Monthly Archives: November 2011

Review: Craig Finn (The Hold Steady) – Honolulu Blues

Released: Friday 2 December 2011

The name Craig Finn might not mean too much on its own, but say The Hold Steady and you’ll get a reaction. Finn is, after all, the driving force behind the bombastic American rock bar-band stories in The Hold Steady. Well, now he’s gone solo with an album due in January called Clear Heart Full Eyes. Is it the end of the band? Who knows, but if the single ‘Honolulu Blues’ is anything to go by the story-telling will continue. By himself, he makes less noise of course; the crashing pianos/organs are gone and the usually frenetic pace at which he delivers his lyrics is slowed somewhat.

Buzzy guitars still back up his smart and concise observations and those observations still contain plenty of references to drugs, getting high and religion: “For all the natural beauty there were still so many kids asking me for something that could help them to get high.” In short, there has been a straight swap in sound. The power and stadium strength has given way to a more relaxed swagger, even the solo has more swing and bend to it. What might disappoint fans of The Hold Steady, however, is the lack of a catchy chorus to pound out. This seems more like a clearing out of stories which didn’t quite fit for the band.

B-side ‘Rented Room’ has a similar relaxed style but it’s more sombre and regretful, again lacking a defining chorus. However, when the memories are so firm and clear there can be no doubts about Finn’s place as a modern story-teller.

(Picture Credit: musicisentropy)

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Review: The Rum Diary

This is the second Hunter S. Thompson film Johnny Depp has starred in but it is neither a sequel nor a prequel to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

The Rum Diary, based on Thompson’s novel of the same name, tells the story of Paul Kemp, a journalist looking to make a new start in Puerto Rico with the local paper. As the title subtly hints though, Kemp’s drinking gets the better of him leading him to trouble with the local law as well as becoming entangled in a dodgy business venture.

Most critics are suggesting that this film is a rip roaring success and is a laugh a minute but while there are laughs it is not quite a full-blown comedy. Giovanni Ribisi steals any and all laughs as Moberg, the sleazy correspondent who is either drunk, high or appreciating the speeches of Hitler. Depp does well, as ever, as the swanky young journo but this feels more like one of his standard high-quality performances rather than a full comedic role or an Oscar attempt. Continue reading

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Review: Owen – Ghost Town

Polyvinyl Records

Released: Monday 21 November 2011

Comparisons with Iron & Wine are false. It’s clear where the idea may have come from but Mike Kinsella – formerly of American Football – has a much more straight-forward, conversational style. That’s not to say he talks or raps. He does sing, but he is very matter of fact. On this, Owens sixth solo album, he is clearly comfortable with what he is doing. Melody stirs differently with confidence in each of his sentences.

Ghost Town is an exploration of inadequacies and a sorting out of thoughts. Opener ‘Too Many Moons’ explains that he is “but one man”, while ‘No Place Like Home’ calmly explores conflict: “Soon there will be a fight, and we’ll all have to take sides, like kids on a playground.”

 The understated guitars are where you’ll find invented links to other artists, critics gagging for a match. But in fact, although there is no real standout use of instruments, there is a uniqueness to the format of the songs. Each song has a different accompanying instrument. Whether it’s the violins, piano, or a tumbling xylophone, everyone has a different sounding friend to dance with.

This is a sleepy album, but as the title might suggest, that’s alright by Mike. ‘Everyone’s Asleep in the House But Me’ is very simple song, but poetic in it’s description of the dreams and sleep of others. One problem Ghost Town has is its lack of pace. It is very niche and sticks closely to the open thoughts of Mike Kinsella, rolling out as slow as the strum of the chords.

Need a comforting night-time album, but don’t want to be depressed? This is it. Want to get pumped up for a night out? Look elsewhere.

(Photo by frailamerica)

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Review: Florence + The Machine

Released: Monday 31 October 2011

If you thought she couldn’t get any more gothic and broody then you thought wrong. Florence + the Machine return and although they don’t quite stumble as badly as others have on the sophomore album they don’t run away with the show either. Florence, the woman at the centre of it all, once again warbles high and low, taking the gothic romanticism which shaped Lungs that step further.

It seems the only way to get over the second album hurdle properly is to make it dark. ‘What the Water Gave Me’ sounds suicidal as Florence croons about pockets full of stones and heavy burdens. In truth, the songs run in a hit and miss way; for every thunderous chorus there is lacklustre meandering, for every breathy, beautiful line there is a repetitive formula peddled out.

‘Seven Devils’ is the best track and the most eerie, layered with barks of piano and whooshing electronics. “Seven devils all around me, seven devils in my house, I was dead before I woke up this morning, and I’ll be dead before the day is done” isn’t the cheeriest chorus but it’s delivered with such ghostly menace it’s hard not to love. While everyone draws the obvious comparison with Kate Bush there is also 60s soul demonstrated on ‘Lover to Lover’. ‘Heartlines’, though, shows just how off-track Florence and co can go, chanting and dragging a dull song over the five minute mark.

After building her fame on catchy summer songs, it’s probably a good idea to release this album in time for the dark winter. Fear not though, we still get some of that hands-in-the-air festival magic in ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Shake It Out’. Anyone who plumps for the deluxe version of Ceremonials will be treated to stripped-back demos of these songs which better display the melody and vocal talents of Florence. Away from the rumbling of drums and ethereal choral singing, there is the heart of a good song.

The biggest difficulty for Florence + the Machine will be doing something spectacular to shake things up on a third album. What is acceptable on a second album will see you forgotten if you try it a third time.

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Review: Coldplay ‘Xylo Myloto’

Released: Monday 24 October 2011

Chris Martin has been savvy is his promotion of this record. If you’ve avoided reading anything about him or the album then you’ve done well. He’s announced he was made to feel gay by Take That and confessed that he knows his lyrics are “a bit shit”.

        Well, as always they are a divisive band. You sort of know what to expect from these boys now and if you didn’t love them before you won’t start now. I have to say, however, that this time Brian Eno sticks his oar in a bit much.

        The album begins with vim and promise on ‘Hurts Like Heaven’. It’s streamlined and keeps a pulsing beat with galloping acoustic guitars. ‘Charlie Brown’ and ‘Don’t Let It Break Your Heart’ are the usual Coldplay fair of anthemic melodic rock with nothing new to offer.

        There is, however, a glimpse of the old Coldplay, the band who used to be at the forefront of a melodic indie movement – a time when they seemed to be a British R.E.M. but ended up morphing into a boring U2 style venue filler. ‘U.F.O.’ is that time-travelling moment in all its hushed acoustic glory, Chris Martin singing about a lack of direction and how life is tough with no pretension or pandering.

        In the middle of all this typical Coldplay gushing we get the added bonus of electronic meddling courtesy of Brian Eno. It lends the album a unique tone but seems slightly pompous and over the top.

        The ultimate insult on this album is what Chris Martin claims to be his favourite part: a duet with Rihanna on ‘Princess of China’. Without being drawn into a discussion about the R&B powerhouse, it’s clear she doesn’t belong in a Coldplay song, the vocals jar and it smacks of the band playing to idea of being all-encompassing.

While Coldplay aren’t spectacular, they are melodic and will no doubt put bums on stadium seats and hit number one. That does not make this album a triumph though. This kind of music will make some peoples ears bleed as they cry for something different.

(Photo credit: Onigiri4)

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