June Album Review – Wolf Alice, Florence, Of Monsters and Men, and Kasey Musgraves

Wolf Alice have nailed it. That’s the first thing to say. We’ve been waiting for their debut album, My Love Is Cool, for some time; we featured Fluffy ages ago, the first track from the band that got them noticed back in 2013, but the album has been a long time coming which is sometimes a worry. But no need, this is excellent and with any luck should propel them up towards the top of festival bills and playlists over the next 12 months.

It’s a very clean, crisp production, which suits Ellie Rowsell’s sweet vocals and the grunge rock, guitar driven songs . I say “sweet” vocals but she has an ability to switch from sweetness to scream very quickly and effectively; similarly, the music does the loud / soft, slow / fast thing very well. So touch-points range from Blondie to the Pixies, Joy Formidable to the Sundays. Despite this love of contrasts, there is an underpinning sound and identity here, and a confidence in what they’re doing, which all makes the wait for the album worthwhile. As always, the strengths of the songs is the most important factor, and there are a lot more hits than misses here, with strong hooks and memorable choruses. A really excellent debut, and “Fluffy” is still the best rock song about a cat ever! 9/10.

 

Florence and the Machine is literally headline news as I write this, after her triumphant performance at Glastonbury. Having seen her first ever significant London gig, supporting the dreadful MGMT at the Astoria in 2008, when no-one had heard of her (but read this prescient review), we have followed her career with interest, and she deserves every bit of success. She’s got a great voice, writes killer tunes, has a quirky fashion sense and attitude and is a great role model to young girls - strong, passionate, funny, in thrall to no-one. Her new album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful came out at the beginning of this month, and it is already an international number one hit.

However, she does tend to shout at times, and her lyrics can be – how shall we put it – a little overwrought occasionally! Her voice is so strong it can overwhelm a song – read this hilarious review from Alexis Petridis in the Guardian; here is an excerpt:

“There are occasions on which heartbreak seems to have made her voice more histrionic than ever, as evidenced by What Kind of Man, a bug-eyed performance with lyrics to match: “You inspired a fire of devotion that lasted 20 years … Oh mercy, I implore.” “What kind of man,” she keeps demanding to know, “loves like THEEEEEEEES?” Occasionally you start sympathising with the man who loves like theeeeees. “You’re driving me away!” she roars on Queen of Peace, and you think: I’m not surprised, he’s probably worried about getting a perforated eardrum”.

But there are a couple of more restrained tracks, and the Stevie Nicks-like opening number “Ship To Wreck” is as good as anything she has done. There’s an almost Motown feel on some tracks, with brass and keyboards competing with the vocals to good effect, and overall, it is another very good album. I wouldn’t like to say which of her three is my favourite, but it’s an 8.5/10 at the moment.

Of Monsters And Men have not stimulated quite the publicity or controversy of Mumford and Sons, but their second album, Beneath The Skin, has some similarities with the recent Mumfords furore, in that they have moved away from their folk roots. Their debut in 2012 sold millions all over the world, with rousing choruses, a strong emotional feel and naive lyrics about their native Iceland.

But just like the Mumfords, this time they appear to have lost something in their desire (presumably) to be a more "serious" rock band. They still know how to write a strong tune, and the distinctive male / female vocals are also a positive. But it is at times just a little too mainstream, even dull, and comes across as just another adult-oriented rock band – “a bit Radio 2” as my wife put it. It's not by any means a bad album, and I suspect some of the tracks will grow on me, but is there anything as memorable and emotionally affecting as Little Talks or King and Lionheart from the debut? I suspect not. 7/10

 

After years struggling in Nashville, Kasey Musgraves debut major label album in 2013 propelled her straight to the top of the country music world, with a soupcon of controversy as she sang about drugs, infidelity and other topics that the country mainstream don’t tend to touch – or do in a certain “approved” manner. She continues to court controversy on Pageant Queen with more personal, tuneful, simple, sweet but clever songs that turn out to be odes to marijuana, individuality, and feminism – or at least the right of women to choose and not to be judged by other standards. She sits within the country genre neatly yet manages to slightly send it up too - as per the song and cute video below which contains the immortal line “Pissing in my yard ain't gonna make yours any greener”.

That is classic Musgraves - she has a lovely voice and the ability to write lyrics that sound natural but actually are often witty and very finely crafted. (“It is what it is, till it ain’t any more”- from her last album – is one of my favourite lines of all time, and if you think it sounds simple, just try and write 10 words that sound as great, scan so perfectly and mean so much). Anyway, this new album does not have a single song quite at the genius level of Merry Go Round but it is very good, as long as you like the traditional country / folk sounds of course. 8/10

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