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Former White Stripes man goes all out, aurally and vinyl-y
Lazaretto comes with so many gimmicks you’d be forgiven for thinking the music is an afterthought. Vinyl fetishist Jack White went to town with an “ultra LP” version – it plays from the inside out towards the edge; there are hidden tracks you can play on the label itself; there’s a hologram of an angel in the run-off groove.
But enough nerdboy stuff. If you’re just getting the CD, are the songs any good? Yes, as it happens. Away from the White Stripes, White has plunged into so many projects – including the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, numerous collaborations and record production – you would think he knows his days are numbered. On this solo follow-up to 2012’s Blunderbuss, he comes across like a man on a mission, intent on pushing his arsenal of sounds to the limit.
If you were to pair White with a movie director it would be Quentin Tarantino. Both of them are jittery, crazy showmen. You can easily imagine the crunchy riffing and shivering piano trills of the hyper instrumental “High Ball Stepper” or the undulating exotica-inspired organ/vocal interplay of “Would You Fight For My Love?” playing over opening and closing credits for the next QT flick.
Even when White gets more rustic on “Entitlement” and “Alone In My Home”, you can sense the sweat on his lip and swivel in his hips. “Every single bone in my brain is electric,” he hollers in the title track, over fuzzed-out staccato guitar and a whiplash solo that requires a seatbelt. He speaks the weird truth.
Swedish duo aim for bigger sound on third album
Seven years ago, when Swedish sister duo Johanna and Klara Söderberg appeared on YouTube singing a Fleet Foxes song in a forest, they seemed like an adorable one-view wonder. Instead, they've blossomed into an excellent indie-country act, like the Carter Family if they'd grown up on Lee Hazlewood's Cowboy in Sweden and Emmylou Harris. Like 2012's The Lion's Roar, Stay Gold was recorded in Omaha with Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis, whose Big Sky echo and orchestrations complement sublime drifter poetry like "Waitress Song," where the harmonies tickle God and the lyrics begin, "I could move to a small town and become a waitress/Say my name was Stacey and I was figuring things out."
Solo Pretender kicks against pop-rock divide
Thirty-plus years into her career and finally dispensing with the Pretenders name, Chrissie Hynde still finds herself warning haters not to "fuck with this heart of mine" in that elastic voice. On her delicate and sexy solo debut – actually a joint effort with new writing partner Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, plus guests including Neil Young and, oddly, tennis great John McEnroe – she does decompress: "In a Miracle" sounds like Aimee Mann after a warm bath. But Hynde can still flash her blade. In the reverb-slashed "A Plan Too Far," she busts one tedious guy down to a hilariously blunt double-entendre: "You're as consistent as a weathervane cock."
Sydney rockers fail to make anything stick on second LP
The long awaited follow-up to garage punks Straight Arrows’ 2010 debut It’s Happening opens with two-chord strum “Introduction”, a sound that’s both simplistic and overly familiar – a description that sums up Rising. They’re traits that can be a positive in the scrappy arena of primal, throwback garage rock, as long as the hooks land and the energy is high. The band succeed at the latter – you can imagine this going down a treat in a beer-and-sweat-drenched club – but only partially succeed at the former, the distorted, unintelligible vocals and studied lo-fi production only partially distracting attention away from songs that blister but rarely burn in the memory.
Moz rails at enemies, mourns old friends on surprisingly strong LP
Being misunderstood is Morrissey’s great joy in life, as he keeps proving in World Peace Is None of Your Business – a much stronger album than fans were expecting at this point. The fantastic title song is a doo-wop rant against cops, governments, armies, etc. Moz doesn’t fare as well protesting Beefaroni (rhymes with “Ah, but lonely”) or mean professors. But he saves two stunners for last: “Mountjoy” is his dear-hero-imprisoned lament for the late Irish writer Brendan Behan, and “Oboe Concerto” resembles the Smiths classic “Death of a Disco Dancer”, as Morrissey mourns the dead companions of his youth, singing, “All I do is drink to absent friends.”
The ex-SoundScan killer figures out how to be an underdog
Earlier this year, 50 Cent slid from the world’s biggest major to an indie deal – a move that, just a few years ago, would have been as unthinkable as Michael Clarke stepping to the crease for a village cricket team. And where the old 50 – the guy who, at his height, loved nothing more than mocking his peers’ failing sales and fading relevance – probably would have ripped Animal Ambition to shreds, less cruel listeners will find much to enjoy. Tracks like “Hold On” and “Pilot” have all the smirking charm of 50’s glory days. At their best, they can even recall his time as a mixtape hustler with a world to conquer and nothing to lose.
Young brothers let the good times roll
Originally released in 1973, the Marcus Hook Roll Band’s only record is famously remembered as the first time Malcolm and Angus Young went into a studio. In truth, however, the album is much more the work of their older brother, George, and his long time partner in crime, Harry Vanda. A month of booze-fuelled sessions resulted in an album of heavy, funky blues, with hints of Steppenwolf and Steely Dan melding into Vanda and Young’s past and Angus and Malcolm’s future. Solid riffing (“Can’t Stand the Heat”), throw-away raunch (“Watch her Do It”) and all-in absurdity (“Ape Man”) combine for a record that reflects the good times in which it was created.
Undercooked ideas stretched thin on disappointing third LP
After making a splash with 2005 debut We Have Sound, Tom Vek disappeared, leaving fans rabid for new music. He resurfaced on 2011’s Leisure Seizure, more “it’ll do” than triumphant return. The muted response seems to have left the Londoner bitter, opener “How Am I Meant to Know” bemoaning “What will they think of me?/This sacrifice isn’t enough/I need to justify everything I do.” The lyrics veer from sour grapes to terrible, and his largely stagnant sound – deadpan vocals, big synths, bigger drums – only occasionally works. On “Trying to Do Better”, Vek sings “What I should do is change it up, to leave my comfort zone.” He should heed his own advice.
Black Keys-approved singer grows up on third album
Six years ago, Jessica Lea Mayfield was a precocious teenager singing simple, sullen country songs about hitting rock-bottom. On her third full-length (and first without Dan Auerbach producing), she’s grown into a world-weary alt-rock dreamer. The set opens with the grungy “Oblivious” and its grown-up passive aggression: “I could kill her with the powers in my mind/But I’m a good humanitarian.” Elsewhere, between tremulous indie textures and slow-core plucking, Mayfield renounces her own childishness (“Unknown Big Secret”) and regrets past indiscretions (“Party Drugs”). Her sweet and sweltering guitar playing and forked-tongue revelations are what 24 should sound like.
Twangy indie rock that’s hit and miss
Billed as a companion to last year’s likeable La Costa Perdida, Camper Van Beethoven’s ninth LP proves the indie rock OGs can still pluck catchy choruses out of thin air. While the songs aren’t as genre-scrambled as the band’s Eighties output, they’re still heavy on fiddle and snuggle up close with country. Beyond that are nods to CCR and, on “Darken Your Door”, Beggars Banquet-era Stones. David Lowery’s worn-in croak is all his own, though, and he can find rumpled romance just about anywhere. The father/daughter ballad “Out Like a Lion” is plenty sweet, but “Sugartown” and “Goldbase” feel like B-sides. Reliable enough, but El Camino Real won’t make many new converts.
Hotly tipped outfit hint at greatness on debut
Tipped in some circles to be this year’s surprise breakout – being signed to Adele producer Paul Epworth’s new label won’t hurt – it’s not difficult to understand why this British outfit has managed to excite keen-eared punters. Introspective and atmospheric, the band’s debut is all surging bass lines, ethereal sound effects, stuttering R&B and Dave Bayley’s whispering, sleepy vocals, packaged with an indie pop sheen that makes the likes of “Black Mambo” eminently memorable. Where it falls down is in the lack of variation – as “Gooey” fades out and “Walla Walla” springs to life, the temptation is to think of Glass Animals as possessing a limited, albeit very good, bag of tricks.
Victorian singer-songwriter maintains the quality on LP five
Mia Dyson may not have the mainstream kudos of some of her contemporaries, but creatively she’s barely put a foot wrong, endearing her to a legion of clued-in fans. The challenge with her fifth record is how to top 2012’s epic cut, The Moment. Indeed Idyllwild has a lot to live up to, but Dyson isn’t one to bog herself down. Instead, she’s drawn inspiration from the success of its predecessor, and crafted a more guitar-focused LP, but you could hardly call it a roots album per se. Lyrically fulfilling and musically sound, it’s a collection of songs covering rock, blues and country, and its charms grow slowly. Another strong chapter in Dyson’s continuing evolution.
Atlanta prog-metallers pull out all the stops on spellbinding new outing
In the lead up to the release of this, Mastodon’s sixth album, drummer Brann Dailor spoke with pride of a record that encapsulated every element of the band’s career to date – from the sludgy brutality of 2002’s Remission and the psycho-prog of 2006’s Blood Mountain to the more refined songwriting of 2011’s The Hunter – while taking their sound to a new planet entirely. Remarkably, he wasn’t over-selling things.
Once More ’Round the Sun – the apostrophe in the title suggests that, besides being purveyors of top notch metallic prog, Mastodon are also sticklers for grammar – springs to life with “Tread Lightly” and its charging, Eastern-inspired blast of acoustic riffing, and it’s a full 54 minutes before epic closer “Diamond in the Witch House” (complete with guest vocals from Neurosis’s Scott Kelly) brings proceedings to a close in deliciously malevolent fashion. By that point Mastodon have proved they can do melodic (“The Motherload” boasts arguably the catchiest chorus of the band’s career, with “Ember City” not far behind) and succinct psychedelia (the sub-three minute title-track) as proficiently as they can progressive (“Asleep in the Deep”) and classic (“Halloween”). It is, frankly, an astonishing ride that charts myriad feels and emotions while sticking true to the traits that have endeared Mastodon to fans of intelligent, progressive music worldwide.
There is a temptation amongst those fans to shower everything Mastodon do with praise, and it’s one to be wary of – no band is above reproach. For now, though, Mastodon are about as close as you can get.
Editor needed as a man and his moustache dream out loud
It’s hard to keep up with Dave Graney. Not only is he prolific (28 albums) but everything he does is overloaded with hip pop culture references and asides. Here, with the help of Lisa Gerrard’s studio and partner Clare Moore’s myriad skills, Graney waxes enigmatic (“Everything Was Legendary With Robert, Everything Is Perfect In Its Beginning”), poetic (“Je Est Un Autre, to Borrow From Rimbaud”) and obsessive, pondering London, country roads and invisibility. Clocking in at just over an hour, Fearful Wiggings does meander; much of this feels like voice-and-guitar sketches in search of an art movie soundtrack. Still, who but Graney would even imagine something like “A Woman Skinnies a Man Up”?
Oddball Americana proves interesting, not mesmerising
The Felice Brothers’ formula has never been failsafe – a loose, eclectic mix that draws as much from Scorsese as it does Dylan, the band’s back catalogue has been great and grating in equal measure. This time out, however, they are neither. Returning to a rootsy, folk format, Favorite Waitress carries the same crooked, conversational charm as the band’s earlier work – intimate tales of Mafioso-infused modern day heartache abound once again – but the songs consistently lack the final twist that would lift them above average. The punkish singalong “Katie Cruel” comes close to the band’s best, but most of what Favorite Waitress serves feels like good filler.
South Coast minstrel mixes the downbeat with the widescreen
With his third full-length, 24-year-old ex-busker Kim Churchill has nailed something that seems to defy most singer/strummers: he’s whipped up an album not shy on melody and muscle – seriously, the opener, “Single Spark”, flexes more brawn than Popeye after a bang-up meal of spinach. It feels like anyone with a bruised heart and a battered Maton can do soft and sensitive, but Churchill has mixed it up with the big and ballsy – and that’s no bad thing. He does have his moments of quiet reflection, but he’s got a real flair for the epic; the widescreen “Fear the Fire” and “Don’t Leave Your Life Too Long” have future classic written all over them.