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Mike J. Wheeler (Kingswinford, England)

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Been Listening
Been Listening

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars stunning second album from Johnny Flynn, 14 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Been Listening (Audio CD)
Well I got this a week ago now and I know it's a cliche to say "it hasn't come off my CD player yet" but that's pretty much true. It really is something special this.

I bought 'A Larum' last year and thought it fabulous so the usual trepidations surfaced approaching this follow-up. But I needn't have worried. This is such a good effort. It really is. If you haven't come across Johnny Flynn before it might be helpful to know he's intrinsically part of the London scene labelled by some as 'nu-folk' which also includes Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale. Much as I like Mumford & Sons album and really love Laura Marling's second album I have to say I reckon this to be the best that 'set' of artists has come up with yet. It really is that good.

The opener was the one trailed publicly before release. Having listened to the rest of the album numerous times now, I can't think why. Though 'Kentucky Pill' is a good track it is by far not the best thing on this album. Any of 'Lost and Found', 'Churlish May', 'Howl', 'Been Listening', 'Prizefighter', 'Amazon Love' or most especially 'The Water' are a huge step up.... Anyway, the opener's good without being a winner but what follows is just sublime. 'Lost and Found' is where Johnny Flynn comes closest to Nick Drake on this album - something I can always hear in him, if not explicitly then underneath. Great song that sets the album up wonderfully. 'Churlish may' has some wonderful mournful brass that could have come straight from the climax of 'The Wicker Man' - if you've seen the original film you'll know what I'm on about, the brass played on the MayDay march to the beach... Wonderful stuff again. 'Been Listening' adds a bit of blues to the album and it is a great track. But it is with track 7 that this album is lifted into something that will last a long, long time. 'The Water' is a duet between Flynn and Laura Marling and it is songwriting at its best. Listen to the bonus 'alternative version' of this on the second CD. It's sung by Sofia Larrson and her voice changes the song entirely, it's a folky ethereal version of Delibes' 'Flower Duet' to my ear. Reminds me of a band called Smoke Fairies I had the pleasure of putting on live in Birmingham a year ago (if you haven't come across them give them a listen - you'll like!). Brilliant song and the second CD is worth it for that alone. 'Amazon Love' returns to the beautiful vocals of 'The Water' where Flynn is aided by Lillie Flynn. Again this is wonderful. The closer is the longish ballad 'The Prizefighter and the Heiress' which seems to be a song in two halves. Fabulous ending to the album.

But the album is more than just Johnny Flynn. He seems to have assembled a great band of musicians (The Sussex Wit) to back him up and cowrite. If there was any justice this would sell millions. As stated above - it really SHOULD be Mercury Prize nominated if anything is. Really this is something that will be listened to years from now. (10/10)

High Violet
High Violet
Price: £7.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 23 April 2010
This review is from: High Violet (Audio CD)
Well just like Jonsi did a few weeks back, The National are giving us a sneak preview of their new album a few weeks before release just to whet our appetite. It's being streamed through via the New York Times if you get the chance - got to be worth it yes?. Well, I just couldn't wait. It seems a while since the last album 'Boxer' came out. In fact it was three years ago. Things move on in that time obviously. One thing is a constant though. The quality of this band's output. OK so 'Boxer' maybe didn't capture the heights of 'Alligator' but it was still a great record. I've been looking forward to this for a while....

Just on the first listen now so I'm writing this as I listen. Great so far. This stands comparison with anything they've done before. 'Sorrow' and 'Little Faith' for starters are as good as anything they've written before in my opinion. This is excellent stuff, really. Now listening to 'Afraid of Everyone'. Fabulous. The singing and lyrics and the emotion put over here are the stuff we've come to expect from Matt Berninger. This is excellent. This surpasses 'Boxer' on first listen alone. It's back to 'Alligator' for quality at least. After a few listens I reckon this may be even better than that. 'Runaway' is a fantastic song. This is seriously good. Look take my word for it, this is a must buy. Not a bad track on here. One of the best albums of the year goes without saying - and this is a good year for music (Joanna Newsom, Beach House, Jonsi - some great stuff out recently). But there won't be much better than this. I'd say that this is a contender for album of the year without doubt. One for putting on in the car, late at on a hot summer night when you have nowhere in particular to go but you just get that urge to drive through the night. Put it on and enjoy. (10/10)
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 3, 2010 12:03 PM BST

Price: £7.47

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 1 April 2010
This review is from: Go (Audio CD)
Well it was always going to be pretty good wasn't it? The musical output that Jónsi has achieved over the past decade or so with Sigur Rós has always been extraordinary in its breadth and its beauty. There's certainly no diminution of quality with this solo effort. Jónsi's voice is as beautiful and otherworldly as ever. There have been 'whisperings' over the past weeks that this album will be too 'poppy' (is that so bad?). Don't listen to the whisperings. This fits in as well as 'Meš suš í eyrum viš spilum endalaust' to the Sigur Rós canon in my opinion. Yes the epic nature of Sigur Rós maybe not so up front at the beginning ('Grow Till Tall' approaches anything in the Sigur Ros back catalogue for grandeur) and yes a couple of the tracks are a lot more 'accessible' but this certainly isn't too poppy.

The album kicks off with the more accessible songs that people who have come to Jónsi without going through the Sigur Rós route might appreciate. The songs ('Go Do', 'Animal Arithmetic' and 'Boy Lilikoi') are the poppier ones on the album and are of course more immediate to those who haven't approached this through their love of post rock. But if you liked the 'poppier' songs on the last Sigur Rós album then this is nothing more than you got there. So you post-rock diehards can relax. We also get the full range of Jonsi's remarkable voice here. Check out 'Kolnišur' - starts on low notes but the high pitched falsetto that appears towards the end of the song is breathtaking, it just soars.... The grandeur builds through the album as it gets steadily more soulful till the beautiful climax of 'Grow Till Tall' and 'Hengilás'. This is wonderful ethereal stuff, and as good as anything Jónsi has written before.

Have to say the accompanying string arrangements of Nico Muhly are wonderful, especially on the closer, 'Hengilás'. The entire album is nothing short of moving. A remarkable piece of work. (10/10)

Price: £12.28

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars dark in a beautiful, subtle way, 27 Mar. 2010
This review is from: BIRD-BRAINS (Audio CD)
This is something that I stumbled upon a couple of months ago randomly listening to internet radio. To the uninitiated (which includes me), Tune-Yards (or tUnE-yArDs....) is Merrill Garbus who hails from Oakland, California and this is her debut released by 4AD..... blah, blah, blah..... But that doesn't tell you much (except you know she must be pretty good if 4AD are releasing this...). What you need to know is that this a lovely piece of lo-fi music all written, played, arranged and produced by Merrill Garbus herself with ramshackle equipment. The songs are 'strange'. But good 'strange'.

I like this, it's endlessly inventive and fresh. It's all over the place to be honest but where that might detract from some artists' output this just adds to Tune-Yards. Lyrically this is wonderful. The words are sometimes so childlike and yet..., yet at the same time there is something deeply disturbing lurking just behind them, somewhere, just out of reach. It brings to mind feeling I got on first encountering some of the sampling Tunng used on 'Comments of the Inner Chorus', just a feeling that this is dark in a beautiful, subtle way. I could tell you more but the best way is to find out yourself. This is an album you find somethign new on every listen. there really is so much going on here. Standout tracks - for me 'Lions' but there are a lot of great tracks on here. (9/10)

I Speak Because I Can (Eco-pack)
I Speak Because I Can (Eco-pack)
Offered by Speedy Wonder
Price: £3.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't really get much better than this does it...., 27 Mar. 2010
Listening to Laura Marling's debut a couple of years back I must admit to not really seeing what the fuss was all about. Yes, it was a decent enough album. But it didn't really register above the ordinary for me. yes she seemed like a pretty good songwriter but a Mercury Prize nomination? Really? To me as much of the fuss was due to her precociousness (she was only 17) as much as her talent. But still it was a decent album. This on the other hand is a beast of a very different cut of cloth. If 'Alas I Cannot Swim' marked her emergence then this album announces her maturity.

The quality of songwriting never dips on any track on this album. Great lyrics, great music. Ably backed by Mumford and Sons who always lurk respectfully in the background here and let Laura Marling take the centre stage she deserves with songs as good as Made by Maid and What He Wrote, the two standout tracks (though standing out amongst the quality on offer here means they really are very, very good). This is so much more than A.N.Other female singer-songwriter here. There ARE a lot of them around, of varying quality but with this effort Laura Marling puts herself on a par with Joanna Newsom in my opinion (though the song structures are quite different, and Laura Marling is infinitely more immediate and radio-friendly both have a maturity way beyond their years).

The only gripe (a small one) I have with the album is that I just don't go with the American accent (Rambling Man).... I guess it's hard not to sing with a slight American twang when your music is so inspired by Americana, but still it's something I don't like and see gradually creeping back into contempory British rock/folk/pop. Still that's a small thing and I won't let that get in the way of me enjoying this album thoroughly. You should too. (10/10)

The First Days of Spring
The First Days of Spring
Price: £5.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars growing on me, 27 Mar. 2010
Well I've given this one some time before I've written a review. I have to admit on the first few listens this didn't grab me at all and there is still one fault with it that doesn't diminish but more of that in a while. I guess it also seems quite a good time to revisit this now that Laura Marling's excellent second album has been released. That event (at least for the rest of us if not Charlie Fink) presumably brings closure to the theme of The First Days of Spring (unless there's more to come in the Fink/Marling/Mumford nu-folk soap opera?).

Many albums have of course been constructed with a running narrative in the past though none can surely be more 'in your face' obvious than this one. It certainly doesn't bother too much with metaphor. Tell it as it is Charlie Fink! The lyrics are very personal though nowhere near as intimate as the comparably themed 'Boatman's Call' by Nick Cave (nor sadly as good as that album). The songs are aimed directly at Laura Marling and sometimes they're just a bit too desperate for my liking but there's no doubting the sincerity of this and after all that's what really matters when it boils down to it. I do feel though that sometimes listening to this is like intruding on someone's personal grief, like stumbling into a room to find yourself alone whilst two lovers argue. An argument to which you cannot of course have feelings for on either side. Then again, who of us hasn't been in love? Who of us hasn't had their love shattered? So the lyrics whilst of course utterly personal do speak beyond Fink and Marling's affair. Musically though, this is good and the lyrics whilst highly personal are excellent.

Overall this is a very good album but... The thing that I just can't love about this. The 'orchestral' diversion we get half way through... I'm sorry but I just don't get this. What might have been a good idea just hasn't worked in the execution. It ain't Mozart is it.... Or anything that good really. It sounds rather camp to me somehow. I think I see what he was aiming for but what's come out of this is like 'Appalachian Spring' redone by Lloyd-Webber. Not good! There's a return to the choir later on which also fails to move me. Ah well, but the rest of the album is very good, no doubting that. I'd recommend. (8/10)

The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £9.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good stuff, 17 Mar. 2010
I must admit The Besnard Lakes hadn't registered with me until recently. Complicated but I bought their last album a few weeks back as a prelude to seeing them live (I know....usually you listen to the music 'before' you decide to go see a band...however). I read a few reviews and wasn't sure but plumped for buying 'Dark Horse' anyway. I really enjoyed it I have to admit, though I thought it a bit up and down, mainly because I got the impression the band hadn't settled on any particular style as such. Therefore some of the tracks grabbed me, some didn't. One track on the last album , 'Devastation' stood out though. Truly a great track.

Anyway - to the present offering... On the first few listens I'd say i prefer this. It IS still a mish-mash of different styles/influences/ideas. I can hear loads of influences here - Hawkwind to Godspeed You! by way of My Bloody Valentine. This album does however, feel more coherent to me. They do like their guitar solos which I must admit are not something I'm genuinely keen on. Saying that, when they do throw in a solo it does have a genuine air to it. Guitar solos for me are always in danger of pushing a song towards sounding ... well 'spandexy' or if not that like some kind of hideous '70s corporate rock'. When Besnard Lakes do it, they avoid that trap. I have to say I prefer those songs with female vocals but all the songs are good on here. Standout track for me though has to be 'Albatross'.

Good stuff (8/10)

The Big Black and The Blue
The Big Black and The Blue
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £10.14

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - but is this the way to the future or the past?, 14 Mar. 2010
Let's get this straight at the start. I really like this, rather a lot. It is a breathtakingly beautiful collection of songs, which are sung magnificently, Johanna and Klara Söderberg have wonderful voices and are evidently very talented, the songs are well-written, the minimalist instrumentation is fabulous and the album has crystal clear production. What's not to like? It would be churlish indeed to find much fault with this as to be honest there is little hence the high rating given by me (and everyone else so far). For this to be the product of two teenagers is remarkable. But still I worry....

Worry No.1 - Is this the future or is this the past? This is so very, very retro. It's wonderful yes but isn't this taking us a long way back? Popular music has always looked back - in a very real sense very little is truly original. There's a current fashion for looking back in two ways, first like this album does to old fashioned Americana and to the folk-inspired rock of the late 60s and 70s (that's why we have Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes and Midlake currently shifting masses of CDs) and another that harks back to the 80s (hence all the new Electronica). But should we celebrate such obvious harking back and conservatism as this in music? Shouldn't popular music forever be pushing the boundaries, be avant garde? This album is undoubtedly good and First Aid Kit are talented beyond doubt but listening to this I feel like a voyeur peering into wholesome, pre-Rebel Without a Cause middle America of the 50s. Yet the album succeeds because lyrically the songs seem somehow rooted in a much more modern sensibility. This isn't Doris Day...

Worry No. 2 - Swedish teenagers sing American Backwoods folk. There is an admirable current vogue for all things Americana in the serious corners of popular music. Artists like Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes, Okkervil River, Devendra Banhart and the like have proven that music doesn't have to bow to commercialization to sell and have stuck to their guns, wearing the 'backwoods' on their sleeves as it were. But these artists have one great advantage over European Americana exponents... they are very American. Now this is no great shakes I guess. European artists have been mimicking the output of American music even before 'Rock around the Clock' first burst out onto the airwaves back in the 50s. But it is hard to get over the idea of two teenage girls mimicking the American folk-experience. However, where it could fall down on this the album falls the right side of 'faux' and gets away with it.

With all that in mind I'd heartily recommend this to anyone. If you like Americana, Joanna Newsom etc then I have no doubt you'll like this. The real test for First Aid Kit I guess would be what the two girls do next. Do they try to repeat this or do they move on? Perhaps a criticism of the album would be that the song structures are too similar to each other. Maybe there's room for more experimentalism and unorthodox song structure in the vein of Joanna Newsom. Maybe more experimentation with the instrumentation? Anyway - great debut - 8.5/10

Offered by 5records
Price: £5.49

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars likeable enough but I just can't love this...., 13 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Reservoir (Audio CD)
I'm still working out why it is I don't drool over this record. On the surface it has everything going for it. In terms of Professor Farnsworth's Cool-O-Meter® on Futurama this should be worth many MegaFonzies. Some fine singing, well-constructed songs, nice instrumentation and more than a nod at some of the finest bands of the last decade or so. But then isn't that it? When all's said and done this is pretty derivative. But.... that alone does not a bad album make.

If we were to be honest the list of 'truly' original, ground-breaking albums is not an extensive one. I'm quite happy listening to much that is derivative. At the moment, I'm listening a lot to the Rural Alberta Advantage who positively reek of Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel. And nobody interested in decent music over the last couple of years would have failed to notice Fleet Foxes, Midlake or Bon Iver and whether you thought them brilliant or not (some I liked some I didn't) it would be an understatement to say that their musical styles were not wholly original. Currently wowing me are the wonderful First Aid Kit and any hint of 'the new' is entirely missing from their album.

So what's the problem? Ask yourself this. From which well does the essence of 'Reservoir' spring from? It's pretty obvious that the band have spent many hours listening to 'Gulag Orkestar', 'Funeral', 'Clap Your Hands Say Yeah' and 'In the Aeroplane over the Sea'. "So what..." you might say? Well the problem for me is this. My feeling is that the creators of those works wrote and played with little regard for whether what they were doing was 'in' or not. Their works to me feel honest, unironic and sincere. Now I'm sure Fanfarlo would claim different but the feeling I get when I listen to 'Reservoir' is that the band have sweated long and hard over how they can tick all the 'trendy' boxes. Don't get me wrong, 'Reservoir' is technically very adept, the songs are decent enough as is the singing, although the constant swooping up and down every line does get a trifle annoying. It's just that there is definitely something missing, a spark, spirit, soul whatever... Now if this was a landfill indie band then of course that kind of thing just doesn't matter but this is a band that sings in the style of Arcade Fire/Neutral Milk Hotel et al and the one thing that 'style' has that makes it so endearing is its almost naive honesty and a spirit within it that can certainly move me. Fanfarlo approach this on a couple of songs - 'Comets' and 'The Walls are Coming Down' spring to mind - but it's missing from so much of this album for me. Perhaps my view is coloured by having seen the band live where they really did fail to move me at all. Technically very adept and likeable enough but I just can't 'love' this one. But don't forget this is my opinion and I'd hope not to put you off listening for yourself (6.5/10).

Price: £5.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better now I've come back to it and superb ending, 13 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Veckatimest (Audio CD)
I first got hold of this album when it came out last year. I played it two or three times and to be honest - it completely failed to grab me. I knew there was a tremendous amount of hype around it but whatever that was about went straight over my head. After reading a few of the reviews I decided to give it another go a few weeks back, as I was intrigued as to what i was missing in this

I have to say straightaway that whilst I still find a few faults with Veckatimest, it has grown on me considerably. When this is good it really does approach brilliance. And for me the best of the album is from the middle onwards. Looking at this now I think it's the first two tracks that put me off. 'Southern Point' I like better now although like one or two other tracks I still think that the odd moment drifts to the bad side of 70s rock music. Maybe it's just me but I hear a faint echo of Steely Dan on at least one track, and I'd hate to think Grizzly Bear will drift down a mid 70s corporate rock/Eagles type gig... . I'm still unconvinced by 'Two Weeks'. I don't know but the piano-driven rock behind this track brings to mind a close resemblance to a Keane song. Perhaps that's what threw me? Still these criticisms are minor really. What I do like is the way the album builds after this. I'm loving the backing vocals and at times their placement is utterly sublime. The closing two tracks though are the standout of the album. 'I Live with You' is a dreamy classic and highlights the best of this record, when it's at its most ethereal and otherworldy is oddly when it packs its biggest punch. 'Foreground' is a fabulous way to bow out of the album and really leaves me wanting more. A very beautiful ending. (8.5/10)

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