I reviewed Keaton Henson’s latest album for Epigram.
Crippled by anxiety and loneliness, Keaton Henson’s debut album Dear… chronicled the break up of his first serious relationship. Although Henson’s debilitating stage fright meant that he avoided live shows, he built up a loyal, almost cultish following on the internet. Henson now seems to be emerging from this gloomy period, slowly putting on more gigs and featuring in more video and radio sessions. This new-found optimism is displayed on his new album too, from temporarily falling in love on the tube (‘The Best Today’) to the surprising raging guitar on ‘Kronos’. The intense darkness of Dear… hasn’t completely disappeared, however. ‘I’d kill just to watch as you’re sleeping’ (‘10am, Gare du Nord’) shows that Henson still teeters between endearingly romantic and creepily obsessive. Henson’s voice trembles through a range of emotions as the album progresses, at times imploring, ‘please do not hurt me love/I am a fragile one’ (‘10am, Gare du Nord’) to protesting ‘And God! You were the one who told me not to be so English!’ (‘Sweetheart, What Have You Done to Us?’). With the sensitive addition of more instruments, and backing vocals by Jesca Hoop, Henson stands out from other, more conventional, singer-songwriters.
In 2009, music blogs went apeshit for Kindness, an outfit shrouded in mystery, who released one double single ‘Swinging Party’/’Gee Up’ before disappearing back into the ether. Three years on, Kindness is back. Like many other Myspace maestros, Kindness is in fact a one-man project. Adam Bainbridge originally hails from Peterborough but has since escaped his webbed-feet Fenland friends and now splits his time between Berlin and London. Rather than riding the wave of the initial hype surrounding Kindness, Bainbridge took his time to work away at his album, and this attention to detail is obviously demonstrated throughout the record through the careful layering of synths and vocals. Although Bainbridge managed to avoid having to turn out a slapped-dashed album of electro pop to please bespectacled bloggers, there is a feeling that the ship may have sailed on Kindness’ brand of laid-back left-field disco. Despite songs such as ‘House (All That You Need)’ and ‘Gee Up’ featuring some of the best elements of Prince-style pop grooves, there just isn’t anything groundbreaking about what Bainbridge is doing. Although many artists feature a cover on their debut album, Bainbridge’s decision to cover Anita Dobson’s ‘Anyone Can Fall In Love’ (sung to the tune of the Eastenders theme tune) is simply bizarre, but does at least, cement Kindness in the retro-indie realm he clearly desires to dwell in.
-from Issue 249 of Epigram.
Love at the Bottom of the Sea sees the Magnetic Fields return to their celebrated sarcastic synthpop style, after their last three albums, went down a more acoustic route. Despite the fact that the band, driven by eternal pessimist, founder and lead singer, Stephin Merritt, has released three albums in the last eight years, they are still remembered for 1999’s epic concept album, 69 Love Songs. Love at the Bottom of the Sea is unlikely to usurp it as the band’s crowning glory, which is alright according to Merritt who recently told the Guardian ‘I will spend the rest of my life living down 69 Love Songs, just as I planned to. It’s fine.’
Despite what the title suggests, Love at the Bottom of the Sea is not a collection of fifteen songs about sex amongst aquatic animals. Instead, it features a range of bizarre and varied topics, from falling in love with a drag queen on ‘Andrew in Drag’ to hanging out with metaphysical beings on ‘I’ve Run Away to Join the Fairies’. On a superficial level, the album is a perfectly pleasant pop album, but on second listen, Merritt’s unique lyrical style presents itself. Album closer ‘All She Cares About is Mariachi’ best exemplifies this as Merritt laments, ‘So go ahead and hire Saatchi & Saatchi/to advertise the sausage in your pants/but all she cares about is Mariachi/and all she ever wants to do is dance.’ Elsewhere, ‘Quick!’ and ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face’ see the band exploit their rediscovery of synthesisers to the full, creating loud, brash pop songs, which though not necessarily enduring classics, are certainly a refreshing change from other songs currently masquerading under the banner of pop.
The record is laced with nostalgic references to childhood, from similarities between First World War song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)’ and ‘Only Boy in Town’, to the imploring nature of ‘Horrible Party’ ‘take me away from this horrible party and let me go home to Mother’. Sadly, the use of synthesisers means the sincerity of these ideas is somewhat lost, but the juxtaposition of these sentiments with Merritt’s miserable baritone makes Love at the Bottom of the Sea an interesting release. Interesting, but perhaps not enthralling.
-from Issue 248 of Epigram.
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Pop music generally falls into one of three categories: something so wonderful it will live on far beyond the life of the artist who made it; a fleeting piece of fun, or something that generates what can only be described as a feeling of ‘meh’. The Ting Ting’s sophomore album unfortunately falls into the latter category. Each and every single song on the album is so unspeakably dull, it’s hard to pick out specific low or high points. As one housemate described it, it features music ‘only fit for a car advert’. Although the band’s debut record, We Started Nothing, was hardly epic, it was certainly popular, selling more than two million copies worldwide. The Ting Tings made the bold decision to delete their first attempt at a second album (provisionally titled Kunst, because they’re, like, so edgy), after it was received ‘too positively’ by record company representatives. Instead, they went back to the drawing board, hunkered down in a Berlin basement, and produced ten tracks of tedium. In the creation of this album, Katie White and Jules de Martino maintained the repetitive themes of past hit ‘That’s Not My Name’ whilst abandoning the fun qualities that led to their success. ‘Day to Day’ best exemplifies both the duo’s dreary lyrical style and White’s monotonous voice as she sings ‘day to day/day to/day to day/day to day/ day to/day to day’. Much of the album is reminiscent of cheap 90s pop (more Samantha Mumba than Britney Spears), from White’s white-girl rapping to the sheer number of samples that sound like the result of someone falling arse-first into a child’s toy box. The album title alone, Sounds from Nowheresville, is incredibly juvenile, and bears more than a passing resemblance to Busted-spinoff band Son of Dork’s first (and only) album, Welcome to Loserville. For a band that owe much of their success to the use of ‘That’s Not My Name’ in an iPod advert, they have at least managed to create another collection of songs which might feature in an episode of Gossip Girl. Current single ‘Soul Killing’ is one example which might see some success in the realms of advertising, but epitomises just how disjointed the album is with its ska beats fading into dance track ‘One by One’. Whilst we usually commend artists for sticking two fingers up at record executives, we can only wonder whether this time the money men may have been right, and the band’s attempts to isolate themselves from other chart music has, in fact, isolated them from everyone.
-from Issue 247 of Epigram.
Canadian Edwards’ fourth album comes four years after the release of her critically acclaimed Asking for Flowers. Tinged with her signature Americana style, Voyageur chronicles the breakdown of her marriage and is co-produced by her current beau, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Listeners hoping for a female answer to For Emma, Forever Ago will be disappointed; where Vernon’s breakup album was a sparse obituary for a past love, Edwards’ is a wistful review of a relationship doomed to fail, full of frank confessions of inner turmoil, admitting ‘looking back it was such a dumb idea/five girls in the same coloured dress’ (‘Pink Champagne’). It is rare to come across an album so refreshingly honest, and it is this candidness, combined with Edwards’ aptitude for writing beautifully earnest songs that makes this so special. From the saddest declarations ‘you don’t kiss me/not the way that you used to’ on ‘House Full of Empty Rooms’, to the elation of a new relationship on ‘Sidecar,’ which features Vernon on backing vocals, by way of ‘Change the Sheets’ (which should go down as one best Americana records in history),Voyageur is an undulating journey which is simultaneously delightful and heartbreaking.
-from Issue 245 of Epigram
The prospect of John Legend and Stevie Wonder appearing on the same album is a rather exciting one, until you realise that the record they feature on is that of bronze-thighed pop singer Pixie Lott. Lott recruited both Legend and Wonder to add gravitas to her pseudo-soul sound, with the former featuring on ‘You Win’, an attempt at a smooth love song, exposing Lott’s voice at its scratchiest. After a chance encounter with Stevie Wonder at a restaurant in Los Angeles, Lott persuaded him to perform a harmonica solo on the annoyingly chirpy ‘Stevie on the Radio’. Other collaborators on the album include Kanye West protégé, Pusha T, and hip-pop star Tinchy Styder on Bright Lights (Good Life) Part II which is perhaps the highlight of an otherwise uninspiring album. There is a feeling that Lott’s producers brought in industry heavyweights in an bid to cover up the fact she struggles to hold a tune at the best of times, but Lott’s five-sheets-of-sandpaper-a-day tone permeates through all attempts to cover it up. ‘All About Tonight’, the first single taken from Young Foolish Happy, is the closest Lott comes to reaching the highs of her debut album Turn It Up, and will probably save her from being ditched by her loyal fans. Such devotees might be interested in Lott’s love life, but her account of a day spent with her beau on ‘Perfect’ is nauseating for anyone who does not find the idea of her getting it on with her orange boyfriend in front of the telly particularly cute. Album opener ‘Come Get It Now’ sounds like a Simply Red cover, although Lott’s irritating nasal tones makes Mick Hucknall sound like one of God’s cherubs in comparison, but even this isn’t the low point of the record. The honour of worst track undoubtedly falls on ‘Birthday’, which features the inspired lyrics ‘it started out as the worst day/but now you got me feeling like it’s my birthday/you got me singing like oh oh oh’. Weak lyrics such as these are found in abundance throughout the album, so it’s a surprise to learn that Lott has been honing her songwriting skills since she was 14.
It was announced in July that Lott had been signed to prestigious modelling agency Select, so one can hope that this, combined with her ongoing collaboration with high street chain Lipsy will mean that there is little prospect of a third album.
-from Issue 243 of Epigram.
Now, at this point, I usually post a video of a song from the aforementioned album. However, Pixie Lott’s effort is so dire, I wouldn’t want to inflict it on anyone, so shall we just watch Christian Bale dance in an anorak instead?
With a band name reminiscent of an E number-laden sweet, Rizzle Kicks’ debut album is just as saccharine. The decision to release the album in October is an odd one as the band’s blend of humorous lyrics and soul-tinged samples are evocative of Lily Allen’s summery sound. ‘Mama Do the Hump’, demonstrates the potential of the Brighton duo, with a catchy hook and references to the track’s celebrity producer in the lyric ‘it ain’t over til the Fat Boy Slims’. On songs such as ‘Down with the Trumpets’, however, the band’s lack of ability to write strong choruses is laid bare, with the refrain ‘let’s get down with the trumpets’ bordering on irritating. Fans of the band’s collaboration with Olly Murs on his number one single ‘Hearts Skips a Beat’ will not be disappointed, although it’s a shame the album doesn’t feature more Murs-style pop hooks. Having said that, Rizzle Kicks have far more integrity than Murs, as demonstrated in ska-influenced ‘Learn My Lesson’. Clearly influenced by De La Soul, Stereo Typical combines hip-hop, soul, pop and indie, but in trying to fuse these musical genres, Rizzle Kicks struggle to make a real impact.
-from Issue 241 (24.10.11) of Epigram.