Because — Aivery — W.A.C.#5

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Because

My Thoughts

I am a big fan of context when writing reviews. I obviously don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the fact that this is the twelfth studio album for whatever artist but this is so new I don’t have every resource I might normally have; it’s exciting!

We are thrown straight in with a scratchy guitar followed by a short hang before the instruments dive in with Secret. It’s a heavy guitar and pulsing drums. Then we’re joined by the vocals and the sound is damn effective. Immediately the first thing you notice is that this is not grunge that fondles a memory of the 90’s. This already has it’s own signature sound, complete with a nice vocal pattern. You get the tempered melodic vocal line before it launches into the punchier speak-singing style. Sure, we’re not looking at a tune that’ll have you singing to yourself but rather something that will get stuck in your head.

Disregard takes the same sound and honestly the instrumentals do shine here. It’s a regular pulsing sound that could be in danger of getting repetitive until a complete instrumental power move in the latter half of the song. The tempo restrains itself and the beat changes giving a little self indulgence before bouncing back into the main theme. My previous reviews have shown I am a sucker for this sort of contrasting motif within a track and this is no exception.

You Got Lost opens with a really ethereal echoing guitar that is no longer the growling beast that we’ve heard before but rather an almost 70’s over-driven sound. Was the 70’s idea intentional or what I’m going to call a “Floydian slip”? Either way love it and the climax is full of the same energy that we’ve had so far. Then Don’t Dare… We get some crooked parallel minor sixths in the bass and rhythm sections that again forge this really current sound. This entire track is heavily reminding me of something and I absolutely cannot place it. Despite the number of repeated listens.

Long Shot is possibly my favourite track with its 80’s prog rock vibes. I think one could be forgiven for thinking that influences may have been pulled from the well of Rush and that syncopated rhythm and bass is great.

I have to admit to being a little thirsty for more quirky chord progressions at this point. There is a definitive sound that is really strong but for my taste I want to truly here a juicy resolution. It’s my want though and a subjective need. Phoney Eyes sort of delivers my request but not quite in the way I thought. Aivery loves those moments to really just let the instruments jam on their own with these jerky changes in tempo, beat and rhthym. They are incredibly well placed but to continue the point I want that jam to infect the vocals or be a main theme. Again it’s taste.

Envy delivers again with those odd intervals that could have pulled from some alternative metal. I want to take this moment to say really like when instruments pause and you get a kick, kick, kick, from the bass drum, like a heartbeat. I’ve heard it a few times now, not overused but effective when it comes in.

Not Sorry, is an interesting one that seems to keep delivering these off beat moments, I think yet another signature tune for the group, defining the style, now familiar from this album. It bows it’s way straight into Space Between. This is a sort of “best at what we can do” vibe. Every technique that has been executed goes on show to pull the album to a close.

For me this album was a well prepared meal that just held back on the spice. Sure spice is a taste matter but I couldn’t help but feel a bit of restraint in places. Frankly what I want to do is wait for the next helping and check out the back catalogue.

Is this album for you?

I really think this is worth checking out and would recommend a listen. As always, nothing is for everyone and those who like a less polyphonic sound may be a little disappointed. This is one of the more intriguing “give a try” recommendations I have.

Scores:

  • Writing: 8/10
  • Performance: 8/10
  • Style: 8.5/10 (Waiting for that spice!)
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Singing Bones — The Handsome Family — W.A.C.#5

Artist_THE_HANDSOME_FAMILY_album_SINGING_BONES

Singing Bones

My thoughts

Country music has never managed to break into my general taste for various reasons. There’s a certain esoteric nature that I just can’t shake; the genre is about life in the country, or stories, or life lessons… That can’t be a reason to shy from the whole genre… Maybe it’s the omniscient narrator that seems to feature so often, laying out a story or suggesting that we should learn something?… But that isn’t representative of the whole genre… Well! Whether it bores me, puzzles me or irks me, I’ve no choice. Let’s dive in.

Singing Bones is the sixth studio album for The Handsome Family and represents a maturity of form. This album does not contain much in the way of variation. It’s full of ambling ballads and minimalist guitar or banjo backing. On the positive side, the songs are tightly written with a clear knowledge for what makes a good country song.

The Forgotten Lake is a haunting and contemplative amble with guitar and vocals echoing around. The style follows in the next two tracks Gail With The Golden Hair and 24-Hour Store. The former has more of a maudlin feel to it and the latter a more jaunty amble, but they are all the same sort of ambling feeling. Don’t get me wrong here. The songs stand alone quite well and are pretty strongly written but as an album start, the lack of variation really begins to show. It’s an example of a repeated style but the paint-by-numbers harmonies do grate here and there.

Then we hit The Bottomless Hole. Suddenly we get a burst of something different with a Johnny Cash style tale complete with the slightly scratchy vocals. The track itself is a breath of fresh air just for the mild change. Indeed, the following track Far From Any Road, incorporates a Spanish style guitar and the muted trumpets that might well make you think of Tarantino movies. It will also make you think of the show True Detective as it serves as the theme music for the show!

Then If The World Should End In Fire begins and it’s great. This strips all of the instruments out and presents you with an A Capella country song, which I have never heard before and it’s pretty effective, with those silent pauses.

Skipping the return to basics A Shadow Underneath, we have Dry Bones and I don’t know why I like this style more, it’s more Johnny Cash again but the style just has more to pick up on. This journey of discover has shown me that I am not a fan of songs that seem to exhibit no energy or expression, which I’m afraid some tracks are guilty of.

Now I will address the next three tracks together: Fallen Peaches, Whitehaven, and Sleepy. These tracks get more pace by just accepting a drum beat, which begs the question. Why were these songs not encorporated earlier, to change the feel? The order of this album is all wrong! I can’t figure out the logic. Sleepy has a couple of juicy harmonic moments…

The Song Of A Hundred Toads, as you can tell from the title, is a little more lighthearted and somehow seems to reveal an incoming end to the album. It does have the feeling of an ending, like it’s saying: “We’ve done the super deep stuff.”

And we wind out with another A Capella track If The World Should End In Ice. So thought has been given by the structure! We got a mid track and end track that punctuate the album and well! I’ll even ignore the fact that they are clearly the same song, just two separate verses, because it’s effective. I just wish the rest had a bit more mixing!

Overall, I felt a bit of a sense of a relief at the end, and not for the reason you might think. I got what The Handsome Family were going for more. It’s not totally my style and I couldn’t listen to this block as an album again. Also, the fact that non-punctuation tracks seemed a little thrown in, just contributed to the pacing problems that I ultimately felt were there.

Is this album for you?

Now, for many who like the slow ambling country music sound, this album is going to tick those boxes for you! This is not ignorantly written stuff, ignoring issues of ordering I had. Perhaps an evening out in a glorious summer sun with some beer might do enough for the general ambiance to soften feelings. Dip in and be the judge.

Scores

  • Writing: 6.5/10 (variation is still possible!)
  • Performance: 7.5 (decent)
  • Style: 7/10 (generally) …. 4/10 (personally)
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Ez Reviews #5: Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy Osbourne

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I think it’s fair to say I’ve had a lot of albums recently that I would never normally expect to listen to – but THIS, I’m excited about. The undisputed legend, Ozzy Osbourne. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge metal fan, but I do love a bit of Crazy Train and the prospect of some squealing guitars is thrilling.

Anyway, enough pre-listen gushing. Onwards, into darkness!

My Thoughts

Oh man, that guitar slide. HELLO METAL.

The album opens with I Don’t Know, what I would probably term Classic Ozzy. Chugging, echoing guitar and Ozzy’s signature half-tuneless, half-shouting, all wonderful voice. It’s remarkably sparse – if you’re used to modern metal, that might throw you off. There’s maybe two guitars, a bass and a drum, but all of these things are following a clear, defined rhythm. There’s no fancy fillers. It breaks down into a Floyd-esque middle eight (considering this is the 80s, we can’t be surprised) and then, finally, the guitar solo. Gratuitous, flamboyant, over-the-top.

ALL ABOARD. Crazy Train is probably one of Ozzy’s best known solo songs, and I think for really good reason. The shout, the riff, that driving tempo. It’s almost cheesy-pop in its verses, and then absurdly catchy in the chorus. Here we get some more filler, some more lace-and-frills.

Goodbye to Romance is a total shock. It reminds me more of an ELO-style ballad than a metal song. Ozzy’s voice isn’t truly suited to this kind of song (he doesn’t have an amazing range, and really, he’s not a skilled singer), but it does have a whining, plaintive quality that lends a certain kind of sadness to it. Some of the lyrics might be aimed at his old band members: Goodbye to romance, Goodbye to friends, and then, goodbye to friends, and to all of you. It’s not a love song, in my eyes. It’s a song of regret.

It’s followed by Dee, which showcases some beautiful classical guitar skills by guitarist Randy Rhoads. But there’s only 50 seconds of it before you dive headlong into Suicide Solution, a pure and simple metal song, and also one of Ozzy’s most controversial songs.

Wine is fine but whiskey’s quicker
Suicide is slow with liquor

Some of the guitar solos in this album are insane. The level of skill involved is beyond my comprehension. I have to say, though, that many songs on the album follow a very cut-and-dried formula for writing a song: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus.

The other thing I’ve noticed, too, is the songs are all long. On a ten song album. seven run over 4 minutes; four of those songs run over 5, and the longest is a whopping six minutes long. As previously mentioned, because the structure of each song is very samey, you do get the feeling about 3 minutes into every song that you know exactly what’s coming, and you tend to switch off. There’s a strange tendency to fade out, too, that is baffling.

Mr Crowley, however, breaks from this cookie cutter approach. It starts with this odd synth organ sound, again very Floyd reminiscent, like you’re going into some 80s B-Movie, before it becomes more recognisable, and it runs more like a poem.

Then, there’s the bizarre, almost medieval Revelation, which I think is my favourite song on the album. It’s a pleading, sonorous thing of tubular bells and wooden flute, and Ozzy begging, Please let my mother live. It’s like a climactic song from a goth musical, where the main characters all come together for the final act, and it’s wonderful. Piano solo, guitar solo, the tempo rising, the crescendos. Who cares that this song is 6 minutes long, anymore? It plays to every last second of it.

It blends seamlessly into Steal Away (The Night), more classic metal, and the album closes with You Looking at Me, Looking at You, which feels very much like a partner song to Crazy Train.

Is This Album For You?

It’s a tricky one. If you’re into classic metal, I’d say it’s definitely worth a good listen. If you think you don’t like metal, this is a nice, easy album to give a go. It might surprise you. It is definitely not a hard metal album, and if you’re looking for stellar vocals, don’t bother. It is wonderfully Ozzy, though, and that’s hard to deny.

Scores

Writing: 6/10 The skill of the guitar and Revelation bumps this up.

Performance: 8/10

Style: 7/10

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Arrival — ABBA — W.A.C.#5

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Arrival

My thoughts

Right – so ABBA is like Quantum Marmite. There exist those who love them, those who hate them and those who seem to love and hate them in a superposition of calling them a guilty pleasure. (Physicists please don’t attack the analogy, I’m just searching for a bit of wordplay.) Irrespective of your feelings, ABBA represented this sudden blast in the pop music of the 70’s after the Eurovision win with Waterloo.

It actually took a couple of albums (this being their fourth) before the group hit the stride of memorable hits – in fact – searching the back catalogue just confirms that there a bunch of forgotten tracks in the early days. Arrival is aptly named as it represents the beginning of the serious main stream pop act rather than the long take off stage.

You hear the opening echoey acoustic guitar with the two female vocalists both singing the melody vocal line in When I kissed The Teacher. The melody isn’t particularly interesting musically but the ABBA nail the one thing they always do; it’s catchy. For better or worse, ABBA songs are ear worms and the act of merely listing track titles may be enough to have the song echoing round the head for the rest of the day. Although the track hasn’t gone down in ABBA’s globally recognised roster, it still uses the interesting chord descending layered harmonies, which define the group.

With the progression into the next song we see their possibly best known hit Dancing Queen…  I have finally figured it out. Everything about the song is catchy. The melody infinitely recognisable, the iconic chorus, the signature piano tones and overall the fact that it’s just ridiculously upbeat pop. There is no denying the formula is spot on and it represents all things cheery. Don’t get me wrong of course, it may even be too bubblegum even to feature in a Disney movie, or any movie with a hint of actual seriousness. This is why it features so prominently in that movie where Meryl Streep leads masses of elderly Greek island women in skipping to the coast to participate in a piece of mass choreography. The cynic in me wonders how many dropped on the way.

Progressing we do see some downsides. With some knowledge of ABBA choruses I kept waiting for continuing songs to break into choruses I knew, for example My Love, My Life frankly wants to burst into Fernando at any moment. (Move on if you’re not as familiar with the source material. As for Knowing Me, Knowing You… well most know it and I constantly got told “I can never hear that song without thinking of Alan Partridge”, rather amusing how much that came up.

Another classic with Money, Money, Money and it’s once again ingrained into popular culture that everyone knows it, possibly from a commercial advertising a consolidating loan. I think I’m being fair; the writing is so good that you can guarantee a memorable hit. I can’t keep reiterating where it’s catchy but I can say that if you staple it to anything, it will stick with people.

Personally, I really love That’s Me, with a lovely chord progression in the verse and the Eurovision style key-changes that never left the group – corny in its own way but a mastery of modulation. Then the miss the mark for me… Why Did It Have To Be Me is a simple blues riff that still has the same talent but falls into the pot of generic, almost filler material. It’s just not a good fit.

Indulge me for a second. Tiger repeats the line:

I am the Tiger

but just put it on and imagine that in the place of Eye of the Tiger, in a Rocky training montage. Have you done that? Good.

The album correctly bows out with a simple instrumental track, Arrival that very much functions as a signature. Yes there are vocals but just the use of “Ah” makes it an instrumental. It’s a sign off as the album is done and the new wave of ABBA is here.

I’ll quickly say that the opening of Fernando sounds a bit like the Pogues’ christmas song… then it just bursts into the well known chorus. Still catchy!

Personally I do like ABBA and I think there was a lot of talent in the group although occasionally there was a lack of expression in the vocals and the songs a tad formulaic. It’s also really pretty catchy, accepting and if you say there is no talent, you are emphatically wrong.

Is this album for you?

…It’s ABBA… You know the answer…

Scores

  • Writing: 9.5/10 (If you disagree then come up with a formula that makes as many zingers yourself)
  • Performance: 8/10
  • Style: 9/10
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Weekly Album Challenge — Week 5

Clearly not as weekly as it once was, I’m hoping to be pretty regular though, maybe we’ll get back there

This weeks list:

  • Arrival — Abba
  • Out of the Blue — Electric Light Orchestra
  • Channel Orange — Frank Ocean
  • Bicep — Bicep
  • Welcome to the Real World — Mr. Mister
  • Physical Graffiti — Led Zeppelin
  • Singing Bones — The Handsome Family
  • Slip — Quicksand
  • Because — Aivery
  • Ocean Drive — Lighthouse Family
  • Different Class — Pulp
  • Galaxy Garden — Lone
  • Singles — Future Islands

Thanks to my parents, Hannah, Michael, Tamsin, Danny, Esme, Phil, Louis, Dan, Faris, Alex and David

And my suggested album for this week:

  • Blizzard of Ozz — Ozzy Osbourne
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Bridge Over Troubled Water — Simon and Garfunkel — W.A.C.#4

Simon_and_Garfunkel,_Bridge_over_Troubled_Water_(1970)

Bridge Over Troubled Water

My thoughts

With its signature measured style, I have to confess to pausing to write this review slightly. This is purely for my own self indulgence; it allows me to pause in the hustle and bustle of life and just enjoy the moment. It should be said that this mostly means I personally find the album calming – but it’s time to be objective.

The 60’s has just bowed out and there is an excellent case for marking this album as its swan-song. Farewell to summer of love, Woodstock, and even Simon and Garfunkel’s signature minimalism; this is not an album of vocals and a guitar.

We open with the titular Bride Over Troubled Water, most know the haunting vocals here, but the song is just a masterclass in progression. The lyrics are solid and simple and the piano knows how swell and retreat in such delicate ways. Pause for contemplation after the crystal clear opening and allow the strings to join…

Sail on silver girl;
Sail on by…

It’s a duet, it’s full, it’s echoing with those distant drums and sliding basses, cellos. Oh it is so rich and a raw display of the power of music. Frankly, with the number of covers, I am so surprised that so many don’t get the feel of this track…

Cecilia… OK – time for an anecdote. At first glance the lyrics are about the rejected lover of Celilia. She has left Paul Simon and he is distraught without her, eventually she returns and he’s happy. This song has a double meaning, actually referring to St. Cecilia (patron saint of music).  Paul Simon suffers a horrible lack of inspiration until a song idea crystalises and the songwriting path becomes clear and he thanks the patron saint.

Jubilation! She loves me again!

I have heard that this anecdote refers to the actual composition of this song. I can’t point to a reliable source (Mother)… but it’s a wonderfully romantic story!

My favourite song of the album has to be The Boxer and I think this is just down to those damn vocal harmonies – I find them incredibly pretty; expertly backed up instrumentally with that lovely echoing drum strike, almost like a gun shot. Not to mention the Hans Zimmer-esque blast near the end, before resolving itself out. This is the talent – Simon and Garfunkel can so easily create a song that enters, has its effect, then leaves (not outstaying its welcome). For evidence, just look at the examples! The Only Living Boy in New York or So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The album closes on Song for the Asking. It’s simple and short and represents that end to the duo, as this album was their last together. It’s a poignant tranquility that is perfectly placed after Bye Bye Love. Great chord progressions here and the lyrics:

Ask me and I will play
All the love that I hold inside.

and it’s done and I am literally hit with a sound of silence (not on this album) – the noticeable absence of what I’ve just heard and its absence is felt!

Is this album for you?

I think here is another setup for a pillar of music past. Whatever your thoughts, this album represents a fine signature of the duo and their talent. Folk music is not for everyone, although the pair make a great bridge (no pun intended) into those realms. I’ll cross it personally but I’m not heading too much further beyond. My advice is find a moment of tranquility and just allow yourself a good listen. It’s good backing to the right sort of event and just a great display of talent.

Scores

  • Writing: 9/10
  • Performance: 10/10
  • Style: 9/10 (what can I say… it’s just hit all the right areas for me)
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The Pinkprint — Nicki Minaj — W.A.C.#4

Nicki_Minaj_-_The_Pinkprint_(Official_Album_Cover)

The Pinkprint

My thoughts

When I first heard Nicki Minaj’s track Stupid Hoe, I instantly knew that this would be an artist that I would not be spending time listening to. When The Pinkprint was suggested as an album, however, I put my impressions aside to give a full and fair review, hoping 5 years of disinterest would leave me open to be fair. Full warning, we are not going to be doing full track analyses here.

This album does have a couple of surprises for me, for example, I really didn’t know Minaj’s voice was this decent; she has range and power and its more than generic spoken work. On listening to the full album, however, it became increasingly clear that Minaj has a lot of different voices she can use and at best it’s versatile but at worse it’s like a pile of impressions. There’s some talent but it’s confused…

If we briefly dip into a few tracks. The first two All Things Go and I Lied have the minimal backing of a slow synth and regular drum beat, backed with some inoffensive backing vocals. It’s actually a solid opening with a surprising set of emotional settings, losing children and family. The vocals as well… I have to say it pleasantly surprised me.

In the reverse side Get On Your Knees cannot be looked at for depth. Nicer vocals that work with Ariana Grande but it’s just a “plead to have me” track that is almost laborious at time. Not my taste – it’s not the message as much as the lack of content. This is one of three sequential big-name collaborations (I know Jessie Ware was on the previous track). Feeling Myself is alright Beyoncé is certainly a safe bet for quality… This track has some more of the punchline rap:

Bitch, never left but I’m back at it
And I’m feelin’ myself, jack rabbit
Feelin’ myself, back off, cause I’m feelin’ myself, jack off
Heard he thinks about me when he whacks off
Whacks on? Wax off

I laughed but it’s a bit samey and only really shines when Beyoncé sings.

We progress to Lil Wayne, Drake and Chris Brown joining Minaj and there’s clearly the collaboration effort going on; there is a lot more content and it’s richer verbally – maybe a little lewd for me?

As we carry on though… its collab after collab, which really does get wearing. The album actually surprised me in the beginning but began to get a little off as I progressed. Trini Dem Girls was a pretty dull low light for me, which just bored me.

Anaconda was obviously very well known as a single and it bothers me because it is completely the same as Sir Mix A Lot’s Baby Got Back, in theme and beat… rhythmically a little different but basically the same song…sorry!

As we go out, actually Grand Piano is a really nice ending and finally we get a showcase of her voice again in a much stripped down track with just a piano and violin. It works a lot better for me showing that hint of versatility. So… Was there an overarching thing with this album? Please tell me if there was because I’m afraid I may have missed it. It was better than I initially thought but I can honestly say I wasn’t a fan. The album was too sparse of content – some very minimal tracks could take a message and take a lifetime to say nothing of importance. Yet perhaps the album does represent a growth of style… Dare I check out the back catalogue of Minaj? Eh… maybe not right now…

Is this album for you?

If you, like me have always pegged Nicki Minaj as a bit of a vapid one trick horse, I have to say to check the album out as it is actually showcasing a whack of ability. For me there are a lot of irritations to get through and a real lack of anything other than a mob of people appearing of every track. I would advise to perhaps see what the next big Minaj work is before exploring this. This album needs to fit into a timeline somewhere but would crumble as a magnum opus.

Scores

  • Writing: 5/10 (more individual work needed)
  • Performance: 8/10 (a bit high maybe for me but there were some eyebrow raising moments
  • Style: 6.5/10 (not really for me but not putting me off forever)

Bonus:

  • Effort: C – (I really think a more focused album could genuinely be great)

 

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