Friday, 5 June 2015

Album Review:Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?


There is something to be said for the slow-burning, hard-won success, rather than overnight fame.
For over a decade the Hot Chip have been a consistently great live act, along with string of strong albums behind them seemingly gaining wider popularity with each one with a style that brings together LCD Soundsystem's wordy indie dance music, with Prince's funk and love of classic pop and electronic music. Since 2004's Coming on Strong the band have hardly put a foot wrong and have even managed to bother the UK charts with some of their bigger singles like Ready For The Floor.

With the group's sixth album Why Make Sense?, which has a title that is surely a nod to Talking Head's concert movie Stop Making Sense, Hot Chip are starting to feel like an established part of the British music scene, more so than just about any other band that has emerged over the last ten years.

Huarache Nights kicks of the album, with Hot Chip in dance floor mode. Built around a chunky bass sound, Alexis Taylor's familiar soft, soulful vocals enter, though vocoder vocals provide the big hooks, as robot voices chanting 'Replace us with the things that do the job better' hinting at an automated future. Why Make Sense? starts with a big dance track, but it's not the best representation of the sounds of electronic soul and funk that lies through the albums heart. The following track, Love Is The Future, with it's playful, retro synth chords bouncing about a light shuffling beat show more of the influence of late 70's and early 80's. The group even fit in a guest verse De La Soul’s Posdnuos before the chorus emerges for the song's finale, backed by disco ready strings, a sound which reappears throughout Why Make Sense?.

Started Right has a keyboard sound straight out of Superstitious era Stevie Wonder, as the band prove to be as versatile in taking cues from measured pop as they do with obscure dance records.
In fact the band seem to shine in merging disparate sounds into a coherent, catchy whole as tracks like Easy To Get effortlessly mixes up guitar funk before acid bass lines take over for the songs outro or the album's title track, which seems to carry echoes of prog rock and Brian Eno's early solo records with its huge drum stomp and building synthesizer arpeggios.

The band's second single from the album, Need You Now, might well be one of the band's best single to date. The track is equal parts a throw back to classic house euphoria whilst not sounding too far away from the likes of Disclosure. Set around an irresistibly powerful vocal sample from Sinnamon 1983 track I Need You Now for the album's big hook whilst Taylor's vocals compliment perfectly with a quiet desperation in the verses.

It's the personal and simple messages that stand out on an album that is a little leaner than a lot of their other releases and better for it. Touches of other influences emerge all over Why Make Sense? but the is a sense of honesty and a lack of cynicism that Hot Chip have kept throughout their career, that helps set them apart.

Album Review:Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp


There are many musicians that talk of laying their soul bare. Katie Crutchfield is a songwriter who doesn't need to say it. Named after a creek near her childhood home in Alabama, the recorded output of her Waxahatchee project has been entwined in memories, hardships and relationships.

Talking about her latest album, Crutchfield revealed "The title Ivy Tripp is really just a term I made up for directionless-ness, specifically of the 20-something, 30-something, 40-something of today”. She may count herself as part of that directionless generation, but she comes across as anything but. Releasing three albums since 2012, the intimate bedroom recordings of American Weekend, her breakthrough Cerulean Salt and now Ivy Tripp her latest collection of songs.

She still bears the sounds of her former band P.S. Eliot, filling Ivy Tripp with irresistible and scrappy pop punk alongside the intimate singer/songwriter fare. Tracks like Under A Rock and the grungy Poison come across like a mix of Riot Grrl and The Pixies, brimming with attitude and hooks. In the album's second half tracks like piano balladry of Half Moon and Summer of Love see Crutchfield pared-down to just one instrument with her voice.

The playful, lovestruck bedroom pop of La Loose really stands out. Backed by a swinging drum machine beat and keys it's sweet enough to give you a toothache, in a good way. Air feels like a more powerful sentiment at the albums centre. A mid-tempo almost-rock-ballad, but it's done on Katie's terms. Distorted keys bolster the track's bold, soaring chorus, along with some Kim Deal style 'oohs' backing her up. Ivy Tripp's additional instruments and touches of layered vocals show a move into slightly more sophisticated productions, but it's never too distracting.

The ramshackle Pavement style riffs on the track simply titled < don't gel so well, the drum beat that rolls about like an improvised drum solo doesn't help it, though there is a charm to how it barely holds together. Bonfire closes the album it's most interesting experiment. A bare bones track marches on a steady drum beat and two chords but carries a tension in the thick, low murmurs of distortion that fill the track with before almost breaking into feedback before the track's abrupt end.

Waxahatchee sings 'You see me how I wish I was/I'm not trying to be seen' over an electric hum of keyboards on Ivy Tripp's opening track Breathless. Ivy Tripp's the songs are short and personal, the musical equivalent of diary entries as if they were made in the same moments that inspired them, and you feel they would have been written whether anyone would be listening or not.

It's easy to see something of yourself in these deeply intimate tracks but even on a surface level it's easy to like the sugary sounding scrapbook of DIY punk and emotive folk. Throughout Ivy Tripp there is an honesty that cuts through all the noise and a strength in the delivery that reveals Katie Crutchfield to be a quietly powerful songwriter.

Album Review:Modest Mouse – Strangers To Ourselves


Signing to a major label has long been seen as signing a death sentence for your creativity. The artist narrowing their gaze and refining their sound for mass appeal, rather than rather than pushing out and exploring. Modest Mouse proved that rule wrong with their major label debut. 2000's The Moon & Antarctica was their most ambitious album yet, sprawling off in multiple directions and abandoning their lo-fi sound for a number of studio experiments that were no more palatable. Songs obsessed over the afterlife and the cosmos whilst tracks like the grand star-gazing Stars Are Projectors, still one of the bands defining moments, revealed an ambition that could be described as anything but selling out.

Their debut This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About set out lead songwriter Isacc Brock's M.O. of mixing the literate with the emotional delivered with a vocal range that went from a half spoken croon to a Frank Black-style feral yelp whilst the band's sound was defined by limitations of being a three piece recording in small studios. When Good News for People Who Love Bad News came out in 2004 the band made a push towards the mainstream, with cleaner production and a fuller sound. The move paid of for the band as the album went platinum in America, a rare achievement for an indie rock band, spawning big singles like Float On but still kept much of the band's charm intact.

It has been eight years since the last Modest Mouse album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank's nautical-themed rock and in those intervening years rumours persisted of abandoned recording sessions and collaborations with the likes of Big Boi (apparently this is still going to happen). Despite setbacks and problems, the bands sixth album Strangers To Ourselves has finally emerged and despite the time between releases feels familiar right away.

Strangers To Ourselves certainly isn't short of this bigger catchy moments either, the album's first single Lampshades On Fire seems to strike a similar tone to the bands big singles like Dashboard and Float On with a refrain of ba ba ba's it's not afraid of going after a simple hook to pull you in. The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box will surely be released as a single at some point, scratchy guitar lines scrap against Brock's erratic, tumbling vocals before the track brings in almost Steve Reich xylophone rhythms before ending in a reversed guitar solo. It's an example of the bands willingness to experiment in a studio going right, but unfortunately it's one of the only good examples of it on the album. Elsewhere, there a few too many studio tricks thrown in that just feel unnecessary.

Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996) seems like a misstep, mining the kind of jagged, angry funk that the band have developed over the last few albums. The song focuses on the dark true story of a serial killer but it's easy to to get distracted by the needless production including a baffling pitch-warping vocal effect that Brock uses through the song.

Lines like “If there's some point to this then which one is mine” on Pups To Dust see familiar lyrical themes like life and death carry over into these songs, not always with the same subtlety as in the past but Brock can still deliver them with a real sense of weight. Strangers To Ourselves gets away with mixing a lot of different styles, unabashed pop sing-a-long Wicked Campaign and ramshackle camp fire folk of God Is An Indian And You're An Asshole shouldn't work but really do. Sugar Boats is a rock song for a strange and twisted circus led by a bouncy bass line and squealing horns. It isn't a complete success but is a little better than it should be thanks to it's nervous and manic energy.

Maybe it is a victim of it's eight year gestation; the album covers a lot of styles but never manages to pull these threads together as a whole. For all the tracks that work there are more than a few that just pass you by, tracks like the opener Strangers To Ourselves and Coyotes just never give you enough to latch onto. Given all the talk of abandoned recordings, it could have come out much worse. Strangers To Ourselves still feels disjointed and it's runtime of nearly an hour doesn't help. It may feel unnecessarily dense and disparate but amongst the varying offerings the album does have enough high points to keep Modest Mouse fans happy - especially if they've enjoyed the bands 2000's output - and reminds you why they can be a special band.