Tag Archives: rock

“And then, when it can’t get any more laughable: clarinet solo.”

Hmm. The NME’s review really enjoys pissing on Mr. Bellamy’s parade. The best bits on The Resistance usually occur when the band push their sound to polarising extremes. Hence why “I Belong To You (+ Mon Cœur S’Ouvre À Ta Voix)” is an absolute riot, in spite of its threat to break into Elton John doing cabaret at any given moment. Yes, Bellamy’s French accent resembles a daytripping tourist on acid. Yes, there is a celebratory “Woo!” at the beginning that belongs firmly on Broadway. But, as with so many of Muse’s best songs, it is the wavering on the right side of ridiculous that is the song’s making. Understandably therefore, the clarinet solo near the end is a work of genius – beautifully written; played with just the right tone and character; interlocking marvellously with the rest of the music.

So why, after all this star-struck amazement and wonder, does the band then have to ruin their credibility with utter rubbish like “Guiding Light” – a song so mediocre and in thrall to U2 at their very worst that it should be locked up in a secret cupboard in the headquarters of Magic FM.

Muse – I Belong To You (+Mon Coeur S’Ouvre A Ta Voix)

Muse – Uprising

After last month’s protracted treasure hunt and resulting download-only ‘treat’, “United States Of Eurasia”, today’s radio waves were dominated by exclusive first plays of Muse’s official lead single for The Resistance, entitled “Uprising”. That this new song is the album opener suggests that it is a definitive introduction to the prevailing themes on the album; judging by what Matt Bellamy has said in a video interview with Zane Lowe, we can definitely think of The Resistance as a set of songs that are carefully structured to tell a story. From Mr. Bellamy’s intimations, this unifying conceptual story is one of a conflict-defying romance taking place amidst the geo-political strife of the 21st century, replete with corrupt governments and shady transgressions of democratic ideals.

You may have read just how much of a hammering “United States Of Eurasia” received from music writers, myself included. This criticism was completely justified – it’s a messy, thoughtless, overblown piece of work that does nothing to play to the strengths of the band. “Uprising”, then, has been dealt an easy hand, for to trump the only previous sneak preview fans have had of the band’s latest creation requires no great effort.

The song begins with a neat sonic trick, with the bass emerging from the sound of a record accelerating up to speed. From there on, we are plunged head-first into a glam-rock schaffel, where an octave-skipping, gurgling bass line dovetails with a Doctor Who-aping synth melody. It’s catchy, enjoyable and instantly more edifying than “United States…”, with periodic hand claps leading into a solitary, tasteful squeal of guitar that is much more in keeping with Matt Bellamy’s style, and certainly does not digress into Brian May-style stupidity.

The vocals, when they appear, fifty seconds in, are nonetheless surprising and out of character, with Bellamy singing in a substantially lower register than he is famous for. Perhaps more alarmingly, his pronunciation and intonation is all over the shop, with many of the lines slurring into the kind of gloopy drawl I last detested on Green Day’s “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” – a song that ingrained in me a deep-seated hatred of Billie Joe Armstrong. Lyrically, we’ve got all the traditional Bellamy-isms: shady government propaganda; drugs being pumped into the water supply; the unspecified “truth” being kept from the public. It’s all there, and it’s all unintentionally rather amusing in its naïvety. For me, there’s always been a substantial gap between Matt Bellamy’s undoubted curiosity and intelligence (look at the books he reads, and the stuff he quotes in interviews) and his ability to write sophisticated lyrics that mirror these concerns, and “Uprising”, sadly, is going to do little to dispel this notion.

Musically, the song is definitely a good egg, in a perfectly harmless manner. Perhaps the Devon three-piece really do believe they are pushing the boundaries of rock music with their tasteful synth arpeggios and crisply distorted bass tones. If so, they’re sadly mistaken, because “Uprising” breaks fewer genre conventions than a non-stick frying pan. Nevertheless, the song is solidly written (complete with entertaining interplay between guitar solo and synth backing) and efficiently executed, with minimal flab, and a well-constructed structure that builds effectively, and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Just don’t expect too many surprises.

Jarvis Cocker – Discosong (Pilooski Mix)

Shame on the Mercury judges for not nominating Jarvis Cocker’s refreshingly urgent Further Complications. While you digest that lamentation, you can also frazzle your brain by listening to the recent Pilooski remix of the album’s closing track, “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)”, which is highly recommended, and is free.

The acclaimed French electronic artist re-imagines the song as a hushed, slithering dance track, with a lobotomising bass-line complemented by a crisp beat and inventive whistling percussive noises that leap out unexpectedly. Virtually nothing remains from the original – even the vocals are tampered with and re-ordered, occasionally warped into minor explosions that blurt out of the speakers. About two minutes in, a strange, whining, groaning synth hovers perilously between the channels, and the distant chiming of a guitar whispers through. A minute later, there is a wonderfully unexpected breakdown with a sweep across a harp, after which the rest of the instruments cut back in with greater intensity.

The whole remix is beautifully crafted, charting the mournful depths of the song in an insistent, nagging manner. By the end, as the harp winds down to a whooshing gurgle, there is absolute closure. It’s a remix that evokes the very best of former DFA remixes, in particular the closing minutes of their liberal interpretation of Gorillaz’s “Dare”, and it bodes extremely well for Pilooski’s remix of LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33, due to be released on September 14 as part of the aptly titled 45:33 Remixes.

Muse – United States Of Eurasia

I’ve defended Muse in front of a fair bit of criticism over the years. While sniffy critics have derided them for their populist, stuck-in-the-past approach, I insisted that their craft was accomplished, ambitious and never lost touch with enjoyability. And now they have unleashed “United States Of Eurasia” on us…

So! The first six rounds of Muse’s latest treasure hunt have been completed, and with this success for the notoriously fervent and geeky Muse fan-base comes the prize: the complete upload of “United States Of Eurasia”, the fourth track on their forthcoming fifth album, entitled The Resistance. A lot has been written on fan-sites with each successive upload, but I’ve mostly reserved judgement on it, preferring instead to wait for the whole song to emerge – after all, it’s a bit ridiculous to assess a song based on a 30-second clip.

Sadly, for all its massive-grin-inducing pomp and bombast, I’m finding it difficult to endorse “United States Of Eurasia”. The song is an almost four-minute long romp through the more unpalatable reaches of Queen’s œuvre, with the cavalcade of multi-tracked vocals, wailing guitars and thumping drums only slightly tempered by some tasteful East-European orchestral arrangements. It’s very low on subtlety, it’s very very BIG, and I’m still not sure whether I like it, or am simply smiling along with the undoubted audacity Muse are showing by creating such a throwback of a song.

The song begins with a light romantic piano accompaniment to Matt Bellamy’s vocals – at this point taking on an oddly gentle timbre – which is surprisingly reminiscent of the kind of supermarket dross conjured up by Coldplay. After a minute, soft, regular, percussion breaks into the mix, recalling memories of woeful 80s stadium ballads. Then, suddenly, at 1:17, a Brian May-style lead guitar line storms in and everything goes very Queen. Lest we get too comfortable, an actually pretty interesting orchestral arrangement is then unleashed, and before long the whole thing is rollicking along at a pace somewhere between “Knights Of Cydonia” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Predictably, it’s insanely catchy and hook-laden, and by the time the song explodes in a confetti-shower of multi-tracked vocal harmonies, screaming out “Eura-sia! Sia! Sia Sia!”, it’s bound to be pretty ingrained in your mind. Who knows? In a questionable indictment of the state of British music, it will probably be hailed as a novelty hit and roam around the higher reaches of the charts for weeks. I’d prefer to salute it as a relentless pastiche of an oft-trodden path, but whether or not I can actually approve it, I remain unsure.

Leaving Muse to their own devices, sans external producer, trapped in the basement studio of a villa on Lake Como, was never going to result in an album low on bombast – and only time will tell if the rest of The Resistance is similarly schizophrenic and cheesy. Reminiscing back to the days of Absolution, Muse were many things: pretentious, portentous, musically ambitious. But in “United States Of Eurasia” I see very little melodic accomplishment and a tendency for the band’s strengths to be overwrought into mere comedy, for all the ominous subtext of the song’s theme. That well-worn grin on my face is starting to hurt.

Spoon – Got Nuffin

For me, the appeal of Spoon lies in their economy and their minimalism. On an album like Kill The Moonlight, Britt Daniel and co. showed off a range of styles and structures, but never let any element get ahead of the others – consequently, nothing runs further than it needs to, and no song is extended beyond the bare minimum required to convey a lyrical theme. My only hesitation with it was that some songs felt slightly sketchy and underdeveloped. Pleasingly, on 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, an album about which I have enthused much, Spoon showed a mastery of their art: the style is still almost goadingly economical, but certain songs are fleshed out with greater maturity. “The Underdog”, for instance has a glossy horn section that I simply could not have imagined them using on a previous album.

The prospect of new music, then, is an exciting one, and the latest EP, entitled Got Nuffin, will offer a tantalising snapshot of the band’s current fascinations. The title track, “Got Nuffin”, is right up there at the top of their game. The drums are crisp and urgent; Daniel’s vocal tics and yelps are still very much a fixture, adding emotional detail to an already foreboding air. On a couple of occasions, guitars de-tune ominously, and after about a minute, an insistent piano part pings away in the left channel. Some people have compared it to Deerhunter’s excellent “Nothing Ever Happened”, and it’s true to say that both songs share a motorik beat, and a similar use of feedback and stabs of guitar. But they’re really very different beasts, and Got Nuffin is an exceptionally well-crafted four-minute slice of magic, where the tension continually mounts, without any release. The end sees the piano build to a more substantial role, and the guitar threaten to envelop the whole song, before a teasing fade-out leaves us gagging for more. Any ideas when we’ll be hearing a new album from the band?

“I guess we’re the official Fred Perry sponsors.”

Last November, when Damon Albarn announced that he and Graham Coxon had patched up their differences and were re-forming Blur in its classic arrangement, I was filled with apprehension. The last few years have been packed with members of the old guard re-forming for one final hurrah, and with mixed results. Led Zeppelin’s one-off benefit concert at the O2 suggested that while there was still more than enough vigour in the band, the practicalities of a real, lasting reunion were beyond them. When Richard Ashcroft welcomed Nick McCabe back into The Verve, I expected thrilling sonic fireworks on a par with their best work – instead, I was left sorely disappointed by the meandering, fleeting Forth.

The prospect of Blur re-uniting was a beguiling prospect. In the intervening years since their disbandment, Albarn had circumnavigated the globe with open ears and busy hands, documenting his travels and learnings through multiple musical projects, from the paranoid cartoon hip-hop of Gorillaz, to the lilting, mystical and beautiful Chinese-opera-cum-musical of Monkey: Journey To The West. Coxon, meanwhile, had become increasingly basic and spartan in his musical exploits, releasing a series of good, but not staggeringly so, solo albums, taking in a breadth of influences, but never really showing off the accidental beauty of his guitar-work that previous Blur albums had featured. Alex James, he of champagne bottle, mirror and razor blade, had fled to the countryside, there to busy himself running a farm and making cheese, and writing all about it in a variety of publications. Finally, there was Dave Rowntree: always the quiet one, now the budding politician. It was only in the wave of press interviews given in the weeks leading up to Hyde Park that we were to discover just how busy he had been, with the astute drummer revealing a law degree, solicitor’s training, social work, political activism.

Somehow, from this myriad divergent post-Blur activities, these four pop icons of the nineties were supposed to roll back the years and wind up as a rock band, putting aside their respective priorities for a few months of historic gigs, and the appetising prospect of something more. I was slightly troubled, I must confess, all the more so because in my lengthy study of Blur’s œuvre, nothing had once suggested to me that their varied sonic palette would actually translate to a particularly energetic live performance. Still, I was among the first to commit to their cause, dutifully buying a ticket to their Friday night show in Hyde Park, London.

Hyde Park, Friday lunchtime. The parched field is already filling up; the wafting odours of burger meat, vinegar and hot dogs are already permeating the air; the stage, clumsily bathed in a tangle of lights, electrical cabling and amplifiers. On one side of the central pavilion is draped a map of Greater London; on the other, one of Great Britain. In the latter stages of their career, Blur may have embraced all manner of American and African influences (as borne out in today’s choice of support acts), but here, today, it is clear that the mood is very British, very suburban, very much rooted in the music-hall stomp of Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife. Gangs of the Colchester massif quaff plastic bottles of beer; young people are few and far between.

Before Blur make their long-awaited entrance, we are treated to four hours of wondrous, diverse music, beginning with the cheeky racket of Deerhoof, perennial cult concerns over in the States. Initially, the crowd react ambivalently, unsure of what to make of a sound that is part math rock, part raucous indie, and certainly not fleshed out by discernible lyrics. It is only when frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki begins her wild flailing and dancing, and revels in interacting with other band-members, props and instruments, that the crowd respond with good-natured applause and cheers.

Next up is current chart-merchant Florence And The Machine. Florence Welch looks undeniably stunning in rather floaty, ethnic garb, and her voice is suitably melodramatic and moody, like a more affected, less precious Natasha Khan. The music too bears some resemblance to that of Bat For Lashes, though more sparkly and poppy. Most of the crowd identify her key singles and enact a mass sing-along; I, through my rejection of mainstream radio, remain reasonably unconvinced and oblivious of her fame and hype.

Then, real excitement greets the entrance of Amadou & Mariam, their live reputation cemented by numerous festival appearances. They are predictably charming, and their music creates quite a stir, combining elements of traditional Malian music with circular blasts of funk and the tense friction of the blues. In the crowd, a party is brewing. We love Amadou’s sonorous voice and his inimitable stage persona; we can’t help but be won over by Mariam’s effortless cool; and the couple’s backing band is pretty talented too. Songs new and old sound fresh and immediate, and the guitar solos are pretty spectacular.

Finally, Vampire Weekend, touching down in the UK solely for this performance, deliver a well-paced set, interspersing most of their debut album with a couple of new songs (one of which is really too high-pitched to be the sing-along that Ezra Koenig desires; the other is slightly marred by an over-zealous, bottle-throwing crowd) and old favourite Boston. Musically, they’re inch-perfect; personality-wise, there’s something amiss – but when the frantic riff of A-Punk kicks in, nobody really cares.

Then, at exactly quarter past eight, the crowd goes relatively ape-shit as the pomp and circumstance of The Debt Collector blares over the sound system, and on stroll all four members of Blur, re-united at last. Albarn and Rowntree favour the Andy Murray-baiting Fred Perry polo shirt look; James appears to have walked out of the gutter; as ever, Coxon exudes an understated geeky cool. Almost immediately, with only a few words of introduction, the band breaks into a soaring rendition of debut single She’s So High. From there on, there is very little let-up, as the band deliver spirited and impassioned hit after hit. Alex James’ bass benefits from a good mix on the PA, showing off just how fluid and quick-witted his playing has always been, especially on tracks like Tracy Jacks and Badhead. Coxon’s guitar-work, meanwhile, is blistering, and makes all 55,000 adoring fans realise at once what has been missing from British music during the last ten years. On Girls And Boys, he unleashes a torrent of flange; on There’s No Other Way, he alternates between the bluesy melody and a crazed wash of feedback and distortion.

By the time the seventh song, Beetlebum, stammers in on a jerky rhythm of guitar stabs, it is clear that, far from sounding flat, tied down to backing tracks, or trying to educate the crowd with a selection of arty album tracks, Blur seem newly re-invigorated, more energetic and meaningful than before, and perfectly content to roll out the hits, be they emotionally leering (as in the case of Country House, still as ridiculous as ever) or reflective (like Coxon’s still-charming Coffee & TV). Each song is delivered with real feeling and maximum crowd reaction: in the case of Tender, the gospel-tinged and emotionally raw anthem is transformed into a slightly ironic terrace-chant, as 55,000 people celebrate the tragedy of lyrics like “Oh my baby, oh my baby; Oh why, oh why?” and “Come on, come on, come on; get through it!” So many of Blur’s greatest songs are nostalgic and heartfelt in a rather doomed and miserable way, but tonight, it would appear that we are just as happy to revel in unbearable sadness as we are to sing for hedonistic youths on holiday in Greece.

There are a few surprise inclusions too – Trimm Trabb is as squalling and experimental as ever, and collapses in extraordinary style amidst a trademark Coxon guitar meltdown; Oily Water starts out as a slightly baggy-influenced pop song but builds into a wall of shoegaze, all shimmering guitars and wailing backing vocals. After the main set concludes with the breathtaking, heart-wrenching This Is A Low (still my favourite song of the Britpop époque), the band kickstart the first encore with the dual assault of Popscene and Advert, both coming off successfully as breakneck punk numbers. Perhaps thankfully, the crowd having already battered each other to oblivion during Parklife and Sunday Sunday, Song 2 is appreciated mainly aurally, despite the band’s most famous two minutes and two seconds of alt-rock swagger being played in characteristically violent, cock-sure style.

A final encore showcases all three sides of the band: first, underground fan favourite Death Of A Party chugs along in chilling, carnival-esque art rock fashion. Then, basking in the warm summer night of London, an extended version of For Tomorrow is supplemented by a brass trio and a gospel quartet (both groups flit on and off the stage throughout the evening, adding texture and emotion to many of the band’s songs) that depicts perfectly the way in which so much of the band’s raison d’être is rooted in a Kinks-ian vision of British idyll. Finally, the stately and suitably tragic The Universal finishes off a wonderful and emotional evening on a cascade of strings, brass, fretboard fireworks and those dread-future lyrics, hinting at a doomed utopia.

Throughout the gig, Albarn’s banter with the crowd sums up perfectly the mood of the band and their music. By turns witty, emotional and anecdotal, I’m sure his words are lost on at least half of the crowd. But in those gem-like nuggets of conversation, he reveals his love of the city, his fears about the future, and his essential attachment to this brilliant band who, among many things, provided the template of the perfect pop song throughout much of my youth. There is no doubt that there are live bands who employ more trickery; who create more of a visual spectacle; or who engage the audience in an enveloping fug of sonic experimentation – indeed, I have witnessed many such gigs. However, for a truly historic gig that released the inner punk spirit in thousands of thirty-somethings, and touched the hearts of many thousands more, Blur did not need all these gimmicks of their contemporaries. Throughout their career they have written an arsenal of great songs, and at many times these have been fashioned into extraordinary albums, but here, on stage, it is the ubiquity of them – in a similar way to the hits of Michael Jackson – that wins us over. Here are the songs that have documented life in the nineties, brought to life before our eyes, in another decade, but still just as relevant, and just as fantastic. To echo the sentiments of Damon Albarn, I thank every music industry mind who hassled and cajoled and teased Albarn and Coxon into giving into their better interests, and re-forming one of the great songwriting partnerships in British history. It was a blast.

Find me in the matinée!

Just a quick prelude before the meat of the matter a bit later on. I’ve literally just walked in from having gone to see Franz Ferdinand at the Hammersmith Apollo (now inexplicably re-christened the HMV Apollo). It were brilliant! The band were, unsurprisingly, very tight, and enjoyed a great rapport with the crowd. Songs new and old received a warm reception, the new ones in particular benefiting from the energy of the live environment. My goodness do they have a mighty rhythm section, capable of buoying those killer hooks for mass crowd singalongs.

Tonight: five piece soul band!

Something that came up during my interview with Vivian Girls last night – yes, I will say more about it; no, I’m not just trying to hype it up mercilessly – was a discussion about what breeds a certain explosion in music creation. I contrasted the societal foibles that seem to inform British songwriters, with the predominantly positive artistic environment that catalyses American music-making. Primarily, I was comparing the canon of social commentators in British music (The Kinks, Blur, The Jam &c.), with the explosion of alternative and experimental music streaming out of Brooklyn (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio, Vampire Weekend, Vivian Girls themselves).

This morning, while listening to Prinzhorn Dance School’s eponymous debut (released in 2007), it became clear to me that this tradition of commenting on the oddities of British society is still very much alive today. I like to think of Prinzhorn Dance School as being a recent band that time has already forgotten, for no good reason. The truth is, I regard them very highly, both musically and lyrically. There are clear links between their sparse, minimalist instrumentation and that of Shellac, and they also share that band’s taste in dark, violent humour. Their debut album was perhaps a tad long, but it boasted remarkably intricate song structures, and some of the best post-Albini production, courtesy of James Murphy, giving the whole work a wonderfully resonant, spacious sound. In Pitchfork’s review of the album, the critic wrote,

Only 70% or so of Prinzhorn Dance School’s debut album is made up of music. The rest is…well, it’s hard to say. What do you call the space in a song that lingers between the guitar parts, vocals, and beats?

And I really can’t put it much better myself. This lingering space fills the album with a sense of dread and anxiety, without resorting to melodramatic musical gimmicks. In the absence of trickery, the natural harmonics of guitar strings are allowed to float around unhindered. The almost militarily precise drums emit a kind of padded reverb. The bass sinks faster than the Titanic. The whole affair is rather industrial, like being inside a tightly packed machine that never slackens – a sensation depicted more visually in the video to “Crackerjack Docker”, above.

Combined with the sardonic and painfully unsettling lyrics, it makes for an uneasy listen. It’s not an example of my famous ‘scary music’, but it’s certainly pretty dark. In the song “Do You Know Your Butcher”, for example, the band reflect upon the unintentional scene of murder one might imagine –

If you go in for the counter,
There’s blood on the hands,
Fur on the floor
Meat.

An awful lot of it is about implied violence and enigma in the most innocuous of settings. It’s a bit like being in a Coen Brothers film. In “Don’t Talk To Strangers”, the pair deliver what seems like a public information film gone horribly wrong –

Don’t talk to strangers,
Just get into the car.
Don’t talk to strangers,
Or they’ll find out who you are.
Don’t talk to strangers,
I’ve got pills in a jar.

Just like their precursors, Prinzhorn Dance School are writing about the deep-rooted sense of dread in suburbia; the terror of doing nothing; the feeling of irrelevancy as we sit in cars, in traffic, our minds elsewhere. All this makes them one of more curious signings to James Murphy’s DFA label: I really hope the mixed reaction to their debut was a product of critical uncertainty about their pretensions, as opposed to a genuine dislike of their strange sense of humour. I could say, “but at least Pitchfork liked it,” but that would be missing the point. Pitchfork liked it because they can see beyond what could pass for being extremely pretentious. Pretentious is not what Prinzhorn Dance School are about. Yes, the music is certainly uncompromising, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed – albeit with a wry smile on one’s face.

Serious funk

I’ve finally got my hands on Talking Heads’ magnum opus, 1980’s Remain In Light, and my god it is funky. The first half of the album is built solely on repeating grooves, over which Byrne sings and mumbles about all manner of emotional and societal disconnection, while atonal squawks and whirring noises swirl around the ether. Many would regard Brian Eno’s great production feat as being U2’s The Joshua Tree – still the only album by said band that I can really palate – but I’d be willing to stake a claim for this masterpiece.

What struck me immediately about the album is just how brash it sounds, despite the sophistication of the music and lyrics lurking beneath. Exploding in with “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On), the pace and energy never really lets up. What sounds like a modem enters the song halfway through, with a weird, dazzling solo; African percussion fills up all the spare air, creating multiple layers of syncopation; towards the end, Byrne’s vocal tics resemble someone with epilepsy or Tourette’s – behaviour echoed by the frontman in the video for the album’s centrepiece, “Once In A Lifetime”.

The second half of Remain In Light takes on a more chilled-out vibe, using disconcerting washes of synth and discordant brass to create more tension. Finally, in the album’s closer, “The Overload”, we find a strange, Joy Division-inspired funeral march, which crawls at snail’s pace alongside waves of buzzing synth bass and undertones of keyboards. According to the album’s Wikipedia article, “The Overload” was indeed the band’s attempt at replicating the Salford quartet’s enviable sonic aesthetic, without ever having heard any of their music. It’s testament to the band’s songwriting variety and multi-talented instrumentation that the experiment works so well – far from sounding like a novelty party piece, it book-ends the album perfectly, sending a final farewell of anxiety to the listener in much the same way as “Decades” does on Joy Division’s parting shot, Closer.

Remain In Light, then, explores both sides of Talking Heads’ lyrical and musical concerns – it is at times deeply life-affirming; at other moments mid-life-crisis depicting. It is also perhaps the truest example of a collision of black music and white music, created at a time when the two disciplines never felt further apart. In that respect, we must of course thank the pioneering inroads made by Messrs. Byrne and Eno, which led to such a work. Last year, people heard Vampire Weekend and thought of Paul Simon’s Graceland. Though Remain In Light is undoubtedly a darker work than Vampire Weekend, maybe it is the more important antecedent in providing musical inspiration.

First Impressions…

… are good. I’ll post a review of both Tonight: Franz Ferdinand and Merriweather Post Pavilion a bit later but, for the moment, here are some initial thoughts.

Tonight is crisply produced and comes with the right kind of aesthetic that Franz Ferdinand have been hinting at, but they only ever plunge head-first into one of these new directions on one track, the 8-minute Moroder-aping “Lucid Dreams”, which features an extended synth workout. The rest of the album is solidly written, with characteristically catchy hooks and typically insightful, witty lyrics. What will probably strike me to a greater extent on further listens is the pacing and structure of the album. Certainly, it appears to run on a continual upward slope, heading towards the peak of a night out, which occurs during the aforementioned “Lucid Dreams”. The final two tracks definitely represent the post-night comedown, their being much more blissful and hungover, and also more sincere. Beyond that, I’ve yet to gauge a true understanding of the structure during the first half, except that “Ulysses” is an invented drug, and that “No You Girls” cleverly inverts the naïvety of first love halfway through the song.

Merriweather Post Pavilion has absolutely astonishing production. Far from the murkiness I was beginning to associate with Animal Collective, the album fizzes and sparkles and, most importantly, sends thunderous quakes of bass through my subwoofer. That’s important, because it appears to accentuate the more dance-orientated direction the band have taken. It’s not necessarily music to dance to, just music that bears more than a passing resemblance to dance-music forefathers. The songs themselves are complex in structure, with a myriad of samples and synths that somehow don’t ever get lost in a fog of meandering. Though this is their longest proper album yet, the songs appear more focused and rooted, though they don’t observe conventional pop song structures. Lyrically too, the album sees AC mature the themes first evoked on Strawberry Jam – those of childhood innocence; the simple love of others; and the essential mysterious wonderment of being alive. They’re well-expressed through not overly catchy lyrics, with minimal sonic meddling, and the whole combination of music and voice coalesces best of all on “My Girls” and the closer, “Brother Sport”.

More to follow, definitely.