Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Adult Contemporary Essentials 27.06.10

Avi Buffalo
Avi Buffalo
Sub Pop
The Sub Pop label is some handy shorthand for high expectations from a debut album, and this album does not disappoint. Avi Buffalo is the adopted name of 19-year-old Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg, and the music they make (appropriately for Long Beach, Californians, perhaps) is summery, wistful pop, but the kind that you'd hope The Shins would make if they took some time to just hang out. Fashionably-enough, the music also features the kind of ecstatic mass choruses and hand claps that seem essential all of a sudden. But that doesn't diminish the feel-good factor from what is a throw-back to a 70s Buffalo Springfield reminder, brought bang up to date. No song on the album matches the lead single, What's In It For, but, like Band of Horses, the feel becomes the idea, and all of a sudden you're out the other side, blessed out and hitting repeat.

ACE rating 8/10

The Morning Benders
Big Echo
Rough Trade
The Morning Benders' Talking Through Tin Cans was an epic debut, introducing us to a band whose harmonies were 'the way music used to be' - easy, gently gorgeous. Fortunately, now that they are a big deal, the band have stepped up and produced something significant. Big Echo is the sound of a band properly on its feet.
Opening with the frankly astonishingly great Excuses, a song which must be in contention for single of 2010, the record then goes on to run through 10 could-be singles, and a great bonus track. Clearly, like Delta Spirit, this is a band that finds it hard not to make music (they released a fantastic Bedroom Covers album for free in 2009, running through wonderful cover versions, seemingly for fun). Another band that alludes to the Shins, but here it's to mix them with some later-period Beatles and some Beach Boys. Big Echo is a have-to-have.

ACE rating 9/10

Suzanne Vega
Close-Up Vol 1: Love Songs
Cooking Vinyl
All the way back in 1985 (yup, 25 years ago), Suzanne Vega's honest, poetic debut album shocked many, as a reminder of how remarkable simple, largely acoustic music could be. After a period where Vega has drifted into electronica and rock, Close Up is a return to her back catalogue, with selections re-recorded acoustically. With a more mature voice, songs like Marlene On The Wall, Gypsy, and Small Blue Thing are reflected in their perfect essence. There is a deeply affecting energy shining through each song - the sense that these are old, loved friends. Almost the best way to come at this album would be as a Suzanne Vega novice - discovering these songs fresh would surely put this among the contenders for album of the year.

ACE rating 9/10

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Adult Contemporary Essentials 13.06.10

Tokyo Police Club
Memphis Industries
Tokyo Police Club's entry couldn't have been more exciting - A Lesson In Crime was an 8-song EP, full of high-energy punchy punky indie, tightly wound around bass, cheesy organ and bursts of spiky guitar. The follow-up, Elephant Shell, was a delight, taking that spit and fire and giving it a more mature grown-up feel without ruining anything. Champ, the second full-length, is more of the same - full of joy and anthemic melody, wholly 2010 in feel. The Canadian 4-piece have here started to breech the 3-minute song barrier, with great results. Standout songs include Breakneck Speed, Wait Up
and End of a Spark, songs that sound like a more indie Fratellis. Champ takes a couple of run-throughs to fully get into - some of the immediacy has gone in growing up, but it has been replaced with genuine quality.

ACE rating 8/10

Delta Spirit
History From Below
Delta Spirit almost define the can-do spirit of indie music. Their debut album, Ode To Sunshine, is an essential record that has been released and re-released as the band started to gain its audience. And that audience has been gained one fan at a time by taking the show on the road, and blowing people away nightly.
That album should be on every music fan's shelves, sounding like
The Band 40 years later - along with These United States and Centro-matic, this is America's new best new Band. One of the main benefits of that continual live experience is that the follow-up has been honed in front of audiences, and, through a process of evolution, the 11 songs here are genuinely great. Keeping the live studio sound, there is a real sense of space and energy - fortunately the band's range is maintained, rather than simply filling the album with barnstormers - Salt In The Wound is touching, aching. History From Below is another essential album from a band you have to know about.

ACE rating 9/10

Pernice Brothers
Goodbye, Killer
One Little Indian
Once upon a time, Pernice Brothers were able to put together outstanding wit, lyric writing and punchy exciting music. That time was 2001, with the World Won't End. Since then, with 2003's Yours Mine and Ours, 2005's Discover A Lovelier You, and 2006's Live a Little, the highlights have become progressively harder to find. Like Teenage Fanclub, the sound is still there (very like Teenage Fanclub in sound), the lyrics are still there, but my goodness, Joe Pernice's voice has gone. Most of this album sounds like it took him by surprise, and that he's singing a couple of keys above where he feels comfortable. This is a shame, as the songs are back to standard, but there is no way past the voice - while never the band's strongest asset, it was never a hindrance, but with this latest release it has become a distraction. Great set of songs for another band to re-record, though.

ACE rating 6/10

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Adult Contemporary Essentials 30.05.10

Damien Jurado
Saint Bartlett
Secretly Canadian
Damien Jurado is one of those songwriters that all songwriters know and love, but who is all-but-unknown to the public here in the UK.

With an ability to write a genuinely affecting song, and deliver it in a vulnerable, sweet voice, and then do it another 11 times on the same record, his under-recognition is unfair.

On his tenth studio album, Saint Bartlett sees him return to form after the variable Caught In The Trees. Produced by (the excellent in his own right) Richard Swift, Saint Bartlett is a bleaker, quieter more honest affair, which suits him right down to the ground - he is not an arranger, just a very very good storyteller, and there are some wonderful stories here. As a way into Damien Jurado, there are no better places to start.

ACE rating 8/10

Band of Horses
Infinite Arms
It is hard to escape the view here that, as so often, Band of Horses gave us their best on their first record, and struggled with the follow-up. Everything All The Time was a stunning debut, with Cease To Begin retreading the same basic formula. Infinite Arms' problems can be traced to the line of the press release that is supposed to make it sound grand: "Produced by Band of Horses with additional production from Phil Ek, mixed by Dave Sardy, and recorded over a 16-month period, the songs on Infinite Arms project the essence of the different locales across America that became the setting for the recording and songwriting process behind the album." For that, read, the band have no musical direction any more and recorded anything that sounded like a song over a 1 year period… Infinite Arms is fine Americana, proving that the band can intrinsically make an ordinary song sound nice. But that is all it is.

ACE rating 5/10

Beachcomber's Windowsill
No-one can say I didn't try. Having heard so many glowing reviews of this band, it was hard to go in not expecting the saviours of British music. Ultimately, what Beachcomber's Windowsill provides is a nice enough set of songs - folky, poppy, like an upbeat Mumford and Sons. What it does't really provide is any substance to challenge better bands like Frightened Rabbit. There is every chance that your 50 year old uncle is dancing around his Poggenpohl kitchen to Stornoway right now, so nice and middle class does this sound - the beachcomber of the album title may well be there for a nice week in Padstow. At the end of the day, 'nice' shouldn't be a bad word to use in a review, but caution should be exercised for anyone else drawn into the hype - that's pretty much all there is in here.

ACE rating 7/10