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Sonic Highways

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Sonic Highways

Foo Fighters

Sony Music Norway

By exploring eight American cities in order to see how each local culture over the years helped shape the musical landscape of these specific regions, and then setting to task writing and recording one track in each of these eight cities, certainly makes for an interesting concept. For latest album ‘Sonic Highways’, this exact process was carried out by Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters conducting their research of eight specific cities with a rich musical history behind them, and then coming up with a song that was influenced by, and exclusive to each of these eight regions. In conjunction with this eight-track album, Dave Grohl directed a documentary under the same title for the HBO TV network in order to provide a visual commentary to this whole concept and pay homage to America’s musical past. What transpires, however, as far as the audio output of this whole concept is concerned, is that while anticipating a blues inspired number from Chicago, for example, what the listener gets is just another Foo Fighters album! Despite one or two flickers of variation with the piano intro of ‘What Did I Do? /God As My Witness’ which could have developed into a gospel number, for example, merely develops into familiar alternative rock territory. The frustrating aspect of this entire album is the lack of variation in styles, which this whole project more than promised, as ‘Sonic Highways’ should have been marketed under a separate moniker because concept ideas aside, it’s actually a very fine Foo Fighters album. If you’re looking for classic Foo Fighters’ trademarks with that quiet, soft build up before rupturing an artery finale, then the rather excellent ‘Something From Nothing’ should appeal or the catchy, crunchy pop and alt-rock of ‘Congregation’, ‘Outside’, ‘The Feast And The Famine’ and ‘In The Clear’ should definitely satisfy the appetites of longstanding Foo supporters. By failing to live up to its original billing, ‘Sonic Highways’ is an opportunity missed to come up with an album with a difference due to remaining within its comfort zones. Having said that, ‘Sonic Highways’ is another solid addition to the Foo Fighter’s own history in the making and one that would have been served better as a separate entity away from the filmed documentary.


Cover Art Mood Chaser by Brad Rose -jcard004

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Mood Chaser

Benjamin Finger

Digitalis Recordings

Arriving on the doorstep under the guise of Audiofinger / Spartacus and therefore tossing another spanner in the works as far as one’s true identity goes, (Frank) Benjamin Finger makes a swift return after the soundscape collage that was ‘The Bet’. Follow up ‘Mood Chasers’ is more of the same, only this time out the instrumental passages of sound stick around a while longer emitting a notably heavier presence of electronic noises that adds a sizable filling. Such observations are noticeable from the off with the initial clunking beats parading ‘Dwarf Palms’ before giving way to a wavering frequency of electronic noises that accumulates additional instrumentation just as quickly as it sheds the very same extras. Where ‘The Bet’ was sometimes waiflike in its expressions, ‘Mood Chaser’ is not afraid to spike its sounds with sterner stuff as indicated by the aggressive buzzing infiltrating ‘Saguaro Cactus’ and the incessant swelling and popping of electronic bleeps throughout ‘Moonlight Coma’. The intriguing title given to ‘Nicotine Weather’ provides an altogether different interpretation musically, as its vision is crystal clear as detailed by its lighter ambient tones. Proving that shrewd song titles are not consigned to one alone, the mischievously named ‘Elfin Geezer’ (quite possibly a reference to its creator) transmits its electronic pulses that ricochet back and forth while receiving bouts of tinkering where you can sense Benjamin Finger probing deep beneath the mechanical workings and fiddling with various wires considering the intermittent beeps and noise distortions. Compared to its predecessor, ‘Mood Chaser’ is an album that is more complete in terms of its overall structure yet remains unpredictable in segments due to its restless nature and need for experimentation, which, more often than not, sounds improvised. Keep chasing those moods of inspiration you ‘Elfin Geezer’ as you remain in a minority of a dying breed of mavericks that the world of music could truly do with more.


Ayil EP

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Ayil EP

Ayil

Ayil / Diger

There is a powerful racket stemming from the upper regions of Norway – Bodø to be exact – where long dark winter days drag endlessly and the sub-zero temperatures cut deep. Fortunately such conditions are the very bread and butter that help fire up the post-metal / hardcore sounds that shunt the heartfelt grievances to the fore of promising upstarts Ayil. The waft of guitars opening this EP gives the impression of scouring a bleak landscape for any sign of life, only the realisation soon becomes apparent that all is certainly lost. Bruised and beleaguered, ‘All Lost’ finds Ayil hacking away with blunt instruments and declaring something along the lines of, “No hope no love, No hope no life” deep in the knowledge that any call to arms is futile considering that fate has already revealed its hand. The build-up of guitars that starts ‘Clouds Connect’ exists temporarily as the song collides in a brutal manner only to spin adrift – albeit temporarily once more – with a more melodic sound that eventually melds into a harsher texture. More time is given to ‘Lack Of Sleep, Mind In Pain’ which stretches out its fraught emotions past the six minute mark over a rugged terrain of snapping vocals and tough rhythm that eventually loosens and is awash in layers of (shoegaze) guitars. The messages communicating from the north simply cannot be ignored when they are as emotionally honest and gripping as those spouting forth from Bodø’s potential new sons Ayil.


Wild & Chunky

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Wild And Chunky

Great Sale Day

Close To Home Records

If this is the sound of mere frivolous fun, then please serve up some more in double quick time! The timing for Great Sale Day and their ‘Wild and Chunky’ first long player finds itself competing for customers’ attentions with America’s Black Friday looming round the corner; the only difference being that the level of seriousness when it comes to maximising full exposure of one’s commercial goods is of a fairly low-key nature when it comes to the former. Hailing from Brighton and therefore signalling another difference to their US counterparts in terms of geographical location, Great Sale Day is the result of a group of friends of former bands, or those still in existence, coming together to create merriment rather than anything overly serious according to guitarist Andrew Fisher: “The band is just something fun that we decided to do while we were out for food one night.” Eleven songs later that form a reunion with a 90s alt-rock sound that is definitely a Stateside influence than anything British, Great Sale Day induce memories of Weezer and Nada Surf with coarse guitars that churn out melodic tunes to the beat of ‘Up In The Clouds’, ‘Best Friends’ and the rather frantic rhythm of ‘Calm Down, Slow Down’.  There are frustrations of the heart during the strolling pace of ‘True (Why Can’t You Be)’, which adds variation to the set; ditto the slow climb from its slumber before slamming on the brakes in throat clearing fashion of ‘Wake Up’ which is definitely not sensing the aforementioned fun but remains one of the frontrunners for strongest track. By giving the impression that ‘Wild and Chunky’ is something of a light-hearted get-together and nothing but a side project until the real work begins, the reality is that Great Sale Day has actually crafted an album’s worth of material that deserves nothing but serious respect.


ChoirVandals_AtNight_cover

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At Night EP

Choir Vandals

FITA Records / 6131 Records

One of a growing number leading the charge for musical recognition in the St. Louis, Missouri region is relative newcomers Choir Vandals. After a successful debut campaign with the ‘Darker Things’ EP in 2013, Choir Vandals follow this with another EP release through FITA Records and 6131 Records by the name of ‘At Night’. Fusing indie guitar rock with grunge, ‘Monsters’ starts things off impressively by maintaining a tight musical direction, despite flickers of vocals and guitars trying their hardest to flee in opposite directions such is the various layers of instrumentation at work here. Being a tough act to follow ‘Medicate’ manages to maintain the quality control in a gritty flow of guitars that power along with lyrics purporting to the struggles associated with addiction. There is a genuine 90s flavour to the songs contained within ‘At Night’, with the early reference to fragments of grunge, which is a compliment indeed when the standard of songs are as consistently high as those present here. Expect standards to be raised even higher when Choir Vandals next venture out because there will be no rest in their current momentum as suggested by their own commentary, “I don’t wanna sit back and let my life run away from me”.


Razzle Dazzle

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Razzle Dazzle EP

Imperial Leisure

FXD Records

After a lengthy bout of tour dates throughout 2014, Imperial Leisure show no sign of winding down their schedule as step forth new four-track EP ‘Razzle Dazzle’. Causing reason to celebrate by rejuvenating the classic ska sound of the early eighties, but at the same time dusting this influence down and intertwining it with other components consisting of indie rock and postpunk, Imperial Leisure remain a flailing mass of anxious energy that is underpinned by their frantic sounds and barked vocals. First example fitting this description is the EP’s title track blazing fast on a wave of brass instrumentation and guitars, with a fidgety lead vocal to match the sensitive subject matter at the centre of this song. ‘Festival’ is more concerned with a leisurely pace in order to get its message across as musically it’s less troubled, starting out with simple drums and singular guitar and then supported by some brass and backing vocals before eventually picking its feet up and finding a faster rhythm.  If only all songs could flow with the same brass backing as evidenced throughout ‘Lucky People’, with its midway punctuation via a trumpet that simply enthrals, then the world would truly be a more harmonious place. With recent single ‘Nasty Boy’ applying the final touches with a bitter aftertaste in its mouth and appropriately reflected by a return to the frantic tempo of before, Imperial Leisure is closing the door on 2014 in magnificent style!


City Lights

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City Lights (single)

The Scheen

Artistpartner Records

In a show of optimism after a successful campaign winning over the hearts and minds at this year’s Emergenza contest for unsigned artists, The Scheen return with the first entry from a forthcoming EP with new single ‘City Lights’. Buoyed by their recent success, ‘City Lights’ exudes the same level of optimism with its tight, energetic rhythm that was the product of a live recording in the studio under the guidance of producer Sigve Bull. With new material on the horizon and a 2015 tour booked as part of the Europaturné with the aforementioned Emergenza contest, next year should see The Scheen growing further in stature considering the exhilarating ride of current single ‘City Lights’.


Burn

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Burn (single)

Sarah Nærø Pettersen

Prytz / Pettersen

Sounding beyond her years rather than the tender age of sixteen, Sarah Nærø Pettersen marks a new entry in her recording diary with the single ‘Burn’. By enlisting songwriter and producer Knut Vegar Prytz, who was involved in the song writing process for Norwegian artist Frøder’s ‘Speed of Sound’ which was B-listed on P3 Radio, this collective meeting of the minds results in a pop ballad that is meditative in its rhythmic pattern, greatly emphasised at first by piano and drums before revealing a richer sound by the time the song’s chorus arrives. While there is an air of confidence surrounding this single, ‘Burn’ is most definitely scorched around its edges with Sarah Næro Pettersen turning in a solemn performance that is struggling with a broken heart yet remains unwilling to give up the slightest glimmer of hope on a relationship that has since expired. ‘Burn’ is an engaging listen brought further to life by an equally impressive vocal that suggests years of experience when, in fact, is just starting out. Such qualities are hard to come by.


Big Music

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Big Machine

Simple Minds

Sony

The current surge of eighties bands not only making a comeback, but doing so credibly with brand new material is gathering at some pace. Latest off the block with new album ‘Big Music’ is Scotland’s longstanding Simple Minds. Having undergone a renaissance in recent years after the band’s decision to rediscover their early material, which saw them embark on a worldwide tour performing five tracks from each of their first five albums, the core of Jim Kerr (vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitars) and Mel Gaynor (drums) continue this journey as ‘Big Music’ treads similar experimental ground yet retains a more accessible side for the majority of its contents. Examination of those past creative endeavours also led to a calling on the experience and expertise of co-writer Iain Cook, of Glasgow band Chvrches, and producers Steve Osborne, Andy Wright and Steve Hillage – who worked on 1981′s ‘Sons And Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’. ‘Blindfolded’ opens the gates and one is reminded of ‘I Travel’, with its incessant rhythm suggesting a genuine feeling of motion sourced by a strong wave of synths and Burchill’s guitar. First impressions of the actual song ‘Big Music’ provides the first, real indication of a song that is not as clear-cut in its aims, despite massive beats propelling it forward and living up to its title, due to the gritty current coursing through it and then taking a turn skywards in swathes of keyboards providing a more soothing edge. Such songs make for compelling listening and further indication of the wise decisions Simple Minds find themselves taking by following a less commercial route and setting challenges, which first single, ‘Hometown’ suggests, as it will require a measure of patience due to its measured pace. There is great vigour to the excellent ‘Human’ that really gets under your skin after a few repeat plays, which also rubs off on the echoing, fuzzy static of second reworking (see ‘Graffiti Soul’ deluxe edition) of The Call’s ‘Let The Day Begin’. Similarities can be drawn with the aforementioned ‘Hometown’ and the considered tempo of ‘Blood Diamonds’, which reveals the experience and depth at the centre of this band. To suggest that ‘Big Music’ is a major comeback for Simple Minds would be discrediting the steps which led to this reinvigorated state – namely, ‘Neapolis’, ‘Black & White 050505′ and ‘Graffiti Soul’ – as the signs were already evident to the glorious position Simple Minds find themselves once more. ‘Big Music’ is therefore another addition in their current creative evolution, but one that is definitely their most consistent in terms of a return to their creative best.


Let It Go

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Let It Go

Ida Jenshus

Universal Music Norway

Entering a creative, transitional phase is Norway’s Ida Jenshus with the ‘Let It Go’ EP. Consisting of four tracks, this next step in the career of Ida Jenshus sees her embark on an exploratory journey which begins with the epic ‘Shallow River’ that is full of dark, shadowy imagery and roots instrumentation with a definite late sixties feel, before evolving into something lighter in tone with the vocals becoming more like Joni Mitchell. Playing out in three segments as the storm clouds gather once more to see out this opening song, ‘Shallow River’ is an audacious beginning for Ida Jenshus and one that strengthens its grip as the rest of the EP progresses. The next step is ‘Hero’, set to a more traditional structure compared to the expansive nature of its predecessor, the song starts off in a murmur and then rides out on a wave of chiming guitar and acoustic support with a fine vocal turn, which is eclipsed by the time ‘Set Us Free’ arrives as Ida Jenshus’ voice dominates from start to finish. The finale of ‘Sylvia’ is full of tenderness and perfectly expressed by the pared back sound of acoustic guitar and Ida Jenshus. With a new album scheduled for next year, it will be interesting to hear how this newfound direction will develop over a much greater scale for Ida Jenshus. In the meantime, ‘Let It Go’ is sufficient evidence that this songstress is on the right path.


Chroma

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Chroma

Three Winters

Termo Records

By holding a name such as Three Winters provides something of a clue as to the contents held within this new album release under the heading ‘Chroma’. Saturated in a number of electronic sounds that are in parts bleak and claustrophobic and on other occasions possessing a more expansive side yet retaining a dark edge, Three Winters has created a predominately instrumental soundscape that is a suitable ally for music set to film. ‘Cinematic, electronic night music’ is a fitting description, but ‘Chroma’ is also open to interpretation as the sizable blanket of whiteness of ‘A Thousand White Lights’ suggests. With the first creative shoots of ‘Chroma’ revealing themselves as loose ideas rather than anything concrete with a full album in mind, the end results are to be applauded due to the manner in which the album works as a cohesive unit. Its influences remain as vast as the creative sounds dreamed up, with pockets of early 80s references springing to mind as well as industrial music and the aforementioned nod to the ideology of film score structures. If it’s clarity of definition you’re seeking however, then ‘Atrocities’ is the closest sibling to an eighties sound that relied heavily on doom-laden synths – ditto ‘At The Centre Of Dystopia’ – but is also in line with the present considering its structural progression that could just as easily find a home with fellow Norwegians Zeromancer and their most recent efforts. ‘Daybreak Monuments’ slowly opens its eyes and acts as a brief conduit to the longer lasting ‘Animism’ that really opens its doors to a richer sound that is forever aiming higher on the back of keys and electronic drumbeats. Similar in nature is ‘Aeon Surveillance (MKII)’, only this time the rhythm is swifter and the tone is most definitely lighter. Normal service is soon restored with the recurring drone of beats and swirling electronics of ‘Hazard’ that comes to a suitable finale under the funeral procession of measured sounds that is ‘Channel 0′. While ‘Chroma’ is suggestive of a nearing of the end in terms of its atmospheric approach, there remains a shaft of light that offers the merest hint of optimism. It remains, however, that despite any small measure of hope, ‘Chroma’ is at its most engaging when operating from the depths of despair.


The Fox, The Hunter & Hello Saferide

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The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide

Hello Saferide

Sony Music Norway

Hello Saferide is the alias Annika Norlin prefers to use when the creative thought processes demand an English interpretation rather than her mother tongue of Swedish. Interesting as the inner workings of these creative thought processes might be as to why Hello Saferide lends itself to English text is one for Annika Norlin alone. Once the opening bars of ‘I Forgot About Songs’ starts up, nearly introducing OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, all such thoughts are instantly forgotten. It’s the static, droning sound and fragile vocal of this opening song that is instantaneous in its appeal, as it slowly edges itself away from the brink by revealing the things in life that matter, but somehow became lost in translation. ‘The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide’ is understated in its execution by utilising the barest of instrumentation, applied with the lightest of brushstrokes and providing a lo-fi feel overall. The songs themselves appear to be reflecting a (personal) journey, and one that is looking back (‘Dad Told Me’), beautifully relayed through bouts of happiness and deep regret during the sublime ‘Berlin’ and cascading tears of the equally moving ‘Raspberry Lips’. The pitter-patter rhythm of ‘Hey Ho’ picks up a gradual momentum of subtle electronics and ever so faint distorted guitar that gives the impression of a lengthy sigh such is its apparent regret of opportunities missed. ‘Rocky’ reveals a pent up and misunderstood narrative that is dressed up in a folk arrangement, before ‘This Body’ paves the way for a choir of vocals which strikes a chord deep within. ‘The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide’ is a lo-fi masterpiece reflecting on the various interactions of personal relationships that should find a safe refuge with all those having undergone similar experiences. Miss this album at your peril!



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