Bloc Party – ‘HYMNS’

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It’s been four fairly tumultuous years for Bloc Party after the band’s fourth LP, the appropriately titled Four, failed to recreate the sound behind the exciting, guitar-driven rock that had drawn fans in with the phenomenal Silent AlarmFour sounded like a band of Bloc Party wannabes, a band that had some idea of the theory behind the band’s most famous and acclaimed work but couldn’t quite achieve the spark that Bloc Party seemingly so easily did on their first two albums.

Following the departure of veteran and founding members Matt Tong (drummer) and Gordon Moakes (bassist), Bloc Party are back with a new lineup and a new sound. HYMNS bases itself on the band’s previous electronic experiments (such as the excellent A Weekend In The City track ‘Flux’ as well as the band’s third album, Intimacy), coupling them with more religous themes of faith and spirituality as opposed to the themes of sex and vulnerability in their previous work, all grounded on the same deeply personal and often awkward events surrounding lead singer Kele Okereke’s life.

HYMNS is an album that actually sees Bloc Party return to an old formula that previously worked remarkably well with A Weekend In The City: Centering the album around a handful of themes (terrorism, fear, dissatisfaction and isolation with AWINTC, faith, spirituality and selfless love in HYMNS), the band has been able to release their most consistent, cohesive material since that very album, even if it doesn’t quite measure up to their best work.

The album kicks off with the fairly bland ‘The Love Within’, a track with terribly awkward lyrics (“The love within is moving upwards / Sweeter than any drug” and the contrasting and repeated line “Don’t you want to get high?”) laid out over fairly generic beats with very little in the vein of interesting or surprising instrumentation on the song. Fortunately, the song ends up being one of the album’s lowest points and not an indicator of the rest of the album, as almost every other track on HYMNS is quite better than it. The album’s following track, the haunting ‘Only He Can Heal Me’, where a choir constantly repeats and almost gasps the song’s title track throughout, is a genuinely inventive track that also sports much better lyrics from Okereke, as he describes his search for his one and only saviour, the one that will finally heal his wounds.

The album’s first half sees Bloc Party fully embracing their newly found sound and themes, sporting three great tracks (the aforementioned ‘Only He Can Heal Me’, the more rythmical ‘So Real’ as well as the spacious, vulnerable ‘Fortress’) amongst a couple of duds, including the Gorillaz-esque ‘The Good News’, as well as the overly-long and honestly quite whiney ‘Different Drugs’, while in the second half, having already seemingly exhausted their themes, Bloc Party just kind of try to remake the first half of the album, resulting in fairly boring and derivative songs (‘Into The Earth’, ‘My True Name’, ‘Exes’) where Okereke often sounds more preachy and holier-than-thou than simply honest. The second half of the album is almost saved entirely by the excellent, catchy, ‘Virtue’, a song where Kele’s emotional vocal work coupled with a great beat lead to the song’s best album as well as ‘Living Lux’, a fairly minimalistic, synthesizer-based song reminiscent of some of their earlier work (reminding me in particular of ‘This Modern Love’ and ‘Two Weeks’ from the band’s debut) which serves as a genuinely great ending to the album.

Ultimately, HYMNS is a work that is completely consistent and cohesive, but it’s an album that is just consistently ok to good. It’s an album where the band clearly defined its themes and sound to aim for, but seemingly ran out of ideas halfway through developing it, showcasing some flashes of greatness that still, nonetheless, don’t quite reach their previous work. Seeing as how Bloc Party are, at this point, almost entirely a new band, this is still a promising work. Fans of the band’s previous albums will be disappointed by the change in sound but, to anyone with a craving for spiritual, electronic music and to previous fans with an open mind, HYMNS might surprised you.

ALBUM GRADE: B

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Jamie XX – ‘In Colour’

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There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that, after the minimalistically phenomenal pop debut by the XX in their first, self-titled, LP and an uneven, but nonetheless solid follow-up with 2012’s Coexist, that Jamie XX is one talented young artist. Having produced both of the XX albums all the while releasing a full remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s last recorded album, I’m New Here, under the title We’re New Here, which saw widespread acclaim that nearly matched that of the original album, Jamie XX has finally released his first full-length debut, In Colour.

So, what exactly is this album about? How does the music sound like? What was the direction Jamie XX took this album in? Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure. One could describe this as a pop album, heavily influenced by dance music, and they wouldn’t be too far off, particularly when songs like Loud Places and I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) are two of the strongest songs on the album, and unsurprisingly the album’s leading single, but to do so would actually be a disservice to the album and perhaps even a bit misleading. Why? Well, for starters, Gosh sounds nothing like your average pop song. It’s a full blown dance song through and through, sampling a  clip from a BBC Radio 1 programme that Jamie stumbled upon, blaring its way through the instruments as the song slowly builds up and more and more sounds are added to the song, giving it an almost claustrophobic feeling towards the end of it, before Jamie XX retracts in the last few seconds to give the listener some air to breath.

Gosh, however, is not the only song on the album that could open up a DJ set or even be requested at your local club. Hold Tight falls in line with this style as well, with a DJ interrupting the song as it’s building up to give a shout out to multiple different “crews”, as if to incentivate the people on the dancefloor to start giving in to the rythm and dance, while The Rest Is Noise builds up with a more introspective, intimate, slower take on the dancing matter, sounding outright beautiful at points.

However, as I’ve mentioned, these songs are right in the middle of house-influence pop songs that stick out from the rest of the tracklist, but not for a bad reasong. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), drawing heavily from reggaeton, ebbs and flows with careless optimism, as Young Thug and Popcaan sing about going out, having fun, and being with your friends before the song concludes as Popcaan remarks that the song “was good, we enjoyed it, [even though] we never used to like reggaeton”. Loud Places, on the other hand, doesn’t stray too far away from the dance genre, as Remy (vocalist for the XX) sings about a lost love and looking for intimacy in loud places, but isn’t afraid to step away from the more conventional dance tropes and go for a loud, harmony-filled chorus, sampling away from the wonderful Idris Muhammad song Could Heaven Ever Be Like This.

Incidentally, the song’s theme happens to be a summarization of the album’s overarching theme: It’s not just about dancing and going out and having a good time. It’s not just about the clean instrumentation or the building beats. It’s also about the search for intimacy, love, and being alone in the loudest places. Jamie isn’t afraid to show his emotions throughout the album, from the sad lonerism from Stranger In a Room to the wonderful, bittersweet conclusion in Girl, as Jamie once again resorts to sampling to echo throughout the song “I want your love / Give me your love”.

In the end, In Colour is a wonderfully disjointed debut that serves as a platform for Jamie to show through all the influences he has picked up in his short career. This is Jamie’s vision of dance music, something beautifully intimate and minimalistic, with occasional breathing moments here and there. All in all, In Colour was 2015’s strongest debut and is hopefully a sign of great things to come for Jamie XX.

Six long years…

Well, not exactly six years. It’s closer to five years and a half, but the sentiment is nonetheless the same: The last time I reviewed an album on this blog, the wonderfully enthusiastic Champ by Tokyo Police Club, I was a wide-eyed high schooler who had just started dipping his toes into the wonders of alternative pop, still struggling to let go of the pop-punk that had defined so much of my music library during the frankly confusing middle-school years.

Since then, however, I have graduated high school, found myself in my first serious long-term relationship all the while attending college, studying Computer Engineering. These have been six wonderful years, filled with personal growth and new, exciting experiences and a little bit of heartbreak. However, throughout these years, I’ve been finding myself missing writing long, thoughtful, error-riddled reviews about whatever albums I had been listening to over the last week or so, ready to share my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) with whatever little amount of readers I had.

It’s been too long WordPress, and I’m ready to start reviewing music again. Next up is Jamie XX’s In Colour. Spoiler alert: It’s amazing.

‘Champ’ Review

Tokyo Police Club’s debut Elephant Shell was a very rare gem from 2008. A breezy, enjoyable Summer record, TPC’s first record had an enjoyable innocence to it, but it had an extremely annoying problem: Even though every song had different themes lyrically and different tempos musically, it all sounded extremely similar. Obviously, in an indie-rock record, having an album  that sounds like one big song is a very disturbing problem.

But finally, after two years, TPC finally has the chance to redeem themselves with Champ, but it seems that, unfortunately, Tokyo Police Club didn’t really take the chance. Champ seems to act like the second verse to Elephant Shell, ensuring that the listener who listens to both records in a row doesn’t even notice the difference when it passes from one album to the other. Now, I’m not saying that the records are bad… Like I said in the beginning, Elephant Shell was a very rare gem in its own right and Champ, being more of the same, is also a great record. The problem is that when you find two supposedly “rare”  gems in one place, they stop being rare and, thus, valuable.

Songs like “Favourite Colour” and “Big Difference” really beg to differ, by adding energy to the typical breezy formula, but not even then Champ sounds apart from its predecessor, ensuring that listening to “Tesseltale” or “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” is an extremely similar experience, even though the band had two years to really explore new sounds.

So, all in all, Champ shows a band that has great potential, but is somewhat chained to the same sound for over two years. In my opinion, I think we should give them a couple of more records before they really unveil their full potential. Tokyo Police Club are obviously a great band but Champ, for now, feels like nothing more than a stepping stone in an extremely promising career.

Grade: B-

‘Of Men And Angels’ Review

 No older and more hard-working than ever, The Rocket Summer comes back with a follow-up to the fantastic Do You Feel, a fantastic pop album by Bryce Avary wich was pure, Summer-esque fun. The new album, Of Men And Angels gives me somewhat mixed feelings.

For once, The Rocket Summer seems to be maturing and expanding musically, but Bryce Avary seems to have lost his fun. Where are the happy-go-lucky lyrics that “So Much Love” carried so proudly? The vibrant power pop found in “Do You Feel”? They seem to be long gone, now replaced by darker lyrics.

“You Gotta Believe” sounds like an excellent b-side from Do You Feel, with its “woahs” in the chorus and Bryce Avary’s happy mood. But it is probably the only song in which Avary seems to be having fun. “I Need A Break… But I’d Rather Have A Breakthrough” is a fantastic example of what I’m trying to explain. On the surface the song seems to be pure power pop goodness, but thanks to its lyrics and Avary’s sad/honest tune, it takes away some of the fun. Maturing involves facing your problems and taking responsibilities but can’t you have fun while doing it?

Still, Avary may not be having fun, but the album still features some fantastic songs. “Hills and Valleys” features a horribly catchy chorus, “Walls” is a beautiful, heartfelt ballad and “Light” ends the album in a mature, honest way.

So, all in all, it could’ve been better. Of Men And Angels sounds somewhat lacking that fun factor and while that means that the ballads are better than ever, The Rocket Summer needs to reevaluate its priorities and just be happy.

Grade: B-

Best albums of the year (2009)

2009 was a fantastic year for music. Say what you will, but we saw new releases from some big bands like Franz Ferdinand, Animal Collective, Arctic Monkeys, Megadeth, Muse and so much more. Still, some genres don’t seem to be recovering, as rap and metal, aside a few exceptions, continue as awful as ever. Now here are my favorite albums of the year.

10th – Nothing Personal by All Time Low

Say what you want about MTV’s sweethearts, but they are one of the only bands in the channel that actually tries to break the mold, by mixing happy-go-lucky lyrics with secure vocals. Nothing Personal is a fantastic rush with twelve fantastic pop songs from one of the most confident bands in the scene.

9th – Reach For The Sun by The Dangerous Summer

Although Mean Everything To Nothing is getting all the love from the critics, Reach For The Sun is, in my opinion, a better album. Don’t get me wrong, though. Manchester Orchestra’s album does have a better musicianship and fantastic lyrics, but The Dangerous Summer’s album is more energetic, more emotional and has better insights on life. It’s a fantastic album and one of the most refreshing takes in a while on the pop-punk genre.

8th – You Can’t Take It With You by As Tall As Lions

By the time “In Case Of Rapture” started playing, I was growing bored of this album. I mean, the musicianship was fantastic, the lyrics were complex and the vocals were pitch-perfect. So why was I bored by that? I don’t know, but after that track, As Tall As Lions completely surprised me, by doing an 180º on their music with the track “We’s Been Waitin’ “. It’s the ability to surprise when you least expect that makes this one of the best albums of the year.

7th – Armistice by MUTEMATH

With eccentric pop in mind, MUTEMATH pretty much define what bands ruled the mainstream in the 80s and 90s. Before all the crunkcore and pop-punk, songs like “Backfire” and “Spotlight” ruled the radios, and with good reason. They were catchy. However, MUTEMATH’s songs aren’t only catchy, but also feature fantastic lyrics and intricate musicianship, making Armistice one of the very best albums of the year.

6th – brand new eyes by Paramore

After a weak showing in Riot!, Paramore finally revealed their true potential in 2009. brand new eyes is an amazing, well-structured album, filled with excellent songs. Just look at the rush “Ignorance” offers and the insight Hailey offers on religion with “Playing God”. An excellent album.

5th – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand

How do you label this album? A dance record? Makes sense, if it wasn’t for the lyrics about going out (and not having fun) and Kaprano’s pitch-perfect voice, without any auto-tune. Then, is it a pop record? You’d think so, but there is just so much happening in the songs and the lyrics are so complex that it just can’t be. Whatever it is, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is a fantastic album, and one of the very best albums of the year.

4th – Say Anything by Say Anything

After defending a genre in the spawn of 80 or so minutes, Say Anything is back with another glorious album, albeit a smaller one. Instead of the pop-punk that the other albums so proudly presented, Max Bemis and company release here what is an essential pop record. Songs like “Less Cute” and “Eloise” rank among the best the band has ever written.

3rd – Aim And Ignite by fun.

Have you ever imagined what Broadway would sound like if it was reduced to an album? Well, wonder no more! Aim And Ignite sounds so expensive, so well-produced and so confident that it is really, but really hard to understand how can this album be the debut from this album. A mind-blowing pop album.

2th – Merriweather Post Pavillion by Animal Collective

 The most challenging, mind-blowing album released by this pop band yet. Buy it. Now.

1st – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix

How to resume this album in a sentence: The best pop album released in 20 years. Enough said.

 

 

Music that can change your life – #1

So, we finally reach number one, and with nothing more than a record from the ’90s. If Oasis can’t change your life or your perspective on life, than I don’t know what will. This brilliant, epic album filled with classics is essential in everyone’s collection. There isn’t a single song you’ll want to skip or a song that you won’t enjoy.

Although the fan favorite is Definetly, Maybe, the band has as the magnum-opus (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?. The band since then has released many, many albums, but none of them ever came close to this gem. Maybe its the songs like the playful, feel-good “She’s Electric” or the rock-esque “Some Might Say” mixed with a bit of nostalgia, but the band just never reached these heights anymore.

The classics are all over the place here, like the teen-favorite “Wonderwall”, a beautiful song carried on by Gallagher’s punk-esque vocals and utterly honest lyrics. “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is another fantastic song, with Gallagher singing eloquently: “Don’t put your life in the hands of a rock and roll band / Who’ll throw it all away”.

The album ends in a majestic, epic way with the classic “Champagne Supernova”, a song that deserves to be listened at least once, thanks to its overall feel and the mystical lyrics.

I’m not going to lie. (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? is my favorite album of all time. It is filled with classics, brilliant lyrics and amazing vocals. I don’t think I could give it an higher recomendation. Buy it, borrow it, steal it (not advisable)… Just listen to it.

Listen to: Champagne Supersona, Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back In Anger.