Amy MacDonald – This Is The Life

Singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Amy Macdonald may still be a teenager but it’s hard to believe her music will ever appeal to her peers. Like Joss Stone, Macdonald has an old voice on her young shoulders. That’s not to say you should dismiss This Is The Life if you’re under 40, but you will need a more mature ear to relate to Amy’s folk-styled storytelling, grown-up vocal and country-influenced guitar.

The young Glaswegian may be currently heralded as 'the new Katie Melua' but there’s something more Cranberries-esque to her warbling. This is highlighted on her debut LP’s first track, “Mr Rock & Roll”- a radio-friendly, sing-a-long jig, full of Celtic campfire nostalgia. Moving on to the album title track, lyrically Macdonald comes across like a wise 39-year-old as opposed to a naïve 19-year-old, leading you to question the authenticity of her delivery. In other words, the words and tone feel somewhat forced.

Gripes aside, there are some gleaming gems to be discovered on this 11-tracker. “Let’s Start A Band” hears a Mexican cowboy intro makes way for Amy to unleash her emotive tones and brilliant lyrics: 'Give me a stage and I’ll be your rock ‘n roll Queen/ Your 20th Century cover of a magazine/ Rolling Stone, here I come/ Watch out everyone…'.

Further notables include the upbeat, brass-heavy roller, “Barrowland Ballroom” and the melodic “A Wish For Something More”- which allows Macdonald to work her vocal to its full range while highlighting her razor-sharp guitar wizardry. The star of the show though has to be down-tempo number “Footballer’s Wife” on which Amy mocks today’s tabloid-fuelled society.

 

Very simple vinyl package. Just teh outer sleeve, a nicely fake faded photo of Amy herself and a plain paper inner. Lightweight vinyl which is adequate if not spectacular. The music itself is fairly loud for a folk pop record but that's the trend these days. Its fine.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/bnw6/

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Darlings of this year's SXSW festival and lauded by Mojo as 'America's next great band', this Seattle five-piece describe their music as 'baroque harmonic pop jams'. All the above seems accurate except that it's hard to imagine pop music as perfectly formed as this emerging from a jam session. Lead singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold creates melodies that are – like all great pop – simultaneously familiar and unique, sounding like they've just fallen from the sky, and utterly unashamed of beauty. How can this be a new band? They sound like they've been playing this music forever and they're fantastic. And no, they owe nothing to their hometown's grunge
legacy.

Even though American church music, Brian Wilson and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are obvious local influences, Fleet Foxes' music is also shot through with a distinctly Anglophile melancholia. The spooky, ruminative Tiger Mountain Peasant Song most obviously echoes Fairport Convention's Fothergay, as well as the traditional ballad Scarborough Fair. The production sometimes hints at a 'Spectoresque' wall-of-sound, with almost orchestral arrangements in places, but the sound is never pompous or over-filled, and there are several more pastoral, stripped-down guitar-and-voice interludes such as Meadowlarks and the plaintive closer Oliver James.

Pecknold's colleagues often cloak his extraordinary soaring tenor (Tim Buckley springs to mind) in gorgeous vocal harmonies, as on the chugging, country-flavoured Ragged Wood and the jangly Quiet Houses. Pecknold would sound great singing any lyrics but his combine dream-like nature imagery with an archaically poetic turn of phrase, refreshingly free of predictable, corny rhyme schemes. White Winter Hymnal is an especially evocative example: ''was following the pack/All swallowed in their coats/With scarves of red tied 'round their throats/To keep their little heads/From fallin' in the snow…''

You may not spot the more exotic instruments they use (including Chinese Guzheng and autoharp) but it's the simplest that makes the most effective impression – a tambourine that flickers away through about half the tracks, like a cypher for Fleet Foxes' lovely, folky, optimistic music, which conjures up an imaginary lost sound world. This is a strong contender for album of the year.

The most special thing about the vinyl release is teh fact that the second disc is a previously released EP with an extra 5 songs. Vinyl pressing is quite decent although the music itself sounds digital and perhaps less organic than it should. Although a gatefold sleeve the inner sleeves are cheap paper and flimsy. There's an extra insert of musings and they do seem an interesting band!!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/cbrg/

Bon Iver – For Emma forever ago

'Getting it together' in the country has long been the prerogative of musicians. Back in the mists of time Bob Dylan did it, Traffic boogied on the lawn of their cottage and Led Zeppelin went off to Wales to get the whiff of Bron-Yr-Aur up their nostrils. It also proved to be something of a creative restorative for Justin Vernon, now trading under the name Bon Iver (a bastardised version of Bon Hiver, French for 'good winter') who retreated to a log cabin in Wisconsin after the break-up of his band, DeYarmond Edison in 2006.

Originally self-released in 2007, For Emma, Forever Ago, became a short-run sell out with the buzz spreading like wildfire. It's easy to understand why. Acoustic-based songs are presented with a subtle though austere back-to-basics ambience, with a voice moving between a John Martyn-like tight-lipped mumble through to expressive and precocious declamations that wouldn’t sound out of place on an album by Prince or Antony and the Johnsons.

Not surprisingly for music that was formed and shaped by three months in a Wisconsin landscape gripped by winter, the prevalent mood is sombre and even spiritual in places, encoded into a series of oblique lyrics that read on the page like terse poetry. Blindside talks of human contact melting the metaphorical and literal ice; the heartbeat throbbing of Lump Sum holds back judgement until things get warm; For Emma sees ''death on a sunny snow'' and the simple meditation of Re:Stacks laments love frozen in the ground.

The sensitive production is a text-book case in getting the maximum from the most minimal materials. In the reflective pauses between chorus and verse of the opening track Flume, there are tiny sparkling harmonics frostily twinkling so briefly you might miss them in amongst ghostly rattles of feedback that form the harmonic spine of the piece – just one of many hair-raising, glorious moments. The strength of this set is founded on the unflinching clarity of a musical vision that transcends styles to create something utterly enthralling from start to finish.

 

Simple vinyl package with nice lyric insert. decent enough vinyl but nothing special. this kind of music really should be listened to on vinyl though 🙂

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/4rqv/

Glasvegas – Glasvegas

Every so often, Glasgow produces a band, say Primal Scream or Franz Ferdinand, who seem so effortlessly capable of massive success that it makes you wonder why the city isn't the centre of the musical world.

To many, Glasvegas are the next heirs to such a crown. Named in a colloquial nod to their beloved hometown, they have been creating a buzz since catching indie mogul Alan McGee's ear 18 or so months ago.

They were the one band every industry high-flier and music hack agreed on at last year's In The City, despite not actually playing at the conference, and started this year nestled snugly behind The Ting Tings at the head of the BBC's Sounds Of 2008 poll. And now, they have every chance of mimicking the Salford duo's success, though they couldn't be more different if they tried.

Glasvegas' music sounds like the east end of Glasgow that gave birth to it; rough, raw and epic, it is a stunning wall of sound that strains the rich rockabilly and doo-wop of the 50s through the raucous brooding rock of The Jesus And Mary Chain to create something timeless.

It was a sound showed off brilliantly in the three independent singles that got them noticed to begin with – Go Square Go, Daddy's Gone and It's My Own Cheating Heart – and it's one that is driven hard across the whole of their eponymous debut.
All three of those starter singles are included, with Daddy’s Gone still standing out as a devastating slab of emotion-soaked songwriting, but they are by no means the only worthy inclusions.

A nod to front man James Allan's former career as a professional footballer, the catchy echo of Flowers & Football Tops, opens proceedings and the exhausting excellence of the band's oeuvre barely lets up until the smacked-out gospel of Ice Cream Van shuts the album down, with only the slightly odd spoken-word piano drama of Stabbed allowing some breathing space.

It is everything you could have asked for from the band. With the pressure on to produce an album worthy of the hype, they have succeeded where others, notably The Ting Tings and fellow Sound of 2008 nominees Foals, failed and delivered a genuinely classic debut. Scotland's second city has done it again.

Horribly horribly compressed. Simple vinyl packaging. Outer pic sleeve and inner pic cleeve. Heavyweight normal vinyl.

Last shadow puppets – The age of Understatement

Following a support slot by Miles Kane of the Rascal's previous band – The Little Flames – on the Arctic Monkeys' tour of 2005, his friendship with Alex Turner has now borne fruit. Likely to be tarred with the inane brush of 'side project', what the duo may well have done here is provide an escape route for everyone who worried that we're all stuck in an indie ghetto. The Age Of The Understatement is a bold and brave step forward.

Of course the title's ironic. The most obvious comparisons (by their own admission) are with classic Scott Walker. The existential MOR singer's grand, orchestrated statements are the starting point. Ok, perhaps My Mistakes Were Made For You is a little TOO like Walker's The Plague, but always Owen Pallett's arrangements for the London Metropolitan Orchestra are swooningly lush and inventive. Besides, for every Walker fan, there are ten younger Monkeys fans who'll be forever thankful for having their ears opened to this marvellous stuff. Until recently the idea of 'loungecore' or 'easy'had 'ironic' or cheesy/jokey connotations, but Turner and Kane’s knowledge and affection lifts this way beyond parody. Besides, as we all saw at last year's Glastonbury – Turner can handle even a Shirley Bassey standard with ease (Diamonds Are Forever).

A couple of tracks vary the formula. I Don't Like You Anymore is a distorted nightmare of psycho guitar twang and vertiginous rush. The pair also claims that they share a love of the early, Deram-era work of David Bowie. For too long this stuff has been underappreciated. The arrangements (i.e. the parping tuba at the end of Black Plant) show the influence, but lyrically it's still Turner’s domain. You’ll find no Laughing Gnome or Rubber Band here. Turner deals in the knotty, metaphorical fare that concerns itself with the war zone of the heart. As such the torrid mariachi/spaghetti western ambience of the album (especially the title track and Calm Like You) suits the songs down to the ground. It’s a potent cross breed of Ennio Morricone and Wally Stott (Walker's arranger of choice). Tangos, rhumbas, military two-steps – all handled with aplomb. And Turner's words will provide mental fodder for a long time to come, especially as the album comes with classy line such as: ''Can’t you see I’m the ghost in the wrong coat, biting butter and crumbs?'' (Separate And Deadly).

With The Age Of Understatement, Turner and Kane shake off all those blatant copyists and stay at least three steps ahead of any competition. Wonderful…

Horribly horribly compressed and nearly ruins teh listening experience. You'd actually be better off rooting out some second hand vinyl from teh 60s and listening to that instead. Pity. Music's great. Needs an audiophile remaster. Good vinyl pressing as usual from Domino though, and in a  nice protective sleeve. Not a gatefold record but does have a double 12" lyrics and pictures sheet.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/p6gb/

Kings of Leon – Only by the night

As if their towering headlining performance at Glastonbury wasn't enough, here comes the Southern-fried quartet's fourth album to prove once and for all that Kings Of Leon are now bona fide world-beaters.

In the context of a career arc this level of creativity makes perfect sense. Their sound has had a good five years to grow from post-adolescent indie to full-blown, manly stadium glory. All those U2 support slots have now been fed back into the machine. And, like U2, a timely change of production team (losing Ethan Johns but retaining Angelo Petraglia) brings a new focus. Nathan Followill's drums have to be one of the most perfect rock engines around at the moment. They never swamp a ticking grower like I Want You but still throw enough flourishes to push the songs into the red. Meanwhile cousin Matthew's guitar scorches the mix like a flamethrower. Filled with string-bending clichés; but cliches of the most enjoyable sort.

The one thing that really shows the band's confidence is their willingness to slow down and really attack these songs. Caleb claims that medication's effects ifluenced the writing and indeed, the droning insistence can be almost hallucinatory. Interestingly the first single, Sex On Fire – returning them to the fire and brimstone, gothic territory of their peripatetic father's preacher roots – is the one track that comes closest to the Strokes-aping sound that held them back in the past. But Caleb's muzzy, straining voice pushes them beyond arch post-modern irony from the big city. In interviews Caleb's talked about the boys tackling their ''roots'' again, and this album wears its colours proudly.

The U2 analogies don't stop there. Manhattan, another medium-paced stormer has the Edge's echo-fed lines running through it, albeit with more of the Kings' blues rock swagger. Obviously, the advantage of being American is that you can still believe that rock will save the world.

A minor mid-album lull, caused by perhaps too many slower numbers is broken by Be Somebody: a new wave-ish beauty that ends with a maelstrom borne on the back of Jared's rubbery bass. It only remains for Cold Desert to usher us out of the emotional devastation of this very secular three-chord church, swelling and returning at its end with optimistic verve.

Never overstaying its welcome, Only By The Night is the album that the world's been waiting for the Kings Of Leon to make.

 

Nice double gatefold vinyl package. Two heavyweight discs and a nice image embossd on the front cover. Discs not super heavyweight but not flimsy either. Inner sleeves are standard die cut paper.  No other inserts. This record uses far better vinyl than their previous releases but unfortunately follows the current trend for LOUD mastering.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/3r54/

Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere

Albums this hip don't usually spawn chart-conquering singles. But the success of "Crazy" should guarantee that this genre-bending record escapes the ghetto of 'underground cool'.

Gnarls Barkley are ex-Goodie Mob soul eccentric, Cee-Lo and underground masher-upper extraordinaire, Danger Mouse. While the latter is no stranger to infamy, being the man responsible for the legendary Grey Album bootleg, this is essentially Cee-Lo's first real taste of the mainstream, and it's about time too.

"Go Go Gadget Gospel" kicks St. Elsewhere off at full steam, with Cee-Lo hollering from the depths of his belly, as frenzied samples and beats clatter below. As the album progresses, DJ Danger Mouse's eclecticism astounds; calculated pinches of Motown, Flamenco, Funk, Dub and D'n'B all get thrown into the mix, without ever sounding overcooked.

On "Necromancing" Cee-Lo declares what is in effect an album mission statement, 'The production is progressive…the chords are cold-blooded murder." If there's any justice in the world, this album should sell by the truck-load.

 Simple vinyl package. Inner sleeve and lyrics card. Decent enough vinyl but really the sound is tinny and awful. Most definitely not qudiophile material.

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/698c/

Kate Bush – aerial

After 12 years of waiting Kate Bush fans finally get their hands on an album of new material. A double album-sized helping of new songs should keep most fans happy with 16 tracks to delve into.

Disc one is a varied set of numbers which mainly centre around her private life, with odes to her son and a moving song about the loss of her mother. But at times these songs feel too personal and are hard to decipher with dense and difficult melodies. They encompasse a range of musical styles – from folk ("Bertie") to new age ("Pi") and classic Kate Bush ("How to be Invisible"). However, some of these tracks never really achieve lift-off and could have been left on the recording studio floor.

The Kate Bush of "Cloudbusting" and "Wuthering Heights"-fame is in there but struggles to get out. After the flatness of disc one, the second disc is full of surprises. It's an old-fashioned concept album that takes the listener on a journey. And what a journey! Bush has written a lyric poem set to music, which has an epic quality, transporting the listener to a deeply lush and fertile landscape. Lyrically cryptic, but strangely seductive, side two is the album Pink Floyd might have made in 1979 if Bush had been their lead singer.

Concept albums are not everyone's cup of tea – but this is a masterpiece.

 The album comes in quite a lavish package on vinyl. Two 180grm discs housed in a gatefold sleeve with a 12"  lyrics & pictures booklet. Unfortunatelt there seems to be a pressing defect on the discs,a line running form the label to the edge which sounds faintly on every revolution. enough to annoy me on teh quiter passages. Sound is all digital and cold and clinical but maybe its meant to be!!

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/fprg/

Joe Jackson – Rain

Four years since his last album – 2003's critically acclaimed Volume 4 – Joe Jackson returns with arguably his most consistent collection yet. Recorded in his adopted hometown of Berlin, Rain represents a career culmination of work – shifting effortlessly between styles, and underpinned by the highest calibre of musicianship.

In some respects, little has changed in Jackson's universe. For a start, he's reunited with Graham Maby and Dave Houghton, both players on late-70s new wave classic Look Sharp!. Indeed, two songs here – "King Pleasure Time" and "Good Bad Boy" – could be culled from that pre-Reagan era; rolling back the years in a gusto display of spiky, skinny-tied rock. The enduring influence on contemporaries such as Elvis Costello and latterday piano-men like Ben Folds is palpable, as is Jackson's acerbic wit. The playing, as expected, verges on ESP – skipping playfully with a jazz-tinged feel of joy.

Of course, Jackson has proved himself a true renaissance man in the intervening years, dabbling in everything from soundtrack scoring to reggae and jump-blues. And so it proves here. The classical composer comes to the fore on "Solo (So Low)", before sidestepping into hyper-melodic pop ("Invisible Man", "The Uptown Train") and scene-stopping show tunes ("A Place In The Rain"). Gorgeous Seventies-style ballad "Wasted Time" suggests a few tricks picked up co-headlining a recent tour with Todd Rundgren.

The piece de resistance, however, is "Too Tough". Surely a staple of some future Radio 2 playlist, it’s a proper AOR pearl. And while Rain offers a consistently high-level display of songwriting craft, if you download just one track, then best make it this one.

Its a nice enough vinyl package. Its compressed enough despite being initially mastered by Bob Ludwig and then Paul Gold for vinyl. You get the feeling that it could have sounded great. As it is its average. Reasonably heavyweight vinyl and quiet enough. Inner matt picture sleeve.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/release/5qdp/