Weekly Capsule Reviews: 15/01/2017


This week: David Bowie, The Flaming Lips, The xx

Older releases/Classics: Suede, KAYTRANADA, Nine Inch Nails, All Tvvins

David Bowie: No Plan (posthumous EP) [Columbia/Sony, 08/01/2017]

This gave me a legitimate reason to listen to “Lazarus” again, one of Bowie’s great singles, capturing a man with his face-to-face with the six-feet-under brilliantly and defiantly. Almost like Leonard Cohen’s title track from last year’s You Want It Darker. The final two tracks would’ve made a great case to appear on Blackstar, especially “Killing a Little Time”. The choppy guitar and drum work were the “rockier” elements I’ve heard from the Blackstar sessions. Ben Monder, Donny McCaslin, and Mark Guiliana in particular did a fine job in emulating Bowie’s situation. It almost felt like they followed him to the grave themselves. “I’m falling, man/I’m choking, man/I’m fading, man/Just killing a little time”, he exclaims, laying out his final stages in the studio. Man, this would’ve been a better call than, say, “Girl Loves Me” on the final album, even if his death on a Sunday coincided with “Where the fuck did Monday go?” We’ll have to get more used to posthumous releases. (8/10)

The Flaming Lips: Oczy Mlody [Bella Union, 13/01/2017]

A bit of a Kraftwerk fetish with more tangible instrumentation, thankfully. Drifting into nothingness is the point (I hope) but some squelchy, soggy beats to perk it up a little will stave off the umbrella term of “ambient”. The last three tracks are a highlight. “The Castle” is where Wayne Coyne expresses his thoughts through a prepubescent love letter—”Her face was a fairy tale/It has a poison apple/Her skull was a mighty moat/Her brain was the castle”. And Miley Cyrus actually matches the overall theme of the album nicely on “We a Famly”. It’s perky, bright, nostalgic-sounding, and childlike in a way that’s just right. Normally the fifty-somethings riding the crest of their puerility they refuse to give up gives me the heebie-geebies, but this was tolerable. (7/10)

The xx: I See You [Young Turks, 13/01/2017]

If you hear one you hear them all. Think Daughter with less bite (yeah…). This has wishy-washy appeal and pseudo-melancholy behind an ethereal wall; languid, arpeggio-fingerpicking stuff with the usual chorus/echo effects whirling around their insecurities which we all hold but they’re too caught up to acknowledge or realise it. “Dangerous” is the only track of note. This record is dead and is crying out for some heavy riffs, anything, to spark up its diluted nature. It’s the generic, white, middle-class expression of melancholy through the form of diluted pop music. Incredibly competent, mind. The ersatz sadness complements the over-intricacy of the plucking, the high-pitched effects, and the unwillingness to vary from the same female and male vocal monotones. Just check out “Lips” all the way to “Brave for You”—one’s a carbon copy of the next. (5/10)

Older releases/Classics

Suede: Suede [Nude, 29/03/1993]

Considered one of the best debuts in ’90s British rock, Suede “revived” glam rock for all of a few months until the Oasis gravy train rolled in. A conglomerate of T. Rex, Roxy Music, the New York Dolls, and The Smiths, Suede matched the book smarts of these groups, particularly the last on that list. Some say they match The Smiths in a literary sense. I wouldn’t go that far and I don’t think I’d have to call myself biased in that regard even if Bernard Butler spent his entire youth learning the guitar from honing in on Johnny Marr’s rhythm-and-lead histrionics. Suede represents animalistic sexuality yet flower-like androgyny, an overcoming of your inadequacies which are so obviously holding you back in life. Brett Anderson’s vocals were always borderline reckless. Borderline. But it matches the theatrics, the sense of wanting to be heard. “Sleeping Pills” is a loving alignment via the star signs. Not my type of interpretation of sexual compatibility if I do say so myself, but “Pantomime Horse” is enough to represent the entirety of the record and glam’s existence, where you’re a display for prying eyes. Butler meets a vicious melody with vicious chorus guitar. The former is as delicate as he thinks while the latter is as obtrusive as he thinks it isn’t. Still, they find a compromise that matches Anderson’s effervescent wailings. Yeah it tos-and-fros a bit in the middle but I love the singles here, I love the semi-to-overstated-genius of the guitar work, and I love the exuberance of “Pantomime Horse” and “Animal Lover”. The latter’s crescendo is what rock music is all about. (9/10)

KAYTRANADA: 99.9% [XL, 06/05/2016]

More drum ‘n’ beats than drum ‘n’ bass. It isn’t until “GOT IT GOOD” you get the hype. Craig David displays the hedonism very much attributable to pop music. They know they have it and aren’t afraid to flaunt it. In an up-and-down year for collaborations in 2016 this was more often than not a highlight. The aforementioned Craig David’s materialism; Vic Mensa’s newfound, semi-clean living; and AlunaGeorge’s R&B smarts are among my favourites and I’m sure yours, too. Junior Boys’ Big Black Coat was a similar-sounding record—a trend brewing in Canadian music. Initially I thought I was missing out on a potential 2016 end-of-year best-of, but I think I’m safe. His electronics give to me a sense that even music through computers can hit a wall in spots and sometimes you just want to hear something other than a technician’s prowess. As respite and a breather from the vocalists, however, the beats and melodies are extremely competent and there’s enough going on to keep you going until you hear a voice again. For instance, “BUS RIDE”‘s beautiful flow of piano and hi-hat caressing is an instrumental highlight, probably because it sounds like the most organic thing on the record. Imagine if DJ Shadow decided to make elevator music, try that. A sceptical grade here, mind. (8/10)

Nine Inch Nails: Not the Actual Events (EP) [[THE NULL CORPORATION] (self-released), 22/12/2016]

A five-track EP showing off Trent Reznor’s natural evolution (I wouldn’t quite say progression) into electronic rock like a lot of these industrialists like to do. Take a look at Gang of Four and Killing Joke who were influences on Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. This reminded me of Moby’s Animal Rights with tracks like “Branches / Bones” and “The Idea of You”, in particular. The slow and bass-heavy riffs are quite portentous in their bleakness and the production is actually quite messily abrupt. Tracks end when they shouldn’t but are beautifully textured and composed in their incompleteness. I hope they continue on this more fuzz-like buzz and expand on this output that is as expansive as anything they’ve released in a good while. (8/10)

All Tvvins: llVV [Warner Bros., 12/08/2016]

Seeing them at the Marquee supporting Foals last July had me pondering if they enjoyed themselves enough on the day… Sarcasm doesn’t transcend properly via text I’m fully aware. I thought they were going to fling themselves off the stage and that was before their whirling effects and high-jinx guitar-isms actually took shape. Ditching math- and post-rock for money was an easy call and a good one. But this marketed sound is so saturated it’s hard to see any breakthrough, not that I care enough to have another one of these acts in the melting pot anyway. You can hear acute basslines of where their past guise may have been. Take “Thank You” for instance. I can see why llVV is at the pinnacle of Irish music from last year given the ridiculous lauding of a lot of records which were neither here nor there. And of course there’s an air of decorum that must be kept. Probably why Dundalk punk-poet Jinx Lennon was nowhere near any sort of a mention by the Irish crits. His two albums, released in October, were hilariously relevant and Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift the Grief Magnets was one of my top albums from 2016. Highly recommended listening. Here “Darkest Ocean” was more than quite okay with its electronics/their all-too-familiar guitar and “Too Much Silence” had a riff I like (wow…). A generic, pop-rock release that creeps its way into the echelons of the decorum-setters, i.e. a safe bet, everyone wins. (6/10)

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