Getintothis unearth’s an unexpected gem in the form of Miracle Fortress, while Dizzee stays top of the class, The Coral ditch ‘wierd’ and the Beastie’s quite literally drop the mic…
Miracle Fortress: Five Roses – Album of the Week
In terms of listening satisfaction there’s nothing greater than an unexpected thwack to the ear drums. And perhaps given Miracle Fortress‘ Montreal heritage I should have seen it coming – after all this is the Canadian residence du jour spawning hipsters Wolf Parade, this year’s breakthrough sensation Besnard Lakes and the all-conquering Arcade Fire – the metropolis can seemingly do no wrong.
Adding to this incestuous hub is Graham Van Pelt (aka Miracle Fortress), a one-man production whiz whose knack to meld the disparate sonic forces of The Beach Boys, shoe-gaze and Brian Eno has resulted in one of 2007’s most rewarding and unexpected triumphs. Already shortlisted for the Canadian version of the Mercury, the Polaris Music Prize, Five Roses, is rich with studio trickery but underpinned by gorgeously simplistic melodic pop songs.
Of all the touchstones Brian Wilson‘s is the most inescapable – see Maybe Lately‘s near identical twin vocal harmony to Don’t Worry Baby – but similarly to Panda Bear, Van Pelt rarely lets his influences take precedence over a form which is distinctly his own. Centre-piece Hold Your Secrets To Your Heart typifies Van Pelt’s divine, cascading waterfall of crystalised melodies drowning in gurgling synth-heavy textures. Traditional song structures are abandoned in favour of cyclical honey-kissed vocals engulfed with bells, glockenspiels and chugging summery beats.
The effect is of spontaneous joy and a record which gathers pace with every listen. Have You Seen In Your Dreams, takes you on a sleigh bell ride through beachy, radiant climes; all symphonic elation and infectious handclaps. Next Train trades The Shins doo-wop with M83‘s glacial post-rock encased within four of the most beautiful minutes of pop this year. Throw in a psyche guitar coda and it’s almost too much.
The deep plunging electronica of Little Trees is reminiscent of Eno‘s more poppier back catalogue while Blasphemy recalls one of this year’s other special finds Maps, with it’s clashing fuzzy keyboard outro.
Ironically the accordion-led Poecaster‘s strident thump betrays a lyrical sense of undervalued self-worth (‘I’m in no shape to share my point of view, maybe failings the first thing I can do’) yet the feeling is never less than euphoric exultation – a quality applicable to the whole of Five Roses.
Near miraculous stuff
The Coral: Roots & Echoes
Mature Ã¢ÂÂ perhaps the most erroneous adjective in music criticism. When a band earns the tag of Ã¢ÂÂnew-found maturityÃ¢ÂÂ this can often be read with a touch of cynicism. Does the writer genuinely enjoy reclining in his easy chair, pipe and slippers in tow, with a hot toddy resting within arms reach while the soothing aged chimes ring out of his dusty beatbox whisking him to a land of comfort. Or does mature simply mean dull?
The disconcerting aspect of The CoralÃ¢ÂÂs fourth long-player (fifth including stopgap Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker) was not just the previews which heralded their new mature direction, but chief songwriter James SkellyÃ¢ÂÂs insistence that they wished not Ã¢ÂÂto hide behind the weird stuffÃ¢ÂÂ, but rather Ã¢ÂÂwe wanted to be able to play every song on this album on an acoustic and know itÃ¢ÂÂd stand up as a good songÃ¢ÂÂ.
Well, congratulations boys. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve delivered on their promise and recorded their most insipid record to date. Out the window goes the effervescent pop, Beefheart time signatures and lyrical playfulness all central to their rich palette. In its place is languid, stagnated sound with recurring themes of sombre loneliness set adrift to muggy Doors pastiches or sub-Neil Diamond fodder.
Most worrying of all is the near absence of their secret weapon Bill Ryder-JonesÃ¢ÂÂ rich, frazzled guitar magic. It’s most ironic, given the guitarist almost quit the band, that his re-emergence into the fold should leave a cavernous black hole.
All of this isnÃ¢ÂÂt to say Roots & Echoes is a disaster Ã¢ÂÂ Put The Sun Back is a delightful rumination on fading love, Jacqueline is an autumnal Byrds-esque piece of acoustic whimsy while Music At Night fleetingly finds them capture their soulful, rhythmic mojo.
But for a band which lit up a rainy Saturday afternoon at Glastonbury 2007, Roots & Echoes is the sound of six unsettled souls submerged under a thick gloop of staid noir.
Dizzee Rascal: Maths + English
In terms of contemporary British black musicians Dizzee Rascal is peerless.
Since 2003’s Boy In Da Corner reinvented, reshaped and redefined UK hip-hop, there’s been no-one come close to stealing his crown. And following on from 2004’s Showtime, Maths & English continues Dizzee’s remarkable step up showcasing a fearless insistence to break new ground.
Spurred on by the usual host of hip-hop torments (the police, depraved villians, deprived communities) it’s Dizzee’s uncompromising vocal ferocity and forays into uncharted musical ground which retains his edge over the chasing pack.
Sure, Maths & English dabbles in stereotypical themes (see World Outside‘s glass-cutter paranoia or U Can’t Tell Me Nuffin‘s grimy leader-of-the-pack arrogance), but it’s the flirtation with US hip-hop and dare we suggest the commercial end of hip-hop which leads to a broader, richer result.
Where’s Da G’s is straight outta G-Funk alley, Paranoid is an intergalactic cross-atlantic chiller while current single Pussyole (Old Skool) samples Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s It Takes Two with delightful dancefloor vigour.
Better still is the pneumatic hardcore of Sirens – a visceral beast that in the wrong hands could result in a Fred Durst dirge of nu-metal tomfoolery. But with Dizzee at the helm it’s a raging, whirring menace to society.
The additional scoops of indie-pop’s king and queen – the Arctic’s mainman Alex Turner (Temptation) and Lily Allen (Wanna Be) – prove justifiable; the former contributing a fuzz drenched warbler, the latter adding her sugary-sweet coo to a music hall take on Bugsy Malone’s ‘So You Wanna Be A Boxer‘. A trick Kanye West will be slightly miffed he missed out on.
Tellingly the record signs off with U Can’t Tell Me Nothin’ and Hardback (Industry) – two songs devoted to Dizzee’s status as king of the crop as he preaches his sermon to any wannabe Rascals and on the evidence of Maths & English they’d be wise to stick heed his lesson.
Beastie Boys: The Mix Up
The Beastie Boys have been stuck in one long groove to nowhere for a number of years now. Their last record To The 5 Boroughs Ã¢ÂÂ an ode to their New York backyards Ã¢ÂÂ was largely a return to prime era Beasties. Laced with cutting vocals, tight-woven samples and hyper-kinetic rhythms it should have seen them reclaim their Illness. It bombed.
In an almost knee-jerk reaction to the folks that donÃ¢ÂÂt wish to hear their distinctive trademark spit, The Mix Up is 12 tracks of instrumental licks with the finger firmly depressed on the button marked Ã¢ÂÂlounge jazzÃ¢ÂÂ. What have they done?
For a band so celebrated and ridiculed in equal measure for their antics on and off the stage Ã¢ÂÂ one aspect that both the lovers and the haters were guaranteed to share was a common ground in extreme reactions; The Mix Up merely elicits boredom.
Lacking the inspired Dust Brothers touch from 1988Ã¢ÂÂs seminal PaulÃ¢ÂÂs Boutique or the brattish vigour of 1992Ã¢ÂÂs Check Your Head, The Mix Up is instead a luke-warm blend of honky keys, jazz-lite brushed strokes, static guitar oinks and presiding over the whole affair MoneyÃ¢ÂÂs MarkÃ¢ÂÂs life-sapping organ noodles.
Where they deviate from this template Ã¢ÂÂ see Dramastically DifferentÃ¢ÂÂs Eastern strings and dubstep beats – rather than injecting with variety it merely appears desperate or forced.
For all intents and purposes The Mix Up isnÃ¢ÂÂt a new Beastie Boys record, itÃ¢ÂÂs the dregs that were swept up on the jam-room floor.
All Mixed Up