Thursday, 7 January 2010

If this is how it starts I can't wait to see what's next...

It's been rather a hectic first week of the year, the first couple of days were spent recovering, more from the experience of Singstar Pop Edition (S and I were made to listen to music rather than perform) than the champagne or whiskey consumed. There then followed the resumption of life as usual (broken yesterday by my 26th birthday). This consists of working my way through piles of books and then sitting at the computer for hours regurgitating it back on the page in a different order.

This jolly routine has been made even more pleasurable by the fact that I've managed to get my little hands on a few of the more eagerly anticipated albums due out in the next couple of months and here are my first impressions:

Vampire Weekend - Contra (2010)

One of the sounds of 2008 spent much of 2009 seemingly trying to break the preppy image that they themselves and their first album had landed them with. The shirts and braided belts remained but also came interesting late night collaborations with Fucked Up and interviews in which Ezra claimed no-one really knew who he was and that he was down with the hardcore punk.

First glances at the new album showed something of that harder side, Horchata was more complex and less easy to love than their previous work and yet it remains undeniably Vampire Weekend. There are the tribal afrobeat drums and the vocals almost sighed into the microphone (you can almost see the cheeky grin whilst they're being sung).

This harder edge continues through the rest of the album, even if its via the electronic beats of White Sky, the (sometimes irritating) use of Auto-tune on California English (Ezra is really someone whose voice doesn't need it, even for effect) or the Clash like reggae/punk mix of Holiday.

This is an album that doesn't have the immediate punch of the first album and it really is like they're trying in some way to make themselves less likeable here. That said it is definitely a grower and unlike many a modern album I think that side two is by far the stronger - Run sounding like they've taken some notes from Discovery on mixing electronics with indie pop and I Think UR a Contra is downright weird for VW and a possible way forward for them into their third album.

Vampire Weekend - Cousins

Vampire Weekend - Contra is released on 11th January 2010 by XL.

Los Campesinos - Romance Is Boring (2010)

Los Campesinos' new album marks something of a musical shift for the Welsh seven piece. Gone are sparse pop melodies acting as a backing for some of the most witty and romantic musings on modern (alternative) life this side of the Wave Pictures and instead we're left with this wall of sound, blasting brass and screaching organs where we're searching for a glimpse of those lyrics. And when we do find them they're just not half as good as they once were.

I'm not much of a fan of this new heavier Los Campesinos. It's like they've discovered a distortion pedal and now can't switch it off. They've managed to lose a member in 2009 and end up sounding more cluttered.

There are still some hints of the old band in there and from time to time can still deliver that killer line ("I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock, feels like the build up takes forever but you never get me off." from Straight in at 101 being a point in case) it's just that these moments are rarer and sometimes feel a little forced.

Los Campesinos - There Are Listed Buildings

Los Campesinos - Romance Is Boring is released on 1st February 2010 by Wichita

Broken Bells - Broken Bells (2010)

If the thought of a collaboration between the Shins' James Mercer and Gnarls Barkley's (amongst others) Danger Mouth is mouth watering prospect then you definitely won't be disappointed when this album finally lands on your doorstep.

In an all too rare turn up for the books a collaboration between two creative musical forces has managed to produce an outstanding, interesting and eminently listenable album. A perfect harmony between the lush acoustic arrangements you might expect with quirky and appropriate samples and programming.

The album opener, The High Road, is a great taster for where the album is heading, the computer game samples blending smoothly into guitars and vocals. It was a bit of a dangerous move for these guys and could've ended up being something of a Postal Service ripoff but I think that was me just underestimating them.

The album is filled with little surprises and my highlight was definitely the penultimate track Mongrel Heart which goes from a decent 80s English/Scottish post-punk imitation some way between The Cure and Aztec Camera before embarking on a sampled trumpet interlude, and then bringing it all together.

This album is going to set a pretty high benchmark for those following it this year. (and for future electronic/indie collaborations.)

Broken Bells - The High Road

Broken Bells - Broken Bells is released on 9th March 2010 by Sony.

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