try as I might…….

(1) ……I can’t get into Elbow, and the new album Build A Rocket Boys, whilst starting well enough, merely serves to reinforce that feeling.  The opener “The Birds” gave me some sort of hope that I might start to understand the music and its appeal. There is something lush and compelling about the string arrangements that build on a basic rhythm, and it’s drawn from the rich history of the (almost) progressive rock era with cinematic production. I almost feel as those I am going to enjoy it but then the repetitive one note piano of “Lippy Kids” sort carries on the doleful and slow feeling of the first track. It’s all beautifully put together and the melodies are excellent but somehow I crave variety. Garvey has got an exquisite voice but it seems to be operating on one level for the first two tracks. Matters get a tad more exciting by track 3 but again Guy appears to be, stylistically at least, in some sort of para-crooner mode, and the weird choral effects don’t work for me. “Neat Little Rows” has some chutzpah and structurally is interesting,  whereas  the country and northern folk stich of “Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl” – with weird sprinkles of what sounds like  an overloaded Fender Rhodes is so laid back it hurts. The theme of the repeated one piano note returns with “The Night Will Always Win” is almost church like …… “High Ideals” has a nice funky feel but gets washed away in layers of keyboards……at this point it strikes that I’m listening to a peculiar northern english version of chanson with melodrama being the key element. It’s like Radiohead without the weird bits, the angst levels are high, and the emotions are stretched to near breaking point. “Open Arms” is formula Elbow with grand gestures and big choruses…..the reprise of “The Birds” has a guest vocal from someone I should probably recognise, but don’t……the closing “Dear Friends” is a cloying thing.

The inkies love it as do the arbiters of taste at the beeb beeb ceeb  so I’m probably a lone voice in the wilderness but sorry, I just can’t get into it.

(2) …….I am trying to enjoy the new R.E.M. album….it’s starts well enough in that it sounds remarkably un-R.E.M. like even the trademark Stipe vocal style has been subtly altered but then it sort of collapses into those sort of fist punching stadium rock tropes that for some totally ridiculous and unfathomable reason makes me think I listening to The Who….by Umlaut Berlin (track 3) though they are back in familiar territory rolling guitar and rolling vocals, rolling inexorably around in a R.E.M. like way…….I was rather hoping that they were covering Curved Air’s “It Happened Today”  but they aren’t unfortunately it’s an odd sort of para-folk ramble replete with howling vocal sections…… there’s a maudlin sentimentality about the whole affair…..”Every Day Is Yours To Win” threatens to leap out and a be bit special but sort of stutters in a laboured middle eight …. trouble is i’ve heard all of this before and there is no wow factor, until “Mine Smell Like Honey” kicks in with a bit of gusto, but then loses it with the weak chorus section…..the rest I sort of flicked through until the closing “Blue” which sort of caught my ear with its loud guitar and its spoken word part and Patti Smith vocal, the last minute of keening guitar is rather marvellous ………best thing on the album making up in no small part for has gone before.

Once again I appear to be in a minority with quite a few good reviews tottering round t’internet……

(3)…….I can’t stop myself from listening to the marvellous album by Grails ………..

Originally a post-rock outfit with elements of hard rock, their  2008 album “Doomsdayer’s Holiday”  was a lot more ambient and more in the post-rock genre. On the new one  “Deep Politics”, this is even more to the fore full of  cinematic moments. I’ve argued elsewhere that post-rock is the new prog and the indeed the signature instruments of the first prog era – Moogs, mellotrons, strings, and choral bits –  are as part of the soundscape as much as the guitars and masses of interweaving percussion. The opener  “Future Primitive” sets the scene with an  immense laminal feel, guitars, strings and all manner of tones and noises all interact to create a great sonic experience.

“All the Colors of the Dark,” with the basics of an extended piano riff and  mutant slide guitar, is added to by strings and  choir that  drives to to a zenith and then falls away to a wonderfully understated ending. Ennio Morricone comes to mind when listening to this lush music. Structurally it’s a strange-ish amalgam of Calexico and Tortoise with arrangements by John Barry. “Corridors of Power” is a beautiful atmospheric piece with a heavily reverbed snare and sensitive world music feel, whereas the title track for the album comes across initially as a simple piano ballad which slowly builds into a huge conundrum of a piece – retaining the core of the initial melody but slowly adding layers of orchestral wonderousness. “Daughter of Bilitis” continues this theme where blues piano floats over seering guitar whereas as the mammoth “Almost Grew My Hair” takes a totally different turn with strummed acoustic guitar loops under surging riffs and drones moving into a seriously manic piece of freak-out post-rock which then switches to a reflective airy section and another theme entirely which tends towards the prog before melting into a psychedelic maelstrom of Krautrock madness in a celidh.

The opening ambient tropes of “I led three lives” are particularly fine with a lean towards AMM in parts – but this soon changes to a repetitive thudding bass sound and sheets of mangled guitar developing into stately guitar structures and the most effective piece on the album tumbling, as it does between some sort of improvisation and written structures. After that the closing “Deep Snow” takes the pressure off with a gentle introduction and somewhat restrained, albeit still very cinematic, acoustic guitar led piece.

Highly recommended……