Another Monday morning, another race to the coveted Londonist album of the week award. So will we be giving it to the new Audioslave album? Perhaps Gorillaz will be deserving. Maybe we'll fall for the latest offering from The Coral. We might even take a wee trip leftfield and bestow it upon Four Tet. Read on dear readers and let Londonist Music guide you alphabetically through this week's essential shopping decision.
Audioslave - Out Of Exile
Well it's not going to be Audioslave, which isn't to say that this isn't a pretty damn fine album, it is. And whilst it's not exactly breaking any new ground it's a far more coherent effort than 2002's debut and packs a solid juggernaut punch when at it's best.
With it's sights set firmly in the heavy British blues rock of the early 70s (Sabbath, Zeppelin, early Queen) this is far closer to the doom laden sounds of Soundgarden than the frenetic political fury of Rage Against The Machine. For the better part Tom Morello reigns in his fretboard wizardry to fire off molten steel clad riffs and yet can still shred the archetypla guitar solo into a void of disrupted scratches whilst fellow RATM bandmates Tim Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (drums) lay down a solid granite beat. But it's Chris Cornell's unmistakable razor shredded banshee howl of a voice that keeps the sound anchored in memories of his own band rather than the others'. There are still some great big arena sized pop stompers like Doesn't Remind Me, Dandelion ot the RHCP funk of first single Be Yourself but generally such as with the title track or Drown Me Slowly you can't help but think this could be the album Soundgarden might have made if they hadn't split. Not that that's a bad thing, however the down side to this is that occasionally the album can drag and it could have done without winding down to the somewhat uninspiring live version of Like A Stone after such a blast.
Still if your air guitar's a Strat and your amps' Marshall then you could do much worse and Mike Pattenden at The Times agrees with a rock heavy 4 stars for
(a) follow-up (that) is a more crafted affair, less obviously in thrall to Led Zeppelin but equally muscular.
You can always make your own mind up and listen to Audioslave on the NME site.
The Coral - The Invisible Invasion
Now this Londonista has never quite been able to 'get' The Coral. We'll happily admit that they have a knack of writing punchy Mersey popbeats but it just doesn't float out particular boat so we'll hand over to the folks at Drowned In Sound whose 4 star review shows they're more than happy to take to the waterways with James Skelly and the lads.
Because what The Coral actually manage to do is rummage through both theirs and their parents' history books and assemble a modern day collage of the best of five decades worth of incendiary, groundbreaking head music.
Well that's a pretty fair recommendation if ever we heard one and perhaps we should give it a few more spins on the XFM listening post since
'The Invisible Invasion', like both it's predecessors, takes one or two listens to really get into, but once there has an engaging appeal about it that makes it possibly The Coral's most obvious "singles" album to date.
Over at the 5 star Independent review Andy Gill sees it as
another collection of enigmatic pop reflections set to gilt-edged melodies.
With The Invisible Invasion, the influences are, save for a couple of tracks, less easily traceable than before. This is a more confident, homogenous effort than previous albums, though with no diminution in range and manner of instrumental detail. The usual complement of snaking psychedelic guitar, wheedling organ and chipper rhythms is augmented here and there by melodica, glockenspiel or creaky violin solo, but it all seems more subtly balanced here.
OK enough already it's still not the album of the week.
Four Tet - Everything Ecstatic
No advanced plays for the latest by the man known only to his mother as Keiran Hebden but since the boss is a big fan we'd better make sure that someone somewhere says something nice about this album.
Everything Ecstatic, is probably his most accomplished to date. It's certainly his most lively.
Well that's a good start from Jack Foley at Indie London, who finds
plenty to admire in its energetic blend of drum breaks, samples and quirky electronica.
Still this is an album for the heavy hitters so it's off to Alex Petredis who awards 4 desirable Guardian stars. He's certainly enamoured with the move away from the appalingly named folktronica and an album that
opens with a track seemingly designed to scare off any new fans that Rounds brought in, and deliver Four Tet back to the wonks. Erroneously named A Joy, it features a maddening, increasingly distorted one-note bassline, spluttering drum samples and wave after wave of horrible electronic noise.
the percussive clatter feels less like having your head shoved into the blades of a powerful electric fan and more like Can's Jaki Liebezeit going at full pelt, while the track's hook - an irresistible, wordless, high-pitched female vocal - seems like a skewed, Anglicised take on hip-hop producer Kanye West's penchant for helium vocals. It is heady, wonderful stuff.
Hold on a moment. Rewind back to The Coral and Andy Gill's Independent review where
the most noticeable influence is that of Can's Jaki Liebezeit on drummer Ian Skelly, who brings Liebezeit's trademark cyclical rhythms to a couple of tracks.
So The Coral are actually Four Tet yes? Either that or it's still de rigeur for music journalists to continually reference Can in the hope that one day the rest of us will catch up with Krautrock and stop buying Coldplay albums. Either way we need to keep the Editor happy so we'll round off with a final word from Mr P. who finds that Four Tet
certainly succeeds in showing up how uninspired major dance acts have been sounding of late. There are more ideas in a few minutes of Everything Ecstatic than on most big dance producers' recent albums.
But still no album of the week.
Gorillaz - Demon Days
While Damon Albarn has been waiting for Graham to return to the fold and write the single greatest British guitar album of all time he's been filling his time with some of the more interesting forays out of the standard muso career path. There is of course the current incarnation of Blur, the Peter Gabriel like forays into Mali Music, making tea for charity records and some oddball idea about a cartoon band. And if the successs of the last Gorillaz album is anything to go by Graham better get back on the scene pretty sharpish or Blur will become yet another footnote in the history of British popular music. Because those animated anarchists 2D, Murdoch, Noodle and Russell are back with a dark'n'dirty funked up electric eclectic pop filled downer of a record. So throw your hands in the air like you just don't care because finally we have the Londonist album of the week.
Whilst Dangermouse's superlative production is being rightfully lauded it's Albarn's effortless ability at taking gentle pop ditties and mashing them up that make Demon Days such a wonderful album. Hence you get Roots Manuva rapping over the Moby meets broken ring tone of All Alone or the pelvic grinding funk of Every Planet We Reach Is Dead descending into mournful blues. Then there's the twisted baggy disco of Dare or the blissed out gospel finale that is the title track.
Another reason to love Demon Days is that it's not the vanity project you might expect. Much kudos has to be given to the 'special guest stars' that pepper the album. De La Soul, the aforementioned Roots Manuva, Sean Rider, Neneh Cherry, Martina Topley Bird, Ike Turner and Dennis Hopper - yes that's THE Dennis Hopper all add fine touches. Albarn himself often finds his own vocals dropped down in the mix allowing his drawl to be as much an instrument as the beats and squeaks. Along with Arcade Fire one of the most inventive albums of the year so far. Full points then to the NME for agreeing with us
Demon Days may end 2005 as one of the year’s most celebrated albums. Before you even consider the sonic and melodic innovation paraded through the album there’s so much crammed into each of these fifteen songs (without any one of them sounding overproduced or cluttered) that repeated listening is a must. With Demon Days, repeated listening is like throwing a dolphin a fire escape – entertaining the first time, impossible to predict the outcome on each subsequent attempt. There’s always something new to enjoy.
Enjoy Gorillaz without paying for it over at XFM
But wait! There's two of us here in the Londonist Music dungeon and Ken's about to rock the boat (there's a pun there somewhere)
Colleen - The Golden Breaks
The Golden Morning Breaks by Colleen is an album outside our usual straightforward guitar/rhythm section/vocals sphere but no less enjoyable for that.
Now, at Londonist we find it hard at the best of times trying to get across how certain music sounds; with something as complex and beautiful as this we are struggling even more. What Cecile Schott, who is Colleen, says are her influences are "16th century lute songs by John Dowlands (from whom the album takes its name), 17th century compositions for viola da gamba (an ancestor to the cello), 20th century composers, kora techniques of West Africa and Indonesian folk and gamelan." Clearly not our usual Londonist Music fodder, the songs do not carry vocals and they do not follow the normal verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. They feel improvised, and therefore fresh; the melodies feel organic, not forced; and they carry a tremendous variety of instrumentation without feeling like a pointless demonstration of virtuosity. An instrumental album, the CD label artwork hints at a music box but it's clear from the moment the music fades in that this is a record is far too complex and far too clever to be considered 'music box'.
I'll Read You A Story is the stand-out track for us, bringing to mind a dark fairytale with its atmospheric opening suggesting dusk in a forest and the steady underlying guitar rhythm giving momentum to the piece suggesting perhaps a walking-pace stalk and chase. The conclusion of the track does not suggest a happy ending. In fact, Tim Burton would do well to seek out Colleen to soundtrack his films: his pleasingly dark tales and Colleen's atmospheric songs are a natural fit.
There are happier tracks on this album, of course, the perfectly-titled opener Summer Water being one. If the weather's getting you down, stick your iPod on, you close your eyes and just imagine yourself bobbing up and down gently on a lazy sunny afternoon. The idea recurs in The Happy Sea, with the instruments suggesting the ebb and flow of a sea, before calming down to a gentle loll. Water features again in the more-driving Bubbles Which On The Water Swim; and if that wasn't enough water for you, Mining In The Rain recreates the pitter-patter of rain to a scarily-realistic degree. Title track The Golden Morning Breaks is another 'does what it says on the tin' job with a quiet daybreak gradually becoming a more insistent hive of activity. You don't have to be a particularly visionary or imaginative person to allow these tracks to generate the almost-hallucinatory feelings (we presume are) intended. Colleen's skill in evoking vision with the use of music is extraordinary.
The album fits together as a whole, with the individual tracks merging into each other; not in a horrible single-paced Oasis album kind of way, but simply through the vision behind each song being consistent. In that sense, this album shares its roots less with modern pop music and more with the grand works of classical/baroque music in which certain motifs provide a unifying thread through the whole piece but avoiding simple repetition.
To get a better idea of the sound of Colleen's music, you should check out the streaming feed of her critically-acclaimed first album, Everyone Alive Wants Answers, available from her website (go to the 'Sounds' section). You can also go to The Leaf Label site to find downloadable goodies (MP3s and a video, when we looked). (users of the Safari browser, you'll need to unblock pop-up windows to view this site properly - don't spend ages like a Londonist muppet complaining about the site not working.) We struggled finding it on the Flash site, so try doing a 'Find' on the Basic Site instead. Whilst The Golden Morning Breaks is somewhat different to her first album, in that Colleen made a conscious effort to make a record that could be played live, EAWA gives a good indication of the style of music, in as much as there is a 'style' involved.
The Golden Morning Breaks is an extraordinarily beautiful album that demonstrates strongly the ideal formula for longevity: initially-accessible tracks that engage more than the sense of hearing, containing layers and subtlety of detail that reward repeated listening.
It is a very worthy Londonist Album of the Week.
Colleen - The Golden Morning Breaks is released on The Leaf Label and can be obtained at the Post Everything website, if you're struggling to find it anywhere else, although it should be available at all good record stores and some rubbish ones too.
Indeed all of the above albums will be found in both good and bad record stores as well as a few decent web sites where you can pay up to 25% less that the over the counter price. You know what they are.
So there we have it. A tie! No penalty shoot outs here, just two albums we like a little more than the others.
Also out this week:
Belle And Sebastian - Push Barman To Open Old Wounds
Stephen Malkmus and the Jiks - Face The Truth
Screaming Trees - Oceans Of Confusion: Songs 1989 - 1996
Alkaline Trio - Crimson
Alabama 3 - Outlaw
Of these we'd like to drop a quick nod to Mark Lannegan's compilation of the Screaming Trees' Epic years. Always one of the most underrated of the bands to emerge from the 'grunge era' and also by far one of the best: firing off gargantuan but melodic dirt rock shot through with a garage band psychadelia and tied together with Lannegan's soul destroyed delta blues lament of a voice. Out of all the post hardcore bands currently jumping on the revivalist cash cow please God let the Trees put away their many and varied differences and get back out on the road. If you're in any way a fan of rock music and haven't heard these guys do yourselves a favour and rush out now to purchase if not this then Dust, which oddly enough we're listening to right now. And for once the promise of two unreleased tracks means we'll be happy to shell out for a bunch of songs we already own. And let's face it, you just can't have too many copies of Sworn and Broken.