The Bubble Album Reviews No. 10

Atlas Sound – Parallax

Bradford Cox, the man behind Atlas Sound, is an interesting guy. His songwriting method is stream-of-consciousness and so he doesn’t write the lyrics beforehand. He is also incredibly prolific and has been writing songs since he was a child. In 2010 he released 4 CDs worth of solo demos as well as the acclaimed album “Halcyon Digest”, from his band Deerhunter. His latest album, Parallax is the most fully realised of his solo career. He continues to explore some of the themes of his other solo work, namely loneliness, self-doubt and disconnection, but this time the songs work together much better together as an album.

Like a lot of his work, the album is very atmospheric. He combines subtle electronics with more traditional instrumentation to great effect, creating a dreamlike atmosphere. In songs like ‘Te Amo’ and ‘Modern Aquatic Nightsongs’ the accompaniment is built on synth loops combined with bass and simple percussion. The haze of the accompanying parts is in direct contrast to the vocals on the album which are quite distinct and so gives quite a lot of prominence to the lyrics especially their dark undertones. At the end of ‘Modern Aquatic Nightsongs’ Cox sings ‘And my heart is cold cold cold cold cold…’ as the accompaniment loops gradually merge into ambience underneath.

But this is not a completely dark and depressing album; it contains some of the best pop tunes Cox has ever written. The song which immediately follows ‘Modern Aquatic Nightsongs’, called ‘Mona Lisa’ appeared in rough form on the demos last year. Built on a bright acoustic guitar, the song has a good simple melody and rhythmic drive which provide a really nice contrast to some of the earlier material. Although he is usually more associated with a shoegazing style of ambient music, this album really highlights his talents as an accessible songwriter.

His vocal delivery on the album is impressive throughout; he manages to switch style consistently to suit the particular song and always sounds convincing. The album sequencing is also a highlight; real thought seems to have gone into it and the whole thing flows really nicely. The last song ‘Lightworks’ is brilliantly conceived, and is one of the most optimistic Bradford Cox songs I’ve ever heard. The song has a really nice lilt to it with electric guitars accenting the weak beats against a simple drum beat and bass riff. The lyrics are also the most positive on the album; the last chorus is: ‘Everywhere I look there is a light / And it will guide the way.’ This song provides a cathartic release after some of the depths of the earlier songs.

Overall, Parallax is the best collection of songs Bradford Cox has ever released as Atlas Sound and bodes well for his future projects, either with Deerhunter or as a solo artist.

By Michael Vasmer

Ed Sheeran – +

Let me start by saying that I do like Ed Sheeran. He has risen in the music industry from years of hard graft and gigging, which is the right way to go about it, and his EPs are brilliant. Having seen him live at Lovebox Festival in July, I can testify that he does a great set live (even if it consisted of five songs in forty-five minutes), and armed solely with an acoustic guitar he enchanted the audience.

It is for these reasons that I was so disappointed with ‘+’, which if I had to describe in one word, I would say ‘numbed’. Everything that made him intriguing and avant-garde (the fusion of rap with acoustic guitar, the clever lyrics, the rawness) seem to have been systematically ironed out in the production of the record, leaving behind a vague mish-mash devoid of the variety and eccentricity that make the live shows so fantastic.

Unless you’ve lived in a cave for the last six months, you will know ‘The A Team’, the album’s opening track; poignant and resonant, it is a more personal ‘When the Sun Goes Down’, one that deservedly propelled the Ipswich-born artist into the limelight, simultaneously incurring the curse of the radio-waves ‘overplay’ which so many songs have fallen victim to. ‘Drunk’, ‘U.N.I.’, and ‘Wake Me Up’ drift by without so much as a memory, except the “I know you love Shrek/ Cos we watched it twelve times” of the latter.

The vivacity and vibrancy that I loved so much at Lovebox has been muted into a series of what I’d refer to as dirge-y fillers, interspersed between genuine moments of brilliance, which are unfortunately not frequent enough. ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’, and ‘The City’ for all of their lyrical genius and catchiness, sound a lot better on the EPs than the smoothed-out, synthed-up versions that we get on the album.

However, as I mentioned, there are moments where the spark reignites; the anthemic ‘Give Me Love’ that concludes the album is fantastically epic and heartfelt; ‘Little Bird’ on the Deluxe Edition of the album is just under four minutes of brilliantly paced pop music that will have you shouting ‘My Little Biiiiiiird!’ at the top of your voice; and in ‘Lego House’ we finally get some of the emotion that has been muted in the rest of the album.

Now, reading this, you probably think that I’m being overly harsh; I’m not, it’s a perfectly fine album. After all of the hype, and having seen him perform so well live (as well as listening to a small army of EPs), however, I was simply disappointed. Expecting something special, it falls some way short of my aspirations for somebody I think is a genuinely talented artist and capable of a lot more. He should have put the Nando’s Skank in there (please Youtube it if you haven’t seen it; improvised music at its best) – it may have injected a bit of fun into an otherwise rather ordinary album.

By James Day

Yuck – Yuck

Yuck sound like the band you thought was great when you saw them live, but then fade to the background. Their debut album contains enjoyable songs with slicing riffs, bleeding distortion and loose, casual lyrics (“Try to make it through the wall, you can see me if you’re tall”), a style, which is wholly embedded in the 90’s American alternative rock tradition. However, upon closer investigation their songs offer no proof that music has progressed in the last 10 years. Instead they end up as lesser versions of their predecessors. For example their opener “Get Away” sounds dangerously similar to Yo La Tengo’s song “Double Dare”, and the song “Georgia” has an almost identical riff to The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love”. Of course inspiration should not be faulted, and indeed Yuck are inspired by some of my favourite bands. But they are so promiscuous in trying to reincarnate these greats (Elliot Smith, Galaxie 500, Sonic Youth to name a few) that they lose a core identity, and instead become a tribute band. And indeed the other fault with tribute bands is that the original musicians could always do it better.

Furthermore, the music sounds insincere. Being a British indie band, Yuck have not evaded the trend of unfounded arrogance growing in indie bands. It seems that the singer Daniel Blumberg is very much concerned with his rockstar persona, which makes the words sound hollow, but more importantly makes the feeling seem like affectation. Many of the songs suggest a form of release or euphoria, made possible by very effective guitar playing, yet Blumberg seems to be holding something back, which makes him sound like he’s playing a role. Nevertheless, the music is enjoyable, and their climax is the droning closer “Rubber”, yet ultimately the music is not original, and more importantly is not genuine. And so although this band has somewhat revitalised a tradition, on the whole ignored in England, it must seek its own identity in order to make great music.

By Josh Rogan

Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

Though not his most recent album, Callahan’s “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”, released in 2009, recently made an impact on me, and so deserves attention. At first listen I found his songs too drowsy. But second time round, I was in the bath, and the songs made their effect. It was not a ‘Eureka!’’ moment, but more a moment when you relax lower into the bubbles knowing that everything is going to be fine for now.

Bill Callahan harks as far back to the late eighties, under the stage-name Smog, and can be classed with great American alternative acoustic acts such as The Silver Jews, Bonnie Prince Billy and Iron & Wine. However, he is most similar to Leonard Cohen, with his deep monotone voice and simple chord structure. Callahan has been a very welcome alternative to what I find to be the shallow posturing of the nu-folk that has come out of England. For he has found power in the simple in order to achieve sincerity. The slow finger-picking that pervades through every song, and the low voice that maintains a toneless emotion, but every so often bursts into a chilling note. Even the words sound like anti-lyrics such as the couplet in “Rococo Zephyr” “Well I used to be sort of blind/ Now I can sort of see”, that refuse the help of any mellifluous vocabulary, in order that he make his own poetry, true to himself.

This album reminded me of an Emily Dickinson line “After a great pain, a formal feeling comes”. For it shows the calm composure that one gets after tragedy. More precisely it marks the point when the broken person starts to rebuild, as the first line on the album goes “I started out in search of ordinary things”, underlining his focus on the simpler parts of life. And though the album does not have the euphoria of being in love, or the fury of an argument, it does have its own energy in the hope that the songs pertain. But it is not overreaching hope. For the speaker in the song “Jim Cain” knows he fallible with the cutting line “I used to be dark, then I got lighter, then I got dark again” and the music occasionally takes a darker tone to reflect that part of his self. But this conflict is best represented in “My Friends” where the music suddenly takes a surprisingly ominous turn with drums beating, but suddenly reveals itself as a warm chorus where Callahan literally exhales the lines “my friends”. Indeed the album title Sometimes I wish we were an Eagle, suggests both a desire to be free of his worldly shackles and pain, but also an acceptance of his human lot, and a striving to make the most of it.

By Oliver White

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