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
Wavves – Afraid of Heights
I forgot Wavves released an album this year –it took their recent announcement as radio hosts on GTAV for me to remember Afraid of Heights – and I also forgot to properly listen to it. No subsequent listens have ever quite managed to evoke the same excitement I felt when I first heard To The Dregs, and now, with this their 4th release, I’d started to lose faith they ever would.
Their surf/noise rock sound should be right up my street, but for some reason it never quite clicks. The whiny, distorted vocals of frontman Nathan Williams irritate more often than they impress, the guitar hooks become repetitive and fuzzed out into oblivion, and the drumming, well, actually the drumming is generally pretty solid.
The vocals in particular are a long-standing gripe I can’t see being resolved. That nasal San Diego whine as they wail about how ‘None of you will ever understand me’ on Lunge Forward is a truly unpleasant sound. I think the problem is that Williams is trying to sing when he blatantly can’t. To The Dregs worked because it was all monotone spoken-word apathy. When he says ‘You see me, I don’t care’, it’s not only less pretentious and pointedly ‘outsider’ than Lunge Forward, it also sounds sincere when combined with his could not give a shit ‘singing’. For much of Afraid of Heights Williams just sounds like a worse version of a sound you’ve heard a thousand times.
To their credit, the title track has some of that apathetic vibe and some of the ghostly harmonies that made them stand out, but it comes at the cost of momentum. The track is heavy, and in a trudging way, and the lyrics are once again unoriginal whimpering about being alone. Tame Impala suffer from a similar affliction but at least they’re less heavy-handed and whiny about it.
Right at the end though, and right as they bring a hitherto unimpressive first half to a close, it slows down even more and, somehow, becomes kind of amazing. It all turns woozy and slightly shoegaze-y, like someone just injected their guitars with some kind of anaesthetic and their vocals with some psychedelics.
That a moment of woozy airy-ness is an album highlight is all the more surprising since one thing that has always stood Wavves in good stead for me is their tightness. Everything is very defined, very to the point. The songs are brief enough to retain their punch throughout, which is vital for a band like Wavves who seem to rely almost entirely on explosive impact.
But on the second half of Afraid of Heights something weird has happened. Wavves, the surf rock San Diegans, somehow merge with Animal Collective or something and make Everything Is My Fault happen. It’s amazing, but where the hell did that come from?
It’s like a totally different band emerges for the second half of the album. Pretty much from the last minute of the title track onwards they simultaneously slow it down and kick it up a notch. It’s like they were saving every last drop of their creativity for that second half, but at the expense of a pretty bland opening.
Lush, expansive, trippy and drowning in atmosphere and style, it’s almost depressing how good it is – okay, Gimme A Knife is a bit shit, but still, on that second half Wavves finally bloom into a band I want to hear, even if it isn’t in the way I expected.
Beat Me Up, I Can’t Dream, Everything is My Fault
Parquet Courts//Light Up Gold