The Bubble Album Reviews No. 4

New ReleaseCut Copy – Zonoscope

Since brutally looting the anthems from Cut Copy’s 2008 album In Ghost Colours, it felt right to at last make it up to the band by listening to its follow-up Zonoscope from start to finish. And Dan Whitford, Cut Copy’s original architect, couldn’t have been more understanding. His opening lyric of “hush darling / don’t you cry” was of great comfort as another quiet Valentine’s came to a close.

The world has changed since In Ghost Colours enjoyed the critical acclaim and unrequited love of people wanting to dance. The synthpop sound is now pretty familiar thanks to the success of groups like Hot Chip, Passion Pit and Hurts, not least Cut Copy’s compatriots Empire of the Sun and Gypsy and the Cat. Yet the tense minute of wordless build-up that introduces the opening track “Need You Now” should be enough to get the party started. Plenty of reassuring “ooos” and “aiyahs” can also be found in “Take Me Over”, a track that shows off more than a hint of Men at Work’s “Down Under”.

Momentum is still on our side as we cruise on through to the manic alliance of “Pharaohs & Pyramids” and “Blink and You’ll Miss A Revolution”. These back-to-back tracks are surely the best chance of anthems and not just, as the titles eerily suggest, for those camping out in Tahrir Square. Already talking of anthems and I can only blame the ensuing tracks for this. Whilst the sound combo of “Corner Of The Sky” and the meaty “Sun God” (a cool 15.05 minutes long) prevent this from becoming an album of two halves, the fairly lacklustre cluster of songs towards the end of the record does make an iTunes pick-and-choose seem ever more justifiable.

Zonoscope is no heroic foray into the unknown and as “Take Me Over” tells us, “some people cling to what they know”. But there’s still a lot to be heard and enjoyed here and come the summer, it’ll compliment the wound-down windows and calippos nicely.

Max Mackay

Something you might have missed…Tame Impala – Innerspeaker

Tame Impala’s debut album Innerspeaker has made quite a splash in their native Australia, but sadly this neo-psychedelic trio hasn’t received much attention in the UK. In collaboration with Dave Fridmann who has mixed albums by the Flaming Lips, Tame Impala has created a mind-expanding sonic experience rich in texture and radiating cosmic, feel good vibes.

There is no doubt that the heyday of hazy 60s psychedelia has hugely influenced the band’s sound. “The Bold Arrow of Time” with its stomping drums and fuzzy blues riffs recalls the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But Tame Impala does not come across as a mere tribute act. The band’s unique sound emerges on tracks which revitalise the psychedelic genre by fusing past influences with contemporary studio effects. The reverberated jungle drums of “Alter Ego” orbit around a guitar lead sharp enough to shoot laser beams into space. Kevin Parker’s dreamy late-Beatles style vocals slow the track down momentarily before returning to a soaring chorus with blissful delay effects.

Tame Impala’s ability to shift effortlessly between melodies is further seen in the whopping seven-minute long “Runway, Houses, City, Clouds”, where a riff that sounds like a muffled cyclone is interspersed with languid vocals, and the track fades into a swirling psychedelic guitar melody which meanders towards the track’s conclusion. “Solitude is Bliss”, the first single off the album, offers a more poppy, mainstream sound. Phased guitar, shuffling drums, and slightly paranoid vocals lead into the foot-tapping chorus of “you will never come close to how I feel”, which you’ll be singing along to in no time.

Though these tracks stand out the listener never feels that Innerspeaker lacks good material. This is an album to be appreciated as a whole as it comes together like a giant rolling wave. Tame Impala may not be bringing anything new to the table, but they are making psychedelic rock accessible to a new generation by giving its vintage sound a modern, “cool” edge. So press play, lie back, and drift into the mind-melting world of Innerspeaker.

Madeleine Donaldson

Ten years ago…Jack Johnson – Brushfire Fairytales

2001. A year in which the likes of Destiny’s Child, Christina Aguilera and Jamiroquai dominated the charts with highly synthesised, expensively produced albums which seemed to emulate the increasing pace of modern life. The musical purity of the Jeff Buckleys and the Bob Dylans of this world appeared to be overlooked in favour of the emerging pop generation.

Enter Jack Johnson. His debut album, Brushfire Fairytales, a stripped back and unassuming exposition of one man and his acoustic guitar, was a welcome tonic from the unrelenting intenseness of Destiny’s Child’s Survivor. Just over 45 minutes of melodic pleasure, it is the perfect relaxation album for unwinding in stressful modern times. As he states in the opening song, “Inaudible Melodies”, “Slow down everyone / you’re moving too fast”, and he brings a surfer’s carefree attitude from his Hawaiian island, Oahu, to all of the songs on the album.

The standout track is “Flake”, about the precariousness of a relationship; the initial hint of Caribbean steel drums (a homage to one of his musical heroes, Bob Marley), fuses seamlessly with Johnson’s guitar and voice to create something beautifully haunting as love’s seriousness jars with the singer’s upbeat voice. He pleads “please, please, please don’t pass me by”, an echo of the context of his music as a whole, in which relaxation is lost in an increasingly sped-up society. The subsequent 15 million worldwide sales of the album, however, imply that this style of music is exactly what this busy society wants.

As a result of Johnson’s success, folk/acoustic pop has begun to thrive as a genre; individuals of the likes of Jason Mraz, Corinne Bailey Rae, Jack Penate, and more recently Laura Marling and Benjamin Francis Leftwich have all followed on from this pioneer album, whilst groups such as Mumford and Sons and Stornaway have begun to light the torch for commercial folk music too. A pioneer in modern acoustic music, this album is a seminal contemporary classic that deserves its place in any self-respecting music follower’s record collection. Oh, and it’s also about a billion times better than Destiny’s Child.

James Day

Have you heard…?Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had been one of the most prolific post-punk outfits for two decades, but following the departure of long-time contributor Blixa Bargeld and two albums greeted with indifference by fans and critics, there were suggestions they had lost their direction. 2004’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus swept any such reservations aside; it represented an emphatic, double-album sized return to form for the Australian collective, and arguably their best work to date.

Abattoir Blues starts with a bang as “Get Ready For Love” races out of the blocks with swirling guitars and a tremendous urgency and energy, backed by a shrieking gospel choir. It grabs your attention like the opening lines of a great novel. Lyrically, Cave’s apocalyptic worldview takes centre stage; there is a powerful sense of foreboding on tracks like “Hiding All Away”, which builds steadily to its repeated climax of “there is a war coming!”, and the sparse title track. However these sinister undertones are contrasted with the hope of sunnier moments like “Nature Boy” – surely one of the most upbeat and downright beautiful moments in Cave’s extensive back-catalogue.

The Lyre of Orpheus takes on a mellower, more graceful tone from the outset – sonically speaking at least. Lyrically it is an abstract re-telling of the myth of Orpheus, but the likes of “Breathless” and “Spell” are beautiful love songs in their own right, whilst on “Easy Money” the desperation positively pours from Cave’s lips as he delivers the lines: “all the things for which my heart yearns / gives joy in diminishing returns”.

But Cave and his Seeds save the best till last on the dramatic and chilling closer “O Children” (featured on the soundtrack to the last Harry Potter film); the gospel choir imploring us to “rejoice” and “lift up your voice” as Cave delivers an apology to the next generation for the world we’ve left them: “Forgive us now for what we’ve done / It started out as a bit of fun / Here, take these before we run away / The keys to the gulag”.

As with many double albums, it’s hard to know if we are supposed to take this release as a single entity or as two distinctly separate works, but what this package achieves is that rare thing: a 2-disc affair with two lyrically and musically intriguing efforts, that also together form a cohesive and satisfyingly complete listening experience.

Richard Crampton

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