a handful of albums – 2011 – part 1

A few short reviews of new albums…….some of which will appear on future editions of Aural Delights……

Covenant – Modern Ruin – (Synthetic Symphony) – a strange marriage of EBM, euro electronica, epic pop with a slight trip-hop tinge. Their 12th album and there has been a gap of four years and the predecessor “In Transit”. Comes with a second disc of soundtrack music from a German vampire movie “Wir Sind Die Nacht” (We Are The Night). Overall a little too melodic pop for my taste, the second disc being far more to my liking with its motorik arpeggiations and guttural tones, altogether darker and more interesting.

Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean- (Warner Brothers) – Sam Beam’s fifth album sees him move from Sub-Pop to Warners. The move to a major has not in anyway dissipated his particular form of quirky americana. An enjoyable ramble through a range of songs which keep matters at a sultry low tempo, with an interesting use of glitchy electronica, and vintage synths. Quintessentially american on a vocal level but suitably different to attract the attention.

James Blake – James Blake – (Universal) – Rob Gregg of Borland and I both have both separately concluded we are slightly disappointed with this after the challenging quality of his early work. This is a strange amalgam of glitchy dub-step and a mutated pop-gospel. A very minimal soundscape is perhaps buried in the vocal performance which is a tad mannered and the sonic interruptions are a little obvious in the great scheme of things. Compared with the quirky sample mangling and percussive intensity of say “CMYK” it all feels a bit safe.

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will- (Sub Pop) – described elsewhere as “back to basics” this certainly returns to the core of the Mogwai modus operandi. What differentiates this from your bog-standard post rock is the movement away from the basic 4/4 approach to more quirky rhythms and the greater effort put into melody and counterpoint, and the willingness to jump outside the genre specifics associated with this corner of the music scene. Somehow feels a little restrained after the overblown intensity of “The Hawk is Howling” and in places the band almost become a strange amalgam of Kraftwerk and Suicide. The closing You’re Lionel Ritchie is an amazing piece of music. Most enjoyable.

The Decemberists – The King is Dead – (Rough Trade) – interesting , if not successful, change in direction for Colin Meloy and his band of troubadours shifting from his anglophile style to an altogether more american feel.  He seems to have lost some of his unique sound by embracing a far more stateside sound. The use of Peter Buck on three of the songs tends towards a very R.E.M. sound which doesn’t sit well on a Decemberists album. Nowhere near as good as “The Hazards of Love”. Disappointing.

Braids – Native Speaker – (Kanine) – this is more like it, bloody marvellous in fact. The  opening track Lemonade sets the scene, with intricate playing from guitars, busy drumming and an amazing vocal from  Raphaelle Standell-Preston. Overall there is an effective distillation of bits of dream pop, and repetitive electronica. Bjork is clearly some sort of influence but there is a smattering of Cocteau Twins in there as well.  There is a lot of variety on this album and the glitchy electronica of Glass Deers offers a different aspect to the overall sound of the album. The title track is a beautifully restrained piece music almost outdoing Sigur Ros at their most cinematic – Raphaelle’s vocal moves from fractured innocence to menacing intensity. Highly recommended!

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