Summer Album Review Part 2 – Bastille, Olsen, Hannigan, Cave and Glass Animals

We're doing a mammoth album review this weekend - six good to very good albums yesterday, and five more good to genius today, including two of our absolute favourites of the year so far (which are about as different from each other as you can imagine!)

Bastille- Wild World

Bastille and frontman Dan Smith have taken a lot of flak for being too “pop”, and creating wholesome, manufactured music that lacks soul. We suspect that is mainly from people who could try all their lives to write a single hook as strong as those Smith seems to sprinkle liberally around pretty much every tune he writes. His knack with the big chorus and hook is incredible. But we would also defend him by pointing out that he also goes out of his way to make his songs interesting through different instrumentation, rhythms and production ideas, bringing dance and electronica influences into the picture. (There are also lots of guitars this time, which were pretty much absent from the debut album). That all provides some variation, whilst you cannot help but sing along to most songs even after just one or two listens. Yes, it is “pop” at heart, but so was much of the Beatles or  Beach Boys work. Whilst Bastille is not quite in that exalted company, this is a very accomplished, enjoyable album.  8/10

 

Angel Olsen - My Woman

Olsen is hard to classify – Pitchfork put her in the “Folk/Country/Rock” bucket which is what we call hedging your bets. But she is a unique talent -  her 2014 album Burn Your Fire For No Witness was a big favourite for us, even if it was a somewhat exhausting listen at times. This follow-up is just as good, and is more instantly accessible with stronger tunes – on the opener Intern, she sounds like Lana Del Rey. Other tracks sound like they come from a long-lost early sixties jukebox – the golden age of girl bands and heartbreak songs.

But it is also a modern album; the guitar solo towards the end of Sister is certainly not retro, and Olsen can cover all the emotions from joy to pain and sorrow very convincing. That’s because of her voice, which can range through soft and sweet to harsh and powerful, and the songs are both instantly enjoyable and repay multiple listens. Sister and Woman are both almost eight minutes long but don’t drag for a second – an excellent album. 8.5/10

 

Lisa Hannigan – At Swim

The Irish folk-rock singer-songwriter has produced a beautiful album here. It is often hushed, almost minimalist with simple piano or guitar backing, and a sense of stillness and serenity. But there is darkness behind the calm exterior. Prayer for the Dying is lovely but when she sings “My heart, your heart” over and over again you’re not quite sure how to take it… There is a watery theme, as per the title, with many tracks making reference to that substance. Comparisons might be Nick Drake or last year’s excellent Julia Holter album, but really this is one to file under “unique” or at the very least “highly individual”.  You might need to be in the right mood to enjoy this, it is not exactly a party album, but many will fall in love with its atmosphere and emotional power.   8.5/10

 

Glass Animals – How to Be A Human Being

I didn’t really get into their previous and first album, but this is great. It reminds me of the second Wild Beasts album, (their latest was a big disappointment), but with less of the sexual tension and more simple joie de vivre. This is electronic pop-dance with synths, beats and mainly falsetto vocals, but with a real lightness of touch. Clever musical ideas burst out, alongside strong tunes, making it highly enjoyable for both concentrated study or background working music. Yeasayer at their best and Alt-J are other comparisons, but Glass Animals have created their own distinctive sound here.  Dave Bayley, their main man, trained in neuroscience and he recorded hundreds of stories from people he met to create the themes for each track here. So sort of a "concept album", but it wears its intelligence lightly; it is a delightful album and one of the best of the year so far. 9/10 (A very weird video though).

 

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Many of Cave’s songs over the years have featured death in some guise, but not like this. He has said that most of this was written before last year’s tragic death of his teenage son, who fell from a Brighton cliff, but a mood of despair and deep sorrow pervades this album, and the lyrics overtly cover these dark topics.  Some critics have praised it but said they found it almost unlistenable; I disagree, simply because of the brilliance of the music (and lyrics), I found it compulsive and stunning in every sense.  In a strange way, it reminded me of Astral Weeks. It doesn’t sound anything like it, but it also draws you into its own claustrophobic world, and it seems to stand outside the usual chronology and classification of popular music, as Van Morrison’s masterwork did and still does.

Musically, Skeleton Tree is a million miles away from the snarling Bad Seeds garage rock of the past. The music is subdued, often using electronic loops and “ambient” type sounds, whilst Cave’s (often half-spoken) vocal is well forward in the mix but unsurprisingly often sounds broken and hesitant.  Then on Anthracene, a random drum and bass type rhythm track comes in and out of the song – all very strange and unsettling. This isn’t “rock” music, that’s for sure, but it is intensely moving, thoughtful and thought-provoking and yes, I found it enjoyable. And I suspect in 30 years’ time, like Astral Weeks, it will still be showing up in the “greatest albums of all time” lists. Do give it a listen.  9/10

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