Album Reviews

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Pocketknife

Mr Little Jeans

Sony Music Norway

Dreaming of a life in the limelight has finally become a reality for the wry smirk of a title that is Mr Little Jeans aka Monica Birkenes. The former drama student managed to combine her time between stints in London and Los Angeles in order to pursue her dream of a full-length album by way of producer Peter Moren (Peter Bjorn and John). The end results for this Norwegian artist is an album full of assured indie pop songs and sounding as if constructed of the barest ingredients consisting primarily of synthesisers and Birkenes ethereal vocal. Take for example the alluring yet glacial sheen of ‘Mercy’ that manages to really get under your skin as well as managing to  maintain a considerable distance, as does the 80s moody electronica of ‘Runaway’. There is a measure of eccentricity from top to bottom of ‘Oh Sailor’ complete with chiming clocks and youth choir that is reminiscent of another 80s trick but unfortunately completely evades the memory bank at the crucial hour. There are moments where ‘Pocketknife’ will require some patience when listening with the late blossoming of blissful noise during ‘Don’t Run’ for example, as well as others that remain somewhat directionless with the plodding ‘Suburbs’ being a prime candidate. Such discrepancies, however, are minimal as ‘Pocketknife’ contains enough intrigue to warrant repeat visits that will be duly rewarded guaranteed.


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MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs (EP)

Pretend Happy

Untitled

Barnstaple is home for indie grunge and punk trio Pretend Happy and the likely source responsible for the majority of songs making up current EP ‘MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs’, due to reflecting a plethora of emotions that are all too common when it comes to residing in such a sheltered environment. In spite of this, there is a feeling of transition regarding the entire EP, in both title and sound, as the six songs represented here are a collection of the band’s first two EPs, offering something of a mixed bag ranging from the energetic ‘Innocence’ with its insightful observations, “Another fault of mine, I’ve fallen further behind, my innocence still lives inside of me…” to a more ponderous ‘I Remember’ that despite its honesty, especially by way of a couple of expletives, pales in comparison. ‘Stability’ brings order once more with its taut rhythm, and nicely complimented by the crushed emotions of ‘Torture’ only to fall back on old habits with the generic ‘Purity’.  While ‘MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs’ possesses one or two shortcomings, there is more than enough material here to suggest a positive outcome regarding future endeavours for Pretend Happy.


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Bookburner (single)

This Sect

Sect Appeal Records / Diger

Accusations of philistine rightly abound and no doubt fuelling new single ‘Bookburner’ from Norway’s This Sect. Being described as ‘post-punk with disco tendencies’, This Sect is the kind of band that deserve to be clutched tightly to one’s chest as they resuscitate memories of a dying breed of bands, often the staple during the 80s despite remaining on the fringes of any music scene and holding a strong social conscience. ‘Bookburner’ fits such a description with its jagged rhythm, 80s sounding guitars and anxious vocals which all suggest nothing but a tantalising prospect when the full-length player is set for release next month. Clearly rubbing against the grain as far as fashion (yawn) is concerned, This Sect is one that is worth taking note of because their relevancy in the present state of things is more vital than ever.


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Floating Blood Of Mine (single)

Sleep Party People

Riot Factory

Denmark’s Sleep Party People return with a new single ahead of a full album release planned for the end of May 2014. ‘Floating Blood Of Mine’ reprises the long overdue return musically of 90s shoegaze, and one of the pioneers of this particular sound The Cocteau Twins, as Brian Batz – the man behind the moniker – dreams up an instantly memorable soundscape full of drifting and soaring guitars complete with a thin veil of vocals that greatly compliments the vapour trails of sound left suspended in the atmosphere long after this song has ceased spinning. With two critically acclaimed albums behind Sleep Party People, the third chapter looks set to continue this trend considering the emotive sounds emanating from ‘Floating Blood Of Mine’.


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Next Plane (single)

Alida

Sony Music Norway

Alida is currently the name causing a stir as far as Norwegian radio is concerned and the reason for increasing levels of interest on certain media playlists, which has seen this songstress from Jæren in Rogaland rocket her way to the top of the pile with this follow up single after the much-admired ‘Feathers’. Clearly, ‘Next Plane’ was built around Alida’s charismatic vocal as it ushers in from the start the rest of the components of the song – comprising of subdued yet atmospheric electronic beats – while remaining deep in reflection as the realisation dawns that a saviour is not emerging anytime soon. The next stop for this rising new talent is a mini-album, which is a tantalising prospect considering the lofty heights ‘Next Plane’ has already set. Watch this space.


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Grown Up (single)

Emilie Nicolas

Sony Music Norway

Emilie Nicolas takes a bow with the first instalment from her forthcoming long player due this year. The song causing a bit of a commotion is the wonderful slow burner that is ‘Grown Up’, which sounds as if it’s coming from a small remote corner of the Norwegian landscape such is the sparseness of the ingredients used. The lack of instrumentation compliments the beguiling fragility of the vocal held in ‘Grown Up’, as the song recounts a coming-of-age tale that could easily be mistaken for a separating of the ways after a troublesome relationship. Either way, Emilie Nicolas’ debut album should be one to savour judging by the qualities shown of ‘Grown Up’.


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A Perfect Contradiction

Paloma Faith

RCA

Visually entertaining as well as musically, Paloma Faith is back with her third album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’. With its continuing theme of rich colours when it comes to the artwork and sense of nous by calling on the talents of Pharrel Williams to help co-write recent single ‘Can’t Rely On You’, the ‘contradiction’ implied in the title is perfectly misleading as Paloma steps up another creative gear and one that is consistently better than its predecessors. Nowhere is this more evident than the aforementioned Williams/Faith collaboration ‘Can’t Rely On You’, that is full of old school dance beats but given a modern gloss and narrated with a sassy vocal that will have you reaching for the repeat button. The traditional flavour is also captured in ‘Mouth To Mouth’ with its 80s pop influence but this time finding Paloma Faith in more restrained manner but nonetheless still compelling. The lure of Motown is all too much for ‘Take Me’ and accompanying ballad ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’; the latter of the pair revealing a vulnerability in the Paloma Faith exterior. There is a brief hiccup with the rather pedestrian ‘Other Woman’ and its familiarities with other female artists of similar ilk, but fear not as this songstress finishes in style with red-hot ‘Trouble With My Baby’ and shifting style of ‘Love Only Leaves You Lonely’.


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No Mythologies To Follow

Chess Club / RCA Victor

Resembling nothing in relation to her personal record collection during her late teens with Sonic Youth and Black Flag particular favourites, Danish artist Mø (Karen Marie Ørsted) breezes in with a debut album that is full of electro-pop and moody electronica that is ‘No Mythologies To Follow’. There is a cool, mid-tempo pulse to ‘Maiden’, complete with a vocal that seems to spend its duration in the shade and remains full of curiosity. All the clocks stop during ‘Never Wanna Know’; a deeply touching ballad that resonates due to the hollow effect created by its use of percussion and giving a real sense of loss that is reminiscent of Scott Walker when in such a frame of mind. Much as has been said of Mø’s vocal capabilities and pop leanings which certainly come to the fore during the infectious ‘Red In The Grey’ and even more persuasive ‘Pilgrim’ that will certainly appease fans of both pop and indie music. Looks like Denmark has an imminent star on their books as ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ is tapping into a number of genres yet shaping a path that is distinctly Mø.


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Fire Away (single)

Ilias

Untitled

With the moody atmospheric film that was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, latest effort from singer-songwriter, and sometimes producer, Ilias is not a million miles away from the neon lit urban landscape of LA that provided the backdrop to this near masterpiece. ‘Fire Away’ was actually written around the time of recent fires that devastated parts of the Australian countryside, but there is no escaping the film score concept that influences this song. Incorporating this broader vision is the additional European flavours, that lend themselves to the aforementioned urban landscape of LA by means of electronica that knits together late-nineties flitting drum patterns and a distorted guitar for those larger splashes of sound, giving the impression of darkened clouds rapidly forming and then fully realised by way of a short yet compelling guitar riff. If the vultures are beginning to circle overhead due to sensing a sizable meal at the end of the line considering the general attempts at dispersing that ‘Fire Away’ provides, then never has such an ominous atmosphere sounded so welcoming.


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A Walk In The Space Between Us

Side Effects

Sony Music Norway

Sounding as if they just stepped out of a northern town in England (and Wales – see below) rather than the more idyllic surroundings of their native Sweden, Side Effects release their first album ‘A Walk InThe Space Between Us’. The close resemblance to the musical scenes emanating from the upper regions of the British landscape from the ’90s onwards is all too evident in sound, but minus the attitude, as Side Effects follow similar paths to those mined by The Coral, Super Furry Animals and a latter-day CAST, judging by the Swedes penchant for a dash of psychedelia with their afternoon tea in terms of what’s on offer here. This is all great stuff, of course, as ‘A Walk In The Space Between Us’ is an accomplished achievement and something to do with the fact that the band have been together since Sixth Form College and showing no signs of days idly wasted considering the dynamic thrust of opener ‘The Space Between Us’. The persuasive charm of ‘Feel Flows’, however, was built for lazy summer days and is followed in similar hazy fashion, before picking up a second wind, by the beguiling curiosity that is ‘Monster And The Bird’ with its suggestion of trying to be two sides of a personality that is all too much. There’s a robust edge to ‘Month Of Mist’ that becomes drowned out by its successor ‘Absence Of Control with its heady psychedelic indie rock and flashes of near feedback yet managing to hold itself together despite the implications of its song title. ‘A Walk In The Space Between Us’ is a confident debut that will have you gripped from the off, and one that comes as a pleasant surprise in terms of its appeal considering the short distance in time when bands of a similar ilk were hogging the front pages on a regular basis.


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Speed Of Sound (single)

Frøder

Sony Music Norway

Fresh off the mark with a debut single is Frøder with ‘Speed Of Sound’ that is currently doing the rounds on NRK’s P3 (Norwegian radio station) and not difficult to understand why such is the immediate appeal of the vocal delivery. Comparisons can be drawn with Florence + The Machine, especially considering the heavy use of electronica intspersed with strings that is at one moment pondering in its approach before rising to considerable heights during its chorus. On the evidence of this first offering from Frøder, there is no question of this Norwegian loitering in the wings any longer as ‘Speed Of Sound’ looks set to continue its rapid trajectory even before there is any mention of a full length player. A very impressive start indeed.


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Back On The Horse

The Skinner Group

EmuBands

The wait for an echo has been a lengthy one until now that is, as Grahame Skinner finally makes his long anticipated comeback under new moniker, The Skinner Group. The title of the new album is one that is definitely open for interpretation, having interviewed Grahame Skinner for these very pages, suggesting a mixture of relief at the realisation of new material finally seeing light of day but coupled with anxiety at the thought of the unknown in terms of its perception. Fear not as ‘Back On The Horse’ is a sheer delight from beginning to end with creativity in abundance and enough memorable hooks to warrant a high level of repeat visits. Previous single ‘Surfer Gurl’ revives old memories of Skinner’s former indie outfit Cowboy Mouth, as the song resembles a piece of driftwood from an aborted third album, only given a new lease of life here, with Skinner crooning in fine fashion and pining about the one who got away to a grungy backbeat provided by longstanding stalwarts Douglas MacIntyre and Mick Slaven. ‘Oh Dear ‘ is breezy in comparison, and closer to another former band that hit the heights during the 80s, and would be the ideal candidate for second single such is its infectious rhythm and clever touch with its knowing self-pitying lyrics. The ghost of Hipsway is even more evident during the immediacy of ‘Down On My Knees’ with its 80s style chorus complete with backing singers really giving the game away. In the midst of such familiarities exists new explorations with ‘Something Cinematic’ a prime candidate due to being something of an oddity with its pondering beat, poetic vocal and topped off compellingly by Mick Slaven’s guitar, which is left to its own devices as it scores a red-hot trail right through its centre in a stinging and bad tempered moment of improvised greatness. Elsewhere, ‘Who’s That Man’ could be a personal ode as it reflects on being out of touch with current trends via a warped take – wonderfully executed – on The Beach Boys surf pop before falling headlong into the abyss that is ‘Hole In My Soul’, but not before paying reference to Aidan Moffat on the way down during the song’s fadeout. If this is the sound of Grahame Skinner in the modern state of things, then the decision to get back on the horse was an inspired and extremely wise one.



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