Tag Archives: Album Review

Review: Public Service Broadcasting, Inform – Educate – Entertain

2 May

PSB_Album Art

After wowing fans up and down the country with their live transmissions, repeatedly destroying the competition on 6Music’s ‘Rebel Playlist’ and creating a compelling and heartwrenching EP, the time has finally come for the men of Public Service Broadcasting to step forth with their debut long player. And what an album Inform – Educate – Entertain is, full of familiar as well as reworked favourites from their live shows as well as a smattering of new tracks for our enjoyment.

Should you be new to the world of messrs J. Willgoose, Esq and Wrigglesworth then you are in for a treat. Their modus operandi is simple, “Teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future”, and their method is to use the medium of old public information films and archive footage layered over driving rhythms and pulsating atmospheric electronics. The samples are provided largely by the BFI, as well as Canal+ and other assorted sources, but to focus simply on them is like having only the starter of a multi-course, Michelin starred chef prepared gourmet meal. It tastes delicious but there is so much more to enjoy and delight in.

Their real skill is in how they use the music and the melody to complement and enhance the narrative of the samples. This was particularly evident in last year’s exemplary The War Room EP, which wove a single narrative thread across its entirety, perfectly encapsulating the whole gamut of emotions that war brings, as well as the personal devastation it leaves behind.

There is no single thread here, but each track has been spun and entwined with its own individual soundtrack. “Signal 30” brilliantly evokes the sense of speed and drama, hurtling along at a breakneck pace with the guitars revving and growling engine like, an undercurrent of barely contained aggression bubbling away. “Everest” is ebullient, uplifting and triumphant. The swell of brass at the tracks culmination brings the feeling of achievement and success to life and instils a sense of warmth and euphoria in the listener while “The Now Generation” is much more playful and light-hearted. Like you wish The Clothes Show theme tune had actually been.

This ability to convey such a range of emotion allows PSB to avoid entirely any accusation of not offering variety and relying too heavily on a gimmick. There is variety here in spades, so much so that the samples actually augment the music, not the other way round. Naval Officer Thomas Woodrooffe’s infamous drunken account of the Spithead Review of 1937 could easily be played for laughs and dismissed but instead, on “Lit Up”, it forms a delicate and evocative accompaniment to a moment of wondrous and beautiful calm. ”It’s fairyland, the whole fleet is in fairyland”, he rambles as we are treated to floating electronics and church bells, very much the aural equivalent of the fairy lamps he can see all around him.

On an album as strong as Inform – Educate – Entertain it is hard to pick standout tracks, but you will have to go far to find a better album opener than the title track, a medley of the forthcoming delights that will have fans grinning from ear to ear, while the W.H. Auden featuring “Night Mail” is just sublime.

Longstanding fans could possibly grumble that there is not enough new material here but that would be the most minor of quibbles. Instead the focus should be on the undeniable quality of the music presented, the emotions that it is able to stir within and the simple fact that you will be listening to this for a long time to come. It’s a fantastic accomplishment and one that does everything it says it will, and then some.

’Inform – Educate – Entertain’ is out on Monday 6 May and can be bought digitally here or on CD/Vinyl here.

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Review: Caveman – Caveman

29 Mar


Two years since their debut album CoCo Beware won our hearts and warmed our soul with its summer evening fuzziness, New York quintet Caveman has returned with its sophomore effort, the eponymously titled and expansive, Caveman.

Like a sprawling desert, Caveman is broad and spread out as far as the eye can see. Blissfully dreamy guitars wash away the world on lullabies of shimmering heat haze reverb, while the vocals of Matthew Iwanusa float wistfully through your mind and off to the distant horizon.

Such is its relaxing groove and epically laidback sensibility, it’s hard to imagine that the process for its conception involved the band engaging in a kind of pseudo-primal scream exercise. “We all went up to Jimmy’s grandmother’s place in New Hampshire,” explains Iwanusa. “That’s where the new record kind of started. It was literally the attic of her barn, lit up by Christmas lights. We’d all sit in this one room together and one by one we’d all go into the bathroom and record ourselves making the most psycho noises possible”. He says it helped them relax and gave them the confidence to experiment with sound and lead to the vibe we hear on Caveman.

Given that the result is an album of near impeccable dreaminess, we could well soon be hearing tales of other artists engaging in the same process, though it is unlikely to yield the same effect. The secret of their success seems to be largely built on how comfortable they are with one another, and it is a comfort that transcends their music.

Iwanusa’s vocals are regret and doubt, they are relationships and self awareness, but they are also wonder and awe, hope and dreams. The almost intangibly hazy guitars take in the bagginess of Manchester, particularly on “Pricey”, as well as washing dream-like around on “Over My Head” and “The Big Push”. First single “In The City” is perhaps the closest track to those found on CoCo Beware, its relatively upbeat and slightly quicker pace resembling the fuzzy-pop of their debut album. Their music has evolved since then. It’s shoegaze, it’s dreampop, it’s fuzzy guitars and retro synths, it’s brush soft percussion and hauntingly soft melodies and vocals.

Listening to Caveman is like putting on a favourite pair of shoes, they have a slightly worn feel to them and they may be scuffed a little around the edges but they fit the contours of your feet perfectly and oh how comfortable they feel.

Caveman is out on 2 April via Fat Possum Records and can be ordered here.

Review: Trixie Whitley – Fourth Corner

5 Mar

Trixie Whitley

Trixie Whitley is a woman of many talents; a drummer, a songwriter, she’s toured with a ballet company in her youth and aged just 11 she DJ’ed at the Belgium Museum of Modern Art, but the thing that strikes you most about Trixie is her voice. She has been blessed with a vast, powerful, soulful voice, the likes of which suggest diva. It’s the kind of diva voice that fills giant concert halls and sells out night after night in a months-long Vegas residency. Yet that is not how she uses it.

On her debut solo album, Fourth Corner, Trixie provides a masterclass in power and control, more often than not opting for the understated as opposed to the grandiose. In doing so, she shows awareness for the beauty of simple, honest emotions and eschews the ovation-baiting throat warbling that so many with similar gifts have revelled in. Hers is an altogether classier approach.

This is her debut but she is no stranger to the world of music, having performed with the band Black Dub before going solo, and she is the daughter of the late American singer Chris Whitley, (she even sang on his records and spent time watching him record in the studio). That education has obviously served her well and Fourth Corner feels like a grounded, very honest album. It takes in a multitude of genres as it skips across its tracks, jazz, blues, R’n’B, indie, pop, electro but all the while it is Trixie’s voice that captivates. Even as she drops into spoken word and the strings slink and slide below with a mystical Eastern flavour in “Silent Rebel Pt. 2” nothing is lost.

Spanning so many genres it is hard to pick standout tracks, which is a good thing as it is a testament not only to their quality but also how its eclectic nature doesn’t prevent Fourth Corner from feeling like a complete whole. There is strength and attitude as well as fragility and vulnerability. There are grinding rock guitars and dark percussions. There are soft piano lines and dramatic arrangements. Yet while the style changes and morphs, there is one singular constant, Trixie’s quite remarkable voice and the magnificent way in which she has chosen to use it.

Fourth Corner is out now and available digitally or physically

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Review: Everything Everything – Arc

14 Jan


A lot has been written already about the sophomore release from Everything Everything; those intelligent indie popsters (they have degrees in Popular Music remember) famed for making music that surprises and doesn’t follow contemporary rules. The majority of the words that have thus far been written, as with the majority that have been spoken, have been about how Arc doesn’t fit the mould they made with Man Alive. The words are about how their sound, that was once so multifaceted you could tie your body in knots trying to dance to it, has suddenly become so much more accessible.

It’s odd that such words have been written about a band whose debut hit the Top 20, but so many were the ideas and layers that the relative simplicity of Arc has caught many by surprise. It’s important to note the word relative there as while this is more straightforward a listen than Man Alive, there is still much more going on than in the average chart bothering pop.
Whether this is a sign of a band maturing or a conscious move to increase mainstream appeal further, we wouldn’t like to say but this does feel much more focused and something people will be able to connect with live as well as on the stereo.

Arc begins at a frantic pace with, the apparently London riots inspired, “Cough Cough” which is an invigorating, and pulsating listen. Jonathan Higgs still sings at a pace that makes it hard to determine the lyrical content but the infectious frenzy of “Cough Cough” renders that no more than a minor quibble. The infection continues with “Kemosabe” which bounces along and seems tailor made for a live-show sing-a-long with its ‘hey’ peppered chorus.

It is “Duet” though that stands out; it is Everything Everything’s Coldplay moment, if Coldplay sounded more like Peter Gabriel doing indie. Perhaps the most straightforward pop song on Arc, “Duet” has a lighters-in-the-air chorus and a string section that sweeps the whole thing along. It also has about 17 other elements and quirks, a big guitar-led denouement and makes reference to ‘an acropolis for the taking’; so when we say straightforward pop, we mean in the context of the world Everything Everything inhabit. It’s very different to where the rest of us reside but it‘s a fabulous place to visit.

As good as Arc is, there are still some issues with pacing, considering its frenetic opening the album slows considerably by halfway and it is maybe two or three tracks too long, suffering from drag in the final act. It is though a much more coherent record and shows signs of a band maturing and getting to grips with how to manage their own eccentricities in such a way as to engage and entertain the widest possible audience. Man Alive hit Top 20 and garnered a Mercury nomination; it would be a surprise if Arc didn’t at least match those achievements; it’s no less than it deserves.

Arc is out now on RCA and available digitally on iTunes or physically from the band directly.

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In Review: Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal

24 Sep

It’s always a wonderful feeling when you find music that you enjoy so much, that you immediately go on the hunt for more from the same artist. That was exactly where we found ourselves a few months ago when, whilst contributing to another website, we heard “Little Talks”. The lead single from Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men, along with its spectacular video was already attracting some serious attention in the States and the band was selling out venues wherever they went.

One such venue was The Lexington in London where a packed crowd of curious music lovers were swept away on a wondrous journey. A crowd that, for the most part, was not familiar with much more than the aforementioned “Little Talks” yet by the end of the show, felt like they knew each song intimately. It is this immediacy and accessibility of their music that serves the debut album so well, that allows the audience to connect with it so readily.

Only released in the UK within the last month, My Head Is An Animal was originally released in Iceland in 2011 and in the US and other countries earlier this year. What the rest of the world have been able to enjoy for so long and that we are just now catching up with, is an album of rich indie-folk sounds overflowing with charm and whimsy. Largely fantastical in content, the listener is drawn in by its storybook feel. The songs evoke childhood memories, of fairytales, extraordinary adventures across Tolkien-esque landscapes and mythical beasts. All of which is presented by big, full sounds enriched by brass and accordion.

They don’t only do imagination and wonder though; emotion and human nature also play their part. In “Love Love Love” for example which adds fragility and a sense of susceptibility by eschewing percussion. Once you realise the drums are missing, the effect is disarming and the song immediately feels exposed and vulnerable. It is a lovely contrast to the strong and confident early sounds of the album, “Dirt Paws”, “Mountain Sound” and “Little Talks” are bold tales, laden with hey’s and la la la’s. Ready made for an audience to latch on to and sing along with, even if they have never heard the songs before. It’s magnificent and quite probably our favourite album of the year so far. Nothing has even come close to the amount of airtime this has received (thanks to the import copy we picked up some months ago) and it is never far from the stereo. Go get it, you won’t be disappointed.

My Head Is An Animal is out now and can be bought directly from the band. Look out for our competition later this week for your chance to win a signed CD of the album.