Dibder's New Music Series: Entry 2


27. Feb. 2009, 18:55

What a difference a month makes, eh? I don't know about you but 2009 has been quite the shit year so far; if it's not personal upheavals at home/work, then it's another natural disaster, civil uprising or celebrity succumbing to cancer flooding the news. This alongside having to contend with intellectually reprehensible Reality TV shows that, in spite of all of their horribleness, remain compulsively watchable. And if I even begin to start on American Idol, I'll never finish, so... It was also, of course, awards season too, one which saw Coldplay, Duffy and A.R. Rahman (with the rather fabulous Slumdog Millionaire score) in particular hoover up the competition and leave the full bag outside for the crows to slowly rip apart. With all this in mind, I'm keen to treat the end of February as the unofficial start to the new year, complete with a brand new iPod Classic and thirty albums to listen to. Those brave enough to read what I have to say can find the critiques below for their sleep-inducing pleasure... you have been warned!

David Archuleta by David Archuleta
Kicking off the Idol-sponsored entry here is the diminutive Archuleta, runner-up last season to David Cook, specialising in heartfelt soft-rock/pop/R&B style vocal runs and warbling despite being all of 17 years old. It’s definitely asking too much of a wet-behind-the-ears Reality TV star as adorably naïve as Archuleta to deliver a solid debut album, and at least all of the songs on this LP do his lovely voice justice in terms of showcasing (except the rather laughable Blackstreet-baiting of Your Eyes Don’t Lie). Unfortunately, Archuleta does still have a fair bit of growing up to do, as not a single one of these songs are made his own, most tracks coming off as lost cues from the latest Disney Channel movie, all hand-holding and puppy dog eyes. Which rather inevitably means he will be inescapable during the summer in the UK... At least he’ll deflect attention away from Eoghan Quigg though!

Ryan Leslie by Ryan Leslie
Success has been attained with an almighty double-edge for R&B songwriter/producer Ryan Leslie. Whilst he has concocted wares for high-profile worldwide acts such as Britney Spears and Beyoncé, not to mention finding domestic success with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Donell Jones and JoJo, his own singing career has suffered more than a few stalls. His debut album was shelved when its first two singles failed to chart and this eponymous disc has taken all of two years to reach release. Rather than ask if it was worth the wait, let’s just say that Leslie is clearly of the production ilk whose better wares draw inspiration from his recording subjects rather than his own eloquence as a singer, as there really isn’t anything to be impressed with on this disc certainly, all tinny love ballads and tepid sauciness that wouldn’t upset even the most uptight prude. John Legend and Ne-Yo can rest easy...

Keep It Hid by Dan Auerbach
It’s official, blues-rock isn’t my thing really; well, at least it isn’t when the cliché of ragged guitar and wailing vocals more than outstay their welcome, as it does on The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach’s debut solo album. Auerbach’s artistic integrity certainly isn’t questioned through his first sojourn away from his band, the album all sounding authentically rough-hewn and gritty. It’s just, given the alt-folk flourishes of the likes of Fleet Foxes, The Dodos and Calexico just last year, it’s all so depressingly two-note; those being either lovelorn ballads (When The Night Comes being the one that comes closer to even touching the Foxes’ effort last year) or lascivious wolf-whistling (I Want Some More). Purist fans of Deep South soul-rock will likely be impressed, but there’s nothing fresh or exciting to entice new listeners certainly.

Which Bitch? by The View
Bands that eschew the sound that won them instant prominence and exposure first time around are few and far between these days, most obviously because of the whole “ain’t broke-don’t fix” methodology prevalent with the more career-focused musicians of today. It would appear then that Scotch band The View have forgone commercial soft-touches in an effort to strive for something more profound on their second album, which cuts a more impudent and strident dash than their radio-friendly first offering. The darker moments are more than welcome, particularly on standout Unexpected, and are bolstered by some fitting string arrangements and punk-pop riffs; however, compared with the likes of Glasvegas certainly, most dramatic moments fall a more than a little flat.

All I Ever Wanted by Kelly Clarkson
Seemingly spooked by the relative commercial failure of breakthrough album Breakway’s follow-up My December (well-received but decidedly darker than most American Idol fare), this fourth LP pretty much covers all of the bases that made Kelly’s second album a blistering success; the main difference being though that, five years later, it isn’t nearly as refreshing and enthralling. Clarkson’s voice is still one of the better powerhousers pop music presently has to offer (particularly on the take-no-prisoners ballad Cry), and there’s many a bright pop-rock ditty to savour (including work from OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder and the new harridan/judge on Idol, Kara DioGuardi), but even the tracklist order (three sure fire singles followed by meandering fodder) smacks more of an attempt at a Breakaway Redux rather than presenting the album as its own beast.

Shontelligence by Shontelle
Aside from the genuinely talented Jazmine Sullivan (and soon-to-be-huge Janelle Monáe), I have yet to particularly warm to the whole Hip Pop Princess Movement that has been gathering steam for a good few years now, especially when the same album is being released over eighteen months with the addition of one or two new songs to shamelessly rake in more cash (Rihanna, I wish you all the best, but no more of that, OK?) The latest act to try and step up to Rihanna’s eye-patch is this fellow Barbados babe, whose major debut bombed in late ‘08 but has been granted a re-release with the addition of an Akon track at the end. Refreshingly, both guest star appearances on this LP (including the hateful Beenie Man) are the lesser efforts, but it doesn’t detract from a plain paint-by-numbers debut full of serviceable/dull flourishes.

Incredibad by The Lonely Island
These three mischief makers could be seen as the hip hop alternative to Flight of the Conchords, plying their spoof-wares on their very own website and gaining notorious attention on America’s Saturday Night Live sketch show, where album highlight Dick in a Box (feat. Justin Timberlake) won them and Justin Timberlake a prestigious Primetime Emmy award. Collating their work from over three years, among them collaborations with Jack Black and (rather hilariously) Natalie Portman, no hip hop quirk or rap cliché is left unscathed, these three white boys from California rapping with as much macho ferocity as their straight-faced counterparts about outlandish alien sex and being trapped on a boat, amongst other things. Nothing quite tops the Timberlake ballad though, and given that hip hop culture almost always slips knowingly into a parody of itself so often, the target isn’t exactly overreaching. Still fun though.

Coming Back To You by Melinda Doolittle
American Idol viewers who pride themselves on backing contestants who get by on talent as opposed to shameless displays of manipulative emotion would most likely have backed the cute-as-a-button Melinda Doolittle two years ago, the frontrunner singing effortlessly into America's heart with a winning humbleness as well as a resplendently warm voice. Her first full-length album since Idol is a fine showcase for her charms, at times evoking prior contestant Jennifer Hudson without the Oscar winner's reliance on OTT screaming; key tracks that portray her versatility best are the joyous Declaration Of Love and the low-key swoon of closer Wonder Why. Though the album is blighted by playing it extremely safe with regards to Doolittle's signature sound (old-fashioned R&B with nary a scent of anything edgy at all), it remains a well-sung springboard to bigger and better things.

The Airborne Toxic Event by The Airborne Toxic Event
This five-piece rock band from Los Angeles’ first LP arrived in England in 2009 amidst a faint whiff of controversy emanating from those noisy reviewers at Pitchfork over grounds of plagiarism from other more prolific rock bands of the new millennium. And whilst comparisons to The Killers, Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire are borderline inescapable on their eponymous debut (pretty much like most other pop-rock-punk outfits thrashing their way into the mainstream these days), Event are able to give their listeners a handful of anthems to justify their eloquent response to Pitchfork’s criticisms, especially on lead single Sometime Around Midnight and Happiness Is Overrated (fabulous title!) Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough anthems amongst the tuneless filler that populates the rest of the album to say that this beleaguered band have truly arrived... Maybe next time.

It's Not Me, It's You by Lily Allen
Since I started work at a musicians agency, I have been confronted by many a wild tale of how inappropriately behaved some of these popular songsmiths can be, particularly the ones I most admire. It is with this emotional reconciliation of appreciating emotionally-stunted wankers that has allowed me to listen to Lily Allen’s latest audio misadventure without my usual reservations about the otherwise annoying brat. You can imagine my shame upon listening to it then that I found said album to actually be rather good, and whilst I could lay the gauntlet of praise directly on über-producer Greg Kurstin’s shoulders, blending all sorts of genre quirks and delights into a fine gossamer light pop puree (one highlight being the country twang of electro doodle Not Fair), the enfant terrible at the forefront more than convincingly holds it all together, even registering a little empathy on break-up ballad I Could Say.

I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat by The BPA
It would appear that Norman Cook has finally mellowed somewhat after the continuous pummelling of his good-natured break beats that flooded the airwaves back in 1999 under the moniker of Fatboy Slim. His first album under the acronym for Brighton Port Authority plays as the ideal soundtrack for a sunny day’s stroll through London’s favourite beach town itself, eschewing Slim’s big beat philosophy and repetitive sampling for a more laidback affair featuring some more than special guests (David Byrne’s Toe Jam featuring none other than Dizzee Rascal is a highlight). Sporting star turns from the likes of Emmy the Great (more on her later) and Cagedbaby, it’s an inconsequentially lovely way to pass 45 minutes; just don’t expect to remember much of it after the first listen.

Colonia by A Camp
Nina Persson has always held court in a special place in my psyche, what with my being a ‘90s kid and she being most prolifically recognized as the former frontwoman of one of yesterdecade’s most well-liked bands, The Cardigans. Her solo project, A Camp, has yielded limited success at best, having sported a country-music inflection as opposed to the rock-pop of earlier discs with her former band (though their last album also mirrored this transition to lesser commercial success). Lack of unit-shifting aside though, Persson’s charming personality suits this change of pace perfectly well, though this second LP embraces a more classical pop-folk sound rather than a solidly identifiable country vibe. Some of the finer tracks (among them Love Has Left the Room and the manic Here Are Many Wild Animals) sound akin to Rufus Wainwright’s more laidback moments, and Persson’s voice is as sweet as ever.

Decent Work For Decent Pay by Diplo
Given his production assignments over the past year, including the Santogold mixtape and a little ditty he co-produced with M.I.A. that blew up to fantastic proportions in America, demand for Wesley Pentz has been nothing short of huge, and to capitalize on that, his label have dashed out this sort-of Greatest Hits compilation of his better remixes and some of his own compositions. Unfortunately, a handful of these do have a “so what” whiff about them, particularly Newsflash (which is essentially Diplo Rhythm but with Sandra Melody’s rap lasting the entire song rather than one verse) and the Paper Planes remix (which adds rappers Bun B, Rich Boy and absolutely nothing else). This doesn’t take away from some rather lovely work though, particularly his remixes for Bloc Party and Hot Chip that belie the stunt-assignment stigma to provide the collection’s finest moments.

The Empyrean by John Frusciante
Despite contributing to one of the most prolific rock acts of the last twenty years, Frusciante has kept an admirably low-profile with regards to his solo projects, The Empyrean being his tenth LP to be released. If you could imagine a Red Hot Chili Peppers album with a heavier accent on ‘70s rock style psychedelia and indulgence, then you’re about halfway to realising what a sprawling, sometimes lovely, often troublesome piece Frusciante’s most recent effort is. His virtuoso guitar-playing is in plenty abundance (hear Central) and the soulful timbre of his voice is given some lovely avenues to display his full-range (hear Tim Buckley cover Song of the Siren); however, at least half of the album’s songs are far too long (opening with a nine minute guitar-led instrumental), despite the fine work that has gone into them.

Noble Beast by Andrew Bird
It’s officially Troubadour Season now, though in all fairness, Andrew Bird’s guitar-led alt-pop is rather more sophisticated than that description allows, Bird being a more-than-proficient multi-instrumentalist. All melancholy and timeless soundscapes courtesy of the requisitely gorgeous string arrangements, with just a hint of ingenuity to keep the music poignantly relatable as opposed to questionably dated (such as the percussive elements found on Not A Robot, But A Ghost), it’s all carried with effortless grace by Bird’s lovely vocals, interrupted on occasion by the best use of whistling since Lovely Head on Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain album.

Rules by The Whitest Boy Alive
So, low-key, glitchy guitar-pop now courtesy of Erlend Øye’s side-project, taking time off from Kings of Convenience to ply some subtly beguiling wares elsewhere. It all ambles along quite pleasantly, at times threatening not to attract too much attention to itself, the arrangements being so spare and the lyrics registering more as scribbles than pronounced thoughts (opener Keep a Secret’s repetitions spring to mind), but by the time Courage summons itself through the speakers, you are left hard pressed to not be ebbing away to its amiable geekery, as the keyboard stabs and guitar plucks come together to make a refreshingly agenda-less album for idle afternoons.

The Glass Passenger by Jack's Mannequin
Listening to the second LP from Andrew McMahon’s side-project away from Something Corporate, first impressions would associate it with the more insidiously manipulative garbage that provides backing for those Grey’s Anatomy montages that book-end each episode. Except, there’s something genuinely stirring at work here, probably most likely to do with its being recorded after McMahon’s victory against a particularly nasty bout of leukaemia. All joyous and exultant, leaning towards something hopeful even whilst still addressing human misery and political woes (hear Annie Use Your Telescope and What Gets You Off), McMahon and his band still can’t quite shake off the dated sheen of late ‘90s orchestral rock-pop though (á la Alanis Morissette and Matchbox Twenty), which robs them of composing something truly memorable, even if the sentiments are clearly felt.

Tight Knit by Vetiver
Picking up the title won earnestly by It Hugs Back in my entry last month, Vetiver win the Most Suited Band Name Award this month, though this American folk band have been plying their ethereal folk acousticisms for five years now, this being their fourth album to see release. Drawing from the remit on their Wiki profile, which has their music described as being “lullingly pleasant” and “quirky and warm” amongst other adjectives, it’s pretty difficult to be more on the nose in trying to write about how this album feels and sounds than that. An essential album for anyone willing to wish this year away in the most sedately plaintive way possible.

Invaders Must Die by The Prodigy
Though it’s fair to say that they are still able to sell-out arenas more than easily for those who fondly remember getting absolutely plastered to their hits from the ‘90s, The Prodigy have been on less surer footing with their work since 1996’s juggernaut Fat Of The Land. Their first original album in five years, sees Liam Howlett and company trying to recreate their signature old-school rave sound with less electro flourishes than their last (some would say disastrous) LP, but ever-so-dangerously highlights in places just how dated their once blistering sound has become. Don’t get me wrong though, there is nothing less than danceworthy on this album (particularly World’s On Fire and latest single Omen) and it will more-than-ably provide the backbone for some fantastic live shows on the next tour. As nostalgia for the ‘90s rave set, it’s a wonderful throwback to those heady times; it’s just that the new kids won’t be nearly as impressed.

More electronic anarchy from the Warp Records stable, this time from Harmonic 313, the chosen moniker for musician Mark Pritchard’s new solo project following the departure of Dave Brinkworth from Harmonic 33. So what we have here is a fine enmeshment of hip hop beat signatures alongside the “latest” in 8-bit music technology and that fabled instrument of early electro pop, the Speak & Spell toy. ‘80s electro gimmicks aside though, Pritchard’s composition skills pull him through, at times creating soundscapes a lot more sophisticated and foreboding than his choice of instrumentation gives him any right to be, especially on album closer Quadrant 3. It all really depends if the squashed metallic tones of that fabled learning education tool sing sweetly to your soul or not though...

First Love by Emmy the Great
I would normally be dismayed by the fact that most young pop stars these days are not only getting younger and younger, but also that much more accomplished, the latest act to get the critics’ tongues wagging being this charming young lady, hailing from Hong Kong and raised in London. Though her music takes qualms from the more quietly authoritative side of the tyro-female singer/songwriter spectrum as opposed to the brash genre-pillage of others (try Laura Marling rather than Adele), Emmy’s is an intelligent and complex style that welcomes much admiration especially given her young age. Highlights Bad Things Coming, We Are Safe and Everything Reminds Me of You certainly earmark her as one of the lovelier troubadours to emerge in some time, anyway...

The Way I See It by Raphael Saadiq
It’s a tad unfair that Saadiq’s fourth solo album sees the light of day in the UK more than a year after Motown homage in popular R&B music begun to be more of a fad thanks to the collective success of Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse. A downright shame actually, seeing as it arrives in the wake of countless pretenders as a genuinely thoughtful piece of work, not just in Saadiq’s utilizing various riffs, signatures and arrangements (and, with a featured spot from Stevie Wonder, actually enlisting one of Motown’s long-loved heroes), but also by demonstrating the fine line of plagiarising and honouring the past. Any of the songs on here (particularly Keep Marchin’ and Love That Girl) would have been a hit in the golden era, which thusly means they’d be bona fide classics by now. A little behind the times it may be, but that’s exactly its reason for being in the first place...

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart by The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
The indie-pop invasion continues with yet another New York-based four-strong band plying their guitar-bass-drums cacophonies on a promising debut album. However, what sets Pains apart from their peers (aside from their beautiful/cumbersome moniker), is that they have managed to strike the perfect balance between nonchalant guitar-led pop and buoyant hook-laden melodies; basically like Black Kids but without the overt The Cure-isms. It’s a fine taster of things to come, referencing ‘70s/‘80s pop punk without resorting to cliché or plagiarism. Its being so gossamer light will most likely work against the album being heard against the more brash pretenders, but it still has a firm hold as one of the better debut albums of the year thus far (hear Stay Alive if you don’t believe me).

War Child Heroes, Vol.1: The Ultimate Covers Album by Various Artists
Charity records by default are critic-proof; so long as they’re promoting awareness and diverting royalties to worthy causes, who are we really to judge the merits of musicianship to be found within them? (Björk’s worrying Army Of Me remix compilation in aid of tsunami victims and Unicef springs to mind as one of the more questionable releases of recent years) Having said that, its always nice when said musicians pull their artistic feet out and deliver an album worthy of repeat listens rather than well-intentioned fodder, which the latest War Child album does rather fabulously in places. The best to be found on a pretty impressive roster (even Duffy isn’t typically disappointing!) belong to Hot Chip and TV on the Radio, the latter taking on David Bowie’s Heroes and further reinforcing their standing as Best Band In The World Right Now...

Years of Refusal by Morrissey
Truth be told, I feel a little intimidated trying to review Morrissey’s ninth solo album, only because of the iconic stature he surely holds for many a music fan to be found on last.fm, both as frontman of The Smiths and as a solo artist. So, to try and sidestep this potential pratfall, I shall have to comment on the album’s own grounds and merits, of which there happen to be many. Tuneful sonic misery obviously feels like second nature to this imperious pessimist, and yet it’s shot through with plenty of vitality and passion so as not to induce the listener into a maudlin coma of worthlessness. Definitely worth seeking out for both old fans, new fans and those who’ve yet to board the gloom train with the sultry miserabilist...

The Spirit of Apollo by N.A.S.A.
Some Brazilian baile funk now spliced indelibly with a liberal dash of hip hop, as catered by this DJ duo (producers Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon respectively), who’ve spent the last five years collaborating with numerous artists around the world for this, their first, album. Whilst the guest list is undeniably impressive, and the results even more so (particularly on Gifted, featuring no less than Santogold, Lykke Li and Kanye West himself, and Money, with unlikely bedfellows David Byrne and Chuck D), the whole thing coheres more like a compilation than an album... No doubt this was exactly the intention of Clean and Zegon, but it does present a slightly more disjointed listen (more so than, say, Girl Talk’s album last year), though you’d still be hard pressed to dance to anything more insanely funky this year.

Hold Time by M. Ward
Ward is still fresh in the minds of popular music fans for his rather sweet collaboration with Hollywood starlet Zooey Deschanel, She & Him, but between tour commitments and working on the duo’s impending sophomore album, he still found time to record his sixth studio album, and it proves to be just as, if not more, lovely. It’s awash with the same alt-folk acoustics that drew so much praise to She & Him last year (Zooey herself even chipping in with back-up duties on a couple of ditties), but there is a more refined technique deployed here that at once make this album appear more laidback and more sophisticated than the Zooey tunes. Also, if Lucinda Williams’ beautifully rough-hewn vocal on duet Oh Lonesome Me is anything to go by, Zooey may have to watch her back...

Grammatics by Grammatics
Though the band was born out of a pretentious desire to try and encourage the end of the current spate of indie bands vying for attention with brash swagger and little ingenuity, one cannot fault Grammatics for their lack of ambition, present in a debut album wherein the music constantly evolves at odds from what has just sailed past the listener’s ears, almost always within the same song. Some may be affronted by the self-importance adopted by lead man Owen Brinley (trilling effeminately in an affected manner) and his less-than-merry band, yet there is still something to be said about their ability to traverse heartfelt indie balladeering and ethically ambiguous rabble rousing so confidently and sincerely, particularly on breakout single The Vague Archive and Murderer. It’s certainly one of the most exciting debut albums of the year... Or the most infuriating, there’s no accounting for taste after all!

Immolate Yourself by Telefon Tel Aviv
This electric gem of an album represents 2009’s first bittersweet occurrence in the music world, as a week after its release, co-founding member Charles Cooper was found dead in a Chicago park, prompting remaining member Joshua Eustis to cancel all promotional and live commitments for the foreseeable future. The events are made all the more tragic given that this, their third LP, is really quite a sublime surprise; a tormented mix of hip-hop beats, ambient electronica and house-dance mechanics, with ominous vocals coasting throughout the violent soundscapes as if at they’ve reached the end of an epic search for humanity that has finally yielded fruitless results. And barbed with lovelorn titles such as Helen of Troy and You Are the Worst Thing in the World, it is essentially what The Smiths would have sounded like if they were an ambient electro-pop band... God rest.

Begone Dull Care by Junior Boys
One of the most beguilingly curious facets to emerge from electro-pop over the past decade is the fact that most of the funkier, sexier sounds to emerge from this genre happen to be coming from the most unlikely of progenitors. Last year, Hot Chip and Neon Neon held this banner aloft for all listeners to hear (even if the latter had help from the sexually rambunctious likes of Har Mar Superstar and Yo Majesty), and 2009 has heralded an early recipient of that metaphorical baton in Junior Boys’ third album. Falling somewhere between Neon’s swagger and Chip’s agreeable geekiness, all the while sounding like a funky Vince Clarke affair, the boys have single-handedly concocted one of the most charmingly flirty records of recent years... The fact that they look like stand-ins for The Big Bang Theory only makes them evermore charming!

And that is why, Begone Dull Care is my Album Of The Month For February!

After that long slog, that's all for another month! Take care everyone, and please comment below with further recommendations/opinions! XXX


  • Orange_Anubis

    George you are listening to an INSANE amount of new music. Sifting through the dross so we don't have to? ;-) Anyway, in this entry you kept mentioning troubadours, and I thought you were building up to talking about Troubadour, which is one of MY favourites from this month, but sadly not. Hey, and your February album of the month isn't out till March or April! ;-P

    2. Mär. 2009, 13:02
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