Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

What we’ve come to expect from the Arctic Monkeys is to expect the unexpected. Five years ago saw the release of AM, which showcased a more suave, more mature side to the Sheffield quartet, dominated by thumping basslines and effortless funk; a bit of a diversion from the punkier, festival-ready hits of days gone by. Although, with everything that’s happened between then and now, five years ago may seem more like five-0 years ago, and in that time, Alex Turner was at the piano, cooped up in LA, writing Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino. And remember, kids, expect the unexpected.

The sixth album is both Turner’s most direct and also most metaphorical track list to date. Tranquillity Base is the name of the spot in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969. And this isn’t where the sci-fi theming terminates. Every song is mutedly futuristic, dystopian almost. None of the tracks meet the electricity of, say, Old Yellow Bricks and the like, which may bore some long-time fans, and many of the choruses are practically non-existent, let alone shoutable at festivals. It almost feels like a cold, crashing reality. Gone are the days of perhaps a more care-free, instrumentally-audacious Arctic Monkeys; we are now confronted with an offering that is quietly political, more aware and outwardly gloomy. Some of their older material is reflected in this album – such as the reverbing bass and lyrics that sometimes have seemingly been drunkenly strung together – but the way the band have translated these elements for their new music just adds to the underlying tragedy Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino puts forward. Turner and Co are now just waffling, intoxicated people stuck in a blue new setting.

The album is immensely immersive; not one to necessarily just have in the background. Star Treatment starts the album with a Bowie-like presence, slow and swaying, with the opening lyrics “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes” putting the pessimistic and straight-to-the-point feel of the album in motion. The Bowie-ness is also cyclical, with album closer The Ultracheese sounding like it could be an Alex Turner cover of a never-before-heard Bowie song. Arctic Monkeys are more themselves on Four Out Of Five, with a riff that could have been plucked from AM, and while all the newness of Tranquillity Base is exciting and pretty good, Four Out Of Five is an asset to the album, probably because it does feel like the most close-to-home and comfortable.

The uneasiness of the rest of the album is potentially what makes it so oddly fascinating. Batphone’s slightly-off riffs and the creepy organ-fx-snyths that underscore the titular track…it kind of make it feel like a movie score, and perhaps that’s why it sets the imagination ablaze. If you close your eyes listening this album, you could genuinely be at this new hotel, and I imagine it to be dark and mysterious, and everyone there is wearing a fedora. The subtlety of each track – especially considering the band’s past songs – just makes it all feel a bit odd, but not unattractive.

Golden Trunks shimmers with reverberation but is darkened by political fear. American Sports is one of the albums’ most instrumentally-strong pieces, perhaps on par with Science Fiction, which includes a simply gorgeous blend of textures. And if you’ve been thinking “no this album isn’t for me at all”, wait for the abrasive crescendo and cheeky (yet somewhat depressing) lyrics of She Looks Like Fun, you might just change your mind.

While this new direction is indeed wildly different, even for the kings of unpredictability, it is no less entertaining than their past work, especially after giving it a really good couple of listens. However, it does beat its predecessors in its intrinsic themes, lyrics and inventive ideas. Whether its “Artic Monkeys” enough is up to you.

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino: 8/10

Ellie Chivers

The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect

image

In one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year, Alex Turner and Miles Kane join forces for their second studio album Everything You’ve Come To Expect. The album is eight years beyond their debut in which time both men have reached new heights. It  is important to separate the fact from fiction here. Those eight years have seen Turner particularly gain a fanatic following not far removed from that of Bieber or Harry Styles. Unlike those two there’s more tangible talent on show, but the hype shouldn’t give them the special treatment that the NME might afford them. Bringing in the talented Owen Pallet for string arrangements is already a positive step that will undoubtedly go unnoticed whilst James Ford adds a sense of stability in production so let’s see what the duo have brought us in 2016.

Bad Habbits’ was that eagerly awaited track. The song certainly has a urgency about it, dictated by the tentative and rapid bass line and this along with the jangling acoustic riffs feed into urgent anti-harmonies of the string sections. It’s almost some pseudo- Indie Western soundtrack. Musically, there isn’t much variation from 2008 in this instance apart from the reshuffling of roles between cinematic instrumentals of relentless bass-line, string sections and well placed guitar parts. Having said that, it is delivered in a more imaginative way here. What is less imaginative is the lyrical content or lack of it. There is little flow to them and the only consistency is their repetitive nature which is a shock for both artists. There are also sections of the track with huge clutter and then others with half or even quarter lines which is peculiar. This track is a little bemusing given the calibre of those involved and Pallett’s involvement provides the only consistency and creativity to the track. ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’ is relatively simple with 60s organs and sweeping strings. They feature several varying vocal styles from light falsettos, distorted and deeper tones. There is nothing much more to the track apart from typically verging on predictable masculine lyrics, but at least it functions properly in ways ‘Bad Habits’ didn’t. All in all this is solid whilst being underwhelming  with fleeting moments of enjoyment. Aviation’ is the third single and it is indeed an improvement on the first two singles as it pursues its 1960’s imagery and sound with resonant, rotating riffs and smooth string sections. This song hasn’t moved in a direction of any significance for the duo, but the song builds to tangible progressions and is well delivered and arranged. It is the first track from the album that actually justifies the grand arrangements that have been employed.

‘Miracle Aligner’ maintains the 60’s club ballad formula the duo have employed so often in the album so far. The prominent bass lines, sweeping strings and loose are a well worn formula in general, not least on this album. Having said that, the music works in harmony with Alex Turner’s vocals and they really do the sound justice. The question is though, does it need justifying anymore? Tracks like ‘Pattern’ employ the same methodology with a smoother edge via fluidity from the added piano chords and another piece of sublime strings. Miles Kane demonstrates a degree of vocal versatility here too. ‘Used to be my Girl’ is similar in this way only with a more prominent riff ringing through the track instead of the dramatic string sections. ‘Dracula Teeth’ employs both variations of the style into one song and again it works well along with their vocal harmonies. The negative with this is that these songs occupy the vast majority of the album in various iterations though it does flow decently. More often than not however, they give off an air of confidence and entitlement with their music that is unjustified by the end result. Not often are some of the tracks simply poor in standard, but the rest are wholly predictable and suggests that they have nothing to show for the last eight years which is not the case. In many ways this album is indeed everything you’ve come to expect which might be their point.

The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect = 6/10

Owen Riddle

 

Single Review – The Last Shadow Puppets – Aviation

‘Aviation’ is the third single to emerge from The Last Shadow Puppets’ upcoming second studio album Bad Habits . The first two have either been underwhelming or simply poor and so there’s perhaps an unusual environment of pressure surrounding this third single. It is indeed an improvement on the first two singles as it pursues its 1960’s imagery and sound with resonant, rotating riffs and smooth string sections. This song hasn’t moved in a direction of any significance for the duo, but the song builds to tangible progressions and is well delivered and arranged. Still… Don’t expect this album to blow you away from what we’ve heard so far.

Owen Riddle

Single Review – The Last Shadow Puppets- Everything You’ve Come To Expect

After the perplexing first single from their upcoming sophomore album of the same name, ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’ is the new single and title track. This track is relatively simple with 60s organs and sweeping strings. They feature several varying vocal styles from light falsettos, distorted and deeper tones. There is nothing much more to the track apart from typically verging on predictable masculine lyrics, but at least it functions properly in ways ‘Bad Habits’ didn’t. All in all this is solid whilst being underwhelming and confirms only tonal shifts from their debut album.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

This Weeks Music Video with David Bowie, Savages, The Last Shadow Puppets and Blossoms

 

 

 

 

 

Single Review – The Last Shadow Puppets – Bad Habbits

 

‘Bad Habbits’ is the eagerly awaited new track of Alex Turner’s and Miles Kane’s eagerly awaited sophomore album, following on from their 2008 debut The Age of the Understatement. For this track they of course worked with producer James Ford, but they also hired the very talented Owen Pallett for the string arrangements. The song certainly has a urgency about it, dictated by the tentative and rapid bass line and this along with the jangling acoustic riffs feed into urgent anti-harmonies of the string sections. It’s almost some pseudo- Indie Western soundtrack. Musically, there isn’t much variation from 2008 in this instance apart from the reshuffling of roles between cinematic instrumentals of relentless bass-line, string sections and well placed guitar parts. Having said that, it is delivered in a more imaginative way here. what is less imaginative is the lyrical content or lack of it. There is little flow to them and the only consistency is their repetitive nature which is shock for both artists. There are also sections of the track with huge clutter and then others with half or even quarter lines which is peculiar. This track is a little bemusing given the calibre of those involved and Pallett’s involvement provides the only consistency and creativity to the track. Much better is surely to come lyrically and vocally rather than this grand, expensive posturing.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Single Review – Mini Mansions feat. Alex Turner – Vertigo

The L.A “Indie Pop” trio Mini Mansions including QOTSA bassist Michael Shuman are to release their upcoming second studio LP in The Great Pretender on March 23rd. Their single ‘Vertigo’ was released last week and is a well crafted and smooth track built around distant piano chords and a clean, indelible bass lines and beat. The string samples across the track add that sense of balance against the heavier and subtly fuzzy sounds that come about in the chorus. From this we get to Alex Turner’s contribution which is opposite to the light and slightly washed out vocals of the group. It adds a nice little traverse to the track but it’s difficult to get around how the vocals are a little out of step with the music in terms of tone and timing and whether done deliberately or not, it felt out of place and almost an afterthought. This is disappointing as the music and Turner’s vocals are as good as you’d expect but it’s almost like it’s been forced in without compromise. A little bit of catering for it wouldn’t have gone a miss, but on the whole it’s a well produced and intricate track.

MUSIC NEWS – Grammys, Kanye West embarrasing himself, Noel Gallagher ranting and Paul McCartney collaborating

Album of the Year

The 2015 Grammy’s saw Sam Smith clean up as expected with four awards including Record and Song of the year, Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album for an artist with undoubted vocal talent and ability with the final two categories being very much deserved. Album of the year for which Sam Smith and Beyoncé were nominated, was won by Beck for his excellent Morning Phase (Not only did we give the album full marks but we put the album 2nd on a list of the year’s best albums) who also picked up Best Rock Album. The album also received Best Engineered, Non Classical Album and is a credit to Beck who played a monumental amount of the instruments on the album. Pharrell Williams picked up three Grammys for Best Video, Urban album and Pop performance whilst Aphex Twin won Best Electronic/Dance album which no one can complain about along with Jack White’s award for Best Rock Performance for Lazaretto. Best Altervative album went to St. Vincent’s self-titled masterpiece (we gave it full marks and put it top of out best albums of 2014 list) which was probably the most deserving of the lot.

Another cringe worthy moment occurred for Kanye West as the already bemused Beck picked up the Album of the Year award. West leapt on to the stage, went to say something and then sat back down for what he later explained was annoyance of Beyoncé not receiving the award and attacking Beck for diminishing artistry. Apparently writing, recording and composing all you own music and playing a vast amount of the instruments on your own including conducting orchestral pieces diminishes artistry as opposed to not writing, composing, recording or playing any instrument independently like Beyoncé for the wonderful vocalist that she is. Indeed her self titled album has undoubtedly her best work yet and Beck himself thought she was going to win, but perhaps for once they went for substance over status. Something clearly hard to swallow for Kanye who can only dream of the capability Beck used to bring Morning Phase into fruition again for as talented as Kanye himself is. But if you read Kanye West quotes then he gives you the exact reason why Beck won.

Meanwhile Noel Gallagher has been speaking out (like he has been for the last twenty one years) about his view of the music industry. Alex Turner has been back in his sights and anything making those in the NME office squirm is always welcome. He said he’d rather drink petrol than listen to him talk in what was a wider rant about record labels removing artists independence which was a point reiterated by his negative comments about Ed Sheeran. His isolated points are pretty much a reflection of what we were all thinking anyway.

Paul McCartney has been busy in the studio with another project. This time it’s with Lady Gaga and follows up from what seems to be a sizeable influence on Kayne West’s new material and collaborations with video game Destiny.  He’s not known for standing still but he’s making himself known to yet another generation.

The Orwells – Disgraceland Review

Oh haven’t you heard? The Orwells are the real deal. The saviours of rock n roll. Mario Cuomo is the new Robert Plant too. His hair is the same so it must be true. The Illinois group have been getting a lot of attention. Whether it’s been from Mario humping a speaker on Jools Holland or from his enlightening war of words with Alex Turner. The band the Monkeys were taking on tour with them have labelled the Arctic Monkey’s sets sounding the same and them being a commercial band. Though Turner’s response was frustratingly on the same level as The Orwells frontman, it’s probably a good thing that the Arctic Monkeys have a degree of commercial success and not The Orwells then. Perhaps they’d disown themselves? It’s a credit to any musician that they can have a decent sound and couple that with commercial success. Perhaps The Orwells are portraying their envy a little too well. Amongst all this and other well documented controversies; then you’d be forgiven for forgetting that they have an album out.

Disgraceland has been slowly drip feeding it’s tracks for nearly a year now and one of the early ones is ‘Who Needs You’. It’s a bouncy, energetic track with an unrelenting, well oiled and sprung rhythm and short and sharp percussion with the lead riff pouring over it and a screaming and throaty vocal tearing through it all. This review could have been given in 2010, 2004 or 2001 and what does it say that while The Strokes have long buried that sound, while being very proud of it’s legacy; that new and young bands are simply copying and pasting it upon themselves? The song is delivered with great precision and with all the controlled chaos of a Garage Rock Revival band, but with this track they are at the very back of a huge, long line of successors over the last thirteen years and god knows that we don’t need another, cheaper version when the premium brand has already been consumed. ‘Dirty Sheets’ is pretty much the same deal. Those screeching lead guitars shooting across the rhythm section along with the tumbling percussion. It then leads to the oh so typical back and forth rhythm which The Black Keys have decided to throw into the back heap of dross. Having a girl strip topless in the video is perhaps a realisation that no one is going to watch their video for the music, but it doesn’t escape from the fact that this track is decidedly threadbare and no amount of clothes shedding is going to change that. An act of compensatory factor? Probably…

‘The Righteous One’ is delivered well and the vocals combine well with the instrumentals which build up and bring down their sound to accommodate the verses and the vocals within them. All this song makes me want to do, however is listen to Jack White or one of his bands… funny that isn’t it? The broken up rhythm structure just sounds painfully familiar and outdated which is fine if you are a fan of the sound. I am too. But why listen to this faithful tribute when you could listen to the real thing from Jack White himself? He delivers and engages with the sound a hell of a lot better than The Orwells. Umm ‘Let it Burn’ is mind-numbing and humdrum recapitulation of things I’ve already said. I’m under no illusions that it wouldn’t be a fanatical experience live, but even then you’d have to be drunk out of your mind to appreciate it. Other tracks such as ‘Norman’ simply apply a rough edged, American vocal to a bland, monotonous guitar drone that sounds like it’s been taken from an unsuccessful Britpop group from the late 1990’s when everyone had packed up and left British music in the hands of Travis and Coldplay… we head to ‘North Ave.’ where we see how not to emulate Pete Doherty with a Nick Valensi riff… The album tracks have none of the energy and conviction of the singles and so they become even more of a painfully bland experience. Their energy and faithful tribute to much better and profound artists is perhaps one of the only positives I can scavenge from this album. The sweet irony of this is that behind all the forced bravado and propaganda against more ‘commercial’ bands; they wouldn’t have a band without them. These bands are The Orwells and no amount of two finger gestures at them is going to alter the fact that they are ripping them off. If you want to buy into their transparent ‘truths’ then fine, but this band were well past their sell by date before they even left the shelves.

The Orwells – Disgraceland = 4/10

Image from www.nme.com / belowthefoldblog.com

 

Arctic Monkeys – AM Review

20130624-114729.jpg

The time has almost come. My twitter feed a collage of love, hate, longing and frustration and even descriptions of what sexual acts this album is making people do. But for the good of humankind, I won’t scar you with such images. But I think even through the One Direction like delusion from some that has accompanied the build up to AM; there is a great sense of something really special. More so than their past efforts. I often cry for ‘INNOVATION’ on a regular basis and I can count on one hand how many have been truly innovative this year but the sad thing is that many of them don’t have the platform that Arctic Monkeys have. This is why I’ve been frustrated at their efforts to please Josh Homme by dipping in and out of his record collection when they could have really pushed the boundaries with true innovation to show that guitar music isn’t just going on in cycles. And for anyone who believes the NME then guitar music is dead and oh so nearly buried. Nevertheless they changed direction instead of fizzling out with the sound of their first two efforts and the last two efforts have allowed for great advances in the bands musicality, song structure, vocals and of course with the lyrics which are rarely a sideshow to the music and are full of quirks and rhymes that can still catch you off guard. With that in mind, AM is almost the culmination of the ‘Homme Era Monkeys’ upon which they’ve pushed it to it’s limits and beyond and given how they’ve developed since 2009, then this should be Arctic Monkeys having everyone grabbed by the collar and having their undivided attention once again. But will they believe the hype?

‘Do I Wanna Know?’ is what really started the hype full force. That stomp that lead the song into oh so simple yet maximum effect riff was in principle nothing new and has been the in thing from 2009-2012 with all the various artists plugging it. However they rewired it almost and just broke all those raging riffs from the last few years into something slower, louder and just more clear. They’ve rehashed into something so much more tuneful and at ease with itself than anyone else could’ve imagined. The Bass also eases itself into the song ever so slightly to take part into the very gradual build up of sound for the chorus as it’s endgame. Alex’s vocals too, mimic the instrumentals. Delivering each lyric with a pause to fit the words to what the instrumentals are doing for a perfectly symmetrical structure. The backing vocal is on an equal footing too for the bridge which keeps everything immediate and in your face as you’re hit by the greater depth of the chorus while it still refrains from getting carried away and it flows between verse, bridge and chorus seamlessly as a result. What makes this song is what they don’t do. For it speaks so much more than cramming it full of riffs, raging percussion etc. ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ strikes you straight away. No gimmicks (for as much as I like them). The bass line is deep and fluctuates so smoothly and creates an indelible groove and allows for everything else to just trickle off it like the little licks and riffs giving the song a little bit of texture as it quietly fills the space. The vocals at first follow the pattern of the music until they are woven around it all at the end of each verse. The backing vocals too, are placed in more than one place and bounce off each other well while Matt fills up the space so thinly with the tingling of the cymbals towards the end. The lyrics too are a little more direct and tastefully seductive and this is probably why it was their best charting single since 2007 as it had that wider appeal.

‘R U Mine’ has Alex Turner at his witty and quick shifting best both lyrically and vocally and that’s what sets it apart from the desert rock of others like the Black Key’s to the other extreme of QOTSA. That and it’s sheer cockiness and bold thinking in how it’s performed. But compared to the two more recent singles, it isn’t as creative which makes quite a lot of sense when you consider the track was released over a year before ‘Do I Wanna Know?’. ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ is the sort of swooning ballad that wouldn’t be out of place playing over the credits of a 1970’s Bond film with Roger Moore on a yacht or something. It’s the ‘Oh Darling’ type piano that makes it so; with the acoustic elements and the steady drum beat. The typical contributions from the lead guitar are no different and it seems like this song is a bit of pure pop ballad indulgence from them which does give a much needed shift in tone even if it is very retro. The lyrics are no doubt the focus here. ‘Arabella’ starts off with a very prominent bass line again from Nick with the stepped, rapidly plucked riffs trickling from it which gives Turners vocal a simple foundation. It soon rips out of it’s cool, calm shell which for some will be for some much needed raging guitar riffs and then pauses while Alex’s vocals switch from it’s standard sound to a more isolated style and back again and at times are echoed out. There’s also moments for some Kevin Parker like guitar solo’s at the end too and the song picks up it’s pace well and they show great control to flick on and off the raging instrumentals. Soulful and straight up rocking clashes with ‘Want It All’ while ‘Mad Sounds’ carries on the contemplative and steady ballads. ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ takes the album to it’s last dark corner with simple progression from the vocals throughout.

AM falls down on very few occasions and when it does, it’s only to re-envisage some great Desert Rock, Swooning Ballads etc. The rest of it has been new takes on worn out sounds, showing that you can be innovative in what you don’t bring to a song and with at times fluctuating styles within songs. I also think that Josh Homme’s presence has for once not been an overbearing one but something that has furthered their vision and aim here. Even if you tried your hardest to knock it, the album is at least an 8/10 but when you consider it against most other mainstream rock bands then you’d be knocking them for what is mostly those bands better types of songs and if that’s all you can aim an attack at then the album is even better than those and it’s almost a relief that this sort of music will get radio time as well; to show everyone what still can be done with guitar music in 2013. I know it can be easy, but don’t let all the crazed fangirls and boys put you off it because it’s an album that maintains a very high standard throughout and will give me a headache when I decide what the greatest albums of 2013 are. I’m really putting myself out on a limb with the early score I am giving it too; which shows the faith I have in it.

Arctic Monkeys – AM = 9/10

Images from www.itsallindie.com / www.taringa.net

https://twitter.com/dontlookdownV