Reviews

The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

The Killers first record in 5 years and the first record of their’s I’ve bought in 9 years. Where the heck does the time go? I did a little research on the album the day it came out on Spotify and through that first brief listen I thought it might be worth picking up. My girlfriend actually picked up the record for me as a surprise so here we are with a review! My piece of trivia for this review is that there is an Irish link to this record as it was produced by Jacknife Lee. We’re all over the place!

I hadn’t bought a Killers record for a while because I though they had kind of flopped, ‘Day & Age‘ seemed to show signs of slowing down and poor musical decision making, and I actually thought ‘Sam’s Town’ before it was also below par compared to the brilliant debut ‘Hot Fuss’. That record however was always going to be hard to top. I did however really like ‘Sawdust‘, the collection of rarities and B-Sides. It was just different, a bit of a mad mix. Now we have ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ and I quite like it. I think it’s their best piece of work in a long time and I’m happy to see this return to form. With this one, Flowers said he wanted to make an actual record and not just “slap a bunch of songs together” which is cool because almost all of my favourite records have a single theme running through them. A bunch of songs works too sometimes but they can often stray way off path with the 10/12 song format and you’re left a little confused, kinda like “what did I just listen to?“.

Anyway, the reason this record stands out for me in The Killers collection is that they’ve finally added direction to their sound once again. The title track opens on this type of howling and then we’re eased in with bass before Flowers echoing voice takes control. It’s a bit U2 but the little moments of imperfection they add creates an atmosphere. We’ve cracking, dropping vocals and a thunderous sound coming in every now and then. This could actually be one of The Killers best when I think about it. ‘The Man’ was released as a single as you can hear their influences right from the start. They’ve said that Bowie and Talking Heads have influenced their work and that’s all over this track. Check it out if you don’t know it and you’ll see it could belong to one of several artists. ‘Rut’ is also a banger and a perfect arena track, one I can see fans happily singing along to. It’s hopeful in its lyrics and sound but not cringe or anything. It’s good. ‘Life To Come’ also follows this type of sound and The Killers bring back that kind of emotional pause, where you just imagine Flowers looking at the stars and it’s supposed to make you think about life. It’s in all their music but apparent here. Good track, upbeat and well built so these first four tracks do The Killers reputation as indie pop gods justice.

From track five on I felt that the record might take a dip. I was waiting for them to slip up but to be honest the quality and fun goes on which I’m delighted about because it makes it a record you can play right through. Though 2 or 3 of the tracks on the second half of the album sound similar they do just enough to make them unique, whether it’s an intro or a chorus. ‘Run For Cover’ is a pacy track that keeps the record going in an area where The Killers would have begun to fade in the past. It was partly written for the 2008 record ‘Day & Age‘ but wasn’t fully finished. I love the intro to ‘Tyson vs Douglas’ as they use that moment when Douglas knocked Tyson down with a type of haunting sound playing over it. From there though I’m not 100% sold on the track. I get the chorus and how Flowers perception of Tyson changed when he saw him hit the canvas, but I’m not sure about the sound throughout. ‘Some Kind Of Love’ is an excellent track and deeply personal, based on Flowers wife’s struggle with PTSD and suicidal thoughts, a period of their marriage which lead him to cancel part of their 2015 tour. Their kids actually sing on the last chorus of this song too. It’s one of the best songs they’ve written actually so definitely worth checking out.

As the album moves on we get a more synth rock sound with ‘Out Of My Mind’ which I enjoy because I like a bit of rock but the song in general sounds a little like an album filler. Following this we get a return to the funky sound we had on ‘The Man’ and it’s kind of like a dark pop song. Some pretty cool work with the vocals and it maintains a synth rock sound and they do well to pull it all together. It’s really cool actually, I like this one. The closer is ‘Have All The Song’s Been Written?’. Just from the title I had a feeling of what to expect before I even heard it. I imagined Flowers trying his best to create an emotive track, light on the noise and giving you something to ponder. Was I close? Kinda. It’s a slow burner that highlights brief guitar solos and as it picks up it builds into a much more complete track. The sound of nostalgia is strong here and it does bring The Killers quality to the fore, a nice reminder of what they can do.

After listening to this record several times and pulling it apart to put it back together again, I’ve got to recommend it. They’re finally back, and with a piece of work they can be proud of. It will take you back because they’ve found that direction again but on that journey you’ll also see what made them who they are. The Killers have killed again and gone on a spree, just when it felt they had been locked up and someone had thrown away the key.

G.M

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The National – Sleep Well Beast

It’s finally here!! All is well in this world again with the release of The Nationals seventh album ‘Sleep Well Beast’. It’s been four years since ‘Trouble Will Find Me‘ and on first appearances, the wait is worth it. Four singles preceded the release of the album, the best in my opinion being ‘Carin In The Liquor Store’, but they were all brilliant in truth. The singles were a good indication of the record as none were too radio friendly or sales focused. I might get some stick for this but in my opinion, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is their most consistent album since ‘Alligator’. I’ll cover this further in a moment but for now let me just say that this record is fantastic.

After the release of the first single ‘The System Only Dreams In Darkness’ The National came in for a little criticism with people commenting that the new Radiohead single was out. There is certainly a change in sound with regards to the album but nothing like the drastic changes Radiohead regularly went through for their albums. What there is on ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is the breaking of chains and past preconceptions. They’ve stepped away from the brooding and heartbreak for the most of this record and shown us a side we haven’t really see since ‘Alligator’, or at least a side that was suppressed in the last 3 records. This record is quicker, more adventurous and risky than recent records and I’m delighted they’ve taken this approach. It’s an album they’ve been missing from their catalog but one that still reminds you of their power. Something I had been saying to a few friends or people I met was that perhaps recent individual projects and new bands have benefited The National because in sort of opened their eyes to change. Matt Berninger’s side project El Vy put together one of the albums of 2015 in ‘Return To the Moon‘, Aaron Dessner has been off producing albums for bands such as Local Natives, Bryan Devendorf is part of a few experimental rock bands as is his brother Scott and Bryce Dessner has been off producing scores for films such as The Revenant!

So I think all this could have got the guys thinking and eventually they just screw it lets try something a little different. Bob Dylan said it “there’s nothing so stable as change“. ‘Sleep Well Beast‘ could well become a fan favourite and ‘the’ National album in years to come. As well as the musical change the songwriting theme changes slightly too. There’s more anger in the lyrics, more questions being asked of the other person in the relationship, not to say that relationships is all that this record is about. In ‘Empire Line’ we hear “can’t you find a way, you are in this too” as if to say that the issues in a relationship are the responsibility of both parties. National fans will be well aware of this theme in their music but this time it’s like they fight back. ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ is about Matt’s frequent indulgence in a variety of drugs and it’s actually a well told story, telling us the dangers he finds himself in despite the fact he continues to use and enjoys it. ‘Day I Die’ and ‘Turtleneck’ prop up the rock side of the album but we hear dazzling guitar solos and structure throughout as the Dessners continue to add to their collection of masterpieces. The three other released singles were ‘Carin In The Liquor Store’, ‘Guilty Party’ and ‘Day I Die’ and in truth all 4 singles were well picked as I mentioned earlier. ‘Carin…’ is a brilliant track that calms the album down late on and ‘Guilty Party’ is slightly more trippy than ‘The System..’. ‘Guilty Party’ was co-written by his wife and it is a fictional story about their marriage falling apart. Imagine that. My No.1 track from the album is ‘Walk It Back’ because it’s The National to the core, great music and Berninger doing Berninger perfectly.

To be honest, you’ll just have to listen to the album because I can’t explain it well enough. Hearing it is far better than reading about it that’s for sure. I love it and that’s not just because I’m a National fan. I think it’s a ballsy move by them and one they executed perfectly. Their still growing from the same roots but now they’re growing lemons instead of apples!! It’s tasty lemonade too!

G.M

 

TOTW – Car Seat Headrest – Destroyed By Hippie Powers

This week’s TOTW comes from American Indie band Car Seat Headrest. This guy was recommended by a friend and I’ve been dipping in and out of the brilliant record ‘Teens of Denial‘. Check them out on Bandcamp or just Youtube them. Also, have a listen below!

The Killers – Hot Fuss

Ah yes. The Killers. The early Killers actually just to clear things up. Back when Brandon Flowers was fresh faced and Mr. Brightside took over the world of radio. They came flying out of the traps with their early singles and became one of the biggest bands in the world in a pretty short space of time. Synth was back and it was cooool. It kick-started the new wave-wave again and everyone partied like it was the much less original and eventually overdone but still entertaining 80’s again.

Hot Fuss‘ is another one of those albums that could be played as a soundtrack to my youth as I bought it in 2004 or 2005 and pretty much had it on repeat for 3 years. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can relate as they were the ‘band’ for a few years there, popping up all over the place and releasing 2 further highly anticipated albums before their influence began to fade. This album has gone on to be referenced many times as the ‘Best of..’ or ‘Top 10 Albums of..’ in many publications and rightly so. It was perfect really for the sound it delivered and how The Killers presented themselves. There was no second guessing that sound and the album had 4 hits and at least 2 more unreleased winners. Songs such as ‘Andy You’re A Star’ and ‘On Top’ are on par with some of the released tracks. As for the final 4 tracks, they are entertaining and interesting at time with a few dips. ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ is a calming and reassuring track built more on vocals but is an excellent track to finish the album. Of course there are parts of the album I’m not mad about, the track ‘Midnight Show’, part two of the ‘Murder Trilogy’, doesn’t make the cut and comes across as just a filler after a while even though it has a purpose and ‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’ kind of bothers me too even though it is a good track which takes a dig at bands of the 00’s.

The 4 released tracks that people are most aware of are ‘Mr. Brightside’, ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ and ‘Somebody Told Me’. I remember the very first time I heard ‘Somebody Told Me’. It was right when I was taking a serious interest in music and when I wasn’t fully sure just what I liked to hear. Whatever music show TG4 had back in the day was on and I saw ‘Somebody Told Me’ by The Killers was up next so I said to myself I would wait and hear it. The song comes blasting in with guitar and synth and honestly I was hooked from the get go. I just thought it was so fast and on the edge and from then on I thought they were the shit. To further cement this belief I then heard ‘Mr. Brightside’ when my cousin played me the album. Though it was the first track released, I hadn’t heard it until then and again, totally blown away. That became such a massive hit that it’s actually still way down in the English charts TO THIS DAY!! SERIOUSLY!! And you know what, I love to hear it come on the radio and to sing along.

‘Jenny Was  A Friend Of Mine’ is the first track  off the the record as is also another part of the ‘Murder Trilogy’. Solid enough especially to start the album and in fairness to The Killers they kept the theme’s broad and also planned for the future. Would a song about murder be the first track to put on most indie rock albums? Doubtful. Other themes are love, coming of age and growing up, ex’s and encounters with girls. ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ is a track which focuses mostly on this coming of age feeling and having to deal with getting older, always wishful and trying to make the most of the moment. Brandon Flowers actually says its quite a personal yet sad song for him. ‘Somebody Told Me’ is a track which uses a nightclub or bar as a setting, detailing that “heaven ain’t close in a place like this” to highlight the perhaps lack of romance or class in the place. He’s either chasing a girl or meeting an ex, but the song pretty much repeats itself throughout.

The big hitter for me is ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’. The slow piano intro followed by what feels like anger and determination to be taken seriously. The bridge, “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” is now one of the most famous lines from the album and it rouse’s you so much too. My cousin has a version of this he likes to sing after a few jars that goes “I got stoned but I’m not a stoner“…sure! Throughout the album The Killers mix new wave and post punk brilliantly while keeping this indie and alternative feeling. Was it a success because it was unusual at the time of just because it is brilliant, that’s up to you to decide. For me, it’s an album that stands the test of time and I think it’s legacy, along with ‘Mr. Brightside’s’ longevity, proves that.

G.M

Photo Credit: last.fm

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver’s debut album. Does it need any introduction? Not really. Let me give you one anyway. ‘For Emma,..‘ was self-released in 2007 and it was in 2008 that I first heard the record. It was in college, and it became well known after being released through a label early that year. The story behind the recording of the album is also interesting in that Vernon had recently been part of the group DeYarmond Edision which had broken up. He became ill and left Raleigh where that group was based. He moved to his fathers cabin which was near enough to where he was actually from and began recording music. He was lost at this point of his life and following another break up he wanted to escape society and be left alone for a few months.

Though he says it’s funny to look back and see those months as “magical”, they must have been. ‘For Emma,..’ is a harrowing love story where you can hear the effects love, loss, the cabin and it’s isolation had on him. Some song’s are more upbeat obviously but there is certainly a lonely feeling to the record. We all know ‘Skinny Love’, one of the most respected tracks of the last 17 years, and along with ‘Flume’ they give the album that kind of international appeal. Vernon says that ‘Skinny Love’ is about his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Christy and how he was in the relationship for the wrongs reasons. He describes it as “Skinny love doesn’t have a chance because it’s not nourished”. It really is a beautiful and honest track and to this day remains as pure as it did upon release. ‘Lump Sum’ is a pacy track but I’m not quite sure just what it means. Perhaps it’s about giving things up and freeing yourself, but your guess is a good (or bad) as mine.

Songs like ‘The Wolves’ in its auto tune and layered glory show us Vernon’s talents and ability to blend all his inspirations together. A song I love is ‘Creature Fear’ because the life Vernon brings to it. Raising the volume and tempo of the record with a simple burst on the chorus really does affect the overall sound. ‘Team’ quickly moves in and continues this sound with the drum continuously beating and Vernon giving us some electric guitar. ‘For Emma’ is another great track with some life in it and the album is perfectly finished with ‘re:stacks’. The album as a whole is a brilliant piece of isolation turned into freedom. He created a unique sound and record that captured many emotions about love, loss and the isolation that created it.

For Emma,..’ is a classic of our time and I’m sure it’s class will not deteriorate. It’s one of the best albums ever in my opinion for it’s recording process, theme’s and unique sound. Since this release Bon Iver and Justin Vernon have gone on and gotten bigger, released two more outstanding records and continued to push the boundaries.

G.M

Photo Credit: Genius.com