Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young

Review Score: 8.3

The Strokes have been on a hiatus since 2006 and in the meantime all but one of the five members have branched out into side projects or solo work. Now that frontman Julian Casablancas has also kicked of his solo career the prospect of another Strokes album seems ever so distant, which perhaps is all for the best, as the chances of them pulling off another Is This It are slim at best.

First off, Phrazes for the Young is not The Strokes done solo. For his debut Casablancas all but abandons his garage roots and goes for catchy 80s influenced new-wave and synth-pop. If the 70s were the main Is This It influence, then Phrazes for the Young moves on to the next decade. In a way its exactly what you’d expect from a solo album. It is fundamentally different from Strokes material and it explores Casablancas’ personality, preferences and musical influences.

As a whole the album is solid with no immediately evident weak moments, and at only 40 minutes long it sits pretty at that sweet spot between too short and too long. Casablancas’ voice range has also improved and his singing carries the instruments adequately, on Glass he even goes off into a falsetto before the unexpected classical synth solo comes in.

In 2001, following overwhelming critical support, Casablancas and his colleagues were poised on becoming the next biggest rock stars out there, but like it did with bands like The Stone Roses before them, the pressure of the big debut all but strangled The Strokes from ever creating anything that good again. Out of the Blue, the album’s first song, opens with four transformations. From hopefulness to sadness to bitterness to anger to vengeance. If Phrazes for the Young is Casablancas’ vengeance, then its a damned good one and the best Strokes related release since Is This It.


Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be

Review Score: 7.5

Major label debuts are always cause for concern, no fan wants his favorite artist to be changed by corporate views. The fear is especially high when talking about a very niche folk artist such as Mr. Banhart. With that said, everyone can rest assured that the major label release doesn’t hamper the by now familiar brand of Devendra Banhart freak folk / americana.

What Will We Be starts off quite underwhelming. Can’t Help but Smiling is a pleasant little piece of americana that does a good job for an intro track, but after that comes a string of distinctly average songs. Angelika in particular did nothing to boost my confidence in the album. The entire first half lacks any real moments of greatness, all of it being a slew of slow paced crawlers without much going for them be it lyrics, melody or structure.

At this point listening started to become a drag but luckily the quality started to rise sharply as the second half of the record began. This I attribute to the ever more pronounced free jazz elements that start to shine from Chin Chin and Muck Muck onward. It all comes together perfectly on the absolutely amazing Rats. The influences and different aspects to this track are too many to mention, what it does is come very close in structure, melody and feel to a Doors track, and that’s always a plus in my book. Right after comes Maria Lionza and its another great track with more blissful saxophone goodness backed by acoustic guitars before eventually melting into all out jazz and then back again to a fast paced sing along of “Who do you love?”.

These moments of very natural and seamless interchange between folk and jazz, often multiple times on the same track, are where What Will We Be truly shines and shows it’s strengths. The first half does drag quite a bit, but its all worth it when you know brilliance like Rats awaits you at the end. So, a potentially great album that falls short of the mark.

Weezer – Raditude

Review Score: 1.3

Like so many others that cherish and love The Blue Album and Pinkerton, I feel nothing but anger and resentment for Weezer’s inexplicable 180 turn following those two masterpieces. Ever since 2001’s Green Album things have steadily but surely gone from average to mediocre to down right awful for Rivers and his boys.

A bad album by some unknown schmucks is one thing, but when one of the most beloved indie rock bands does nothing but sink lower and lower with every new release the outrage of fans everywhere is all the more prominent. Keeping true to recent tradition, Raditude sees Weezer digging the grave ever deeper. The difference here is that they have genuinely given up trying. Everything about this album, from the cover, to the song titles, to the lyrics, to the Lil’ Wayne collaboration, everything reeks of taking the piss.

Content with their fate of has-beens (at least from an artistic point of view), Rivers seems happy with writing about needing  girls and jewels on Can’t Stop Partying or going to the mall on, yep you guessed it, In The Mall. Don’t even get me started on the “indian influenced” Love is the Answer. Newsflash, Rivers, a certain Fab Four did this more than 40 years ago, but unlike you they did it right.

Compared to this awfulness, I’d have an easier time taking the newest Soulja Boy album seriously. Raditude is the kind of record that doesn’t merit any sort of bother whatsoever. My philosophy is if the artists aren’t trying, why should anyone else bother?

I’ll just end by saying this might be the final nail in the Weezer coffin for everyone that loves their earlier work. If however you find yourself in the group that liked The Red Album and Make Believe, you might get a few kicks out of this latest “effort”. As for me, I’m going to listen to Pinkerton now.

Tegan and Sara – Sainthood

Review Score: 6.7

Already on their sixth full length, the twin sister duo of Tegan and Sara have seemingly completed the transition from acoustic folky beginnings to all out no reservations pop. A good move I’d say, as their pop side seems to have the biggest fan appeal.

To really drive home the sound, the sisters have called on their past two producers, namely Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie and Howard Redekopp of The New Pornographers. Each had previously worked with Tegan and Sara but on separate occasions. Now working together on Sainthood they really add a fuller more studio orientated sound and push Tegan and Sara’s sonic comfort zone even further.  This is particularly evident on songs like Night Watch, with it’s barren, cold electronic soundscape, or the Postal Service influenced Alligator.

Speaking of cold, barren soundscapes, the sisters vocal harmonies make for an interesting counter balance to the producers’ electronic infusion and add another dimension to the duo’s songs.

The majority of the tracks on Sainthood are short, catchy, upbeat pop and make for an easy and enjoyable listen, if a little on the shallow side. Ironic if you consider that Sainthood gets it’s name from  Leonard Cohen’s Came So Far For Beauty. Indeed for an album and concept (love songs) influenced by one of the heaviest songwriters ever, Sainthood is distinctly light on the lyric side of things.

All in all a pleasant listen, but nothing anyone will remember in 3 months time.

Annie – Don’t Stop

Review Score: 6.3

So, following a few months hiatus, music has the right is back! And kicking it off again is Annie’s second full lenght, Don’t Stop. Her debut Anniemal was surprisingly very well received by critics everywhere and if I’m not mistaken it is one of the best “scored” pure bubblegum pop album of the past 5 years.

I say surprising because while it may be a very catchy and at times brilliant record, it still doesn’t break any sort of new ground and one would be hard pressed to find clear differences between it and the latest Madonna or Kylie Minogue album, maybe that’s just a sad indication of how far down mainstream pop has gone. Speaking of Kylie Minogue, Annie’s paper thin vocals are oddly familiar with the Australian pop stars’ both on Anniemal and on Don’t Stop. Nice, but if you ask me, tiring after the first few tracks.

Elsewhere it’s just more of the same bubblegum sweetness and catchy hooks people have come to expect from the Norwegian. Still, one can only take in so much sweet at a time and the lack of diversity really hits home. Also, this being her second album you’d expect a little bit of artistic growth, new tricks if you will, sadly these moments are few and far between, and that just won’t do.

So all around a pretty average record, a couple of good songs (Hey Annie, I Don’t Like Your Band), a couple of average songs (Marie Cherie, My Love is Better) and towards the end some all out BAD tracks (The Breakfast Song, Loco). Fans of her debut should have enough material here to keep them satisfied, but if you didn’t particularly like her first album there really isn’t anything here to change your mind. One more thing, no song on this record comes close to the brilliance that was Heartbeat.

The xx – xx

Review Score: 9.0

Man, I love 80s guitar driven rock. Pixies, Sonic Youth, Smiths, Cure… you know. Those catchy riffs are one of my most treasured elements in music. I also loved the amazingly bleak, tense and eerie atmosphere of Joy Division’s Closer. On the flip side, one thing I’m not crazy about are those lame, predictable and generally shitty R&B lyrics. Think Mariah Carey… she tries to convey emotion, but I don’t know, it always seems false and forced. Way too over the top and in your face to really evoke any kind of sincere reaction.

Mashing all those elements in a single cohesive whole? Madness surely. But somehow on their debut LP the London based quartet of Romy Madley, Oliver Sim, Baria Qureshi and Jamie Smith manage to do just that, and in the process end up with one of the most sincere and hauntingly beautiful records of the year. The way they achieve this is by stripping everything down to the bone. Lazy melancholic vocals, simple and catchy guitar riffs, the occasional keyboard melody and an ever present drum machine is all they need.

Intro, the first song on the album, does just want it’s name would have you believe and sets the mood for what’s to come. Ironically Intro is probably the most upbeat (well, maybe excluding Islands) and pumping song on the album, from there on the mood only gets darker and tenser. The first real song, VCR, is a perfect example of the beautiful way in which long time friends Romy Croft and Oliver Sim play of each others vocals and deliver a powerful sense of tension while always keeping a laid back, melancholic tone.

Singer Oliver Sim sounds strangely similar to Belle & Sebastian front-man, Stuart Murdoch. This works very well, especially on Basic Space, where he starts as if he doesn’t mean to, delivering his lines in a jaded, lazy tone. Shortly after, Romy Croft steps into the spotlight, complementing Sim’s laziness perfectly with a sharper, more piercing delivery before it ultimately all comes together into a duet backed by punchy drumbeats and achingly beautiful guitar riffs. These moments fill the album with soul and emotion and rise it above “catchy guitar music” status, making it a remarkably mature and sophisticated listen.

xx is a record that doesn’t hit you in the face and make you instantly notice and acknowledge it. Instead what it does is slowly but surely creep up on you, getting deeper under your skin with each chord, each beat and each verse Sim and Croft play of each other. Before you know it, xx has you deep under it’s spell and you can’t stop wanting to hit the play button over and over again.

Without a doubt one of the best bands to come out of the British scene in a long time and, keeping in mind they’re just ending their teenage years, also the most promising one.

Throw Me the Statue – Creaturesque

Review Score: 7.8

Following the 2007 debut, Moonbeams, that was a one man indie pop show  in which Scott Reitherman played almost every instrument himself, Throw Me the Statue expanded to a full on band and 2 years later they return to the spotlight with Creaturesque.

Scott Reitherman’s decision to expand his project proves to be an excellent one. The summery easy going mood of Moonbeams is still there but the songs have a more polished and well produced feel about them. The backing members do an excellent job of conveying Reitherman’s vision, better than he could have done alone. Creaturesque boasts all the strengths of Moonbeams and builds on them to achieve an accomplished progression.

Behind the obvious catchiness of the guitar riffs and keyboard melodies the real strength of Creaturesque is just how diverse it really is. Styles and genres change very frequently, sometimes even in the same song. You’ve got everything from the upbeat keyboard pop of the opener Waving at the Shore to the jammy mess of Hi-Fi Goon. If you’re feeling in the mood for some guitar folk a la Neutral Milk Hotel look no further than Baby, You’re Bored, and just try to keep track of how many times the melody and instruments change in the magnificent Dizzy From the Fall. Now, depending on where you stand on this, the unbelievable diversity that Creaturesque offers can be either a blessing or a curse, indeed not everyone will appreciate this diversity and some may even be put off by it. As for me, I think that for a band to maintain a general feel on an album while at the same time managing to cycle through numerous genres is a definitive strong point.

Throw Me the Statue succeed in creating a vibrant, diversified and melodious album that is sure to win over many fans with it’s undeniable charm and easygoing nature.

January 2019
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