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Music to warm winter
Theo Sangster reviews music to warm you up this winter, from St Vincent, Lana Del Ray, Shearwater, and Sleigh Bells...
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
Having hardcore-ish roots, New Yorkers Sleigh Bells are rather loud for just the two of them – the title of the record’s first track “True Shred Guitars” sums up their sound perfectly. Sleigh Bells’ debut album Treats let the world know how loud they could get; Reign of Terror elaborates on their signature sound in an almost interchangeable fashion. The juxtaposition between the thrash guitars, drum loops, heavy synths, and Alexis Krauss almost angelic voice is either grating or compelling (I’m veering toward the latter). First single “Comeback Kid” – i.e., a blatant reference to that great hardcore/punk band – will get your head nodding. Despite the overall noisiness of the record (a co-worker told me the other day she could hear it all through my tiny iPod earbuds), some of the more poignant moments of Reign of Terror come through the more tender, slightly quieter tracks. This was hinted at briefly in the duo’s first record (listen to “Rill Rill”), and is pursued more fully in their second outing. Reign of Terror is a treat. Give it a spin.
St Vincent – Strange Mercy
Annie Clark (aka St Vincent) has always been a pretender to the queen of quirky underground chamber pop. Having a background with aural-circus Polyphonic Spree and brooding genius Sufjan Stevens means there was probably no other path for her music to take. Her third album Strange Mercy is just as complicated, anxious and disorientating as everything else she has released. I love it. I’ve tried to decipher the lyrics (according to the Wiki page these could be described as ‘polysemous’ – whatever that means, MS Word suggests it’s not even a real word). I think the album is about being a cheerleader, or being popular or not popular, to be honest I have no idea, but I love it. Strange Mercy is confusing, and I think my review is getting confusing. I’ll stop writing now.
Lana Del Ray – Born to Die
I have always been a bit of a fair weather music reviewer, if I don’t like a record I won’t listen to it, and if I haven’t listened to it I can’t review it (theoretically). Therefore I tend to only talk about music I actually like. It’s a bad habit, but ‘thank you Ms Del Ray’ you are helping me break it. LDR showed up a couple of years ago on YouTube with the clip to the lovely “Video Games” creating a very-indie montage of swarthy kids skating, and beautiful people performing beautiful retro activities. Touted as some kind of 21st century rat-pack gangster mistress, the hype of Lana was overwhelming, and I too was caught up in the big eyes, big lips and swoony vocals attached to this mysterious sexy internet goddess. Unfortunately upon release Born to Die did not live up to that which was promised. Born to Die is straight up boring. Sure, many of the individual tracks have their striking moments (“Video Games”, “Born to Die”, “Dark Paradise”) but overall the records’ musicianship, vocal takes and production are just plain boring. It sounds like everybody involved was bored making it. I am sure as hell bored listening to it. I think I’ll just stick to watching “Video Games” with or without the sound on.
Shearwater – Animal Joy
I am a huge fan of Shearwater. I described their 2010 record The Golden Archipelago as “a shimmering ornithological journey; plumbing new musical depths, and ending on the shore of some mystical island bathed in pure light.” Pretty gushy, I know. I’m a certified nerd by trade (I’m a 50hr/week civil engineer). Shearwater’s chief songwriter Jonathan Meiburg is also a nerd, albeit a bird-obsessed one (a shearwater is kind of like an albatross): a nerd who writes lyrics requiring dictionary definitions, which in turn form stories about the environment, ecology, rivers, lakes, the ocean, and just being outside in general. It’s nerdy; we nerds understand each other – I really like this kind of music.
Shearwater’s latest release Animal Joy takes a move away from the ornithology1 of The Golden Archipelago, toward the wild world of terrus mammalia (I just made that latin term up, but you probably understand what I mean?). The record kicks off with “Animal Life”, a rollicking adventure with a classic heart rate-lifting 4-4 rock beat. Generally speaking, this energy is maintained throughout the record (unlikely the slower, more moody Archipelago). Other highlights include the emotionally-charged “You As You Were” (“the electric charge/of a change in the weather/you were touching my arm/You were holding a feather”), and “Pushing the River” just due to its plain earthy goodness. I’m not sure I like Animal Joy as much as Shearwater’s previous record, however it is still one of my favourite 2012 releases thus far.
13 June 2012