Fever Ray – Plunge

Welcome back Karin. You’ve been missed.

I am very pleased to be able to choose the new Fever Ray album for December AOTM. Merry Xmas Brothers.

My introduction to Fever Ray (aka Karin Dreijer) came before I think I had ever heard anything by The Knife, the band that Karin created with her brother Olof. The Knife were a European Electronic phenomenon in the early ’90s perhaps never having the success or influence they enjoyed in Europe and Internationally.  I worked backwards from my love of Fever Ray’s debut Fever Ray into The Knife back catalogue.

The album, Fever Ray was a (logical!?) musical progression from Silent Shout, The Knife album that preceded it chronologically. Silent Shout was a fairly dramatic, progression from The Knife’s earlier output focusing in on the more intense, dark and moody qualities of the previous albums. Fever Ray picked up this baton and Karin explored much more personal of pregnancy and motherhood as Fever Ray. She shared something we’d never heard or seen (please check out the videos from this album) from her work with her brother. The fact that the release of this album and Stacey and my love of it coincided with Stacey’s pregnancy and our early parenthood made this is a very special album.

If Fever Ray was a progression from Silent Shout then ‘Plunge’, in turns picks up many of the stylistic turns explored on ‘Shaking the Habitual’ the last Knife album. ‘Shaking the Habitual’ was mental. It was a pretty tough listen even for a fan. I do like it very much … but I don’t play it too much! I am sure that when you first listen to ‘Plunge’ you may feel similar emotions but I implore you to dive into it head-first. Create occasions where it’s oppressive, angular and downright scary nature is a plus … not sure what those occasions are really but immerse yourself and its brilliance will reveal itself.

Karin’s voice is urgent, pleading, desperate and reflects the less conventional electronic soundscape that creates each song. But when needed, she turns into a Scandi-Electro-Pop queen sounding cute and friendly. This dark and light is found all over the album. IDK About You is a great piece of urgent Punk Pop but at 150BPM comes across like an assault the first few listens. Again, once you get it, you really get it. ‘This Country’ see’s Karin open, explicit, politically charged and exposed. ‘To The Moon and Back’ harks back to The Knife’s perfect pop moments on the Deep Cuts album. It sounds like the gorgeous radio friendly ‘Heartbeats’ or ‘Pass This On’ until Karin coo’s ‘I want to run my fingers up your pussy’ … oh, she went there. How Karin.

So don’t relax and sit back to listen to this. It won’t work. But do get involved with it’s complexity and range.

NOVEMBER: Wallflower by Jordan Rakei

Ah, blue-eyed soul. A double-edged term that come across as much as insult as praise. It implies a lack of depth, a lack of the heritage of the music, not just racially but in terms of authenticity. Maybe this isn’t quite blue-eyed soul, but it’s certainly made by an artist who’s steeped deeply both in the history of the music and current trends. It’s also not quite accurate to say he’s a white guy singing a historically black genre. To be specific, he’s a Kiwi of Pacific Islander heritage who now lives in London and signed to Ninja Tune. How fantastically 21st Century.

So where did this come from? That was what I thought when I first heard ‘Goodbyes’. It was one of those times I immediately Googled the artist, found he’d made a whole album, and then just sat opened-mouthed when I sat down and listened to it. The opening number, ‘Eye to Eye’ starts like a soul ballad, and then when it kicks in, you know you’re going somewhere really interesting. That edgy, nervous arrangement, almost jazz-sounding at at times, is such a great counterpoint to his sweet voice.

This is such a tough genre to excel in. I mean, I think I’d call this a soul record, but it’s a post-dance era soul record, I suppose in the same way that Sampha is. There’s also a touch of those downbeat artists like James Blake in there too. But where some of this genre can be a little hit-and-miss – for example, I LOVE the highlights of the Sampha album, but there’s some filler on there, I really love the whole of this. It’s so fully-formed, it’s so rich, it’s so delicious to listen to. It’s beautifully produced too – those strings remind me of Craig Armstrong’s work on Massive Attack’s finest albums. In fact, Massive Attack are a real cornerstone, influence wise. Time for a trip hop revival, anyone? 😉

There are two stages to your relationship to an album, I find. The first is: do I keep playing it when I first get into it? This has been a huge yes – I’ve had to start rationing myself because I’ve listened so many times. The second stage is: Will I come back to this, year after year – has it become a permanent part of my musical landscape. Well, of course, I won’t know that yet. But if you’re asking me to guess right now, I’m pretty certain it will be. I like it that much.

Highlights: opener Eye to Eye, the straight-up soul of Nerve, funky, melancholic single Goodbyes, Massive Attack-esque Hiding Place. But honestly, I love the whole thing!

Thoughts, brothers?

OCTOBER: Alvvays – Antisocialites

It’s “at last” in more ways than one (with profuse apologies for the incredible tardiness of this review) – last in that this is my final contribution as being one of the Brothers on this rather wonderful blog.  Opening those windows and throwing them open wide to the music I’ve been exposed to for the last… eighteen months or so…? has been a joy and I’m thankful to my fellow the Brothers for bringing me into the fold.  At last, as well, to Alvvays in bringing which seems to have been a long time coming, ie that elusively consistent indie album.  Such things tend to be a rarity, as we know.  There are, more often than not, dips and on repeated listens, those tracks which we just skip by in search of the one that grabs us.  That’s not to say that Antisocialites is perfect all the way through – but the skip point for me doesn’t appear until Already Gone, track eight from ten, and even then that’s the only one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself somewhat; Alvvays grabbed my attention with 2014’s release of the achingly glorious and sweepingly sublime Archie, Marry Me, about as classic as modern alternative music can get and stands Up There with the greats.  Forward then, pinging on three years and we have the second long player from the Toronto quintet.  They’ve not moved on a bunch in terms of their sound, so there’s no gear change progression in their approach.  Indeed, they road tested much of what ended up on Antisocialites when on tour through 2015 and 16, so they’ve stuck with their “jangly pop” (the band’s own description for their brand of music) which fits in with their existing catalogue.  Still, reinventing the wheel isn’t always essential and their craft is honed splendidly here.  Melody remains at the heart of their art; it’s the hooks that grab and won’t let go – the trainer-pogo Plimsoll Punks evokes memories of bouncing indie discos featuring stupidly wide grins as That Guitar Riff makes you jump that little bit higher.

There’s a lot to appreciate with Alvvays’ occasionally etherial electronica where they exude an other-worldliness distance which bleeds through time and again; Forget About Life is pure romance and the sweetest proposition to simply hang out, be faithful to your own being and spend time with someone who means the world.  It’s enough to make a middle aged reviewer sit back, smile and sigh in reflection that sometimes, things aren’t that bad and, indeed, can be pretty good.  But looking back in the collection, Forget About Life was quite neatly foreshadowed earlier by the album’s second single, Dreams Tonite and it’s worth following the link as it’s a time capsule video, capturing Alvvays’ vintage but modern look and feel.  Look out for the hat tip to MuchFACT, the Canadian music fund towards the end of the short.

Antisocialites ticks the indie kid box and appeals to the electronica side of my tastes and if those two loves can be catered for, that’s usually a win for me and that’s what we’ve got here.

RIP Gordon

There are few things in life that unite people as much as music. In the case of Canadians it’s the Tragically Hip and in turn their frontman Gord Downie. Separate from many other Canadian peers such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Arcade Fire and so on The Hip’s international following are largely Canadian ex-pats living around the world. There has always been something quietly satisfying that there was one great act that as a Canadian you didn’t have to share with the world; they can have Justin Beiber and Avril Lavigne and we’ll keep good old Gord. For me, where ever I’ve been in the world I always had the Hip to bring me back home for a few moments at a time.

Gord Downie throughout his career found a way to unite Canada through song whilst firmly holding his stick and poking the Canadian bear. He was one of the only voices firmly voicing and explaining his dissatisfaction of the treatment of Canadians indigenous people that seemed to be heard. He said in one of his songs that ‘no ones interested in something you didn’t do’, and he made of point throughout his career in doing.

Sadly this week Gordon Downie lost his bottle to brain cancer, and with his passing there is a part of Canada that will no longer be there. He wrote about Life, he wrote about the good things, the bad things and he wrote about hockey. Thanks for the memories Gord, you created much more than you ever knew.