Wednesday, 29 October 2014

''Hozier'' Hozier - A Review

The supersonic rise of Andrew Byrne, better known to you and me these days as Hozier, has been an extraordinarily rapid process over the past year. Coming off the summer of 2013, Trinity College dropout Byrne was a 23 year old everyman playing to small festival crowds around the nation; fast forward 12 months and he's not only an Irish phenomenon but a worldwide charting success, confirmed by his topping of the US Billboard charts in recent weeks. All of this is without doubt an astounding achievement for a young Bray native and the Irish music press have rightly backed Byrne all the way and celebrated his triumph with much emphasis, and now comes the time to examine Hozier in a more detailed light as his long awaited self titled debut drops toward the latter end of the year.

The tracklisting wisely kicks off with Hozier's breakthrough anthem, the sorrowful yet irrespectively fashionable ''Take Me To Church'', the Irish single of the year which seems to have one over even the most casual music fan with its dark chic and melodic undertones, and this blend of haunting rhythm is a theme which overrides the rest of the album and makes for the main ingredient in Hozier's outrageous mainstream success. ''Angel Of Small Death And The Codeine Scene'' provides another single ready track that subtly introduces the bluesy style rock of the following tracks before we're fully immersed in the Hozier sound on ''Jackie And Wilson'', ''Someone New'' and ''To Be Alone''. These three rock'n'roll showcases are the purest examples of Hozier's fetish for a updated take on vintage, classic blues music and they expose Byrne's most significant influence in prominent style as the legendary figure of another Irishman, Van Morrison, looms heavily over each song in the most positive manner possible, particularly on playful love odes ''Jackie And Wilson'', an obvious nod to The Man himself, and ''Someone New'' in which Byrne's vocals delightfully imitate the trademark sound of the Northern Irish native.

Perhaps the most wonderful tribute to Van however, and indeed the greatest moment of the entire album, is ''From Eden'', a sprawling, magnificent pop classic of epic proportions that bursts with soul and wisdom far beyond the 23 years of its creator, and this 5 minute centerpiece only serves confirms the serious level of talent embedded in Byrne. As the album continues, further mainstream smash hits await in ''Sedated'' and the hugely promising ''Foreigner's God'', a penultimate track boasting an impossibly powerful piano hook and vocals to match that could yet further the status of Hozier's act if exposed to mainstream popularity, while quieter highlights come in the form of ''Like Real People Do'' and final track ''Cherry Wine'', both soft acoustic numbers that bring to mind the work Justin Vernon on For Emma, if on a slightly more accessible basis, and these calm beautys wash the album to a close in a finish worthy of this excellent debut work.

It's a refreshing and satisfying thing to be able to say that in this case, the hype has been entirely justified. Andrew Byrne proves on Hozier that he is a special musician and songwriter, capable of great things on the big stage and coming off the back of this mighty debut, the world is his for the taking. On Hozier we are introduced to an artist possessed with such natural ability and fearlessness that makes it impossible not to imagine even greater things for the future, but right now we've been blessed with the best Irish debut album in many years, and that's a truly great thing itself.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

''Ryan Adams'' Ryan Adams - A Review

Ryan Adams has always been an acquired taste for music lovers, dividing opinion throughout his considerable career with a wild range of records both good and bad, but one thing you must credit the alternative country songwriter for is his constant need to switch it up and insatiable hunger to explore new musical territories, even if it has sometimes resulted in theatrical mishaps. Once again Adams is found shifting shape on Ryan Adams, his fourteenth solo release, as he reverts back to the rock style that was so aggressively dismissed on Rock n Roll back in 2003, a bold move both considering the hostile reception he received back then and additionally when you acknowledge the fact that Adams last truly stellar piece of work was the quiet folk beauty of 29 all the way back in 2005.

It becomes clear quite rapidly from the outset however that Adams is in fine form on this self titled collection, delivering a variety of vintage rock tracks that shine throughout with melody and poise, making it one of the most enjoyable easy listening experiences of the year. Acts such as R.E.M, Bruce Springsteen and a host of 70's and 80's classic acts flow through the mind instantly on the definitive songs that make up the spine of the album, from opener and ready made single ''Gimme Something Good'' and ''Am I Safe'' all the way through to ''Stay With Me'' and ''I Just Might'' on the latter end of the tracklist. The straightforward titles of such reflect the simplicity of Adams approach throughout the record but rather than this coming off as lackluster, the direct attitude of the songwriting harkens back to simpler times, creating a nostalgic buzz that populates the record and provides it with a warm and familiar atmosphere.

It's not all rock'n'roll though as we catch glimpses of the kind of beauty that is instilled in his finest works, with the short and awfully sweet ''My Wrecking Ball'' gifting us possibly the best moment of the album in a country acoustic piece that could easily slip into magnum opus Gold, while closing number ''Let Go'' is another particularly soft and special three and a half minutes that fades us out with the kind of wonderful tenderness that reminds you just how talented the man still is after two decades in the business. Elsewhere there are deeper emotions at work buried underneath the guitars with ''Kim'' revisiting the emotive, sentimental rock of Love Is Hell and ''Shadows'' featuring an intense build that's contrasted and resolved by carefree break up anthem ''Feels Like Fire''.

Throughout 11 tracks and 42 short minutes there's not a second wasted by Adams who delivers one of his best albums yet as he approaches middle age and seemingly begins to mature into a more reliable performer, a significant detail considering that consistency has been one element missing over the past 15 years of his solo career even while the level of skill was unquestionable. Now that Adams has taken the opportunity to label this simple yet brilliant album and its nostalgia based, classic sound under his own name we begin to get a clearer picture of the songwriter after all these years and hopefully an indication of what we can look forward to going forward.

Asked about the nature of the music prior to the album release, Adams stated ''I’m too old to pretend like I give a shit about doing something that’s not what I am'', and based on the quality of Ryan Adams, it's obvious that the man is best when simply being himself rather than caricatures he's played in the past. If we're lucky, then Ryan Adams could very well act as an introduction to a more dependable, reassured and rewarding side to alternative country's favourite son.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

''El Pintor'' Interpol - A Review

Just four years ago, Interpol were a band shrouded in uncertainty and doubt following the departure of celebrated bassist Carlos Dengler and a deservedly cool reception to the band's uninspired self titled fourth release. A much needed hiatus ensued with band members pursuing solo projects and the Interpol went unheard for over 3 years before announcing El Pintor this summer, a ten track return with frontman Paul Banks filling in on bass. In some ways the fact that a fifth album exists at all is an achievement in itself, but questions surrounding Interpol's future were still relevant until proven wrong with a definitive return to form, and thankfully on El Pintor this is mostly what we get.

The band's knack for kicking off with a spectacular opener (even on Interpol, ''Success'' was the obvious standout from a dull bunch) reemerges on ''All The Rage Back Home''- the album's lead single briefly begins in the brooding, methodical style employed on past openers ''Next Exit'' and ''Pioneer To The Falls'' before rapidly transforming into an Antics-like up tempo rocker a la ''Slow Hands'' and it's an exciting way to kick things off, symbolizing the rejuvenated spirit and energy of the band and in turn inspiring hope for the rest of the tracklist all inside a seemingly abrupt four and a half minutes that would be worthy of any Interpol record.

Admittedly, ''All The Rage'' is as high as we get throughout the 40 minutes of El Pintor, but ans optimism should remain intact over the first half of the album as ''My Desire'', ''Anywhere'' and ''Same Town, New Story'' do a good job of very purposely recalling old tracks and prominent moments in the band's catalogue, a wise and calculated move considering the circumstances, as Interpol attempt to find their feet by carefully retracing their own steps and for the most part executing it smartly if a little cautiously. ''My Desire'' showcases a groovy bass arrangement by Banks that demonstrates the fact that the band can move on without the cult-like figure of Dengler, who probably taught Banks a thing or two about the four stringed instrument in their time together judging by new material. ''Anywhere'' goes for a ''Not Even Jail''/''Mammoth'' sound complete with thumping drums and siren like guitars before ''Same Town, New Story'' lowers the pace in a smooth, vintage slow burner.

Banks' hit and miss lyrics have long been a topic of discussion for fans, many of whom see it as little more than a humorous side note that rears its head on occasion, but the singer's sometimes strange words can tend to get a little distracting on the second side of the album with titles like ''Everything Is Wrong'' and Twice As Hard'' falling flat, even if the music behind them turns out better than the names would suggest. Similarly ''My Blue Supreme'' is a bit of an enigma in parts, treading a thin line due to Banks' ill advised venture in falsetto vocals from the beginning but eventually laying down an assured chorus and pulling off a strangely playful yet endearing track.

''Breaker 1'' and ''Ancient Ways'' carry us toward the latter stages of the album with a heavy wave of guitar and drums in more obvious yet decent callbacks to times past, before ''Tidal Wave'' exudes the kind of dark intensity that made the band famous with some excellent guitar work from Sam Fogarino in a late highlight. Looking past the simplistic wordplay of the aforementioned ''Twice As Hard'', this atmospheric closer does a respectable job of wrapping things up with touches of piano,  a slow build up and booming chorus to cross the finish line in solid form, even if it can't quite hold a candle to the likes of ''Leif Erikson'' and ''The Lighthouse''.

To constantly compare the reunited trio of Banks, Fogarino and Kessler to the Interpol of old is probably unfair and a little misleading at times, but it's also inevitable- there are certain expectations of a band when they deliver one of the greatest rock albums on their first attempt, but to expect the standard of Turn On The Bright Lights again would be foolish. Instead the most reasonable thing to hope for on El Pintor was a solid, consistent return to the studio and a resulting product with which there could be a foundation built upon for the future of Interpol. It was incredibly difficult to judge how likely a prospect this was when the album was first announced back in June owing to the schizophrenic nature of this once great band, but El Pintor has thankfully resurrected Interpol as a serious and respectable name in rock music, providing us with a satisfying if not stupefying set of tracks that can hopefully mark the beginning of a progressive new Interpol, or at least a content one.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

''What Is This Heart?'' How To Dress Well - A Review

Tom Krell may boast a pretty silly stage name as How To Dress Well but his music under this moniker has always been dead serious. Ever since emerging with his own brand of ambient/electronic R&B with Love Remains in 2010 followed by Total Loss (2012), Krell has found consistent critical acclaim for his poignant, emotional style and carefully executed delivery, all of which have never been more obvious than on ''What Is This Heart?'', the third and greatest release of How To Dress Well's short career.

It all starts with the unsettling cold sound of acoustic folk opener ''2 Years On (Shame Dream)'', an intriguing opening that'll prepare you for the emotional intensity of the following 11 tracks but the genres are mixed up straight after as the usual sound of synth, drums and a glockenspiel hook on ''What You Wanted'', an early highlight that leads into ''Face Again'', a self doubting anthem laden with warm, string like synths. The impressive start to proceedings continues with the all too brief but beautiful interlude ''See You Fall'', a dreamy piano led ballad that introduces electric guitar for the first time and kicks in with drums before its end.

The midsection of the album shows off Krell's range of musicianship in some style, beginning with Haim like funky indie rock track ''Repeat Pleasure'' before the album slips effortlessly back into an intimate R&B vibe with spectacula six minuter centerpiece ''Words I Don't Remember'', a majestic vocal led track backed by swirling synths that moves itself into an instrumental passage for its extended second half. Possibly the best track of the album is next on ''Pour Cyril'' which utilizes string like synth notes again for emotive effect before combining with Krell's outstanding voice for an ethereal, glorious sound that comes off somewhere between Sigur Ros and Bon Iver with its hypnotizing beauty.

Approaching the end of the album, the most single worthy tunes come in the form of ''Precious Love'', a chart ready track with a great hook reminiscent of some kind of electronic Boyz II Men mesh, that despite its obvious pop sensibilities never compromises the album's deep integrity, and then indie rock belter ''Childhood Faith In Love'' with its sped up tempo and the presence of guitar again. The shatteringly intense narure of Krell's artistry comes shining through again on ''A Power'', an uncomfortable piano piece with chilling vocal interludes before the only real misfire of the album rears its head on ''Very Best Friend''. Delivering on its cringeworthy title, this club suited beat is covered treads a thin line before descending completely into cheese territory. ''I know I can be extra sentimental/Yeah it's dumb but sometimes it's just right'' muses Krell throughout the chorus, and he's about half correct in that statement.

''Very Best Friend'' may be unfortunate but it's the only misstep on a tracklist that comes full circle on its delicate acoustic ending with ''House Inside'', a folk style ode that climaxes in a grandiose finish that is totally worthy of this magnificent record. By combining elements of pop, indie rock, hip-hop and electronica into one unique and accessible sound, How To Dress Well has crafted a special album in ''What Is This Heart?'', a near hour of R&B beauty that should leave a lasting impression among critics and elevate its artist to greater status among fans and contemporaries in modern music with its diverse sound, mature approach and immaculate execution.


Sunday, 7 September 2014

''LP1'' FKA Twigs - A Review

In what has so far been a relatively underwhelming year for the music industry, one particular kind of artist has shone through from beginning to the now approaching end. An abundance of solo female songwriters have led the way in 2014, spearheaded by the meteoric mainstream rise of Iggy Azealea and backed by quality releases from the likes of Lykke Li, Lana Del Ray and Mo. But as we enter the business end of the year we've been blessed with the debut album of Tahliah Debrett Barnett, better known as FKA twigs, mid- twenties London based singer-songwriter, producer and now creator of possibly the finest album of the year in LP1, a 40 minute exercise in electronic R&B, trip hop and dub music that introduces a brave and unique young artist at exactly the right time.

It all kicks off with an intro in which Barnett demonstrates a brief sample of her enormous vocal and production talents on ''Preface'' before ''Lights On'', probably the most straightforward and relatively accessible number on the album which eases in the listener with an infectious refrain before the more experimental stuff begins so gloriously on the mezmerizing ''Two Weeks''. On the lead single taken from the album, twigs delivers a 4 minute electronic masterpiece complete with an explosive, endlessly replayable chorus that sets a template for the kind of sensual electronica on offer over the next 7 tracks. It would be near impossible to replicate the song of the year contender that is ''Two Weeks'' again on the tracklist but that's exactly what happens on ''Pendulum'', another synth based beauty led by that voice, which this time takes a more fragile disposition as it examines the other side of attraction and relationships. ''Pendulum'' builds itself slowly on on its vocal before climaxing in an intense trip hop finish that calls to mind the work of James Blake, Barnett's natural artistic male counterpart.

''Two Weeks'' and ''Pendulum'' may be unbeatable highlights but they're backed by stellar work throughout the rest of the album as the inventive production work of twigs shines through on songs like ice cool jealously stinger ''Video Girl'' and ''Closer'', an affirmative ode to a loving savior of twigs that matches its delicate verses by reflecting the vibe of a carol recorded at the church altar with its echoed, reverberated execution.

For all the firepower that twigs invested in for the production side of things, with Clams Casino showing up for ''Hours'' and Sampha on ''Numbers'', it's both reassuring and surprising to see Barnett's name dominating the credits. Too often in the modern music scene it feels as though young artists are leaving the shift work to nameless faces in studio but twigs is one of a special breed, and the fact that she's the person behind these regularly innovative and unusual beats as well as the face delivering those exceptional vocal performances only serves to confirm suspicions that this is the beginning of a spectacular career.

All told, this is an album that 2014 needed. A much required shot of adrenaline for the current music landscape, LP1 sets the bar insanely high for upcoming artists and should strike fear into the hearts of established ones. This is a unique piece of music that dazzles at every turn and invents its own rules, all the while retaining enough synth pop charm to appeal to the masses, but hiding behind the barely conventional, Weeknd like R&B is a deeper, darker and challenging artist who is certain to continue stunning audiences for a long time based on the evidence of this 40 minute debut. If LP1 is just the beginning of FKA twigs, there's really no telling what majesty we're in for by the end.


Monday, 1 September 2014

A Sunny Day In Glasgow ''Sea When Absent'' - A Review

Since their formation in 2006 A Sunny Day In Glasgow have undergone several line up changes with frontman Ben Daniels remaining the sole constant member of the group, but one consistent element of the band's existence has been their critical acclaim, stemming all the way back to early favorable reviews from their beginnings with The Sunniest Day Ever EP and debut album Scribble Mural Comic Journal. Sea When Absent marks the band's 4th full length release and it presents a band at the height of their powers, weaving together 11 majestic synth based pop tracks into a serious contender for the best album of 2014 so far.

The album blasts into life on ''Bye Bye Big Ocean'' with a bombastic intro the like of which Steve Albini would be proud of as a heavy chorus of guitars almost drown out the lead vocal, making for a shoegaze feel that permeates the remainder of the album but perhaps not quite so ferociously as this opening number. The aforementioned shoegaze style comes in much softer fashion over the rest of the tracks, delivering a series of dream pop tracks early on that make for undoubted highlights such as ''Crushin'', a delicate trip that showcases the beautiful vocal work of the band's female vocalists Annie Fredrickson and Jen Goma before the tracks erupts at its end with a killer guitar solo, and ''MTLOV'', a feverishly catchy pop ballad that will swallow you whole with its earnestness and heartfelt delivery.

It's difficult to categorize A Sunny Day as any one particular style of band in general, mainly because of the impressive number of genres they manage to meld into one over the course of the album. The relatively straightforward indie rock tracks like ''In Love With Useless'' and ''The Things They Do To Me'' suggest influences like Broken Social Scene, while the anthemic, festival friendly sound of ''Initiation Rites'', ''The Body, It Bends'' and closer ''Golden Waves'' carry hints of The Arcade Fire and in between all of this the lingering presence of My Bloody Valentine is spread throughout, but in truth to compare A Sunny Day to these acts is a fruitless exercise as the band have single handedly created their own truly unique style through all the flawless genre bending on display here.

And that's where the beauty of Sea When Absent lies after its conclusion- it feels like the band have tapped into such a wide range of genres in order to procure their niche style, but the wonderful skill and focus with which the group execute these combinations makes for an effortlessly accessible sound that any fan of indie rock, pop and electro music will want to hear on repeat. This is an album that will engage both casual and dedicated listeners of music and it deserves to be heard by everyone with the faintest interest in modern music. By the end of the year, it will most certainly be listened to by many more as it finds itself a fighting contender for one of 2014's best albums.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Mellowhype ''INSA'' - A Review

''The idea of me is great/The result of me otherwise''

And so it often goes with Mellowhype and Odd Future in general, who since breaking onto the rap scene with their brand of shock hip-hop in the last half decade have delivered a wide range of content that has varied both in style and quality throughout their relatively short yet significant opening run. The likes of Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt have produced greatness while others such as Mellowhype, Domo Genesis and The Internet have hit inconsistent notes on their individual releases, often relying on the collective's developing reputation to support their own projects rather than any sign of outstanding talent.

That's not to say the lower key members of the group are totally lacking though; far from it, as Hodgy Beats and Left Brain, the duo that make up Mellowhype, have demonstrated on earlier releases like BlackenedWhite (similarly excellent output like Mike G's Ali make a case for backing up the OF troupe's bigger stars too), but too often the band has shown an inconsistent side that needs to be dropped for Mellowhype to progress further than the shadow of the Odd Future banner. So it's a good thing then that INSA (or I Need Some Answers) lives up to its title and provides us with a reinvented electronic rap sound that sounds like an exciting way forward for the young duo.

The first thing that should strike you immediately about INSA is that producer Left Brain has been listening to a lot of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath, as openers ''Gang'' and ''Bars'' unexpectedly sample Crystal Castles with much aplomb, particularly on the latter as the haunting acoustic sound of ''Tell Me What To Swallow'' is transformed into a dreamy soundscape beat for Hodgy to rhyme over in style. The rest of the album pleasantly follows suit, throwing up a mixture of laid back. synth laden backgrounds that confirm Left Brain's growth as a producer since the duo's beginnings and Hodgy's nasal delivery is as sharp and precise as ever cutting through the beats on the albums best moments like ''Belly'', ''I Am A'' and partucularly ''The Daze'', an intimate track that sounds as though it could have been taken from a Purity Ring playlist with a soothing female touch on the vocals in between verses. There's even room for an acoustic R&B style ballad on ''7'' just to showcase another side to the duo in the midsection in case you hadn't already noticed.

Where INSA briefly falls down is when it attempts to retread old paths on ''Fifafofum'', the album's undoubted lowlight. This messy and obnoxious track is guilty of reverting to old style OF humour that at this point is funny to no one but the band members themselves and it belongs more so on full group releases like The OF Tape, ironically where the entire gathering of these talented young musicians sound at their weakest most of the time. Another complaint may be directed towards Hodgy's lyrics at times, which tend to wander off track and onto mumbled bars about drugs and alcohol, all of which we've heard a thousand times before. On ''Dunita'' in particular Left Brain's music leaves Hodgy behind as the production outshines the rapper on a track that deserves better bars.

All in all though, this is the most inspired Mellowhype has sounded since their second album. It's an exciting release and potentially an important one for the duo beyond 2014 if they can lay down this intriguing new sound over a series of future releases and continue to climb up and stand on their own two feet outside of the insular world of Odd Future. While it's an unexpected turn for Mellowhype on this realtively low key mixtape, this style is one that Mellowhype should strive towards and attempt to explore further from now on- the kids of the rap game are going to be alright if they can keep producing results like INSA.