July Album Review with James Vincent McMorrow, Arcade Fire, Kacy Hill and Haim

James Vincent McMorrow released We Move (number 18 in our list of top 2016 albums) just last September, so no-one was expecting a new album so soon. But True Care was released on streaming / digital a few weeks back and now you can get a physical version too, and it is simply brilliant. Irish singer-songwriter McMorrow here combines a soul and modern R ‘n B feel (Frank Ocean being perhaps the best comparison) with a Bon Iver / James Blake folk / electronica approach. So there are quite strange musical interludes and touches that enliven what would otherwise be quite traditional rock / folk / soul songs; yet McMorrow never forgets the need for hooks, tunes and emotion.

The title track starts with an unaccompanied falsetto verse, but then morphs into a cool, memorable electronic slow-soul groove. I recommended this to a friend (Sheena Smith at Spend Matters US to be precise), who has a wide taste in modern music. “It’s amazing, I listened to it four times straight through” was her feedback the next day, and it is that sort of album. Not a difficult listen but enough going on you want to check it out again. 9/10

 

We’ve only had a couple of days to listen to the new Arcade Fire album, the fifth from a band whose debut is one of my top ten albums of all time, and whose live performance at the Brixton Academy a few years back is one of my top ten gigs of all time. I’ve enjoyed subsequent albums, but despite my keen anticipation Everything Now is ultimately a big disappointment.

The lyrical theme is about consumerism and the pressures of the digital age but it’s hard to see that Arcade Fire actually has anything very novel or interesting to say about it. That doesn’t help. But on the positive side, there are a handful of tracks that are up there with almost anything the band has produced. Everything Now, with its “Dancing Queen” piano and uplifting chorus is great, and the disco Electric Blue is fine too (there’s a lot of disco influence here). We Don’t Deserve Love is understated but lovely. But then we have Peter Pan and Chemistry, the two worst songs recorded by the band and frankly absolute rubbish both lyrically and musically (simplistic tunes, vaguely cod-reggae music). Other tracks are better than that but just pass by without making their mark. Generally, strong tunes, energy and passion seem to be lacking. Really very disappointing, so I’m going to download a few tracks rather than buying the CD as I usually do. Hard to mark as individual songs range from 9/10 to zero (Chemistry). Call it a 5/10 overall.

 

Ah, Kacy Hill. Must be very careful here. Talking about female, 23-year-old redheads who happen to be ex-lingerie models is tricky. She’s a talented dancer, singer-songwriter, musician, Kanye West protégé – and yes, she is just drop dead gorgeous. She can sing too and her debut is good, making full use of her pure, almost English folk type voice.  The album has a couple of what we might call “dancefloor bangers” but in the main it is the currently fashionable mode of electronics, slow R’n B, pop hooks … what is slightly lacking is a sense of who Kacy herself is, her character, her history. It is a little bloodless, as it were. What also disturbs me is her last two videos, which seem to want to present her in an unattractive and / or degrading manner. I don’t much like this one (below), but the video to “Hard To Love” in particular comes across as being made by someone who hates attractive women.  I hope she is getting good advice. But 7.5/10 for the album anyway.

 

Haim shot to stardom in 2013 with their debut, Days Are Gone. The follow-up seems to have been quite problematical – they cancelled last year’s Reading Festival show, saying they had to do more work on the album. We saw them at Reading the previous year and thought they were instrumentally very talented but struggled to pull off the four part harmonies live.  So four years on r they are back with Something To Tell You – and it sounds very much like the debut. Classic period Fleetwood Mac is the main influence, it is background music to accompany a drive along the California coast (not that I’ve ever done that), mid-paced in the main, but all a bit lightweight and lacking bite. In the absence of anything else to get your teeth into, this sort of music stands or falls by its tunes, and here they are not bad (the best is below) but with nothing as strong as Forever or The Wire off the debut. All perfectly pleasant but unmemorable. 6.5/10

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