Monthly Archives: July 2011

An L of a time

Finally we’ve crawled to the end of the letter L… and all those Lucksmiths albums. It’s been a long arduous journey. We started back on January 1. Forty or so reviews in 6½ months isn’t very impressive is it?  But that did span several countries.  It also spanned the usual diverse range of artists.  Looking at the resultant rankings, it would seem lighter indie pop won out, although soulfulness is as valued as always…

  1. Lemonheads – “It’s a Shame About Ray”
  2. The Lucksmiths – “What Bird Is That?”
  3. The Lucksmiths – “Happy Secret”
  4. Bettye Lavette – “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise”
  5. The Lucksmiths – “A Good Kind of Nervous”
  6. The Lucksmiths – “Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me
  7. The Lucksmiths – “The Green Bicycle Case”
  8. Bettye Lavette – “The Scene of the Crime”
  9. The La’s – “The La’s”
  10. Love Me – “Love Me”
  11. The Lemonheads – “Come on Feel the Lemonheads”
  12. LCD Soundsystem – “LCD Soundsystem”
  13. The Liquor Giants – “The Liquor Giants”
  14. Ray Lamontagne – “Till the Sun Turns Black”
  15. Led Zeppelin – “Led Zeppelin IV”

As has become tradition, here’s a “L” track that didn’t get a review, but is an old fave of mine:

494. Lykke Li – “Wounded Rhymes”

No, I haven’t misread the artist’s name… I understand she is a “Li”, but this is a relatively recent purchase and just gets in under the wire before I close up the L shop.

album cover Lykke Li Wounded Rhymes CD Review lukaOur house has a soft spot for Scandinavian poplets, and Lykke Li is the latest additional to our stable.

unfamiliar with her debut, I came to this with an open mind. Immediately, I was struck by the swagger and boisterousness of what could have been a much more twee album.

Li has embraced so many influences that I’d run out of reviewing space if I listed them all.  Of folks we’ve seen around here, Depeche Mode appear front on centre in the rhythms of I follow rivers, while huge chunks of the album evoke the recent efforts of Florence and co:

The album lacks the pomposity of either artist, however, with the vocals staying the right side of operatic (indeed, they manage to both breathy and pure).  The production values on here are very, very high, with a willingness to treble it up so as to embrace some pre-70s garage sound (yet with a very electro feel).

I wouldn’t describe this as a party album, but that’s probably because I don’t tend to go to too many of those soirees with absinthe, candelabras or other such steampunk motifs.

File under: A triage treasure

493. Luscious Jackson – “Natural Ingredients”

So finally we turn our backs on the Lucksmiths and tune in to an album that has been getting pretty regular spins in my world for 17 years.

This is one of the rare CDs in my collections that I’ve always enjoyed, that has a distinct sound and context, and which has never prompted me to seek out anything else of theirs nor wonder whether I could see them live.

This quartet of female New Yorkers dropped this fine collection of tracks way back in 1994.  While the band’s indie cred should have been assured (their drummer hailed from an early incarnation of the Beastie Boys), they got a little lost in the buzz around bands like the Breeders, PJ Harvey and the like.

It’s understandable in that there were no wailing guitars (or voices) here, but rather a curious funk lounge disco vibe.  It’s a bunch of summer-in-the-city tracks, with sleepy but kinda sexy vocals and a soulful hip hop vibe not unlike the Boys’ instrumental efforts.

This is a groove album.  While a few tracks stand out (Deep Shag, Citysong, Strongman) really it’s about the 45 mins of a single sound that evokes some very chilled, hip NYC squat/loft filled with Chloë Sevignys and Zooey Deschanels… and you’re all invited:

File under: A recipe for fun

492. The Lucksmiths – “Warmer Corners”

A week’s a long time in football, and like dog years, in music-reviewing time a day is the equivalent.

a album cover CD Review The Lucksmiths Warmer Corners records fiction sunlightWhile Naturaliste drew analogies to a tired, lacklustre football performance, this follow-up sees the band burst back on to the field with much-needed enthusiasm and zip, suggesting perhaps we’d experienced merely a Hiccup in our Happiness.

Horns are blown, babababas abound and I feel much…well…warmer.

The first three tracks on this album kick goals with welcome energy. Sure there is less experimentation, but I don’t mind.  I’ve become the fan who wants to see the same old routines.

Well, I do for the first half. But by the time we’re done bragging about knowing folks in San Francisco, I’m starting to get a little restless again.

After the (very delightful) twee² of Sunlight in a Jar, my teeth are starting to ache from excessive sweetness, and I yawn distractedly through the subsequent five tracks.

When all looks lost, up pops a closing track that ticks most of the ‘should hate this’ boxes (under-structured, no chorus, indulgent phrasing, glowing references to hipsters at parties with tattoos), but which I find mesmerising – Fiction.  As a final instalment to my extensive Lucksmiths odyssey (I didn’t buy their last two albums) it is a wonderful surprise twist in the tale:

File under: Thanks for the warm fuzziness

491. The Lucksmiths – “Naturaliste”

I spent a very chilly and depressing afternoon yesterday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

a Album cover The Lucksmiths Naturaliste naturalist CD review Candle Records TaliI was there to support my football team of choice as they took on the powerhouse club de jour.  We started well, in the sense that we scored first… but this was a false dawn, and the game was soon a massacre.  I was left disappointed and disheartened.

Listening to this 2003 album sees me follow a similar trajectory.  The album kicks off in a promising fashion. Camera Shy is one of strongest tracks from the second half of the band’s discography, with intriguing pacing and some deft writing (and a nice word of the day – heliolithic).

Soon, however, we are in a mess of mis-kicks and poor decision-making . The band gets bogged down in mundane variations on their least interesting, soporific balladry.

Beyond the somewhat promising Sandringham Line and the borderline sh*t- sibling Midweek Midmorning (possibly Darryl to T-Shirt Weather‘s Wayne Schimmelbusch), there is little to redeem this afternoon on the paddock.

To keep this awkward analogy going, this album should be seen as a one-time powerhouse team whose game-plan is looking stale and old hat trudging through a season with too little of their old spark and passion.

File under: Time for a clean out?

490. The Lucksmiths – “Where Were We?”

This is the 7th album in the Lucksmiths’ discography.

a album cover CD Review lucksmiths where were we candle records t-shirt weatherIt isn’t a ‘real album’, however. Rather it is a collection of singles etc from a three-year period.

As such, it’s a surprisingly coherent opus, with a fuller band sound, greater use of horns, organs and other non-stringy instruments.  To those who remember the simpler, early days this does mark a point where competence and musicality overwhelmed the sense of playfulness and ad-hockery we’d grown used to.

The world of ‘twee indie pop’ is really several (not mutually exclusive) sub-genres of the (i) low-fi/ anaemic (ii) brash acoustic powerpop (iii) layered and lush and (iv) the outright pretentious.

I would argue that the Luckas typically steered clear of (i) and (iv), but certainly shifted away from (ii) (to (iii)) over time.  It’s a shame but understandable.  Their last gasps of unashamed pop are wonderful – see T-Shirt Weather:

The more tranquil tracks are still admirable and catchy takes on nostalgia (Cassingle Revival, I Prefer the Twentieth Century), boardgames (Even Stevens) and domestic roadtrips (Southernmost, Great Dividing Range).

Moving further and further away from the band’s last live efforts, I’m surprised how languid and loungey their albums feel.  The urge to sway is defeating any memory of dancing and jumping… the passing of youth?

File under: Milestone or millstone?

489. Michael Jackson – “Thriller”

So, I make my much-delayed returned to the blogosphere with the biggest-selling album of ALL-TIME. I  received this CD from MJ’s biggest/oldest fan, Andy, who couldn’t stand that the J reviews were King of Pop-less (and given it was Andy’s 39th birthday last week, this might be seen as a belated pressie).

a album cover michael jackson thirller Thriller25 CD ReviewI have to admit until now (despite Andy’s obsession with it) while I’d heard almost all the tracks as singles, I am not sure I’d ever heard the album in its entirety.

This is a strange beast of an album. Two of the four MJ-penned tracks are out-and-out disco-funk classics – Beat It and Wanna Be Starting Something. This is prodigious stuff that justifies the hype:

The title track is a bit overblown and too drawn out, however. The Girl is Mine is creepier than any zombies or Vincent Price cameos (mainly for Sir Paul’s presence and the lame showtuney interplay).

Of the remainder Billie Jean delights and, to a lesser extent, PYT with its superslick production and a solid bassline.  The rest I find quite forgettable and the album is oddly disjointed. 

However, this 25th anniversary addition does sound fresh (the benefits of remastering?). No doubt the beeps and squeals and beats sounded even ‘newer’ way back when Andy was only 10. The five superfluous bonus remixes highlight the lack of need for any update by lesser lights like w.iLl.i@.M

I’m happy to have this in my collection and did some fancy moonwalking to it last night, but I doubt I’m in the top 50 percent of ‘likers’ among the 100m+ owners thereof.

File under: Some thrills, some spills