In layman's terms: A blog about music, by Luke Slater and James Welbourn.

7 April 2008

April absolute shedload.

Angus and Julia Stone: A Book Like This (31.3.2008 on Flock)

The spectre of middle of the road blandness is one which sadly looms over much of today’s music, especially in the genre of folk. Now, artists like Newsom, who exude originality and innovation from every avenue, aren’t too common. It’s precisely because they are so outlandish yet still brilliant that they are held in such high regard. There are some artists who push the benchmark to extremes, and those who are happy to lie safely within the boundaries. Sadly, Antipodean brother and sister duo Angus & Julia Stone fit into the latter category.

It’s not that 'A Book Like This' is a bad album, in fact it’s quite nice. But nice isn’t necessarily a good thing, in this case it’s a euphemism for uninspiring. Aptly enough, part of this album was recorded in the living room of a front man from a band who were very nice indeed; Travis. The remainder was recorded in the basement of the home of their mother, whose niceness is yet unknown.

Throughout 'A Book Like This', the better moments come from the throat of Julia, whose childlike voice is somewhat reminiscent of early Joanna Newsom and that other sibling-folk duo, CocoRosie. Angus’ voice just doesn’t carry enough clout. As the album opener 'The Beast' bounces along, it’s just begging for a more distinctive voice, something a little less neutral, not necessarily a Condon, but something infinitely more raw and rasping than Angus can provide.

The production, partly done by Fran Healy, is unerringly first-rate throughout, with some pleasantly twee glockenspiels appearing on 'Hollywood', where Julia offers an endearing vocal performance, despite some slightly cliché lyrical content. A harmonica solo is thrown in on Angus led 'Just A Boy', which is one of those old fashioned tales of love. The poignant 'Silver Coin' has a steam engine like drumbeat which keeps the track chugging along at a steady pace, but by the time the carefree 'Stranger' appears, you feel this album has only just left the station.

There are tracks on here which are much darker in mood, reminiscent in so many ways of Damien Rice’s 'O', none more so than the title track, where some dramatic acoustic work is backed by a prominently sombre string section. Penultimate track 'Another Day' has more than a hint of Beirut; from the waltzing piano to the slow, slurring brass, something which adds a much needed extra dimension to 'A Book Like This'.

'Horse and Cart', the album finale, is a four-and-a-half minute swagger towards the finish line, which sees an all too brief clarinet solo, as well as some bright and breezy group whistling and hand clapping on display. On the whole, 'A Book Like This' is not a bad effort from Angus & Julia Stone, but it takes far too long to get into gear. The opening four or five tracks are just too nondescript and innocuous to provoke much of a reaction. Thankfully, the album improves remarkably as it progresses, particularly when the mood changes for more melancholic. There’s enough promise in 'A Book Like This' for us to hope that Angus & Julia can fulfil their potential, and not be consigned to the endless scrap heap of folk-rock dullards.


[Review taken from Gigwise]

iLiKETRAiNS: We Go Hunting (21.4.08 on Beggars Banquet)

Annoyingly titled post-rockers from Leeds in song about historical event shocker. Or not. iLiKETRAiNS’ music thankfully does not suffer despite their oddly styled name (just which part do you emphasise?!) or unusual lyrical subject matter. With vocals that are so broadly and profoundly delivered, songs about anything other than The Great Fire of London and the assassination of Spencer Perceval would seem, well, a little bit insincere.

'We Go Hunting' may only be 3:25 long, but it needs to be longer. Full of the characteristic cathedral like ambience which so marks iLiKETRAiNS sound, this track moves from a sorrowful opening to a harrowing chorus and is laced with talk of demons; which is unsurprising for a track about the Salem Witch Trials.

Guy Bannister’s vocal style does verge on the outrageous at times, but his dark tones are perfect for iLiKETRAiNS’ sinister and gloomy choruses.

The chorus itself falls into a black-hole of misery, where the lyrics “If the demons divide, the demons will conquer/if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile” are sung so mournfully it’s scary.

'We Go Hunting' is simply begging to be extended with an extra verse or two, another interlude, an interminably long outro perhaps, but sadly none of these happen and it fades out at 3:25, much to my disappointment. That said, if you buy only one Salem Witch Trial themed single this year, this should be it.


[Review taken from Audioscribbler]

Essie Jain: We Made This Ourselves (31.3.2008 on Ba Da Bing)

Listening to New York based English songstress Essie Jain’s debut album, 'We Made This Ourselves', you are unlikely to be blown away by a powerful and coruscating virtuoso vocal performance, simply because there isn’t one here. Nor are you likely to be hit by grand orchestration, because you’ll only find chamber-folk minimalist styling. The beauty of 'We Made This Ourselves' is in the simplicity of the arrangements; it uses only the number of instruments it needs to use, no more, no less.

Opening track 'Glory' gives a real taste of what this album is about. With not much more present than Jain’s soft, soothing vocals and a sparsely strummed acoustic guitar for accompaniment, this track is beautifully bare. From the moment the opening lines of “How I will rise up from the waters where I’ve drowned” emerge, 'Glory' floats for four minutes like a feather on the stillest of country streams. Haze sees Jain’s evocative vocals multi-tracked hauntingly, culminating in the brass-backed crescendo of a chorus where Jain proclaims “I am right behind you” over and over, almost forcefully, until it rather unexpectedly ends.

Jain’s vocals are certainly distinctive, almost operatic in some places, and smoke-thin in texture. Every lyric is sung sincerely and unhurriedly, no more evident in 'Sailor', where the lament laden backing is provided by a solemnly played string section, which proves the perfect partner for Jain’s melancholic lyrical matter throughout much of the album.

'Disgrace' offers a welcome change of disposition from Jain, being somewhat more upbeat musically, with some neat percussion provided by the prolific former Dirty Three drummer, Jim White. Despite the change for a more musically jovial tone, Jain helplessly proclaims that she “can’t help but think it’s all our fault, can’t help but wait for the lightning bolt”.

Perhaps the standout track on the album, 'Loaded', Jain offers yet more delicately delivered words, on a track which ends on a powerful emotional note with the promises “I will drag you, I will hold you, I will pull you, I will slide you, I will leave you on the stair”.

'We Made This Ourselves' is a record which fits together superbly, up until the detuned finale of 'No Mistake', in which a slide guitar creeps in so quietly it is almost unnoticed. It is a debut which should quietly announce Essie Jain to the world, with an album which is as beautifully simple as it is simply beautiful.


[Review taken from Audioscribbler]

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