The Bubble Album Reviews No. 13

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Coldplay- Mylo Xyloto

As I listened to Coldplay’s new album, Mylo Xyloto, I felt like Easter had come early. Too early. I hadn’t felt so ill from consuming this much sugar since last April. Mylo Xyloto takes the form of a concept album, which follows a story throughout. This is a technique I usually love, but one that artists are moving away from, simply because consumers don’t buy whole albums anymore. The two characters that feature in this album live in an ‘oppressive, dystopian, urban environment, meet one another through a gang and fall in love’, says Chris Martin. This will not be the intimate, thoughtful or poignant album we have come to expect with Coldplay. Instead, Mylo Xyloto is full of over-sweet, mixed metaphors and non sequiturs: ‘Life goes on, it get’s so heavy/The wheel breaks the butterfly’, and ‘Like a river to a raindrop, I lost a friend/My drunken as a Daniel in a lion’s den’. It’s disappointing that they have taken this conceptual approach, because their storyline lacks coherence. One minute, the lovers are graffitiing (‘i luv u’?), the next, their relationship is ‘Up in Flames’. Boo hoo. You can’t help think that if the band had concentrated on individual tracks, rather than having just worked on the ‘bigger picture’, the end result would be far more palatable.

I find Mylo Xyloto puzzling. It certainly is strange to hear Martin say that the album takes an ‘us against the world’ approach, when so much of the new material is aimed at appealing to the masses. The electro-pop sound, the woah-oh choruses, and the one-word lyrics (‘Para-para-paradise’ x 1000) would not seem out of place in an arena or club. Nearly every track borrows from other spotlit artists: ‘Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall’ steals ‘Ritmo de la Noche’ by Sacados, ‘Princess of China’ (featuring Rihanna) uses the same beat you’d find on…well, any Rihanna track, and ‘Up With the Birds’ echoes Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’. It won’t surprise you then that, in an interview with The Sun, Martin says that the guys ‘are fans of the X Factor, like everyone else’. And I haven’t even touched on the ridiculous album name and cover. Mylo Xyloto? Yes, your guess is as good as mine – but Martin has come out and said that the title doesn’t even mean anything. Well, sorry Chris, but neither does the music. As it stands Mylo Xyloto is a half-baked idea. An unhatched egg, if you will. I urge you not to bother. Comatose yourself on chocolate instead this Easter. You’ll feel much better.

By Callum Edge

Juan Zelada- High Ceilings and Collarbones

Juan Zelada’s rise to some form of prominence has been a slow and arduous journey; from playing in restaurants and on cruise ships, to a three-year tour of London, and on the back of this, his first record deal. Inspired by the music he listened to in his early years, and after co-writing with some of the music industry’s biggest names, Zelada’s debut album had promise attached to it before release.

Comparisons to Paolo Nutini and James Morrison have been made by many, though a combination of the two may create a more accurate reflection of this enthusiastic artist. The album kicks off with “The Blues Remain”, which gives a taste of the blues side of Zelada, before descending into a menagerie of pop mixed in with tastes of funk and soul, bringing High Ceilings and Collarbones alive, and highlighting the variety of music which he is capable of creating. The succession of “Elsewhere”, “What do I know”, and “Barman” really allow for the Nutini/Morrison comparison to be heard; Nutini through the instrumental sound and Morrison through the vocals.

It is the combination of these vocals and backing instrumentals that bring to the fore Zelada’s talent. He has a very natural voice; bringing out character, meaning the music isn’t forced upon you. In fact, it draws you into it. The acoustic feel to it creates a calming and relaxing mood, which really comes out in “Satisfied”. Singing with emotion causes a feeling of sympathy to build up for him throughout this song, and it is the use of his natural voice and the basic, but very effective backing music that allows the listener to feel this. It is a style which can only be created by a select few, and Zelada promises to be one of these few. Collaboration of voice, guitar, and drums is a feature of the latter part of the album, as is seen as the album begins to wind down before hitting “Four Days”. Compared to several preceding tracks, the lyrics and music become more upbeat, and this follows into the final studio track on the album “I Can’t Love”, which again brings out more of the emotion which Zelada has the ability to bring to his work.

Whilst Zelada’s talented voice cannot be criticised, the make-up of the album doesn’t allow anything to stand out. There is no “big number” – nothing that would jump out to anyone when casually listening. The vast array of music that is offered up shows the immense talent on show, but this is at the expense of creating something that makes the ears prick up immediately. Some songs begin to drag on too long for the kind of music that Zelada has too offer, especially those in which strong emotion is portrayed, though this is one minor blip which will no doubt be refined as the music begins to develop further.

With it being so early into the musician’s career, it is difficult to say where Zelada will go from here. The promise is there; his talent cannot be doubted, and the strong emotion which is felt through each song is something that is a pleasure to hear in an age where musicians do what they have to in order to get their next big pay cheque. After grafting hard in the small venues, waiting for his big break, there is no doubt that he has been able to mature and gain experience and he can do this even further, but the issue is where he goes from here. The second album is always dubbed the hardest, however in this case it could be make-or-break. There is no doubt of the potential, it is just a question of whether Juan Zelada can live up to it.

By Tom Hodgson

Crystal Castles- II

Crystal Castles are a Canadian electronic two-piece, made up of producer and composer Ethan Kath and lyricist and vocalist Alice Glass. The first album from the band (also called Crystal Castles and released in 2008), introduced their experimental, chiptune leanings, and earned a place in NME’s ‘Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade’. Their 2010 follow up, rereleased in 2011, (and also called “Crystal Castles”) is a skewed, twisted album of lo-fi bass, bitpop keyboard riffs, and scattered, off-key sounds, culminating in a collection of songs that are erratic and strangely unsettling.

The albums opens as it intends to continue with the song “Fainting Spells”, made up of distorted, jagged and unintelligible snippets of speech over a twitchy, repeating beat. The effect is undeniably disquieting, though the band show in the second song, “Celestica”, that they can also be more pop-minded – comfortable, dancy hi-hats create an almost upbeat atmosphere, though Glass sings unnerving lines in girlish vocals (‘we’re eating our young’ and ‘has your body been hollowed by the breeze’).

The confusion of feelings that these openers produce set the tone for the album, as it reverts back to horribly fuzzy, erratic loops. The sound is frequently thick and spiky, to a point where sections are almost unlistenable (parts of “Doe Deer”, for example), though the bouncy keyboards riffs are divergently infectious, as in Baptism, one of the highlights of the album.

Many of the songs end abruptly, like “Empathy”, where the echoey layers of multiple vocals that whisper around each other in the background simply cease, rather than coming to an anticipated conclusion. Multiple vocals are also found in Year of Silence, which samples the Sigur Ros song “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur” (which appropriately for this album, means ‘within me a lunatic sings’). Jónsi’s clean vocals are played over each other in a round, against rough, distorted bass. The effect is uneasily atmospheric as always.

A kind of mid-album break comes in “Violent Dreams”, a song of sleepy minimalism. But even then, the atmosphere is interrupted with discordant, organ-like notes which disrupt the soporific reverbs that are the foundation of the song. The dark, staccato basslines soon return to the album with characteristically truncated vocals in Vietnam, which is one of the more accessible songs of the album even so. “Pap Smear”, with its light arpeggios, and “Not In Love” (with the vocals of Robert Smith in the 2011 re-issue) containing segments that recall house music, both lift the tone somewhat, but really, there is little remission from the disconcerting atmosphere that prevails. The album closes with “I Am Made of Chalk”, which consists of strange, dolphin-like gargles of distress on shimmering waves of synth. Like many of the other songs, it just stops. It’s a strange ending, but just as apposite an ending as most of the other songs would have been.

Sometimes, hints of the 80’s creep into the dissonant refrains, and there is a strange relationship between the occasional bounciness of the keyboards and the dark jaggedness that takes over most of the songs. The album is similarly characterized by fitful fluctuations of volume and intensity, while the vocals are nearly always indiscernible through variant distortions. Crystal Castles II is unpredictable, intelligently abnormal, and overridingly perturbing. But even though it is an interesting listen, it doesn’t invite repeat listening.

By Will Clothier

Cass McCombs- Wit’s End

As the title suggests this is a collection of McCombs’ personalities who have reached their final destination. He creates vivid scenarios of characters reflecting on their struggle: bitter relationships and accumulated failures. However, there is no forcefulness in these soliloquies. Instead McCombs basks in the songs’ idiosyncrasies with his soft almost childish voice. It is this unhurried posture that reflects McCombs’ own life as the modern American nomad who has wandered across the states and quietly amassed a set of acclaimed albums to earn the position of veteran musician.

However, the surprising success of McCombs’ lead song, “County Line” has given his unimposing talent a more focused public attention and placed him near the top of many festival line-ups. Indeed “County Line”, first attracted me to his music and constantly floated through my home for most of Christmas. It begins like a lost late-night saloon classic, recounting the scraps of a decaying love. Then the chorus arrives with McCombs’ bleeding falsetto of “You never tried to love me,” and for the remaining four-minutes the listener is inextricably linked to the song’s pain. But like many of McCombs’ songs, there is no climax but instead a rich trail of instrumentation that embeds itself in your memory. Indeed it is the diverse backing instruments that help keep McCombs’ verses flowing. For I found it hard to penetrate the album after “County Line” as many of the songs have a somnambulistic quality and may verge on boredom, which is why one needs a fair bit of patience when listening to McCombs’ music. However, his second best song on the album is “Memory Stain”, which introduces a more blusie and substantial second half to the album, with surprising chord changes, abrupt drumming and a lingering oboe that winds its way through the songs. The highlight of these last ballads is epic 9 minute closer “A Knock Upon the Door” which encapsulates a European scene of urban claustrophobia and terror, and sounds like a dark welding of Pinocchio and Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

Thus Wit’s End becomes McCombs’ gallery of personal exhibits, each layered with grey loneliness and yet contagiously engaging. All of them relate to McCombs’ singularity who sees no need to shout to be heard and is unhindered by 21st century anxiety: indeed he apparently only communicates through letters. Therefore, you need to follow his pace in order to appreciate his particular sound. Or you could write him off as a lost eccentric, yet it seems that he will still be making his own version of music regardless of his audience.

By Oliver White

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