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Simon Ward

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Postcards from a Young Man
Postcards from a Young Man
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A missive to the masses from popular music's last great idealists, 29 April 2011
'Rage, rage against the dying of the light,' a famous Welshman once wrote.

It would be premature to start reading the last rites for the Manics, but if they never were to make another album then Postcards From A Young Man would be a worthy epitaph to popular music's last great idealists

Eighteen years on from Generation Terrorists, their passion and articulate anger still burn just as bright. But on album number 10 it seems the Manics finally discovered a way to channel the angry young upstarts of yore without having to contrive a reinvention or resort to becoming their own tribute act.

The betrayal of the left, the decline of British manufacturing and the Orwellian dystopia at the heart of the internet are all pithily picked apart with the scythe of what may be Nicky Wire's most consistently brilliant set of lyrics.

Meanwhile, the radio-friendly choruses of ELO, stadium bombast of Boston and guitar heroics of Slash are ramped all the way up to 11 by James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore. Some Kind of Nothingness waltzes with elegant grace while All We Make Is Entertainment is probably the first and without doubt best song ever to combine duelling guitar solos with a withering critique of economic globalisation and free-market capitalism.

In other words, it's every bit as life-affirmingly good as you'd hope 'one last shot at mass communication' from the Manics would be.

Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, full of ideas and addictively listenable, 29 April 2011
This review is from: Contra (Audio CD)
On album number two Vampire Weekend seem capable of almost anything. Mariachi brass, calypso, MIA samples, ska on speed; all this effortlessly woven into a record which is ultimately a sparsely produced and intimate listen.

Key to its brilliance is the warm and melodic lilt of singer Ezra Koenig - at its best on the falsetto refrain of White Sky and the gentle croon of the album's (almost) title track. It gives Contra an emotional depth which - for all its ideas, hooks and eccentricities - their debut never quite managed.

Lyrically, their unique brand of aloof intellectualism gives way to something far more personal. At its best, the running exploration of class, guilt and social convention is almost reminiscent of a Henry James novel. Like, for instance, the protagonist of Taxi Cab who, "When the taxi door was opened wide / I pretended I was horrified / By the uniform clothes outside / Of the courtyard gate."

Giving Up The Gun may been the most obvious standout on first listen - a double entendre laden straightforward 21st century indie hit - but the real delights subtly reveal themselves over time. Fortunate then, that for an album so densely packed with quirky eccentricities, it is also addictively listenable.

Price: £10.10

5.0 out of 5 stars A glorious, technicolour cacophony of sound, 26 April 2011
This review is from: Go (Audio CD)
Rumour has it that Jón Žór Birgisson was intending a stripped down, low-key acoustic affair for his first post-Sigur Rós solo album. If that story really is true then something, somewhere really did go quite spectacularly wrong.

A glorious, technicolour cacophony of sound, it almost literally explodes into life within seconds of opener Go Do teasing with a stuttering vocal sample and a finger picked acoustic guitar.

Flutes flutter, string sections soar and tribal drums build to a towering crescendo. It's music so brimming with unbridled optimism and effervescent joy that it's hard not to imagine it being accompanied by an explosion of fireworks and confetti.

The 100mph percussive stomp of Animal Arithmetic sounded like an orchestra getting drunk with a marching band while cinematic epics like Around Us and Sinking Friendships are surely destined to soundtrack the uplifting finales to nature documentaries for years to come. And if there was a song more breathtaking in scope and ambition in 2010 than Boy Lilikoi I didn't hear it.

There would be a danger of Go teetering into saccharine territory in less capable hands, but the sheer scale of its innocent wide-eyed wonderment overwhelmed any attempt at cynicism. It also reaffirmed the fact that Jónsi is possessed of one of the most distinctive and emotive voices in music today.

If Sigur Rós never do return from their indefinite hiatus, it's reassuring to know that even on his own Jónsi is capable of making music as unique, uplifting and extraordinary as this.

The Suburbs
The Suburbs
Price: £7.35

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A once-in-a-generation brilliant band at the peak of their powers, 26 April 2011
This review is from: The Suburbs (Audio CD)
Arcade Fire are one of those rare bands capable of such consistent and effortless feats of greatness, it almost becomes too easy to take for granted.

They returned seeming to have matured, aged and developed by vastly more than the five years since the release of Funeral. The quirks and youthful rallying cries of that era-defining debut are long gone. In their place, the subtler, more restrained sound of a band nostalgic for a bygone age, and seemingly on the brink of a cultural apocalypse.

It's a concept album in the very best sense, packed with deft touches of attention-to-detail and a narrative punctuated with musical motifs. Even the artwork was a visual metaphor - eight different varieties, yet all essentially the same, just like the vast and interchangeable 'endless suburbs, stretched out thin and dead' that were once home.

Of course, the journey that begins with 'grab your mother's keys, we're leaving' packs in more than just barren, bland landscapes and 'the modern kids' who live there now. The disillusionment runs parallel with a sense of urgency at wanting to live before its too late: 'So can you understand / why I want a daughter while I'm still young? / I want to hold her hand / And show her some beauty / Before the damage is done.'

Musically there's a light and shade that makes this 16 track opus seem almost short, while avoiding the overbearing earnestness which previous album Neon Bible arguably fell into. So Sprawl I, an almost funereal lament to lost youth in which Win Butler sings of 'the loneliest day of my life', is followed by the Régine Chassagne sung Sprawl II, which - in a quite unexpected move - sounds like Blondie doing disco. Well, specifically, Heart of Glass.

An album about the inertia that exists in that gap between growing up and growing old ultimately left you feeling glad to be alive now to appreciate a once-in-a-generation brilliant band at the peak of their powers.

It's befitting of their complexity that, in making a record about the transitory nature of yesterday's values, fading childhood memories and dissolving landscapes, Arcade Fire produced a work destined for lasting greatness.

Aha Shake Heartbreak
Aha Shake Heartbreak
Offered by b68solutions
Price: £3.39

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like The Bends for the Strokes generation!, 18 Feb. 2005
This review is from: Aha Shake Heartbreak (Audio CD)
Yodelling, calypso, jazz and songs about impotence... You would never believe they could make it sound this good... It seems easy to forget now but there was once a time - sometime before the musical atrocity that is Jet - when the concept of a group of long haired skinny white boys, dressed with thrift-store chic and recycling 70's riffs seemed like genuinely the most exciting thing since... well, since it happened the last time.
And then came along The Strokes, swiftly followed by The White Stripes, The Vines, The Hives, BRMC... We got so carried away that even The Datsuns were hailed as the new, "saviours of rock'n'roll" for a day or two. Relative latecomers to the scene, Kings of Leon seemed to be just another band who rolled off the production line with clothes, hair, and a background story just a little too good to be for real.
Whether the family Followill really are the offspring of an alcoholic preacher who spent their formative years travelling the south to spread word of the good lord, we'll probably never know. However, if there was ever any doubt about the honesty of their musical convictions, Aha Shake Heartbreak should help dispel it. First things first, this is no rock'n'roll party album in the vein of Youth and Young Manhood. As fine a record as that was, the Kings have progressed, and done it with great style and taste.
Somehow the Kings have managed to return with an album that appears to be the difficult second album and post-fame downbeat comedown record rolled into one, but have defied all logic by making it sound compellingly brilliant. Opener 'Slow Night, So Long' sets the tone, introducing itself with chiming chords reminiscent of Joy Division with a Peter Hook-esque bassline to match. After building up to a climax that rocks like The Who it then fades out into a beautiful piano led calypso coda with Caleb singing: "Rise and shine all you gold-digging mothers." Truly this is one extraordinary and adventurous record.
They are still capable of rocking like Lynyrd Skynyrd - 'Velvet Snow' is easily the match of 'Molly's Chambers'. But the tracks that really shine are the ones that sound completely removed from the old 'new rock revolution'. 'King of the Rodeo' has got a chorus that you wont be able to get out of your head for days; 'Day Old Blues' will make you seriously wonder why no-one has ever thought of mixing yodelling and rock'n'roll before and there will not be a song released this year with a more funky bassline than 'Razz'.
In Aha Shake Heartbreak the Kings have managed to do what no one could have dared hope. Where The Strokes, The Vines and countless others have failed, the Followills have transcended the retrogressive scene that gave birth to them and developed into a truly special and unique band.

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