It’s that time of the year again. That special moment where you realise that half the year is gone already and reflect on all the things you should have reflected on if you’d realised it a month ago. In my case that led to a reflection on what I’ve reviewed this year and how it all stacks up. How does mbv rank alongside Yeezus? What about Deerhunter and Daft Punk? Vampire Weekend and….wait…I never reviewed Daft Punk. How…how did I not review that? Well how about David Bowie? No? Christ. I have some work to do.
Here then, rather than an actual reflection, is a run-down of some of the big releases I was too lazy to write about when they were actually relevant. From Daft Punk to Bowie to Primal Scream, it turns out there was actually rather a lot. I’m not including Jay-Z though because his album was too boring to finish.
So here it is – 2013: Half A Year of Hindsight.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
A good album, and possibly their best, made up of good songs that are, pretty much without fail, about three minutes too long. Seriously, even Get Lucky, that insta-classic, Nile Rogers driven piece of disco wonder, is like six and a half minutes long on the album.
The disco-electro gambit undoubtedly paid off, and though it’s the band’s most polished album by some distance, it’s could still definitely have done with a bit of a trim. Like, a twenty minute trim. Still, when all’s said and done and Get Lucky finally leaves the hive mind’s inner ear, people will remember this as proof that Daft Punk are still the kings of electro.
Get Lucky, Giorgio Moroder, Contact
Nick Cave – Push The Sky Away
Alas, proof that all good things must come to an end – and that they usually end with a whimper rather than a bang. Nick Cave and co’s late career renaissance has finally ground to a quietly depressing halt. Album opener We No Who U R(what’s so difficult about just spelling it properly?) tells you right from the off that the garage rock of Dig Lazarus Dig! is very much gone, replaced by atmospheric, gothic crooners. What it doesn’t tell you is that, with the exception of that opener, it generally doesn’t come off.
Cave said something vague about the album being about Wikipedia or something. Ignore that. The album isn’t about that. That would be interesting and new, but instead the album is as dull as it is unoriginal. You’ve heard this album before – thousands of times even – and you don’t need to hear it again unless you are among the most devoted of all Bad Seeds devotees.
Cave can still tell a tale with deep-voiced bravado, and the Bad Seeds can still create the kind of apocalyptic, haunting atmosphere that they’ve done for decades, but none of it ever really goes anywhere. And when it does it generally goes back.
Is the album terrible? No. Is it relaxing and generally pleasantly inoffensive? Yes. Is it good then? Ehhh…
We No Who U R, Jubilee Street, Water’s Edge
Austra – Olympia
Austra’s debut album, Feel It Break, was a solid, if somewhat repetitive, bit of 80s choral pop. Somewhere between Florence Welch and Simple Minds, it had enough bright moments to cancel out the fact that the rest of the album was just a loop of those same moments. On Olympia the Toronto based act do that exact same thing but in the process piss me off slightly more.
First, the good moments: they’ve nicely developed their sound by adding in elements of dubstep (is there a band in the world yet to add an element of dubstep to their sound?) to the core of gothic 80s pop and wailing vocals. Those vocals, already fairly love or hate, are more uneven on this album – especially when she tries to reign them in and just sounds constipated – but remain more a positive than a negative, if anything just for their uniqueness. That said, I fear a Jonsi situation could arise here if she doesn’t learn to mix it up better.
The music is all well and good, or at least, the first half is, but that all counts for nothing every time I look at bloody track 7 – I Don’t Care (I’m A Man). Hey, Austra, shut up. You can’t make an album where in every other song you pine for yo man and talk about how mental you are, and then make a minute long track that is essentially you saying ‘Men are stupid and bad and awful and I hate them’. The fact that it’s followed by a track that shows off the weird, vaguely Caribbean vibe that pervades a few tracks throughout the album just makes it all the more jarring and pointless.
Solid, but frustration remains – and not just because of the sexism.
What We Done, Reconcile, Home
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
Is this just like a new genre now? Psychedelic indie rock fronted by high-pitched men? Because I swear it seems like a rule now that all psychedelic bands now have to follow that template.
The latest entry to a genre that seems to be entirely made up of Tame Impala and slightly inferior rip-offs, Unknown Mortal Orchestra inject some folk and soul elements to a sound that is slower and more laid-back than their already extremely chilled compatriots. It’s a distinction that allows them to stand out slightly more than the competition, but ultimately they still just leave you thinking ‘God, Lonerism was great, I’ll listen to that instead’.
Manage to resist the temptation and you’ll be rewarded by a pleasantly sedate, calming bit of psychedelic rock, although not one to leave you particularly blown away. It suffers from some slow down later on (i.e. after that seven minute long ‘sonic exploration’) but is nothing if not solid.
This is music for those cool, sort of hipster gadget ads that alternate being all minimalist and louche and showing various ethnic people hanging out on a rooftop staring at a cat video.
From The Sun, So Good At Being In Trouble, No Need For A Leader
Primal Scream – More Light
Primal Scream are a weird band. They make a good album like once every ten years and fill the remainder with crappy efforts at blues/being the Rolling Stones. More Light continues that noble tradition of intermittent greatness, even if its ambition leads to its own lapses.
It starts off strong with 2013, a horn powered sprawl that stands with their best, and River of Pain, for once an attempt at a blues-y vibe that comes off as they channel Suicide and the Stones. Then Culturecide ruins it all by being totally terrible. At that point the fear sets in. You’ve been here before with the Scream – one good track and then an hour of contrived crap.
Hit Void, a rockier, shoegazier reinvention of Accelerator, is enough to restore some hope, but the chorus is so crap that you feel you should dismiss it. Sure, those horns and that incredible, vast guitar are awesome, but, really, it is just an atrocious chorus.
Seriously, this album must have some of the shittiest choruses I’ve ever heard. The fact that they’re pouring out in Bobby Gillespie’s trademark ‘Is he trying to be seductive or is he just really, really high?’ drawl doesn’t help. Gillespie’s vocals are obviously a long standing weak point, but by this stage you have to just kind of accept them.
The dreamy, bar room blues inflected Tenement Kid would seem to confirm your suspicions that this is same old Primal Scream, but a bit more together and trippier than normal. It gets by on that, but barely. Cue Invisible City to step in and pull a Lazarus on the album. Upbeat, energetic, distinctively Scream, it’s the band at their absolute best.
From there the album drops the bluesy schtick and just explodes in a ball of weird. Even Elimination Blues is more nightmare blues than anything else. It’s big, bold and endlessly ambitious. It’s the kind of kaleidoscopic sound of about 3 decades smashed into one that Kasabian have been trying to pull off since West Ryder, and here Scream show them how it’s done.
Which makes it a shame that it ends with a ‘slow’ (read: boring) number and then literally Movin’ On Up.
They’ve called it It’s Alright It’s Ok, but it is Movin’ On Up. It is exactly the same song in just about every way conceivable. They could release this accompanied by the video from Movin’ On Up and no one would notice the difference. Okay, maybe there is a difference, I guess – this is crapper.
Still, Primal Scream, despite some shaky moments, maintain their once-a-decade record with their best, most creative, most ambitious effort in years. I would rather if Gillespie didn’t rhyme ‘The teenage revolution’ with ‘The final solution’, though. I don’t like the connotation there.
2013, Hit Void, Invisible City
David Bowie – The Next Day
David Bowie doesn’t even make sense. How can he still make credible music half a century later? Look at the Rolling Stones, look at Led Zeppelin, look at, erm, Simply Red. Admittedly it’s not like he’s churning it out by the bucketful, but still, god. How does he even do this?
Right from the off The Next Day roars that Bowie still matters goddamnit, and he ain’t going to take no shit. Look, he’s even going to use his own album cover again but cover his own face. That is how hardcore this man is. The eponymous album opener features Bowie rocking just about as hard as he ever has and apparently defying time itself to produce a vocal performance that is honestly among his best. Like, ever.
His voice is the real star of the whole album, one that has inexplicably managed to almost grow with age. Vocally this may well be among the best work in his whole catalogue; if only for how much of a pleasant surprise it is.
Musically it’s a mixed bunch. All are definitively Bowie, but some sound more like Bowie of ages past, and not in a good way. Love is Lost sounds straight from 1982, whilst elsewhere it’s undeniably 2013. About 15 minutes overlong, the album lacks cohesion and sonically jumps all over the place throughout, and while it certainly leads to some highs, the lows stand out just as strong. Being Bowie, even the stuff like Love is Lost is at least tapping into just about the best sound you could have from 1982, thus at least ensuring it’s perfectly listenable.
The same can’t be said for Where Are We Now?, weirdly chosen as lead single in spite of sounding like a coma. There’s a certain sadness to it that could almost redeem it, but at the same time totally doesn’t.
Bloated, at times stuck in the past and at others just plain dull; The Next Day could very easily have gone so very, very wrong. It’s fortunate then that it doesn’t, nor does it even really come close. It may have its lulls, but throughout the pervading feeling is one of being thankful that Bowie’s back, even if it is just for this one swansong. He came out to prove he still had it, and by god the man does.
The Next Day, Valentines Day, If You Can See Me
The Besnard Lakes – Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
What a crap title.
What does it even mean?
Why…why is there a comma there when those two sets of words can’t possibly be connected?
Anyway, music. It’s the same as before. Done. If you liked everything else they’ve done then you’ll like this too. It’s exactly the same. It’s ethereal, dreamy, drowned in nice guitars and all the atmosphere. Every now and again it rocks out, maybe less than before, but mostly it’s pleasantly lulling in a Slowdive sorta way.
It’s good, basically. Really good. So good it’s frustrating because you can’t really complain about the fact they’ve essentially made the same album three times and are displaying absolutely no ambition because oh, that guitar bit was really nice, and, oh, that wash of synth was just heavenly.
Maybe a bit rougher, airier and effect laden than previous albums, the core nonetheless remains exactly the same as before. Which is terrible and brilliant all at once. I want to hate this band for being so lazy but I love them for making such nice sounds.
It makes for their worst album by default. It’s not original and it’s not a polish of a rougher debut. It’s just….just nice.
46 Satires, People of the Sticks, Colour Yr Lights In