Album reviews


Elbow - The Take Off And Landing Of Everything album cover art

What with Spotify and Grooveshark and advance streaming and album playbacks and the rest, it’s never been easier to listen to album before you buy it. By the same token, it’s never been easier to make a snap judgement.

Luckily most Elbow fans will know that Guy Garvey and co’s work doesn’t yield up even half of its brilliance on a first listen through and, sure enough, ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ is the definition of an album that gradually grows on you.

Anyone expecting a rehash of 2011’s ‘Build A Rocket Boys’ or the 2008 Mercury Prize winning ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ will not find it here. Instead, you’ll get more joy comparing the new album to ‘Cast Of Thousands’ or even ‘Asleep In The Back’.

Opener ‘This Blue World’ is unashamedly slow-burning and hints at the mid-life crisis element that Garvey alluded to in promo interviews. However, the shoe-gazing doesn’t last too long and from here the pace gathers and the ideas swell.

‘Charge’ is a tempestuous yet understated track with bursts of orchestral brightness in the chorus, and then we come to ‘Fly Boy Blue / Lunette’. This six-minute marvel is right up there with the finest tracks Elbow have ever recorded.

An insistent bassline is punctuated by flourishes of tenor saxophone in the stomping, swaying chorus, before the bravado gives way to a sweeping outro that is humblingly beautiful. Garvey murmurs timelessly elegant lyrics that will serve as a fitting epitaph when the band decide to eventually go their own ways:

“I’m reaching the age when decisions are made / On life and liver and I’m sure last ditch / That’ll I’ll ask for more time / But mother forgive me / I still want a bottle of good Irish whiskey and a bundle of smokes in my grave”

Next up is the lead-off single ‘New York Morning’, which is the closest this album comes to radio bothering catchiness and true mainstream appeal with the first proper guitar lick on the album. The choruses get progressively grander and grander until it’s hard to resist singing along.

Then comes the Elbow nostalgia – ‘Real Life (Angel)’ has shades of ‘Grace Under Pressure’, while the studio outtakes and laughter at the start of ‘Honey Sun’ are strongly reminiscent of ‘Leaders Of The Free World’.

‘My Sad Captains’ is a touching tale of hungover camaraderie, but the true climax of the album comes on the title track, which swells and swells across seven orchestra-laden minutes to an anthemic climax. However, you won’t find yourself harking back to ‘Open Arms’ or even ‘One Day Like This’, more the carnivalesque joy of Doves’ ‘There Goes The Fear’.

It wouldn’t be a proper Elbow album without a quixotic closer (preferably a waltz) to leave you with something to think about, and ‘The Blanket Of Night’ fills that role nicely with militaristic overtones, lilting strings and eerie synth.

When I first heard this album, it was in a Canary Wharf pub as part of a poorly organised album playback, where the subtleties were lost amidst drunken business chatter and a lot of background noise. That is the worst way to listen to this album.

Instead, grab a decent pair of headphones and go for a nice long way through a busy city (preferably New York). Your ears will thank you afterwards.

Bloc Party Nextwave Sessions ep cover artFollowing on from the announcement that they are due to go on an indefinite hiatus at the end of the summer, Bloc Party have given their fans one last treat before their (hopefully temporary) break-up.

‘The Nextwave Sessions EP’ shows the kind of inventiveness and experimentation that you might expect from a band with nothing to lose and nothing to prove.

‘Ratchet’ kicks things off with Kele Okereke spitting lyrics with his usual blend of urban slang and punk attitude, but with a noticeably hip-hop cadence as he references Kanye West in the second verse.

All four band members get a chance to show off their skills on this fantastically flamboyant track, but it’s Gordon Moakes’ earthy bassline that will really make this an indie club floor-filler.

‘Obscene’ brings things back down to earth, with Kele openly confessing his past wrongs to a former lover as the throbbing synth and lilting vocals hark back to 2008’s ‘Intimacy’.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Editors The Weight Of Your Love album art

After a near four-year absence, Editors are back with their fourth studio album ‘The Weight Of Your Love’.

And whilst many will label this album as a return to their original guitar-based style, there is plenty of evidence that the band has evolved and matured during their break.

For starters, founding member and lead guitarist/synth player Chris Urbanowicz has left, and his searing tremolo is notably absent.

In his place, Justin Lockey takes on lead guitar responsibilities, while Elliott Williams provides keyboards, backing vocals and additional guitars.

Despite all these changes, Tom Smith’s vocals still sound as rich and powerful as ever, albeit with far less falsetto than on 2009’s synth-led ‘In This Light And On This Evening’.

A more straightforward song-writing style is immediately noticeable, which Tom credits to the influence of bands such as REM and Arcade Fire.

‘The Weight’ kicks things off with a brooding stomp that bursts into life with orchestral flair, recalling Elbow‘s recent rich and densely layered arrangements.

The lyrics are as bleak and honest as ever, with Tom imagining how he would cope if he outlived his long-time partner Edith Bowman and suggesting that love can be overwhelming and almost intimidating at times.

‘Sugar’ bristles and buzzes with a Kings Of Leon-esque bassline before lead single ‘A Ton Of Love’ raises the bar yet further with a punchy riff and an instant classic of a chorus…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Jimmy Eat World Damage album cover artIn the turbulent world of rock music, emo veterans Jimmy Eat World are a reassuring constant, with the same line-up sustained for nearly 20 years now and a new album arriving more or less every three years.

For their eighth studio album, the Arizona quartet has gone back to basics, recording on analog tape in producer Alain Johannes’ Los Angeles home.

Former Nine Inch Nails collaborator James Brown was brought into digitally mix the record, but Trent Reznor-inspired grunge this certainly ain’t.

The result is a fuzzier, rougher edge but with the same warming centre, particularly on opening track ‘Appreciation’ and standout song ‘How’d You Have Me’, which both chime nicely with their 1999 album ‘Clarity’.

That said the band have not completely turned their backs on the atmospheric rock sound curated on 2010’s ‘Invented’.

‘Byebyelove’ builds to a distortion-drenched finale, before ‘You Were Good’ strikes a mature, peaceful and reconciliatory note at the close of the record.

As always, there’s something strangely comforting about the sound of lead singer Jim Adkins‘ brave optimism against a backdrop of melancholy…

To read the rest of this review at Virgin Red Room, click here.

Funeral For Friend Conduit new albumFuneral For A Friend do have more than one register. But listening to their sixth studio album ‘Conduit’, you could be forgiven for thinking that they don’t.

With only 40% of the original line-up still intact (singer Matt Davies-Kreye and lead guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts), much of what made them seem like one of the UK’s most exciting emo-core prospects ten years ago has evaporated. Conduit is a fairly repetitious album which feels short on inspiration and bustles along for 29 minutes with barely any variation from the distortion-drenched guitars or the relentlessly angst-ridden vocals.

As a case in point, the only track that sticks around for more three-and-a-half minutes (the raucous finale of ‘High Castles’) was released fourteen months ago as part of their ‘See You All In Hell’ EP.

Indeed this song is the only one to feature a memorable sing-along, in the form of the guttural refrain: “Our words are weapons / They are our shield”.

The band’s newest recruit, former Rise To Remain drummer Pat Lundy, puts in an accomplished and energetic shift behind the kit…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Dry The River Shallow Bed AcousticNine months ago when Dry The River released their debut album ‘Shallow Bed’, it was met with widespread positive reviews, but a handful of critics accused the folk-rock quartet of somewhat overdoing the production values.

So as if to prove them wrong and show that these songs can stand up on their own two feet without the bells and whistles, the band have decided to release an acoustic version of the album.

It’s an interesting choice for a band with just one album to their name, since some of the most effective acoustic albums (Foo Fighters – ‘Skin and Bones’, Nirvana – ‘Unplugged In New York’) have worked as greatest hits retrospectives.

Despite sticking to the track listing, ‘Shallow Bed (Acoustic)’ sees Dry The River do much more than just unplug the amps. Many of the tracks are cleverly re-arranged with instruments switched and tempos altered.

The recording style has a real ‘live session’ feel to it, so much so that you might expect warm applause to greet the end of each track.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Sonic Boom Six self titled album coverNo-one could accuse Sonic Boom Six of standing still or resting on their laurels. Each album they’ve put out has seen a clear progression, subsuming more and more genres into their all-encompassing sound.

Their latest, self-titled album takes in many influences, from The Clash to Pendulum via Mad Capsule Markets, but the most noticeable change is the influx of hardcore electronica and warped drum and bass samples. Every track throbs with heavily synthesised guitars and drums, and the vocoder-treated choruses make singer Laila Khan‘s voice sound detached and more than a little bit J-pop. It’s a change of direction that takes a fair bit of getting used to. Anyone who discovered SB6 via the UK ska-punk scene of Capdown and The King Bluesmight well recoil at this, and the band have freely admitted that they are going for a sound that is more “inclusive and inviting to everyday people”.

Lead-off single ‘Virus’ sets the tone as the album’s touchstone and this style is carried through onto the breathless rush of ‘Karma Is A Bitch’, which packs some serious boss-fight riffs. Meanwhile ‘The High Cost Of Living’ manages the impressive feat of blending pulsing beats, metal guitars, reggae percussion and a baroque piano sample, into one cohesive song.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

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