Foo Fighters- Sonic Highways Review

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A full disclosure before we start- Foo Fighters were my absolute favourite band growing up. Bar none. I have all their albums, I’ve seen them live twice. I’ve bought the t-shirt and I have a couple of their records on vinyl, despite the fact that I DON’T OWN A RECORD PLAYER. I’ve obsessed over this band. This critique will be too well informed, perhaps alienating. Having said that I hope you enjoy reading it…

Dave Grohl has always been a man of big ideas. And the premise of Sonic Highways, the latest LP from the Foo Fighters, is an undeniably one of his biggest. Following in same the vein of past high-concept Foo Fighters albums like the half-electric half-acoustic In Your Honor or the recorded-in-a-garage-that-is-probably-nicer-than-most-people’s-houses Wasting Light, the band’s Eighth album finds the band invigorating their creative process by recording the album’s eight songs in different cities across America. Not only that but it sees an eight part documentary series accompany it, detailing the recording process as well as the musical history of the city each song was recorded in. The concept alone is enough to pique the interest of the band’s fiercest critics, surely?

The album starts off with Something From Nothing, a song recorded in Chicago. It is, for lack of a better word, a weird song. Coming from someone who has heard every single Foo Fighters song from every single album, including b-sides they have never been so Led Zeppelin-esque in their execution. Is that a Mellotron half way through? Anyway the song failed to inspire originally but is a grower simply because it has so many parts to it that I find I hear something new every time I listen to the song. Some may see it as its biggest flaw however and it’s not one of the Foo’s better singles.
The album picks up though, with the Washington, DC recorded Feast and the Famine. It is definitely the most full-throttle tune on the album, fitting as it pays tribute to Grohl’s hometown and the DIY punk scene he grew up in. Perhaps its most interesting element is its incorporation of the Washington, DC Go-Go music drum beat pioneered by bands such as Trouble Funk, a fact that you could only appreciate by watching the accompanying documentary episode. Nevertheless it’s a great song and a far cry from the proginess of Something From Nothing.

What Did I Do?/ God As My Witness sees the band do their best Queen imitation. It evangelises the passion the residents of Austin, the city it was recorded in, have for their city and its nurturing of artistic freedom. The accompanying episode sheds light on the gentrification of the city however, which many see as curbing the artistic hospitableness it has provided for decades, which as a Londoner I can definitely sympathise with. As the episode moves through the streets, banners of ‘Keep Austin Weird’ are seen and shed some light on the line in the song that says ‘What can I do to preserve you?’. This is an example of the interesting way Grohl has penned the lyrics to the album, drawing on inspiration from the interviews he has conducted with people from the city’s he is recording in. This technique can sometimes come across as a little forced on some of the album’s tracks, but here it works just fine.

In The Clear is another great song, super melodic and catchy. However in my opinion doesn’t utilise the New Orlean’s Preservation Jazz Hall band who appear on it to full affect. I’d never thought I’d say about a Foo Fighters song ‘Needs more Trombone!’, but such is the diversity of the album. Not all the songs are winners unfortunately. The song Outside drags along a bit, as does the Seattle recorded Subterranean, which can’t even be saved by the inclusion of Death Cab for Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard. The same can be said of the album’s seven minute closer I Am A River, which funnily enough sounds more like a Death Cab song than Subterranean. However the album is saved by its brevity and doesn’t extend to a length that makes it torturous, a fault that I found with the band’s last album Wasting Light.

All in all, the album is a nice enough addition to the Foo’s canon. A final note though, and something that can’t be said about every album: The documentary is better. If you are interested in the history of music and you want to watch a passionately put together piece on the importance of where art comes from, I highly recommend it. One criticism with it however: no episode set in Minneapolis? The home of Bob Dylan, Prince, the Replacements and Husker Du is sorely missed from the creative process I feel. And Detroit as well. Here’s hoping to a Sonic Highways Two.foo-fighters-fb-2

The New Foo Fighters for M&S collection is out now

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Coldplay- Ghost Stories Review

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Everyone knows it’s the don thing to make fun of Coldplay. It’s easy to do, they’re a big enough band to take it and it can be rather fun. Especially when targeted at clownish frontman Chris Martin. The band’s new album, their sixth, arrives after much turmoil in the band’s camp. With Martin splitting from long-term celebrity partner Gwyneth Paltrow, something the couple infamously have called a ‘conscious uncoupling’, the band have not been out of the headlines. A more cynical person might speculate overt the convenient timing of the revelation, coming just a few weeks before the band release their new album. Luckily I am that cynical person and I can confidently state that Martin’s split with Paltrow was all a PR stunt to garner interest in the new album. Let the jokes at their expense continue!

 

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Words can’t hurt us…

Getting back to the point, Ghost Stories is largely composed of standard Coldplay fare. It harks back to older albums such as A Rush of Blood to the Head and X and Y and sits very comfortably sonically in between those two albums. The second song released from the album Magic is definitely the best song on the album and melodically is one of the bands superior singles. Its subtle dynamics and understated-ness is indicative of the album as a whole. Equally as down-tempo is album-opener Always in my Head, which introduces the general mood of melancholy that permeates many of the songs.

One song that avoids this general mood of Melancholy is the club-banger Sky Full of Stars. The song is a logical step for the populist band. Upon first hearing it I turned to a friend and exclaimed ‘This sounds like Avicii’ to which I was met with the unsurprising revelation that it was indeed produced by multi-millionaire DJ Avicii. And whilst he has his fanbase, (a considerable one at that I concede), his presence on the album is actually quite depressing, logical given the type of electronic music he makes, but still depressing. Coldplay are not the first established band to draw inspiration from and directly collaborate with new and popular act. However, whenever they have tried it hasn’t ever really come off, bringing to mind the collaboration with Rihanna on their last album. Even co-production from electronica-maestro Jon Hopkins on the track midnight can’t save it from sounding like a Bon Iver knock-off, though admittedly quite an interesting one.

The major dip in the album come in the form of the tracks Ink, a song which sound s like a early-2000s Backstreet Boys song and whose production makes it sound like it was made on a PC running Windows 98. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the track Oceans, a beautiful song which sounds like Jeff Buckley, Mazzy Star and most importantly Old Coldplay. The two songs are indicative of the major inconsistencies that blight the album. Ultimately because of these flaws the album is not one of the bands best, but it is saved by a handful of decent tracks. It is no way near as engrossing enough to hold your attention for long, which sadly means that the most compelling thing about the album is trying to contextualise the lyrics: ‘Is this line about Gwyneth? Is this line about Gwyneth?’

They’re all about Gwyneth mate…

Album of the Year 2013: Holy Fire by Foals

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Let’s be honest, guitar music does not matter anymore. Guitar bands are irrelevant. For a long time the most important, innovative and compelling work has been done by groups who eschew the six strings for the computer keys, so how is it that Foals, undoubtedly profiteers of the noughties indie -boom, have made without doubt the best album of the year. One word: progress. And not just progress for progress’ sake, they have made an album with big tunes that sounds fresh, harks to the past as well as staring the future unflinchingly in the eye. An album with songs on the radio as well as deep cuts that are truly fulfilling listens. Following on from their equally as progressive second album Total Life Forever, Foals have continued to throw off their pseudo-math-rock chains, obscuring their previously bouncy indie by numbers tunes for more textured and full sounds, songs that are not afraid to embrace earworm melodies and traditional pop structures. We all know how effortlessly catchy ‘My Number’ is and no one can deny the chemical reaction that occurs during the drop in ‘Inhaler’, but equally as good are album tracks such as the slow burner ‘Milk and Black Spiders’ and underrated single ‘Out of the Woods’. Cynics would counter this thesis by declaring that Holy Fire, whilst progressive, is still not as progressive as some of their contemporaries, like fellow Mercury award nominee and eventual winner James Blake, but really this is a tired concept in an age where everything has been done before. Everything. So what if Foals sound like their pushing towards being a stadium rock band, on the most pretentious of Pitchfork browsers would claim that writing songs meant to lift a few tens of thousands of people off the floor is a bad thing. The simple rule that music should follow, be good. And Holy Fire, from top to bottom is the goodest.

Jay Z vs Kanye West Summer 2013

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The world was exposed to the first real blockbuster hip-hop album on June 18 when Kanye West, sans a high profile promotion drive, released his sixth studio album ‘Yeezus’, letting the controversy surrounding the title and lack of conventional album artwork as well as the mythologizing quotes by collaborators including Daft Punk on the experimental nature of the album’s content garner the bulk of the buzz around its release. Taking an entirely different tack a month later was Jay Z, striking up a lucrative partnership with Samsung to release his twelfth album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, for free to one million Galaxy smart phone users.

  Comparable to their respective marketing ploys, it is easy to paint a picture of the albums as polar opposites. On Yeezus, West has eschewed his penchant for r’n’b inflected, maximalist production, hinting at it on tracks like ‘Bound 2’, for a more dissonant, minimalist aesthetic, making the album sound like the rapper’s 2008 LP ‘808s and Heartbreak’ on a scary amount of acid. The production of Magna Carta on the other hand is very much in the mould of the last few Jay Z albums, the New York rapper choosing to work with long time collaborators Timbaland, Pharrell and Swizz Beats. As a result the songs on Magna Carta sound like Jay Z songs, they are evidently trying to reach the imperial heights of ‘Banger’ status. Lyric-wise it’s the same story, whilst Jay Z continues to celebrate the merits of materialism in ‘Tom Ford’ and questioning the role of religion in his life in ‘Heaven’, Kanye is more abrasive in his themes, exploring the relationship between capitalism and the African American’s place in society in ‘New Slaves’ and boldly affirming ‘I AM GOD’ in the song of the same name.

So which album ruled the summer? In terms of instant gratification, Magna Carta would seem like the obvious candidate, however for an album that would resonate further down the line, perhaps in the autumn, winter, or maybe even next summer Yeezus feels stronger. So, final answer, the ruler of the summer… Definitely Kendrick Lamar’s verse on Big Sean’s ‘Control’.

Bat For Lashes- The Haunted Man Review

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With Halloween once again upon us it seems only fitting that the aptly named Bat For Lashes (presumably Squirrels For Side Burns was already taken) releases this week her third album, the even more aptly named The Haunted Man. One look at the album cover and its plain to see that multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan is already in the spirit of things, a completely starkers Ms Khan appears on it with an equally as naked man draped around her neck like a fine Russian mink, a fashion statement that even Lady Gaga might think twice about. But far from Gaga, it is Kate Bush that the artist seems to be most evoking within the contents of the album album, with its discordant melodies and sparse arrangements producing an unnerving at times, but ultimately pleasurable listening experience.

Opening number ‘Lilies’ starts off lush and ethereal but morphs into a stomping synth leviathan utilising the loud-quiet-loud formula that features prominently on the album. The single ‘All your Gold’ is nice enough, but you cannot shake the fact that its sounds oddly reminiscent of that Gotye song people got far too hyped over. The song ‘Oh Yeah’ has the single best opening of a song I have heard this year comprised of what sounds like the sea-gulls from Finding Nemo repeating the title over a drum line that can only be emitting from those Casio keyboards you used to find in the music room at secondary school, but before some-one starts stabbing at the ‘DJ! DJ!’ button it transforms into a Bjork-lite romp that ultimately disappoints but might grow on repeated listenings. But all the plaudits must be reserved for first single ‘Laura’, a masterpiece in understatement and minimalist song-writing, a simple meld of vocals and acoustic piano with flourishes of light orchestration that proves amazing song-writing beats gimmicks and over-production any time. Soul-wrenching.

Other notable moments on the album include the Gregorian chant breakdown on the album’s title-track as well as the weird pan-pipey intro to the song Winter Fields. Overall, far from being horrific in keeping with the holidays, the album is a solid release from an artist who answers the question ‘I’m a big fan of Kate Bush, can you recommend me any contemporary artists that are similar to her and if you say Florence and the Machine I’ll kick you in the head’.

The Cribs- In the Belly of the Brazen Bull review

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On their fifth studio album In ‘The Belly of the Brazen Beast’ Wakefield’s The Cribs have gone back to basics. The brothers Jarman, reduced to a trio once more after the departure of former Smith’s axeman Johnny Marr, have done away with the shiny production and restrained pop songs that characterised their last LP Ignore the Ignorant to produce a collection of more abrasive and raw tunes that usher in the summer with a sledgehammer blow to the eardrum. This is not to say that there aren’t any catchy numbers to be found on the album however; heavens knows the Cribs know how to pen a good hook, a fact attributed to the bands childhood obsession with the Bee Gees by guitarist Ryan Jarman earlier this month after the sad death of Robin Gibb. This is no less apparent than on the albums first single ‘Come on and be a no-one’, a song that begins with a vivacity similar to that of Nirvana’s ‘Drain You’. Late eighties and early nineties American alternative music is definitely a thread that runs throughout the album, helped in no small part no doubt by the presence of former Pixies and Nirvana producer Steve Albini. Songs like ‘Chi-town’ and ‘Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast’ with their stampeding drums and fuzz-drenched guitars unabashedly hark back to the days of flannel and five o’clock shadows, but let us not be too hasty to apply the dreaded g-word to the whole album. As opposed to a band like, say,  Yuck, The Cribs manage to borrow the best elements from the early nineties and appropriate them without sounding too hackneyed or conceited and manage to retain the spirit that so endeared them to their fans, something that some critics thought was dented by the inclusion of Marr on their last album. Overall this album is definitely one for the fans, managing to sound heavy but pop-y, grungey but not too angsty. This is without doubt the sound of summer, if you plan on spending your summer in a leather jacket jumping into things. The Cribs are back, now let’s go break stu

Lethal Bizzle at Royal Holloway Student Union

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As a resident of North London for about 18 and a bit years or so, grime is a genre I have found hard to ignore. I don’t hate it, but I’m not going to be trawling the new releases section of my local urban record store (Boombox Records, Palmers green. ZOOP ZOOP!), for a deep cuts album I can spend a lonely Sunday afternoon listening to. I like the big tunes. And Lethal Bizzle possesses one of the biggest tunes of the last decade in his repertoire, a tune that most grime artists would kill to be able to have in their back pocket if a crowd isn’t going as hard as they might like. “POW! (Forward)” was released all the way back in 2004, the stone age of British rap, and is the only reason that I and, I’m guessing, half of my fellow audience members purchased a ticket to see Lethal B at the Student Union on Friday. Arriving onstage a full 40 minutes late to rapturous applause that I can only assume was generated by a mixture of relief and Jaegermeister, Bizzle seemed disinterested throughout the first half of his performance. Wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘DENCH’, which is short for ‘Dentures’ I believe, and complaining about the lack of sound being emitted from his microphone (going a tad deaf in your old age Bizzle?), I began to get the sense that maybe after 9 years in the game the once mercurial Lethal B was past it. Then the opening salvo of ‘POW!’ blared over the speaker system and the room crumbled at the power of one of grimes greatest anthem’s. Fists flew. Bodies were flung. And I feel sorry for anyone under the height of 5’6. It must also be noted that Lethal B managed to stage dive into an unsuspecting crowd of punters which is always impressive, especially at a fresher’s event. That, coupled with his performance of House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ as a grand finale made the whole night worth it and provided the perfect end to fresher’s week, for me at least. Because for 20 minutes in that sweaty, crowded room inside the student union, I felt like I was back in London. No wonder I spent an hour afterwards trying to find a tube station to get home…