Jan. 5th, 2012

Six.

Jan. 5th, 2012 02:53 am
urgencytobleed: (Default)
I really do have three of these to post today. They're written and everything this time, promise.

Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know


At first, A Creature I Don't Know seems like Laura Marling's chilliest album to date. Gone is the earnest romanticism of Alas I Cannot Swim. Gone too is most of the unbridled passion and world-weary cynicism of I Speak Because I Can. The absence of these qualities may initially make the album appear to be less of an accomplishment than its predecessors, slight and strangely closed-off. Even the most bombastic songs - the darkly playful horn-infused "The Muse," the sinister and bluesy slow-building rocker "The Beast" - sound naked and blunt, simplistic in a way that even the most reserved, stripped-down moments on I Speak Because I Can were not. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly makes the album so initially impenetrable: is it the no-frills, organic production that perhaps sometimes falls a little too flat? Is it the more abstract, impersonal lyrics or the fact that Marling's voice remains, for the most part, on a low simmer? Though these slight changes may at first keep the listener distanced from the music, ultimately, it is also these changes that makes A Creature I Don't Know such a beautiful album. It is possible that the songs here will not immediately hit you emotionally, the way that I Speak Because I Can felt like such a punch to the gut; their simplicity and subtlety is instead more like a slowly-twisting knife - they root themselves inside of your brain, ever so slightly chipping away with every listen until, suddenly, they become some of the most tender, aching and genuinely affecting sounds you've ever heard. This time, the impact of Marling's voice is not in its volume or intensity but in the barely perceptible changes in inflection it can undergo in a single line and the impact of her lyrics is not in their barely-contained anger but in what lies beneath the surface of that anger. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the three-track run of "Salinas," "The Beast" and "Night After Night." Emotionally dizzying on all levels, it is actually in their quiet beginnings that they most shine - nothing is more heartbreaking than Marling's understated, slightly husky voice barely rising above a whisper with only a gently-strummed acoustic guitar for accompaniment. The way she utters certain lines, imbuing them with far deeper meaning than comes across simply in the words ("That gun will turn before the sun starts to burn, understand;" "He lies, he lies, so sweet that I choke;" "Dear lover forgiven, my love is driven by rage"), is stunning to say the least. "I Was Just a Card" and "Don't Ask Me Why" are less sprawling and adventurous musically but thanks to some lovely string arrangements and, again, Marling's impressive talent both vocally and lyrically, just as affecting. The lyrics in "Don't Ask Me Why," particularly, are downright poetic: "I took the wind from the sea/I took the blood from an arrow/I took the wisdom of spring/I was thrown and blown and tossed and turned until/Time found its hand and called it an end/Me and time, we go way back when/I was a child/And I always knew why." A Creature I Don't Know is not an album that wears its heart on its sleeve - but do not let that lead you to believe it does not have a heart at all. Marling only keeps growing better and she is also an artist who does not seem content to settle; her musical future is wide open.

Five.

Jan. 5th, 2012 09:26 am
urgencytobleed: (Default)
Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness


It's staggering to consider how prolific Los Campesinos! has been since the band released their debut full-length, Hold on Now, Youngster..., in 2008; less than four years later, Hello Sadness is their fourth album (along with a rather impressive array of single releases and b-sides). Even more staggering is just how much the band has evolved musically in that span of time. To play the dark, brooding Hello Sadness next to the buoyant, youthful Hold on Now, Youngster... makes for a stark contrast in both mood and complexity. Yet, at the same time, both sound distinctly like Los Campesinos! albums, impossible to mistake for anything else. While Gareth's vocals have deepened and become less erratic, his acerbic lyrics more introspective and mature and the infectious melodies subtler and more experimental, these essential elements that set the band apart from others of their ilk still remain. "By Your Hand" and "Hello Sadness," with their bouncy choruses set off by rather depressing lyrics ("It's only hope that springs eternal/And that's the reason why/This dripping from my broken heart/Is never running dry"), are among the catchiest songs the band has ever concocted; they also display a stunning amount of depth, building on the heightened emotional resonance of last year's Romance Is Boring. In fact, the heart-wrenching "To Tundra" brings to mind one of that album's late highlights, "The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future," with its gradual build-up to an impassioned finale, which finds Gareth pleading in a wounded wail, "Take a body to water/Take a body to tundra/Just take me with you as well." Also memorable in the second half of the album are "The Black Bird, the Dark Slope" and "Baby I Got the Death Rattle," the latter for Gareth's characteristically self-deprecating and humorous lyrics ("You are an angel, that's why you pray/And I am an ass and that's why I bray") and the former for its soaring chorus, a rare solo moment for Gareth's sister, Kim. As a replacement for former female vocalist Aleksandra, she is utilized mostly for harmonies throughout Hello Sadness, which makes her raspy, slightly soulful turn in the spotlight all the more delightful. At only ten songs, Hello Sadness is a much more compact affair than its predecessor and it is also much more consistent, without a moment of filler. It is the band's most accomplished album to date and it'll be a difficult one to top - though I think the members of Los Campesinos! have already proven they're quite capable of outdoing themselves time and time again.

Four.

Jan. 5th, 2012 06:17 pm
urgencytobleed: (hand that pen over to me poetaster!)
Bombay Bicycle Club - A Different Kind of Fix


Hey, everybody, A Different Kind of Fix is probably one of the year's best albums that you haven't heard; seriously, is it just me or has this album flown way under the radar? I haven't seen very many people at all talking about it, at least not here in the States. Even if the rest of the album was utterly horrible (which, obviously, it is not), "Shuffle" is the best pop song, bar none, that I've heard all year - hell, it's probably battling with one or two others for the best song of 2011, period. It's that good (and, in an alternate universe, should be a massive radio hit). The song showcases everything Bombay Bicycle Club has to offer at its absolute peak: the instrumentation is interesting (note the repeated piano motif that sounds a bit like a little kid hitting the keys at random and the electronic sampling that also reoccurs throughout the song) but not off-putting, Jack Steadman's vocals are quirky and highly individual but not polarizing and the melodies are diverse enough that, though it follows in the vein of a classic pop song, it also retains a sense of unpredictability. Basically, the song is immediate and traditional enough to appeal to a mass audience while also being creative and refreshing enough to impress those music aficionados who are a little harder to please - it's truly the best of both worlds. The rest of the album works in a similar way: there may not be anything too edgy here but it isn't simply a rehash of things we've all heard before either. The technique of heavy repetition in a single song can easily backfire and become boring or tedious to listen to but the repetition in opener "How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep" gives the song a hypnotic and driving quality that is anything but dull; it sets the bar for the rest of the album extremely high. Luckily, Bombay Bicycle Club best themselves time and time again. Vocalist Lucy Rose contributes to several tracks and her clean, airy timbre contrasts well with Steadman's characteristic warble. On the almost tropical-sounding "Lights Out, Words Gone," her subtle backing vocals only contribute to the song's unique atmosphere, like a cool island breeze, and her effortlessly light repetition of the song's title in "Leave It" leads beautifully into the more intense sections of the song, which find Steadman singing passionately, "Don't you go evade me now/Come see what you've done/I keep thinking lately how/All these feelings won." Other highlights include "Bad Timing," which is slightly more jarring and experimental than anything else on the album, "What You Want," another basically flawless pop song, and devastating closer "Still." In this final song, Steadman sings purely in a wavering, heartbreaking falsetto such potent lines as, "Did he fill the empty spaces/Was he everything I'm not?/There's no force behind my mouth/But in just three words he brings you down/There's a movement out the door, I swear, but no/Your lips, they stay perfectly still." The way this last word is electronically drawn out, simmering just beneath the vocal layers of the chorus, lends an even more unsettling effect to the song. It's an intensely emotional finale, most similar in style to the minimal, acoustic balladry of last year's Flaws but dialed way up to ten, and it'll stay with you long after listening. As a whole, A Different Kind of Fix is one of the most immensely listenable albums I've heard in a long time - it's certainly the one I've most often felt the urge to put on.

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Shannon

April 2012

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