Monthly Archives: September 2012

¡Uno! – Green Day

‘¡Uno!’ is the first in a new series of albums by Green Day. The three albums (¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tres!) are all planned to be released in almost close proximity to each other, whilst all exploring slightly different musical directions. ‘¡Uno!’ follows the band exploring a simple rock-pop style, but I can’t help but think that I’ve heard this all before…

The album has a rather strong start. It draws the listener in, as though it’s almost hitting you on the head, but then it seems to just wander around the same basic structure. Every song seems to consist of reasonably fast-paced guitars and bass and drums, whilst Billie Joe Armstrong calls out the vocals. It’s not that the talent is bad, it’s just seems basic. It just seems highly formulaic, and considering Green Day have been capable of writing not only good songs, but good albums before that change around in structure and pace, it just leaves me highly disappointed.

There are some good songs on the album, but as an album, I find it gets boring incredibly quickly. By the time I reached the middle of the album, I found myself feeling that I’d heard these songs before, and was hoping for something to be played differently, something to be done differently on the album. The explanation (or justification) I could give for this is that it’s meant to be a concept album, and that exploration of different styles will happen on the following albums. But does this just mean that if there’s a different style on ‘¡Dos!’ that it will simply be another 12 songs sound alike, albeit, just a different style? I can’t make a judgement based on the next two albums before hearing them, but I can only hope they don’t follow the same formulaic patterns that the first album does.

That being said, there are some good songs on the album. I get the feeling that if I were listening to the album out of order, or certain tracks separately, that I’d enjoy them a lot more, than having to listen to them one after the other. There are a few songs that’d work better being listened to on their own, including the album’s starting track ‘Nuclear Family’, which feels like a great song to head-bang too, and ‘Carpe Diem’, which is quite an enjoyable track on the album.

In conclusion, I find ‘¡Uno!’ to be a disappointing start to this trilogy of albums. Music wise, everything just seems to be rather basic, with everything following the same simple pattern over and over again. There’s some good songs on the album, but as an album it just gets rather boring quite quickly. I’m not sure if I like the idea. On one hand, I like the idea of three albums following each other one after the other, each exploring different ideas. On the other hand though, I feel like perhaps it’s a bit of a money grabbing scheme, with a more professional idea being to simply make it a triple-album case with a one-off payment, rather than three albums with three payments. Overall, a disappointing start, and one that I hope is followed by stronger music, that isn’t so formulaic. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Album Rating:

  • ★★☆☆☆  2/5

Selected Songs:

  • Nuclear Family
  • Carpe Diem
  • Oh Love
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Shields – Grizzly Bear

The first impression from this album is that ‘Shields’ is an eloquent album, one that showcases a band ready to take on board their success and prove themselves by getting better and better each year. Taking first impressions out of the equation, ‘Shields’ is still an eloquent album, featuring some of Grizzly Bear’s greatest song-writing yet. Grizzly Bear (so far) have been one of those bands whose albums and music get stronger with each release. It’s a delightful quality to see in a band, and is certainly one of Grizzly Bear’s greatest strengths.

‘Shields’ as an album is one that just works. Each song runs into the next with perfect precision, perhaps more-so than their previous album ‘Veckatimest’. Everything seems to just work, with everything being at the top of their game. The song-writing is the best it’s ever been, as its the performance on the album. Vocals just slide in and out of the music almost effortlessly, floating around a variety of different notes. It is a delight to listen to, and helps to make the album seam together. There is a nice variety in the levels the music gives off in the album. Some songs build up to wonderful loud movements, whilst others remain at low levels, sticking to the quiet and staying there.

Among the songs that stand-out on the album are ‘Sleeping Ute’ which begins as a great way to begin the album. It hits the right note, drawing the listener into the album, and helps demonstrate most of what is to follow on the album, with the vocals and instrumentals in the music. Another is ‘Gun-Shy’ which features wonderful vocals that travel up and down over a low level of music that introduces more layers here and there. The track is one of the better tracks that is at the lower-end of the music, and is one of Grizzly Bear’s nicest tracks in their whole repertoire. The album’s final track ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ features a wonderful build up, with wonderful instrumentals underneath brilliant vocals. It remains a suiting way to end what is arguably one of Grizzly Bear’s strongest albums.

Album Rating:

  • ★★★★☆  4/5

Selected Songs:

  • Sleeping Ute
  • A Simple Answer
  • Gun-Shy
  • Sun In Your Eyes
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Coexist – The xx

Lo-Fi as a genre has always been hit or miss with me. Sometimes I love the music and it’s general melancholic tones, and other times I just want something that has a kick to it. When it comes to the band The xx, it’s even more hit and miss. I can never decide whether or not I love their music or utterly despise it. I think though, after listening to Coexist that I have managed to finally reach a conclusion.

Coexist is the band’s second studio album, following their self-titled début in 2009. Coexist continues the band’s lo-fi style, but at the same time introduces more layering. It’s another case where a band has grown up from their first album, and developed everything they’ve learnt, and used to to execute a well written follow up. A way to describe the music would be ethereal. At times, the music is as sparse as their first album, and at other times is more densely layered than anything they’ve written. These dense layers meld together perfectly at times to create almost ghostly echoing qualities, giving off the idea and sensation of isolation.

The big surprise is actually how the vocals have developed from the first album. Wording and pronunciation remains the same as ever, but there seems to be more in the notes this time round. The singing complimenting the sparse music much more effectively than on the first album. Both Romy and Oliver’s vocals compliment each other well, but also work effectively on an individual level. We’ve seen this used to great effect on the first album, such as with ‘Crystalize’, but now it seems to really be giving the band an edge.

When it comes to the album as a whole, it is a very good album. It is every bit an equal to their first, if not better. Each song fits in with the themes of loneliness and despair, and each run into each other to make a great sounding album. The album shows a band who is maturing, who understand their skills, and what makes them an effective band, and now on this second album, they’re attempting to further push that effectiveness forward by further developing it to the best it could be. We can even see this down to the fact that the album artwork is almost the same as the previous. This is an older version of the first album, with every ironed out perfectly. Perhaps this isn’t even the best The xx could be, perhaps when it comes to their third album, they’ll have even more to offer. Right now though, whatever they have going for them is working perfectly. Right now, I can now say that I’m convinced about The xx, and that Coexist is one of the best albums of this year.

Album Rating:

  • ★★★★☆  4/5

Selected Songs:

  • Fiction
  • Try
  • Missing
  • Swept Away
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Battle Born – The Killers

The Killers was one of the first bands I remember getting into. Their first album ‘Hot Fuss’ was just an instant favourite of mine, and I remember eagerly awaiting their second album ‘Sam’s Town’, which became another favourite again. I always admired the shift in pace, from slow songs with gorgeous vocals, to fast songs that are great for singing out at the top of your lungs.

‘Battle Born’ is the fourth studio album in The Killer’s selection (excluding ‘Sawdust’, which is just a compilation of b-sides and unreleased tracks). This fourth album is the band’s first album release following their hiatus whilst Brandon Flowers engaged in a solo project. To be honest, I never gave the album as much anticipation as other releases coming out. The Killer’s third album ‘Day & Age’ was a disappointing piece of work if I am truly honest, despite having some great songs. The main problem I had was just a lack of interest in the songs, and an inability to engage in the music.

‘Battle Born’ is interesting though, as it seems to just fall right in-between their greatest work, and their worst. Perhaps the word to describe it is just distinctively average. The songs are wonderful in places, don’t get me wrong. But I can’t help but think that we’ve heard this all before. We know Flowers’ can hit some tremendous notes, and it actually doesn’t get old. It’s great to hear him trail his voice in and around the lyrics. I just feel that it’s too typical of the band, and that perhaps it’s time for something new before they get old.

The thing with the album is that it is a vast improvement on their previous album ‘Day & Age’. All together, it is a much better album, which is easily more listen-able than their last. However, whilst ‘Day & Age’ was a poor album in my opinion, it did also contain some of their best songs (Human comes to mind here). That song in particular remains one of their best songs that they’ve ever come out with. A song that everyone would be happy to sing along to, as well as even hear. Now, whilst ‘Battle Born’ is a much better album, I just get the impression that none of the songs will reach that calibre. One the one hand, you have a poor album with a really great song, and on the other you have an really good album with a lot of good songs.

Overall, the album is a good album, despite being distinctively average and typical in places. It won’t go down as a highly remembered album, but it should please hardcore fans at the very least I assume. The album is worth it for Brandon’s vocals, which are at the best they’ve ever been.

Album Rating:

  • ★★★☆☆  3/5

Selected Songs:

  • Runaways
  • Here With Me
  • Be Still
  • Battle Born
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The 2nd Law – Muse

Dub-Step. A word that would never have been associated with Muse had they not announced elements of it appearing on their upcoming release. As what I’d call myself, a ‘loyal’ Muse fan, the announcement kept me on my toes for the upcoming months, in constant apprehension that Muse might finally be ‘cashing in’ and just going for the easy route, rather than continuing to display their fantastic knowledge of instrumentation and song-writing. The easiest way to explain this would be to discuss Maroon 5, and compare their first album where actual instruments were played, with their final album where everything is auto tuned and popped out to the maximum. It might be useful to say here that I’m not a fan of dub-step in the slightest, and that my apprehension might be eagerness in other fans.

Moving on, it seems though that Muse hasn’t taken the route of cashing out. ‘The 2nd Law’ is almost a surprise, as it does contain elements of dub-step, but it also contains elements of almost everything that can come to mind! Some songs on the album sound like they were retrieved from the cutting room floor of a Queen album, whilst others sound like they never quite made their way into the Doctor Who soundtrack. All this tells me, is that Muse are once again demonstrating the extraordinary range of song-writing ability, to be able to fall into such a wide variety of genres and styles. And when you compare the album to the previous five albums, the variety becomes more apparent. I find that with this in mind, that the elements of dub-step can be forgiven, and almost admired in a few songs.

A first listen to the album makes me think that the only thing the album will do is alienate many of its listeners, once again causing a divide amongst fans that ‘The Resistance’ also caused. When ‘United States of Eurasia’ was released, showing a first taste for ‘The Resistance’, many fans seemed hesitant that Muse could sound in such a way. I remember personally relishing in a sound that echoes back to one of England’s greatest bands, Queen. We can see that on ‘The 2nd Law’ that this tribute to Queen is once more opened up, only with more regularity.

There are many songs that stand out on the album. The album’s first official single release, ‘Madness’ is one of the highlights of the album, showcasing an eletronica side of Muse, whilst retaining some elements that are distinctly ‘Muse-y’. Matt’s vocals are at their best, yet again, and its with the vocals that the song finds its strength. Other highlights include ‘Explorers’, which opens up with a beautiful playing of the piano, reminding me of songs like ‘Invincible’ and ‘Guiding Light’. Perhaps the most interesting songs on this album though are the ones where Chris sings lead vocals instead. It is one of many surprises on the album, and almost unexpected. It’s Chris’s voice that helps to make ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’ two of the stand-out songs on the album. Chris never breaks out into a falsetto like Matt, but at the same time he doesn’t need too. Instead, all Chris needs to do is provide the Muse sound with a different kind of vocal. And with an album like The 2nd Law, where Muse push themselves and many of the songs sound unlike anything they’ve done before, the timing is perfect for Chris to demonstrate vocal.

Overall, the album is a rather good in places. It actually contains all the kicks and punches that their previous albums had, and the calm quiet moments. The thing with the album is that whilst having all the punches, they’re just considerably different to their previous work, which has always been admired and adored.  The music is in places, distinctly unlike anything they’ve done before, and it’s with this that they’ve paved their way for experimentation. I admire a band that attempts to take risks in order to try something new. It is only when Muse finally give up on their instruments and vocals will my opinion of them be lowered.

Album Rating

  • ★★★★☆ 4/5

Selected Songs

  • Madness
  • Explorers
  • Save Me
  • The 2nd Law: Isolated System

Thank you for reading

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Babel – Mumford & Sons

After the success of ‘Sigh No More’, with it being one of the best albums of the year, it made me wonder how would London’s popular folk band follow up? It’s been seen before, where popular bands have tremendous first albums, only to fall apart completely at the second hurdle. Good to know though, that Mumford and Sons’s follow-up to their first album is a good album, that is worth listening to.

It’s hard not to compare to their first album, but I find it interesting to make comparisons. Mumford and Son’s first album started off on a quieter note, harmonies coming in to draw the listener in, before building up to the energy that they so easily demonstrate in their music. ‘Babel’ however, goes straight in, starting with a fast pace, and it’s hard not to be suddenly drawn in, rather than lulled in with the previous album. It’s a good move, as it reaffirms an idea that they are not repeating the success of their first album, but rather developing the ideas and skills they had learned from it.

There is a balance between mellow songs, dark songs and more joyous songs. From a person view, I find the more mellow songs, or the darker ones as well to be the highlights of the album. That isn’t to say that the joyous songs aren’t good. Rather the opposite, they’re the best they’ve ever been. It could be argued that there isn’t a weak song on the album. Each one demonstrates wonderful writing talent, and each is a joy to listen too.

My personal highlights from the album have to be ‘Ghosts That We Knew’, which introduces the album’s more mellower side, and starts off on a beautifully quite note, before ever so slowly building up to a wonderful sound of guitar, banjo and multiple voices singing in harmony. ‘Reminder’ echoes back to the same purpose that ‘Timshel’ served on the first album, but by no means is it a copy. If it could be compared to any song from the first album, it’d be the chorus of ‘After The Storm’, but that is for you to judge. ‘Hopeless Wanderer’ is also another brilliant song on the album, that is once again, one of the more mellower songs on the album (at first). Opening with a piano, accompanied by the guitar, it has a wonderful build up with wonderful lyrics that can only be expected of Mumford and Sons. One of the darker songs, ‘Broken Crown’ has some of their best writing and best instrumentation, that cannot be ignored, despite being a more sombre affair.

Overall, the album is highly impressive, but perhaps it could be argued that it doesn’t quite pack the same punch that ‘Sigh No More’ did. It is a worthy follow up, and certainly paves the way for what will be their highly anticipated third album. Perhaps it’s because ‘Sigh No More’ took everyone by surprise, that nobody had heard anything from the London band before, that helped elevate it to the level of success and regard it holds today. ‘Babel’ lives in the shadow of it’s predecessor and it can’t be helped that they be compared. It’s one of those things that seems to happen to successful bands on their second album. But it is by no means a poor album, just because it follows ‘Sigh No More’. ‘Babel’ is a wonderful second album, that is definitely worth your consideration.

Album Rating

  • ★★★★☆ 4/5

Selected Songs

  • Ghosts That We Knew
  • Reminder
  • Hopeless Wanderer
  • Broken Crown

Thank you for reading.

Categories: Albums, Old Album Reviews (2012) | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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