24 September 2017

We Came From Wolves - Haunt Me EP

I have a lot of time for wecamefromwolves (or We Came From Wolves, depending on how you want to name it), one of the finest band from Scotland at the moment and they have just released their latest EP, Haunt Me.  Before I get to the review, a little bit of background (in a small way); I knew this EP was coming as I had heard rumours.  Then I get a press release via either Grand Sounds or Against PR (I cannot remember which at this point), so I made a note to review it soon.  Then, I get an email from Kyle from WCFW to inform me that the EP is coming with a link to stream it (thankful as always and always nice to be remembered).  It seems like the universe was telling me that I needed to review this, so I better get on with it.

01 – Falling

With a slow harmonic introduction, little bits of feedback and strange noises, “Falling” is brought into the world with in a gentle way.  But once the song proper starts, it is a song which is full of self-doubt, isolation and the lack of self-esteem/control which can afflict someone when they are feeling depressed.  It is a good post-hardcore song, once which talks about an issue and is a cry for help lyrically. It is a great opener to this EP, showing the growth that WCFW has experienced since their last full release.

02 – The Peaks Beneath the Sea

(Taken from my original review of the single) Starting with a fade in, they start this song in strong style as they deal with the subject of wanting to reach safety and trying to access the refuge that all people seek when everything becomes too much.  It is a strong song, the hook in the chorus is catchy, the performance is as good, perhaps a bit better than their previous material and it make you want to hear further songs from the band.  It still sounds like them, but with improvements on each level that comes from experience and working together.

03 – Haunt Me

The title track of this EP harks back to an earlier sound for me, it is the more mature and weather musical twin of “Stallions, Foals, Foxes, Crows”, the first song I heard from WCFW.  It is a song about needing to escape, being held back by someone who is claiming that they are playing second best to the rest of their lover’s life.  A break is required, but neither of them are prepared to make that final decision.  It is a slow burner, a heart breaker and it will have people singing in unison at their gigs in the months to come!

04 – Places Unfamiliar

The second song to be released as a single before this EP was released (it was also released as an acoustic version as well), this time it is dealing with the frustration that can occur when people are not seeing what is really going on, ignoring the pleas for help and trying to keep everything steady.  It is a fast-paced number that keeps in with the tone of the rest of Haunt Me, but without having a uniformed sound.  It is a great song, one that you will want to play on repeat and that last line about everything being fuckin’ awful is spat out with such passion!  What a tune!

05 – This Never Gets Easy

With a gang chant to start the song, “This Never Gets Easy” brings the EP to a close with a thought provoking song about love, time moving forward, trying to be a man/woman who lives up to their errors and to get things right before time runs out and people leave their life.  It is a slower song, one with a heavy riff during the bridge and a massive drum performance that smashes out of your speakers!

This is a great EP, the songs complement each other and there is a fluid feeling to Haunt Me.  It is a dark EP, one which deals with the issues of mental health with grace and shows the torrent of emotions that can build up inside someone.  It is not easy to listen to in places, it will not sit well with some people who have that “Keep Calm” mind set, but this sort of things (and its emotional content) need to be voiced and they cannot be repressed.  I think this is a good taster for their next album (whenever that may be released), it shows that they are growing as musicians and their sound improves with each release.  I do think that there might be counselling needed as well, but that is just on a personal note.  However, I do recommend getting yourself a copy of Haunt Me EP as soon as possible.

4 out of five – This is good and well worth checking

Top track – The Peaks Beneath the Sea

You can purchase Haunt Me EP from the wecamefromwolves Bandcamp page here.

You can purchase Haunt Me EP on Amazon here. 

You can visit the wecamefromwolves website here.

You can follow the wecamefromwolves Facebook page here.

You can stream Haunt Me EP on Spotify here.

You can stream Haunt Me EP on Deezer here.

You can stream Haunt Me EP on Tidal here.

17 September 2017

The National - Sleep Well Beast

It seems like it has been a really long time since the release of Trouble Will Fine Me by The National (our review cleverly linked here), but it has only been just four years since that fine record came out.  Since that record was released, the National have released a documentary film (Mistaken for Strangers), they have had various side project and have appeared to have returned with their batteries refreshed and the fruits of that labour have been released as Sleep Well Beast, their seventh studio album.  I have taken a little longer to do my review as I wanted to give it time to sink in, to absorb it.  I read a few reviews, including one by one of my colleagues over at Bearded Gentlemen Music (link to that review here), which makes the comparison between them and Radiohead.  I will go on about that one a bit at the end of the review.  Now, things have changed in the four years since they released Trouble…, how will we find the band?

01 – Nobody Else Will Be There

With the predictability of a Winter Solace, The National start off this album with the minimalist “Nobody Else Will Be There”, a song about love, distance and the hope of a connection.  It is a gentle beast, one which takes a while to sink in and even longer to distinguish what is going on.  The sparse nature of the song makes its hard to love, but it is a song with a broken charm that eventually starts to make sense.  But it is an empty opening to Sleep Well Beast, this does not bode well for the rest of the album.

02 – Day I Die

We find The National in a reflective mood, considering the future and wondering what it all holds for them, where they are going to be when Death comes knocking.  It is a familiar number from them, similar in structure to “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and whilst it has a sense of excitement to the song, it is not a gripping number and it is cursed with a lethargic malaise. 

03 – Walk It Back

A slow build about trying to piece together what is happening and what is going on, with a sense of confusion and the mourning for the lost moments.  This song is a slow builder that actually makes a lot more sense the more you listen to it, but it is a difficult one and at times it seems as if it is not worth the effort.  You do get your rewards eventually with this song if your persevere with it, but it is a stubborn little bugger.

04 – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is a cryptic number, one which is so open to interpretation that it feels as wide of the open skies of the desert.  It is a busy number (by The National’s own standards) and it is a very catchy song, but there is still something that is not settling right on this one, something that gives it a disengaged feeling.  It might just be me, but for a lively song it feels a bit hollow.

05 – Born to Beg

The lethargic nature of the band is on display here, “Born to Beg” is a song about begging for love and how it is in the nature of the person to follow their lover and do anything for them.  It starts off quietly, builds and then suddenly there are two different songs playing at the same time and the original fades into the void.  It is a messy song, but it is also one that gains my interest, one that makes a lot more sense than a few of the other tracks on here.

06 – Turtle Neck

Now this is more like it, a song that feels as if the band have turned up.  It has a punk ethic to the tune, one with a ferial nature and a bite to the music as well.  It is out of keeping with what they usually do, but it is also one that makes so much sense when compared to the rest of the album.  It is angry, it is bitter and it is full of bile – where have this version of the band been hiding?

07 – Empire Line

Empire Line” is a song which uses the distance of a commuter journey to compare the strained feelings of a relationship that is in danger of falling apart, one that is sadly not the natural follow on the wonder “Fake Empire” from Boxer.  It is another song which I would refer to as a builder, it is not easily accessible and it does take its time to reveal itself.  But this one is worth the wait and it does have a beautiful soul, even if it is a song with a damaged narrative at its core.

08 – I’ll Still Destroy You

With moments of Zappa strangeness, Bloc Party Electronic Indie and no sense of clarity, “I’ll Still Destroy You” is a strange number that feels as if it is all over the place.  It never really sinks together and I have a feeling that you would need to be in a specific place/mood for this one to correlate into something wondrous.  Sadly, for me it is just as strange now as it was when I first started listening to it, which is such a shame .  I usually love strange music, but this one really does not have the consistency to sustain my interest.

09 – Guilty Party

With a sense of remorse, The National are really delving into the Electronica side on “Guilty Party”, mixing the drum machine, the strings and sparse guitar elements all being micromanaged to within an inch of its life.  It is a strange one, but it is also one where ambition has been met by the performance as well.  It feels natural and fluid, there is a moment that it feels as if it is in danger of falling apart, but it stays together and it is a wonderful moment on this record.

10 – Carin At the Liquor Store

It seems as if this album is turning a corner as it approaches the bitter end, with “Carin At the Liquor Store” adding more miserable quality to this record.  It is a song which has regret at its very core, with pain and misery the only companions during this decent into a personal hell.  It does not have more in the way of positives in the emotional department, but it does have a hook that sinks in deep and it is another track which is worthy of their name.

11 – Dark Side of the Gym

The penultimate song of this album is a tale of obsession, a doomed relationship and the need to keep someone close & distant at the same time.  The music on this one is a little weak, it feels secondary to the lyrics and as if they have been forced together instead of growing together organically.  It is a track which I am still stuck on the fence, it depends on the mood if it appeals or not, so the jury is still out on this one.

12 – Sleep Well Beast

The National bring this album to a close with the title track and I can sort of see the Radiohead comparison, the music is bizarre and sounds strange when compared to normal ears.  However, I am also hearing other artists, such as the brilliant Thomas Truax and some of the better moments of Bloc Party.  It is a sparse affair overall and it ends the album on a bit of a confusing note, but it is not without interest. At the end of the day, this one has a sense of intrigue about it and it has more to offer than other pieces on Sleep Well Beast. 

I think it might just be me, but I am not seeing the genius that everyone else is with this album.  If anything, it is the poorest album that The National have released.  It feels like it is trying to be inviting and it is wanting to help you through the night, but there is something unlovable about it and the feeling of being kept at arms distance that never really dissipates.  This is a shame as I cannot fault the performance, they are good musicians and that has not changed with this record.  But that is the only way I can think of describing the feeling that this album gives me is this, the sense of darkest and strange yearning that is at the core of this record.  For it, it is akin to this
You see pictures of people having a great time, looking so friendly and they are living it large, but there is one person in the background that is being ignored.  You are that person and whilst you are there at this party, it is not really happening for you and that is Sleep Well Beast in a nutshell for me.  Also, the comparison to Radiohead does not sit well for me by my colleague from Bearded Gentlemen Music (no offense meant on that one), maybe that is because I have not always loved them either.  For me, the only way to compare them to Radiohead is that they have become a band that lots of people love, but they are also an act that leave a lot of people cold.  If anything, I find them more akin to Bloc Party on this record than Radiohead – they are trying something and it feels unnatural and forced at times.  Overall though, this is an album which is played well with a few moments of brilliance, but it is as warm and welcoming as an Antarctic winter walk, I think the beast must stayed asleep on this one. 

6 out of ten – Now, I see where you were going, but it is not quite there.

Top track – Guilty Party

You can purchase Sleep Well Beast on Amazon here.

You can visit The National website here.

You can follow the activities of The National on Facebook here.

You can stream Sleep Well Beast on Spotify here.

You can stream Sleep Well Beast on Deezer.

You can stream Sleep Well Beast on Tidal.

Sparks - Hippopotamus

I knew that the Sparks have been going for a while, but I was amazed to find out whilst writing this that they have been together for forty-five years.  That is long that I have been alive and a lot longer than many other bands out there, it is a brilliant feat that they have outlasted so many of the contemporaries and other bands who have come & went after them.  Hippopotamus is their twenty-third studio album and their first since The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, as well as the 2015 collaboration with Franz Ferdinand, the fantastic FFS (our review of FFS linked here).  Recorded in 2016, it finds the Sparks returning to their traditional sound, but somehow, I feel that they never left that sound.

01 – Probably Nothing

Starting off this album is “Probably Nothing”, a song which is wondering what to say and bemoaning that it is probably best to be forgotten and it is bringing them a feeling of embarrassment.  It is a true introduction track, short and to the point with a sense of irony and charm.  It is a beautiful number, one with all the best part of the Sparks in a one minute, twenty odd seconds piece of beautiful music.

02 – Missionary Position

Sex, sex, sex, but is all about the traditional position, without much adventure to be added to the tale.  I love this song, it is a beautiful ode to being satisfied and to longevity to that tried and tested sexual pose.  As a lot of pop songs talk about sex, it is refreshing to hear a song that does it with those old-school innuendos and a sense of humour.  You only get this sort of song from the Sparks, they have brought their A-game from the start here and it is a joy to these ears.

03 – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)

The video for “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)” is a still-animation where the Sparks are chasing a bird through Paris, but the bird ends up capturing them in a cage and flying away.  It is a moody piece, one that is full of drama and a vocal performance that gives the chills that only Russell Mael can provide.  This is one of those moment where a song hits all the right spots instantly, it is an instant hit from the hands of Ron and Russell, definitely one of the best songs I have heard so far in the second half of 2017.

04 – Scandinavian Design

Not every track is going to be golden on a fifteen-track album, it is an impossible task, even for people like Sparks.  “Scandinavian Design” does not contain that magic touch, it is lacking something, much like the room described in the song itself.  It is not too bad, but it does not gain traction for me and it ends up feeling a bit hollow at the end of each listen.

05 – Giddy Giddy

I love the quirky nature of the Sparks, they can make a song which would sound like a clumsy mess in other hands and you are loving it.  “Giddy Giddy” is a brilliant example of how they do this, it is a song with a silly hook and it has a quirky nature that is undeniable.  It is also an ear worm that will stay in your head for a long time after it has finished, but it is so good that you will not care.

06 – What the Hell Is It This Time?

“What the Hell Is It This Time?” is one of the strongest song on this album, with a song about someone who is constantly testing peoples’ patience’s to their very limits and then some more after that.  It is a slow build in some ways, it is not one that is in any hurry and it sounds as if it could easily be played on for hours on end.  I love it, another perfectly crafted piece from the Brothers Mael.

07 – Unaware

Unaware” is an art pop song about a lady is has no awareness of thing around her, going through life in a fog of her own creation and it is all played out over a dark and atmospheric pop number.  It is a song which leaves the silly, fun nature of the band to the side and it sounds beautiful for being different.  I love that the Sparks can switch their style so easily and make it sound natural, “Unaware” is a great example of how to make a brooding pop song and not sound pretentious.

08 – Hippopotamus

The first single to be released from the album, a minimalist artistic statement about various objects, people and things in a pool with a strange conclusion which resolves nothing.  It is akin to the recent ending in Twin Peaks, it is not designed to give you answers as it is just designed to make you think a little too deeply about some strange lyrics which has been created as they rhyme.  It also reminds me of “Dick Around” from the brilliant Hello Young Lovers, a lost classic from Sparks.  It is a great song, one that will gain important in their back catalogue in the years to come.

09 – Bummer

Once again, Sparks change their style on this album with “Bummer”, creating a moody song that is as catchy as anything else on this album and it stands well on its own two feet.  They have a strange ability to write fantastic chorus section, the verses are works of art and it makes me want to jump around when it is being played. 

10 – I Wish You Were Fun

A song about someone you love to bits, but who is a fun as a fart in a deep-sea diving suit, “I Wish You Were Fun” is another silly moment for this song with an Oriental/London feeling to this song.  The multi-cultured sound is beautiful, the lyrics make me chuckle each time they are on and it is just a silly little catchy song.  What is there not to love here?

11 – So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside from That How Was the Play?

I love the music on “So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside from That How Was the Play?”, it just has such a massive hook to the chorus sections that it is impossible to ignore.  The lyrics are a little lost on me at the moment, but sometimes I find out the genius of a Sparks song way after I have started to listen to it.  It would not be a Sparks album without at least one enigma for later, but this is a particularly strong one that is working its way into my heart.

12 – When You’re a French Director

A song about being a French citizen who directs either films or plays, how everything is moody and you are filled with distant for the USA and their fake actors/actresses.  Featuring a guest appearance from French director Leos Carax, it is another OTT song, one that plays on a few stereotypes on both sides of the pond.  It is an OK number, but not one that has the same charm as other Sparks songs.  But like a bad pizza, a bad Sparks song is still pretty decent when compared to other artists.

13 – The Amazing Mr. Repeat

I love this minimalist song, its fast-paced verses and the lack of anything other than the core of the band.  It keeps everything so simple, so tight and it is in and out of the door so quickly that your head is left spinning.

14 – A Little Bit of Fun

The penultimate song of Hippopotamus is called “A Little Bit of Fun” which is not a fun song at all, in fact it is a little bit moody and sarcastic to be honest.  There is a tone to the vocals which is mocking and beautiful, it is one of the reasons I love this band.  They just make some fantastically wonderful songs that should be labelled with warning signs that sarcasm is contained, what a brilliant piece of art!

15 – Life with the MacBeths

Life with the MacBeths” is a dramatic ending to this album, a wonderful duet with Rebecca Sjöwall about the dramas that appear on our TV screens, with a look about and it sounds like a tabloid drama in operatic, pop form.  Once more, Sparks have done something different and it works in their favour.  It might be a bit too strange for some people, but the faithful (and I count myself as one) will lap this up and sing its praises to the heavens.

Hippopotamus is a wonderful album, a fantastic work of art that is worthy of the praise it has been receiving.  It is great to see that this album will be heard by a larger audience who will hopefully listen to some of their recent back catalogue and see what they have missed.  The song writing is of the usual high quality, with only a few tracks which do not quite make the grade.  Because of this, it feels like it could have been trimmed by a couple of tracks (just a couple) and it would have been a smoother album.  But I would rather have too much from this band than too little, they are the sort of act I could listen to for weeks and never get bored.  This album shows them flexing their own muscles properly for the first time in ages, it also shows that they still have it, they can still compete with the best on their own two feet.  Now, can we also have another FFS please, as well as more solo Sparks as well?  I truly hope so, as Hippopotamus is the best art pop album of 2017!

9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost…...

Top track – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)

You can purchase Hippopotamus on Amazon here.

You can visit the Sparks website here.

You can follow the activities of the Sparks on Facebook here.

You can stream Hippopotamus on Spotify here.

You can stream Hippopotamus on Dezzer here.

You can stream Hippopotamus on Tidal here.

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