city girls dress even though your head’s in a mess” These boys have just enough of a faux twang to be endearing, especially when that endearment includes melodic Whistling. Seuss-like rhythms incorporate narrative fast word play about the UK and accompany predictable song structures, making the barely 3 minutes songs redundant at times. “Shite bar”, “petrol”…oh those silly Brits.

“She getting the pills when
I was into her best friend
She was chasing the thrills
And living down at the West End
she was pretty in braces
I lived out of her window
She said take me to London
Tell me something I don’t know”

“And oh you know we country boys are only after sex and noise” shows a confessional-like honesty.

Incorporating the special qualities of spontaneity that I love about the band Anathallo, The Fratellis pull it off while still achieving that familiar pop melody. Pop and goold ol’ pub banter. Definately sounds as if they were raised around some cheesey country dancing bars probably attending a square dance from time to time.
The name for the album comes from the name of the studio where they used to play, which is situated in Budhill, Glasgow above a Chinese takeaway. This would explain why the album has a mid-quality studio sound, but maybe it’s a manufactured mid-range quality sound. Classic pop album starts strong, peters down and ends finely tuned enough to make you smirk with a hidden glee.

Costello Music is loveable for the same reason I loved Eve 6 when “Heart in a Blender” came out.

The “Flathead” video brings their album art ladies to life (available at http://www.thefratellis-us.com/video/player/) Red ties, black button up shirts, built in sing along lyrics, awkwardly dancing mockingly sexy mistresses kicking their legs in syncopated time.

“Chelsea Dagger” shot in burlesque show setting, but its the boys playing up to the camera rather than the scantily clad girls. Chorus line finale with leg kicks, but of course.

Also this jumsptyle mock-up video of the song with some Europeans doing funny dances around town is highly entertaining

Costello Music will be released in the U.S. on March 13th via Interscope Records

Have you ever wondered what 70’s era Pink Floyd would have sounded like if Syd Barrett hadn’t taken too much LSD resulting in his ejection from the band? In this alternate reality the band continues to experiment with improvised sonic soundscapes and never stumbles on formulaic commercial gold in the form of Dark Side of the Moon. If you took this band and injected it with a heavy dose of “Pet Sounds” harmonies and effects, and the stringed/orchestral instrumentation from early day Moody Blues. Finally, if you updated the resulting sound with modern overtones – distortion & tonalities – you might just end up with something similar to The Besnard Lakes’ The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse.


Less and more precisely, The Besnard Lakes are improvisational jams interjected with noise pop that mood swings from the melancholy to the inspirational over 6 minute long trippy opuses while invoking alternately haunting and reflective imagery in the listener.

Phew.

Try saying that five times fast. On second thought, don’t. Take a cue from The Besnard Lakes and take your time to get where I’m going, where we’re going. Just read it over a few times and let it sink in and then ponder these questions:

Who said that a song should be three minutes long?

Why is everyone in a rush to get somewhere anyway?

Is it about getting there or is it about the journey?

If music for you is about the journey and if you miss the experimental and improvisational side of psychedelic pop rock that was killed dead in the 70’s by the over indulgent egos of prog rockers, then The Besnard Lakes are your band.

A personal favorite was “Rides the Rails,” a merger of all that was good and not pretentious and cheesy in the Moody Blues (think Ride My See Saw) with all that was experimental and strange in Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd.

Standouts aside, I dug the whole album, and really appreciate what these guys are up to. A short laundry list of things I appreciate: heavily reverbed falsetto male vocals, the tendency to never rush music, a diverse cross section of influences, experimentation, an obvious attention to detail, and tones from yesteryear (rotary/leslie reverb, Hammond organ tones) merged with more modern sounds. In short, I found the album refreshing, challenging, and unique; unique in spite of the obviousness of their influences. It was a joy to listen to yet made me sad, very sad indeed, that I live in Calgary and not Montreal, the epicenter of all that is good in indie music. I can just imagine that The Besnard Lakes would put on a phenomenal live show.

David Morley

Band
MySpace

The Trolleyvox are melodic pop, mellow and smooth like a fine scotch, with pristine acoustic guitars & vocals by Beth Filla both of which stand out in the (generally) sparse instrumentation of The Trolleyvox Present The Karaoke Meltdowns. If you’re looking for a comparison to other bands I’d say that The Trolleyvox are kind of a prettier version of The Replacements.

There are no disappointing songs on the album and, if there is something to complain about, it would be that consistency. The Trolleyvox have developed a ‘sound’ and each track has a distinctly similar structure and sound to it. That’s ok – The Trolleyvox clearly are not about experimentation – they are pure melodic pop and are exceptional at what they do.


The Trolleyvox did manage to shake things up just enough to keep my interest going. Just when I thought that things were going to just coast along song to song, the band throws in a jangly guitar, power pop riffs, a driving bassline, or piano/keyboards to lift things out of the completely expected. That’s a good thing. This was particularly the case on the track “Joyride” where Andrew sings the lead vocal. It was a nice sonic break from Beth’s wonderfully floaty/syrupy vocals, and I found myself enjoying her voice all the more when she returned on the track that follows it, “Baby You Were Lied To”.

“I Am Annabelle” with its brilliant lyric (that ended up being the album title), “In the sad karaoke meltdown”, is definitely a standout track. This is music that should be on commercial radio if it already isn’t. A close second would have to be “Deep Blue Central” where the percussion is provided by what sounds mostly like a trotting horse (or coconuts clapped together a la Monty Python’s Holy Grail.) It’s a really pretty sound with just the amount of reverb to fill in the sparse instrumentation of the song. And, ya, did I mention that Beth can really sing? It’s the beautiful melody and the gorgeous tone of her voice that drags you into this song.

This is a great commercial album, sonically pleasing and smooth, and lyrically shines. The latter is the greatest strength (and least commercial aspect) of the album and could be lost to the inattentive ear that just tunes into Beth’s elegant vocals, Andrew’s power pop guitar riffs, and the exceptional harmonies. This album is a must for those that dig accessible pop music with a focus on quirky and interesting lyrics.

David Morley

Band
MySpace

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