james debate
james debate

Wednesday 31 May 2017

So much noteworthy new music, so little time. Looking for a new jam? I hear you buddy. The summer is now upon us, and as such we will be doing the Spring Music Round-Up, a rough and ready summary of some of the most interesting new releases of the recent past.

Specifically we will be looking at the new albums from Amy Macdonald, The xx, and Father John Misty. Let's dive right in.

"Under Stars - Amy Macdonald" Album Review
Genre Pop-rock

amy macdonald under stars new album 2017Emerging onto the scene back in 2007, Amy Macdonald represented the most unusual of things, a young girl who wanted to become a pop-star by merit of her exceptional musical talent, rather than by sex-appeal and generic production. And a talent she was. That debut album, This is the Life, went on to receive critical acclaim.

Her subsequent albums have been a little more mixed, often veering closer to what might be described as a mainstream sound at the cost of her honest folk charm. Her latest, Under Stars returns some of the soul of her debut, without ever really fulfilling her promise as a songwriter.

Under Stars does something quite strange, and ultimately confusing. There are eleven tracks on this album, and then the album includes almost all of them a second time, in acoustic form. Having two versions of every song makes it a little tricky to appropriately appraise the album as a whole, especially when almost without fail the acoustic versions are superior to the originals. One gets the impression that Macdonald is torn between appeasing those who liked her more stripped-down debut, and those who want something a bit more commercial and poppy, so she releases a version of each song for both sets of fans.

There are two obvious stand out tracks on the album. First, particularly in its acoustic form, is Down by the Water, a gorgeously crafted tune which compares favourably with her bigger hits from past albums. But the most pleasant surprise of all has to be Macdonald's cover of the Bruce Springsteen classic I'm on Fire, a cover which achieves that rare feat of matching and possibly even surpassing the original. The rest of the album may be something of a mixed bag, but these two tracks alone make it worth the purchase.

"I See You - The xx" Album Review
Genre Dream-Pop

the xx i see you new album 2017 awardsThe xx are not a band that needs much introduction, the London-based group have gone from humble indie beginnings to achieve widespread recognition and awards.

Their sound is distinctively understated, insular, often nearly pure acoustic. It works well for them, but after two albums there had been some suggestion that the music starting to get a bit derivative of itself, not to mention all the imitations that have sprung up since their debut. So much so that several members of the band had opted to take a break and explore their own solo careers, most notably Jamie xx whose debut solo album In Colour was a huge success in its own right. If the intention was to take a hiatus and come back fully inspired, it worked.

This latest album, I See You, takes much from In Colour, and makes a notable evolution of The xx's sound into something a bit more complex in its composition. You'll still find your typical xx tracks here, populated by sparse piano keys and lingering vocal, but they are joined by far more detailed soundscapes, drum and bass backing, and even the odd hiphop riff. It's a bold evolution for the band, but it pays off. I See You might just be their best work yet.

Lead single On Hold is the best example of where The xx are at right now. It retains the simplicity that made The xx so affecting, while adding new musical complexities, backing vocals and an altogether more pop-influenced sound. Meanwhile longtime fans can check out Performance for classic xx minimalism, while other highlights include the crowd-pleasing I Dare You and the powerful tour-de-force of A Violent Noise.

This is an album worth listening to, with great tracks, great variety, and consistency throughout. Top notch work and another reminder of why this band is so highly regarded.

"Pure Comedy - Father John Misty" Album Review
Genre Art-Rock

father john misty review pure comedy new album 2017Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, has been riding the wave of fashion following his breakthrough success, 2015's I Love You, Honeybear. The years since have seen the former Fleet Foxes band member become one of music's trendiest icons, and a household name.

Tillman's newest album Pure Comedy sticks close to the formula; world-weary songs of angst and disdain masquerading under the sunny folk stylings made popular by artists like Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Sons.

The songwriting here is the strongest of Tillman's career, with more memorable melodies, stronger hooks and generally a great amount of sonic variety. Tillman plays with samples and multi-instrumental compositions, with songs that journey from quasi-acoustic rambles into full-on orchestral epics. Indeed there's plenty here to savour musically, from title track Pure Comedy to Total Entertainment Forever, but the clear highlight is the wistful 10 minute odyssey So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain, a possible early contender for song of the year.

But that's not to say he's softened his edge at all. Tillman brings the same lyrical venom and contemporary philosophising that he is known for, frequently playing with his musical reference points, splicing clips from old adverts and TV shows. The lyrics are awash with pop culture and literary references that draw parallels with the great depression and wars of the 20th Century. These are songs that mourn the perceived chaos of modern consumerism and political trends.

If Honeybear was Tillman's breakthrough, the brilliant Pure Comedy should propel him to the next level. This is very much an album for the world today.

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