Archive for January, 2012

Review: M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Although linked with the shoegazing/dreampop movement, Anthony Gonzalez’s M83 project has become even more closely connected with 1980’s soundtrack excess. His last album, ‘Saturdays = Youth’, was arguably his most coherent with a better understanding of songwriting on display. ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ is the double album Gonzalez apparently always wanted to make after hearing Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Mellion Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ and it is inspired by dreams.

As he often does, Gonzalez begins well. ‘Midnight City’ is like an 80’s cop theme in overdrive. It’s brash (especially so on the sax solo) but also compelling for all the right reasons and then Gonzalez comes up with ‘Reunion’, one of his best songs to rival his best single ‘Run Into Flowers’. It begins like Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and then turns into a hypnotic mesh of glistening guitars, passionate vocals and dreampop effects.

The trouble with M83 is that one great song does not make a great album and so it proves with much of the remainder here. Even attempts at subtlety (‘Wait’) seem hamfisted whereas the child’s narration on ‘Raconte-Moi Une Histoire’ is horribly saccharine. Like the first CD, the third track is the best with ‘OK Pal’ again proving that 1980’s excess isn’t always bad news but it’s a rare highlight.

Everything is OTT, the drumming, the stentorian keyboard washes, even the song titles (‘My Tears Are Becoming A Sea’ anyone?). So it’s another bloated outing for M83, only emphasised by the fact that it’s stretched over two (thankfully short) CDs.

Web Sites:
M83 Official Site

Further Listening:
The Bird Day, Maps, Dextro

Review: Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay have taken a lot of stick for their earnest hand-wringing style and whatever is said about their frontman, Chris Martin, there are few who take their position as a leading figure in music quite so seriously. Looking at the lengthy track listing to Coldplay’s latest epic, one would expect an hour’s worth of music. Perhaps ‘Mylo Xyloto’ is the response to that. Each track seems to flash by in an instant.

In fact it’s hard to imagine a bouncier, more positive beginning than the title track and ‘Hurts Like Heaven’, where even Chris Martin sounds like he’s inhaled some helium. Everyone will have heard ‘Paradise’ by now. Naturally, its over-familiarity will annoy as much as delight but it’s simple verse-chorus structure still makes it a highlight on this album and worthy of respect. Brian Eno sprinkles his fairy dust over ‘Charlie Brown’ too but on here the effect is uninvolving.

There’s certainly plenty of variety here. For the old school Coldplay fans, ‘Us Against The World’ keeps things simple with little more than Martin and his guitar although ‘Up In Flames’ is a better showcase for his plaintive side. At the most extreme end of their already OTT material, ‘Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall’ sings of “cathedrals in my heart” and features guitars as bagpipes. It’s big but certainly not clever. At least ‘Major Minus’ sees the group reclaim some rock gravitas. The guitars are edgy and for once the band sound intense. Kudos too for ‘Princess Of China’, where some icy pop textures and Rihanna make this an unexpected highlight.

Taken each song on its individual merits, the good songs actually outweigh the not so good moments but as a whole much of it sounds over-produced, unbalanced and somewhat inhuman. Martin and co. may well have reinvented themselves as pop stars but as far as this reviewer’s concerned, the hand-wringing days were preferable.

Web Sites:
Coldplay Official Site

Further Listening:

Review: Sport Of Kings – Logic House EP

“Yacht rock” was a term given to a highly polished form of American rock in the mid-70s to early 80’s. It’s now been given a 21st Century sheen by Brooklyn’s Sport Of Kings as they present their new ‘Logic House’ EP.

‘Free Jazz’, also released as a single, is pop music of the most sophisticated and relaxed kind. The musicians never seem to break into a sweat as whistling, trumpets and crisp drums underscore the clever but also warm and addictive melody. If this is rock, it’s rock of the softest kind. ‘1964’ even adds in breezy harmonies but its complicated key changes struggle to arouse much interest. ‘Preface’ and ‘Some Histories’ fare slightly better and resemble the nerdy, literate yet dreamy material of Grandaddy.

Sport Of Kings fly in the face of fashion in terms of their music style but there aren’t many bands around who summon up the spirit and intelligence of Steely Dan. If they could inherit a little more of their genius way with a tune, this group could be on to something here.

Web Sites:
Sport Of Kings Official Site

Further Listening:
Steely Dan, Grandaddy

Review: Kramies – The European

According to his press release, Kramies deals in “Atmos-pop” and it’s an accurate description too. This Dutch-American artist has spent several months touring old pubs and concert halls in Ireland for inspiration, to further his quest for ambient perfection.

For his first release on the Hidden Shoal label, ‘Intro’ begins serenely enough with pure vocals, rustic guitars (from David Paolucci) and smooth electronica but the song becomes engulfed by drone. The title track sees the beauty from beginning to end, however. It’s epic in a quiet way as Kramies offers melancholic ache as a riposte to the swooping electronic backing. Similarly, after a slow start, ‘Inventors’ is full of interesting layers of sound. Standout track, though, is undoubtedly ‘Coal Miners Executive Club’. Here, the keyboard washes are as big and colourful as an M83 track but any worries about bloated melodrama are brought down to earth by Kramies’ grounded vocals. Then just to prove he can keep it simple, ‘Antiquarian’ changes tack to leave the artist with voice, guitar and the minimum of effects.

‘The European’ is rich in detail and of course atmosphere but Kramies is clever enough to balance the high-flying surrounding noise with some heartfelt delivery. He should visit Ireland more often based on this performance.

Web Sites:
Kramies MySpace
Hidden Shoal Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Pony Club

Review: Milk & Biscuits – Balcony Times

A supergroup of sorts, Milk & Biscuits comprise members of former indie darlings Electric Soft Parade and Brakes as well as relative newcomers such as Foxes! and Restlesslist. Described as “old forgotten songs, improvisations, day-dreams and long lost memories”, ‘Balcony Times’ is part inspiration, part indulgence.

‘Rivers’ is cut from the same cloth as the wonderful recent EP by High Highs; the harmonies couldn’t be more heavenly whilst the shimmering dreampop is both ghostly and summery. ‘Burnt Meadow’ is more like The Superimposers on a comedown but is quite lovely all the same whereas Seeland would be proud of the archaic pop noises of ‘Winter In Brasilia’. The pitch perfect melodic nostalgia is, however, put on hold for the final three tracks which range between drone pop (‘Trinidad’) and hazy psychedelia (‘Koa’, the title track).

This mini album seems to reflect the story of a student night out, with the band reaching heady euphoria towards the middle and then coming down by the somewhat sombre and less memorable ending. If they can maintain the magic of the first half next time around, they could have a great album on their hands, though.

Web Sites:
Big Salad Records Label Site
Milk & Biscuits Soundcloud

Further Listening:
The Superimposers, Seeland, Electric Soft Parade, High Highs

Review: Christine Leakey – Tapping Trees In A Trinket Box Of Treasure

If it takes fourteen years to record an album, then one would normally assume some kind of Axl Rose-related story has been attached. Not so with Canada’s Christine Leakey who suffered an injury rendering her unable to play guitar; just as she was on the verge of securing recording deals.  However, undeterred, her debut solo album is here and alerts us that a true individual walks amongst us.

‘Lovely’ is a very light pleasant slice of optimism to get us started but ‘Here I Stand’ is a greater showcase for the Leakey vocal. Her insouciant tones perfectly compliment the smoky jazz backing, producing the effect of a modern day Sade. Thereafter real songs merge with odd interludes which occasionally build up an atmosphere of a theatrical performance rather than an album. In fairness, that may be the point.

‘Tap Dancers’ is an undoubted highlight as Leakey trills her way against a charming guitar melody and the same can be said for the haunting ‘Miss Betty Grable’ and ‘The Day My Flower Died’. She even turns her hand to Bond theme confidence for ‘Shine My Tarnished Sheen’. Frustratingly, she loses her way slightly towards the end of the album courtesy of ‘Gloom Chime’s cabaret and the French-sung ‘Quand Tu Dors’ but on an hour long album, the odd slip is certainly excusable.

Bearing in mind the obstacles she has had to overcome, no one can deny Leakey deserves another shot at the big time.  ‘Tapping Trees…’ is by turns brilliant, childlike, confusing and chilling but the invention and talent she demonstrates ensures that this is a wholly worthwhile and admirable comeback.

Web Sites:
Christine Leakey Bandcamp
Christine Leakey Tumblr Page

Further Listening:
Anna Calvi

Best Albums Of 2011

Happy New Year to you all and thanks for your support in 2011. The year was certainly a challenge for me on a personal level but listening to music has provided me with a continual source of pleasure.

It is now time for me to post my list of favourite albums for the past year so here’s the best of 2011, according to Leonard’s Lair:

Björk – Biophilia
James Blake – James Blake
Br’er – City Of Ice
Burning Codes – Rivers Of Hope
Canon Blue – Rumspringa
Chapel Club – Palace
Destroyer – Kaputt
The Drums – Portamento
Giraffage – Comfort
Her Vanished Grace – See The Moon
The Horrors – Skying
Doug Hoyer – Walks With the Tender and Growing Night
I LIKE TRAINS – He Who Saw The Deep
Infinite Scale – Ekko Location
Junior Boys – It’s All True
Masterface – Freedom Tower
Natureboy – Natureboy
(ome) – Tired Birds
Pandit – Eternity Spin
Parts Of Speech – Floyd Biz
The Pattern Theory – The Pattern Theory
Roommate – Guilty Rainbow
Sacred Harp – Window’s A Fall
The Sea And Cake – The Moonlight Butterfly
Tahiti 80 – The Past, The Present & The Future
Talvihorrors – Descent Into Delta
Tennis System – Teenagers
That Ghost – Songs Out Here
Wake The President – Zumtung!
Wild Beasts – Smother
Wild Palms – Until Spring
Wild Swans – The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years
The Workhouse – The Coldroom Sessions

There’s still a lot of albums that I haven’t checked out yet so this list may be added to as I catch up.

Best wishes