Archive for the 'Album reviews' Category

The Avett Brothers: I and Love and You

April 4, 2010

Scott and Seth are two North Carolinian brothers, who, five albums and two EPs in, have hit the big time with this Rick Rubin-produced major label debut. The pair take turns on vocals and songwriting duties, crafting tight piano ballads, coloured with bluegrass, 60s beat pop and indie rock (“Kick Drum Heart”). Following the Rubin formula, the songs are stripped down, perfectly formed packages. It’s hard not to succumb to the relentless stream of rousing choruses and simple chord patterns, but this is a series of brash mainstream hits rather than an album to cherish.

This piece first appeared in Observer Review.

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Seasick Steve: Man From Another Time

October 18, 2009

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“Why do you wanna listen what I got to say?” asks Seasick Steve on this album’s title track. The former hobo pensioner, embraced for his colourful backstory as much as his music, asks a good question. Songs about riding the freights, roaming the States, doing time and casual labour veer dangerously close to hollow self-parody, but when he sings of the present – driving about on his vintage John Deere tractor, and his wife and anchor, Elisabeth, we get the raw emotion he is famed for. Best of all is “The Banjo Song”, a mournful soliloquy on his wandering spirit as death moves ever closer.

This piece first appeared in Observer Review

The Horrors: Primary Colours

May 3, 2009

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They whipped up a storm with their haircuts, celebrity girlfriends and thrilling live performances, now the Dickensian undertaker lookalikes have changed their tune and embraced melody. The sparse, trashy garage rock of their debut has opened into a lighter, brighter experiment in new wave and distorted electronica. Chris Cunningham and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow produce, the influence of the latter heard most distinctly on seven-minute keyboard soundscape “Sea Within a Sea”. Faris Badwan presides majestically over this album of two halves, segueing from the pulsing discord of opener Mirror’s Image to the soaring grandeur of “Do You Remember?”

This piece first appeared in Observer Review

D M Stith: Heavy Ghost

March 8, 2009

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Like his celebrated label boss, Sufjan Stevens, David Stith is very much a man in thrall to God. The product of a musical, Christian family, along with the biblical imagery – all rising up, ghosts and devils, David and Isaac – there is something undeniably religious about his sound. Stith plays his fragile voice like an instrument – pouring forth praise or gospel-like narration to an orchestra of claps, drips, twangs, ghostly wails and celestial piano. Notes clash and jar, rhythms hammer and crash off kilter, but somehow it all creates an uplifting, beautifully addictive cacophony like nothing you’ve heard before.

This piece first appeared in The Observer Review.

One Little Plane: Until

December 21, 2008

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Her moniker comes from a 40s Disney cartoon, and with her cutesy, dreamy voice and a flurry of tambourines, bells and xylophones you could be forgiven for thinking a five-year-old had raided the school music box. Yet London-based Chicagoan Kathryn Bint’s brilliantly catchy folk-pop songs are far from twee, carrying a raw account of love, loss and rejection on her sweet sounds. ‘Sunshine Kid’ is the highlight, with Bint cooing her bouncy refrain to a simple, thudding guitar riff impossible to resist. Produced by Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, this is an unassuming yet perfectly formed debut.

This piece first appeared in The Observer Review.

Neil Young: Sugar Mountain: Live

December 7, 2008

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This remarkable time capsule reveals Neil Young testing reaction to his post-Buffalo Springfield solo career over two nights in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Forty years later, the two-track recordings of those shows are finally released. Stripped of the ornate arrangements of his self-titled 1968 debut album and with no harmonica in the toolbox yet, this is just Young, a guitar and his thoughts. Ten tracks of nerdy asides and witty revelations break up the music, giving a thrilling ‘Neil Young in your living room effect’. An astonishing insight into the mind of a 22-year-old at the dawn of an impressive solo career.

This piece first appeared in The Observer Review.

Anywhere I Lay My Head – Scarlett Johansson

March 30, 2008

Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree

February 10, 2008

Siobhan Donaghy – Ghosts

June 17, 2007

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The Shins – Wincing The Night Away

January 21, 2007