Friday, 10 April 2009

SINGLE: The Maccabees - No Kind Words (Fiction)

With the opening bars of this track, there is an immediate contrast to the battling guitars that usually fills The Maccabees sound. No Kind Words has a darker undertone, guitars are minimal, while Orlando’s singing compliments this new departure with less of the cries and yelps, yet it does not feel like the delivery is any less heartfelt.

The lyrics still capture a moment and tell a story, but the topic is not one of youthful nostalgia, describing how someone is diverting and battling from expectation with the words ‘Alone, alone, alone’ always setting the tone, in both its reputation and the way it is delivered. But when we reach the end of the song, there is an air of continuity from their previous sound with the return of a more sedate form of the battling guitars. The Maccabees sound has grown up and we love it.

Stacey Evans

SINGLE: Metric - Help, I’m Alive (Last Gang Records)

Forcibly laser etched onto every Metric fan’s brain since it appeared on the internet and Canadian airwaves a few months ago, if there’s any justice in the twisted universe of the music industry ‘Help, I’m Alive’ might be Metric’s breakthrough single in the UK.

The band are backed by their usual array of strengths – breathy sing-talky vocals from Emily Haines, a well placed acoustic guitar second chorus and some clever juxtaposition of music and lyrics (‘my heart keeps beating like a hammer’ over the bass drum’s heavy heart-like pounding), as well as a new more personal perspective and clearer songwriting certain to drag in new fans. A brilliant single worthy of a great band.

Ollie Khakwani

SINGLE: Tommy Reilly - Gimme A Call (A&M Records)

A sparse combination of folky guitar, voice and a bit of foot stamping on the chorus (I think, but it might have been a quiet drum), ‘Gimme A Call’ is one of the better examples of the work of singer-songwriters if not particularly groundbreaking. The single is lyrically tight and rendered by some not unpleasant but sort of pubescent sounding vocals that have a vulnerable charm (especially on the chorus where Reilly croons ‘Gimme a call/you got a phone, don’t you?). Still, if it weren’t for the acoustic guitar freakout of a post-chorus, the song would pretty quickly disappear into the forest of teenagers playing MTV Unplugged covers in their rooms. Good, but not really and instant classic.
Ollie Khakwani

ALBUM: Metric -Fantasies (Last Gang Records)

Now that ’09 synthpop has apparently become an official term (at least according to the Guardian’s Guide from last week where contemporary slang was dissected), most 80s-sounding things have become more unwelcome to my ears than questions about censorship are to the Chinese government. Still, it’s hard to fault a band whose two albums both got nominated for Alternative Album of the Year at the Juno Awards, collaborate in Broken Social Scene, and are unknown enough in England for me to lecture/brag about to friends. Fantasies leaves their untouchable aura of brilliance intact, providing yet another reason to love Emily Haines and James Shaw.

First single and opener ‘Help, I’m Alive’ was in simplest terms a wet dream to Metric fans, showing their trademark sound remains as good as it ever was with poignant lyrics, a killer refrain and possibly even sweeter breathy vocals. It also provides a good insight into the rest of the album – even though the perfect musical formula from before remains unscathed, the political element that dominated earlier releases (‘I fought the war/I fought the war/I fought the war but the war won’) has been eclipsed by a more personal theme. The album involves more songs that centre on controlling your own life and the problems that fame and other unwelcome monsters have caused on the subject. ‘Help, I’m Alive’ sees Emily use her brilliant falsetto to ask why she shouldn’t do what she wants; ‘Sick Muse’ attacks Cupid for sticking his arrows in her; Metric turn their attention to the need of musicians to push themselves so hard they burn out for the sake of staying edgy on ‘Front Row’.

As a whole, musically, Fantasies is appealing as anything they’ve released with songs catchy and credible enough to match up to the highlights of their back catalogue - the chorus on ‘Gimme Sympathy’ has super heart-melting powers; ‘Stadium Love’ will force you to dance like it’s got a gun to your head. Lyrically it shows a more wistful side of the band – they’re not railing against rehashing of old stuff in the music industry or the left’s failure to galvanise against the Bush administration’s capitalist-war machine, so it doesn’t feel quite as angry, but there’s little trouble being as emotionally intense – if anything it’s a sign Metric are getting even better at what they could already do perfectly.

Standout Tracks: Help, I’m Alive; Sick Muse; Gimme Sympathy; Front Row
Ollie Khakwani

ALBUM: Bishop Allen -Grrr… (Dead Oceans Records)

Bishop Allen deserve love. They had the brilliant idea of an EP a month for a year, released the both charming and clever Broken String, and they were on screen for about 30 seconds in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (although I’d question the choice of song – ‘Middle Management’ is good, but why not ‘Click Click Click Click’?)
On the first listen, it doesn’t seem like much has changed since the surprisingly good last album – same mix of folk and pop, cute minimalist arrangements and general sugary twee-ness that makes you buzz with child-like joy. If anything, musically Grrr… is more exciting and even tighter than its predecessor, with more interesting instrumentation (like marimbas and trumpets on ‘True of False’) and addictive but understated melodies, sort of equivalent to valium among drugs, with ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘The Lion and the Teacup’ containing some of the best poppy treats. However, lyrically the album as a whole fails to match up to earlier work, sounding too infantile or simple, and in particular spots dissolves into nursery rhyme-like mush (the main offender being ‘The Magpie’ although ‘Tiger, Tiger’ is a bit of a howler if you’re in the wrong mood). The title’s toddler/tantrum implications might have been a warning that was coming. As well as this, Grrr…lacks the effortlessly appealing songs like ‘Rain’ and ‘Click Click Click Click’ that really made the last album so brilliant.

It would be pretty harsh to call this a bad album, because it’s far from that – there’s a lot of great indie pop to be found and masterful arrangements on basically every track, but overall Grrr…suggests that the cohesiveness of The Broken String was more a happy accident than anything and that Bishop Allen still have some growing to do.

Standout Tracks: Dimmer, The Lion and the Teacup, Oklahoma, Cue the Elephants
Ollie Khakwani