The Bubble Album Reviews No.16

The Hives – Lex Hives

I think it’s safe to say that after listening to this album, you’ll need a breather.

Skewering twelve songs into half an hour, Lex Hives, the band’s fifth studio album after a four-and-a-half year hiatus, becomes the epitome of adrenaline-fuelled, fist-pumping garage rock, the likes of which bands such as Jet and Wolfmother could only aspire to produce. The Swedes have created a formula, distilled it, and with it created a breathlessly brilliant record which would happily grace any indie-disco.

It’s a strange formula – as Pelle Almquist on “1000 Answers” sings, ‘I got a thousand answers/One’s gotta be right;/Give me a thousand chances/Then I’ll get it right’, and I feel this becomes a succinct summary of the frenzied assault of guitars riffs that make up the album’s core. The opening track “Come On!” simply shouts its own title approximately 58 times, setting down an anthemic marker for which the rest of the album follows suit. The Hives have put themselves in the shop window here; as if you don’t like this one minute and nine seconds of zeal, then the likelihood is that you’re probably not going to enjoy the rest of the songs which the band have to offer in the album.

The first single from the album, “Go Right Ahead’” takes on this mantle, with catchy guitar riffs subsumed into the frenetic energy of Almquist’s vocals, creating something which is foot-tappingly sing-alongable, especially when it quickly jumps to the chorus. This energy is particularly noticeable in “Wait a Minute”, “Go Right Ahead” and the brilliant “If I Had A Cent”, and you will find yourself singing along with Pelle after the first couple of listens.

However, it is in “These Spectacles Reveal the Nostalgics” that their manifesto is most clearly outlined. The Hives are a band for the present, fad-resistant and perennially current –the lingering ‘We’re – still – here’ which closes the song becomes a constant reminder that these guys have been around since 1993, but still sound as modern as they were when they first started out.

The ‘lex’ in the album’s title roughly translates as ‘law’, and I think we can all agree that a world in which The Hives governed would be an incredibly fun place to be. Summed up in three words, Lex Hives is frenetic, insane, and bonkers. But it’s seriously good fun.

By James Day

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

Diamond Mine is a strange proposition. On paper, a collaboration between Scottish folk singer King Creosote (real name Kenny Anderson) and Jon Hopkins, a producer of electronic music from London doesn’t seem to make that much sense. However, the pair have worked together before (Hopkins has production credits on previous King Creosote albums) and it’s the merging of their seemingly disparate styles that makes Diamond Mine such an interesting listen.

Most of the tracks on the album consist of King Creosote songs wrapped in subtle production by Hopkins. As well as drawing from the usual palette of electronic music, Hopkins uses a large amount of field recordings which he made on visits to the East Neuk of Fife in Scotland (which served as an inspiration for the album). Everything from the chatter in a local pub to bird calls are used to enhance the atmosphere, and this gives the album a really immersive quality. Hopkins has stated: “For me, this record is a romanticised version of Fife,” and the field recordings combined with the ambient nature of the production (Hopkins has previously worked with Brian Eno) really help to convey this. However, the production is always tasteful, I never felt there were elements in the mix just for the sake of it and Anderson’s vocals are never overpowered.

The vocals on the album are terrific throughout, Anderson has an expressive voice which he uses to great effect. I especially liked the fragility of his upper register and that the vocal delivery never seems forced. The lyrics on the album are often meditative and deal with things like the onset of old age. The lyrics and music often compliment each other; on “John Taylor’s Month Away”, a song about a sailor who spends months away from home, quiet seagull cries set the scene and the music gradually builds up to the lyric: ‘For once I’d much rather be me‘. Next, as Anderson describes the plight of the sailors, the guitar strumming which has been the backbone of the song is replaced by an insistent heartbeat-like sound which could suggest the slow passage of time on the ship. The closing track on the album is a testament to the simplicity and power of some of the lyrics; Anderson repeats the phrase: ‘It’s your young voice that keeps me holding onto my dull life’ with minimal accompaniment as the album slowly fades out.

However, my favourite song on the album is “Bubble”, I think it encapsulates everything which make this album so good. This is the song where Hopkins’ presence as an electronic producer is most keenly felt; a subtly propulsive electronic beat drives the song forward. Anderson contributes a memorable melody which meshes perfectly with Hopkins’ production and provides some beautiful lyrics about going through a difficult emotional time in a relationship. Throughout the album these different elements combine to produce something which is quite unique and always absorbing. I highly recommend it.

By Michael Vasmer

The Walkmen – Heaven

The Walkmen’s new album, Heaven, comes a decade after the New York-based indie-rock band released their debut album Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, and the band has certainly changed since then.

The opening track of Heaven, “We Can’t be Beat”, begins as a slow, acoustic ballad, before lifting to a triumphant anthem, with a distinct choral quality achieved through the backing vocals of Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold. Hamilton Leithouser sings “We can’t be beat, the world is ours“, and this oddly mature sentiment from the former kings of messy indie-rock certainly foreshadows the remainder of the album. The band has matured, but not just musically. Most of the members are now married with children, and this is reflected through the more mature lyrics and to a lesser extent the more structured, well-rounded songs.

A few tracks in to the album, “Southern Heart” presents Hamilton alone on an acoustic guitar, mournfully crooning lovelorn lyrics – a distinct departure from the band’s often explosive sound and upbeat tempo. Initially this slow, eerie love song seems a little displaced, but its more organic sound finds a foothold in the album as a whole when accompanied by other tracks of similar ilk, such as the surreal, rambling “Line by Line” – a long, 5 minute song which touches on the psychedelic, yet keeps our attention through Paul Maroon’s hypnotic guitar and Hamilton’s oddly prophetic lyrics; “Oh I see how the whole thing ends, the honest man survives“.

Later in the album, this organic sound returns in the short instrumental track “Jerry Jr’s Tune”; a bluesy, melodic filler which again sees Pecknold using his unmistakable voice as part of the instrumentation. This song certainly owes a lot to the blues and soul music of the 60’s, and almost feels like an appreciative nod in the direction of the band’s musical influences.

All these songs, however, are contrasted to what I think is the album’s overall tone. These songs are interspersed amongst loud, heart-racing, pop-like anthems, many of which could stand alone as singles. It is easy to get lost in the length of the 13-track album, and on first listening we may overlook some of its crowning tracks. “Heartbreaker” and “The Love You Love” feel summery and energetic, and the talent of Matt Barrick’s drumming is here put to its best use; he creates a racing and booming tempo, making it irresistible for us to tap our feet and nod our heads along with the rhythm. The track “Nightingales”, with its messy guitar and crashing symbols will remind us of The Walkmen’s earlier years, yet unmarred by nostalgia, for it seems that the band is acutely aware of their steady progression toward a different sound.

Heaven is a distinctly unique and in some ways unfamiliar album in The Walkmen’s discography, and we must not see it as an attempt to shed the persona that their instantly recognisable song “The Rat” gave them eight years ago. Rather, it is a natural and mature achievement, an album that unashamedly relishes in the not-so-rock’n’roll feelings of fatherhood, married life and friendship. As Hamilton professes with great fervor and passion in “Song for Leigh” – his child – “I sing myself sick, I sing myself sick about you“. This is arguably The Walkmen’s most accomplished album to date, and it is easily accessible to fans and newcomers alike.

By Ralf Webb

Songs:Ohia – Didn’t It Rain

Released in 2002, this was arguably singer-songwriter Jason Molina’s last album under his most well known moniker, Songs:Ohia, as well as his best. Perhaps perversely, the entire album could be refined to the influence of one song, Neil Young’s incredible “On the Beach”. It is long, has sparsely scattered guitar riffs, almost lethargic drumming, and a crinkled voice at the centre. It most resembles blues, but Young’s childish voice counters any gruff masculinity that the genre entails, and instead offers a vulnerable meditation through lyrics and chords. Molina, who’s musical respect for Neil Young has been often cited, harvests this particular concept and from it creates an entire album.

To start, out of the album’s seven songs, only one is not around six minutes long, which emphasises how Molina is in no hurry to capture a moment, but instead to grasp an atmosphere. Indeed on the opening track “Didn’t it Rain” Molina turns to his band and tells them to play another chorus before finishing. Thus the tone throughout is a casual one, where the solo or the vocals may have easily been totally different on the next take. This in part may have been because of the legendary producer Steve Albini’s input (indeed the second song of the album is called “Steve Albini Blues”) who often focused on the informalities within the band and its music. Above all this casualness signifies that the objective of the album was not to perfect the song, but instead to frame the feeling, which is perhaps why the songs flow so easily into one another.

However, though the tone remains, the music differs throughout. The core of Songs:Ohia is guitar, drums, a female backing singer, and Molina’s clear breathy voice right at the centre. In the first half of the album a variety of instruments are added to this set such as the mandolin, cello, banjo as well as a yodelling backing singer, which reveals Molina’s country leanings, on “Steve Albini Blues”. In the second half, the album becomes closer to Young’s “On the Beach” as the echoing electric guitar becomes the focal point. This is most portrayed in the album’s best and longest track “Blue Factory Flame,” which relates a bleak industrial Detroit environment, and accumulates into the chilling chorus: “I am paralysed by the emptiness.” The two songs that lead after this song follow the same electric suit, and all share the same “Blue” in the title. The final song “Blue Chicago Moon” offers a strained almost climatic finale to the “Blue” triptych, and yet offers no relief from these blues, but instead the last eight seconds of silence on the album lets the loneliness linger on the listener.

Thus a heavy feeling of grief shadows the album’s music, and though we are made aware that the music is very personal, as Molina even addresses himself in the song “Cross the Road, Molina,” the lyrics are so cryptic and diverse to pin down a specific theme. Instead we observe a huge intensity, and as the song has a further chorus we are made to feel that we have somehow gone deeper into the song. Perhaps the most obvious notion of this intensity is the album title itself: “Didn’t It Rain,” where the musicians are so embedded in the personal depths of the song that they have totally closed themselves from the any recognition of the outside world.

By Oliver White

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