The snappily named Whistle Stop Tour continues here at OTB as we drive right on through, straight out of rap and hip-hop and heading in a more indie and rock direction. Looking to right your might catch a glimpse of The National, Vampire Weekend and Laura Marling, whilst if you’re lucky to the untamed wilderness on the left you might just spot the rare Sigur Rós or perhaps even the odd Arctic Monkey hiding in amongst the snow drifts. One thing I can guarantee though is that I won’t get away with this iffy tour metaphor for much longer, so let’s get on with it.
Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know?
Advertising? Pfft, strictly for amateurs. Early on Wednesday morning, Mr Turner sat up briefly in bed dropping a short text to the guys at Domino (no, not the pizza company – though we can’t rule out a potential link yet) who in turn slapped “Do I Wanna Know?” on iTunes prompting all involved to lay back down, roll down their lids and let the world do their work for them: easy money. Granted the procedure was probably a little more complex than that (a period of recording may have necessary at some stage), but the Bowie-esque, “by the way here’s our latest work” attitude was pulled off with great style, owing in no small part to the brilliant nature of their latest track. Following in the vein of styling of the more recent Monkeys albums, “Do I Wanna Know?” is a somewhat slower and darker approach that brought them their fame, what seems like yonks ago now. This original style showcased in “My Favourite Worst Nightmare” and the snappily titled “Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not” has been long missed by fans of the band, but this doesn’t mean that there is no appreciation for the new style – though it took a while in the case of “Humbug.” In fact, the new style, while perhaps not entirely as popular as the bands starting block explosion into the music scene yet, has received high praise and is growing stronger with each passing single, long and extended playing record.
The urgent guitar riff of the beginning has matured into the slow-stomping bass line of present day Monkeys. The new stuff might not be at the top of every party playlist in town, though that’s not really a bad thing as what we have instead is a matured sound with a long lifespan, after all the repetitive recycling of “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” is becoming the trademark of the unimaginative worn-out DJ, whose playlist is fixed up by typing in “DANCE” on Spotify.
Oh and the video is pretty cool too.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
I once heard Vampire Weekend referred to as “guitar ticklers” and, though it was intended as an insult, I found it to be a pretty accurate way of describing them – though, for me, in a non-insulting manner. Album one and two both produced upbeat, happy melodies as if the guitars were giggling jollily, rather than being played to without the pursuit of technical perfection in mind, once again: compliment, not insult. What I’m taking a long time to explain here is that the guys behind Vampire Weekend appeared to be having fun with their music and not attempting to stamp out an album of technical quality that lacks soul – the quality was incidental. In their third studio outing VW have, much like Arctic Monkeys, attempted the leap to find their matured selves, firing up slower, mystic vibe to replace the preppy jangling style of their debut and follow-up. There were some signs of the change of style creeping into “Contra” in the form of “Horchata” and “I Think Ur a Contra.” “Modern Vampires of the City” could easily be called a maturing third album, the Maccabees leapt through the fire to produce a slower paced, but stunning album in “Given to the Wild” and Vampire Weekend, just over a year later, have followed whilst maintaining their own individual styles. Ezra Koenig’s ever-jolly voice rings sweetly and the more jingly-jangly, almost Peggy Sue-esque, beginnings of “Unbelievers” provide ample good feelings. The change to a slower pace suits them nicely and the results in “Modern Vampires of the City” are good, like the Arctic Monkeys their fast-paced guitar riffs might be missed for a while but what has replaced it is pretty nice listening.
Listen to Modern Vampires of the City here.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
There is nothing shocking here. No stylistic change, no drastic change of pace or direction and most importantly no change in quality. We stand to applaud the musical pioneers who constantly search for new experimental musical formulas to test their audiences’ boundaries with, but we also appreciate a band doing what they do brilliantly without it getting old: it’s quite a talent. Unlike the prior two bands, Matt Berninger and the guys behind The National do not need to tackle a process of maturing, all now beyond their mid-thirties the band got that nasty bump out of the way a while back and have been concentrated on cracking out a series of brilliant albums instead of on growing hair in new areas.
“Trouble Will Find Me” features warm melodies tainted by an echoing quality at times and the circulating tortured lyrics of Berninger. Ignore the lyrics and you’d think it was a generally cheery album, however the lyrics and the occasional minor chord reveal the haunted protagonist, fighting his emotions with a wall of misleadingly buoyant musical overtones. The reality is often less optimistic than the initially projected image as Berninger observes the bubbles hanging above his head, though a certain element of acceptance persists throughout.
Swelling orchestral beauty remains the strong suit of The National as their style maintains its general direction but holds a strongly sentimental side that, because of the band’s awareness of their intentions and their immense talent, works nicely.
Listen to Trouble Will Find Me here.
Sigur Rós – Kveikur
Unofficially branded as the “anti-Valtari”, Kveikur represents a dark turn in Sigur Rós’ discography. Typically, associated with their style would be more breezy, outdoor vibes with melodic builds and stunning releases. The opener to “Valtari”, “Ég Anda”, swirled the album into life and for those of us who don’t hold Icelandic as our vernacular had an immense beauty, slowly rearing us in to a gentle world that is pretty much alien to us, emphasised by the fact that every word of it goes completely an utterly over our heads. The more avid listener can of course Google the translation (god bless the modern age) but part of me loves the ignorance, the childlike not-knowing and not having to know is a rare pleasure as you grow and one I’m not ready to let go of quite yet. Wandering out of my manky student house on a damp winter morning the swirling, tentative confident splendor and growth of “Valtari” turns it around; suddenly a lecture on the themes of history and why Marx may/may not have been right about everything ever doesn’t seem quite so bad. So, a darker Sigur Rós would be an interesting turn, but, given their brilliance elsewhere, I’d be a fool not to give it a chance.
The album builds, not with a fluttering, swirling and cautious sound but with a heavy erupting noise, Iceland preparing itself once more to blow its top and cover the western hemisphere with dust. A grinding riff amid melodic chords backs the ever-angelic voice of Jónsi, the sound is as cinematic as ever; emotive and packed with imagery through the sound alone. The breaks in the dark melodies allow Jónsi’s voice to briefly break out unopposed yielding to short moments of optimistic undertones, but the darker feeling maintains. “Kveikur” is certainly not as easy listening as the prior works of Sigur Rós but if you’re sitting in the right mood for it, it packs a real punch.
Songs such as “Isjaki” offer a release from the darker tones, but even then hold occasional circulating, screeching repetitions to remind us that this is no “Valtari”, “Takk” or otherwise. The album’s style will be met with varied opinion but is certainly a piece of art as far as I’m concerned: the ability of Sigur Rós to create such wonderful snippets of imagery in the conscious mind is proof enough of that.
Listen to Kveikur here.
Laura Marling – Once I was an Eagle
Laura Marling is known for her calm caressing vocals, cool folk riffs and thoughtful lyrics reaching beyond her 23 years. “Take the Night Off” begins the album, starting steady, collecting itself slowly, gathering pace and sound building wondrously reaching its peak but for a second before it drops again into a quicker build as it runs into its next stage, the track “I Was an Eagle.” “I was an Eagle” shared a lot of characteristics with the opener as it evolves tentatively into the next piece, it does however reveal the irrelevance of referring to the album’s parts in isolation. The album is a whole, many little portions of one big thing, seamlessly running into one another in the fashion of the second half of “Abbey Road.” Unless you listen carefully, you’re likely to miss the end of one and the start of the next. The result is a brilliant showcase of the amazing talent of Marling and the creation of an album that when performed live could create much more than a gig: a show filled with plot, emotion, through-running themes, reference and metaphor. The songs hold up individually too, but I really would recommend sampling “Once I was an Eagle” as a whole first.
Changes of pace, style and register sneak so quietly that by the time the downbeat ‘Little Love Caster’ rolls around you’ll wonder what happened to the upbeat beginning and when exactly that cheery tide receded and left you beached on the damp sand.
Listen to Once I was an Eagle here.
Keep an ear to the ground for the rest of 2013 too to catch new releases by Arcade Fire, Broken Bells, Eminem, Johnny Flynn, The Horrors, Franz Ferdinand, MGMT, Jay-Z and Editors too. I’m also personally holding out for a sudden return of Jamie T after rumours earlier in the year that he had returned to the studio.
Jack Meredith: @jackmeredith7