Artist: Graham Coxon
Clearly baulking at thoughts of observing key signatures onstage with the band this summer, Coxon’s eighth exhibit for Blur’s backstage ‘Who’s got the most side-projects then?’ contests is gleefully dissonant. It’s a meditation on neurosis and violence that, not forgetting Coxon’s pop credentials, obediently remains within sight of digestibility.
Here, he shuns his more bluesy sensibilities, evoking instead that evergreen buzzword, Krautrock, leading to something resembling Iggy Pop’s The Idiot if advised by Ray Davies and Robert Fripp.
Coxon’s celebrated guitar thumps and shrieks dominate throughout, and it’s not so much what he plays that entices, but how hawkishly he does so, best seen in ‘What’ll It Take’ and ‘Seven Naked Valleys’. Satisfying though this is, the album wearies eventually however, and one might feel somewhat disenchanted eight songs in with nothing matching the gory heights of past classics like ‘Jamie Thomas’ and ‘Freaking Out’.
In a Nutshell: Blur’s sinister split personality thrashes unopposed with thrilling, if limited, results.
Artist: Of Monsters and Men
Album: My Head is an Animal
Icelandic indie-folk sextet, Of Monsters and Men’s debut album My Head is an Animal is a charming and consistently catchy effort. The band are like a slightly less polished Mumford and Sons, with less banjo, more brass, the gentler parts of Arcade Fire, and a female lead singer thrown into the mix.
The album is chock-full of refreshingly creative hooks that keep the listener enthralled; you’ll be tapping your feet like someone with Willis-Ekbom disease.
It is not without fault however. The group don’t cover any ground that other bands have not already covered, with some tracks being uncomfortably generic quirky folk-rock. They are a blissfully fun listen, but they’re just not particularly memorable.
If softly sung indie-folk is your bag, this could well be one of your albums of the year, but if you want something with a bit more meat, give it a miss.
In a Nutshell: Needs more cowbell.
Artist: M. Ward
Album: A Wasteland Companion
Rating: B +
Having mainly spent the last while as the rugged foil to Zooey Deschanel’s cuteness in She & Him, M. Ward is back on his own terms with his eighth record. In twelve tracks and as many styles, he’s made a record sure to reinstate him as the internet-era troubadour du jour.
The bookending numbers, ‘Clean Slate’ and ‘Pure Joy’ are outstanding. One a hopeful declaration of fresh starts, one a redemptive love song, they each have a simplicity of melody and tender execution that unabashedly aims for the heart-strings.
The sunshine pop of ‘Primitive Girl’ and the country hue ‘Sweetheart’ are relatively ham-fisted in a harmless way, leaving the equally sweet and seductive ‘I Get Ideas’ to balance liveliness and intimacy. Even the slow moments, like ‘Crawl After You’ and ‘There’s A Key’, brim a level of emotion that shows Ward putting all he has into his craft.
In a Nutshell: Rootsy tunes with a tender heart.
Album: Electronic Earth
The question at stake here is whether Labrinth can deliver and develop upon the fresh sonic pull that turned ‘Earthquake’ into a certifiable crossover hit. Electronic Earth has a definite sound, yet it frustratingly fails to create songs that are genuinely memorable, despite some solid tunes. In the ballad ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ Labrinth surprises with a mature, tender collaboration with Emélie Sande. ‘Vultures’ also provides an example of Labrinth’s talent, and is a grower with an anthemic backing. ‘Express Yourself’ is a fun reworking of the classic song, and nicely blends soul and electronica while even managing to name check JLS.
The unmistakable touch of Simon Cowell can be heard in the mindless pop of songs such as ‘Treatment’, and the album as a whole leaves the impression of a commercial exercise, lacking the innovation of Kanye’s comparable 808 and Heartbreaks. It seems unlikely that Labrinth is on course to become ‘King’ of the UK’s urban music scene.
In a Nutshell: Some solid tracks, but no barriers broken.
Artist: Boyz R Us
Album: Boyz R Us, Girls R U
Smashing into the charts like a brick being thrown into the faces of their pre-teen fanbase, Boyz R Us have been setting fire to both the music world and one solitary member of their pre-teen fanbase. Yes, the Boyz are here, and they will blow your tiny, reptile mind.
Imagine if John Lennon had sex with Justin Timberland, Sporty Spice, Yann Tiersan, House of Pain, and Jeff out of Community. Then imagine they all had weird babies. Then imagine they formed a boy band. Then add more excellence, and you’ve almost got you the Boyz.
The record starts strong with ‘Pump Up and Down My Hump Pump’, gains momentum with summer anthem ‘Hump on your Lump Rump’, before dropping the tempo with the swirling vortex of ‘Gonna Trump Thumps With Your Crump Flump’. It is an Odysessian journey from baby-making grooves, to pregnancy-inducing shimmies.
In A Nutshell: This is the audio equivelant of a caramel orgy. Album of this, or any year.