It seems to me like TV On The Radio are one of those bands that just get better and better with each album. I bought their first full album “Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes” after a single page article in Bang Magazine. The combination of woozy guitars, programmed beats and harmonising vocals were totally compelling. Thier followup album, Return To Cookie Mountain was even better and tracks like “Province” and “Wolf Like Me” are two of my favourites. Now after listening to their latest, Dear Science, it looks like they’ve done it again. I know it will seem strange for me to dub a band that are seemingly really talented musicians, as “maturing”, but Dear Science, feels like a truely progressive record.

It’s definately slicker and has a radio friendly sheen, whereas TVOTR’s previous albums sometimes sounded a bit ragged round the edges (which I liked). Songs like the singles “Golden Age” and”Dancing Choose” are tight, dancey numbers that definately get your butt moving. Opener “Halfway Home” comes across like a cross between Gary Numan and the Beach Boys, until it’s searing guitar-led climax. Other tracks like like “DLZ” and “Red Dress” have the dense soundscapes that you’d expect from a TVOTR song. There’s also the climatic “Lover’s Day” which trasmutes from a droning, jerky track to a fiddle-led folk stomper.

But the standout track is the haunting and melancholy “Family Tree”. It sounds so unlike the rest of the album, but not in a grating way. The processed beats and elecronics are absent, but replaced with a simple combination of vocals, strings and piano. As soon as I heard it, it stuck in my head and I knew it would be the best track on the album; it’s that special. It’s genuinely impressive to me how much the band has evolved from Return to Cookie Mountain; this is Tv On The Radio’s best album yet and a must purchase.

Tv On The Radio – Golden Age:

Well this has got to be a first; I’ve been contacted by the management of a band asking if I fancied reviewing their music. To explain what normally happens, I buy a bunch of CDs and when I find time at home or work I give them a good listen and write up what I think of them: it’s that simple (I’ve got the new TV On The Radio, Kings Of Leon, Calexico and Jesu albums to write up). So hats of to Ryan, the manager of the Boxing Lesson, from Austin in Texas for sending me a copy of their album to listen to. I have to be honest, there is some trepidation here. I know nothing about the band, wheras most of the music I write about, I have some knowledge of the group. Here’s a step into the unknown.

However, there is a big clue on the album cover: The Boxing Lesson excel at the brand of big sounding, space rock that their fellow Texans, Secret Machines and I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness specialise in. The best tracks on Wild Streaks & Windy Days are the grand sweeping songs, like the opener “Dark Side Of The Moog”, a brooding darkly psychedelic track that sets the tone for the album. The drifting guitar sound of “Lower” is soothing and helps slow the pace down. “Muerta” sounds like it’s lifting something from a 60’s sci-fi show title, but it still sounds great. The guitar sounds here are great, full of echo and space. Vocalist Paul Waclawsky has a great range on his voice, quiet one minute and soaring the next.

However, there are some mis-steps and it’s when the album veers into different musical territory: “Freedom” has a punchy glam-rock riff and a swirling synth line, but it doesn’t really fit with the mood of the rest of the album. Same goes for “Hanging With The Wrong Crowd” which is a more punkish, fuck-you song. It’s good that there’s some variety in the album, but at the same time, the more psychedelic, space rock songs they have are the strongest on the album, so maybe it would have been better to stick to what works well.

If you want more details on the band, you can find their MySpace Page here and their YouTube videos here.

The Boxing Lesson – Dance With Meow:

PortisheadAny album that’s been more than ten years in the making is always going to have a huge level of expectation heaped on it. Portishead’s third album, imaginatively entitled Third, comes 11 years after the release of the group’s eponymous second effort. Always ahead of the game, Portishead seemingly retreated into the margins, as their unique sound, a blend of beats and cinematic samples, became seemingly ubiquitous. Now after a long period of silence, Third does sound like a Portishead album despite sounding totally different from their previous two albums. It still maintains a dark and foreboding atmosphere, but there’s some interesting diversions into newer territories.

The main difference is that the samples and origins of the songs are more hidden than before. On the first Portishead album you could hear the sample base for a track really clearly, which wasn’t a bad thing. But on Third, the songs sound like the product of an actual band. The opening track “Silence” is a good example of this, with it’s clattering drums and distorted guitar line. “Machine Gun” is maybe the biggest departure from Portishead’s trademark sound, all harsh beats and juddering synth stabs. “Small” oscillates between a kind of 60’s proggy rock and psychedelia but the effect is jarring.

A dark and somewhat muted atmosphere is prevelant throughout the album; “Hunter” and “Nylon Smile” have a woozy melody and muted drums. “Plastic” is pretty hard going, with Beth Gibbons vocals especially icy. “We Carry On” is especially mechanical and harsh sounding, until it fizzes into life with a echoing guitar riff. Sometimes, it’s a little hard to see through the murk, but there are some comparatively lighter moments. The end of “The Rips” has a warm burbling synth line towards the end which rescues the song from bleakness. The ukelele and barbershop vibe of “We Carry On” is a little silly though.  Third isn’t a bad album, but it’s not engaging me right now. Previous Portishead albums were all growers too, but parts of Third feel unessicarily heavy and dirge like.

Portishead – Machine Gun:

Been a while since I did one of these, so here we go with some more videos from albums I’ve talked about recently (and one, not so recently):

Justice – DVNO (I love this one, especially the tip on the production credit bit at the end of the A-team, you know when the guy’s typing ont he typewriter..)

Enter Shikari – Mothership:

The Presets – Talk Like That:

British Sea Power – No Lucifer:

“With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly” is the approximate translation of Sigur Ros’ fifth full length album and is maybe the most dramatic departure from their trademark sound so far. Previous albums have had songs that build up slowly to an emotional and musical crescendo; the songs had a panoramic sound that was unlike anything I’ve heard before. With this album, Sigur Ros have stripped things down quite considerably; gone are the sonorous guitars played with violin bows and the orchestral bombastics. In it’s place are quieter songs that still manage to affect me like the older songs.

The opener “Gobbildigok” is an acoustic guitar led track that has a wonderful flamenco, stomping beat: it’s a million miles away from Sigur Ros’ sometimes glacial slowness. Most of the songs have a slower pace and a delicate musical feel. “Íllgresi” does however remind me of “Heaven” by Bryan Adams, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but it is a gentle and warm song nontheless.  “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur” is another feelgood track and one that showcases the much more prevelant use of brass instruments rather than strings.

The best track is unsurprisingly one of the longest; seven minutes into “Ára Bátur”, a spellbinding choir joins into the melancholy piano track; less than a minute later an orchestra joins in. First time I heard this I was immediately reduced to tears. It’s so raw and affecting, but it doesn’t need any kind of huge sound to pull it off. And it’s this that underlines how good a band Sigur Ros are; they’ve been characterised as one-trick ponies, albeit with one really good trick. But the songs on this album show they can craft beautiful songs with epic scope but still remain grounded and intimate.

Sigur Ros – Gobbildigok (contains lots of nudity):

Sigur Ros – inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur:

It’s kinda hard to believe that I’m writing about a new Nine Inch Nails album less than six months after their last one was released. Ghosts I-IV was an experimental release, that was created with remixing and sampling in mind, sold online for a variable price. The Slip is almost the opposite: a lean, 10 track album that cuts to the chase and sweeps you up and doesn’t let go. This is Nine Inch Nails at their most dynamic; the sometimes ponderous industrial elements are scaled back in exchange for a faster, distorted sound. Guitars and bass fizz with menace and Josh Freece’s drumming is so good you’d swear a drum machine is doing most of it (the accompanying live DVD disproves that theory).

The opening two track let you know what you’re in for: the stampeding “Letting You” combines the distorted sounds with some pounding drums. “1,000,000” “Discipline” is an example of itself, a restrained, melancholy middle section stops the track from sounding too much like the previous two. “Echoplex” is the first drum machine track on the album and agian, it breaks the flow and prevents the song from sounding the same as the previous trio.

However, there’s a bit of a stumble towards the end. “Lights In The Sky” is a haunting piano track that’s almost an instrumental, due to the barely audible vocals. “Corona Radiata” is a purely instrumental track that flows on from “Lights In the Sky” and carries on it’s dreamy ambience to a static charged end. “The Four Of Use Are Dying” is a fairly limp ending, all surging electronics but no real bite until the last minute, but by then it’s not enough. “Demon Seed” is good but could have been placed in the middle for a better effect. It seems almost churlish to complain about the last few tracks considering the first five songs are some of the best that Nine Inch Nails have come up with in the last ten years. The Slip is a better than average album, but one that maybe benefits from downloading certain tracks from i-tunes, rathat than as a whole.

Nine Inch Nails – Letting You (live rehearsal):

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