THE RIPPLE REVIEWS THE LATEST ALBUMS

Lower Than Atlantis – Changing Tune

John Anderson

2012 has been set up to be Lower Than Atlantis’ year in the realm of small-to-medium sized UK rock bands. Their first ever headline tour sold out entirely via pre-sale. Radio One guru Zane Lowe had been a fervent advocate of the Watford quartet for a good twelve months. They signed a deal with Island Records making them labelmates with such eclectic and superstar artists as Tori Amos, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and Psy (yes, Gangnam Style). Promises are tricky fiends, however, despite all the hype their forthcoming album exuded.

LTA’s first two full-lengths are modern British rock gems. Far Q took the hardcore stylings of early work and melded it with a heavy Foo Fighters alternative influence – the British tend to do things with more grit than Americans. Rough around the edges, this latter style emerged fully-fledged from chrysalis on World Record. What dominated the album was honesty: Mike Duce’s lyrics, simple for anyone aged between 14-30 to relate to, with catchy melodies that were never too saccharine to be mistaken for pop hits. Even the ‘ballad’ on the album, ‘Another Sad Song’ is more likely to have you shedding a tear than cringing.

Perhaps the rushed production of these records aided spontaneous songwriting and believable roughness, because Changing Tune suffers from major label input: it sounds as large as their Dave Grohl/Kurt Cobain fantasies stretch, and Mike Duce’s vocal melodies are sometimes neutered by the thick guitar riffs. However, this becomes a minor niggle as the band’s songwriting strength becomes apparent.

Unfortunately, the thing which endeared many fans to LTA in the past, Mike Duce’s lyrics, are frequently haphazard here. Sometimes he hits it right on the mark (“We’re all unique just like snowflakes, but we won’t melt in the rain” in ‘Cool Kids’) but all too often his lines come across as forced attempts at erudition. Despite lead single ‘Love Someone Else’ being catchy as hell, you can’t deny its initial clunkiness: “Incessantly expressing myself lyrically so literally” coming across as rhyme for the sake of rhyme. ‘Normally Strange’, though its downtuned guitars succeed in creating a dirty grunge tone, the song is essentially an awkward list of oxymorons, which grates with repeated listens.

The album certainly fulfils its quota of being a rock record with melodies as infectious as the common cold, but stops short of being essential, even within LTA’s sphere. ‘Scared of the Dark’ is enjoyable, but a poor man’s ‘Another Sad Song’, ‘Go on Strike’ is hindered by an unwieldy chorus, and one or two songs seem underdeveloped or juvenile. The thing is, Changing Tune is probably superior to most 2012 standard rock releases, and only loses points for being ironically less refined in certain aspects than their previous output. ‘Move Along’ is the mandatory download for those who only need one song: a sweet guitar line and a chorus melody that will stay in your thoughts for weeks. If you can, pick up the deluxe edition, which contains five extra tracks including their recent standalone single ‘If the World Was to End’. Perfect singalong tunes.

8/10

Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky

Mike Convery

It’s difficult to name a band which remained consistently great throughout their existence. Guns N’ Roses, Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin, these are all vastly different bands who lost their sound with time. Their latter albums often came across as derivative, listless or lacking originality. Since their reunion in 2005 Dinosaur Jr have been restoring a uniquely dense and heavy style of guitar to the musical scene which has been lost for a long, long time. The groups’ latest album, I Bet on Sky, is an insightful and carefully constructed piece of work which is their most accessible yet to newcomers, but doesn’t alienate existing fans craving some serious cases of guitar abuse/misuse.

Anyone familiar to Dinosaur Jr will immediately appreciate J Mascis’ prioritising of lead guitar above every other noise which occupies each song. The albums’ denser, faster songs are intelligently paced and interspaced with slower, more melodic pieces which define the album from the band’s previous works. Stand out songs like ‘Watch the Corners’, ‘See It On Your Side’ ‘Pierce the Morning Rain’ are rapid, over the top and completely engrossing while ‘Stick a Toe In’ and ‘Almost Fare’ return the tone from stratospheric to a package which is more rounded and evenly paced across the board. That said, there isn’t much of an evolution of sound compared to the band’s previous albums. At its best, I Bet on Sky, by and large, sounds and plays almost exactly like Green Mind did when it was released over 20 years ago. This isn’t a bad thing, however, when Green Mind was a great album and the band’s uniquely crunching and dense sound has remained almost completely intact for such a long time.

I Bet on Sky doesn’t represent much of a departure from Dinosaur Jr’s distinctive tried and tested sound. It still features calculated lyrics, crunching guitar solos and heavy drum work which demands repeated listening to pick out the smaller details. However, compared to their previous works, I Bet on Sky is a more calm and collected album in Dinosaur Jr’s discography. Like their previous post-reunion albums Beyond and Farm, the band’s latest LP proves that they can still churn out music more vibrant, layered and fun than most of their younger musical contemporaries.

Spector – Enjoy It While It Lasts

James Ward

By titling their album Enjoy it While It Lasts, Spector seem to be following The Vaccines by deliberately underselling their debut. It certainly starts softly, with ‘True Love (For Now)’ featuring a building synth intro. The drums kick in for the second verse, and soon enough we’re into a big chorus, with crashing drums, guitars and mastered to make your ears bleed. They’re pretty good at them, which is fortunate because it’s the record’s main characteristic. Indeed, the strongest tracks such as ‘Chevy Thunder’ and ‘Celestine’ rip along bearing some cracking melodies to shout-along to. Spector also do a line in synthesiser-led atmospheric ballads, such as ‘Grey Suit & Tie’ and ‘Lay Low’, which are perfectly fine but nowhere near as thrilling. The best example is ‘Never Fade Away’, which makes up for not being the Buddy Holly song by building gradually and satisfyingly to a suitably grandiose finale. It also benefits from being one of the few songs where there is actually space in the mix, giving you a chance to listen to its elements rather than be blasted at by them.

The album title also points to a melancholic vein in the record. Songs such as ‘Twenty Nothing’ may sound chirpy enough, but the lyrics tend to look wistfully back at teenage abandon rather than live in the heat of it. The break-ups outnumber the hook-ups, and the declaration of ‘Friday Night, Don’t Ever Let It End’ is delivered dripping with irony. Indeed, Fred Macpherson’s singing is pretty much Spector’s only USP – none of the instrumentation stands out as particularly inspired, much of it being a basic backing white noise. Macpherson has a deeper, more ringing sound than many other indie rock vocalists, which gives the band a grander tone. However, he performs with a strange mix of sincerity and ironic detachment, which isn’t an issue on the faster tracks but muddies the enjoyment of songs such as ‘No Adventure’. Ultimately, what this suggests is while Spector may have some witty turns of phrase, there’s no depth to the music. Although, I suppose suggesting this album is mainly concerned with surface sound is obvious from the first play.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with an album being all looks, but it does jeopardise an album’s staying power. There’s certainly nothing here to suggest any future for the band, and the record may well be swept under the carpet and forgotten by next year. However, the big songs are great fun to blast, nothing save ‘Grim Reefer’ drags and it’s perfectly pleasant to mix in amongst whatever else you may be listening to at pre-drinking. So, with Enjoy It While It Lasts, we have an album where the title accurately describes the experience. The Trading Standards Agency will be so pleased.

Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

Saffi Barham

It was the monotonous act of taking a shower that led me to one of the most talented new arrivals on the music scene this year. Fearne Cotton was gracing my ears as she often does when I take a shower, when she played this unknown Icelandic band’s song ‘Little Talks’. At first I was unsure, except I knew that I hadn’t heard anything as melodic and uplifting come from Radio 1 in a while. I brushed it away thinking about maybe Googling the song later on that day… Until sooner than anticipated I heard that similar iridescent sound in the form of ‘Dirty Paws’, although this time it was NME Radio. At that point I had to know; the band was called Of Monsters and Men. I went on to discover that they are a six piece band from Garður, Iceland. They consist of the highly talented fronts men Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson on guitar and vocals alongside Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir also on guitar and vocals. Their voices merge together perfectly to create the individual sounds which set the band apart from every other indie/folk band around. However the ensemble would not be complete without stellar percussion from Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson and Árni Guðjónsson who also plays piano and accordion, another trait of the band that sets them aside with the likes of Mumford and Sons. Not to forget guitarist Brynjar Leifsson and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson.

Before long the two songs became my favourite songs and I just had to have the album knowing that My Head is an Animal wouldn’t be released for another three weeks – luckily for me it had been leaked online and I snatched it as soon as possible. I was hoping for maybe a few more songs that measured up to ‘Little Talks’ and ‘Dirty Paws’; little did I know I was in for a whole album of wonderful music, each song differing from the other in many ways but always holding the familiar sound that makes Of Monsters and Men who they are. Since then My Head is an Animal has been constantly on repeat in my house, with ‘Mountain Sound’, ‘Sloom’ and ‘Six Weeks’ being only a few of the great songs on the album.

The album is now number two in the iTunes alternative charts behind The Vaccines’ Come of Age and I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t enjoy Of Monsters and Men. ‘Little Talks’ has been cropping up in some of my favourite clubs and has been played ridiculous amounts on the radio. The band’s rise to success has been that of a fairy tale, winning the Icelandic version of The Battle of the Bands, The Musiktilraunir, with ‘Little Talks’ becoming a top ten hit in Iceland. Before its UK success the band hit the US top ten and the rest is history. The reason for this success is the melodic combination of Nanna’s and Rangar’s voices that harmonise perfectly. Mix this together with uplifting choruses and the unusual use of glockenspiels to Motown drums which are beaten on impressively keeping a significant beat that warms the heart, along with a perfect combination of sweet acoustic guitar and the bass complimenting the percussion throughout every song. All this combined together with clever lyrics that tell tales of the woods, fighting animals and the sea saying goodbye to the shore – on top of some of the most infectious “La la la”s since Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ – makes Of Monsters and Men who they are. Not to mention the wonderful North European twang of Nanna and Rangars voices that make the words “vary” and “buried” sound almost mythical (listen out for it, it’s there I promise). They are similar to that of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros with the uplifting bursts of melody, but also harbour the folk pump and magnificence that is Mumford and Sons, with a hint of Bon Iver’s harmonious clarity. In my eyes the band are beyond nothing but perfection and I am avidly awaiting a second album just as impressive as their first.

Swans – The Seer

Simon Youel

In the 1980s Michael Gira’s Swans killed music. Or so the legend goes. If this metanarrative of alternative culture is to be believed, with albums like Filth and Holy Money Swans buried music in an act of nihilistic integrity. As a result, a Filth t-shirt bears the same iconography as one featuring Che Guevara, albeit representing a different cause.

But as if out of discontent with past forays, the jaded old band has conspired to once again brandish music’s rotten corpse with a twelfth studio album, The Seer.

In accordance with the artistic ‘value-shift’ that afflicted the band in the early 90s, Swans’ latest work is not another statement which rejects the Platonic idealist ideology of contemporary music. The rhythmic intoxication of the band’s early anti-music has yet again bowed to the forces of harmony and song.

But with The Seer Gira and co. have tried to merge the more amiable character of Swans’ mid-to-late career with the despondent hostility which originally set the band as a symbol of revolt against the cultural sickness which manifested itself in the established norms of popular music.

So across the album’s two discs we hear a compromise between a crude intensity which lusts to unnerve, and the very over-comfortable musicality which the band originally set out to subvert. A weak bond has been fused between the violent, droning repetition which marked the 80s and the experiments with harmony and song-writing that have been maturing since the early 90s.

As one might expect, after over 30 years of experience the Swans of 2012 are simultaneously both more expansive and refined in their experimentation, and there is a dense background of new instruments and textures which colour the album, all in good taste.

Though in what seems to be Swans tradition, the songs of The Seer sounded far more provocative and ultimately more appealing when performed to an audience on the preceding live album, We Rose From Your Bed With the Sun in Our Head.

Although on the surface The Seer may seem like one of the band’s most impressive releases, it does not invoke and satisfy Freudian desires in the ways which characterise the aforementioned live album and Swans’ greatest works.

Disregarding prejudice towards its somewhat docile disposition, and considering its own merits, The Seer is perhaps a good place for those unfamiliar with Swans’ unforgiving experimentalism to get acquainted with the band, though its two hour running length may intimidate  some. (7/10)

Muse – The 2nd Law

Sam Osborne

Promising a “christian gangsta rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”, Muse are back with their latest album, The 2nd Law. With such a grandiose statement, it becomes evident that Muse have gone for a more comical approach with this album, producing music that in the words of The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis is “clearly meant to be funny, but isn’t supposed to be a joke.” With lead singer, guitarist and pianist Matt Bellamy stating the album will be a “more personal music project” and the band’s bassist, Chris Wolstenholme saying it will be “radically different”, fans of the band have been eagerly anticipating Muse’s latest endeavour.

Kicking off with ‘Supremacy’, Muse’s penchant for bombast screams from the album immediately. Featuring a big build up reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, complete with orchestra, this would be perfectly suited as the next James Bond theme song. Bellamy’s voice leads the song, telling an operatic fable before soaring into his usual falsetto, proving he can still do his high pitched screams as well today as when the band started in 1994.  This homage to “old-Muse” doesn’t last long however, as it is followed by Madness, which showcases a stripped-back approach music. Featuring Queen influenced background vocals and a Misa Kitara electronic bass, the simple, catchy love song makes a perfect first single for the album, and will definitely go on to become extremely popular on the radio. Following this trend of greater accessibility, ‘Panic Station’ begins with a funky bassline reminiscent of Queen’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. Matt’s echoed vocals seem to suggest he is more than comfortable poking fun at his own vocal technique. With a chorus that seems a mix between Michael Jackson’s voice and ‘Night Fever’ synth, this song is set to become a catchy fan favourite.

The strong first half of the album concludes with ‘Survival’, further exhibiting Muse’s Queen influence. The song builds into a fantastically pompous anthem, complete with cheesy vocals backed up by what sounds like Russian Opera singers, leading into diving guitar solos. This is however where the greatest flaw in the album becomes apparent, as it doesn’t feel like a cohesive collection of songs. Instead, the album feels more like a mix of ideas and influences, which leads to a slightly jarring feeling as one track ends and the other begins. This is most evident in the transition from ‘Survival’ to ‘Follow Me’, one of the most disappointing songs on The 2nd Law, as Bellamy’s voice sounds out of place over the dancefloor beats co-produced by Nero. The song initially seems more like a bad remix than a true Muse track. Other songs, such as ‘Explorers’, which seems uninspired, are passable at best. ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’, which are sung by the band’s bassist, are not much better, seeming out of place on the album. Placing them towards the end however further adds to the disappointment of The 2nd Law‘s latter half.

Despite this feeling of disappointment, the album closes with a strong two part instrumental from which the album takes its name. ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’ begins with Hans Zimmer-esque strings, with Muse using a glitch ridden news readers’ voice to draw comparisons between the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and the current economic climate. This tale of how our economy will eventually spiral out of control is interrupted by what can best be described as dubstep guitar, punctuated by Matt’s usual foreboding falsetto adding to the concept of a broken down future. Contrasting this frenzied outburst and bringing the album to a close is Isolated System, which acts as a perfect second half to ‘Unsustainable’, however lacks the impact and lasting power of previous album’s closing tracks. A similar point was made by LUSH DJ, Dan Johnson, who stated he felt the album lacked songs with “Greatest Hits” appeal such as ‘Knights of Cydonia’, ‘Plug in Baby’ or ‘Time is Running Out’.

While this may be the case, it must be said that The 2nd Law perfectly encapsulates Muse’s experimental drive. The more accessible nature of the album will be sure to attract new fans to the band, and there is no doubt that Muse fans will grow to love the new album. Whilst some may be disappointed that Muse have not returned to the style of music they produced in the earlier days, the diverse nature of songs on this album proves that Muse will always have a desire to take inspiration and create new music, and cannot be accused of becoming stale.

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on James David Ward and commented:
    A quick update – the work for The Ripple I mentioned a while back has basically culminated in this one album review. It’s only a hundred words in print, but longer here. I’m currently mulling over whether the investment was worth the result. At this moment, I’m not feeling it.

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Just worked out how to reblog!

    This is my review for Muse’s The 2nd Law album, for The Ripple magazine.

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