Beck – Colors

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Three years after the mellow and melancholic Morning Phase, Beck once again proves that he’s able to reinveint himself in any genre he seems fitting – with great results. Colors is a colorful (duh), glossy and sparkling album, full of upbeat, happy songs. It’s not about pushing the boundaries or winning a Grammy this time – this record is pure fun, designed to make people dance. And it does its job brilliantly.

The title track sets everything in motion – very rhythmic and energetic, it captivates the listener right from the start. The dreamy Seventh Heaven features some great vocal harmonies and is just pure bliss. I’m So Free features a surprising, heavily distorted guitar, although the chorus seems a little bit uninspired.

The next three songs are the highlights of this album and no wonder why they were put as a centerpiece: the midtempo Dear Life has quite a bittersweet feel, despite the funky piano. No Distraction sounds a bit like a modern attempt at The Police aesthetic (especially in the verses). Once again, catchy hooks galore, and your feet start dancing on their own. But the true wonder here is Dreams – quite possibly the perfect pop song – that multi-layered chorus will haunt you for a long time, and the tempo changes a couple times, making it unpredictable and guaranteeing it sounds fresh and exciting even after many listens.

Not everything here is so perfect though: Wow is a messy attempt at trap (I guess?). Not sure why it’s here, definitely a skippable track. I’m not so sold on the closer, Fix Me, either -it’s a bland ballad, not really memorable.

Overall though, it’s probably the party album of the year. Great songwriting combined with visionary production allowed him to make a convincing stylistic change, despite pop music being the dangerous teritory that has led many to fall into the sellout category. Beck does it effortlessly – it’s genuinely a great pop album

8/10

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Liam Gallagher – As You Were

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See, I thought this album would be mediocre at best. With Beady Eye dissolving after two underwhelming records and Liam throwing insults on Twitter and everywhere else I was afraid he was slowly turning into a parody of himself, a perfect model of a fallen rockstar. But our kid proved me wrong. As You Were is the best thing he’s done since Oasis swansong, Dig Out Your Soul almost a decade ago.

The first thing I have to point out – Liam’s voice. We all heard the decrease in his trademark snarl, and the damage seemed final. But something very good must have happened, because on this record it sounds like that voice back in the 90’s – glorious in every aspect. And it’s not just the studio magic – live recordings confirm that he’s in a great vocal form.

Musically, it’s not surprising nor very experimental – most of the time it’s a mix of Beatles and Stones in different proportions, and it works out very well. Basically, songs on this album can be sorted into three categories: melodic ballads (Paper Crown, Chinatown and the lennonesque For What It’s Worth), galloping rockers led by fast-paced acoustic guitar (Greedy Soul, thunderous You Better Run and I Get By) and the tracks with a slight psychedelic vibe to it (Bold, Universal Gleam). What’s important is that all three kinds sound convincing and they’re mixed in good proportions – the album is really well construced when it comes to pace.

Okay, it may be borrowing too much from the bands Liam’s been inspired by for years (Beatles, Stones, a bit of T.Rex here and there). But if you’re an Oasis fan you know how well these insprations can work out when done by the Gallaghers. If you consider this kind of music redundant and reject anything that got less than 7 on Pitchfork – you’re not gonna like it, move along. However I must warn you, you’re missing on a great piece of rock ‘n roll.

It’s triumphant, confident, bursting with great tracks that (finally!) prove Liam’s songwriting skills. I was afraid it will be shit, but it turned out to be BIBLICAL. Love at first listen.

9/10

Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life

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My Love is Cool was probably one of the best debuts of the decade. What was so great about it was the fact that it seamlessly mixed different genres and moods, while maintaining a unique feel that the band truly have a sound of their own – and Ellie Rowsell’s voice sounded amazing regardless if it was a punk banger or a moody ballad.

On their sophomore album, the band goes even further in eclectic songwriting. It was perfectly obvious even before the release – the singles (which are also the four opening tracks) varied from shoegaze (Heavenward, where the Slowdive inspriation is pretty clear), ferocious punk (Yuk Foo) to dream pop (Don’t Delete The Kisses) with a clear and nice Beautifully Unconvential thrown somewhere in between.

So we reach brand new material by track no.5, and it keeps a steady level from there too. Planet Hunter starts off slow and gentle, and it gets noisier and more unsettling with time, all the way to the finish. Formidable Cool mixes groove and creepy atmosphere with elegance and with power too. Generally speaking, the band has gone for a more ethereal and noisy vibe this time (even though the debut had these too). Some excellent sound passages and Wall of Sound guitars dominate the whole thing. The album ends with a title track, a monumental juggernaut of a track. Multi-layered and complex, it’s a worthy successor to Giant Peach from the debut.

It seems the band knows perfectly well what they want to do, and it can only get better with next recors. For now, let’s enjoy Visions of a Life – a great proof that the second album doesn’t have to be the difficult one.

8/10

 

The Horrors – V

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The Horrors are an exceptional band, we all know that. But the follow-up to the excellent Skying, the 2014 Luminous felt a bit undercooked. I was wondering if that was just an accident or the beginning of a decline. Luckily, V is a glorious return to form.

The opening Hologram hints at a more industrial approach that is present throughout the album – it’s motoric and rhytmic – not a bad track, but it doesn’t really work well as an opener. But it only gets better from here. The Madchester groove of Press Enter to Exit would be a perfect fit for Skying, and the fake ending makes the song even better. Machine is an industrial-noise-shoegazy masterpiece of a song, great choice for a lead single.

Ghost starts off rather dreamy, but in the end it goes off with cascading drums and dazzling synths. Point of No Reply has eighties influences written all over it, and Weighed Down is a dark and groovy post puk tune. Gathering seems rather odd with acoustic guitar thrown in the mix – probably the lowest point on the album, but still pretty decent. World Below has sparkling synthesizers all over the place (it’s also the shortest track here at 3:20, all the other ones are stretched to at least five).

The band leaves the biggest surprise for the end – Something to Remember Me By is a synthpop banger, elongated to almost seven minutes – an astonishing finish of a great record. The Horrors are back at their best.

9/10

The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

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I never really was a Killers fan. Apart from Hot Fuss and a few tracks off Sam’s Town their entire discography seems rather forgettable. This new release however is a pretty solid addition, and it certainly delivers.

The band wastes no time and hits us with two best songs right on the start – the epic title track masterfully builds tension with its soaring bassline and Flowers’ emotional vocals. After that, we’re hit with the glamorous and bombastic funk of The Man. It’s catchy, energetic and passionate – a great two-track combo for a start.

Unfortunately, the third song, the overblown Rut is probably the worst here, and it really slows down the pace. From now on, the album doesn’t really have any highs and lows, it just keeps a very solid level right until the end. The band serves some huge choruses (Run For Cover), some conceptual approach (Tyson vs. Douglas) and a bit of slower, more reflective tracks (Some Kind of Love). The Calling may be a bit of surprise, as it sounds like bluesy Depeche Mode from the Delta Machine era. The melancholic Have All the Songs Been Written? provides a solid finish to the album.

It may not be groundbreaking or ambitious in any way, but Wonderful Wonderful is a healthy dose of classy, well-written pop rock.

7/10

Lee Ranaldo – Electric Trim

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Life after Sonic Youth exists, as was proven by Thurston Moore earlier this year with the release of Rock n’ Roll Consciousness. Now, another member of the cult band releases a solo album, and it’s a great one as well. Lee’s status in SY was kinda similar to George Harrison in The Beatles – he was always the third guy, not as prominent as Thurston and Kim, but those few songs he sung on every album were usually among the best – his warm voice and a great melodic sense contributed to some hidden gems in the band’s discography.

Electric Trim is pretty much what you would expect from Lee – not shying away from experiments while maitaining a degree of accesibility, mostly because of his songwriting – lots of influences of the aforementioned Beatles can be heard here – not just the Imagine piano part in New Thing.

My personal favourites would be : Moroccan Mountains – a great opener that’s changing the pace and tempo quite often – it instantly hypes you up for the rest of the album, the moody and haunting Thrown Over the Wall and Purloined with a brilliant chorus, but the entire album keeps a very good standard and I can’t really pick any track that feels off.

Overall, and excellent record by a great artist – it’s clever, ambitious and complex, but also so well written and played that it can be accesed by pretty much anybody – great stuff!

8/10

 

Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold

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A new Foo Fighters album! If this was 2011 I’d be really excited. Maybe I kinda got bored of the band, maybe it’s the result of a very lackluster Sonic Highways three years ago, but I haven’t felt any hype upon the release, so I had sort of clear vision (least I hope so).

And you know what? Because of the lack of expectations I was really shocked when I first listened to this album and I was even wondering if I should give it a rating around 8. But I was only halfway through the album then. The second part of the record really ruined the experience and… bored me. Like so much I fell asleep. During a Foo Fighters album. Unbelievable.

Let’s focus on the good stuff for now though. The lead single Run is just so brilliant with its many changes of tempo and mood, and it brings a great vocal hook along the way. Dave Grohl talked a lot about being influenced by The Beatles in the interviews and it really shows through the album (vocal harmonies!). Basically, the first five songs are pure Foos at their best: La Dee Da keeps you on your toes with clever rhythm changes, Make It Right is simply a realy good song and the apocalyptic The Sky Is The Neighbourhood is spine-tingling and just amazing.

About the second half… it’s so uninteresting I don’t really know what to write about it. Sunday Rain is somewhat pleasant (note Paul McCartney on the drums) but the rest is just generic alt/hard rock without any memorable moments. We know you’re a better songwriter than that Dave!

Ultimately, it’s dissapointing as an album, but some tracks here are absolute highlights of the year for me. Get it for the first half, forget the second.

6/10

 

Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage

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First of all, I tried to avoid all the RATM comparisions but I just can’t. It seems like Zack wasn’t interested in a new record, so Morello, Commerford and Wilk decided to do the closest thing and make this album, basically Rage Against the Machine featuring Chuck D and B-Real. Which is not neccesarily a bad thing. Sure, the whole thing is not very original or groundbreaking, and you get the feeling it would sound much better with De La Rocha taking the vocal duties, but taking away all the negative emotions I felt before the release it turned out to be pretty damn solid.

Of course, the main inspriation of the album is a certain orange man with a wig – so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the main themes are: racism, political lies and corporate power – that was basically the reason the group was formed. Poverty and the legalization of drugs also appear as themes of some tracks.

Musically, it’s also not a surprise: some RATM-like bangers (Radical Eyes), huge political anthems (Unfuck the World, Hail to the Chief) and some more laid back, funky tunes like Legalize Me or Take Me Higher.

I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this album very often, but my expectations were much lower and I feel pleasantly surpised. But there’s one thing this album does more than anything – it proves what the world really needs right now is a proper Rage Against the Machine album. It’s your turn, Zack!

7/10

The National – Sleep Well Beast

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The saddest band on the planet are back with another album packed with melancholic and depressive track, this time with a slight touch of electronica. It’s still a relatively safe release from the band and it should satisfy die-hard fans.

Songs on this album can be sorted into two groups: the first being elegant, pretty but somewhat bland ballads that just slowly flow and let you enjoy the melodies and Matt Berninger’s voice. The second group is more interesting – tracks where the rhythm section makes things really interesting. The gritty, post-punk noise of Turtleneck, irregular rhythms on Day I Die (definitely the best song on the album) or extremely well-written The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.

The electronic elements I mentioned early are more of a subtle touch rather than main parts of the songs, and they add a nice tone, complementing the band’s sound really well. Overall, it’s not a surprising album at all – Sleep Well Beast is as beautifully grumpy as The National’s previous releases. While the almost hour-long album may seem to be boring at times it’s still pretty rewarding, giving you that bittersweet sense of nostalgia. Perfect soundtrack for long, rainy autumn evenings, without a doubt.

7/10

Death From Above 1979 – Outrage! Is Now

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When the Canadian duo returned from a decade-long hiatus three years ago it was a big deal – the cult status the band has set the bar really high for The Physical World. For me, it was an excellent comeback, but some reviews were rather lukewarm. The group’s third album is free of all the expectations and hype, and it’s interesting to see what they would do without all the unnecessary pressure.

The album opens up with Nomad, a true banger led by a brilliant riff – it sounds like a straight continuation of the path set on the previous record. Freeze Me showcases a more radio-friendly approach, the verses somehow remind me of Linkin Park (in a good way). The bluesy Caught Up sounds like something straight off a Royal Blood album. No surprise, DFA are the pioneers of the minimalistic bass+drums approach the British duo have used. Same thing can be said about Statues later into the album.

The band seem to be trying new things and experimenting with their sound a bit – be itthe frantic Never Swim Alone or the motoric Moonlight is comes off rather well. The album ends after 36 minutes with the excellent Holy Books and leaves a pretty good impression. Probably in a few years we’ll look at this album as some sort of a transition record, but it’s  very enjoyable anyway.

7/10