Album Review- The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts

By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)

What was once a four-piece surf-rock outfit from New York, is now essentially a solo project from front-man Jonny Pierce – although what it lacks in former members, it more than makes up for in raw and gritty song-writing talent. Abysmal Thoughts is the fourth studio album from The Drums, the follow-up to Encyclopedia of 2014. To many people, mention of The Drums brings to mind nostalgic summer staple tracks such as Let’s Go Surfing, which raises the question- why would fans of those kind of feel-good vibes want to approach an album with such a name as Abysmal Thoughts? The trick is to not let the title put you off: yes, the songwriting in this album covers many difficult topics such as sexuality and despair, but with a quirky edge similar to that of Joy Division and The Smiths, it’s not only easy to listen to but extremely thought-provoking as well.

Opening track Mirror is smooth and echoey to start with, but after the chorus kicks in (accompanied by ethereal female backing vocals), a steady-building drum beat builds up and leads to a manic drop with synths flying around in the background. Ending as minimalistic as it began, the final synths blend in seamlessly with the following track, I’ll Fight For Your Life – an upbeat track with lyrics that illustrate the carefree and reckless side of love: ‘We barely made it out alive / and now we’re on a train tonight / a different city, a different life / will it ever feel right?

However, not every track about love is an uplifting one. Head of the Horse is arguably one of the most poignant and memorable tracks on the album, as it is here that Pierce tells the story of his difficulties growing up gay, which, with pastors for parents, was obviously not the easiest. Although it has a chilled-out beat and smooth falsetto vocals, lyrically it’s heartbreaking: ‘Your sister got married fourteen times / But if you fall in love, son; that’s a crime / Well, I fell in love and told him I was happy / My dad hugged me and said this would be the last hug‘. It’s difficult to turn such a sad topic into a happy-sounding song, but Pierce has the ability to turn previous pain into something meaningful and great.

More highlights of this album include Blood Under My Belt, the lead single- at first listen, clear Joy Division influences can be heard, especially with a beat almost identical to Disorder. This, combined with short and desperate lyrics about death and love, makes it also comparable to the likes of The Smiths, but with The Drums’ own breezy spin put on it. Pierce’s signature falsetto vocals in Heart Basel are also reminiscent of Morrissey’s, and his style of telling tales of heartbreak layered over an otherwise happy-sounding track is extremely clever and makes each listen different to the last.

Although this album was mainly based off unfortunate events, The Drums has crafted a well-put-together collection of stories: granted, not all of them happy, but this will make for a perfect summer album nonetheless.

7/10


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So Far, so good? New LCD Soundsystem tracks REVIEWED

By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)

Outgrowing a band or a certain style of music is a fear that many of us have, and it is a fear that lays mostly in the members of the bands themselves. So 7 years ago, when LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy claimed exactly that, the last thing we expected this year was not one, but two tracks and an upcoming unnamed album that so far lyrically illustrates the pure irony of Murphy‘s completely untrue statement.

First up is lead single call the police – starting off with with a simple and minimalistic beat, it immediately brings to mind tracks from their last full-length release in 2010, This Is Happening, such as Dance Yrself Clean. This quickly builds up a sense of infectious momentum as the bass line drives the intro forward to the opening lyrics- ‘We all, we all, we all, we all know this is nothing‘, which perfectly highlights the irony of Murphy‘s statement of being too old for the band. He proves himself quite wrong in the next seven minutes- once the drums start up, layer upon layer of shimmering cymbals, squealing guitar solos and increasingly quirky lyrics (‘Well there’s a full-blown rebellion but you’re easy to confuse / by triggered kids and fakers and some questionable views‘) come together to form seven minutes of raw energy and positivity. Unlike the aforementioned Dance Yrself Clean, the track doesn’t revert back to its minimalistic opening at the end, but carries on triumphantly the whole way through, never losing momentum: this is a comeback anthem for sure.

If call the police is the party, american dream is the sour feeling the following morning. Following a gentle waltz rhythm accompanied by tinkling synths, it’s easy to listen to, but the lyrics spell out a pretty accurate view of the current shitshow that is life in America: ‘it’s the drug of the heart and you can’t stop the shaking / cause the body wants what it’s terrible at taking‘. The fact that this, like the first track, is a long one, and there isn’t a lot of instrumental changes in the song, indicates that it really should be boring, but it isn’t. The lyrics are the undoubtedly the highlight of this song, and the cutting truth that they capture ensure that everybody, in one way or another, can relate to them. Despite this being quite an emotional slap in the face following the fist-pumping call the police, in no way does the solemn message make it any less enjoyable.

With a great deal of pressure on their return, plus Murphy‘s apparent self-doubt, LCD Soundsystem worried fans for a number of years. Would they be back, and more importantly, would it be worth it? The answer is yes- these two tracks prove that their time away has been extremely beneficial, and leaves fans hopefully wondering what their next release will hold.


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Track Review: Want You Back by Haim

By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)

The only thing more difficult than trying to pronounce Haim was the four-year gap in their catalogue we had to endure after they dropped Days Are Gone in 2013: a nostalgic and summery debut that set the bar for their next endeavor extremely high; perhaps a little too high.

Want You Back is the lead single from their forthcoming album, Something To Tell You, available July 7th. At first listen, it’s everything you would expect from the Haim sisters- a groovy bass line, fast-paced and high-pitched harmonies and a swelling chorus rife with backing vocals. So much so that this could easily be another single from their debut; after waiting for so long, it’s a little underwhelming that their sound, albeit a unique one, hasn’t developed that much since 2013. It is clear that they are taking on a more 90’s, stripped-back sound than in their previous record- the three-chord melody and skittering hi-hat are features that, although they cropped up a lot in Days Are Gone, have been moulded to create an understated yet slightly boring track.

Having said that, the song itself is catchy and cleverly written, with Danielle singing about an attempt to win back an ex after a break-up. ‘I’ll give you all the love I never gave before I left you‘, she pleads over a hand-clapping beat. It’s a ballad, for sure, but with a fresh and radio-friendly makeover that makes it easy and fun to appreciate, and also incredibly difficult to get out of your head.

It’s the comeback we have all been waiting for, yet it leaves the listener feeling like they’ve just missed the mark of what could have potentially been a very successful summer staple. But again, this is only the first single; Haim could be about to reclaim their dusty space at the table and fill our summer with a handful of great tunes that we know they are more than capable of.

5/10


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Track Review: J-Boy by Phoenix

By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)

Following the news of a 33-date world tour (their first live shows in three years) and a number of snippets from songs off their new album Ti Amo, Phoenix have returned boasting a more polished electronic dance sound with their new track, J-BoyThe French indie-pop outfit have not released an album since their spring 2013 release of Bankrupt!, a heavily synth-driven album which was criticised to an extent for being too repetitive and exhausting, especially after the huge success of their previous album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix– impeccably crafted bursts of electro-pop.

J-Boy sees Phoenix fine-tuning their sound to something that at first appears to be chaotic but delves into a shimmering neon-lit journey of toe-tapping synths and a heavy, consistent beat. Elements of the previous album can be heard, but with a more mature and brilliant edge. Vocalist Thomas Mars is the driving force of this song, much more so than in most of the tracks on Bankrupt!, and a stylish selection of lyrics such as being ‘higher than a disco ball’ and ‘kamikazes in a hopeless world’, shows that their songwriting talents haven’t diminished despite their 4-year long hiatus.

The band themselves have described their upcoming album as ‘an album about simple pure emotions; love, desire, lust, and innocence’. They have also linked it to their European roots, branding it a ‘fantasised version of Italy’. This sleek lead single is merely a taste of what Phoenix will no doubt have to offer on Ti Amo. The album will be available on June 9th, and if this single is anything to go by, it will boast a radiant and new sound more than worth the wait.

8/10


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Looking Back At…Electra Heart by Marina and the Diamonds

By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)

A cynical cross between the American Dream and a Greek tragedy, Marina Lambrini Diamandis exploded in a glittering mist back onto our radios five years ago with sophomore album Electra Heart, two years after her debut The Family Jewels.

In the lead-up to the release of the album, some kind of identity crisis overtook her website as a collection of GIFs and videos were uploaded involving her wearing the classic blonde curly wig and Hollywood pin-up makeup, all boasting the same tagline- ‘pick your personality’. It was soon revealed that Marina would be taking on a cruel and cold-hearted alter-ego for this album, compared to the naïve, I-don’t-know-what-I-want nature of the first- Electra Heart.

The sound leap from the first album to this was a huge risk- going from indie Björk-like tracks with hints of Lily Allen-esque sarcasm in the lyrics to electronic bubblegum-pop is something not many female artists tend to do, although the charts were dominated at this time by Ke$ha and Katy Perry. However, having collaborated with Liam Howe, who previously worked with the likes of Britney Spears, her transition to alternative pop was a seamless one.

Electra Heart is a cold girl, for reasons we assume to center around having her heart broken multiple times before. Album opener Bubblegum Bitch is a fun, fast-paced bop, but look past the beat and at the lyrics and they take on another, colder meaning- ‘I’ll chew you up and I’ll spit you out / cause that’s what young love is all about‘. Primadonna was the big chart number- a cheeky, sarcastic and over-the-top ode to wanting everything, and not stopping at anything to get it.

The upbeat tracks in this album contribute to one side of Electra’s perfect-girl personality- Beauty Queen. However, the other three sides (Homewrecker, Housewife, and Idle Teen) are much darker and act as stories rather than just songs. Teen Idle itself is a haunting monologue about suicide, eating disorders and a strive for perfection. Starring Role tells the painful tale of staying in a dead-end relationship when you know fine well they have feelings for someone else- ‘You don’t love me / big fucking deal / I’ll never tell you how I feel’. We see and hear Electra trying to find her place in the world when so much is getting in the way of perfection, and it is extremely rare that an album can make you dance away to one song, and feel the raw and painful emotion in the following.

Written and based entirely on her own teenage experiences, Marina provided us with a bittersweet ode to the American dream turning sour. This collection of songs is sharp, honest and humorous at times, and although the concept of the album can be difficult to grasp, Marina’s eccentric tapestry of alter-egos makes for a hugely enjoyable yet poignant listen.


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ALBUM REVIEW: HEARTWORMS by THE SHINS

By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)

If I had to pick an album to soundtrack my early teens, it would be Port of Morrow by The Shins– without a doubt. I’m pretty sure it was exclusively my go-to album for the best part of a year, and now still whenever I hear the thumping opening to Simple Song or the melancholy strumming of 40 Mark Strasse I’m flooded with deep warmth and nostalgia.

Now, five years later, frontman James Mercer is back with an album that he produced and wrote entirely himself- something he hasn’t done since their debut, Oh, Inverted World, in 2001. Although life can be difficult for fans of The Shins seeing as they seem to often take five-year breaks between albums, this new release is a creation that is more than worth the wait.

What the soft-spoken frontman has done here is created nothing short of a collection of stories, memories, and reflections from his past, many of which centre around his personal life and his own experiences of growing up. The first single released and opener, Name For You, is a cheery, melodic ode to his three daughters and sending them out into the world. Other standout tracks include Cherry Hearts, a song which boasts a classic Shins-esque rhythm only with hints of a more mature, stripped-back sound and bittersweet lyrics- ‘You kissed me once when we were drunk / and now I’m nervous when we meet, I got nothing under my feet.’

Mildenhall is a bittersweet nostalgia trip based on Mercer’s childhood experiences of having to pack up and leave his home to move to Suffolk for his father’s job responsibilities in the RAF. Accompanied by soft acoustic guitars and a gentle, barely-there beat, he sings about how he was passed a tape in class and from that moment, his exposure to British indie and alternative bands (namely The Jesus and Mary Chain) became the force driving his future success: ‘And that’s how we get to where we are now.’

Heartworms is not a huge creative change from The Shins‘ previous material, but when someone such as Mercer possesses such a touching songwriting talent, why should they stray from their roots? Although it may be another 5 years till we hear from them again, this album is just enough to keep us satisfied during the wait.

 

7/10

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ALBUM REVIEW: Flying Microtonal Banana by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)

Their long hair, laid-back demeanor, and psych-slacker rock sound may fool you at first, but King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are undoubtedly one of the most hard-working bands in Australia. The first of five albums they are planning on releasing this year, and their ninth altogether since their debut ’12 Bar Bruise’ in 2012, Flying Microtonal Banana could be considered a bigger, better and more artistically thought-out version of their previous release, Nonagon Infinity.

Having released this amount of records in such a short space of time, it would be expected that the same ideas and sounds would crop up a lot, but this is entirely untrue- every album of theirs has a new sound, framework and they all have a different, quirky artistic aspect that so many rock bands these days overlook- for example, on Quarters, each song was exactly 10 minutes and 10 seconds long. Not to mention Nonagon Infinity, an album that can be played continuously on a loop and the tracks will blend seamlessly into each other.

Flying Microtonal Banana is no exception. Despite their modifications to their instruments, enabling them to play microtones (hence the title), each track boasts a different and unrelenting sound. Opening track Rattlesnake is the epitome of the King Gizzard we know and love- a 7-minute long adventure of repetitive yet catchy lyrics, static riffs and a bizarre harmonica solo. Melting’s tinny, layered percussion gives a nod to more of an acid jazz sound. The microtonal tunings can be heard loud and clear in the title track, which features Arabic-style guitar riffs blended with their own signature sound, which is what makes them so unique.

Unlike Nonagon Infinity, the tracks on Banana are all based on different riffs. In true King Gizzard style, they all blend into one another without a break, but you can easily tell when one song finishes and another begins. Open Water consists of frantic, sprawling drum beats and gritty lyrics (‘Plight of poor me / No use for screaming here / I’ll drown in / Open water’), but the following track Sleep Drifter takes on a more relaxed vibe, reminiscent of cruising down a road rather than rocketing skywards, which is what many of their songs makes you feel like.

If Flying Microtonal Banana isn’t to your taste, don’t worry- they’ll probably have released another album by the time you have finished reading this. King Gizzard are too fun not to like and although 5 albums in a year is extremely ambitious, no doubt they will pull it off and provide plenty of new and exciting sounds.

8.5/10


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