MusicRadar album round-up: June 2011
10th Jun 2011 | 15:50
MusicRadar new album round-up
Welcome to June's album round-up. As usual we’ve rated a handful of the albums scheduled for release this month that we think are worth sharing with you.
This month we’ve got the return of one of Britain's most loved indie rock bands, Arctic Monkeys, some lovely alt-folk courtesy of Bon Iver and some fairly awe-inspiring musicianship from New Yorkers Battles. Click through to check out our verdict on them all.
First up: Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See
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Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See
The fourth full-length album release from Sheffield’s biggest export since the decline of the steel industry.
Alex Turner’s claim that Suck It And See “hasn’t travelled well” across the Atlantic, with several large chains in the US censoring its ‘sexually suggestive’ title, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Despite aping their influences to the nth degree on previous albums Favourite Worst Nightmare (Nick Cave), and Humbug (Queens Of The Stone Age), Arctic Monkeys - lyrically at least - have remained stoically British.
This, the band’s fourth LP, is no exception. And where Oasis spent several decades trying unsuccessfully to channel the spirit of John Lennon circa 1965-’67, Turner - wittingly or not - succeeds: “I etched the face of a stopwatch, on the back of a raindrop, and did a swap for the sand in an hourglass” (Piledriver Waltz); and: “You’re rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock and those other girls are just postmix lemonade” (Suck It And See).
Not as heavy as Humbug but far less bleak than Nightmare, musically, the album represents a logical progression. The boys are better musicians, they’re at one with a Big Muff, they’ve taken their time, and it shows. James Ford’s production is neat, and studio footage - however contrived - reveals an almost torturous attention to detail.
Suck It And See doesn’t rewrite any rulebooks, but it follows the best of them. A gem of a band (almost) hitting their prime… Thomas Porter
Listen: Arctic Monkeys - She’s Thunderstorms
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Much acclaimed modern folk artist Bon Iver - aka Wisconsin native Justin Vernon - returns with his second album.
Though the wintry tones of 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago are still close to our heart and 2009’s Blood Bank EP provided us with a welcome stop gap, we’ve been waiting impatiently for Justin Vernon’s sophomore record for what feels like an age. Happily, it was worth every moment.
This second, eponymous long player is immediately a much more lush and ornate affair than his debut but it doesn’t compromise the fragility that is key to the Bon Iver sound. This time around, the guitars are often more electrified, and fittingly for an album so wrapped up in ideas of place, this record has many more stamps on its sonic passport than the log cabin isolation soundtrack of For Emma, Forever Ago.
Throughout, Vernon has employed additional instrumentation with taste and originality, managing to retain a sense of both space and intimacy within complex arrangements. And as you might expect, those heartstring-tugging vocal harmonies are as potent as ever.
Minnesota, WI and Hinnom, TX are notable as they see Vernon break from his trademark falsetto into a rich baritone, while album closer Beth/Restis a real curveball that sounds like a cross between 1980s arena pop and incidental music from Twin Peaks recorded into a dictaphone. And that’s not something you hear every day. Chris Vinnicombe
Listen: Bon Iver - Calgary
Battles - Gloss Drop
The long-delayed second album from one of the most forward-thinking and technically impressive bands around. Since the release of their much-acclaimed debut, Mirrored, Battles have lost a key member in multi-instrumentalist Tyondai Braxton.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap: when New York-based experimental rockers Battles released their debut album back in 2007 it was met with massive critical acclaim - and with good reason. The band, who are a sort-of supergroup made up of former members of bands including Helmet and Don Cabellero, proved themselves to be at the top of their game in terms of musicianship and unique, totally original playing and songwriting. The album combined technical guitar work, awe-inspiring drum skills and glitchy electronic sounds that owed a debt to the likes of Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada.
Since then they’ve lost a member, the closest thing the band had to a frontman - Tyondia Braxton (son of the legendary jazz musician Anthony Braxton). As a result the band were forced to completely scrap, rewrite and rerecord their second album in a very short space of time. So how does the result sound?
Well, surprisingly given the stressful conditions it was written under, Gloss Drop is a much more upbeat, fun album than we might have expected. In terms of playing, the band are still pulling out all the stops with closely intertwined guitar riffs and intense drum rhythms. But this time around there are certainly more obvious hooks and the songs are, on the whole, shorter and more direct. The guitar parts are brighter - often sounding almost tropical - and the electronics have been stripped back significantly.
For this album Battles have chosen to replace their lost member by calling upon an assortment of guest vocalists including, notably and somewhat surprisingly, Gary Numan. On the whole this revolving door of singers works well, adding a nice touch variety to the bands sound without losing any consistency. Overall though, it’s the playing of drummer John Stanier that proves to be the star of the show. The man is an utter machine - equal parts technical and impressive as well as relentless and funky.
While Gloss Drop is very enjoyable and undeniably a success of a second album, it doesn’t quite reach the peaks that Mirrored did in terms of that album’s unique style and edginess. Still, it would be unfair to pick apart Gloss Drop on those terms - this is a great album and any musician out there should be taking notes.
Listen: Battles - Ice Cream (feat Matias Aguayo)
The Antlers - Burst Apart
The Antlers are a three-piece indie rock band from New York, Burst Apart is their fourth album.
The Antlers’ previous album - 2009’s Hospice - gained a lot of underground acclaim and a cult following without ever really bothering the mainstream media. Then again, for all of its beautiful moments, Hospice was a concept album about a health worker falling in love with a terminally ill patient - which we guess could be a tough sell to the daytime radio playlist crowd.
For this follow-up the band - a trio focussed around vocalist and songwriter Peter Silberman - have got ever-so-slightly fuller sounding and ever-so-slightly less downbeat. That’s not to say Burst Apart is a happy record (song titles include Putting The Dog To Sleep and Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out), but it’s all-round tighter and more approachable.
So why are we harking on about such a depressing sounding bunch of naysayers anyway? Well, because essentially Burst Apart is an absolutely excellent indie rock record. For all their downbeat themes The Antlers’ music - particularly the often minimal guitar work - is warm, melodic and flawlessly executed. Silberman’s voice is strong and engaging throughout, meaning that even his more miserable lyrical moments connect with the listener. Highly recommended on all counts.
The Antlers - I Don't Want Love
Death Cab For Cutie - Codes And Keys
Bed Gibbard’s much-loved indie stalwarts return with their seventh album.
Seven studio albums and 14 years in, Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard appears to be a very differentindividual these days. For one, it’s hard to imagine that Mr Zooey Deschanel has a great deal of melancholia to channel in the songwriting process. Whereas Gibbard’s lyrics often used to feel like the thoughtful, wry observations of a wallflower, he admits: "I would be remiss if I tried to continue writing in a solely melancholic voice… now I'm a married man."
Though Gibbard’s distaste for Los Angeles was once so strong that it motivated him to pen a wonderfully barbed lyric about it, he now calls the City Of Angels his home. Similarly, his band have put significant mileage between their lo-fi beginnings in Bellingham, WA and their new world of Grammy nominations and mainstream radiorotation.
DCFC’s third major label album, Codes And Keys, has much more in common with 2005’s Plans than 2008’s warm-blooded Narrow Stairs in that it feels like a record born in the production and editing process. Rather than documenting a group of musicians pounding away in a room together, Codes... sees guitarist/producer Chris Walla finding sonic inspiration in Eno, vintage synths, New Order, Low-era Bowie and LCD Soundsystem. Meanwhile, for the most part Gibbardsteps backfrom the tiny details that characterised his earlier songs and deals withmore universal themes.
Make no mistake though, this is definitely pop music and there is no shortage of emotive melody, most notably in the lovely, piano-driven title track. Some fans will yearn for the more guitar-heavy sound of the band’s indie days on Barsuk, but at the very least, Death Cab For Cutie have found a way to grow and evolve gracefully as a major label concern. Chris Vinnicombe