17 September 2017

The National - Sleep Well Beast

It seems like it has been a really long time since the release of Trouble Will Fine Me by The National (our review cleverly linked here), but it has only been just four years since that fine record came out.  Since that record was released, the National have released a documentary film (Mistaken for Strangers), they have had various side project and have appeared to have returned with their batteries refreshed and the fruits of that labour have been released as Sleep Well Beast, their seventh studio album.  I have taken a little longer to do my review as I wanted to give it time to sink in, to absorb it.  I read a few reviews, including one by one of my colleagues over at Bearded Gentlemen Music (link to that review here), which makes the comparison between them and Radiohead.  I will go on about that one a bit at the end of the review.  Now, things have changed in the four years since they released Trouble…, how will we find the band?

01 – Nobody Else Will Be There

With the predictability of a Winter Solace, The National start off this album with the minimalist “Nobody Else Will Be There”, a song about love, distance and the hope of a connection.  It is a gentle beast, one which takes a while to sink in and even longer to distinguish what is going on.  The sparse nature of the song makes its hard to love, but it is a song with a broken charm that eventually starts to make sense.  But it is an empty opening to Sleep Well Beast, this does not bode well for the rest of the album.

02 – Day I Die

We find The National in a reflective mood, considering the future and wondering what it all holds for them, where they are going to be when Death comes knocking.  It is a familiar number from them, similar in structure to “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and whilst it has a sense of excitement to the song, it is not a gripping number and it is cursed with a lethargic malaise. 

03 – Walk It Back

A slow build about trying to piece together what is happening and what is going on, with a sense of confusion and the mourning for the lost moments.  This song is a slow builder that actually makes a lot more sense the more you listen to it, but it is a difficult one and at times it seems as if it is not worth the effort.  You do get your rewards eventually with this song if your persevere with it, but it is a stubborn little bugger.

04 – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is a cryptic number, one which is so open to interpretation that it feels as wide of the open skies of the desert.  It is a busy number (by The National’s own standards) and it is a very catchy song, but there is still something that is not settling right on this one, something that gives it a disengaged feeling.  It might just be me, but for a lively song it feels a bit hollow.

05 – Born to Beg

The lethargic nature of the band is on display here, “Born to Beg” is a song about begging for love and how it is in the nature of the person to follow their lover and do anything for them.  It starts off quietly, builds and then suddenly there are two different songs playing at the same time and the original fades into the void.  It is a messy song, but it is also one that gains my interest, one that makes a lot more sense than a few of the other tracks on here.

06 – Turtle Neck

Now this is more like it, a song that feels as if the band have turned up.  It has a punk ethic to the tune, one with a ferial nature and a bite to the music as well.  It is out of keeping with what they usually do, but it is also one that makes so much sense when compared to the rest of the album.  It is angry, it is bitter and it is full of bile – where have this version of the band been hiding?

07 – Empire Line

Empire Line” is a song which uses the distance of a commuter journey to compare the strained feelings of a relationship that is in danger of falling apart, one that is sadly not the natural follow on the wonder “Fake Empire” from Boxer.  It is another song which I would refer to as a builder, it is not easily accessible and it does take its time to reveal itself.  But this one is worth the wait and it does have a beautiful soul, even if it is a song with a damaged narrative at its core.

08 – I’ll Still Destroy You

With moments of Zappa strangeness, Bloc Party Electronic Indie and no sense of clarity, “I’ll Still Destroy You” is a strange number that feels as if it is all over the place.  It never really sinks together and I have a feeling that you would need to be in a specific place/mood for this one to correlate into something wondrous.  Sadly, for me it is just as strange now as it was when I first started listening to it, which is such a shame .  I usually love strange music, but this one really does not have the consistency to sustain my interest.

09 – Guilty Party

With a sense of remorse, The National are really delving into the Electronica side on “Guilty Party”, mixing the drum machine, the strings and sparse guitar elements all being micromanaged to within an inch of its life.  It is a strange one, but it is also one where ambition has been met by the performance as well.  It feels natural and fluid, there is a moment that it feels as if it is in danger of falling apart, but it stays together and it is a wonderful moment on this record.

10 – Carin At the Liquor Store

It seems as if this album is turning a corner as it approaches the bitter end, with “Carin At the Liquor Store” adding more miserable quality to this record.  It is a song which has regret at its very core, with pain and misery the only companions during this decent into a personal hell.  It does not have more in the way of positives in the emotional department, but it does have a hook that sinks in deep and it is another track which is worthy of their name.

11 – Dark Side of the Gym

The penultimate song of this album is a tale of obsession, a doomed relationship and the need to keep someone close & distant at the same time.  The music on this one is a little weak, it feels secondary to the lyrics and as if they have been forced together instead of growing together organically.  It is a track which I am still stuck on the fence, it depends on the mood if it appeals or not, so the jury is still out on this one.

12 – Sleep Well Beast

The National bring this album to a close with the title track and I can sort of see the Radiohead comparison, the music is bizarre and sounds strange when compared to normal ears.  However, I am also hearing other artists, such as the brilliant Thomas Truax and some of the better moments of Bloc Party.  It is a sparse affair overall and it ends the album on a bit of a confusing note, but it is not without interest. At the end of the day, this one has a sense of intrigue about it and it has more to offer than other pieces on Sleep Well Beast. 

I think it might just be me, but I am not seeing the genius that everyone else is with this album.  If anything, it is the poorest album that The National have released.  It feels like it is trying to be inviting and it is wanting to help you through the night, but there is something unlovable about it and the feeling of being kept at arms distance that never really dissipates.  This is a shame as I cannot fault the performance, they are good musicians and that has not changed with this record.  But that is the only way I can think of describing the feeling that this album gives me is this, the sense of darkest and strange yearning that is at the core of this record.  For it, it is akin to this
You see pictures of people having a great time, looking so friendly and they are living it large, but there is one person in the background that is being ignored.  You are that person and whilst you are there at this party, it is not really happening for you and that is Sleep Well Beast in a nutshell for me.  Also, the comparison to Radiohead does not sit well for me by my colleague from Bearded Gentlemen Music (no offense meant on that one), maybe that is because I have not always loved them either.  For me, the only way to compare them to Radiohead is that they have become a band that lots of people love, but they are also an act that leave a lot of people cold.  If anything, I find them more akin to Bloc Party on this record than Radiohead – they are trying something and it feels unnatural and forced at times.  Overall though, this is an album which is played well with a few moments of brilliance, but it is as warm and welcoming as an Antarctic winter walk, I think the beast must stayed asleep on this one. 

6 out of ten – Now, I see where you were going, but it is not quite there.

Top track – Guilty Party

You can purchase Sleep Well Beast on Amazon here.

You can visit The National website here.

You can follow the activities of The National on Facebook here.

You can stream Sleep Well Beast on Spotify here.

You can stream Sleep Well Beast on Deezer.

You can stream Sleep Well Beast on Tidal.

Sparks - Hippopotamus

I knew that the Sparks have been going for a while, but I was amazed to find out whilst writing this that they have been together for forty-five years.  That is long that I have been alive and a lot longer than many other bands out there, it is a brilliant feat that they have outlasted so many of the contemporaries and other bands who have come & went after them.  Hippopotamus is their twenty-third studio album and their first since The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, as well as the 2015 collaboration with Franz Ferdinand, the fantastic FFS (our review of FFS linked here).  Recorded in 2016, it finds the Sparks returning to their traditional sound, but somehow, I feel that they never left that sound.

01 – Probably Nothing

Starting off this album is “Probably Nothing”, a song which is wondering what to say and bemoaning that it is probably best to be forgotten and it is bringing them a feeling of embarrassment.  It is a true introduction track, short and to the point with a sense of irony and charm.  It is a beautiful number, one with all the best part of the Sparks in a one minute, twenty odd seconds piece of beautiful music.

02 – Missionary Position

Sex, sex, sex, but is all about the traditional position, without much adventure to be added to the tale.  I love this song, it is a beautiful ode to being satisfied and to longevity to that tried and tested sexual pose.  As a lot of pop songs talk about sex, it is refreshing to hear a song that does it with those old-school innuendos and a sense of humour.  You only get this sort of song from the Sparks, they have brought their A-game from the start here and it is a joy to these ears.

03 – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)

The video for “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)” is a still-animation where the Sparks are chasing a bird through Paris, but the bird ends up capturing them in a cage and flying away.  It is a moody piece, one that is full of drama and a vocal performance that gives the chills that only Russell Mael can provide.  This is one of those moment where a song hits all the right spots instantly, it is an instant hit from the hands of Ron and Russell, definitely one of the best songs I have heard so far in the second half of 2017.

04 – Scandinavian Design

Not every track is going to be golden on a fifteen-track album, it is an impossible task, even for people like Sparks.  “Scandinavian Design” does not contain that magic touch, it is lacking something, much like the room described in the song itself.  It is not too bad, but it does not gain traction for me and it ends up feeling a bit hollow at the end of each listen.

05 – Giddy Giddy

I love the quirky nature of the Sparks, they can make a song which would sound like a clumsy mess in other hands and you are loving it.  “Giddy Giddy” is a brilliant example of how they do this, it is a song with a silly hook and it has a quirky nature that is undeniable.  It is also an ear worm that will stay in your head for a long time after it has finished, but it is so good that you will not care.

06 – What the Hell Is It This Time?

“What the Hell Is It This Time?” is one of the strongest song on this album, with a song about someone who is constantly testing peoples’ patience’s to their very limits and then some more after that.  It is a slow build in some ways, it is not one that is in any hurry and it sounds as if it could easily be played on for hours on end.  I love it, another perfectly crafted piece from the Brothers Mael.

07 – Unaware

Unaware” is an art pop song about a lady is has no awareness of thing around her, going through life in a fog of her own creation and it is all played out over a dark and atmospheric pop number.  It is a song which leaves the silly, fun nature of the band to the side and it sounds beautiful for being different.  I love that the Sparks can switch their style so easily and make it sound natural, “Unaware” is a great example of how to make a brooding pop song and not sound pretentious.

08 – Hippopotamus

The first single to be released from the album, a minimalist artistic statement about various objects, people and things in a pool with a strange conclusion which resolves nothing.  It is akin to the recent ending in Twin Peaks, it is not designed to give you answers as it is just designed to make you think a little too deeply about some strange lyrics which has been created as they rhyme.  It also reminds me of “Dick Around” from the brilliant Hello Young Lovers, a lost classic from Sparks.  It is a great song, one that will gain important in their back catalogue in the years to come.

09 – Bummer

Once again, Sparks change their style on this album with “Bummer”, creating a moody song that is as catchy as anything else on this album and it stands well on its own two feet.  They have a strange ability to write fantastic chorus section, the verses are works of art and it makes me want to jump around when it is being played. 

10 – I Wish You Were Fun

A song about someone you love to bits, but who is a fun as a fart in a deep-sea diving suit, “I Wish You Were Fun” is another silly moment for this song with an Oriental/London feeling to this song.  The multi-cultured sound is beautiful, the lyrics make me chuckle each time they are on and it is just a silly little catchy song.  What is there not to love here?

11 – So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside from That How Was the Play?

I love the music on “So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside from That How Was the Play?”, it just has such a massive hook to the chorus sections that it is impossible to ignore.  The lyrics are a little lost on me at the moment, but sometimes I find out the genius of a Sparks song way after I have started to listen to it.  It would not be a Sparks album without at least one enigma for later, but this is a particularly strong one that is working its way into my heart.

12 – When You’re a French Director

A song about being a French citizen who directs either films or plays, how everything is moody and you are filled with distant for the USA and their fake actors/actresses.  Featuring a guest appearance from French director Leos Carax, it is another OTT song, one that plays on a few stereotypes on both sides of the pond.  It is an OK number, but not one that has the same charm as other Sparks songs.  But like a bad pizza, a bad Sparks song is still pretty decent when compared to other artists.

13 – The Amazing Mr. Repeat

I love this minimalist song, its fast-paced verses and the lack of anything other than the core of the band.  It keeps everything so simple, so tight and it is in and out of the door so quickly that your head is left spinning.

14 – A Little Bit of Fun

The penultimate song of Hippopotamus is called “A Little Bit of Fun” which is not a fun song at all, in fact it is a little bit moody and sarcastic to be honest.  There is a tone to the vocals which is mocking and beautiful, it is one of the reasons I love this band.  They just make some fantastically wonderful songs that should be labelled with warning signs that sarcasm is contained, what a brilliant piece of art!

15 – Life with the MacBeths

Life with the MacBeths” is a dramatic ending to this album, a wonderful duet with Rebecca Sjöwall about the dramas that appear on our TV screens, with a look about and it sounds like a tabloid drama in operatic, pop form.  Once more, Sparks have done something different and it works in their favour.  It might be a bit too strange for some people, but the faithful (and I count myself as one) will lap this up and sing its praises to the heavens.

Hippopotamus is a wonderful album, a fantastic work of art that is worthy of the praise it has been receiving.  It is great to see that this album will be heard by a larger audience who will hopefully listen to some of their recent back catalogue and see what they have missed.  The song writing is of the usual high quality, with only a few tracks which do not quite make the grade.  Because of this, it feels like it could have been trimmed by a couple of tracks (just a couple) and it would have been a smoother album.  But I would rather have too much from this band than too little, they are the sort of act I could listen to for weeks and never get bored.  This album shows them flexing their own muscles properly for the first time in ages, it also shows that they still have it, they can still compete with the best on their own two feet.  Now, can we also have another FFS please, as well as more solo Sparks as well?  I truly hope so, as Hippopotamus is the best art pop album of 2017!

9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost…...

Top track – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)

You can purchase Hippopotamus on Amazon here.

You can visit the Sparks website here.

You can follow the activities of the Sparks on Facebook here.

You can stream Hippopotamus on Spotify here.

You can stream Hippopotamus on Dezzer here.

You can stream Hippopotamus on Tidal here.

13 September 2017

Gogol Bordello - Seekers and Finders

Is this really their seventh album?  That proves how much attention I have been paying to Gogol Bordello’s studio output, but there is a reason for that one.  For me, Gogol Bordello work best in the live arena, their shows are so much fun and everything feels like sunshine and the good times just keep on rolling, sort of like the Dropkick Murphys.  However, their studio output has always felt restrained in comparison, as if the songs need to be set free and allowed to run wild.  I am hoping that this has changed since I last listened to their studio work, let us find out…...

01 – Did It All

“Did It All” is an energetic opening to this album, one that is designed for the live environment, to get the crowd warmed up and dancing around.  It is full of fast pace section and sing-along choruses.  To be honest, whilst I can appreciate it and see the craftmanship of the song, it sorts of leaves me a little cold and disengaged.  But it is something I can imagine to be fun at their shows.

02 – Walking on Burning Coal

Gogol Bordello slow everything down on “Walking on Burning Coal”, a tale of apprehension and emotional pain.  It is in keeping with their back catalogue and it has a good chorus once again.  But I find myself once again wishing I was watching the band perform this live, it is just the best place to hear their work and this song is another number that feels trapped.

03 – Break into Your Higher Self

A song about the spiritual world and how it can be obtained within and not via religious channels, it is back on the faster pace, frantic style which is similar to “Did It All”.  I have a feeling that I will be like a broken record here, but this song is one that I would have loved to have heard at their show.  It feels like a caged animal when it is committed to tape and I take no pleasure in saying that, I know this will be a brilliant song to see live!

04 – Seekers and Finders

We find Gogol Bordello in reflective mood on this one, with a ballad (for want of a better word) which looks at the part which we play in the world, pondering how sometimes you can look for things and never find them.  It is a tale about your place in life and how to cope with it, but this one is the first to fall flat for me.  It just feels sorts of lifeless for me, which is a shame to be honest.

05 – Familia Bonfireball

It is a similar case with “Familia Bonfireball”, which follows a similar pattern was “Seekers and Finders” but it is looking at the families that we all create ourselves.  But I am once again disconnected from this song, but appreciating the effort behind the music. 

06 – Clearvoyance

A song about not having attachments to anywhere and moving on from place to place, a slow and peaceful number that will make people sway in unison.  This is a strange number for me, it feels like a love song but without any love being mentioned.  I suppose it is an ode to the love of travelling maybe?  Who knows, but it is an ok song that doesn’t make my world explode, but it does not displease either.

07 – Saboteur Blues

We are back with a fast-pace with “Saboteur Blues”, a song about the state of the world and they are seeing painful times in our future.  It is one of the better numbers on the album, one which will be a jewel in their live shows supporting this album as it is full of drama, pounding drums and a sense of humour in these dark times.  However, once again I am dreaming about the live show instead of gaining attachment whilst I am listening to the studio version, it really is a shame.

08 – Love Gangsters

With a slight ska feeling to the bass, “Love Gangsters” drifts by me to be honest.  The pace is neither fast or slow, it is disjointed and the song never really gains traction.  It is not a bad number, but I am not feeling this one at all.

09 – If I Ever Get Home Before Dark

Now for a band I love in the live environment, I also enjoy it when they are strange and bizarre.  They do not get more bizarre on this album than they do with “If I Ever Get Home Before Dark”, as they discuss the yearning to be home with a lover instead of being away from the homestead.  The song goes between quite verses and strange explosions of sound every now and then.  It is the one song on the album which transcends the studio, a true gem on this album.

10 – You Know Who We Are (Uprooted Funk)

You Know Who We Are (Uprooted Funk)” is another song that once again will make much more sense at their gigs, I really wish this was not the norm on this album.  It is an energetic number, one about the gypsy life and how it is for them, but the song feels as if it also needs to be set free as well.

11 – Still That Way

The album ends on a sing-along number to throw your hands around your friends’ shoulders, for singing out your lungs and parting as friends till the next time.   It is similar to a lot of other songs which band make, one that have an emotive centre and it will make the house lights rise as everyone heads for the door.  It is well written, I would never say otherwise, but it is also a song that needs to be heard live, one which I know will flourish in its correct setting.

As is always the case with Gogol Bordello in my experience, their music does not quite transfer over to the studio and give that same buzz that you get from their live shows.  It is a little too contained and these guys are musical mavericks, which leads to a slight subdue experience for music that should give thrills, spills and good times.  But whilst I am not a fan of their studio output, I still appreciate them as a live act and the amount of energy they put into making their music.  There is also a few too many slower numbers in the middle of the album, but I do not think that more livelier numbers would have changed my opinion.  One day I am sure it will all come together, but until then I will keep to their live shows.

5 out of ten - Not for everyone, but played well.

Top track – If I Ever Get Home Before Dark

You can purchase Seekers and Finders on Amazon here.

You can visit the Gogol Bordello website here.

You can follow the activities of Gogol Bordello on Facebook here.

You can stream Seekers and Finders on Spotify here.

You can stream Seekers and Finders on Deezer here.

You can stream Seekers and Finders on Tidal here.

12 September 2017

Ian Felice - In the Kingdom of Dreams

Ian Felice is probably best known for being the lead singer of The Felice Brothers, an Americana Folk band from the state of New York who have been going since 2006.  They have a staggering fifteen releases in that time, a mixture of albums, EP’s and other releases and they are currently on tour in the USA.  Ian Felice has also found time in the chaos to record and release this album, his first solo record which was recorded in four days whilst trying to escape the world of touring and some real-life dramas he was experiencing.  You may be wondering what was my reason for picking this album.  Well, the main reason I picked this one, was not because I am a fan of The Felice Brothers.  Before I picked this one, I was unaware of that back catalogue to be honest.  No, I picked this one as I like the cover.  That is right, this is another edition of Cover Roulette!  I have picked this album just because I liked the cover on the PR information which came through my email, it helps me to review something I have no preconceptions about, it means that I can be objective.  So, with no prior knowledge of this man and his work, it is time to review In the Kingdom of Dreams.

01 – In the Kingdom of Dreams

With a slow start, “In the Kingdom of Dreams” starts off this album with a tale of yearning, a desire to not wither away behind broken shells where nothing is real.  It is an image-heavy song and walks with death, it is a song that has its own voice and it also a sound akin to artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Ezra Furman.  I love the miserable experience that is at the centre of this song, it is not an easy one to like and it took a while to establish itself for me.  But it is a grower and it is truly worth the effort.

02 – Will I Ever Reach Laredo

A song about a never-ending journey, trying to reach a destination that is physical, but it is also of the mind, of the heart and of the soul.  Lights on the horizon are tempting, but they are not the true destination which is further on down the road.  It is a well-crafted number, you can tell it has been laboured over every minute detail of the song.  But for such a sparse song, it feels like there is too much going on as it progresses.  It would have said more with just the guitar and vocals than with the extra flourishes that have been added on.

03 – 21st Century

A song that has a protest feeling about it, so naturally the mind links to this to the sounds of Bob Dylan.  That is a bit hard for me to stomach at first to be honest, as I am not the biggest fan of the sound of St. Dylan.  But Mr Felice takes that sound that I find dull and lifeless, and he gives it a new coat and makes it bearable, charming and I applaud him for that.  For me, that is a real achievement as it is a song which ha changed my opinion on a sound style I had long given up on.  That is the sign of a great musician, well play sire on that one, well played!

04 – In Memoriam

With a sombre heart and reflective melodic style, we are in classic American Folk territory on this one. There is a Dylan-esque feeling to the song, which will be a big deciding factor to how much you either love or hate this song.  It is an interesting song, one that draws you in with a lamented vocal style, a performance that guides the audience through this tale of woe which it equally matches.

05 – Signs of Spring

The misery is in fully sail on this song, with a set of vocals that are singing words of happiness and love, whilst the music is so dower that even Morrissey would ask if there was anything he could do to help Mr. Felice.  It is a miserable experience on a summer’s day, the rainbow in a storm that is still going and it sounds fragile and delicate.  I love this number, it makes my heart sore to the touch with its emotional weight and I could not be happier about it!

06 – Mt. Despair

There is no happiness here, there is no joy and everything is broken.  It is a harsh number, one which will make your heart heavy with each passing beat and you might even start to cry for no reason what so ever.  It is a number that I would not return to that much, but I appreciate the work behind it, it is just too hard to listen to at times.

07 – Road to America

On the “Road to America”, a political picture with sarcastic remarks is unleashed and it feels like the first laugh after heartache, it is a release and it helps the listener recover after all that sombre music.  It is still a dark number, I think that is Mr. Felice’s MO, he is one of those people who can naturally on the reflective side of life and “Road to America” is a journey through the American experience and it is reflecting how it is a little strange.  At least that is how it is sound to me across the other side of the pond…...

08 – Water Street

“Water Street” is back in story telling mode (not that the album has been anything other than that), with a tale of family and reflection.  It is another gentle piece, one that keeps everything simple and it is another beautiful crafted number that sounds charming, visually based and fragile. 

09 – Ten to One

A journey with death that we are all on is played out here, with the Grim Reaper being all present and taunting the singer.  This song is a dark as they come on this album, there is no light coming to you at the end of the tunnel, but it is also the strongest song on this collection.  It is a song that spits in the eye socket of Death and faces it head on.  There is no escape, but there is no fear either.

10 – In the Final Reckoning

Ending this album with another tale of death and the devil, “In the Final Reckoning” is a fitting final statement for this album.  It is gentle, but full of visions and promises, it is a final waltz as everything comes to an end.  There is so many images from this song, some many words that you want to cherry pick, but if you mentioned one thing, you would need to mention the rest.  It ends this album with a sense of pain, but it also ends the album in the right tone – still walking with Death.

What an enigma of an album!  It is a strange beast that held my attention throughout its course, whilst it also made me feel as if time would never end to the point of distraction at the same time.  Before this record, I had not even heard of the Felice Brothers, so I had no idea what to expect.  What I found is a curious piece, an album that is a beautiful piece of art from a songwriter I will be looking further into.  For me, the influences of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and those who went before him are on full display on this record, but there is a strong voice at the core of this which takes those sounds and makes those the voice of Ian Felice.  It is Mr Felice’s vocal ability that sets him apart from his own influences, set him apart from my own hang ups over this genre and it is his hypnotic voice that not only sound welcoming, but they also manage to avoid sounding cliched or for purists only.  Nothing on this album outstays its welcome, there is no dead weight and it is a powerful record.  It is not an easy album for me, it is a dark collection of songs with pockets of pain to sink its claws into your soul.  But it is also a well-crafted piece of art, an album worthy of praise that it will undoubtedly receive.  For me, it has made me a fan of an album from a style of music that I have so far in my life disliked, I think that is a job well done – even if it is as happy as a rainy Wednesday afternoon in a broken café in Middlesbrough during winter.

9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost…...

Top track – Ten to One

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Echo of Pleasure

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are an American project, in the studio it is all the work of Kip Berman, live he has a full band that assist him and bring his vision to life.  The Echo of Pleasure is the fourth album from TPoBPaH, which comes at a time of upheaval in Mr Berman’s life.  He is about to become (or already is) a father, so his aims will have to change and he has mentioned that this might be the last we hear of this project for a while.  The Echo of Pleasure was released digitally on 1st September 2017 and will be getting a physical release later in the month, they have been on tour in the UK recently, they also have a USA/Canadian tour coming up as well as a tour of Spain.  So, what does this album sound like?

01 – My Only

The album has a melancholic start with “My Only”, a song which is trying to comfort a lover about fidelity and how they are the only person for them.  It is a slow song, one that sounds like a mixture of MGMT and The Killers at their moodiest and it is a well-played number with a catchy chorus, but it does not have enough energy to be endearing in my books.

02 – Anymore

A song with a rebellious spirit, a need for a final escape and for a lover to return, “Anymore” is a hymn for the disenchanted middle England/USA middle-class teenage years, for someone who is struggling with their feelings, but is not in a position to know how the world works outside the confines of their own small world.  It is something that some people will turn their noses up at, it is something that some people will identify with; for me, it is an average song lyrically over a great piece of music.  It is one of the brighter moments on this album and will be a song that I think will go down well in their live shows.

03 – The Garret

There is a whiff of familiarity with “The Garret”, that guitar lick which runs throughout the song is very familiar and it drives me to distraction on this song.  It is another song with is musically strong, but lyrically weak for my tastes.  But I cannot say it is played bad at all, it is just that I have heard this sort of song before.

04 – When I Dance with You

“When I Dance with You” is a high-energy indie pop number for the dancefloor, a song that will make the night seem brighter, the drinks flow faster and the good times will keep rolling as it is played.  It is a simple love song, but one that has everything going for it on this album.  It just comes together and it feels original as well, their influences are not smothering it and that is an important step in the right direction in my eyes on this album.

05 – The Echo of Pleasure

The synth 80’s are back with the title track of this album, with a broken relationship forming the foundation of this song.  It is an angry song, full of bitter bile and scorn as the love has turned into hatred and everything has gone south.  It is something that some people will identify with, some people will say other things that are unkind.  It is another song where the music is swamped by influence, but when the influences sound this good, it is hardly a bad thing.

06 – Falling Apart So Slow

Falling Apart So Slow” is back in New Order territory once more with a little bit of Spector as well, which sort of leave me a bit cold once again.  This sort of slow indie heartache is hard to pull off, sadly they are not close on “Falling….” as it sounds like a child who does not know what love really is.  It is a low point if I am honest, so I will move onto the next song with haste.

07 – So True

Vocal duties are taken by Jen Goma from A Sunny Day in Glasgow for “So True”, it is a beautiful mixture of vocals harmony on this one with a summer-influenced song that gives it an anthemic feeling.  Lyrically, the song is dealing with conflicting emotions, waiting for love, partying till dawn This all adds up to give the song a disjointed feeling, but it is not the worst song I have heard either.  It is an indie pop anthem, which stays around a few moments too long to be honest.

08 – The Cure for Death

The penultimate song of this album is another song that is worried about love, trying to figure everything out and it is all very dramatic.  It is also the same tale that has followed the best percentage of this album – it sounds familiar, the music is the best thing about it and it is sort of forgettable as well.  It is a shame as they have gone to a lot of effort on thissong (and by extension, the rest of the record), but it is drifting past me and leaving very little trace that it even existed.

09 – Stay

Ending the album is the slow, synth heavy which is laden with doubt, fear and trepidation about how everything will turn out once all is said and done.  It is another highlight on this album, one where everything comes together as it feels like there is an emotional connection on this one, it feels like a choice has been made and it is right for all parties.  To be able to articulate that in a song is something I admire and I applaud the band for this, it ends the album on a sombre high note.

I think it is safe to say that this is not an album I would return to in a hurry, but it is also not an album I would dismiss out of hand.  It is just an album that is not for me, which sometimes happens when you tend to review a lot.  It feels over familiar from the start; their influences are so strong that it is starving of an original spark to gain my interest here.  For a band who are four albums into their career, that is a little worrying to be honest.  I do not think that the impending fatherhood will have been a distraction, as I have checked out their other work and came to a similar conclusion about their work.  But maybe this is their own voice and I am just being cynical.  I would also like to say that to be fair to TPoBPaH, the songs on this album are not that bad in the grand scheme of things, they are just numbers that I have heard before by other artist in different forms.  Kip Berman is not a bad musician, his music will have his fans in rapture will enjoy this thoroughly and dance late into the night whilst it is playing, but I am not part of that audience.  So, for me this is an average album that is played well, but not my sort of thing.

5 out of ten – Not for everyone, but played well

Top track – Stay

You can purchase The Echo of Pleasure on Amazon here.

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