Album Review – The Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood

 

Rating: 7.5/10


Considering they were former child actors, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Long Island brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario know a thing or two about taking inspiration from others and elsewhere in order to help establish themselves. “Do Hollywood”, the debut album from The Lemon Twigs, is a tour-de-force of influences, and pays homage to rock musicians of the ages. The D’Addario brothers seem to know how the recipe works though, and leave enough room in the mixing pot to add their own ingredients into the concoction.

The album’s opener, “I Wanna Prove To You”, with it’s 50’s American diner doo-wop bop and it’s Alex Chitlon, heart-on-the-sleeves style vocal delivery, is sure to have you donning the imaginary microphone and slicking back the hair. “These Words”, with its Elton John-esque carbaret piano interludes and its soaring chorus that would fit nice and comfortably onto an early 70’s Todd Rundgren record, or “As Long As We’re Together”, with it’s traces of MGMT, affirm that The Lemon Twigs are more than happy to wear their influences in plain sight, if it means they end up sounding just as good at times. The Lemon Twigs add just enough of their own individuality and style to make things exciting though, ensuring this isn’t just another horrible mish-mash of conflicting and confusing styles, a musical jerk-off, thrown together distastefully.

Jagged guitars and cyber synth leads inhabit “A Great Snake”; the last song on the album, and perhaps the most techinally impressive of the arrangements on the record, it leaves a far greater lasting impression than any of the previous songs, probably because it becomes the greatest insight into where the band could head next musically. With “Do Hollywood”, The Lemon Twigs have succesfully laid their cards out on the table, new and old. Just like a great snake, maybe one day we’ll see The Lemon Twigs fully shed their influences, and show us just what lies beneath the skin.

Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker – Track Review

Becoming old is a frightening, often harrowing prospect for all of us. When we no longer shift through the higher gears as much as we used to, and the chain no longer cares if it’s well oiled or rattling against the closing corridors of life, do we become only a fraction of our former selves? Do we only emit an echo of our often more creative, fertile pasts? No, not all the time we don’t. Especially not on Leonard Cohen’s ever-ticking watch.

At the fragile age of 82, Leonard Cohen is still watching behind closed blinds, ready to shout ‘get off my lawn!’ with his voice of song whenever the grim reaper decides to come a-knocking. Marking his birthday with a gift to us all, Cohen has released the title-track from his new album, You Want It Darker, which will be released October 21st, and it’s a glorious gem wrapped in dark, black amber.

A reverb-soaked church choir of voices courtesy of Montreal’s Cantor Gideon Zelermyer and the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir immediately sets up the religion-exploring tone of the song, and the repeated cries of ‘Hineni, hineni’ (Hebrew for ‘here I am’, in a complete, spiritual sense) fuel that same age-old question that a lot of Cohen’s songs dwell and dance around; that if God is real, where exactly is he hiding?

Ceremonious church organs and a sturdy, serving bassline give the song it’s skeletal frame, whilst Cohen serves up words of disatisfaction with the higher deity in question: ‘Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name/ Vilified, crucified, in the human frame/ A million candles burning for the help that never came’. Cohen’s gravelly voice, fresh from the smokehouse, has an air of extreme confidence to it, as though he knows things God could never, and that he would have the upper hand in conversation, if the time ever came.

The existence, or absence, of God is a mystery that we may never truly get to unravel, as we all hurlte towards old age and eventually, our end. What isn’t a mystery to us is our need to fully understand this puzzle called life before our time is up, offering our brave (and often in vain) attempts at reasoning, as we collectively piece together our thoughts, song by song, question by question. However, when the questions sound this good, do we ever really want the answers?

Alex Cameron – Jumping the Shark – Album Review

 

Rating: 7.5/10


2016 has turned out to be a wretched and cruel year within music so far, with the sudden and shocking passings of various icons, such as David Bowie, Prince and now Alan Vega. In a year that’s proved to be one full of sorrow, it’s a welcome change for us all to remind ourselves that it’s just the start for many; to take our eyes of the finish line and instead avert our gaze to the start of a budding artists’ career.

Alex Cameron isn’t necesarrily a “newbie” to the game. He’s been a part of electronic-based group Seekae since 2006, and 2014 saw him unofficialy self-release this album, Jumping the Shark, two years before now. This year though sees him release this debut album officially through Secretly Canadian.

Full of pulsating, robust drum-machine rythyms and undulating synth lines, the comparisons to groups such as Suicide, or Fad Gadget, aren’t without reason. ‘Well who the hell are you to tell me that I can’t leave my kid in the car?’ sings Cameron in a deadpan-delivery on “Real Bad Lookin'”. The sharp-eyed and often humurous subject matter behind the songs becomes the album’s strongest attribute. Alex Cameron’s lyrics observe and lampoon the many oddities of human behaviour through his cocktail-lounge vocal delivery. It’s an album full of titillating storytelling, and with repeated listens you can’t help but stumble across a new favourite line.

The song structures themsleves are by no means a weak complement to the lyrics, with the murky synths on “Take Care of Business” constructing a feeling of fufillment at the end of the record without the help of the lyrics. There’s one slight problem the album inherits, a niggle that nests itself in the album like a bird in the attic, and that’s the sometimes monotonous presence of the drum manchines and synths, which can become a little overbearing at times, with the overall dynamic variety of the album suffering because of this. It’s only a slight hinderence to the listening experience, and with time, I don’t doubt for an instant that Alex Cameron will improve and bolster his songwriting craft, whilst succesfully brushing up his sonic palette in the promising years ahead for him.

With his debut album, Alex Cameon has succesfully jumped the shark and landed in the district of our attention, and we’re intigued to find out what he does next.

 

American Football – I’ve Been So Lost For So Long – Track Review

Photo by Shervin Lainez, http://www.shervinfoto.com/

“We can’t just keep playing the same nine songs for people…” Mike Kinsella of emo pioneers American Football recently spoke to Pitchfork in lieu of the announcement of their much awaited sophomore album, American Football (II). Their self-titled debut was released over 17 years ago and, even though there has been an official announcement, it still feels impossible to think they’d actually release a second record now. Their 1999 release has gained such a mythical status over the years, American Football’s whole existence seemed to be for them to create that record and that be it. Alas, with cautious excitement, we’ll have a new album to dissect, listen to and possibly cry over come October 21st. But before then, I’ve Been So Lost For So Long is the first glimpse the world has inside of the project.

After 17 years, Mike Kinsella returns to American Football sounding vocally different. For those who have followed his solo project Owen over the years, this is will come as no surprise. But those who just know him of American Football fame, there might be slight jarring moment at the first listen. However it’s for the best, as his vocals are now brought up more into the mix. Gone are buried scratchy vocals, as they now boast maturity and experience. Sonically, it marks a new chapter for the band.

The melodies of the track roll along like a river lapping over stones and pebbles down a stream. Incredibly intricate and gorgeous, they’re unmistakably American Football. They invoke loss, love and nostalgia through their craft, in a way that no other band can after all these years. The guitars interweave with each other again and again, meaning there is something new to discover every listen. There is a lot for fans to assimilate over here.

Whilst it may be a daunting task to meet the feats of their debut, this seems like a promising start. Some fans may feel disappointed, but that was bound to happen after all this time. 2016 has been a weird year for music. It has been filled with lots of artists returning , such as The Avalanches and Frank Ocean, but we’ve also had many of the greats taken way from us along the way. And now with American Football saying they’ve been so lost for so long, we should be truly thankful that they’re finally home.

Live review: Morrissey at Manchester Arena, 20/08/2016

The man once voted ‘greatest living Mancunian’, Morrissey, returned to his home town this weekend after four years away for his only UK gig of 2016 at a packed out and meat-free Manchester Arena. A palpable sense of occasion hung over the city in the days leading up to the show, with Salford Lads’ Club opening a pop-up store in his honour and the streets being crammed with devotees sporting quiffs, Smiths t-shirts and gladioli.

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Morrissey on stage in Manchester. Photo is author’s own (Instagram: @_atrocity_xhibition)

The man himself arrived onstage after opening act Damien Dempsey and the customary pre-show video compilation, resplendent in a blazer with no shirt, chest decked out in an array of necklaces and somewhat worryingly, a large medical plaster. Set opener Suedehead was a whirl of microphone cord whipping and vibrato vocals, complete with ad-libbed references to ‘the Stretford gloom’. That would not be the only reference made to the location of the show: Morrissey pondered aloud why he had not been consulted on the upcoming mayoral election, to loud cheers. Despite these local references, the set had a markedly cosmopolitan feel. Paris, Istanbul, a host of Spanish cities, Rome and ‘far-off places’ were all name checked, whilst the terrifying underworld of Victorian Whitechapel was evoked in show highlight Jack the Ripper, Moz delivering this fan favourite from behind a cloud of dry ice.

More serious socio-political commentary followed the reference to the Manchester mayoralty, with World Peace is None of Your Business being prefaced with the statement that ‘sportswomen/sportsmen/hairdressers/cows/badgers do not start wars. Politicians start wars. And they love it!’. In this age of Black Lives Matter and the death of Dalian Atkinson, lyrics such as ‘police will stun you with their stun guns/or they’ll disable you with tasers’ strike a chord with the malaise felt around the world, as does Ganglord, which was accompanied by disturbing footage of American police brutality. Even more gut-wrenching visuals were shown on the screen during Meat is Murder, with a harrowing film of animals being abused and killed in slaughterhouse emphasising Morrissey’s claims that people don’t care about animal rights because it isn’t them being killed (somewhat controversially, the film had subtitles such as ‘branding Holocaust’ in twin English and Hebrew). It’s almost a cliché to mention this when reviewing Morrissey shows, but it is almost inevitable that some of the carnivorous sections of the crowd will have reviewed their ethical and dietary choices following this gig.

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Meat is Murder

These hard-hitting statements are just one of the ways Morrissey refuses to play the rules usually adhered to by artists at his stage of their career playing to arenas. The other is his eschewing of a greatest-hit style setlist for one that instead took in rarities (It’s Hard to Walk Tall When You’re Small) and lesser-known singles (Ouija Board, Ouija Board, All You Need Is Me). Despite the inclusion of Everyday Is Like Sunday (containing a bizarre lyrical interpolation of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Quando, Quando, Quando) and a raucous airing of What She Said, the evening could have been improved with one more big track, something along the lines of Now My Heart Is Full or a better-known Smiths classic.

The material chosen certainly played to the strengths of Morrissey’s faithful touring band. They have previously attracted criticism for their tendency towards chugging, pedestrian rock, but on this occasion, they showcased their versatility. Multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur played everything from flamenco guitar to digeridoo and provided Spanish vocals for the dénouement of Speedway. His compatriot, Boz Boorer, Morrissey’s longest serving sidekick, traded his guitar for a clarinet for a swooning I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris and even had a bash at the drums on the aforementioned Speedway.

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One of the most moving parts of the evening was the elegiac Oboe Concerto, dedicated to a list of the lost from this ‘year of the reaper’, namely Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Muhammad Ali and Prince. Hearing a man who has notably struggled with serious health conditions in recent years singing somewhat wearily about how ‘all the best ones are dead’ was certainly a sobering experience. Although these health concerns have slowed the man down (by his own admission), they have not impeded his ability to deliver an enthralling live show, as evidenced by a final encore blast through Irish Blood, English Heart, culminating with a topless Moz tossing his shirt to the baying crowd as the guitars built to a crescendo. It’s safe to say that not all the best ones are dead.

 

Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – Stranger Things Vol. 1 – Review

 

Even though it’s only been out for just over a month, it is hard to imagine life without Stranger Things. The Netflix exclusive series has become a cult hit almost overnight, garnering thousands of fans worldwide. Helmed by the Duffer Brothers, the eight part series follows a group of kids who are trying to find their friend who goes missing. We’ll refrain from spoilers in case you haven’t seen it, but it’s certainly one of this year’s stand out TV series. A mixture of E.T and The Goonies, with a dash of Twin Peaks, Stranger Things is the perfect homage to the 80s.

But it’s not just the series itself that has gained a lot of attention, the soundtrack has been praised by fans and critics alike as well. Tracks like Joy Division’s Atmosphere and New Order’s Elegia are peppered throughout the series, with also a brief appearance from Toto’s Africa. But it’s the series’ original score that everyone is losing their minds over. Curated by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin based band S U R V I V E, Netflix and Lakeshore Records have decided to release the series’ score to the general public. Split into two volumes, Vol. 2 is out the 19th August, fans of the show can now get their sci-fi appetites once again satisfied with Vol. 1. But how does the soundtrack fare on its own merit?

(Disclaimer: the tracks on the album are named after the respective points in which they occur in the series, so potential spoilers lay ahead)

Beginning on the already iconic Stranger Things theme, this intergalactic synth gem still sounds as enchanting as it did the first time we all heard it. A tense and mystifying piece on cinematic scale, Dixon and Stein have created something that will become a quintessential part of pop culture for years to come.

Other highlights of Vol. 1 include Kids, Eleven, Biking To School and She’ll Kill You. Doused in a multitude of synths (yes the word synth is going to be said a lot in this article…), Kids grabs your imagination and throws you straight into the world of Stranger Things. Full of euphoric moments and colour, this track alone proves why everyone was excited to hear this soundtrack in full. Eleven is incredibly isolating, and yet also strangely idyllic. The melodies are kept very simple but they form something really breathtaking. Then the criminally short Biking To School encaptures what it feels like to be a kid again. The layered synths breathe adventure and spontaneity.

She’ll Kill You, for those who’ve watched the series, will instantly place you in the scene in which this track makes its debut. It’s an anthemic piece that swells and swells into this grandiose epic, before it depreciates into this melancholy mixture of warbling synths.

Volume 1 also sees tracks on the more ambient scale of electronic music. This Isn’t You would feel right at home on a Brian Eno Ambient project, whilst Castle Byers features this atmospheric synth that builds and builds into something really powerful. You Can Talk To Me is a short but dark piano led score that really captures the sometimes bleak moments of Stranger Things.

The dark tracks don’t stop here, there are more than a handful pieces of music on this soundtrack that hold onto the darkness of the show. The Upside Down is unnerving, with its off-kilter melodies that really instil the horror that reigns down on the small town of Hawkins. Photos In The Woods is similar, with some moments making it a difficult listen. But that’s what is so great, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein have got the tone of these tracks down to a T. The most chilling track is Lights Out. An intimidating and claustrophobic listen, Lights Out stabs at you with eardrum piercing synthesisers.

Fans of Boards Of Canada will certainly find something to like here, as some of the tracks could have been easily ripped out of a project from the illustrious Scottish electronic duo. Lamps could be mistaken for a song off Geogaddi, with the more accessible Hawkins seeming like a cut off their 2013 album Tomorrow’s Harvest.

More tracks worth mentioning off the impressively long track-listing are A Kiss, Papa and No Autopsy. A Kiss bottles the feeling of teenagers falling in love, with luscious and gentle synths that envelope you in everlasting love. The sombre Papa really pulls heavy emotionally, with these elongated notes that carry so much weight and sadness. Finally No Autopsy is this space-age expression that is filled with subtlety and intrigue.

Vol. 1 is one of those soundtracks that can stand completely on its own, much like Cliff Martinez’s score for Drive. At 36 tracks long, there’s so much on here for fans to digest and lose themselves in. It’ll fully immerse listeners into the world of Stranger Things. So as fans eagerly await the inevitable announcement of season 2, they can live out their own Stranger Things adventures with this sinister, exquisite and gorgeous soundtrack. Grab your mates and become the next Mike, Eleven, Dustin, Will and Lucas, until you realise you’re 20 and you’ve got to go back to university in a couple of weeks…

8.5/10

PJ Harvey – Guilty – Track Review

Everyone loves a good surprise, and surprises don’t get much better than in the form of a new PJ Harvey song. What’s not a surprise however, is just how brilliant the new release is.

“Guilty” arrives off the back of PJ Harvey’s latest LP, “The Hope Six Demolition Project”, released only 3 months ago. Recorded at the same time as the album, during PJ Harvey’s month-long ‘Recording in Progress’ residency at Somerset House in January of last year, it’s no surprise the song bares the same politically-charged observations heard on the album.

A riveting, almost tribal tom-tom drum beat kicks things off and marches incessantly throughout the song, becoming a wonderfully catchy motif in it’s own right, echoing over PJ’s hollering of ‘What’s he doing with that stick?/Which one is guilty?’ in the equally as arresting chorus. PJ Harvey tackles the topic of war by condemning  world leaders on their choice to make such hasty decisions when innocent lives are at stake and how they ignore the disapproval of millions of others, lamenting the western world’s methods of war: ‘Drones that come/ Come in the thousands/ But nobody asked us/ If we wanted them.’ A rebuke of such poignancy, especially in the global climate of the world today.

“Guilty” is a striking gem that will resonate with so many sharing the same feeling of despair and hopelessness in the wake of events continuously happening all around us today. The cowardly politicians are guilty of getting blood on their hands, and if PJ Harvey is guilty of any crime, it’s only one tiny thing: not including this brilliant song on “The Hope Six Demolition Project”.