Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
For a lot of Bon Iver fans, Justin Vernon’s second album under the moniker was met with some trepidation. There was the obvious hurdle – his first offering, For Emma, Forever Ago, was widely, and rightly, received as a classic. Quotes from Vernon before Bon Iver, Bon Iver’s release like ‘ I forgot how to write songs’ suggested it might not have been an easy journey. Hence, when the songs started to stream and Vernon released the full lyrics sheet online, I was as prepared for disappointment as much as I was prepared to be impressed.
Thankfully though, impressed doesn’t represent just how good this record is. From its opener “Perth”, the record is beautiful. Although comparisons to For Emma feel a bit pointless, it’s useful at least to say that this record is more layered, more complicated, and more complete in many ways than its predecessor. “Perth” itself encapsulates a lot of what the album has to offer; it moves from one sound and feeling to the next seamlessly, and the song ends up in a completely different place than it began. The noise is often ethereal in a way, on this first track and others such as “Holocene” and “Calgary” in particular. To the average listener such as myself, the instruments cease to be individual parts and work perfectly as a whole. The sound is flawless.
Vernon’s voice is, as ever, sublime. “Minnesota, WI” boasts a beautiful chorus of ‘never gonna break, never gonna break’ during which it seems reasonable to say that the vocals are angelic. One of the only criticisms you’re likely to hear of Bon Iver is the fact that the lyrics, sung or read on a page, seem to make little sense, and it’s a fair point. But the lack of narrative takes nothing away from the songs. It is testament to Vernon’s talent with instruments and voice that even disconnected and barely distinguishable lyrics such as in “Holocene” and “Towers” remain incredibly powerful. These moments are worth even more for the fact that the songs don’t overload you with any imposed emotion – any reaction to this music is individual as the listener is never told what to feel.
This is a complete record, and it works best as a whole. To name highlights on this album is not to do it justice. This is a record in the old fashioned sense – it moves from start to finish perfectly, going from “Perth” to “Beth/Rest” through what feels like a real journey. The music and the track names evoke a romantic image of vast, empty America. While the record moves smoothly from song to song, it is never boring, and when “Beth” comes in at its very end, the whole album at once turns around completely and comes together perfectly. It feels almost as though a 10-song-long love song to a place, or a feeling.
This is a step up for Bon Iver, a beautiful noise, and I truly believe it is the best album you will hear until the next time Justin Vernon forgets to write songs again.
By Josephine Freeman
Kasabian – Velociraptor!
When asked why they had named their new album Velociraptor! (exclamation mark well and truly included), the band’s bassist/vocalist Serge Pizzorno gave reporters a typically-Kasabian answer: “Velociraptors used to hunt in packs of four,” he reasoned. “They were the rock’n’roll band of the dinosaurs.”
Whilst any name appears comparatively normal after the quixotic ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’, Serge has a point. They are, along with the Arctic Monkeys, the sole survivors of the English mid-2000s emergence of guitar bands, and rather like the Velociraptor have fought against the odds to bring down the likes of the Tyrannosaurus Rex (or popular chart music to you and me) and reach a fourth album.
Very rarely have I looked forward to an album more, and upon the first listen I was not disappointed. Often albums take a few listens in order to fully appreciate them; after the first bars of ‘Let’s Roll Like We Used To’, with its Empire-esque bugle-call to attention, I knew this would not be the case. Energised, intense, with some moments of poignancy thrown in for good measure, it is both anthemic enough to be played on the largest stages as well as intricate enough to be played on an iPod.
The opening track, ‘Let’s Roll Like We Used To’ serves as a fantastic interlude to the heavy bass and sheer madness of the first single ‘Days Are Forgotten’, with the dribbled psychotic lyrics that characterised ‘West Ryder…’; ‘I saw something/ Out there on the darkest star/ You was at home/ Chewing on monkey brains’ being merely an example of the idiosyncrasy that the band have formed their legacy on. The influence of the Beatles on ‘La Fee Verte’ – a ‘Lucy in the Sky…’ meets Moulin Rouge – brings an almost hallucinogenic twist to the album, as well as on the other end of the spectrum we get the punchy, fist-pumping chorus of the title track – very reminiscent of Blur in their heyday (‘Velociraptor!/ He’s gonna find ya!/ He’s gonna kill ya!/ He’s gonna eat ya!’) – which you will find yourself feverishly singing along to. However, it is with the final few songs that the album reaches its peak; the next single, ‘Re-wired’ is an ‘LSF’ for the twenty-teens, evoking the feeling of a sure-fire anthem for their sets in years to come (‘Hit me/ Harder/ I’m getting re-wired/ I’ll flick the switch/ That makes you feel electric’); ‘Man Of Simple Pleasures’ is, frankly, a simple musical pleasure; ‘Neon Moon’ finishes the album with the melodic come-down that we so badly need from the relentlessness of rest of the album. It is with ‘Switchblade Smiles’, however, with which the band assert their everlasting mark on the album. When Tom Meighan spits out ‘Move!/Can you feel it coming?’ over the sweaty, viciously deep bass we begin to feel like this band are here for the long run. I defy you to find a more brilliantly intense song this year.
Weird and psychedelic it is, but these are characteristics we’ve come to associate with this band; when these harnessed with the sheer dynamic brilliance of the ‘Kasabian chorus’, you are left with the feeling that you’ve just witnessed something special. Small they may be, but these Velociraptor(!)s can produce some pretty fantastic music.
By James Day
Jacno – Rectangle
This E.P. , officially untitled but often called “Rectangle” was released in 1979. If we were to establish the context, we would say that punk is dying, the Sex Pistols have disbanded, the Clash are to deviate (London Calling is released that same year), New Wave and noise music are on their way (Joy Division’s, the Cure’s and Public Image’s respective first albums come out that year also, Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music is four years old). However when this quasi-instrumental album arrives on the market, it must have seemed to come out of nowhere. Critics at the time saw it as a mixture between punk and disco. Yet a modern unaware listener might think of the current French electro-pop movement (like Air, Alexandre Chatelard, both very inspired by this album), ambient rock, or perhaps some 90s’ jingle (“Rectangle” has been used for a Nesquik ad).
Listening to the album for the first time, you might be surprised by how catchy, repetitive and minimalist it all sounds in the beginning. The rhythmic instruments, the drums, some naïvely cosmic-sounding keyboards and guitars, all played by Jacno (until then only guitarist of one the first French punk bands, The Stinky Toys), recorded and superposed thanks to the then-new drum machine, seem all patched with one another; a simple and solid basis out of which stands only a catchy beepy keyboard melody in the first tracks. If this minimalist aspect seems to dedicate the opening track ‘Rectangle’ to dancing (I wish they could play that in Klute), it sounds a little astonishing with the second song that embraces a more melancholic mood, slower and darker, emphasised by a theatrical singing and lyrics of the purest sadness, that gives depth to the instrumentation.
The album could be seen as a compilation of exercices de style, it has an overall conceptual aspect, that can be foreseen looking at the titles of the songs, geometrical shapes. There is coherence in the instrumentation, in a very apparent personal style, but each song seems to offer a new mood and suggests some effects. The melodic beeps remain almost obsessively all throughout the album, but they punctuate different atmospheres. In ‘Losange’, they appear only as a rhythmic instrument, the song alternates between two patterns, one purely rhythmic, using synthetic bass sounds, the other more aerial with a freer, more melodic guitar-playing and keyboards slowing the pace. ‘Triangle’ sounds more compact and repetitive, and then synthetic strings come to complete the arpeggio of the keyboard, and it sounds incredibly modern. The last track ‘Cercle’ could virtually be a cosmic blues, the guitar is given more importance, is slower. The last track is an instrumental version of ‘Anne cherchait l’amour’ to which is added a very good and unexpected guitar solo. The guitar deserves attention in the whole album, and changes the atmosphere in most of the songs, whether it creates crescendos with some noisy rhythmical shift (très noise music), tranquilises them with long chords, or makes them more aerial with a vibrato and by going up and down in pitch.
Whereas this album could be a style manifesto, somehow experimental, it is worth noting how though inspired by noise music and the new wave that is on its way, it takes a different path in musical research, combining minimalism, accessibility, ambiance and originality. Jacno remained famous for two decades, working on different projects, for different artists, and maintaining his dandy image. It is easy to notice his influence in the current French musical landscape, ambient and experimental rock everywhere.
By Hippolyte Pier Astier
Leonard Cohen – Songs from a Room
This is Leonard Cohen’s rawest album. As the title suggests, it is a simpler and more stripped down version of Cohen’s previous album Songs of Leonard Cohen, which, despite its greatness, he faulted for what he considered gratuitous instrumentation. Therefore, in Songs from a Room Cohen replaced the sweet sounds of organs, mandolins and horns with the simple, grating Jewish harp, which pervades through the whole album. And this harp is perhaps the most symbolic of Cohen for it repels glamour, a trait he would continuously try to reject, for example in his ironically titled album Death of a Ladies’ Man. Instead the Jewish harp reflects a toneless man of limited musical ability playing the most beautiful songs. Furthermore many of the songs are barely original: he uses almost identical chords in “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes” as in his earlier song “So Long Marianne”. Also his song “The Partisan” is a cover of the French Resistance anthem, and employs the same finger-picking technique as in “The Stranger Song”. Even the album cover is very similar to Songs of Leonard Cohen: a simple portrait. However, this was not a sign that Cohen was losing inspiration, but was more a method of honing on what mattered to him; and so we see a man directly in his element. For we must remember that despite this only being Cohen’s second album, he was already 34 years old, and had been an accomplished poet for almost a decade now. Therefore it would not be unfair to say that by this time he was sure of his musical direction.
This is also Leonard Cohen’s darkest album. For Cohen had just come from a deep bout of depression. Indeed his opening song “Bird on a Wire” was a method to get out of his abyss by relating his struggle: “Like a baby, stillborn/ Like a beast with his horn/ I have torn everyone who reached out for me”. However, unlike his following album Songs of Love and Hate, where Cohen spews his scorn, in Songs from a Room, Cohen internalises all his grief. This produces a chilling effect. For in his songs Cohen stays horrifically calm: while singing “Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows” in “The Old Revolution” or narrating the (apparently true) doomed life of a girl called Nancy in “Seems So Long Ago Nancy”. However, near the end of the album, Cohen offers a glimmer of hope in his song “Tonight We’ll Be Fine”, and also acknowledges his responsibility to those who love him, that despite his desolation he knows that they are in it together. And it is this acknowledgement that makes us realize that soon Cohen will leave this room and get over his depression. But he has left us just enough to hear this incredible man in his purest and most personal musical state.
By Oliver White