February Music Review – Foals, Frightened Rabbit, Tegan and Sara

Three very strong albums today and yes, you will find out which album might have got our first ever 10 out of 10 review. And we’ll be announcing the winner of our competition (to guess that album).

So, let’s start with Foals and their new album,  Holy Fire. After two good albums, this is Foals successfully banging down the door to major headlining status. They've had the ability to come out with the odd stroke of genius (Spanish Sahara for instance) but the two previous albums also had a few - well, boring bits, to be blunt.

Most of Holy Fire is consistently enjoyable, often exciting and occasionally thrilling, particularly on Inhaler where a song that starts like a jolly two Door Cinema Club indie dance number builds into something of which Zeppelin at their peak might have been proud. It sounds like an all-time classic already and is set to cause havoc at gigs and festivals whenever it's played. My Number is a lighter but catchy dance track that’s going to get remixed all summer. Later in the album, the mood becomes more chilled, but the quality of songs is maintained.  A very enjoyable  8.5/10.

 

A band which has taken even longer than the Foals to hit the public consciousness is Frightened Rabbit. But Pedestrian Verse will surely be their big breakthrough. Their folk-tinged somewhat angst-laden indie rock, sung in a thick Scottish accent, wasn't everyone's cup of tea though their three previous albums, but at their best they came up with stunning songs like Head Rolls Off from the brilliantly named Midnight Organ Fight album. But just like the Foals, this new recording is a huge step up here in terms of consistency.

The production and musical settings are just slightly more conventional here than previously, and the tunes are bigger and better  - at times, you could be listening to Biffy Clyro's long-lost twin, or even U2's Scottish cousins. But they haven't lost the quirkiness completely or the violence and darkness in the lyrics. Perhaps the most tuneful and joyous track musically is called "Backyard Skulls" - not exactly One Direction then.  An excellent, intelligent rock album, and whisper it quietly - it's actually better than Biffy's latest.  9/10 and there won't be many better rock albums this year.

 

You may be spotting a trend in the scoring here. Yes, here comes the answer to our competition- which album might have go the coveted 10 out of 10 rating?

From the first sugar rush of the "Can't get it out of my head" type hook-laden "Closer",  Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara grabs you by your pop loving genes (assuming you have a few, at least) and holds on tight for 36 exhilarating minutes.

This is the most unlikely re-invention we've seen for years in popular music. 31 year-old Canadian lesbian twins, with six previous albums of critically well-received, somewhat spiky and edgy indie songs, suddenly come up with the best pure pop album since - I don't know. Abba?  It's an amazing transition.

The music is a mix of the best in 80s synth pop (Pet Shop Boys, OMD), Abba, classic girl-pop (Cyndi Lauper, Roxette, No Doubt), with a crisp contemporary dance-pop production that Katy Perry, Britney and others would die for.  Hooks that are memorable without being overly simplistic, and sing-a-long choruses – but just when you might think a song is starting to sound a little too formulaic, you get what sounds suspiciously like a Talking Heads sample in the background. Or the gorgeous liquid arpeggio backing in Goodbye, Goodbye - it's these clever little musical touches, along with just great pop songs that make this one of the most enjoyable albums I've heard for many years.

And I'm not usually a great one for lyrics, but here they demonstrate Tegan and Sara's more serious artistic intent. Heartbreak is a theme, but there's a fair bit of frankly rather sexy stuff, ("all I’m dreaming lately, is how to get you underneath me") and a literacy unusual for the pop genre.

"I'm not their hero, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't brave. I never walked the party line, doesn't mean that I was never afraid".

Of course, not everyone will agree with my feelings about this. My wife thinks I've gone mad. And I should stress that this is "just" pop music  - don't look for Bon Iver deepness or Alt-J uniqueness. So it isn't going to change the world, and on that basis, after much thought, I’m giving it 9.5/10.

I'm still saving the 10 for something that is truly, truly transformative - but it might be a long wait.

And congratulations to Roger Holloway who won our competition by (finally) guessing the mystery album! You will be hearing from me. Thanks to everyone who entered as well....

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