james debate
james debate

Sunday 22 April 2012

Believe it or not, 2012 is off with a bang and whipping by at a lightning pace. The time has come for a little catch up and since I'm feeling extra generous, here's three hot off the press reviews of noteworthy new albums. Today we have for you the latest LP from American indie stalwarts The Shins, followed by two of the year's hottest debut releases in the UK Lana Del Rey and Dry the River:

"Port of Morrow - The Shins" Album Review
Genre Alternative Rock

port of morrow the shins With their humble indie credentials established through hits like New Slang and advertised through the medium of Zach Braff, James Mercer's band was the American indie darling of the mid 2000s. They released 3 albums in 6 years, then went on hiatus for the 6 years hence.

Following their debut the band has tried to expand their sound with each release more eclectic than the last, ranging from bubblegum pop-rock to psychedelia and prog-rock. Apparently dissatisfied with this as a creative outlet, Mercer himself has since dabbled in various side projects and collaborations, notably with elite producer Danger Mouse. Now he returns to the act that gave him prominence.

At times this latest effort might seem their most traditional sounding album so far, and yet the band have not sacrificed the indie edge that made them stand out. You have your classic fare here from the impossibly catchy lead single Simple Song to deliciously breezy acoustic numbers like September, while other standouts include the ultra funky, almost Bowie-esque Fall of '82.

There's no reinvention of the wheel here, but for fans of The Shins or just good catchy rock and roll here's another offbeat collection of summery tunes to enjoy.

"Born to Die - Lana Del Rey" Album Review
Genre Pop

lana del rey born to die One can't help but feel sorry for Lana Del Rey, dismissed as a one hit wonder months before her album even saw the light of day. Such can be the cruel effect of a wildly successful single like Video Games. Not to mention the spate of harshly negative press she's received in America.

The critics have been predictably polarised then, between those who hold this view and others who are more generous. As usual, I take a more middle ground view. This album is not bad by any means, but at the same time it's a victim of its own hype.

This album contains a handful of solid pop-noir songs like Born to Die and of course Video Games, along with a number of today's typical radio staple of hip-hop infused pop which are more hit and miss. The truth is that nothing on this album, even the good songs, comes close to matching the musical and lyrical richness of her lead single. Perhaps it is the curse of high expectations, but much of the album sounds bland, with genre staples that have been done better by other current artists, and lyrics that are very superficial.

I suspect that ultimately this is an album caught between two niches, that of mainstream pop and the more sophisticated singer-songwriter. As the former this is a perfectly serviceable album that ranks alongside the likes of Adele and Duffy that will no doubt find many fans of a certain demographic, but for those who heard Video Games and expected the latter, disappointment is inevitable.

"Shallow Bed - Dry the River" Album Review
Genre Indie

dry the river shallow bed It's traditional to start the year with a heavily hyped new British band, but this is something a little bit different. Dry the River have been around for ever it seems, touring, receiving favourably coverage and pride of place on "hottest new band" lists, and now finally we have the finished product.

Dry the River are a difficult band to define, in equal measures purveyors of whispy folk in the vein of Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes, and more bombastic chamber rock, taking a page from the likes of Thom Yorke and Arcade Fire.

It's impressive, then, that they manage to drift so seamlessly from one intensity to another, assuming the best elements of their influences while bypassing their faults. Lead single New Ceremony  is a fiery multi-instrumental epic of Freddie Mercury style flamboyance and radio friendly polish. By contrast we have Hammeran acoustic track of such elegance it could pass for Mumford & Sons if not for the fact that it sounds more interesting than watching paint dry. Other standouts include History Book with its luxuriant arpeggios and misty lyrics.

It's a solid effort overall with some fine songs and a consistently accomplished production. Unfortunately "good" never becomes "great". Much of the album is instantly forgettable, and one feels that even the highlights are destined for a short lifespan. This is a band that shows promise, but not yet ready to join the vaunted annals of the great British indie scene.

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