The Bubble Album Reviews No. 7

Lanterns on the Lake – Gracious Tide, Take Me Home

Ever wondered what Northumberland sounds like? Lanterns on the Lake may have the answer. Straight to the point, the Newcastle-based Sextet fuse ambient guitar, delicate vocals and folk melodies with electronic interventions and elegant dynamics to produce sonic images of their home county. Since forming in 2008, the hushed voice of Hazel Wilde coupled (literally – they’re engaged) with the endearing guitar lines and home-production of Paul Gregory have been quietly creating something special. After the self-release of two EPs ‘The Starlight EP’ and ‘Misfortunes & Minor Victories’ as well as recent single ‘Lungs Quicken’, they were quickly snapped up by Bella Union, and following successful live shows over the summer (Glastonbury, End of the Road to name a few) my expectations for ‘Gracious Tide, Take Me Home’ were high.

The opening, ‘Lungs Quicken’ is a perfect introduction to the band’s aesthetic and doesn’t disappoint. Although its follower ‘If I’ve Been Unkind’ starts life out with just an acoustic guitar and folk inspired vocal, it quickly builds to a zenith of post-rock indulgence and a sound that could surely fill venues much grander than the band’s current penchant for playing in unusual spaces, such as a boathouse on the Tyne river. By track three, the momentum is still with us and the beautiful ‘Keep On Trying’ gives an illusion of being more prodigious than the instrumentation suggests – something the band do very well, creating a big sound that is paradoxically still sparse and detailed.

Lyrically, the content is often melancholic. ‘Ships In The Rain’ was inspired by a local fisherman who went missing at sea and ‘A Kingdom’ by a book of letters sent home by WWII soldiers. At this point not only are we almost at the centre point of the album in terms of time, but also in volume, speed and energy. The track, a rare moment above 100bpm (in layman’s terms: above musical walking pace), really proves the band have the credentials to go on to big things, or at least make big sounds.

Although ‘The Places We Call Home’ does eloquently maintain the album’s sound, this in turn creates a problem for me. In many ways, it is just too easy to sum up. In other words, the album lacks variety. The integration of ambient guitars and Northumberland folk is fresh, however I feel limited when stretched over 50 minutes. In this way, the highlight of the album, the second track ‘If I’ve Been Unkind’, is perhaps an early peak because it has something unique – Adam Sykes’s vocal. He and Hazel Whilde fit into place like a vocal jigsaw and I feel more would have added an extra dimension to the album. The record does finish strongly though, with the cinematic ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’, and ‘Not Going Back To The Harbour’ adds a dark twist leaving us quite convinced of both the beauty and intrigue of Northumberland countryside.

My head says the album lacks variety and is at times predictable, but my heart says otherwise. Charmed by diaphanous vocals and the delicate sounds of the Northumberland countryside, I can’t help but listen again.

By Dan Jeffries

Beirut – The Rip Tide

Having not listened much to Beirut before, The Rip Tide was a very enjoyable find, and after exhausting my five track listens on Spotify I was happy to indulge; especially as the album has a beautifully simplistic case. Zach Condon does have a pretty good track record, this being his fourth album. This one seems to be a lot smoother than its predecessors, also with a lot of charm.

The first track ‘A Candle’s Fire’ slowly builds before pulling you in wonderfully, with a delicate brass section. Zach Condon’s familiar mellow lyrics are then left to float over the music. With not a synth in sight Condon makes sure all of the instruments interlace well, often starting softly before exploding into a mixture of melodies. This is perhaps most effectively put into place at the end of the slightly poppy ‘Santa Fe’.

‘Goshen’ is a lilting track, with only a piano and Zach for the first minute and half. It is the understatement here which catches the listener and insists you stop what you’re doing to listen to Condon’s (women) woes. Other wonderful things occur, as in Payne’s Bay where Condon repeatedly exclaims “Headstrong, today I’ve been headstrong” while what sounds like a marching band plays around him.

It’s hard to fault such an album when it seems to be such a complete work. Condon’s lost the ‘staggering’ sound of his earlier albums for something more tempered and melodic. It’s one of those albums where listening to the whole thing from start to finish is a joy. But so is each track in its own way – a must-listen.

By Jamie Baxter

Charlie Simpson – Young Pilgrim

Charlie’s ‘Young Pilgrim’ rose from the ashes of the riots, but has he found his true musical self at last?

Charlie Simpson’s dreams of releasing a solo album almost went up in smoke when 10,000 copies of his debut Young Pilgrim were destroyed in a Sony Warehouse fire.

The ‘Busted’ and ‘Fightstar’ frontman feared that the launch would have to be delayed after “mindless” and “stupid” attacks had been made by rioters in Enfield.

But his label pulled together in the recovery effort and produced more copies of Young Pilgrim just in time.

(Read more about the Enfield Warehouse fire and the independent music industry’s battle for recovery here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/music/2011/08/17/uk-riots-music-industry-unites-to-save-recordings-lost-in-sony-warehouse-fire-115875–23353145/.)

The question now – is Charlie’s first solo effort any good?

The answer – a pleasantly surprised yes.

A soft acoustic introduction to opener ‘Down Down Down’ shows tremendous promise; beneath the Busted pop visage and the Fightstar decibels there lurks a distinctive and smoky voice.

Though Simpson seems at times over-keen to layer instrumentation and heaps of harmony back on top of this raw delivery (‘Down Down Down’ later descends into a furiously folky realm reminiscent of Mumford and Sons) it is difficult not to be impressed with much of this refreshing material.

The other single from the album “Parachutes” has a triumphant baritone chorus which echoes the Script at their melodic best, whilst ‘Sundown’ is another track with an instantly likeable acoustic feel.

Despite “Thorns” being undermined by a bizarre hooting falsetto cacophony in the chorus has it has an understated, pleasant vocal. The 26-year-old clearly has a good ear for melody.

Although at times you get the feeling that Charlie should have stuck with his pleasant simple-chord songwriting instead of throwing a plethora of instruments and genres into the mix when the opportunity arises.

Some of the lyricism is questionable – ‘Parachutes’ contains some uninspired wording which borders on the bizarre: “we’ve been walking for hours now / My feet are starting to itch / blisters cracked all over my skin and my shoes don’t even fit.”

Hmm.

Likewise, in “If I Lose It” (which sounds akin to Radiohead minus Thom Yorke’s tortured soul) Simpson chimes in with “Your head is cut and my arm is bleeding / there are paramedics all around us now.”

An astute observation.

Nevertheless it seems only just to praise this record. Charlie should be admired for his various musical jaunts and Young Pilgrim warrants more than one repeat listen.

The mature artwork, complete with waistcoat and his “I’m deep in thought” face on the album’s front cover portray that Simpson has finally left his ‘What I Go To School For’ days behind him. That this style is more suited to him than his poptastic days is not in doubt.

It may be at times overdressed but it is never aurally offensive.

One cause for concern however is that this album was produced amidst a hiatus. Fightstar are due to reform in 2012 and perhaps it would be advisable for Charlie to finally settle on his musical direction: “Twenty four years of mindless games and I still can’t find home” he confesses in ‘I Need a Friend Tonight’.

Well you said it Charlie.

It is time to stick with a format, time to find your ‘musical self’. Or else this morphing from genre to genre threatens to continue until the Year 3000 comes back around.

By Tom Ryder

Beach House – Teen Dream

Though with a much shorter history, Beach House has recently joined the likes of Animal Collective and Bon Iver in making the successful transition from cult greats to festival headliners. Their latest album Teen Dream, released in 2010, shows a band who have found their creative goldmine and give no signs of exhausting it.

The album title itself gives us the best insight into what it contains. For the band still retains their dream pop feel, but are also able to discard the lethargy that often slowed down their previous two albums. Instead they inject a new energy and confidence reflecting the self-confidence and egocentrism that comes with adolescence. For example their anthem ‘Walk in the Park’, turns a mundane activity into a moment of extreme self-assessment that eventually filter down into the mesmeric couplet repeated ‘More you want more, you tell me./ More only time can know you”. Of course, all the songs are never too far from love, and the mingling of naivety and hope makes them heart wrenching, especially ‘Real Love’.

However, Teen Dream is a project of nostalgia not re-enactment. The band have refined their musical skills and discarded all pretensions to produce a very raw effect. Alex Scally, the guitarist, no longer employs winding solos as in their previous album Devotion but instead finds an efficient riff, varying between finger-picking, plectrum and slide, and puts full faith into it. Victoria Legrand, the vocalist, no longer has the grungy tone of their first single ‘Apple Orchard’, but has developed into the sexiest voice in the industry. So with this nostalgic album, she is able to supply a woman’s voice to a girl’s feelings, such as the enchanting moans to ‘Norway’. In fact, the most chilling moments are when we can hear her pushing her vocals to their limits such as in ‘Silver Soul’, highlighting that she has even more feeling to give than even her voice can allow.

So right now, Beach House is at the peak of their career, and in fact developing their youthful spirit as they improve, but they are just an example of how strong American alternative music is right now, that such idiosyncratic performers can create such a universally appealing sound.

By Oliver White

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