Music of 2009, part one

15th August 2009 – 2.30 pm

I have apparently been on a bit of a new music bender this year so far, actively seeking out new artists and bands to keep me entertained. I'm not quite sure why this should be, particularly as the iPod Touch still doesn't have an album shuffle mode, but at least organising my new purchases in to chronological playlists of manageable sizes helps me listen to newly bought music with some level of convenience. It can take a month or so before I get a good feel for new music, or even a new album from an established artist, which is why I tend not to review albums as I buy them. This first review of the year thus extends all the way back to January.

I read about Rolo Tomassi in the new music section of the NME. The band look interesting and give a good interview, so I pick up their album Hysterics to see what they are like. My first impression is that I really ought to use the internet more to preview bands before committing myself. Whilst technically impressive and having some semblance of music the propensity for awkward rhythms and the lyrics to be hurled with some violence towards the microphone makes listening to Rolo Tomassi a potentially unpleasant experience. However, with a bit of perserverance I find myself returning to the album on occasion. It is not music to be enjoyed, as such, but it can certainly be appreciated.

In contrast to Rolo Tomassi is the now-familiar White Hinterland, releasing a new five-track EP with vocals entirely in French. Luniculaire is a wondrous affair of four cover versions and one original song, with dreamy vocals, arguably enhanced by the French lyrics, draped over alternately smooth and stark music. I hope a second album is forthcoming from this excellent band.

The Wrecked Angles album from An Emergency is given a good review in the NME, but what caught my eye was the reference to being jazz-like. I don't get to find or hear much jazz, although I quite enjoy it as a genre, so I am excited to find some indie pop that embraces fat-bodied guitars and different time signatures played by each band member. Unfortunately, it turns out that I haven't read the review quite as it was intended, as I am presented with standard jangly guitars and fuzz effects that make the music quite clearly not jazz. However, with a bit of rotation in my playlist An Emergency's music grows on me and I find that the beats and time signatures feel almost jazz-like, with the album's name seeming quite appropriate, even if the music does not. Whilst it hasn't become a firm favourite I quite enjoy Wrecked Angles, certainly enough to pay attention for An Emergency's next release or to see them live.

With a name like Slow Club I am immediately attracted to the band. Finding out that they are a folk duo, and my increasing appreciation of the genre, only makes me find out what music they have available. Sadly, there isn't an album released back in February—although there is now—but there is a five-track EP, Let's Fall Back in Love, which I pick up readily. I immediately adore the EP, with the uplifting chorus of singers on the title track, the acoustic guitars and soft vocals of some songs intertwined with more upbeat pop affairs, and delightful lyrics. Slow Club is the first band this year to get me excited.

And Vampire Weekend are the second band to excite me. I keep on hearing their A-Punk single played on the radio, which considering I listen for about fifteen minutes a day is quite impressive, and not only do I not tire of hearing it but I enjoy it ever the more. Normally I am a little reluctant to buy an album based off one single I hear on the radio, as experience has shown that there are many one-hit wonders around, but occasionally I will throw caution to the wind, so it is that I buy debut album Vampire Weekend. Whilst there is possibly some discrepancy in style between A-Punk and most of the other songs there is enough similarity coupled with some startling jolly pop music to keep me thoroughly entertained through the whole album. Vampire Weekend even manage an impressive task. I find that my favourite track on any particular album is occasionally followed by the worst, if only because it is sitting in the shadow of a glorious tune, and it is rare that I appreciate, let alone enjoy, the subsequent song. I was expecting as much with A-Punk, because of it being how I was initially attracted to the band, but following song Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa is at least as catchy and often has me humming along to that more than A-Punk. I am playing Vampire Weekend's album an awful lot.

On a trip in to London I can't find the album I am looking for and stubbornly refuse to return home empty handed. There on one of Sister Ray's shelves of recommended music is the debut album of Crystal Stilts, a name I recognise. Hoping I recognise it for good reasons, and not just because every new band wants 'crystal' in their name somewhere these days, I pluck Alight of Night off the shelf as my own. On getting home I discover that I recognise the name because the band were in the new music section of the NME below the band whose album I was actually looking for, although I had been a little interested in Crystal Stilts too. On listening to the Alight of Night I find the music to be quite melodic and fairly relaxing in places. But the vocals are too relaxed, to the point of almost being emotionless, ending up dripping in melancholy and inducing an apathy that discourages me from listening to the album for long lest I will myself to fall in to a coma. Crystal Stilts show considerable promise but need to brighten up their vocal contribution beyond depressed emo kid droning. I think I would prefer to listen to Alight of Night as an instrumental album.

I am expecting some jangly guitars from School of Seven Bells when I first play their album Alpinisms, but am apparently mistaken as instead more electronic rhythms head my way. The staccato-voiced Iamundernodisguise is an interesting introduction but rather than hinting at the entire album consisting of clinical tunes with lofty aspirations of transcending genres, a warm flow of easy beats gently breezes from the speakers with each passing track. The slightly harsh vocal style from the first song is replaced by smooth and wispy lyrics draped over music that alternates between jagged electro and pop, and although the staccato vocals resurface occasionally, as in Trance Figure, the lighter songs sprinkled throughout, Chain being particularly jaunty, defuse the mood sufficiently for it not to feel quite as unfamiliar. Alpinisms is a fine debut album.

If you like your beats per minute to be higher than your blood pressure on ecstasy then don't listen to Harmonic 313's debut album, When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence. Instead of trying to cram in as many drum beats as the human ear can discern, Harmonic 313 retreats to slow, almost arhythmic pulses apparently generated from state-of-the-art electronic synthesisers from the 70s. This is the sort of music that robots will dance to, and although they may dump their cores at the unexpected rap in Battlestar it serves as a nice intermission for meatsacks. I also get a sneaky feeling that coded messages are being sent to machines in tracks like Flaash, hopefully a benign attempt to help our computer friends gain a better appreciation of art instead of a call to kill all humans. Whether or not there are robots overheating their servos keeping up with the lazy beats I find Harmonic 313 to be surprisingly engaging, even if it's based on a nostalgia trip harking back to my 8-bit days.

Given the review in the NME for the eponymous debut album from Grammatics I was expecting the saviours of all indie music to assail my senses and make me want to follow the band across continents as they storm through the smaller venues and in to stadia within a matter of months, such is the splendour of their music that Grammatics' rise to unimaginable fame and glory is inevitable. Of course, I have to hear the epitome of indie guitar music, and it comes as quite the disappointment to hear generic twaddle in its place. On the surface there is nothing wrong with the music of Grammatics, they seem to go through all the right motions, having fine tunes and meaningful lyrics presented with competence, but it all falls flat, almost completely failing to inspire, and I don't think it is the fault of any hype. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with Grammatics, I suppose in the same way there's nothing wrong with a Digestive biscuit.

Quietly Now! is Frightened Rabbit's live and mostly acoustic version of their studio album The Midnight Organ Fight, which is quite difficult to track down. The folk songs of Frightened Rabbit are quite pleasant and catchy and like most live albums adds a more intimate touch to the music, even if I don't have the studio album to compare it to directly. Quietly Now! certainly builds on the excellent work of first release Sing the Greys and I will keep Frightened Rabbit on my music radar.

  1. One Response to “Music of 2009, part one”

  2. I really ought to get started on part two, as it feels like part one took around two months to write. I've only covered up to April or so, too.

    By pjharvey on Aug 15, 2009

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