Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin

Bob Mould has had a great musical career firstly in Husker Du then Sugar before going solo but of all his material ‘Beauty & Ruin’ has to be up there in the top. Straight to the point no messing about 36 minutes and twelve tunes that showcase just how good a songwriter Mould is. Signature chord changes, choruses, harmonies each one an earworm, ‘I Don’t Know You Anymore’ an fine example a song so instantly recognisable you can be fooled into thinking it has been in existence longer than it actually has. Opener ‘Low Season’ contains the Sugar trick of having just enough fuzzy guitar work but not so much as to distance itself from being a cracking rock song. There are a few songs that are a bit more punky but they still retain the element that makes them incredibly catchy. Also Mould shows off his softer side with the more acoustic ‘Forgiveness’ and ‘Fix It’. Beauty & Ruin is an album that since I got it I have been returning too quite frequently because I just find myself singing and missing the songs when they are not in my ears. If you like any of his earlier work or indie pop punk than give it a go you won’t regret it.

bob

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Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

From the opening title track of ‘It’s Album Time’ through to 2012 hit ‘Inspector Norse’ Todd Terje’s debut album is great fun. A curious mix of Daft Punk synths and cocktail lounge it’s a real toe tapper all the way through, with the only exception being the cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny And Mary’ featuring vocals from Bryan Ferry which is amazing in its own way. Norwegian producer, DJ and songwriter Terje is clearly influenced by Giorgio Moroder and the funkier side of Europe disco but here blends in swing and electronica to create a summery groove you can’t help but fall in love with.

todd

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Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

On first listen to ‘Ultraviolence’ the second album by Lana Del Rey I was pretty unimpressed gone were the big choruses of Born to Die replaced by a much more laid back tone but with each subsequent listen I was drawn back into the world created by Lizzy Grant. Because that is just what it is, a character, like Marilyn Manson or Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey is a persona and that in itself is both its strength and its weakness. Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys not only produced the record but has added some beautifully understated guitars, like the infectiously catchy work on ‘Brooklyn Baby’, it provides a perfect laid back groove for Lana’s ethereally whispered vocals. True there is no jump out singles like her debut which spawned no less than 7! But here subtlety is the key with the whole album creating a vibe and a world it inhabits. The main thing that lets the record down is Lana’s consistency to fall headlong into clichés, like a badly scripted Quentin Tarantino character we are subjected to everything from ‘he hit me and it felt like a kiss’, ‘My boyfriends in a band, he plays guitar while is sing Lou Reed, I’ve got feathers in my hair, I get down to beat poetry’ (the end later changed to ‘I get high on hydroponic weed’) ‘get a little bourbon in you’, ‘got your bible and your gun, you like woman and you like fun’ among others. See when it works it does so very well but when you’re hit round the face with another tired trope it can be very jarring. But ultimately this is what you want from the sexy springfield-esque gangster moll and in that respect we probably shouldn’t complain if she is playing up to that idea a little too much. That said it is still a darkly fun record that opens up more each time and is a solid second from a character that may not have, at one time, be seen to progress further than the sparkling debut.

lana

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Joe

Genius? Crazy madman? It seems everyone has a different opinion on Nic Cage, some people like his schlocky output of dial it in tough guys or supernatural petrol heads, others like myself remember great roles like ‘Leaving Last Vegas’, ‘Bringing out the Dead’ and ‘Lord of War’. So to his latest ‘Joe’ an adaptation of Larry Brown’s bleak novel it tell the story of a family of drifters that end up crossing paths with Joe and what follows is a tale of redemption and ruin with Americas mid-west as a beautiful and brutal backdrop. This is small town America, people run on booze and fags, they work hard but they play harder and Joe the foreman with a local tree poisoning company is king. He has a past that bubbles under the surface always threatening to come to the surface, he drinks, fights, uses prostitutes and has seemingly resided himself to his path in life and is only focused on existing day to day until he meets Gary (Tye Sheridan star of the similar movie ‘Mud’) . Gary’s family drifts into town, could be any town, the story is the same, his alcoholic dad beats him and his mother and mute sister, he is a nasty piece of work (played brilliantly by homeless man Gary Poulter who died on the streets just weeks after the film was finished) he is definitely going to hell in a hand cart and doesn’t care who goes with. When Gary stumbles upon Joe in the woods he begs him for a job, maybe for escape or focus but soon a strange relationship develops between them, Joe seeing some of himself in the youngster and not wanting him to go the same way becomes over protective and Gary looks up to Joe who on the outside seems to have his shit together. But as with the nature of the film things start to get uneasy quite quickly and situations unravel at an alarming pace for a film that moves with such amazing grace. Incredibly well shot and even surreal at times the film is carried by the three central performances, Cage doing his best unhinged in ages (see the smile through the pain scene) Sheridan conveying such believable emotions for one so young and late Poulter carrying off evil drunk like it was second nature. To tell you too much would be to spoil how this drama unfolds, it’s a window on a world that we all would like to think doesn’t exist but clearly does and despite its low budget the film looks and sounds great. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes but if you liked ‘Winter’s Bone’ or ‘Blue Ruin’ then watch Joe and if nothing else do it to see Cage in his best role in years.

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Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animals

Parquet Courts hail from Brooklyn and make scuzzy garage rock in the same vein as the Strokes although that’s a lazy comparison. A better one would be to say that their music exists somewhere between The Modern Lovers and last year’s Future of the Left album ‘How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident’ taking in along the way The Ramones, Wire and Pavement. They have a knack of writing infectious hooks with beautifully weird lyrics, some are like quick gut punches of pop-punk others meander on shiny surfy guitar licks like ‘Instant disassembly’ or the free jam style of ‘She’s rolling’. Title track ‘Sunbathing Animals’ is sung from the perspective of the lead singer’s cat while frenzied guitars wail in the background. ‘Bodies Made Of’ sounds like the first punk poem a sort of grown up slugs and snails and ‘Black and White’ is another great slab of fuzz-punk. On first listen the album would seem to not have the coherency of ‘Light up Gold’ but there’s method in the madness and repeat spins will reward the listener and the underlying brilliance will come to the forefront. Don’t dismiss ‘Sunbathing Animals’ because if you do you will miss a record by a band that are surely on track to pinch the crown right of the Strokes Head.

parq

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Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Sharon Van Etten broke through with her second album ‘Tramp’ a coarse collection of songs that had leaped on massively from her debut, and with a little help from her connected friends, made her someone to pay attention to. Now she is back with her most intimate record, written, recorded and produced by her own hand it is ultimately her vision of exactly what she wants to portray and exactly what she wants you to hear. ‘Are We There’ once again sees Etten gather her friends to form the band that will make her songs a reality, Dave Hartley and Adam Granduciel from The War On Drugs, Jonathan Meiberg (Shearwater), Jana Hunter (Lower Dens), Peter Broderick, Mackenzie Scott (Torres), Stuart Bogie, Jacob C Morris and Mickey Freeze all join her existing members Heather Woods Broderick, Doug Keith and Zeke Hutchins but they all play second fiddle to Etten herself. In the past, towards the start of her career, a lot of reviews remarked on how bad she sang listening to ‘Are We There’ it’s hard to believe those accusations ever existed, her vocal is the haunting glue that, along with the lyrics, gels this whole concept together, and it is a concept, from the start to the end it is the demise of a relationship and all that entails. In the opener ‘Afraid of Nothing’ Etten sings ‘I need you to be afraid of nothing’ it a plea and at this stage it hard to pinpoint where the relationship is but as the album glides towards the blurry eyed confessional of ‘Every Time the Sun Comes Up’ the listener garners much more of the facts. Just the titles alone are a massive clue ‘Your Love is Killing Me’, ‘I Love You But I’m Lost’, ‘You Know Me Well’, ‘Nothing Will Change’ it’s all there for you to dissect. Etten has been on a journey, some of us may have experienced others not so much, but that she has channelled it into some of the most raw, honest and truly cathartic music is nothing short of remarkable.

van etten

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James – Le Petite Mort

I have been a massive fan of James since I first brought ‘Village Fire’ on vinyl and grown with the band ever since, their Alton Towers gig being one of those moments I will never forget in my life, I’ve goose bumps now remembering the elongated version of Gold Mother that night. But even as a fan if I’m honest I’ve not been able to connect with the last few releases but I can say hand on heart that has changed with ‘Le Petite Mort’ their 14th studio album. I hate using the phrase a ‘return to glory’ but that is just what this is, ten new classic James songs and not just that, these are some of the best since their early heyday. It’s all here the anthems, the ballads, the dance elements, the violins, the pianos, the trumpets and of course Tim’s unique and affective voice sounding as strong as ever. ‘You know more than you think you know, the universe is in your eyes, inside galaxies collide’ Tim sings on 7 minute opener ‘Walk Like You’ it’s a brilliant start to the record announcing that the band are back with big ideas but in a reflective mood that continues throughout. The main reason for this is the songs are a reaction to the loss of Tim’s mother and one of his closest friends and because of this the album deals lyrically with death, re-birth, life, memories and love but at no point is it ever maudlin it’s a joyous expression of sound and feelings even in the face of adversity with ‘Moving On’, ‘All In My Mind’ and ‘Quicken the Dead’ all great examples. Only ‘Bitter Virtue’ and ‘All I’m Saying’ slow the pace slightly but both are still great. Very high end production from Max Dingel (Killers. Muse, White Lies) suits the band and keeps all their instruments in check so it never gets muddy but always sounds clean and clear allowing all the elements to shine equally which ultimately helps create their distinctive sound. The album closes with ‘All I’m Saying’ ending with the lines ‘I’m missing you and the world you opened up to view, I love you, see you next time’ not only does this bookend the album perfectly it is also a sentiment that applies to how I feel about the band and their thirty year career. So even though they’re a band felling loss and pain they should also remember just how many people their music has and will touch long after they themselves have moved on.

le petite mort

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