Monday, 31 December 2007

RADIOHEAD - In Rainbows

To put this review in context: the morning In Rainbows came out was the first morning I'd seen for three weeks. Maybe as a result of this horifically early start (9am) my initial impression of the album was... undecided. A four year break (the longest gap between albums for the Oxford-based five) suggested Radiohead were going to come back with more of a bang than... well, a Fender Rhodes and a string quartet.

But Radiohead have more than justified their long break (as I realised three cups of coffee later), and turned out a complex, sophisticated piece of work, simultaneously taking the world by storm with their 'pay as much as you like' release. As Jonny Greenwood said, 'it was an interesting thing to ask people to do and compare it to whatever else in their lives they value or don't value''. So how much is an album worth? A pint? A packet of cigarettes? Radiohead aren't trying to bring on the revolution, but it's a good point, entertainingly made. Meanwhile, the NME has reported that James Blunt has accused Radiohead of undermining music, and pissing off James Blunt is easily woth the price of a sandwich any day, musical genius aside.

And musical genius it is: from the funky IDM breakdown of opener 15 Step to the evocative space-majesty of Nude, this is an awesome example of a band learning to love themselves. Thom has worked out ProTool urges on solo project The Eraser, so trademark Kid A 'brick sliding over marmite' moments are rarer (shame). Jonny Greenwood, meanwhile, tood advantage of the break to moonlight as the BBC Composer in residence and while Newsom, Wainwright and Silverchair wheeled in Van Dyke Parks to add weight to new projects, Radiohead are manifestly lucky to have him around to add scenery to sparser tracks. Selway's drumming (and assorted dumming/frozen peas in a paint-can shaking etc.) is treated as so much more than the engine beneath the track. On Weird Fishes/Arpeggi it's as crucial as the bluesy distortion on Bodysnatchers.

Admittedly there is a sense with Radiohead touring the majority of these tracks for the last couple of years, In Rainbows is more fleshed out old work than it is original in the Amnesiac sense. Still, even if Radiohead haven't made it over the rainbow this time, it's hard not to love the results of their having traded blue skies for this kaleidoscope of spectrum-hopping sound.

(9/10)

Liz Dodd

Sunday, 18 November 2007

THE DUKE SPIRIT - Ex-Voto EP

It's always great to hear a female vocalist being, well, a vocalist - forsaking pseudonyms and caricature - and The Duke Spirit's Leila Moss is exactly that, her exhiliratingly piercing vocals just about succeeing in raising the band above predictable grunge-rock comparisons.

Ex-Voto knocks such comparisons aside with Moss's vocals flitting between concord with the guitar back to soar away from claustrophobic riffs. Opener Lassoo is almost embarassingly hummable, driven by Sonic-Youth style noise and a solid, entirely rock'n'roll rhythm. Recorded at Rancho De La Luna, Joshua Tree, the home of Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss et al., Ex-Voto is infused with crunchy, distorted desert rock sound - and it's admittedly easy to enjoy.

Stylistically it's not shockingly different to anything Howling Bells (who stole their female vocalist led rock band thunder), or even PJ Harvey, have brought out since Duke Spirit's previous album, 2005's Cuts Accross The Land. The band are at their best with the gothic-romance scenery of Wild Roses and the repetetive, Radiohead style refrain, 'Somehow everyone's the same' of final track Masca. You can't help but feel that if Moss made the most of the impassioned, Bjork-stlyle delivery showcased on tracks like A Wild Hope, The Duke Spirit could make the leap from being easy-listening to something slightly more gritty.

The potential for a great album is here, and made more urgent by the fact that the representation of female vocalists in rock is currently maintained by idiosyncratic, typically market unfriendly Joanna Newsom-Bjork releases. If Ex-Voto is a taste of things to come on Neptune, to be released in 2008, The Duke Spirit could well be something worth getting excited about. Unless the Howling Bells get there first.

(6/10)


Liz Dodd

Monday, 5 November 2007

DAVE GAHAN - Hourglass

Gahan, previously of Depeche Mode, makes a return to his electronica roots with new album Hourglass.

Steeped in New Wave, it's bleak and epic, not unlike a lot of early Depeche Mode. To give Gahan credit, he has the right to tackle the dark side solo: after overdosing on a heroine-cocaine speedball in 1996 he was pronounced clinically dead for two minutes. Tragic decadence is a recurring theme, and the Bowie-Iggy Berlin era is an influence; strongest track Use You is tantalisingly close to Nightclubbing. It's about when partying goes wrong, but you survive - something Gahan underscores with his choice of session musicians, including John Frusciante (Chilli Peppers), a fellow ex-heroine addict, on opener Saw Something.

You can't shake the sense, though, that Gahan's impressively market-friendly baritone doesn't quite do justice to the content or the sparse sound of this album. When he does manage a Nick Cave-esque snarl it is, oddly, a breath of fresh air. Otherwise vocals (which bizarrely remind me of Chris Martin - imagine Coldplay covering Mercy Seat) can leave you feeling like this album, which sets out to question the foundations of the reality it shakes, manages little more than dotting a hazy question mark amid some fairly well-established musical wandering.

If you like Depeche Mode, you'll like this, and fair play if that's what Gahan was aiming for, but the tantalising moments of promise may indicate that with a few more years, and a bit more distance, Gahan could deliver something truly capable of blowing shallower acts out of the water.

(6/10)


Liz Dodd