On the Spot: This is the kit – lovely, warm, soft

These are hard times, people. They are rewarding times but it’s still stressful wondering what kind of horrible news will pile up on your timeline this week. Who of your faves is only slightly problematic and who is outright horrible? And everyone is having their list of good guys they hope will not turn into turds. It’s a hell of a time to live in.

Add daylight savings time to that and seasonal rain and grey skies and we all need something lovely to pick us up.

This is the Kit – an indie outfit from Bristol, helmed by Kate Stables and their new album “Moonshine Freeze” is exactly that. This album is beyond gorgeous. Apparently, Guy Garvey once dedicated a radio hour on This is the Kit and that makes all the sense because this band has this lovely attention to detail, soft flowing rhythm and genre-defying symbiosis of musical influences, use of instruments and Stables’ lovely voice. I also want to add, that this album has some absolutely amazing guitar/banjo work by Stables. Very subtle, nothing shredding through the air but just intricate picking that lightly taps at your window. That’s some expert playing, I tell you that.

Listening to the opener “Bullet Proof” is like entering a secret, magical garden. It’s the kind of warmth and beauty that we might need if we want to escape the harsh reality for a while. It’s an embrace, it’s a light.

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Pop Goes: Miley Cyrus ‘younger now’ album review – oh, what could have been …

Ok, so I felt like I should do this because I made such a big whoopy about “Younger Now” the single. So I listened to Miley Cyrus’ new album and I like it but I also have to say that it’s no “Lemonade”. But then again, there’s hardly any pop album by a major artist out there that had such an impressive tracklist and concept like “Lemonade”. I am talking about the big names like Lady Gaga, Adele, Katy Perry, etc. I own a few of their albums but I listened to pretty much all of them and there’s just something different to albums like Jamila Wood’s “HEAVN” and, in comparison, “21” (which I own and love, don’t get me wrong). I don’t know why but somehow the tracklisting usually contains some songs that just aren’t that strong or redundant and put the singles on a pedestal. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s lesser known singer/songwriters out there whose albums don’t require any skip-button at all. But with pop albums, there’s always a few songs I can live without.

Lemonade“, for me, was one of the first really big pop albums that managed to be an amazing listen without the need to skip a song (even though “Sandcastles” comes close).

(the voice is a little shaky at the beginning but I am constantly surprised how well Miley Cyrus does live – no backing singers trying to cover up her weak voice … I also really want that romper)

Ok, back to “Younger Now”. I think the first half of the album is stronger than the second. That might be because it’s all the singles plus the duet with Cyrus’ godmother and queen of country Dolly Parton. It also might be because the first songs all have an individual vibe whereas the latter tend to blend into each other now and then, interrupted by the occasional gem.

That’s a bummer because Miley has a voice that is unique and fantastic and can sing circles around some other dames, on record AND live. But somehow, the songwriting doesn’t always make use of it. With the exception of “Younger Now” and “Week without you” (which I love, even though it’s not necessarily fresh sounding), the country songs are better than the pop songs because you gotta have a voice to sing good country and Miley has it. She has a twang and personality and that translates well with heartbreak and yearning (staples of the good ole music of country).

(This song actually grew on me. I was a little disappointed because it felt like such a flashback to her Montana-days but it’s actually a lovely little road song)

“Miss you so much” is lovely, as is “She’s not him”. Along the way, though, I feel like the love songs overtake the album and somehow betray the album title and titular song. I really wanted other themes than the whole “Love you boo”-shtick because “Younger Now” is a great concept if it would have led to more songs in the like.

As a former child star and Disney darling turned femme fatale chaotic turned songwriter Miley has more to talk about than her relationship. “Younger Now” (the song) does exactly that. I wonder what would have happened, had the album tried to get more into the theme of change, reinvention and trying to come to terms with who you were and who you are now (and who you might be in the future). That’s such a rich well to draw from and it feels like a lost opportunity that in the end it’s just not as prominent a theme. Especially, since “Younger Now” (the single) also uses this theme musically (and in the music video). Gosh, I get a little sad thinking about the Miley Cyrus album that could have been.

I still like the album and might even buy it as the one big pop album I buy each year (2016 – Lemonade; 2015 – 21) but damn, I expect more because I know that there is more. Maybe next time.

The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney get folksy with Offa Rex

I got super emotional when the first tunes of “The Queen of Hearts” started. The Decemberists have been a band that led me through many ups and downs and also managed to really drew me into their prosaic world full of heroes and heroines, tragedy and murder. They are lovely despite the murder.

Their new album is a collaboration with singer Olivia Chaney and goes under the moniker Offa Rex. They covered British folk tales and given the Decemberists’ track record with folk material, this is absolutely no surprise.

(And despite NPR writer Jason Heller pretending as if this is the first time that The Decemberists have “dipped their toes” into folk, they did so approximately a thousand times before and they did well.)

I have to admit, not every song hits as hard as “The Queen of Hearts”. I am generally a fan of folk music with a few prog elements, a bit more story telling in the melodies. I am aware that the typical folk aficionado will not find any faults with songs like “The Gardener” and “Flash Company” but for me, they were a little tame (they are really beautiful, though, so this might be just my current mood speaking).

However, this is mainly because The Decemberists have an incredible talent of creating really catchy and engaging melodies (including dramatic arcs), so I am just used a little bit more drama to my folk music. Something to tag me along, grab my hand. I am not really the sit in the grass and let it softly roll over me type of folk listener.

Also, Chaney’s voice tends to sound a little too close to singers like Joni Mitchell or basically every country singer ever when she’s not given much to do with the melody. But when she really goes out, her timbre is quite something and she suddenly becomes her own.

All in all, this is a mighty fine album and it’s something to get people into folk music (or get people who already love it something more modern than the usual “Songs of the Irish”-compilations you get for 3 quid at the rest stop).

Broken Social Scene ‘Hug of Thunder’ – the indie band of all indie bands is back!

Disclaimer: even though I danced to Broken Social Scene more times than I can count, I never really listened to an entire album. I know, it’s horrifying. So I listened to their comeback album “Hug of Thunder” with fresh and uneducated ears.

So, I have to say: this is a beautiful album. It sounds nostalgic and new at the same time. As nearly all great Canadian rock bands, you can hear this communal feeling of way too much talent to fit into a recording studio. The way the voices intermingle in the song “Halfway Home” is EVERYTHING. The whole album feels like an actual show in an old-fashioned theatre where everyone gets their time in the spotlight, a time to shine.

And a time for Feist to shine … I mean on a Broken Social Scene-record. Her solo and titular song “Hug of Thunder” is another one of those amazing Springsteen-homages and might replace Ryan Adam’s “I just might” for the award of “best Bruce Springsteen song not written or performed by Bruce Springsteen”. I am in love with this song.

I think the majesty of this album is the way that despite all in all 18 musicians coming together and celebrating the art of music, the whole album feels weirdly intimate and relaxed. At no point, it’s overwhelming or messy. There’s no chaotic energy, you always have the feeling that everyone knows exactly what they are doing and everyone is in synch for the whole show (the closest you can get to jazz without playing jazz, I guess). And even if the songs differ wildly from each other, they’re all cut from the same cloth. This is a band’s band album.

By the way, if anyone knows who is responsible for the album art work, please tell me, it’s lovely.

Alex Cameron ‘The Comeback’ is a melancholic masterpiece set in 80s soundtracks

Ok, before I start talking about why this album is amazing, I want to talk a little about its context. Alex Cameron (on stage usually together with Roy Molloy) is an Australian musician who released this record in 2013 for free on the internet. So far, so Radiohead. However, eventually he found the perfect label with Secretly Canadian because of course they napped him. The album was re-released last year in August and was only now discovered by me through Spotify’s scary accurate playlist algorithms.

The album itself is sort of a concept album with Alex miming a washed-up entertainer mourning the breakthrough he never had. However, according to Wikipedia, he didn’t just create this character and make up lyrics for it but wrote the lyrics based on his own (and Roy’s) experiences, therefore lending real life to an otherwise already fantastic concept.

He even dressed the part.

Ok, to the album now: since I am not as deep into the numerous album releases as I was maybe 5-6 years ago, I am not the best judge but from my point of view, the darker, melancholic new wave-revival (or newer new wave) of bands like Interpol, the Editors and the like has a bit dried up lately (in favor of awesome female garage punk, it feels like).

Maybe it’s for the best, though, that I haven’t heard that much retro 80s wave in the last years because that way Alex Cameron’s beautiful ode to 80s soundtracks, Jim Kerr/Bruce Springsteen vocals (I will not be told otherwise) and introspective lyrics can fully excite me in its weirdly unique loveliness.

Add Cameron to my list of awesome dancers (joining Father John Misty and Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath)

Cameron hits the 80s synth nails right on the head. There is a clarity to his melodies that really rings true and his vocals keep their control most of the time, only to break emotionally to give this amazing Springsteen impact (that Louis C.K. talked about in a way that is 100% accurate and will be referenced by me forever and forever).

Funnily enough, I nearly instantly thought about the music video for Faith No More’s cover of “I started a joke” and David Hoyle as majestic and sad nightclub musician. Somehow I can imagine Hoyle’s character as the protagonist of Cameron’s album. It feels right.

Anyways, the album itself is not a one note spiel on the 80s nostalgia because even though style and instruments set it in the 80s (which fits to the old artist whose heydays probably have been in the 80s), it’s not just an homage but a truly amazing singer/songwriter album.

Laura Marling ‘Semper Femina’ – musings about muses

The muse is an interesting concept in (mainly Greek) mythology. Originally goddesses, the muses turned into beautiful women that gave the spark of inspiration to mainly male artists. Even though one could see the role of the muse from a feminist standpoint – after all, the male artist is and can create nothing without the female input – it still stings as soon as you think of all the creative and scientific achievements of men that were created on women’s backs or even stolen from women.

In her newest album, Laura Marling thinks about these fickle creatures aka women (if you translate “semper femina”, you get this meaning) and those women that inspired her on her way. Laura Marling is not only a great artist. She is also conceptual in a way that goes beyond music. In the least few years she released a charming podcast called “Reversing the Muse” which covers interviews with women in music and especially women behind the music, e.g. sound engineers, producers, etc. Inspired by these women, she dealt with the topic of the muse on her album, finally reverting the male-female-story of the muse and recreating the muse as an equally artistic woman who inspires other artists.

Together with the podcast and the album, we also get a visual in form of three music videos directed by Laura Marling herself. Since I really loved Jesca Hoop’s lovely miniature thriller-drama (thrama, thrima?) for “Memories are now”, I immediately compared the music videos and eventually the albums as well.

Just as with her music, Jesca Hoop draws you in immediately with a powerful story (and her incredibly alluring melodies). It doesn’t take more than 5 seconds to fall in love with Jesca Hoop’s album. It took me a little longer, however, to really dive into the often subtle and highly symbolic nature of Laura Marling’s music. Her music videos are equally mystifying at times and work more with a hard to describe feeling and very strong color-schemes than a storyline or real characters. Laura Marling feels a little more sensual, tender, whereas Jesca Hoop has strong ideas that immediately grip you. And guess what: there’s no need to pit them against each other. For me, the comparison is interesting not to find out “who wore it better” but how different styles and ways and inspirations can still have a strong emotional impact and result in such strong pieces of art.

Btw, this is also the main reason why I don’t do “places” on my best of lists. If I like an album, I like it, I don’t need to make it fight with another album to prove its worth.

Jay Som ‘Everybody works’ – this retro 90s singer songwriting debut is so chill!

Initially, Jay Som thought how much it sucks to have so little money just to keep on making music, hence the title “everybody works”. As all the glorious music hit stories of today, she didn’t have to wait till forever (like some wannabe-authors, *cough cough*) to make it big. With her incredible debut, Jay Som – originally Melina Duterte – encapsulates the Zeitgeist of creating nostalgic sounds that she never really experienced. If that sounded snarky, it’s not. Let me explain but first…the Bus song.

While talking about “Everybody Works” on my radio show I came to an epiphany: the time for detached irony is over. This generation (is it still millenials?) finally got over the “oh, this is so shit/tacky/gross/awful, I love it” and discovered that old, vintage things can actually have an emotional impact and be amazing completely without irony. Even more so, it’s finally cool to watch lovely, touching tv shows like “Steven Universe” or “Adventure Time” without blushing in front of your friends who only watch “Venture Bros” and “Archer” and love to snigger at heartfelt truths and feelings.

I might be totally off with this (I am quite sure I am) but young artists like Jay Som beat the constant irony of the Britwave of ca. 2008 and the irk of neon coloured shirts singing about cool things without ever getting close to what they really thought about when they went off stage and into the sweat-smelly tour bus to drive for hours to the next location.

This is an album that is honest, modest even, and rings true.

The whole thing sounds like it comes from a band but Melina-Superstar did everything on her own in her bed room. For comparison: I do puzzles on long weekends.

The result reminds me at times of the lighter Modest Mouse (with this chill guitar sound) and at times of the fuzzy 90s alternative that in hindsight seemed to be a real rebellion against the grungy moping of too many bands of the time (I re-watched early “Buffy”-seasons in the past weeks and boy, so many drab bands with really bad grunge music AND lyrics).

Jay Som, however, creates light, lovely and fresh songs with fantastic guitar-gniedelei and lyrics that are – quite frankly – humbling the selfish arrogant person that I was at Melina’s age. She talks about how everyone has their burden to bare and how sometimes you have to give up some things to help out others. And all that sounds a lot less like motivational posters when she writes and sings about it:

I know you know

If I leave you alone

When you don’t feel right

I know we’ll sink for sure

I’ll play your game once more

If you don’t feel right

(Baybee)