Wednesday, March 10, 2010

albums of the day

By my calculations we haven't done an album of the day post since my shockingly unimaginative choice of Rumours back in May 2009, so you'll no doubt be positively incandescent with anticipation to know what I've been listening to recently. Well, lots of stuff, including some cheapo purchases of old stuff off Amazon of a mildly embarrassing nature (Jethro Tull, anyone? No? Well, what about Yes, then? Please yourselves). To avoid further embarrassment I'll restrict myself to new stuff - here's a selection:

Only Revolutions by Biffy Clyro.

It's awfully easy to put albums out and affect not to care too much about whether anyone buys them or not; indeed a pose either of studied shoegazing inarticulacy or more aggressive rock'n'roll disdain is de rigueur in some quarters. So it's quite refreshing to hear an album that's an unashamed bid for world domination, and this is it. The Biff have been around for a while, and have built up a nicely fanatical cult following with their quirkily complex rock tunes. For this album they've largely ditched the time signature smart-arsery for a series of HUGE rock tunes with HUGE choruses featuring some trademark Scottish wide-mouthed bellowing (see also The Proclaimers), to some consternation from the purist fanbois. But, you know what - fuck 'em, because this is mostly great. Like many albums it's slightly front-loaded with the good stuff, the opening trio of The Captain, That Golden Rule and Bubbles set a standard that only Mountains of the rest of the album quite lives up to, but it's all good. And full marks to Simon Neil for singing in an authentically chewy Scots accent and not going all mid-Atlantic on our ass, even if it does make for an experience uncomfortably reminiscent of Big Country from time to time.

Them Crooked Vultures by Them Crooked Vultures.

There's a tenuous link with the Biffy Clyro album here, as Josh Homme provided some guitar contributions to Bubbles (no idea which bits were his), and here he is again moonlighting from his day job with Queens Of The Stone Age to hook up with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters (and previously Nirvana, and briefly Queens Of The Stone Age around the time of Songs For The Deaf) and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

That makes for a potentially pretty classic power trio sort of set-up, and the sound is pretty much exactly as you'd expect from three rock monsters moonlighting from their day jobs - heavy, pummelling, bluesy, sludgy riff-rock shot through with some dark humour. What you don't get is much variety, but as always if you want light and shade, acoustic ballads, harpsichords and the like the Cat Stevens section is over there. Opening track No One Loves Me & Neither Do I sets the tone, Mind Eraser, No Chaser and New Fang up the tempo a bit and thereafter it's a mix of the slower, longer ones like Elephants and Spinning In Daffodils and the slighly catchier stuff like Scumbag Blues and Bandoliers. You could be forgiven for not really noticing a difference, though. Here's a clip from Jonathan Ross's show followed by a rendition of Mind Eraser, No Chaser, and here's New Fang from the Reading festival in 2009.

Man From Another Time by Seasick Steve.

Here's another case in point - all Seasick's albums sound pretty much the same, and indeed most of the songs on Seasick's albums sound pretty much the same, as songs performed by a grizzled old bearded guy with a two-string guitar will tend to do. In case two strings is a bit elaborate for you, here's Diddley Bo, wherein Seasick makes do with just the one.

The Courage Of Others by Midlake.

This is the much-anticipated follow-up to 2006's The Trials Of Van Occupanther, an album so garlanded with critical praise that it would have been easy to be too intimidated by expectation to put out a follow-up album at all. But, finally, here it is.

In a way you could be forgiven a bit of disappointment on first listen - this is a much more folky, one-paced album than its wildly eclectic predecessor, and there's nothing as rockily catchy as Roscoe or Head Home here. But eventually you come to appreciate that this is a band settling into their own sound and not feeling the need to crack out the euphonium and the Jew's harp on every track just for the sake of it. And there's nothing as spookily gorgeous as Acts Of Man or Fortune on Van Occupanther, great though it is. Incidentally the visuals for the Fortune clip are from legendary German nutter Werner Herzog's documentary film The White Diamond.

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