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Bloc Party – Four (2012)

23 Oct

[Album: Four]
[Label: Frenchkiss / 2012]
[Rating: 7.2]

Much like past Bloc Party efforts, Four polarizing in its ambition. It’s riddled by the split persona of rockstar and indie pop idol. Trying to satisfy both needs, the band often fall short of satisfying either.

Continually, Bloc Party aim for anthemic, stadium-ready rock songs that never seem to capture the pop-glossed buoyancy of Silent Alarm (re: Banquet and Helicopter). Instead, their efforts seem to suffer from a muddy dissonance, lacking in the shimmering pop appeal found on Silent Alarm. That said, where Bloc Party continually make it seem easy, and where they are subsequently most infectious, is when they embrace the melodic centerpiece that is Kele Okereke’s voice. This becomes exceedingly clear on Four.

Their first three records embraced this formula to an extent (re: This Modern Love, On, Signs) – but on Four the band finds particular infectious fulfillment. Which is why it’s so disappointing that the album’s highlights ‘The Healing, ‘VALIS’, and ‘Truth’ are surrounded by noise-rock-ear-shitters* like ‘Kettling’ and ‘We Are Not Good People’. (*not official English)

And yet, when you hear the four-four thumping break-in on ‘Truth’, you feel forgiveness for the noisy expression of surrounding filler – because they continue to doing something right. So take what you can, and enjoy the brilliance while it lasts. Just make sure to listen at a reasonable volume, because you’re never sure whether you’ll be hearing ear-filling bliss or stool-induced cacophony.

P.S. The vibe on The Healing reminded me of an old favorite ‘Dictionary’ by Belgian duo The Go Find. Get into it.

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)

26 Oct

[Album: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming]
[Label: Mute US / 2011]
[Rating: 8.4]

The ticking of a clock, the tapping of a shoe, the dialogue of irrelevant conversations slowly blurring into a collective murmur. Staring into nothing, but thinking about everything. It’s a feeling of passive surrender. A feeling of equilibrium. And, more than ever before, it’s a feeling that M83 inspires on “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”.

Some like to label it shoegaze, others dreampop – whatever you want to call it, it’s good.

With 22 songs running 74 minutes, this thing is big (like Wayne explains). Which seems fitting considering its title.

To try and compare this album with past efforts by M83 would be pointless. It holds the grandeur, the scope and the lyrical absurdities of adolescent delusion we’ve come to expect – but never has it been done with such depth. Every song is filled with innumerable intricacies that work to immerse you within each moment. Think Sigur Ros’ “Festival” or Phoenix’s “Love Like a Sunset”. Again, it’s big.

“Intro” sets the bar for things to come. Pulsing synths, weightless pads, and contrasting declarations from Zola Jesus and Anthony Gonzalez. Drums become fireworks, ears become sponges. Welcome to “Hurry Up, Were Dreaming”.

If there’s one major thing to note from “Intro”, it’s that Gonzalez’s vocals have taken a front seat. Past presence of his voice was characterized by low, tender whispers. Now, we often hear Gonzalez with a sense of purpose, which warrants his theatrics on ballads like “Wait” and “My Tears Are Becoming A Sea” – songs that draw resemblance to Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and Death Cab’s “Different Names for the Same Thing”.

It’s songs like these these that make this album special. They’re not the ones you’re first drawn to; instead, they’re the ones you rediscover 6 months later. The ones where you stumble across a new riff or a new lyric. The ones that make you fall in love with this album all over again.

What keeps you coming back, however, are the singles. That constant craving for indie pop bliss, left on your tongue by bands like Phoenix and Passion Pit, is satisfied with songs like “Midnight City” and “Reunion”. They’re catchy, upbeat, and they’re the crux of the album. When the sax solo of “Midnight City” breaks in, M83 has never sounded so full.

Holding it all together are the interstitial tracks like “Where the Boats Go”, “Another Wave From You”, and “Fountains”. Being a double album, “Hurry Up” was bound to have fluff. Fluff that many would argue is simply wasted time. But this album is about being drawn in. We interpret just as much here from what is not being said. The lack of pop structure, the use of ambiance, and the fluidity of transition is what brings you to a state of stasis. It’s these songs that envelop you within the world of “Hurry Up.”

It’s not all so serious though. There is a song about a magic frog. “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” follows the narrative of a young girl and a “very special frog”. More than anything, it highlights Gonzalez’s obsession with youth. Listen, and try not smiling.

Admittedly, some songs quickly gain “skip” status. “Claudia Lewis” and “OK Pal” are pretty vintage 80’s pop, and the novelty fades fast. With 22 songs, there’s bound to be a few that don’t get your blood flowing.

That being said, it’s easy to pick and choose your favorites after a full listen through, which says something about the versatility of “Hurry Up” as a whole. Put it on shuffle and nothing seems out of place. Put “Midnight City” on a playlist, and constantly be reminded of how special it is. The opaque nature of the album allows for this.

And so, it’s hard not to be inspired by M83’s enthusiasm. There’s a reason for the interplay between the pop fueled singles and the idiosyncratic filler: Gonzalez wants us to focus on how the beauty of boundless imaginings are defined by the minute details of our lives. I think that’s really important. For an album that’s centered around dreams, Gonzalez invites interpretation. Take what you want. Or just listen to the song about the frog.

-Dave Hayes: October 26, 2011

M83 – Intro (ft Zola Jesus):

M83 – Midnight City:

The National – High Violet (2010)

27 May

[Album: High Violet]
[Label: 4AD / 2010]
[Rating: 5.7]

The streets are starting to die down, the office rush has calmed. Everyone is inside, hiding from the rain, trying to convince themselves that work didn’t take that much out of them – and that tonight they can go out. The puddles on the street act as mirrors reflecting the orange and white glow of the theater lights above. The breaks in the cobblestone road act as miniature canals for the water to flow through. The rain has stopped, for now, but the air holds the smell of dampness – signaling the possibility it could start up again at a moments notice. If the skies don’t open, the streets will begin to buzz once again, holding the hand of those with enough left in their tired soles to tread to their destination, guiding them to wherever they need to go. For many, that destination is the theater, the same theater with the orange glow, the same theater that opens a new play tonight. This means it is time to throw on some proper clothes, some proper shoes, some proper fragrance – trying to embody the redolent scent of high society and the image that that society presents. Even if you don’t belong. The play is focused on real human emotion, real everyday life – real tragedy and loss, real love and hate. High Violet offers the soundtrack, a damp and weary outlook, a tiny glimpse of hope, and a lot of wearisome banter on the hopelessness of life (cheer up boys).

In the past The National have created songs that would often creep up on you. They didn’t have to throw up big signs to let you know the structure was changing, or that there were horns now triumphantly blasting in the background. Their composition allowed them to do this, their beautifully layered instrumentals were able to present something really special without being really flashy.

On High Violet their songs seem to just drift along, however, no creeping, no alarms, no surprises. They become songs with no flash and no merit. To be blunt – they’re boring. There are a few exceptions on the album – Afraid of Everyone and Bloodbuzz Ohio are both extremely well built songs with some great lyrics accompanying; which highlights everything that makes The National such a remarkable band. But in general the album never really wants to go anywhere, the changes in songs are often so subtle they are easy to overlook – and in the end, easy to forget.

Terrible Love is the albums opener, offering a glimpse of hope throughout. It embraces the bands ability to layer together so well. However, the song never really opens up, and it eventually only offers an eccentric drum riff and a guitar that’s too loud. The next two songs Sorrow and Anyone’s Ghost seem to follow suit, producing monotonous songs that provide no hooks, melodies, or anything to look forward to.

Little Faith supplies the first beacon of hope on the album, producing a beautiful atmospheric chantey with some equally beautiful lyrics focused on wasted purpose – the problem is it takes about 3 uneventful minutes to get to somewhere exciting.

Afraid of Everyone seems to kick the album into a more noteworthy gear. Easily being the most memorable song on the album, it slowly builds from a swooning confession of survival into a fervent revelation. It is The National proving their magnificence – creating a meaningful ballad from the ground up with slowly building drums, choral chanting, and timidly placed guitar riffs. Bloodbuzz Ohio follows, a song that is also a solid addition to the bands repertoire of significant songs.

But then the magic is lost, and Lemonworld directs the album back into down tempo repetitive humdrum rock. It’s not a bad song; but it’s just not good. Runaway seems to be assembling itself into a beautiful anthem, but its charm is lost after hearing five minutes of the same thing. The whole back end of the album seems to follow in this way, disappointing time after time with songs that go nowhere, and do nothing. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a slow simple song can work wonders (Bowie’s Life On Mars, Keane’s Hamburg Song), but The National fall short and just manage to be unexciting and colorless.

The play is over, the rain is pouring, and your wondering what to take out of the experience. High Violet goes nowhere, stretches nothing, and snails along. Which is really disappointing because some of the songs, like Bloodbuzz, prove that The National are capable of creating great music while not having the drastically alter their sound. In the end, however, most fall attempts short and leave you frustrated over the lack of any progression.

-Dave, May 27, 2010

The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio:

The National – Afraid of Everyone:

Foals – Total Life Forever (2010)

21 May

[Album: Total Life Forever]
[Label: Transgressive / 2010]
[Rating: 6.5]

Can horses dance? Who cares, really.

I like to paint pictures of how an album should be listened to, in order to give an idea of what should be expected. I judge an album by its cover, and judge it by the image the cover articulates (if it is good enough to make any impression on me at all.)


Picture yourself on the deck of an old rustic sailboat. A magnificent and stunning sailboat that is so large, the vast ocean surrounding it appears to be no more than a puddle in its wake. The vessel is something of myth – something untouchable, something intangible. The night drapes itself around you as stars paint holes in the canvas that is the sky. You don’t know whether this peacefulness is chilling in its tranquility; or whether this peacefulness is affirmation that a storm is soon to follow. The atmosphere encompasses everything – your mindset, your emotion, your view on what is taking place around you. But being on this ship is unsettling; the water – the ocean – can have that affect, and I think it is no coincidence that the album cover of Total Life Forever reflects this. The album follows a direction that, for the sake of making my painted picture seem relevant, follows the structure of beginning, chaos, and resolution. That being said, you don’t really know what to expect at any part in any song, which sometimes pays off huge, and sometimes disappoints big time.

The album starts off with Blue Blood which is honestly one of the stronger songs Foals has to offer. It is a slow building ballad filled with jangly guitars and heavy reverb, and apparently lead singer Yannis’ singing is a huge step forward for the band (who knew!). It breaks in and sounds awesome, using some really great drum patterns over a danceable bass line. It may not be the most rewarding break-in on the album but it’s still pretty solid.

The song itself can be seen as a foreshadowing of the albums direction, driving itself from a quiet piece of music into a symphonic ball of chaos. It gets a little bit messy at time but stays catchy throughout (I think there are horns? If so very cool).

The album is really top-heavy, however, which is where it runs into trouble. The first five songs were all pretty special, with Black Gold and Spanish Sahara fulfilling all my deepest musical needs. But This Orient, the second single, sounds like a crappy Bloc Party rip-off that is easily forgettable.

It seems to send the back end of the album into a downward spiral, After Glow starts off with some really cool guitars, but proceeds to break in obnoxiously making ears feel like porta-potties. Maybe you’re into that, but its not my cup of tea. The next few songs build themselves extremely well and show a lot of promise, but seem to be afraid to fully break-in, which is particularly frustrating (Oh and 2 Trees sounds like an advert for a blood donor clinic).

The album definitely surprised me, as I was expecting a repeat of their 2008 debut. Black Gold and Spanish Sahara will find their way onto some future “best of” lists for sure. However, Total Life Forever didn’t blow me away by any stretch, and I really thought it had the potential to do so. The album seems like a step in the right direction for the boys; standing on the edge of the great sailboat, it seems as though Foals are thinking of jumping in but for now they’re only ready to dip a toe or two.

-Dave, May 21, 2010

Foals – Spanish Sahara:

Foals – Black Gold:

Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History (2010)

27 Mar

[Album: Tourist History]
[Label: Kitsuné Music / 2010]
[Rating: 8.8]

Picture yourself driving faster than the speed of light through a desert with your head out the sun roof, dancing. The bass is the only thing you hear coming from the car, but the bass seems to be enough to force your body to flail wildly, trying to stay in sync. You duck your head back into the car, and hear high-pitched guitar riffs and you ask yourself “is this Bloc Party? Death Cab For Cutie? Maritime?” No. This is Two Door Cinema Club, and although their sound has obviously been influenced by bands such as Death Cab and Bloc Party, it is important to remember it has only been influenced – not copied.

The album should be looked at like you would look at Serena Williams: the front is beefed up and can still pack a punch, but the backside is where all the power comes from. “Cigarettes in the Theatre” is an opener; there is no question about that. It sets the scene for the rest of the album however, throwing heavy reverb, twangy high pitched guitars, and cowbell at you within the first 30 seconds. Then it breaks into a catchy intro that calls back to a Coldplay’s “Politik”. This is essentially the formula for TDCC: beatpacked, highpitched, punchy, and danceable tunes, that give you a few slow segments to catch your breath.

Only when you reach “Do You Want It All”, does the album really start rolling. Pushing towards the two purest gems on the album “Undercover Martyn” and “What You Know.” The journey to these two songs is not painful, however, and you certainly will not be skipping over “I Can Talk” or “Something Good Can Work” in order to get to them.

Criticism from the album has been focused around the structure of the album. Short, punchy, pop songs that all seem to follow a set structure. It seems fitting then that the band is touring with Phoenix, a band who took this formula, mastered it, and crafted it into something much deeper.

Maybe the boys in TDCC will take a few notes from Phoenix and follow suite on their next album, creating their own sound. For now I’ll enjoy this brilliant debut, because although the structure is poppy, jangly and short – it works.

-Dave, March 27, 2010

Something Good Can Work:

Undercover Martyn:

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