Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Elvis and the Distractions, a different Oliver’s Army and other songs.

Two months ago I was being optimistic, finding my cup half-full, noting that the quantity of music releases that appealed to me were mounting up to the point of overflow. It took me most of the intervening time to find opportunities to listen to the bulk of those albums whilst also being distracted by other releases.

There is a risk, prevalent in the modern world, of choice-paralysis; having so much to choose from that it renders you inert. I struggled with this to start with and also its partner-in-crime: that terrible fear of disappointment – what if the artists you expect so much from actually fail to deliver?

That fear is enhanced by hype; we seem to be so starved of releases that the media and our peers are excited by that when one occurs they seem to go completely over the top about it. It was the hype that initially distracted me from listening to either the Arctic Monkeys AM or Arcade Fire’s Reflektor.

It’s a peculiar fault of mine that I get disgruntled and irritable when I find myself unable to agree with the mass of opinion. It’s not that I want to be part of the mass, more that I am angry about being misled. In that instance I also fear for the casual listener, the random folk who might be dragged in by media hyperbole. They might only buy a couple of CDs a year and if one doesn’t seem to match up with the hype it has been given who knows when they’ll believe in a review again.

I should relax and care less about this, people have the opportunity to listen before they buy these days so it’s very much caveat emptor (as no-one ever says anymore). This is a long way of saying that I remain to be convinced by Reflektor. There’s no doubt it has ambition and diversity but within this genre-bending, electronic-bent indie disko is a frustrating lack of great songs. Over 17 tracks and 75 minutes there are great moments but somewhat fewer than there should be and the thought I’m ultimately left with is that they could’ve easily cut a minute (or three) from the overlong-overblown-eleven-minute Supersymmetry and given us a single disc with more cohesion. Failing that they could’ve dropped Flashbulb Eyes altogether and saved their fans a few quid. I’m moved to think that Arcade Fire seem to believe their own hype. Why wouldn’t they, there’s so much of it.
 
Continuing the hype a friend of mine keeps telling me how he can’t stop playing the new Arctic Monkeys album. As a slight consequence it took me a short while to start playing it. I shouldn’t have hesitated, it really is very good. Opening with the very strong single Do I Wanna Know? it rarely drops a beat being consistent both in quality and in atmosphere. They’ve developed into a band that ticks a lot of boxes, strong across many genres and probably fan-demographic as well. Where AM excels is that it has a ‘groove’, an insidious rhythm and languorous feel, the songs are strong and Alex Turner remains a clever lyricist. He and it are a class act.
 


Anna Calvi oozes class as well. A great live act she gave one of the best performances I’ve seen in recent times at the Institute in Birmingham last year. Her second album, One Breath, is clearly going to take some time to grow on me though. It lacks the dramatic impact of her 2011 debut and at times seems to be a sonic experiment and demonstration of artistry rather than a strong set of beguiling melodies. In time I may grow to love it, as yet I’m uncertain.
 

 
New Model Army have never been far from my affection, in Thunder and Consolation they made an album I always feel comfortable listening to – it fits with many moods. Since then I haven’t paid much attention to their activity and they’ve released eight albums without troubling my wallet, a sad state of affairs suggesting that they were out there preaching to the converted and missing some of their more casual fans. Between Dog and Wolf is the first release in four years and clearly created enough impact to awaken my interest. It is strong on atmosphere without having the immediacy and rousing choruses I remember of old. The feel is underpinned with tribal drumming and repetitive lyrics showing they’ve lost little of their ire. If nothing else it has made me look at the albums I’ve missed, it is a comeback of significant proportions.

In a similar time Pop Will Eat Itself roamed the land. I had a lot of time for the Poppies and spent a fair bit of time with them and watching them. I didn’t have too great a knowledge of the circumstances that led to the breakdown/dissolution in 1996 though. This detail is more than filled in by Adam Mole’s excellent sleevenotes on the re-release of Dos Dedos Mis Amigos. It was always one of the strongest PWEI albums and now re-mastered it sounds timeless and mighty. The real bonus is the second disc though, unreleased tracks which were known as PWEI96 and A Lick of the Old Cassette Box. These songs – with Kerry from Yeah God, another under-rated act from the area/time, replacing Graham – were works in progress but easily stand up to the industrial metal of the time. Indeed there’s a six song sequence from The Demon to Point Blank which are staggeringly good. In some respects it’s poignant to hear this stuff some seventeen years later, it exemplifies what could have been. I miss them.

It was the arrival of a new Elvis Costello album that started this landslide of long-players. Costello is my favourite lyricist of all time and one of my long-admired artists, in some ways it’s weird to have him revisit some old lyrics on the new album but it seems to work. As another of his collaborations, this time with The Roots, Wise Up Ghost has moments of genius with playing and samples that clearly revitalise the Elvis of old. Elvis rarely plays safe and it’d be great to think that this partnership will last longer than some of his other one-off’s, there’s definitely mileage here. If nothing else it’d be incredible to see Elvis and The Roots live. I can dream.
 

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