Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bat For Lashes - Fur and Gold

I promised to get back with my thoughts on this album, once I had listened to it enough to have a reasonably stable opinion, and here they are: reviewing this album is almost impossible! Here goes anyway...

Start at the beginning, continue to the end, then stop.
I chose the title because of the books this album reminds me of - 'Alice In Wonderland' & 'Through The Looking Glass'. That is near as I can get to the often surreal, yet still utterly engaging, nature of the album. From start to end it is a conundrum: the less you understand it the more you want to, and for every insight or pearl of wisdom there is a contradiction.
There are, however, a few things I can say with certainty: Bat For Lashes (a.k.a. Natasha Khan and her talented collaborators) have unleashed one of the best d├ębut albums of 2006. It seemingly came from nowhere (I first read about it in 'The Fly'), its genre is almost unspecifiable and it is addictive - very dangerously so as it only took one listen to get me hooked and that is quite unusual! I took comfort in the fact that there are far more destructive addictions... and that the music, vocals and the lyrics are all very special and move seemlessly from the densely woven, yet never muddy sounding, to utterly ethereal understatement and the percussion, be it martial drums or hand-claps, is to die for!
Together it pulls you into a world that, although you somehow can't quite actually grasp or escape it, you don't want to commit to: a dangerous yet enticing place that, it seems, also shares many features with the one in which we usually live.

The album is far more than mere escapism however and all the better for it - as the spoken vocals of 'What's A Girl To Do?' attest - because there are things about this and many other tracks that are so familiar to us in the real and imperfect worlds...

"Trying to hold it together
Keep my love as light as a feather"

...from 'Sad Eyes' being a good example.

This is a subtle album but, even if you happen to hate it, could never be regarded as a bland one and that is part of why it so good. 2006 has produced many fine albums/artists and this, although rather different, is right up there with the very best of them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not only music...

Are all professional music buyers/reviewers obsessed with the day job? It might sometimes seem that way but there is at least one exception! This comes from the eil.com buyers blog sent out as e-mail on 21 September 2006; while the rest of his colleagues were waxing lyrical over their latest purchases Richard Austin had his mind set focussed on the natural world…

Richard Austin - UK Office Friday 15 September 2006
The Tangled Web We Weave..: Just outside the 'Old Folks Home' at Esprit Towers [AKA 'The Shed'], where we aged team members sit whiling away our twilight years was recently discovered a sacred plant - WILD HOPS !!!

This, as you will know, can be magically transformed into the medicinal beverage known the world over as 'BEER' - A secret known only to certain alchemical adepts who live in strange temples known as 'Breweries'.

In our ancient land, we prefer our beer dark, room temperature and with a healthy scattering of beak & twig in the silt at the bottom. Less advanced nations [or so I've heard] actually have theirs COLD, YELLOW & with BUBBLES in it!! Unbelievable, I know.

It would seem that our sacred Hop Plant is also the happy home to four Garden Spiders [Araneus diadematus], which I've affectionately named "One", "Two", "Three" & "Four".

Three appears to be the least successful as I've never actually seen him/her eating anything. One & Two are the engineers & have built incredible webs spanning from the plant up to the side of the building. Four is the opportunist, with it's web lurking in the space between that of One & Two, ready to snare any unfortunate flying thingy that thinks it's got away with it.
Every morning they do whatever spiders do as the equivalent of 'Yawn-Stretch-Make Coffee-Feed Cat', then set about repairing their orb webs & restoring them to the previous days magnificence. Then they sit there, slap bang in the middle & wait.
These amazing little creatures not only have developed an automatic sticky on / sticky off system for making their webs [which are actually stronger, lighter & more flexible than steel], but have turned patience into an art form!
An inspiration for these IT driven times.

This is absolutely brilliant escapism and if music can’t induce that feeling then what is it for?

The connection between hops, beer and music isn’t exactly a revelation: the reasons why hops [Humulus lupulus] are so vital in beer are many and varied. Viewed from a chemical, pharmacological and phytogenetic basis it is actually very interesting plant indeed and the genus Humulus is one of two generally recognised in the plant ‘family' Cannabidaceae: the other being the genus Cannabis. If I were you I would stick to the beer... (and not just to remain legal). Not all that is natural is good: coniine (hemlock) and strychnine are generally rapid acting, and often fatal, natural plant products!
This is a female of the species Araneus diadematus, The 'Garden' or 'Cross' spider. A truly fearsome creature at most about 15mm long. The biggest threat she poses is that she might regard potential suitors as a "free lunch date" - quite literally!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Amy Millan - Honey From the Tombs.

If Amy Millan only did her day job – as vocalist with the band ‘Stars’ – that would be reason enough to regard her as one of the very best of current female singers and the 2005 album ‘Set Yourself On Fire’ by ‘Stars’ is a true masterpiece in my opinion.

It is she also who, along with some of her band mates and many others, works in the awesome and rather avant-garde indie collective ‘Broken Social Scene’ who released their second and self-titled LP in 2005 (2006 in the UK). You might think that would be a punishing workload for anyone but not, it would seem, for Amy. We already know ‘indie Amy’ and ‘experimental Amy’ but I for one never expected that her first solo album ‘Honey From The Tombs’, which was three years in the making, would bring us ‘alt-country Amy’ and when I read the first reviews I was equally curious and alarmed!

I shouldn’t have worried because she seems to have near flawless judgement: the album is quirky, lyrically clever and her vocals are as wonderful as ever. It is much more acoustic than her usual outlets, and "Hard Hearted (Ode to Thoreau)" actually reminds me a bit of Norah Jones at her bleakest and best, but if you like Cerys Matthews’ solo music then you’ll probably find much to like here and track 9, "He Brings out the Whiskey In Me" sounds like a inspired hybrid between Cerys’ "Chardonnay" and Sandi Thom’s "Sunset Borderline". If you like the album 'Fires' by Nerina Pallot then you should seriously consider listening to this (and also vice-versa). For what my thoughts are worth the final track, "Pour Me Up Another", reminds me of Mary Lorson and something from the eponymous album ‘Saint Low’, released in 2000. This album is definitely a risk well worth taking… and it is available on vinyl too (as are the singles)!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bat for Lashes, and a UK music link


It's perhaps little comfort for you over in the US, but there is a monthly UK magazine "The Fly" that reviews all things UK indie (it also includes forthcoming UK gig listings and sometimes publishes reviews of major events that have taken place) and its free, but only if you can pick it up at your local venue or record store. The good news is that you can subscribe to it; the very bad news is that the cost in the US is GBP 40 (about US$ 70) for 11 issues each year, which I suspect is almost entirely the cost of mailing. A UK subscription is currently £9, which again is inclusive of postage.

It's reviewers are however, in my humble opinion, and given that everyone secretly has their own peculiar flaky musical foibles (I know that I do but I'll save those for a later post!) , generally pretty solid and reliable. Being very much a novice at this, I think I've now attached their review of Fur and Gold by Bats For Lashes, which is I hope just readable if you zoom in! It is so in my browser but if it isn't in yours please feel free to send me some hints and, preferably constructive, abuse!

Richard

Monday, September 11, 2006

My first ever blog.

Well here I am at last, in the realm of millions. I have for ages read plenty of them, commented on them, and for some time thought that I should perhaps even try one of my own but with, I have to say, no timescale for starting said project - next month never, next year maybe - but no pressure and certainly no timescale for posting the first bulletin. My most desultory plans were however wrecked on the rocks of music discussion; it was always a likely subject but the timing, as it happens specifically the album 'Fur and Gold' by Bat For Lashes, was not quite what I had intended at all.
I really wanted only to reply to a couple of comments already posted, but to do that I was forced to register, and so this otherwise quite unremarkable Monday evening was the moment I was finally tipped over the edge - next month or next year became this evening!

Why the title "Thoughts on music"? Well of course it started with that, and I needed a title after all, but the one very interesting comment I read that really made me post, rather than simply reply in respect of the above, is this generally applicable comment by Paul.

Hard to keep up with music overseas :(
Well yes it is, and it's no different this side of the Atlantic I'm afraid, but surely it is easier than it has ever been? We just need to talk more; so to all of you at The Yellow Stereo, keep up the good work!