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.