January music review

A pretty great start to the year...

Joy Formidable – ‘The Big Roar’

They played the smallest tent at Reading two years ago and I fell in love with this band; their charismatic lead singer / guitarist Ritzy Bryan is a cross between Debbie Harry, Kurt Cobain and Pete Townsend (in his guitar destroying mood).  The album title is appropriate – they make loud, gutsy, grungy, guitar driven, fuzzy, dense music, but with good tunes and Bryan’s  vocals lightening the mix. Comparisons – the Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine.  A couple of the tracks go on a bit with guitar histrionics, and starting the album with what sounds like a minute or so of a minor firework display is daft; but at their best (Whirring, The Greatest Light... ), the noise they make is truly up lifting.

They issued a brilliant 8 track album on their own label back in 2009, and four tracks off that pop up again here, along with 6 new tracks.  It’s thoroughly recommended; my only fear is that I feel the earlier tracks are slightly stronger than the new ones – so their song-writing longevity might be an issue as they move forward.  But that may just be familiarity with the songs; A heavy abacus, one of the new tracks, is already pencilled in to lead off my ‘Best of 2011’ playlist.  9/10

Decemberists – The King is Dead

Previous albums have been critically acclaimed indie / folk, with quite a British feel.  While there are still hints of the Fairports and even the Redlands Palomino Company, a greatly underrated country rock band from Hampshire in there, this time they’ve focused more on their American roots with an album of Americana / country / folk, and very enjoyable it is too.  Reference points abound; (Calamity Song is spookily similar the best of early REM and all the better for it), and other tracks reminded me of the Jayhawks, Ryan Adams, Dylan and the Band.  It’s not all sweetness and light – there’ s bags of energy in songs such as ‘This is why we fight’, and while there’s nothing unique in what they’re doing, I’m finding myself listening to this a lot.  If you like the sort of artists I’ve mentioned here, this will hit your sweet spot. 8.5 / 10

Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

It must be just great to put out your first album and get the sort of reviews Calvi has seen in the last couple of weeks; and, not that it will worry her what we think, we concur.  The first track is an instrumental, a bold move for someone with such a great voice, but it sets the tone for a decidedly left-field album that calls to mind Siouxsie Sioux, PJHarvey, Florence, Roy Orbison, and Maria Callas at various stages.  A tension-filled, steamy feel to many tracks,  Flamenco guitar, gothic backdrops... yet the whole thing is catchy and commercial at the same time.  Desire should be a single and a hit.  She’s moderately gorgeous, but has paid her dues as well; a fine guitarist, and I know we saw her previous band, Cheap Hotel (dreadful name – you try Googling them), in a small-ish venue  supporting someone a couple of years back, but to my shame I didnt spot her as a future star (I should have offered to manage her)! 8 / 10

White Lies- Ritual

I didn’t really want to like it; I thought their first album was over-rated and couldn’t understand why it sold so well.  More Interpol, Joy division rip off, I thought, electro minor chords, bass vocals, a sense of slightly portentous or pretentious doom about it yet with danceable beats, but without any real passion.  Actually, in the right situation I don’t mind this sort of music but they didn’t feel particularly ‘authentic’ to me (but please don’t ask me to define just what that means). So I give White Lies credit this time round for lightening up just a little and also for coming up with some BIG TUNES.  Bigger than us rests on a pounding bass line with a huge chorus that’ll be a mega sing-along in the tents at Reading and Glastonbury, while Come Down could be Hurts (that’s a good thing).   Some of the other tracks are less outstanding, but it’s not bad at all, he said somewhat grudgingly... 7 / 10

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