If you haven’t seen Kanye’s short film, Runaway, It’s like a kind of mega-music video, in the vein of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It’s tells the tale of a Phoenix that crashes down to earth, and her adventures that follow, all set to tunes from Kanye’s latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
You can check out the whole thing below (assuming you have the time).
The Middle East are a 7 piece musical collective from Townsville, Australia, who play swooping indie folk rock music that makes you smile, and creeps up on you with powerful dense choral harmonies and intriguing instrumental exchanges.
Check out “Blood” from their self titled EP. (available directly from the band.)
[Rough Trade] 2010
Taking on a review of a Belle and Sebastian record is a somewhat more ambitious undertaking than many album reviews. Belle and Sebastian (B&S), named after a boy and his dog from a French TV show for children, are not the average rock band, or pop band…or average band at all. And while much of their music may sound like pop candy, that sells their artistry very short, as there is actually great substance behind Belle and Sebastian and their music. For that reason, it is incredibly difficult to pigeonhole B&S – and I’ve heard a lot of descriptions – indie, of course, chamber pop, twee pop, baroque pop…but nothing quite fits the bill, though some come close, always just nipping at the edges of an accurate description. B&S, led by Stuart Murdoch, is a collection of art-school musicians who make music that fits their own unique style, and with seemingly very little concern for “hits” or “popularity”. Write About Love, their eighth album, follows a four-year layoff, with Murdoch working on a long-term side project, God Help the Girl, in between.
I will admit right away, I love B&S and I have all of their albums, all of their singles, all of their B-sides, live concerts, etc. and I am still not half the fan that some people I know are. Have you ever read through the posts on their website? Morrisey (a key influence of Murdoch’s) has less obsessively devoted fans, I think. Well, maybe not. Regardless, it’s understandable, as B&S’s beautiful music draws a crowd. The lyrics are intelligent, and they display that wounded, vulnerable pain that a certain type of girl – and guy as well – is drawn to. We love to know that we’re not the only ones mired in this misery of live, love, rejection, and failure. Even when it’s sunny, there’s some rain falling. Murdoch’s lyrics carry you in and out of these situations, and sometimes, even into a jubilant, if somewhat bittersweet, triumph. Belle and Sebastian know how to cast a great pop hook like a giant net and reel listeners in.
The addition of strings, horns, and sometimes more complicated arrangements and instrumentation by B&S not only shows off their musical sensibilities, but also leads to the “sweet” pop sound that they get labeled with. While some songs are slow and wistful, and some are more upbeat, there is an underlying wistfulness and romantic tension to much of this album and B&S’s music in general, and the contradiction between the upbeat music and the melancholy lyrics often makes for fabulous songs, with lyrics like, “I can see your future (there’s nobody around)”.
On their latest, there are several female guest vocalists, including Norah Jones on “Little Lou, Uncle John, Prophet Jack”, (probably one of the better tracks on the album) very much a 70s-sounding type of heartbreak ballad. The God Help the Girl album, which Stuart recorded with all female singers, seemed to be an extension of Murdoch’s story-telling songwriting for other people and other voices. The tinges of 60s pop, call and answer songwriting and tight arrangements lend themselves well to Murdoch’s wounded, and often ambiguous lyrics. B&S has been known for their lilting harmonies, and boy/girl vocals and have used them to great effect again on this album.
This album starts out strong, but seems to lose some punch in the second half, starting with I’m Not Living in the Real World, which, when I heard it, I thought, “This must be a Stevie song,” another case of the guitarist wanting to try his hand at songwriting and singing, a la George Harrison – but the comparison ends there. Stevie Jackson has put a smattering of songs on various albums, with varying luck. This effort was a little more unlucky and does not hold together. The track opener stands apart from most of the rest of the album, with sonic, almost trippy, landscapes of funky beats, keyboards, echoes, and mellow, yet searing guitar (can that happen?) which draws you in immediately. The second track “Come On Sister” has an 80s synth feel to it, while “I Want the World to Stop” has a great groove and a decidedly 70s feel to it, not surprisingly, mixing influences that evoke music from past decades of music crucial to B&S’s musical development. From there, however, the quality of songs seems to decline, with none of the songs standing out nearly as much as the previous songs. Track 9, Read the Blessed Pages, has a sound somewhere between a Christmas song and a funeral dirge.
Stuart Murdoch is an extremely clever songwriter and he is surrounded by great musicians who share his love for quirky pop rock. In comparison to many of their past albums, though, this one just seems to fall a little short. However, I felt the same way about their last album, The Life Pursuit, at first, and it ended up growing on me over time. Belle and Sebastian is a great band, so I will definitely give it the time. If you’re a fan of 60s and 70s pop, and catchy intelligent music, I would still absolutely recommend getting this album (and seeing them live if you get the chance). Then, sit down, grab a glass of wine, soak in the mellow groovin’ vibes and listen to sunny and rainy days pass you buy. It won’t be long before you will not be able to stop from singing along.
Musichord Rating: 6/10
Beach House make the most curious music. When I heard that the Baltimore Duo’s Australian tour was taking in Sydney, Melbourne, and the tiny Hippie hamlet that is Mullumbimby, NSW – which by chance is where I happen to reside, I had to dig out my copy of 2010′s Teen Dream, and give it another listen.
In fact, I did more than just listen. I immersed myself in the record, listening to nothing else for three days, including 2 four-hour commutes. I fell asleep to the record, (not while driving, of course) waking up with a sore cheek where the ear-bud had left a hard impression. And all the while I was building up what I thought was an easy familiarity with some glossy, beautiful pop music. I quite liked the sound of Victoria’s perfect, glassy voice, and noted appreciatively the intricacy and subtle presence of Alex’s guitar lines. I didn’t really feel wholly enamoured with the album or anything. The dreamy, delicate colourful artistic sounds were compelling, but they didn’t really inspire me, or delight me. It was, y’know – nice. No big deal.
And so, as I turned out at the Mullumbimby Civic Hall to get my smiley stamp at the door, I wasn’t really hyper-excited to see the band. I felt like a bit of an impostor fan. A (gasp) hipster – and an old one, at that. But as the duo took to the stage, along with a touring drummer, and opened their set with Better Times (I want you/to know the truth…), something clicked. The crappy, tin cathedral roof of the Mullum Civic Hall, was reflecting sounds all over the hall, and the music positively encompassed the crowd as the hot summer breeze blew in from the wings.
It was there, with the sound surrounding us, echoing and shimmery, that I realized how deeply that Beach House can imprint on you. Throughout the rest of the set, transfixed and contained mainly by the sounds of Teen Dream, (with a few other surprises thrown in), I realised I was in this way over my head. This was not the fleeting musical romance I thought I had signed up for. On the contrary, the music and I now had a pretty intense thing going on.
And now, days have passed since Alex and Victoria played their encore, and left the stage to the rapturous applause of the locals, and the Mullum Civic Hall has gone back to it’s regular business of town meetings and high school formals. Still, the music and I are more intensely connected than ever. It haunts me, and delights me, and captures my idle moments with lilting careful synth-imagery.
If Beach House happens to come to your tiny little town, you should go – and if they don’t, you should still consider spending some serious time with their music.
Just don’t be prepared to have it let you go easily.
David tells it like it is. You really let your dog stick his tounge in your face?