Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Maximo Park’s “Quicken the Heart”

Rarely has there been so much controversy about an album in the RSL writer’s team that I am a member of, than about this one. Long-standing friendships have ended, bitter words have been thrown, violence has ensued, lawyers have been called… well, a few of us have sent some sarcastic emails to each other at least. I must give credit for his wit to one other writer on the team, who is otherwise a big fan of the band, for renaming them “Minimo Park” after hearing this album.

How can I defend MAXimo Park from ‘vicious’ attacks like this? Well, in all seriousness, “Quicken the Heart,” Maximo Park’s third album, is possibly the best new music I have heard in the last six months. New is perhaps a strange word to use, because “Quicken the Heart” harkens back to a lot of older music, particularly from the 80s. It’s an album that is heavy with vintage synths and clean guitar hooks. The pacing of the songs too, has something about it that makes you feel like you’re watching a band who aren’t aware that they could play harder with a drum machine, and so achieve every ounce of energy they produce by simply throwing themselves at their instruments. Having seen them live (and they will be back at Paradise on 20th Sept, so you can too!), I can imagine them doing just that as they play these tracks.

This band has a star performer though, who lifts them from just good melodies and interesting hooks, to something really remarkable. Singer Paul Smith writes songs of love and romance that seem vintage like the rest of the band. I would hold Smith’s lyrical abilities up against anyone writing today though. He then sings these fantastic, emotive lines with a voice that sounds so desperately strained that even those with a heart of stone begin to wilt under the pressure. There is so much sadness in this music, but so much celebration of life too: of affairs loved but now over (“Tanned”), of brief, beautiful moments held between lovers (“Questing, not Coasting”), and of the excitement of fledgling relationships (“I Haven’t Seen Her in Ages”).

This is probably not the best album this band has produced, but, like a new summer romance, I can see nothing but the beauty of my current love.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jarvis Cocker's "Further Complications"

One good way to think about Jarvis Cocker’s new solo album, ‘Further Complications,’ is as rather like the music of another truly classic songwriter, who you might not think shares much in common with Cocker. I speak of the ruler of sinister himself… Nick Cave.

Both men have such intelligent and subtle lyrical constructions that you wonder if they write poems to which they set music, or the other way around. Both men are capable of dark humor and cynicism, but also seem to give us moments that are touchingly familiar. Both have longstanding involvement with seminal bands (Pulp and the Bad Seeds respectively) that have produced lots of great music over the last couple of decades. Both, perhaps most pointedly for the purposes of a review of this album, have solo/side projects in which they show the angrier, dirtier side of their sound.

Nick Cave released this first album with side project ‘Grinderman’ in 2008, and played some of the heaviest sounding music he’s ever done on it. To move, more or less consciously, from the 90s disco core of Pulp to something rather like Grinderman, Cocker called on an absolute master of the industrial and vicious. Producer Steve Albini has worked with PJ Harvey and Fugasi, Nirvana and The Breeders among (many) others, and each time has found the most live and furious sound those artists have ever produced. On this album, tracks like “Fuckingsong” were recorded live in Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, and give the album an edgy and muddy feel which is really a great new direction for Cocker.

In the album’s title track Cocker sings: “I was not born in wartime/ I was not born in pain or poverty/ I need an addiction, I need a affliction/ to cultivate my personality.” It’s a witty lyric, but it’s also a bitter sentiment that could have sat well on the ‘Grinderman’ set-list. Who would have thought that the writer of pop classics like ‘Common People’ and ‘Lipgloss’ would put down music like this. It’s good for us that his did – ‘Further Complications’ is close to the best work Cocker has ever had a hand in.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Doves and Wild Light are coming!

The greatest shows are not the ones where you get to see the best bands you can pull to a particular venue on a particular night. They are the shows where everything seems to fit together and you’re really there to see one big performance with multiple bands playing the acts. Coming up on June 7th is a show that just might work out like that: Manchester UK’s Doves play the House of Blues that night, and they will be supported by New Hampshire’s Wild Light.

Wild Light are a band which I might want to call local because they’re great, and I’d like to feel that they are ‘mine,’ sitting here in Boston. Even if that’s a stretch, the band did win a Boston Music Award last year, before their debut album even came out. They have also toured with Tapes ‘N Tapes in the past, and have just got back from a stint with The Killers.

Doves really are mine, because, as I’ve said before, Doves come from my long-lost hometown in Northern England. This gig, to support their new, fourth, album “Kingdom of Rust,” is Doves first in Boston for several years, and you’d be a fool to miss it, because they are one of the better live acts in England right now.

Best of all, these two bands compliment each other really well, both playing cleverly holistic melodies on bass and guitar, which make them sound musically warm and inviting. Go and see them both, not for either one, but for a whole night of moving music.