Saturday, 22 February 2014

Beck - Morning Phase (2014)

Beck, 'Blue Moon'

Info: Bek (yup) David Campbell began playing music at the age of 19, improvising on city buses in New York, heavily influenced by country and Delta Blues. The son of David Campbell, a classical composer and conductor, and Bibbi Hansen, a visual artist and former Warhol superstar (a group of New York personalities that Andy Warhol promoted throughout the 1960's and 70's), who fitted Warhol's idea that "in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes". 

Beck found himself among the anti-folk scene in New York in the early 90's, while his sound was essentially acoustic, he was very much experimental and this would become most apparent with his breakthrough in the mid-90's, starting with the single 'Loser' which propelled him into the spotlight, at a time when the MTV generation was peaking before collapsing. Who would have thought it would end up as it is today, starting with reality TV show The Real World, and meandering through the likes of The Osborne's, The Hills etc. and today Catfish 24/7, as Dire Straits sang in 'Money For Nothing', "I Want My MTV". I recall 'Loser' and very shortly afterwards 'Devil's Haircut', 'New Pollution' and 'Where It's At' from the album Odelay on the station constantly in the mid-90's, it was an album that broke him free from the tag of a one-hit wonder after 'Loser'.

From then on Beck's output slowed slightly but he still released the better than decent Mutations album before what was possibly the peak of his creative talents, 2002's Sea Change. One of my favourite albums Guero came in 2005 before the mish-mash of Modern Guilt, which is my favourite 'not great' Beck album, finally leading us to yesterday's release, Morning Phase.

Having listened to Beck for the guts of half my life I often think, going back to the MTV days again, when you had Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Eric Clapton on the wonderful Live Unplugged sessions, are we in a place now, musically, where we get fleeting 'stars' and one-off 'classic' albums? I'm reminded of The Strokes' - Is This It?, how the Kings of Leon went from an incredible debut album a decade ago to consistent complete dross. I suppose we went from the icons of the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's who lasted more than one decade before tailing off (not always), and so it's rare in the second decade of the 21st century that you find someone who has been producing great music since the end of the previous century, Beck falls into this category and Morning Phase has put a wax seal on his reputation in my view.

Enough platitudes regarding the man's career, now to the album itself, "Finally!" Beck made the new album available online 4 weeks before it's release and I think I've listened to it on average once every 2 days since, sometimes three times a day. For me it's the first album he has released that is flawless from opening to finish, there is no point where you feel even a minor urge to skip a track or move along, it's like one beautiful 47 minute track where you are lost and floating on your back on Lake Beck.

The second track following the intro, 'Morning' exudes calm and a hazy drug-induced feeling of numbness that starts with a gorgeous opening salvo; 'Woke up this morning, from a long night in the storm, looked up this morning, saw the roses full of thorns, mountains are falling, they don't have nowhere to go, the ocean's a diamond, that only shines when you're alone'.

My personal (that second word means it's only my opinion and you can't make an official complaint) favourite is the above video / track, 'Blue Moon', the lines 'See the turncoat on his knees, the vagabond that no one sees, when the moon is throwing shadows, you can't see the wounds you caught in battle', from sombre beginnings this track will bring you back to happiness by it's end. Other tracks are the highly recommended 'Wave' which initially reminded me of Radiohead's 'Pyramid Song' from Amnesiac, and to be perfectly honest, I thought it was a bit of a rip-off, until I found out that the string composition in the song was actually the work of none other than Beck's father, David Campbell, amazing to see work from decades previous being resurrected like this.

It's a flawless album, and probably the best I've heard in at least 10 years, granted I haven't heard every album released  in that time, and it all boils down to taste, but Morning Phase is the classic album I always hope I'll find, and very rarely do, a poor return in general, but it's paid off here and then some.

N.B. Plug in your headphones, find a place alone, and listen to 'Wave' below

Beck 'Wave'

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Northern Irish Rockers - Abandcalledboy, New Self-Titled E.P.

Abandcalledboy, 'Cliff Richard'

Info: Northern Irish Alt-Rock three piece Abandcalledboy have released a brand new video, made by the band themselves with a budget of £0.

'Cliff Richard' is the 1st song off the band's forthcoming self-titled EP, due to be released before their UK Tour in April 2014. The EP was recorded in Belfast's Start Together studio with Niall Doran with the video produced by Odhrain Soanes.

When a band sends you their new video and the song is called 'Cliff Richard' you cannot tell yourself that you will have a look at it later, or in the morning, curiosity will kill you. There was no disappointment for me, firstly, the video was great, filtered like an old home VHS from the 80's, and if the guys from Abandcalledboy ever decide on a career change, they could definitely have a go at acting. A mix of comic overtones with a sinister underbelly, the chorus lines of 'Bring Cliff Richard to me, under skin you will see, the Cliff Richard disease....I've got the one, he is all I could want, I have Cliff Richard tied knots'. Let's hope Cliff, at his hearty old age doesn't feel unduly discomforted by such notions, don't worry Cliff, it's just a bit of fun!

So what does the music remind me of? This is purely coincidental in terms of geography but the first bands that struck me in terms of similar style of music were early 90's Therapy?, particularly the bands first two albums Nurse and Troublegum. I also got a hint of Ash's debut album Trailer, especially the heavier songs like 'Season' and 'Get Out', having said that, Abandcalledboy are distinctive both vocally and how their songs are constructed from both of the above. 

Explosive energy, lashings of distortion and a dash of humour all make me determined to catch the band next time they come to Dublin, and of course, I will be keen to see what ideas they come up with for future videos, for more info, check out the below links, and Soundcloud of their track 'Seize The Chair'.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

James McWilliam & Nick Crofts - The Patrol (OST Album)

Info: War is an emotive subject, and how could it not be. Everyone had an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the invasion of Afghanistan following the 11th of September, 2001. The United States demanded that Bin Laden be handed over, the Taliban asked him to leave the country, America wasn't convinced, Britain backed their allies, and on the 7th of October, major operations, or war, commenced in Afghanistan. Too simplistic? Of course it is, there were many layers in the background that contributed to a war that, in some ways, is still running today, the main protaganists have been removed, but paradise has not been reached, 12 years later. 

I would argue that sometimes, it can be important to completely wipe clean politics, foreign policy, history, the past, agendas, and focus on the people who are placed in scenarios and locations none of us will ever be in, they were there, they are there, and from a strictly human point of view, we should have a curiosity regarding what they experience.

I think this was, in some way, and I hope I'm right, the sentiment behind award-winning British film, 'The Patrol', which won the Jury Prize at the Raindance Film Festival. Not to focus on the background to the war, but the experiences of those members of the British Army who ended up in Afghanistan, thousands of miles from home, and in an alien landscape.

The Patrol (OST) 'Firefight', video by Remy Connolly

More specifically though, I've been listening to the wonderfully haunting soundtrack to that film, by James McWilliam and Nick Crofts. From the outset this piece sets an insidious tone, almost replicating the rotor blades of helicopters half-way through, all the while ensuring we know we're being led somewhere sinister. The fourth track is 'S.T.A.B.' which sets the tone for the entire soundtrack, and in the words of James and Nick; 'We wanted to create a soundscape as unfamiliar and unsettling as the environment the soldiers find themselves in. Noise, distortion and expansive reverbs figure heavily...'

This is a very atmospheric accompaniment to the film, dubbed by some critics as the British Hurt Locker, it is the first film to deal with the war in Afghanistan from the perspective of the British Army. My personal favourites are the opening title, the aforementioned 'S.T.A.B.', which initially grabbed my interest, and fifth track 'Firefight', the track I made a slideshow video for above, however, like any instrumental soundtrack, it is the sum of all it's parts. At times it reminds me of Mogwai turning up to a gig and realising they only brought an acoustic guitar between them, and at others, like Portishead minus vocals, either way, it's a beautiful composition.

The Patrol is released in UK Cinemas on 7 February and the soundtrack is coming out (worldwide/digital) on 2 February 2014.

The Patrol, trailer