Monday, 10 September 2012

New Music Monday #23

by The Presets (2012)

After four long years, The Presets have finally returned with an album so different from Beams and Apocalypso, but one that retains their ability to make you want to get up, walk out that door, get in a cab, find a club, have a drink and dance like you've never danced before. Sadly, you aren't likely to hear many of the tracks on Pacifica played at the club. Just Nicki Minaj. So much Minaj. No, there are no tracks so undeniably brilliant in their silliness (aka pop perfection) like 'Talk Like That' or 'Are You The One?' Instead, you have well crafted tunes that create their own world and throw you right into it. Tracks that make you want to dance while providing lyrics that make you smile, make you think, make you reflect. That's not pop perfection, it's music perfection. So they haven't rested on their laurels and delivered Apocalypso 2.0. This is a good thing! There is a dramatic improvement in their lyrical work, the album is more cohesive than their previous efforts and did I mention they still make you want to go out (or stay at home!) and dance? Yes, this is Australia's finest electronic duo delivering a homage to countless dance genres that defined the 80s and 90s. Yes, you're going to want to hear Pacifica over and over again and, more importantly, you're going to want to hear it performed live. 

We knew the tracks 'Youth In Trouble' and 'Ghosts' going in and they work as an excellent introduction to the album and The Presets' new direction. I'm sure I wasn't the only one waiting before both drops in 'Youth In Trouble' for the music to just go absolutely mental after so much build-up. In typical Julian Hamilton/Kim Moyes fashion, we get some douchey Presets lyrical gold that you forgive them for because they pull it off so well. "With the music taste so abominable, man I'm worried sick for a youth in trouble." Yeah, yeah... everyone sucks but you. Pacifica perks up a little with 'Promises.' Or does it? The music is certainly sunny and cheery in the opening and chorus, but it's actually kinda depressing. Hamilton's voice hovers around that place in your mind reserved for favourite vocalists as he asks, "wouldn't it be nice if we, could leave behind this mess we're in?" One of the album's stand-out tracks and surely a future single release. 

And then 'Push' happens and everything just goes crazy. If this doesn't make you want to dance, go and breathe on a window and see if you've got a soul... because I'm pretty sure you don't have one. 'Fall' continues the incredible run started by 'Promises.' "Darling it was on a night like this, I remember we first touched. Fearless in the face of all hostilities. We're on this runaway train, only need you next to me." Surprisingly romantic lyrics drive a track that I can't help but refer to as The Presets' take on Rihanna's 'We Found Love.' Come on, it's about falling all the way down to hell and in hell they find their heaven. It's 'We Found Love' for grown ups? Work with me, people. 'It's Cool' falls within a more chilled out atmosphere. It's a nice enough downer, but following the previous three tracks it falls a little too flat. 'A.O.' and 'Surrender' bring back some of the magic before 'Fast Seconds' gives you a small taste of The Presets of old. Tenth and final track, 'Fail Epic' brings Pacifica to a close after less than fifty minutes and I think... why is the album over already? You couldn't have added in another two songs? Whatever though, they still leave you wanting more and at the end of the day, what more can you ask of an album?  

Matt Bond gives Pacifica four Michael Hutchence's out of five...

Any other week it would have been a five for sure, but...

Theatre Is Evil
by Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra (2012)

Any music lover will have experienced it. That moment when you listen to an album for the first time and you just know. You know that this is an album you will be listening to for the rest of your life. It will not be sitting on the sidelines waiting to be rediscovered. There is no possibility you'll get sick of it. You know that this is an album that you will love, learn from and listen to for the rest of your life. Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra's Theatre Is Evil gave me that moment and I couldn't be happier. Or more excited. And incredibly heartbroken in the way that you can only forgive the most indescribably breathtaking music. Amanda Palmer takes you on a journey of epic proportions. She reaches for dizzying heights and takes you down to crushing lows. 

Now, this far into my "review" you're already questioning my lack of objectivity. It's true, I'm an Amanda Palmer fan. This year I've seen The Dresden Dolls live, pledged as part of AFP's ridiculously successful Kickstarter project and participated in our most gushing countdown ever (Amanda Palmer's Greatest Hits). Throw in the countless hours I've spent listening to The Dresden Dolls' catalogue, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, thousands of live clips on YouTube and it's safe to say at this point I'm pretty much obsessed with the woman. Borderline 'celebrity stalker' tag aside, the point I'm trying to make is that my expectations for Theatre Is Evil were so high, I don't think I've ever anticipated the release of an album more. Palmer took my expectations, shoved them in a rocket ship and launched them into space. Destination? A galaxy far, far away. She exceeded my very high expectations, ok? I am an Amanda Palmer fan, but this album doesn't even need me to look for reasons to defend it. The music speaks for itself.

Cabaret diva, Meow Meow gloriously introduces The Grand Theft Orchestra who launch into the bombastic, anthemic 'Smile (Pictures Or It Didn't Happen).' Amanda Palmer has always had a wonderful way with words and no trends are being bucked just because she's upped the pop sensibilities ante. As she laments the world's current obsession with documenting every facet of life through photography she professes, "we're the last ones laughing, pictures or it didn't happen, get it because we'll all be dead and no one dead can use a camera." Post-punk follow-up 'The Killing Type' showcases a strong rock frontwoman. It's a far cry from her start as the cabaret songstress sitting behind a piano. Her evolution is further addressed in 'Do It With A Rockstar.' It's not often we get to refer to a Palmer-penned track as being a mood brightening, get up and dance number. The Grand Theft Orchestra should be applauded for that. It's the most light-hearted number on the album ("his cousin left his DVD of swingin' in the seventies!"), yet it still leaves you wanting to hear it again. And again. And again and again and again. Even more strange is thinking of an Amanda Palmer track as being commercially viable, but that's exactly what 'Want It Back' is. One of the most energetic, catchy and amazing slices of indie pie to be released in 2012 and yet it still manages to remain Palmer-fied with gorgeous lines like, "I will let you go if you will let somebody love you like I do." 

That energetic bopping thing you think you won't be able to get your head to stop doing automatically ceases as 'Grown Man Cry' begins, giving us our first real reminder that this is still Amanda Palmer we're dealing with here. Always at her best when openly discussing the worst aspects of a relationship, she details her problems with what seems to be a highly, um, sensitive man. "You're standing on the corner, and you're throwing down the gauntlet, it is not a life decision, you just need to pick a restaurant." For our listening pleasure, that songstress sitting behind the piano fully emerges in all her glory alongside a haunting string arrangement by GTO member, Jherek Bischoff on 'Trout Heart Replica.' Stuck in that lonely, in-between relationships state of mind, Palmer visited a trout farm (with future husband Neil Gaiman) where she forced herself to watch the farmer/fisherman/whatever club the trout to death, gut the fish and watch as he pulled out the trout's still-beating heart. It continued to beat for over a minute. She saw her own heart to be the same as the trouts. What's your heart like after hearing 'Trout Heart Replica?' Broken. It's broken. "And killing things is not so hard, it's hurting that's the hardest part, and when the wizard gets to me, I'm asking for a broken heart." In a sign of acknowledgment that you'll need a moment to recover, The Grand Theft Orchestra perform a brief intermission number. Well played, Palmer. You're just about stable enough to catch the opening lines of the more upbeat 'Lost.' Everything's wonderful again as playful tunes fill your ears. And then it happens. 'The Bed Song.'

'The Bed Song' is... it's everything. Joyously opening with 'exhibit A'; happier times that seem to be the start of something wonderful and ending with the devastating 'exhibit E,' it's a story that chronicles the crippling breakdown of communication, intimacy and love in a relationship. "And I lay there wondering what is the matter, is this a matter of worse or of better, you took the blanket so I took the bed sheet, and I would have held you if you'd only... let me." Performed simply, piano and vocal, it stands out amongst every other track on Theatre Is Evil because of its minimal production. It's a move to be celebrated. Palmer's voice subtly delivers blow after blow, her pain as stifled as her inability to be open and honest with her lover. That pain is momentarily unleashed in the bridge after 'exhibit C,' the first instance of communication between the two characters. In a bid not to spoil 'exhibit E,' I'll just say that the second time the two communicate is just as tear-inducing as the first. In my non-professional opinion, there is no greater songwriter in music today than Amanda Palmer; exhibit A - 'The Bed Song.' When VH1 do their storytellers program, Amanda Palmer is who they should be going after. Not P!nk. 'The Bed Song' is a story. It's beautiful, heartbreaking, breathtaking, an artistic achievement. It's everything... and then some. "You picked a mattress and had it delivered, and I walked upstairs and the sight of it made my heart pound, and I wrapped my arms around me." 

'Massachusetts Avenue' and 'Melody Dean' provide a nice pick me up, as The Grand Theft Orchestra triumphantly return to make sure you don't remain too emotionally wrecked. A look back at our star's old stripping days (not so much a dedication to the German capital), the ballad and penultimate number, 'Berlin' has you thinking everything's about to get all 'Bed Song' up in here again, but then the horns start blaring and you picture yourself old and drunk at a cabaret bar having the time of your life. It's that awesome. Well, I know how I'm spending my retirement. The opening and closing piano line is stunning. Expecting a final ballad, I was pleasantly surprised with the footstomping rock and roll riot that is 'Olly Olly Oxen Free.' My emotions say thank you, Amanda. I don't think they could have handled another downer. 'Olly Olly Oxen Free' leaves you with a smile on your face and before you know it, you've convinced yourself why you're going to run an emotional gamut all over again. You know why you're going to do it? Because that's what the best music out there is supposed to do to you. Take you on that journey that makes you think, makes you feel. There's no better guide for that journey than Amanda Palmer. Thank you Amanda for giving me that moment that made me know. Made me know that I'll be listening to Theatre Is Evil for the rest of my life. 

Matt Bond gives Theatre Is Evil five Bjork's out of five...   

by The xx (2012)

See, if you’re looking for a cock-sucking-The-xx-are-the-best-band-ever-to-come-out-of-London-Mercury-award-winning-blah-blah-use-of-minimalism-technically-perfect-review, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Chances are if that’s what you’re looking for you’re not reading this blog anyway, so I guess that’s a useless point. Some people are going to love this album, some are going to hate it, but regardless, let me start my review with the information that I walked into a shop on Friday and handed over my own hard earned cash to purchase The xx’s actual CD; it didn’t arrive in my emails, I didn’t sit at home in my pyjamas and download it, or worse yet, I didn’t appropriate the music via illegal sources. This should say a lot about what type of review you’re reading. 

For me, The xx do not produce the type of music that I immediately love, that grabs and shakes me and makes me glad to be alive, which makes reviewing them as new music a little difficult. For me, they make the type of music that lives with me, that slowly wraps itself around me like the beginning of winter, which day by day becomes colder and colder until the depth of the season has set in and I live comfortably inside it. Coexist is exactly the same. It hasn’t pushed any boundaries; it’s The xx doing what they do well, but perhaps even more sparse than their first album; yet still comfortably xx-ish. There’s a lot of space in the tracks, a lot of room to fill, and while I know spaces don’t always need to be filled, sometimes there’s enough time for me to wonder why they weren’t. Those spaces, the room for thought, is what can make this album a little hard to digest, as it’s so very mellow I have to keep reminding myself to listen. When I do listen I’m surprised and amazed, but it’s the concentration, the remembering to listen that’s the problem. 

Which songs will be the singles are obvious, the songs to be remixed evident, the songs perfect for TV are recognizable. My favourite track, the opener ‘Angels’, remains my favourite, but that’s not to say that over the next few months other songs won’t seep into my consciousness as I play them in the car, over dinner, floating through my house and maybe (hopefully) I’ll fall in love over and over again (I’m looking at you 'Reunion,' 'Sunset' and 'Our Song.') Let’s go back to the start of this review then. On Friday I went to a shop and physically purchased this album to savour on my drive home. Now, having listened, would I do that again? Yes, I suspect I would and that probably says all you need to know about what I think of this album.

Jo Michelmore gives Coexist three Karen O's out of five...


Anything Could Happen
by Ellie Goulding

Marry me, EG! That is all... 

Matt Bond gives the 'Anything Could Happen' video three Britney's out of five...  


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