Having lit a fire in my heart in 2006 with his self released gem Sologne and then left me feeling slightly flat with his debut release for Sub Pop Loney, Noir, Emil Svanangen had some work to do with his latest offering Dear John. It's not that I didn't like Loney, Noir, it was just that it did the same as Sologne and at the end of my review for the Sub Pop debut I was looking for improvement. Well I am pleased to say that though Dear John follows much the same path as all the rest it is a very different affair in maturity and all-round scale.
The charm of Sologne was in its DIY simplicity. Simple, underproduced songs delivering perfect morsels of hope and warmth to a barren world. Well Svanangen's sound has grown up somewhat since we last heard him and Dear John emerges from the first moment as a mightier more determined and self aware composition. Airport Surroundings gleams with this new maturity as it breathes first life into the record. From the outset it's clear that Svanangen has no need for his DIY equipment anymore as a highly produced and simmering techno beat form the basis of this first song. It ticks along uneasily while all the time swelling to a gently crescendo. Layers of instruments join the march and Svanangen's own vocals are multi-tracked to great effect as the feeling of amassing detail pile on top of each other for the grand finale. And this is just track one.
As is often the case in life, with added maturity comes added pressure and consequently added tension. Much of this record relies on this brooding tension. Svanangen's warmth and hopeful slant are very much present but everything simmers none the less. The way he conjures up this feeling is the use of the gentle build. Many of the songs follow the same pattern of a tip-toe start followed by a huge rise in sound. It works very well throughout the first 4 tracks with this pattern being followed in varying degrees of intensity. I Was Only Going Out has the same effect but with a more subtle approach, and Harsh Words to even subtler ends. However it does start to get slightly predictable. It's not until we get to Under A Silent Sea that the pattern changes, and it needs to. The song floats on a gentle guitar pick to a point where a near euphoric House beat threatens to take off, but Svanangen resists the temptation to rocket off and instead takes it all down again and replaces it with a stark programmed beat that sees out the rest of the song. It's a masterful piece of construction and pace and actually opens up the rest of the album. It leaves room for the backbone song Summers which will remind any fan of why they fell in love with this music. It bucks the trend of the slow build and just skips along on a blissful beat for 4 perfect minutes. Like all his music this song sees Svanangen whispering sweet tales of loss and regret with great swathes of melancholia and yet your heart dances along all the time. It's the song to see us through this pesky recession. In fact if the credit crunch were a movie this song would be the closing song titles when everything turned out ok.
Svanangen had a more than sturdy foundation on which to build and with Dear John he has really used it to it's full potential. He's got numerous instruments each adding texture and richness to his sound, he's got choral accompaniment, driving production and a voice dripping with sweetness. It's the perfect blend and works a treat here. You need this record if you want to make it out the other side of this cold winter. It's a triumphant marching band of hope that knows the pitfalls ahead and feels the pain of the past but marches on nonetheless.Read more 3.5 star reviews
Started as a side project spin-off from both the Pixies and the Throwing Muses, The Breeders' first album Pod snuck out without too much fanfare. After Pixies-riffers Nirvana exploded the Alternative music scene, the groundswell built - and thanks to a string of great singles, second album Last Splash hit the mainstream. Part time Pixie Kim Deal became a full-time Breeder and with Tanya Donnely's departure she was now clearly in charge. Progress slowed. With the Breeders now becoming a day job, another side project was needed to get things going and the GBV-influenced Amps hit the spot.
With The Amps essentially re-branding back to the Breeders, Title TK marked a return in 2002 with some critical accclain (certainly from me), but as the pace dropped back to a crawl album four didn't seem likely. With absence making the heart grow fonder, the extended hiatus that The Breeders have found themselves on has done less to little to lower expectations from the band and with the Pixies barnstorming reunion still fresh in the mind those expectations must seem astronomical, so it was with some surprise that the band's website announced new material late last year.
So what's the result? Another Breeders album. Probably not their best, perhaps not their worst - but it's a welcome return, with many individual highlights. While Mountain Battles may be a title more suitable for a Led Zeppelin comeback, it highlights a notable theme through the record and opener Overglazed sets the bar high with a slow building call-to-arms that is crying out for a Viking clad video to accompany it. Night of Joy is a beautiful masterpiece, building a complex mood with little other than a subtle chord progression and reapeating, simple lyrics ....delivered in Deal's unique style. We're Gonna Rise continues both the evocative mood and the theme ("Light hits my shield"), followed by a track that actually seems to be sung in Orc - although title German Lessons might suggest otherwise. Here unfortunately we hit one of my all time pet hates - foreign language singing (David Gedge, you know who you are).
In this case the second language strangely illustrates the magic formula that Kim Deal seems to find when she hits the mark. The minimal lyrics of Night of Joy convey all their emotion through her singing style, adding weight to the words through tone and repetition - but when singing in a second language, not of that emotion comes across, leaving nothing but slightly cold words. Don't even get me started on 'epic' Spanish language track Regalame Esta Noche.
Re-visiting something you clearly get a bit sick of is a thankless task, and with the album never really hitting the highs of those few opening tracks again it could be argued that The Breeders have never in fact had a bonifide classic. As their raft of great EP's, covers, b-sides and alternate versions stand testament, The Breeders were always most successful as a singles band and in many ways, nothing has chnaged. There's no Cannonball or Safari here, but Overglazed leads the charge into a string of great tracks, while Night of Joy is as good as anything they have done.Read more 3 star reviews
Following the end of the never-ending Pixies reunion, Kim Deal has been back in the studio and has now finished a new Breeders album - Mountain Battles. Recorded by Steve Albini, Manny Nieto and Ben Mumphrey, Mountain Battles will be released on Monday 7th April by 4AD.
2. Bang On
3. Night Of Joy
4. We're Gonna Rise
5. German Studies
8. Walk It Off
9. Regalame Esta Noche
10. Here No More
11. No Way
12. It's The Love
13. Mountain Battles
The band are set to play a full UK tour in April...
It seems like only yesterday that Emil Svanangen aka Loney, Dear first took my ears gently in his hands and whispered his sweet words of quiet and unassuming beauty. Well, he's back to do it all again with a re-issue of his 2005 self-released fourth album Loney, Noir. Made around the same time as last years Sologne this new release provides more of the same. Gently uplifting ditties that skip along playfully to washes of synths, tinkering percussion, rising drums and Svanangen's now familiar vocal tones that can tip toe with delicate grace or rise to soaring falsetto at a moments notice.
Sinister In A State Of Hope takes our hand and leads us gently into this album. "All I want is a state of hope," he confesses here and from this sublime introduction he seems ever nearer to his goal. I Am John picks things up nicely and soon builds to a crescendo of just about every instrument to hand. This leads on perfectly to one of the many highlight moments on this record. Saturday Waits basically does the same as all the others, but somehow seems to raise the bar on hands-in-the-air satisfaction. On I Am The Odd One Svanangen claims "I turned the right to wrong// I came along, I brought the shade," Well tell that to my hands that have been raised skyward for so long they are going numb. This satisfaction rarely fades throughout the course of the album until we are eased out by the final two tracks that take on a more contemplative mood.
Having said all that, there is something missing here that I can't quite put my finger on but it has something to do with familiarity. I can't tell whether this record isn't as good as Sologne or Loney, Dear's spell is too much a part of my life now. After all, the warmth of the sun's rays aren't quite so comforting the more you feel them. Loney, Noir doesn't move things on from Sologne and that will be my only complaint. It seems silly to criticise this guy for providing us with more absolute bliss but I am sure he has more up his sleeve. I will undoubtedly listen to this album, along with Sologne, for as long as I feel the need for hope, warmth and sensitivity but for now I am allowing room for improvement.