Music of 2009, part three

6th February 2010 – 3.05 pm

Better late than never is my final review of the music I bought in 2009. I have mashed together what was originally going to be two posts in to the one, lest I find myself reviewing some of last year's CDs in June.

After getting Slow Club's single Let's Fall Back in Love, I really look forward to the release of their debut album Yeah So. Unfortunately, my first impression isn't quite as enthusiastic, as the songs seem to have abandoned much of the whimsy included in the single in favour of more traditional pop and folk music. That's not to say the album is bad, far from it, the songs are jolly and cute, I think I was just expecting more. Luckily, seeing Slow Club live at the Scala shows just how much the band can deliver, easily bringing the album to life and energising my appreciation. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting from Yeah So that it took seeing Slow Club live to realise, but the album is a wonderful collection of songs from a passionate and entertaining duo.

Three Fact Fader is the long-awaited second album by Engineers, a band who appear with a brilliant, eponymous debut, promise a second, and then disappear. The new album doesn't disappoint, even with the expectations that a four year wait weighs upon it. The band have managed to keep their wonderful shoegazing sound whilst showing progression, creating an obviously modern album that remains undoubtedly an Engineers release. Opening song Clean Coloured Wire's snythesiser backing sets the mood for the album as udpated and energetically laid back, a track you can vigorously relax to. It sounds paradoxical, but the beauty of shoegazing is being able to create maelstroms of music with deceptively little effort, and Engineers prove they are masters of the genre with songs like Crawl From the Wreckage and Emergency Room. Three Fact Fader has been well worth the wait.

Combining my attraction to a certain rôle in MMORPGs and an apparent desire for more rude words in my music library, I pick up the second album from That Fucking Tank. Yes, sometimes my musical choices can be fairly arbitrary. The Leeds guitar and drums duo create a bunch of instrumental tracks with pun-based names for Tanknology, starting after a brief introduction with Keanu Reef, before moving on to Dave Grolsch, and Stephen Hawkwind. The names are not entirely unconnected to the songs, as Bruce Springstonehenge, for example, has undertones of Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark. But mostly the songs are energetic and interesting riffs and beats, making an unconventional but enjoyable album.

Even more rudeness with Fucked Up Friends by Tobacco. First track Street Trash is a catchy but short lo-fi introduction, leading in to what seems like the entirely disimilar Truck Sweat until the signature synth sound kicks in. Tobacco's mostly instrumental music switches between sparse beats to fuller synthscapes. The heaviest track is Dirt, because it features an Aesop Rock rap, otherwise the album is fifteen tracks of fairly similar synths over a drum track, ignoring the five seconds of silence that is the thirteenth track. As long as you like the general feel of the music there is plenty to be appreciated, and Fucked Up Friends doesn't sound repetitive. The up-tempo Grease Wizard gives the impression that the most distinctive tracks bookend the album, though.

Thriller is Part Chimp's third original album, and with it they are up to their third bass player. Opening track Trad promises more of the same heavy guitars heard previously, but it is as deceptive a start as it is catchy. The band's progression of becoming less frenetic and more measured from their first to second album is also present on Thriller, Part Chimp somehow managing to slow their sound down a little bit more. But this isn't maudlin reflection, there is an impressive intensity to all the songs, an energy released through controlled explosions, Super Moody being a prime example. Part Chimp are clearly honing their skills, refining their style, and by the end of the album Starpiss is raining down, building up from a drizzle in to an epic storm. But all the way through is the rainbow that keeps you mesmerised.

Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions return after their 2001 debut with second album Through the Devil Softly. Hope's wispy vocals float above the appealing mostly acoustic music as before, and it isn't until third track For the Rest of Your Life that the album shows its first unorthodox and haunting echoes. Yet even without reverb or delay the music can be strongly evocative, as Thinking Like That shows, its twin guitars creating an unsettling effect against Hope's calming voice, a voice that relieves any amount of tension in gems like There's a Willow and Fall Aside. It has been a long wait for the second album, and the result is a beautiful collection of songs that continues and expands on the maturity of the songwriting seen in the first.

I didn't like Kids by MGMT at first. So irritating did I find the repetitive squawling snythesiser that I reached a point where I turned off the radio rather than listen to it. I was fully prepared to dislike the band's following single, so it came as quite a surprise that I quite enjoy it. Indeed, Time to Pretend is a fantastic song, with powerful music and lyrics that are both catchy and compelling, a song strong enough to make me reconsider their previous single and even to buy the album, Oracular Spectacular. It's a shame, in that case, that Time to Pretend is the first track on the album, as it turns out to be the only song I want to listen to. The few times I've listened past the first track, mostly skipping the horrbly bland second one, I encounter some awful compression artefacts, and whether it is intentional or a problem with the mastering process the sound quality is unappealing for the genre. There could be some good songs hidden on Oracular Spectacular, but I simply don't care to find them.

More profanity catches my eye when Fuck Buttons gets a good review in NME with debut album Tarot Sport. My first impression is that I really ought to read reviews more thoroughly, or use various resources to sample music, as I am taken a little by surprise by the electronica that greets me on a first listen. Not that I don't like electronic music, I simply wasn't expecting it, and indeed Tarot Sport is a brilliant album. All seven tracks merge in to one, flowing seamlessly from one track to another whilst retaining individual and recognisable identities. The steady, repetitive beats over which are layered evolving, progressing harmonies and electronic additions, combine with the ebb and flow as each track flows in to the next to create an engaging and compelling soundtrack to... whatever you happen to be doing. Tarot Sport is what to play when you want to feel like you are the centre of attention. The glorious music is positive and uplifting, yet suitably understated.

The opening of Why There Are Mountains, debut album for the excellently named Cymbals Eat Guitars, starts off raucously, before settling in to a more subdued and standard rhythm, returning to the energetic opening for the refrain. The song seems to be a suitable metaphor for the album as a whole, offering short bursts of inspiration and passion but generally treading familiar ground. Why There Are Mountains is a pleasant enough album, but there isn't the spark that sets it apart from many other albums in the same genre. There is certainly promise found in Cymbals Eat Guitars, which will hopefully be realised in future releases.

The Drums start their debut EP Summertime! with an effervescent number about the spirit of surfing, and continue the happy theme with more whistling and finger clicking. It seems like The Drums are trying to see how jolly they can make any lyrics seem, however negative the theme, by adding bright almost fifties-style music. And it works quite well, until the pace is slowed down to a miserable crawl with Submarine, at which point the veneer of positivity is displaced. Happily, the hand-clap augmented beat of Down by the Water picks up the pace again, although it perhaps should have been swarpped with final track I Felt Stupid, to give the EP an ending more aligned with its start.

Every time I start listening to Local Natives debut album Gorilla Manor I get the impression that I am in for a treat. Compelling music and well-measured vocal harmonies greet me with Wide Eyes and continue with the delightfully sparse Airplanes, making it no surprise that these tracks are also tagged as single releases. But by the time I get half-way through the album, to other single Camera Talk, all the songs are blending together in to something curiously forgettable. Gorilla Manor isn't bad, but nothing really stands out beyond the opening tracks and it all ends up feeling rather bland.

The opening few seconds of jangling guitar on Versions, from the deliciously named Au, teases me in to being thoroughly optimistic. It's unfortunate then that when the vocals quickly come in they are a miserable drone, that whilst not tuneless nonetheless leave that impression. It is a shame, as the music is lively and enjoyable, but what sounds like a cat and a fox having a heated competition to make the most annoying wail can hardly be ignored. Versions is another album where I would really enjoy an instrumental version.

First You Have to Get Mad is a recording of The Joy Formidable live at The Garage. The set contains most of the songs from debut album A Balloon Called Moaning with a few changes. But, most importantly, First You Have to Get Mad captures The Joy Formidable in all their energetic and extended glory. You even get to hear the amp blow up all over again, and the band finishing the encore without the guitar. Simply producing a live album is quite a bold and generous recording for a band still so young, making it even more of a treasure to listen to.

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