May music review part 1

This is a bold claim - but May 2010  may be (for me anyway) the best month ever for new music. The only possible argument against that theory is whether any of this month's releases will be a 50-year classic in the way that I suspect Laura Marling's recent album will prove to be.  But for sheer quantity and overall quality of music from bands I love, May will take some beating.

So I think we'll do a 'part 1' review of 3 excellent albums today and a 'part 2' to wrap up a range of others next weekend.

So, let's start with The National and 'Violet'.  Their last two albums, The Boxer and Alligator were big favourites of mine, and Violet is well up to their quality.  I'm not sure this is better but it feels as if the world has caught up with them; this is looking like their biggest seller by miles.  They bring two sets of influence and combine them beautifully into intelligent, deep music  - but music where you can also  sing the choruses.  One element is the American rock / folk / Americana of which  REM are probably the best known exponent but that goes all the way back to the Band and probably earlier.  The other is a more contemporary Interpol / Editors flavour (of course, Joy Division loom in the background of this style) , particularly through the baritone lead vocals and at times a darker feel.  Songs like 'Runaway' have a touch of Joshua Tree U2 about them; the words are never less than interesting ; and it is altogether excellent.  9/10

The New Pornographers are a Canadian indie band - or perhaps a co-operative of musicians may be a better term.  Again, their previous two albums have been big personal favourites, and "Together" again lives up to that standard.  It's intelligent pop/rock really, great tunes, but with intelligence in the arrangements and lyrics that means it never falls too far into the 'pop' end of that description.  Many of the vocals are provided by the great Neko Case, and tracks such as 'My Shepherd' are just lovely.  Maybe not quite the depth of the National but a strong 8/10.

I would expect anyone who likes mainstream  'rock' music to thoroughly enjoy these last two albums.   The Foals second album, "Total Life Forever",  shows the Oxford based indie / dance group developing from their strong but somewhat frenetic debut, Antidotes, but may divide opinions a bit more.  Many of the songs are still based on dance rhythms and styles, so it is not a 'rock' record in the sense that the previous two are.  There are also a number of tracks that will work better live with 10,000 teenagers going mad in the Radio One tent at Reading Festival (and they are going to be one of the mega-hits of the festival season, I have no doubt).  These songs focus on the 'dance' side of their style, although even here I'm finding as I listen more there are hooks that get into your head after a while.  But tracks such as 'This Orient'  show a greater maturity and more 'conventional' rock sound.  At first listen I was a little disappointed, because having heard 'Spanish Sahara' as a single, the whole album doesn't quite live up to that - but then that is one of the tracks of the year.  But it is a grower, and another 8/10.

So next week we will have a look at some combination of Band of Horses, Broken Social Scene, Anais Mitchell, Diane Birch, Mynabirds, Stornoway, Hold Steady, Teenage Fanclub, LCD Soundsytem..see what I mean about May*?

(* to be strictly accurate, a couple of these came out earlier but I've only just discovered them!)

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