Issue 9 - Album Reviews

Artist: Of MontrealAlbum: Paralytic StalksGrade: A-Of Montreal’s enjoyably bizarre eleventh album fuses psychopathic electro with the more accessible synth-pop, and sees Kevin Barnes taking his falsetto to unprecedented, provocative places. Paralytic Stalks is the ultimate hybrid: a rough pop framework pieced together with bricks from an eclectic wall of sound and layer upon layer of distortion.This album is sung from a personal perspective, in contrast to the act’s former releases. It was written and produced by Barnes, and through composing, he explored the depths of his mental anguish – songs such as ‘We Will Commit Wolf Murder’ and ‘Spiteful Intervention’ harness this emotional fall out. It glides blissfully from one mental breakdown to the next, giving this album a raw and emotive clarity.Barnes and his compatriots have successfully contrasted melancholic lyrics with sing-song choruses, poppy upbeats and hooks. Prepare to be lambasted with themes of doom, a troubled psyche and jingle-worthy melodies.In a Nutshell: Experimentation at its very best and overproduced Emily MullenArtist: Band of SkullsAlbum: Sweet SourGrade: B+Fans of Band of Skulls’ debut, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, won’t be disappointed by the sounds of its successor. The English three-piece have continued with their distinctive fusion of falsetto vocals and high distortion on their second album, but this time, they have harnessed the energy of their sound to produce a sharper, more polished record. Title track and forthcoming single ‘Sweet Sour’ is an undoubted highlight, with an anthemic chorus of love/hate sentiments and stadium-sized percussion. Popular with alt-rock revellers, ‘Devil Takes Care of His Own’ marries a macabre tone with stop-start rhythm. Their slow-paced tunes have come far from those of the debut, exhibiting a mastery of twin guitars and layered harmonies. Closing track ‘Close to Nowhere’ is their masterpiece, with simultaneous dulcet tones and husky vocals. The album’s only downfall can be the occasional repetition on some tracks, but it is otherwise outstanding. In a Nutshell: Like the successful band-child of the White Stripes and the xx; worth a Emily LongworthArtist: ShearwaterAlbum: Animal Joy Grade: B-Together since 1998, Shearwater originally formulated as an outlet for material that did not suit their members’ other band, the celebrated Okkervil River. But now, with their latest album Animal Joy, the band may yet eclipse the successes of their associate act. Animal Joy meditates on man’s relationship with nature. The opening track, ‘Animal Life’, one of the best on the record, shifts away from what is considered to be contemporary indie rock. It has a rustic, traditional feel that swoops with grace and gentle instrumentalism. The other tracks vary from soft melodies to more pulsing, infectious beats. Jonathan Meiburg’s voice is reminiscent of Matt Berninger’s of the National; a deep baritone that extends to a soft falsetto whisper.  ‘Breaking the Yearlings’ and ‘Immaculate’ lean more to the rock side of the album, with strong beats, noted progression and a more sinister, distorted sound. In a Nutshell: A varied, experimental album that is unafraid to break Shauna DalyArtist: The DecemberistsAlbum: We All Raise Our Voices to the Air (Live Songs 04.11–08.11) Grade: A-The Decemberists’ first live album We All Raise Our Voices to the Air is a strong record that showcases the plethora of genres the band has explored over their career, as well as the group’s lasting appeal as a live act. The record draws heavily from their latest studio album, The King Is Dead, but the live forum guarantees an eclectic mix of their work, from stories of truancy and fast-paced country rock to personal ballads and Homeric epics. One highlight of seeing the Decemberists live is their quirky performance style, and We All Raise Our Voices provides a loving frame for their idiosyncrasies, not excluding frontman Colin Meloy conducting the audience in their support of two songs and a yodelling performance by drummer John Moen. The achievement here is not in simply managing to document a live show, but in distilling the memorable experience of seeing the Decemberists in person.In a Nutshell: An honest live experience, excellently Allan McKeeArtist:TennisAlbum: Young & OldGrade: B-After Cape Dory last year, ‘indie’ husband and wife doubles team Tennis return with a saccharine second serve, produced by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney. While those embittered by Cupid’s forensic ballistics this feast of St. Valentine will have to continue waiting for the morbid break-up album, the couple have largely ditched the lyrical solipsism of the debut in favour of wider appeal, and have increased the aggression a fraction in songs like ‘It All Feels the Same’. Patrick Riley’s pretty, melodic guitar playing complements Alaina Moore’s sprightly keyboards and overdubbed harmonies – to  greatest effect on the excellent ‘Origins’ and ‘Dreaming’. The drumming frequently acknowledges (the now ubiquitous presences of) 1960s’ thundering girl groups. What irks slightly is that although the pieces are aggressively enjoyable, so much of this passes in a charming, wistful haze, leaving scant lasting impression.In a Nutshell: Summery, altogether enjoyable music that may tarnish after prolonged Stephen Connolly