June / July Album Review – Ben Howard, Slow Readers, Courtney and Florence

We’re going to have a two-part (today and next weekend) review catching up on a couple of excellent albums from the spring as well as recommending some newer releases.

 

Ben Howard looked like he might be a somewhat more credible Ed Sheeran on his first excellent album, full of commercial, strong and atmospheric (Nick Drake influenced) folk-rock tunes and John Martyn guitar work. His follow up was a little less mainstream, and he continues his journey towards more of a James Blake / Bon Iver experimental / electronic journey on Noonday Dream. Some of this is really quite strange, with odd stuff going on in the background and while it doesn’t neglect tunes completely, it is not exactly hum-a-long with Ben. We’ve listened to it four or five times now and are still trying to get to grips with it. More is emerging – in places it is very beautiful, and you must admire his ambition and his desire to take the route less trodden rather than following Ezra and Bay into the charts.  Around 8/10, but it could be a bit more or a bit less as it settles in our affection.

We forgot to review Slow Readers Club last month and got deservedly chastised by the most important procurement man in New Zealand, our friend Mr Paul Howard, whose love for the Manchester band knows no bounds. Build a Tower is their biggest album yet, and while they are not youngsters, the “indie-electric doom-pop” merchants have built up a fanatical following and are great live. Think Joy Division, Editors, White Lies – good tunes (actually really good tunes), lots of energy, danceable (particularly if you are of a certain age), and more passion in the performance than you sometimes get from this sort of music.  Suspect it is good driving music too, which I will test on my next trip up the M1 to Durham.  8/10

Courtney Barnett’s first album was excellent and the track Depreston is one of the most memorable songs of the decade, with lyrics that still send a shiver up the spine (and most reviewers totally missed the point of the song, we will argue in our forthcoming Ph.D paper on the topic …)  Anyway, the somewhat introverted Australian poet and singer-songwriter is back with Tell Me How You Really Feel. The music is again slacker-indie rock but perhaps with a little more edge, and the lyrics again are well worth listening to.  Although I’m not sure anything quite hits me like Depreston, “Crippling self-doubt and a general lack of self-confidence” is a brilliant song title and a pretty fine song!  7.5/10

The biggest release last month was probably Florence and the Machine’s fourth album, High as Hope. We’ve probably mentioned seeing her in one of her first live gigs and thinking “she’s great, but far too mad to make it”! I’m so glad we were wrong, as she became a Glastonbury-headlining, platinum selling artist.

This is supposedly Florence maturing and being more reflective and certainly the lyrics are more personal. The music also is more varied and less in your face than the last couple of albums, with a lovely song, Grace, where she apologises to her sister, a stripped-back blues number, as well as the more usual big mid-tempo songs like Hunger that will sound great at her next headlining set. Her voice sounds more natural too, still powerful when needed but used carefully, with less multi-tracking, and the swelling orchestras and kitchen-sink arrangements are used more sparingly. South London Forever reminds us of late period Maccabees (that’s a major compliment) and while this is perhaps less instant than some of her previous work, it may well prove to be her most memorable album over the longer term. I love this track too (video below). 9/10

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