Archive for March, 2013

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 29th of March 2011 as part of a short review segment. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

Panic! At The Disco – Vices And Virtues

 

Take what happened to Oasis (albeit with considerably less physical brawling), subtract another band member from that equation, and place said equation right after the band’s second album, which was drastically different in tone in style to its first. Most bands in that situation, even after the sudden success that Panic! At The Disco (now with exclamation point back in its rightful place) achieved, would either add new members or disband completely. P!ATD chose neither, and now drummer Spencer Smith and singer (as well as newly-multi-instrumentalist) Brendon Urie form a duo that boldly carries on the band’s confused and fragile legacy in the face of adversity. What that legacy is is difficult to put your finger on. Their debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was a double-platinum slice of alternative-pop-rock awesomeness with an obscure, dark Vaudevillian twist. Then Pretty. Odd. came around, morphing their sound into something light-hearted, musically-complex and interesting, drawing inspiration from the baroque pop of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Many of their earlier fans left in droves, appalled at the fact that a band could mature so drastically. But for all the maturity gained from their misunderstood second album, it didn’t help establish a sure identity.

 

 

P!ATD emerge as a duo on their third album

P!ATD emerge as a duo on their third album

 

My hopes were not too high for Vices And Virtues, especially after I heard that the band became a duo. But they do not disappoint, and succeed in what they set out to achieve: to take the angst and mainstream production of their debut and meld it with the ambition, whimsy and experimentation of their sophomore record. The formula works really well, especially when you hear how damn catchy some of these tracks are. It really helps that lead singer Brendon has a captivating voice, that at first was derided for its supposed similarities to Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump’s. Many of the songs are carried by his croon, and no more so than on ‘Always’, an acoustic ballad that provides a brief respite from the high-spirited energy of first single ‘The Ballad Of Mona Lisa’ or ‘Memories’. There’s an undeniable sweetness in the sound of his voice juxtaposed with the forlorn attitude of the lyrics in ‘Sarah Smiles’: another pop delight. Pianos twinkle, strings & synths rise and fall dramatically, and marimbas, xylophones, accordion and even a children’s choir all add to the swing of the show. These arrangements make the ‘pop’ in ‘pop-rock’ cool again, and Vices & Virtues your latest guilty pleasure. Enjoy in many servings.

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 29th of March 2011 as part of a short review segment. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

Beady Eye – Different Gear, Still Speeding

 

Recognise the name? I didn’t at first. In 2009, after years of infighting between rock ‘n roll’s notorious ‘Cain and Abel’ (Noel and Liam Gallagher…respectively, perhaps?), Oasis split up. Or to put it correctly, the principal song-writer and guitarist, Noel, could not take any more fighting with his brother and quit the band. Thank goodness it was after they performed at MyCokeFest in South Africa in April of that year: one of the best concerts I’ve ever had the fortune of attending…

 

Beady Eye is Oasis, minus 1 x Gallagher brother

Beady Eye is Oasis, minus 1 x Gallagher brother

 

Beady Eye is the result of the same band, with minor line-up changes, continuing in a new direction. As with The Strokes’ Angles, I’m sure you could deduce something of that when looking at the title of the album (the little-girl-riding-an-alligator cover is quite surreal). And wait till you get to the music… At first listen, Beady Eye shares much the same characteristics of its predecessor: obsession with 60’s rock, especially The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (which co-incidentally the thinly-veiled ‘Beatles And Stones’ is about) and a stadium-sized frenzy of guitars and ‘lads on a night on the town’ attitude. But surprisingly, Liam Gallagher can pen songs and not just sing them with his Lennon-esque swagger. The album delights with the rollicking album-opener ‘Four Letter Word’, charming ‘The Roller’ & ‘For Anyone’, slide-guitar-infused ‘Millionaire’ and its highlight ‘Bring The Light’ – all 3 minutes 39 seconds of its 50’s style rock ‘n roll piano, a la Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard. Liam’s vocals haven’t sounded this great in years, and he shows a great range in his highly-recognizable voice. The album has a few overblown missteps, like the meandering ‘Wigwam’, but is a solid and undeniably passionate record of something new from something old…or new; it depends on how you look at it. Cast a beady eye over this one if you can.

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 29th of March 2011 as part of a short review segment. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

The Strokes – Angles

 

Five years after their last message to the world (2006’s First Impressions Of Earth), a lot has happened in Strokes country. All but one of them worked on solo projects, and attempts to reunite in the studio in 2009 were fractured and shambolic. Despite these diversions, they have returned to us in March 2011 with their fourth output, Angles. For the first time, The Strokes have recorded an album democratically, allowing all five of them to contribute to the band’s most schizophrenic, experimental and ambitious album, after lead singer Julian Casablancas steered the ship entirely through their breakout successes. Now, like it or not, the band has definitely morphed their sound, grown up but yet still kept much of their identity: beautifully intertwined guitarwork and a moody, iconic frontman, veering between nonchalant, rebellious and enraged without a moment’s notice.

 

'Angles' is The Strokes at their most democratic

‘Angles’ is The Strokes at their most democratic

 

Due to input from all ‘angles’ (where the album gets its name from), it’s often a lucky packet at times, but many of the bolder statements tend to grow on you. Standout tracks have to be the first single ‘Under Cover Of Darkness’ (which retains much of the swagger of the Is This It era, but adds backing vocals and a higher singing range for Julian), ‘Two Kinds Of Happiness’ & ‘Taken For A Fool’ (the melodic grandeur of playful, catchy 80’s-style choruses, interesting rhythms and intricate dual-guitarwork) and the skittish defiant confusion and rage that is ‘You’re So Right’. Others, like the shimmering 80’s electropop chill of ‘Games’ (which sounds like an outtake of Julian’s solo album) and the intriguing percussion-less tango of ‘Call Me Back’ definitely need a few listens to get into. But the feel-good vibes of ‘Gratisfaction’ show the band not as the cool, us-against-the-world garage-rock gang of the past, but as a soulful group not scared to be open, have some fun and not take themselves too seriously. Therefore, as it is with any fledgling democracy, it takes time for things to settle down and move on. And this sums up Angles exactly – give it a chance.

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 13th of March 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

On Valentine’s Day this year, one of the most important and inventive rock bands of the last 15 years decided to announce the existence of their eighth studio album. And that it will be released in 5 days time. Then, just to wreck havoc with fans and the musical press, they released it a day earlier than expected. Go figure… As sudden as the release of The King Of Limbs (named after what is supposedly a 1000 year-old tree in Wiltshire, England), a tidal wave of opinion flooded the internet, and people were desperately trying to put theirs out before everyone else’s, rushing through a few hurried listens of the short 8-song product and then spurting out what they could glean from them.

 

Album cover for The King Of Limbs

Album cover for The King Of Limbs

 

We should’ve seen it coming. After In Rainbows ingenious marketing scheme, whereby the album was released on the band’s website and fans could pay what they like for it (essentially ‘donating’ to the band, if they chose to pay), TKOL’s release format adds to the sheer unpredictability of a band that chooses to do what it wants, and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Every output of theirs is always a dense affair, so I thought I’d be reasonable and weigh in with my opinion of it after I let it sink in for a few weeks. TKOL is their shortest album to date, briskly ebbing and flowing through its 37 minutes like a dream. Continuing their experimental expedition into electronic territory that started with 2000’s ground-breaking Kid A, the album prickles and hums with little bleeps and bloops, ethereal background vocals, imposing, fuzzy bass and clockwork, yet uncommonly-timed drumming. Anyone holding out for a return to the alternative guitar-rock anthems that defined Radiohead in the 90’s will probably be disappointed. Guitars are very downplayed, and the sonic influences seem to be more from underground electronica artists than anything else. Many good bands don’t want to remain static, but rather mature and move on. It’s exciting to see Radiohead wanting to pursue this route, despite my love for their earlier works like The Bends and OK Computer.

 

 

It'll be interesting to see how these new tracks will be pulled off live

It’ll be interesting to see how these new tracks will be pulled off live

 

 

The album starts off with ‘Bloom’, a real ‘grower’ in the true sense of the term – an atmospheric, woozy, ambient jumble of looping ideas: an intentionally lop-sided, clattering rhythm, a repeated piano pattern, an evocative, warbling bass lick, and all the while Thom’s vocals float above it all like a swirling cloud. Incredibly weird, but it definitely lures one in with its cryptic lyrics, such as ‘Open your mouth wide/The universal sigh/And while the ocean blooms/It’s what keeps me alive’. ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ is a taut, claustrophobic and tense track that chugs along intently with a sort of African groove. Sinister and almost funky, the guitars link up how they do in ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ (from their previous album), but in a very different mood. A panic seems to be setting in with the beat, and it leaves the listener feeling very unsettled, especially when an accusatory Thom wails ‘You’ve got some nerve coming here/You stole it all/Give it back’. Continuing from where ‘Magpie’ left off, ‘Little By Little’ tumbles out the speakers with a toy box of rising and falling basslines, jazzy drumming and surprisingly tender vocals, with rare seductive lyrics for a Radiohead song, such as ‘I’m such a tease and you’re such a flirt’. The confusion climaxes mid-album with ‘Feral’ – a near-totally instrumental, abstract, cacophonous shuffle, which combines many of the elements of the previous three tracks. It has a very difficult, throbbing melody to follow, and a song for which first-time Radiohead listeners (and many others too) will be left wondering ‘Huh?’ This is definitely an album of two halves, as the second one is profoundly different in tone and in mood to the first – more nature than machine, more beautiful and serene. The first single ‘Lotus Flower’ is one of the album’s standouts, not just for its wacky black-and-white music video of Thom’s spastic dance moves, but for harnessing the best elements of the album’s sonic architecture into a cohesive whole. The bass silkily propels forward with an addictive backbeat, one more suited to a late night post-clubbing comedown, and the ethereal, falsetto vocals unfurl outwards just like the lotus flower. Added to this awesome groove are the occasional handclaps and spacey effects: a sexy aural cocktail indeed.

 

 

Stills taken from Radiohead's music video for 'Lotus Flower'

Stills taken from Radiohead’s music video for ‘Lotus Flower’

 

TKOL has some underlying Buddhist themes of the cycle of life, death and rebirth, along with many metaphors involving nature (jellyfish, flowers, magpies, lakes, dragonflies, etc). This is a very interesting progression from the overarching themes of Radiohead’s work, which have mostly been about the conflict between man and machine, humanity and technology. Here it seems that the natural world is the focal motif. ‘Codex’ is one excellent example of the thematic change, and this piano-based ballad should be hailed as one of Radiohead’s masterpieces, in the vein of ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ or ‘Nude’. The murky piano sounds as if it’s being recorded underwater, like the chords are forming part of a requiem. A harmonic string orchestra and horn section enter about midway through, adding to the bliss, and once again, Thom’s vocals are sweet and melodic. The lyrics echo the first track’s imagery of jumping into a clear lake, with only nature around him.

 

It's time to bring out the piano...

It’s time to bring out the piano…

 

The sounds of twittering birds and possibly a day in the countryside segues ‘Codex’ with ‘Give Up The Ghost’: TKOL’s most emotionally-vulnerable, organic track. Framed by a lone acoustic guitar, a soft, spiraling lead guitar by Jonny, and a chorus of background vocals (alternating their chants between ‘don’t haunt me’ and ‘don’t hurt me’), this song has an immersive, rustic feel to it; territory that Radiohead have never really ventured into before. We are now a long way away from the album’s opening, jittery tracks. This chapter in Radiohead history closes with ‘Separator’ – my personal favourite from TKOL, and one where the band dynamic is at its strongest, most vibrant self. A crisp drumbeat by Paul Selway, a lush introduction of delicate, shimmering guitars from halfway in, and a smooth bass throughout make up this intriguing number. Some conspiracy theorists say that it alludes to a possible second set of songs to be released in the near future. The offending lyric (‘If you think that this is over/Then you’re wrong’), the conjunctional nature of its title, and the album’s sudden ending on a supposed happy note might be good evidence for that theory, but I doubt the band would intend on doing that. Each album of theirs is a complete package that needs to be unwrapped slowly to appreciate its intricacies. And the dreamy ‘Separator’ bookends their current progression from In Rainbows to now near-perfectly. Its final notes and heavenly background chorus will be echoing in your ears long after you’re done listening. Stylistically, this album feels like a long lost twin of Amnesiac (2001’s misunderstood electronic smorgasbord), just like In Rainbows seemed spiritually connected with OK Computer (both combining experimentalism and crowd-pleasing ideals), it’s not going to completely revolutionize the industry as previous outputs of theirs have, but this soulful snapshot will just solidify their position as a band of an esteemed quality, able to morph into whatever they feel like and still fascinate listeners and critics. Radiohead have gone for the bold and avant-garde, and get the gold again.

 

Tracklisting:

  1. Bloom
  2. Morning Mr Magpie
  3. Little By Little
  4. Feral
  5. Lotus Flower
  6. Codex
  7. Give Up The Ghost
  8. Separator

 

Release dates: 18 February 2011 (digital), 28 March 2011 (physical)