Sunday, November 11, 2012

Animal Kingdom – “The Looking Away”

animalkingdom

Upon hearing the first notes of Animal Kingdom’s album a couple things become clear: first, they are obviously British, and second, they have clear influences that come out of British alternative rock in the last decade that followed Radiohead. And somewhere between Radiohead, The Verve, and Coldplay, in a spot occupied by no-hit bands like Thirteen Senses, Embrace, and even Keane to an extent, sits Animal Kingdom. And much like all the latter bands, Animal Kingdom is quite capable of making a heckuva song, yet lacks a special hit and consistency.

This album is frontloaded, which is both an insult to the back half of the album and a full up compliment to the outstanding first few tracks. “The Wave” rides some excellent percussion work and a catchy chorus. The album’s strongest song “Get Away With It” uses a bit of a gritty synth groove and a strong falsetto. “Strange Attractor” keeps the strong tracks going, and provides the albums best single moment (“It only comes in waaaves!”), before the chorus swells like some of the better upbeat Coldplay songs out there (longtime readers know I consider Coldplay a great band, unlike many of my fellow indie bloggers). The biggest surprise of the album for me the first time was listening to “Straw Man”, a dreamier, softer piece, about as British as British can be. But it’s executed exceptionally well, serving to pull together such a good assortment of influences. Sure it’s probably just Radiohead’s “Codex” and “No Surprises” smashed together and sung by The Verve, but it’s your choice whether to damn them for this or just enjoy, because those are all good things.

The drawback of the album is that after “Straw Man”, only “White Sparks” is really memorable to any extent. A hazy beginning, breaks into a more uplifting chorus. It’s sonically interesting and has a forward-moving pace. An excellent track, but unfortunately surrounded a back half of pretty-okay-yet-ultimately-forgettable tracks. Still, if British alternative rock is your thing (it’s mine, so your not alone), Animal Kingdom is definitely worth a look.

Ellie Goulding – “Halycon”

Ellie-Goulding-Halcyon

★1/2

I wish I could have a conversation over coffee with Ellie Goulding just to ask her about how she fits into the genres of world. Here is an artist that has seen her song “Lights” reach #2 in the US and has recently opened for Katy Perry, not exactly the recipe for hipster cred. Yet somehow she manages to find a foothold of popularity with people who are probably a whole lot closer to liking Cat Power and Joanna Newson than they are to liking Katy Perry or Demi Lovato. Her choice of internet covers? Active Child and The Weeknd of all bands. I reviewed Ellie Goulding’s debut album earlier this year, my review coming about as late as Ellie’s US popularity. I gave her three stars and a thumbs up.

So now Ellie releases the perfectly-timed “Halycon”. I guess the major benefit of an album taking a couple years to catch on is having new material ready the instant your fans are hungry for more. And the good news? Ellie seems determined not be categorized, and “Halycon” is actually a better album than “Lights”. Make no mistake: Ellie Goulding is primarily a pop artist making pop songs for pop radio. However, give it a chance ye naysayers, and you too may fall in love. Album opener “Don’t Say a Word” rises slowly out of echo chamber vocals and soft electronics to suddenly break forth, displaying Goulding’s vocal abilities over sleek production values. The song is hardly poppy at all. “My Blood”, the album’s best track, displays Goulding’s skills the best. A bursting chorus, a catchy hook, but never so syrupy sweet or predictable enough to get lumped in with her contemporaries. Songs like electronically-influenced “Anything Could Happen”, and “Only You” seem closer to Passion Pit, and if you prefer your indie influences to be more than just inferred there’s also the cover of Active Child’s “Hanging On”. Active Child? Really? A cynic would say it’s a desperate pander to blogosphere, except she executes it so well.

There’s also the emotional touch on “Explosions”, full of string and piano and ready for a crucial scene in a TV drama. Yet something about Goulding’s voice keeps it from crossing a line. “Atlantis” takes the Passion Pit element and mixes it with one part Enya. Album closer “Dead in the Water” is a dreamy closer, meandering close to nowhere while remaining beautiful, a fitting finale to a surprising album.

I’m not crowning Ellie Goulding. Three and a half stars is appropriate. But boy if you are one of my readers who is more accepting of radio pop music, I don’t know how you couldn’t enjoy Goulding’s creative take on it. I’ve come to accept that my version of Radiohead-Shins-Spoon-Bon Iver type music will never be radio-loved, but if Ellie Goulding can rule the pop charts then radio will be a better place.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Some Saturday Morning Tracks

Sufjan-Christmas1-e1347637431506

Saturday’s are usually my days to catch up on music reviews and recommendations, and since I’ve come down with the flu, I expect this Saturday to be particularly productive. I want to start by recommending a couple songs that may have flown under the radar or are not part of overall album reviews:

Royal Teeth – “Wild”

Wasn’t all that impressed with their whole EP, but this single track shows a whole lot of promise and I’ll definitely be checking out their debut album whenever it comes out.

The Lumineers – “Ho Hey”

It’s simple and interesting all at the same time, and it also features a mandolin, so what’s not to like?

Amarante – “No Return”

A true indie pick. Found this one sifting through a bunch of blogs and thought I’d share.

Lana Del Rey – “Ride”

A lightning rod of criticism earlier in the year, Lana returns with “Ride”, and it would have been a contender for best track on her album.

Sufjan Stevens – “Silver and Gold”

Sufjan is about to release a massive Christmas collection that will be overwhelming to even the most dedicated fan. But his first single gives reason to pay attention.