The Pigeon Detectives – Up, Guards And At ‘Em
On Saturday 22nd July 2007 I was a music festival virgin and found myself at the seldom revered T4 on the Beach in Weston Super Mare. On the main stage midway through the afternoon were a bizarrely-named five piece called The Pigeon Detectives, who proceeded to tear up the stage, jump off amp stacks and generally cause chaos on an otherwise tranquil day in the sun. Who are these upstarts with their catchy feet-tapping tunes, we asked? And how lucky are we to have caught them at this moment before they really start going places?
That was almost four years ago. With debut album Wait For Me going gold and after being named “most likely to leap to the main stage” at Reading and Leeds festivals, things looked great for the boys from Rothwell, West Yorkshire.
How sad it is then, that they appear stuck in a time warp, still desperately squeezing out the two and a half minute lad anthems and cheesy guitar riffs which worked so well for them upon their first arrival on the scene, but now just appear as nostalgic blasts from the past.
Up, Guards And At ’Em! is not a drastically bad album. It is however a disappointing imitation of its predecessors, as ten songs are blitzed through in little under 40 minutes with little substance to set apart one from the other. Opener “She Wants Me” kicks off with dark brooding synth and the signs look good for a song with depth and subtlety, but the chorus soon returns to the standard Pigeon Detectives one-dimensional boy meets girl, boy is irritated by girl / relentlessly chases girl theme. “Done In Secret” is pleasant but as a single is some distance from “I’m Not Sorry” and other earlier offerings. And overall despite numerous catchy choruses and feel-good hooks, it is difficult to feel little other than dissatisfied and uninspired by these tunes. They say don’t change a winning formula, but this formula can only win for so long and it looks as though its victory days are over.
YouTube views are dwindling in the hundreds and its time to stop the rot before we lose forever a high-energy band whose enthusiastic frontman immediately caught my eye on that sunny afternoon just a few summers ago.
Seabear – We Built A Fire
With songs like “Hands Remember” and “I Sing I Swim”, Seabear’s last album The Ghost That Carried Us Away was a soothing journey through carefree nostalgia, brilliant in its understated and dreamy way. This is an album which, as the old oxymoron states, is the same, but different. There’s a very clear link to the previous work, but We Built A Fire represents Seabear let loose, breaking out of the chains of nicety and quirk.
Nothing really seems to have changed with the album’s opener “Lion Face Boy”, despite a slight increase in the prominence of brass and percussion. It’s a fine song, but still rooted in the plinky-plonk, xylophone-based ditties that defined the last album, and are later heard on “We Fell Off The Roof” too.
But the shackles do come loose, from the excellent “I’ll Build You A Fire” to the more stripped down Cold Summer, and the band’s instruments really come to the fore to set the album fully ablaze. There are some great sections of strings, including a fun bit of fiddle on “Wooden Teeth”. I’ve never been convinced by Sindri Már Sigfússon’s breathy vocals, and this album hasn’t completely won me over. But he does answer a number of questions here, particularly on “Warm Blood”, where the band really do break away from their earlier softly-softly approach.
This album is an interesting experiment, and a largely successful one. We Built A Fire avoids the clutter of sounds that characterizes Sindri’s other project Sin Fang Bous, and having constructed the furnace, Seabear have created a slow burner that is well worth the patience.
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate
Probably more than any artist, Leonard Cohen has become identified by the moniker of the poet-songwriter. But he’s not been portrayed as such because he uses rhyme, or tends towards the abstruse, or even merely because his poems have been published separately to his musical career. Cohen’s been identified as a poet because he cares about his lyrics, and because he consequently takes care over them.
Right from the first words of Songs of Love and Hate it’s very clear that this is an album of intense magnitude and gravity, that despite its forty-year age possesses the timelessness of the mountains:
“Well I stepped into an avalanche / It covered up my soul”
Not only an example of superb musicianship, the album reflects a rollercoaster of emotion that threatens to go off the rails at any time. The prominence of Cohen’s vocals take us through menace and torment, through passion and grief.
From the droning “Last Year’s Man” to the growling, almost snarling “Diamonds in the Mine”, Cohen takes us on a tour through the darkness of his imagination. The most well-known track from the album, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, exemplifies what Cohen is all about: the mixture of personal feeling and attention to detail, of depth of emotion and the ability to communicate it.
Cohen is a man with something to say, however dark or controversial (see “Dress Rehearsal Rag” in particular) it might be. He’s not for everyone, but then being popular was never his major concern. So step into the avalanche, the world of Leonard Cohen, and see if your soul can bear the weight.
Ólöf Arnalds – Við Og Við
Við Og Við was the debut album of Icelandic folk singer Ólöf Arnalds, a part of the Múm collective and cousin to equally talented musician Olafúr Arnalds. Whilst the latter has achieved a measurable amount of success outside of Scandinavia, the female singer has remained in relative obscurity away from home. Her second album, Innundir Skinni, released last year, received more attention in the UK (largely due to some of its songs being sung in English) but it’s an album with a very different feel that fails to match up to its predecessor.
But that’s not to say it’s a bad thing that Ólöf is finally getting some of the plaudits that she’s long since deserved, it’s just a shame that her first offering failed to really register in this country. Við Og Við is a perfect example of how to construct an album, gently flitting between sombre and more lively shades to form a brilliantly cohesive and coherent anthology of songs that serve to increase each other’s exceptional quality.
Particular highlights include the opener “Englar og Dárar” with its close finger-picking and gentle warbling voice, and the title track that exemplifies the singer’s adaptability. In a world where far too many female singers are cited as having an ethereal quality about them, Ólöf is one vocalist who does genuinely possess it, and “Vittu af Mér” effectively acts as a definition of the adjective. The high point though is the more perky and upbeat “Klára”, a track of unadulterated loveliness that seems all the more exquisite in the context of the album as a whole.
Don’t let the language barrier put you off here; this is a fine album that transcends lyrical understanding and, as far as debut albums go, ranks right up there with the best.