Saturday, February 21, 2009

Better Late Than Never

Whether it's trouble over at the FasterLouder camp or my articles have simply lost the shine and pizazz they formerly had; there's been a few album reviews that have yet to surface. In the fear that they becoming horribly dated compared to the speed of this fickle industry, i've decided to give them an airing here instead. After all, blogger allows me the freedom (oh, unless of course they're not just deleting my posts that are trying to promote good music willy nilly). Plus, the last time i published articles that hadn't been published yet - they magically appeared. Fingers crossed.

A Planet in Space – As The Pieces Come Together (Independent/Melodious Thump/2009)

A Planet in Space create exactly the kind of genre-hopping mash-up that is the scourge of pigeon-holing music journalists and narrow-minded enthusiasts of dispensable pop; and it is precisely this mix of styles and genres that makes them sound so new and thrilling.

Their debut EP, As The Pieces Come Together, attempts to capture their unique brand of fusion. Harnessed from two robust years on the live circuit since their inception, it demonstrates both their unorthodox line-up (two drummers, two singer/guitarists) and a variety of songs that demonstrate that a witches’ brew of styles can encapsulate a wider audience. Granted these are heady concoctions - not for the faint of heart or small of attention span – but all the more rewarding for those that take the trip.

First up is the roots-rock of Last Drop of Denial, propelled by a sinister funk groove it’s slinky, threatening and danceable all at once. As the distorted guitars and drums pick up the pace against Dan Fox Smith’s insistent vocals, it seems the track threatens to transform into something else before it ends abruptly. There’s plenty of time for exploration later it seems. Solo Tango is a reworking of older single She Don’t Wanna Dance, a popular favourite live; it retains its Spanish guitar meets Latin funk backbone but has been edited down from its original length. The lyrics, about losing out to an enticing female, play the vocal lament of Alex Hayes off of Fox Smith’s near-rapping lines to create an intoxicating energy. At times it sounds like a much busier Cat Empire sans the syrupy horns, but the track’s almost begging for them.

Sunshine Breaking Through is perhaps the most stable track of the EP, which isn’t to say that its six minutes doesn’t contain a wealth of guitar acrobatics and vocal interplay. Besides, it’s opening lyrics act like a band manifesto “The time has come to make a decision/and this music is our one mechanism/to set ourself free from this here prison/in order for us to fly;” and with the closing title track, the three-part As The Pieces Come Together, fly they do.

Starting with a simple drum beat and chopped guitar chords, it seems innocuous enough but as one soon comes to expect from A Planet In Space, the territory will soon shift. Working its way from a rock/reggae hybrid with soulful vocals through to a complete drum-and-bass electronica breakdown; leading finally to a heavy metal coda, it is the undisputed highlight of this release. Its evolution is reminiscent of progressive rock even if it borders on indulgence. It has to be heard to be believed and hints at the exciting things the group could do with the canvas of a full album.

Still, recorded at their own studio (PlantOn) and released on their own label (Melodious Thump), As The Pieces Come Together is a worthy product of their ambitions.

Make no mistake A Planet In Space won’t be for everyone, at worst it can feel like the improvisation and jamming that spawned the bedrock for these songs is merely to show off their musicianship. Their inimitable sound however, is exactly the kind of thing that encourages a hardcore fan base. And as they embark on a tour of the East Coast in support of their EP, they’re sure to pick up more than a few.

Band website:

Myspace: A Planet In Space

Bon Iver – Blood Bank EP (Jagjaguwar, 2009)

Carving a path via word of mouth to impossibly good critical acclaim, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was arguably one of the best albums of last year. A wintry masterpiece of haunting moods, passionate vocals and a cohesive collection of songs that was as inescapably catchy as they were emotively potent.

Blood Bank is a well-timed release then, dovetailing with the end of the tour for the album, it acts both as a reminder of Bon Iver’s appeal and a space for experimentation and deviation before the next big step. The title track is an innocuous tale about falling in love at a blood bank, only Justin Vernon, the man behind the Bon Iver moniker, could turn such a meeting into a pensive rumination on impulsive love. Driven by a subtle back-beat it sees him singing in a slightly lower register than his usual stratospheric croon, but it demonstrates that even when playing it safe, he can still do magical things. Beach Baby is a short-lived track that feels much more like an out-take, featuring some lovely slide guitar before the track’s demise but ultimately it’s a short but sweet affair.

The final two tracks, Babys and Woods, demonstrate Bon Iver stretching out into sounds and moods that although singularly recognisable as the same artist, are a little more adventurous. The former features a spiral of looped piano chords and vocal harmonies that are much warmer and brighter than anything found before, meanwhile the closing Woods may ring alarm bells with its open embrace of auto-tune. Completely a capella, it repeats four lines of lyrics continuously adding layers of voices and harmonies towards an enveloping swathe of vocals. It’s a little like Imogen Heap’s Hide & Seek or a choir of robotic angels, and it won’t be for everyone but it shows an artist who is unafraid to bend any musical palette to suit his unique style and sound to harrowing effect.

At four tracks, Blood Bank won’t change the mind of anyone who wasn’t convinced thus far by Bon Iver, but considering his fast-spreading popularity, there can’t be many left who haven’t already been converted.

Stream the title track at Bon Iver's Myspace
& the haunting Woods at YouTube

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Valentine's Grinch Strikes Back

(EDIT: I'm starting to get used to having to re-up deleted posts because of mystery inclusion of songs that some phantom overseer does not like promoting. Sigh, ah well i'm guessing YouTube it is then)

Thought i'd do the kissing thing to throw you all off into thinking i was gonna let Valentine's slide without any sort of acerbic comment. Well, you were wrong, since i spent another Valentine's Day loveless and alone (awww) and instead put together, in the tradition of last year, another biting Anti-Valentine's playlist. Enjoy

AMR's Anti-Valentine's Mixtape '09

Razorlight - Who Needs Love
A deceptively jaunty opening to our mix and while Jonny Borrell's lyrics are (unsurprisingly) inconsistent, it still manages to capture a bit of rebellious attitude along with a sense of yearning.
sample lyric:
Who needs the disappointment of a telephone call/not I

Franz Ferdinand - Cheating On You
The Glaswegian four-piece find themselves barreling through infidelity like it ain't no thing. The choppy guitars and driving rhythm hammer the point home in that tight modern way that the Ferdinand seem to do oh so well.
sample lyric: I'm cheating on you, yeah/You're cheating on me

My Chemical Romance - I Don't Love You

Emo balladry, a bit of a guilty pleasure i must admit, but it sees them in weepy mode as opposed to angry "i'll die and it's all your fault" mode, besides My Chem always had more depth than they were given credit for.
sample lyric: When you go would you have the guts to say/'I don't love you like i loved you yesterday'?

VAST - Winter In My Heart
As frosty as its title suggests and providing more emo than our previous entry for sure, with Jon Crosby's excellent production and string arrangements it gives the track a stirling poignance.
sample lyric: I need a summer but the summer's come and gone/I need a summer but it's winter in my heart

The Mountain Goats - No Children
It's probably meant to be a little ironic, but this is a deeply uncomfortable listen in its bitter honesty. Hoping for the mightiest of train wrecks in the ending of a relationship in a stripped-back, happy-go-lucky ditty
sample lyric: I hope it stays dark forever/I hope the worst isn't over
And I hope you blink before I do/And I hope I never get sober

Def Leppard - Love Bites
You can always rely on some hair metal to produce heart bruised power ballads like no-one else, and who better than Def Leppard?
sample lyric:
When you make love/do you look in the mirror?/Who do you think of?/Does he look like me?

Van Halen - Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love

That opening is a stone cold killer riff. Lee Roth mocks all macho, while brothers Van Halen rock us off of romance like it's going out of style. For those who missed the point, they're talkin' 'bout sex.
sample lyric:
You know youre semi-good lookin/and on the streets again

Pet Shop Boys - You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk
Let's be honest, we've all been there at one point or another. Whether we've been the giver or receiver on the phone late at night. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have crafted that low-point into sheer pop perfection.
sample lyric:
You only tell me you love me when you're drunk (you can't beat that chorus)

Spiritualized - Broken Heart
From its funereal tone and grand orchestral arrangement, the feling of heartbreak is palpable, awash with a tide of regret and pain. It's as beautiful as it is tragic.
sample lyric:
And Im wasted all the time/Ive gotta drink you right off of my mind/
Ive been told that this will heal given time/Lord I have a broken heart

TV On The Radio - Don't Love You
Despite Tunde Adebimpe's soulful croon, it's hard to hide the cutting lyrics. Juxtaposed with a laconic croon and some droning experimentation, it's a meditative groove that's fuelled by quiet anger.
sample lyric:
Now i can't trust your lover's tongue/Except to tease and taunt

Kanye West - Love Lockdown
Now I know i've ripped into Kanye's break-up album before (a reminder), but i stand by the fact that this hypnotic R&B cut is still the highpoint of the album. Basically because he doesn't get caught up in his own self-pity enough to let the music groove.
sample lyric:
How many times i tell ya/'fore it finally got through/you lose/you lose

Friendly Fires - Lovesick
Just because you've had a gutful of valentine's and all the commercial schmaltz that goes with it doesn't mean you can't have a funky gutful. Friendly Fires are quickly becoming one of my new favourite bands, here's just another reason why.
sample lyric:
Cold hearts/hold the world in your hands

Ladyhawke - Love Don't Live Here Anymore
Over her usual bed of 80's influenced soundscapes, Ladyhawke whiles away her lonely hours to a lost relationship. Much like Friendly Fires it's as danceable as it is sad.
sample lyric:
Love love love is always so unsure/But bleeding hearts have always known no law

Bright Eyes - Lover I Don't Have To Love
Conor Oberst's an insightful little bugger, at the ripe of age of 22, he released this paean to lust. Articulately demonstrating how sometimes trying to simplify things, by skipping the romance for the pay-off, can only make things worse.
sample lyric: Your hands on me/Pressing hard against your jeans/Your tongue in my mouth/ trying to keep the words from coming out/You didn't care to know who else may have been you before

Stars - One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead)
The spiritual sequel to the equally excellent Your Ex-Lover Is Dead, i think it perfectly captures the spirit of Anti-Valentine's. That love's not all roses, chocolates and cute teddy-bear cards, that love can sometimes lead to people doing horrible things to each other.
sample lyric: The entire second verse sung with restrained menace:
He starts with her back cause that's what he sees
When she's breaking his heart she still fucks like a tease
Release to the sky, look him straight in the eye
and tell him that now, that you wish he would die
you'll never touch him again so get what you can
leaving him empty just because he's a man
so good when it ends, they'll never be friends
one more night, that's all they can spend

Monday, February 9, 2009

A kiss is not a contract, but it's very nice...

(EDIT: Surprise, Surprise. You try to make any kind of playlist 'round here and it gets removed without a trace - grrrr - so for those who have joined us late, the neuteured version of the kissing playlist. Jeez.)

In anticipation of Valentine's Day i thought i'd put together a little playlist that celebrates the meeting of lips. Enjoy.


Prince - Kiss
With one of the greatest intros in contemporary pop, the one and only Prince gives us a list of do's and dont's for his potential lover. Later covered to creepier effect by a decaying Tom Jones, still you can't fault the original - a stone cold classic.

Ben Harper - Steal My Kisses
You can always rely on Mr. Ben Harper to give things a little soulful, funky groove. The infectious harmony layered-chorus and beat box percussion are memorable to say the least, a song that's as sweet as it is sexy

Joni Mitchell - In France They Kiss On Main St
The song that kickstarted my life-long love affair with Joni Mitchell. The opening track from my favourite album of hers - The Hissing of Summer Lawns - is more about nostalgia than the act of kissing, but at its core it's pure romance.

Seal - Kiss From A Rose
The only good thing that the shonky Batman Forever film gave us. I still find the bizarre imagery of the lyrics baffling, but it is this unique strangeness that gives the song its beauty... and perhaps Seal's finest moment.

Cher - The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)
Taken from the soundtrack to Mermaids, Cher's excellent cover of the 1960's Betty Everett orginal is slightly kitsch, and all the better for it. Not only that but the song has aged very well, unlike the woman herself. (ZING!)

Des'ree - Kissing You
Boy, there's a lot of songs from soundtracks. That caught me off guard, but i really couldn't resist including Des'ree and her soulful cut from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. Steeped in yearning and subdued pain, it's really a touching piece - especially that dancing piano bridge.

They Might Be Giants - First Kiss

Time for a something a little more upbeat, cue TMBG and their rollicking live version of First Kiss. Capturing the giddy exuberance and simplicity of young love in a poppy, puppy dog way.

KISS - Kissin' Time
How could you not include them? Taken from the band's 1974 self-titled debut, it's actually a cover of an old 1959 novelty hit by Bobby Rydell. It was only added to the album on later pressings to tie in with a kissing contest.

Incubus - A Kiss To Send Us Off
Leading our compilation to a heavier edge is Incubus' excellent rocker from their prog-rock influenced 2006 album Light Grenades. It's even better live so i suggest you track down a version on YouTube or other source.(EDIT: well, now you can...)

Metallica - The Judas Kiss
Showing that even metal behemoths Metallica can get all romantic... ok so it's not really a love song, but it's still a ripping eight minutes of riffage. One of ten examples of why their latest Death Magnetic has been called their return to form album. Besides, not all kisses are nice.

Supergrass - Kiss Of Life
Supergrass have always been versatile, but even this dance-influenced groove was a bit of a surprise when it was released as part of their 10th anniversary best of compilation. A little indebted to Prince as well as the electronica scene of Madchester in the 90's, it's a funkified britpop hit as ever there was.

Pearl Jam - Last Kiss
The appropriately titled end to our list, originally released as a single, it's seen by die-hard fans as a bit of a pockmark in the Pearl Jam legacy. Ironically though, it's one of their best selling singles - especially here in Australia, where the band regularly perform it on tour.