Album Review with Lissie, Lorde, Rilo Kiley, Neko Case and Lanterns on the Lake

We’re going with a female theme today, but there’ll be another review in the next week or so once we get to grips with the new Arcade Fire album - and that will also feature another lesser known treat. So three female solo artists and two bands with female singers and contributing songwriters. This includes perhaps - how can I put this nicely - my two personally "most admired" female singers of the last ten years or so, Jenny Lewis and the amazing Neko Case. If I'd ever been tempted to hang around a stage door somewhere, it would be for those two.

But let's start with Lissie. Her first album Catching a Tiger in 2010 was in the country / folk / soul / rock genre, highlighting her excellent voice. Back to Forever has some serious record label cash behind it, and Further Away (the single) is super-catchy and more Rumours-period Fleetwood Mac than anything Haim have done. It was also playlisted on both Radio 1 and 2, but maybe that highlights her dilemma - is she a contemporary Ellie Goulding / Florence indie type, a mainstream Katy Perry pop girl, or more of an AOR type?

Anyway, I'm not sure about this album - Further Away is great, then we have "Shameless," a shrieky dance- pop mess with a gratuitous "f***" or two which doesn't feel natural for Lissie. Then we're back to They All Want You, a lovely soul/ pop ballad. It's hard to see many people disliking this, but most of it floats by on a tide of heavy 1980s power-pop style production – so there's nothing as good or as simple here as Oh Mississippi from the first album. As a fan, I'm disappointed but it is still a 7/10.

Lorde is the 16 year old New Zealand sensation whose Royals is one of the biggest tracks in the world this year, and the current UK No 1. Now there’s a bit of a debate brewing about whether she’s really as “genuine” as has been presented – is she really any different from Lana Del Rey or even Miley Cyrus – after all, she was signed by a record company at age 12, so she hasn’t exactly emerged blinking from the North Island forests.

But let’s just focus on the music, and if you like Royals you will enjoy Pure Heroine, the album. Her lyrics are perceptive if a little one track – being 16, bored, vaguely artistic in temperament and looking wryly at the world of celebrities and bling.

And the music sticks very much to the Royals model, stripped down, minimalist, the odd borrow from dubstep – the XX are proving a more influential band than I suspect even they would have imagined. And whilst it is a very impressive album from anyone, let alone a 16 year old debutante, in the end, even over just 37 minutes, it gets a bit samey. I was longing for one track to really cut loose or rock out, or feature some different instrumentation. So that brings it down to “just” a 7.5/10 – but we’ll follow her career with interest I’m sure.

Now Rilo Kiley with RKives. They were one of my favourite bands of the last ten years, until their split in 2011. Smart, often witty lyrics with tuneful but edgy indie-pop music and the excellent Jenny Lewis as the charismatic front-woman. They sadly split up after their attempt to go mainstream with “Under the Backlight” didn’t really work. But RKives (say it out loud...) is great value at 78 minutes and 17 songs, a collection of B-sides and tracks not used on various albums – and it's far better than that description sounds.

Songs range from the sweet indie pop of "Let me back in" to the anthemic rock of "It'll get you there" and the electro rap-dance version of old song "Dejalo. If these were the tracks that didn’t make it onto albums, you can’t help wondering why this band wasn’t huge. It's slightly uneven, inevitably given the nature of the album, but it is actually a very good introduction to their work - More Adventurous is probably still their best album but this is right up there. 8/10.

Neko Case is a superb singer and songwriter, usually termed "alternative country", whose work includes several excellent indie albums as part of the Canadian indie-collective the New Pornographers, as well as her own albums. Her sixth studio album is The Worse Things Get the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. Her track “Twist the Knife” from the 2001 Furnace Room Lullaby is still one of the sexiest recordings of the last twenty years and was a big favourite of the late John Peel - it was thanks to him that I discovered her.

So not a typical "country" artist by any means - and the first track here sounds more PJ Harvey than Dolly Parton. This is tough but tuneful stuff, with touches of Americana, and a couple of simple acoustic songs, but informed by a "rock" sensibility, and all with her great voice (I mean, a really great voice, with purity, soul and depth), and at times sometimes obscure / worrying lyrics. What exactly does the repeated chorus of "you never held it at the right angle" mean on "Night Still Comes"? Another excellent release from Case. 8.5/10

You may notice the scores are building today.. so we finish with an unexpected treat. Thanks to Drowned in Sound website for putting me onto Lanterns on the Lake with Until the Colours Run. They are a 5-piece band from Newcastle, with a female lead singer and pianist (Hazel Wilde). Although they are from my part of the world, you would never guess. Their sound is both timeless and placeless – they could equally be from Iceland, Dakota or New Zealand, so I think they stand a decent chance of being a global success – at least at cult band level.

This is beautiful, cinematic, expressive, emotionally charged music, with lyrics that are worth listening to, good tunes but a lot of variation in the instrumentation, ranging from piano ballads (there is a beautiful warm piano on several tracks) to pretty noisy Sigur Ros type song sections. I suspect you will start hearing it being used as backing music on TV programmes and films – it creates moods and pictures in your head . It’s never four to the bar “simple” rock, so other reference points would be Low, the Sundays (but not quite as poppy) and the Joy Formidable (in their softer moments).

At first listen, I thought “this is pretty good”. After 4 or 5 listens now, I really love it. Marks going up every time, but currently standing at 9/10.

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