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

Top 10 Albums of 2013

Now that I have listed my top ten tracks and now that it is 2014, I’ve decided to roll off my top ten albums from last year. Again, if your favourite artists art present they either didn’t make the cut or weren’t reviewed by me last year; for this is a list compiled from albums that have appeared on the blog in 2013. However, the listing is this time based on the rating I gave each album and not on my current opinion. Anyway…

 

10. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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The band had certainly tried a few different methods with the pitch shifting which was also used on the drums and the guitar was recorded straight onto the recording programme while various different recording techniques were used to ‘soften’ the album and make it listenable. They have certainly done that and while being very careful with the production. It also has a slight edge to it as well and therefore results in their best album yet. They have grown older and their music has grown with it to create a very unique at times and mature sound.

 

9. Manic Street Preachers – Rewind The Film

Rewind The Film is not too generic and its by no means so experimental and conceptualized that it isn’t relatable or translatable. The lyrics are and music share equal footing and in general it just shows that the Manics are still capable of being truly creative. probably their most complete album since Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours in terms of the lyrical challenges posed and the moods and emotions created via their light and airy production.

 

8. Factory Floor – Factory Floor

It’s not too far away from what The Knife did earlier on in 2013, but perhaps it has a more subtle edge to it. For now, it’s main strengths will be it’s ability to fill dance floors as well as sound dark, scathing and haunting. All in all it’s a great effort and was probably worth the long wait we had to endure for a full studio album.

 

7. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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Even though tracks like ‘Get Lucky’ have been played to death in 2013; it’s a proper song in how it’s been crafted by musicians, written by musicians, produced by musicians and played by musicians and talented ones at that, with bags of experience. The fact this sort of music is topping the charts whether it’s your thing or not should be celebrated. Thomas Bangalter pointed towards the likes of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd and Sgt Pepper from The Beatles as “the ones that take you on a journey for miles and miles.” They all served as some of the several models for creating an album that provides that journey which they have managed to achieve in the sense that you can become engrossed and lost within it. Perhaps it is their best work in how they are more have proved successful with this different approach.

 

6. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual

All in all this album is just beyond me. Even if you don’t quite get some of the songs at first you should listen again and try to deconstruct the wall of different and varying sounds. Some of which fill the song but others leave the songs with lots of space to generate a real atmosphere while at times terrifying me. With this they have challenged the norm’s of modern music to the points where a lot of people won’t appreciate it because they don’t understand it. I think had I reviewed this a month ago, then it would have a much higher rating.

 

5. Connan Mockasin – Caramel

 Though the sound and tone of Caramel isn’t moved and shifted around so much; it would be wrong for that to happen as it would break down the larger flow and feel of the album. It is nearly impossible and it almost feels wrong to plant a mark on it. A surreal and coolly insane and outrageous event from someone being himself, taking risks and being bold.

 

4. Arctic Monkeys – AM

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. Josh Homme’s presence has for once not been an overbearing one but something that has furthered their vision and aim. It showed 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. I perhaps think that there are some better albums with a lower ranking in this list, but nevertheless it deserves it’s place in the top ten.

 

3. Savages – Silence Yourself

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The musical discipline and obvious talent of all the members is clear to see and they don’t seem to have any hidden agenda or motivation either. They lay everything out in their music alone. Not even in their image. This for me is refreshing and they have left themselves with the difficult task of the second album. But that dreaded phase I doubt will effect them at all. They seem so cool and at ease with their music; behind the urgency and rapid nature of it all and Silence Yourself is the result. Just be sure to take in the depth and meaning of the album too, so don’t judge it on first impressions.

 

2. Pinknoizu – The Drop

All in all this album is highly varied and you should never get bored listening to it. That’s what makes a great album like Sgt Pepper for example. Not only that but the composition and production is also reflective of that variedness that exists across the album. A varied tone that is driven by the mutations and combinations of sounds the Danish group have been able to put together in order to forge new and interesting soundscapes. On top of that; it gets easily manipulated and heightened by the production and recording prowess the group attained. It’s a real treat.

 

1. Jagwar Ma – Howlin

They have justified all the fuss about them for sure to create a very ‘trippy’ album but an album that is almost perfect on a technical level. Jono Ma’s understanding and meticulous attention to detail on getting the right amount of each element in their songs is a great skill to have. The album does go beyond the combination of their past influences to create an album that sounds familiar yet also new and exciting. All this and it’s only their debut album of which many others have very safe and rather dull debuts with perhaps too much focus on the singles. This is not the case with Howlin. Beyond that they have the basic aspects of variation and at times rhythmic affairs intercepted by more sparse musical artistry.

 

 

Tracks of 2013 – Top 10

It is now time to wrap up the year of music 2013 has given us and what better way to start than with my top 10 tracks of the year. Out of the top 10 there have been tracks that have struck me for their imagination, innovation, risk-taking, melodic mastery and so on. They come from worldwide heavyweights to the more obscure crafters of music and they’ve all been picked from those I have looked at, so please don’t despair if there are any missing artists as they might just have passed me by this year.

10. Paul McCartney – Appreciate

 

Yes. He is 71. Yes. It is from his album New. No. It isn’t what you are thinking. If you look upon McCartney’s 2013 album; full of nostalgic forays into the past decades of his career, then you’ll see that the man of innovation and risk taking is still there. Appreciate is a hidden gem within the New album. It’s neo-psychedlica curled around a hip hop beat and it has more freshness about it than many of the young artists releasing music this year. That is either a sign of McCartney’s prowess or a sign of the lack of it amongst the new musicians of today. http://youtu.be/3Aq-iiDXo7I

9. Gaz Coombes – Buffalo

Despite plying his Britpop trade around 20 years ago, Gaz is probably making the most profound and elaborate music of his career. Buffalo is to be a single off his upcoming album which is he is currently working on. If this track is anything to go by then he looks set to expand upon the firm foundations of his debut album from 2012. A dramatic and atmospheric glow as the song progresses through it’s stages of varied tone. http://youtu.be/xi8AH-peorY

8. Arctic Monkeys – Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?

They perhaps needed to do something bold and different after many saw their fourth album as their comparative worst effort. What I like about this track is that it’s not obviously crammed with reverbing guitars or with Alex Turner rapidly delivering his vocal around it. There’s no hint of desert rock here either. It’s driven by a different source which gives the song an indelible groove while giving it bags of space for a more developed and tuneful vocal from Alex. Perfect example of less being more in terms of production. http://youtu.be/2spbZbOPu_w

7. Daft Punk featuring Julian Casablancas – Instant Crush

This one of the best tracks off Random Access Memories and it best combines the 70’s and 80’s influences with the typical Daft Punk sound and style. Throw in Julian Casalancas and you have one of the most tuneful and melodic tracks they’ve ever produced. You’re left vulnerable to the plucked, churning of the rhythm much like Andy Summers of The Police produced with Every Breath You Take in 1983. The vocoded vocal is poised in perfect balance to the synths and you can still detect the character of Julian’s voice beneath it. A fantastic piece of electro pop and a change of direction that worked for Daft Punk. http://youtu.be/a5uQMwRMHcs

6. Bombay Bicycle Club – Carry Me

Bombay Bicycle Club

A great progression of their music was suggested with Carry Me. Retaining the elements that make them successful is key and they did that. But the re-evaluation was not only needed but works to great results. A mix of subtlety and sheer boldness. All the fine raw elements clashing with the bold industrial sounds while still forging a great spacious and floating harmony and atmosphere. The result of a complex song being instantly accessible through recording skill. http://youtu.be/OZCfqhRgJ0Q

5. Savages – Husbands

Dark, angry , gritty and everything else. This song features the deep rooted bass line which remains about the only constant throughout. Above it is the grinding and screeching guitars with the clashing percussion. Smashing through it are the snarling and bold vocals that evoke a real raw and emotive feel that is shoved right up into your face http://youtu.be/rmJ_mcvRQsI

4. TOY – Endlessly

TOY followed their debut with a solid second effort in Join The Dots. It gave them a chance to refine and let their sound grow with Endlessly being the prime example of that. That theme of organised chaos holds true again here, yet it is directed into a more distinguished melody which makes it all the more enjoyable. Wonderfully spaced out and atmospheric despite the various elements in action. http://youtu.be/o1Yre4Gmb-E

3. Jagwar Ma – Man I Need

Man I Need’ is one of the standout tracks from Howlin which instantly sets the tone with the psychedelic whirring along with the wide scope and relaxed urgency of the percussion which is pretty typical of a psychedelic style. The rhythm makes an indelible groove, the percussion plies at it too. Also a magnificent clash of influences to create something new. A standout track from a standout album. http://youtu.be/K8KCPw9kYpo

2. The Knife – Full of Fire

This brother and sister duo from Sweden took the traditional notions of song structure, style and context and shredded them into a million pieces. They didn’t just progress their sound to the next level, but to the next light-year. It’s deep, dark and gritty. The industrial grinding of the lower pitched synths and set against the flashing synths sounds above them. The vocals combine with the instrumentals in such a eerie and unfamiliar way that it is at times a wonderfully terrifying experience. The fact it is a ten minute affair only enhances it as you lay on edge at each development of sound. It is almost too advanced to contemplate for some. But at least we now have a possible avenue for musical progression instead of recycling the last 50 years to no end. http://youtu.be/DoH6k6eIUS4

1. Rose Elinor Dougall – Future Vanishes

I have to admit that I initially had this track placed further down the top ten. But only after I listened to all the tracks again did I realise that this song was still ingrained in my mind. It then hit me that this track actually fulfils all the criteria I asked for. It has melodies and hook at every turn, it has a magnificent atmospheric quality to it, imaginative in it’s forms and lyrics and innovative in terms of combining pop and electronic features to a psychedelic track. On top of all this is it’s beautiful contradiction of its self. It can send you into an atmospheric and psychedelic trip into the depths of your thoughts or can leave you at the mercy of it’s rhythm and deep rooted groove. It does everything you ask for. Why shouldn’t this track top my list? Is it because she doesn’t sell out arenas or headline Reading and Leeds, or grace the top of the charts? I don’t think so. That’s not what I’m about, but this song is. http://youtu.be/JUqVhh0kuNA

Arctic Monkeys – AM Review

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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 

Single Review – Arctic Monkeys – Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?

Album number five is not too far away and the next single from ‘AM’ may be me starting to ‘believe the hype’ at long last. It’s probably because their previous sounds have been collated on my iPod through other bands and artists and the frustrating fact that they sat back and let the music industry turn to plastic pop despite having the potential to challenge them. Don’t get me wrong here. They write good standard songs and albums but never amazing ones. Never something that everyone picks up. That’s too why I don’t see them as a ‘artists of the generation’ like Oasis, Blur, Bowie, Beatles etc. At the moment they are the band of their fanatical and reliable fan-base. But like I said, the potential has always been there and I feel this song might be them delivering upon it. The bass line that’s deep and catchy is a great hook that creates a steady beat that the other elements work around. The guitars are only subtle as the bass does so much of the work and gives the song more depth while keeping it simple. Naturally the percussion follows suit. It’s also a song that shows that Alex Turner is developing well as a vocalist too. I think compared to ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ it stands out more for being more imaginative and creative. That’s why you should check it out.

http://youtu.be/6366dxFf-Os

Image from consequenceofsound.net