The last album review for now, though I’m going to post a book review or two now, so there will be some genuine new content on my blog. That hasn’t happened for a while.
These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds (Infectious Music)
This is different to their last album; These New Puritans make that very clear. You can tell it from the album title, art and track names. Contrast Hidden’s ‘We Want War’ with ‘The Light In Your Name’ and you’ll see what I mean. The band have moved away from booming drums and darkness towards something softer. Not any more accessible or less complex, though.
For an album of this complexity, however, you’d expect more emotional depth than what Field Of Reeds offers. The album is bleak and the prevailing mood is restlessness. Woodwind, piano and strings move erratically in and out of the composition on top of ambient noise. Other than ‘V (Island Song)’ and ‘Organ Eternal’ the tracks don’t seem to go anywhere, just shuffle about.
The album is obtuse, so the question needs to be asked: is there the pay-off to reward a listener’s effort? If you appreciated the enigma of their last album then you’ll enjoy that Field Of Reeds also rewards repeated listens. You’ll have to work for your reward, though, as These New Puritans don’t easily give up their secrets and don’t care if you don’t like it.
Unfortunately I think that most people will just find empty fields. I’ll give it another listen, though; maybe I just don’t get it yet.
And yet another from here…
Hugh Laurie – Didn’t It Rain
First thought: oh wow it’s Hugh Laurie.
Second thought: three of the first four tracks are called ‘something blues’.
These are clearly the thoughts of someone who hasn’t listened to much blues or jazz, but many people who listen to this album aren’t going to be well versed in American blues; they just saw Hugh Laurie on the cover. And, if you’re looking for an introduction to some American musical styles, having him give you a hand surely can’t hurt.
It’s a surprise then when the vocals begin nearly three minutes into the opening track sung by Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno. There are a quite a few guest singers on the album and their different styles add a nice variety to the tracks. Just because this is Hugh Laurie’s project doesn’t mean it’s a chance for him to show off. He often takes the back seat to the guests and Copper Bottom Band. It’s more like a collaborative album with Hugh Laurie in than an album of Hugh Laurie.
Didn’t It Rain takes you on a journey through American music that visits a cross-section of different styles. Calling it beginner-friendly might be reductive, but it serves as a good introduction to American jazz and blues. Those interested would do well to start here.
Album review number 4. You can also see it here.
Magic Arm – Images Rolling (Switchflicker/Peacefrog)
What’s the most productive thing you’ve ever done while moving house? My guess would be actually managing to move house. That would be enough for most people. Magic Arm’s sole member, multi-instrumentalist Marc Rigelsford, used the time to make an album, setting up a studio in his new house as its occupants moved out. Not that you’d tell from listening to it; Images Rolling is full of layered nuances. You’d expect the band to be at least five or six members strong.
The music itself has a sense of empty space created by low-key piano, violin, synth and vocals. You can imagine empty rooms waiting to be filled. Not always waiting with optimism, though. ‘I want a great life’ is the simple chorus for ‘Great Life’, but Marc Rigelsford doesn’t sound too hopeful about that. His flat vocals accentuate that, and continue in a similar way for the rest of the tracks.
This isn’t a gloomy album, however. In ‘Tonight I Walk’ the melancholy lyrics ‘tonight I walk alone/each and every step leaves me wanting more’ are contrasted by more optimistic music, while the opening track ‘Put Your Collar Up’ constantly surprises you with changes.
Overall the album is a subtle and compelling listen, something well worth spending some time with.
This review was first published here on outlineonline.co.uk.
Screaming Maldini – Screaming Maldini (HipHipHip)
Screaming Maldini’s debut LP takes quirkiness to dangerous levels. ‘Life in Glorious Stereo’ approaches Disney soundtrack territory with lyrics like ‘These city walls are echoing with the song of the Earth / Life in glorious stereo is wonderful’, while on ‘Secret Sounds’ the band try their best kookaburra impressions.
Overall the album has the feel of a festival. It’s relentlessly upbeat and almost every song has a ‘whoa-oh’ or three to sing along to. Opening track ‘The Awakening’ certainly lives up to its name, setting a pace for the album that never slows down for long. With its rapid-fire lyrical delivery and wall of sound guitars and synth it is a hectic track. Like a festival there are all sorts of different noises going on in this wall of sound; the band often take a ‘play all the instruments loudly at the same time’ approach.
All this upbeat quirkiness can get a bit grating. Or maybe I’m the only one who finds the song title ‘I Know That You Know That I Would Wipe Away The Snowflake From Your Eyes’ annoying? (For one thing, it would have to be a pretty big snowflake to be in both of your eyes). Actually, that probably is just me. If you’re in the neighbourhood for feel-good summer silliness with trumpets, try this album.