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!
So first things first. Let’s celebrate we’ve been running this blog merrily for more than FIVE YEARS! Well done us. And what a constant source of great music and discussion it’s been.
And how apt that we turn to a band after whom the blog was (kind of) named. And a band that has glued us all together musically for many years. We’re talking, of course, about James Murphy and his merry band of LCD wizards.
Second things second. This is a really good album. He’s at the top his game. It’s LCD Soundsystem FFS, what else was it going to be? What I’d like to get into is this: is it a GREAT album? And can something be a GREAT album if it wears its inflences so strongly on its sleeve that it’s impossible to ignore them.
Let’s start with the simple positives. The songwriting is great, and all the lyrical content, with his obsession about getting older, loneliness, disaffection, it’s as as good as anything he’s done. AND, despite the LOOOOOONG running time, I think they pull it off. I was a bit daunted when I saw list of 6, 7, 8, 9 minute songs – but on the whole, they’re little works of art that build their own internal momentum.
So what about that influences thing? Murphy’s mentioned in a number of interviews being inspired by Bowie to make another album, and to do exactly what he wanted to do, regardless of what the audience wants. He’s sure done that. But my goodness, those influences are SO plain the mix. Here’s a list of ones that jumped out on me on pretty much a first listen:
Emotional Haircut – Jesus H Christ, this is pure Joy Division. Could it sound any more like it was produced by Martin Hannett? That drum mix is quintessential Joy Division.
How Do You Sleep? – Oh man, name your early 80s influences. Siouxise? Cure? New Order? Bauhaus? Hell, this could be a bloody band from Leeds in 1982.
Change Your Mind – That guitar part is STRAIGHT from Bowie’s Scary Monsters. You think I’m exaggerating?
I could go on. There’s heaps of New Order and Joy Division influences, but Bowie is the veil than hangs over it all.
And then there are even times when LCD feel like they’re doing a cover of themselves. Do you know what I mean?
Call The Police
Other Voices (again, man, that Robert Fripp-esque guitar that could be from any number of Bowie albums!)
– both of these could have appeared on any of the LCD albums since Day 1. And they feel both wonderfully familiar, but also it’s as I’ve actually heard them before.
So I guess what I’m asking is: does this matter? We talk a lot on this blog about influences and being derivative and being original. Will that, in the end, mean that this is an album I play for quite a bit, then shelve because, when it comes down to it, I might as well listen to Unknown Pleasures or Heroes? Or has Murphy pulled this off with such brio and force and passion, that he’s moulded all the sounds he’s pilfered from his heroes into something new?
Right now, I don’t know. I’m so enjoying listening to it. But I do have a nagging voice in the back of my head. And occassionally, I’ve laughed out loud at how obvious he’s been about stealing a sound.
Over to you, Brothers. And here’s to another 5 years!
SONG OF THE SUMMER ALERT
Lordy lord. What is this? I loved the first two Arcade Fire albums so hard, and then seemed to go right up their fundaments, becoming more pompous and boring and alt-stadium rock with every release.
So count me astonished that this seems to have come out of nowhere. And what is this they’re channelling? Why, it’s surely a touch of ABBA’s Dancing Queen? Dancing Queen with a huge existenial lyric, a bit of nose flute and a giant choir?
YES FUCKING PLEASE.
This will piss off the rock purists so badly.
This makes me so happy.
I’ve listened to this 25 times in the past week.
NOTE TO ALL BANDS: Find your inner Agnetha and Annifrid, and all will be well.
Sweet Jesus, Grizzly Bear are back after a 5 year hiatus. I’m such a huge fan. I return to their music time and time again. It’s a whole world away from your average US college rock, Pitchfork-loved guitar band – though Pitchfork probably do love them. I find their music endlessly fascinating, full of interesting layers and their songs tend to open up the more you listen to them. That makes them sound like a tough listen, which they’re not at all. But they do have intimacy to their songwriting despite having quite a ‘big’ sound.
This first single seems to have picked up where the last album left off. I wasn’t sure to start with, and then I liked it; and now, on the 20th listen, I completely love it.
Album’s coming in August and they’re playing Manchester on October 6th. I’ve just bought tickets. Anyone fancy joining me?
Firstly, the hugest of apologies for the lateness of this month. It’s been a bit of month, so please forgive me.
So, onto PERFUME GENIUS. I had half-remembered that his previous album, Too Bright, had featured as an AOTM on these pages, but looking back through, perhaps that didn’t happen. Certainly, for a few of us, that album was a first real introduction to him (Joey, I know you’ve loved him for ages). And perhaps for some of us, he’s still a mystery.
If Too Bright was a progression from his interesting but sometimes noodly earlier work, No Shape is a giant leap forward into a whole new cosmos, a world of widescreen emotion, of huge songs, aching torch songs and whopping choruses. It is, whisper it, a pop album. And I say that with the hugest respect. Making interesting arthouse pop is one thing – constructing a whole album of cracking songs with amazing hooks and heartstring-tugging sequences is something else. Yes, I love this album. Yes, I REALLY love this album.
It’s not often I play an album 10 times in a row over a course of 3 days. It’s not often that I know straight away that I will playing this album for years to come. It’s not often that I rewind a few of the songs and play them again and again. I can’t think of the last album that had five songs in a row that were all so good, I was almost overwhelmed (Track 2: Slip Away to Track 6: Wreath).
So what is in this crazy alchemy that works so well. It’s not a radical departure from Too Bright in many ways – that bold camp vision of leftfield, celebratory gay pop music is still intact; it’s just bolder, brighter, sunnier. But what has really changed for me is the songwriting. The hooks, the melodies, the whole production – it’s next level shit.
I’ve been at a rather hippyish wedding of an old uni friend in Somerset. She suggested we all bring guitars and instruments down for a sing-song, which we duly did. Alex (Batesmith) brought a book of pop tunes, that had many a 90s classic in there. The biggest hit, singalong wise, of the rather bleary late night, was, surprisingly enough, Erasure’s A Little Respect. The next day, driving back on the long drive up to Leeds in sheet rain, we stuck on the Erasure song, and we were stunned by how good it was. We ended up listening to nearly the whole of their greatest hits. Fuck me, they knew how to write a pop song. If people rightly laud the Pet Shop Boys, why aren’t Erasure mentioned in the same breath? I wonder if they felt a bit too brash and less cool. But in songwriting terms, they wrote about 10 stone cold pop classics.
Why am I mentioning them? Well, there is something of their love of melody, of finding rich emotion in the camp candyfloss of pop tunes, that is right here in this album. Indeed, some of the chord changes are even reminiscent of ABBA. Again, I come to praise, not to bury. Of course, there is also some darker elements, some more oddbeat, slow burn peculiar songs of weird intensity, like Choir and quite a bit of the album’s second half. But I defy anyone not to play Wreath or Just Like Love, and not just smile at the sheer, indefatigable joy of pop music, in all its garish glory.
Perfume by name, Genius by nature.
Father John Misty comes back with a frankly magnificent piece of work… and the video’s really something, too.
Well where the hell did this come from? Childish Gambino AKA Donald Glover drops his 3rd album under the CG monkier out of nowhere, and it is a BEAST. Always been slightly underwhelmed by his previous output, which felt to more like hip hop you could admire more than love. It was too clever and tricksy and I don know, I didn’t feel it.
This is a totally different beast. This isn’t hip hop at all – it’s a funk or soul album, steeped in Sly Stone, Prince and Funkadelic, and it’s as properly far out at times as either George Clinton or Sly. It’s a bold step to the left, and he pulls it off with incredible confidence. I’m only my 2nd listen, but I am LOVING it…