Hot Chip – In Our Heads

Posted: August 12, 2012 in Album Review
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Album after album, Hot Chip have continued to defy the odds and make truly resonating music. The chances always are that they’ll fall at the next hurdle but instead In Our Heads is their most playful and colourful record yet. The album has form, thanks to the release of ‘Flutes’ (complicated dichotomies, soaring vocal lines and, unsurprisingly, some pretty sweet flutes) and ‘Night and Day’ (the punchiest, sexiest, and their most addictive offering since ‘Over and Over’). Now, as In Our Heads appears on shelves across the country, the big question is this: does the album live up to the enormous precedent set by the first two tracks? In short, yes.

‘Motion Sickness’ and ‘How Do You Do’, deliciously dance-y, synth-driven tracks, set us up for what’s to come. ‘Don’t Deny Your Heart’ is both romantic and cheery while following track, ‘Look At Where We Are’, strengthens the surprising, yet welcome, heart-on-a-sleeve mood that pervades many of these tracks.

The dark, swirling techno of electro-ballad ‘Flutes’ will have you captivated while up-beat offerings such as ‘Ends Of The Earth’ will leave you wishing that these were the type of songs played in your local nightclub. Penultimate track, ‘Let Me Be Him’, a sweetly soothing anthem, is probably one of the finest songs Hot Chip have ever recorded and showcases some considerable prowess in the lyric writing department.

In Our Heads is very much in the same league as 2008’s Made In The Dark, an album that made them one of the biggest movers and shakers in the electro-pop scene, for a little while at least. Electro-pop is and always has been a fickle genre and it’s hard to make this often disposable music endure. With this latest album, however, Hot Chip have made a statement – they’ve put down roots and are here to stay.

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Despite its full unwieldy title, Fiona Apple’s fourth albumThe Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is one of the most refined and focused albums to emerge in the sixteen years since Apple’s debut album Tidal. Opening beautifully, the emotionally strained (and slightly disturbing) ‘Every Single Night’ promises an album full of pain and anxiety. Commencing with some slow and simple notes, the track builds up to a spine-tingling release of jittering vocals and intensely captivating lyrics.

‘Daredevil’ follows in much the same style. With simple beats and uncompromising piano, it’s as angry as it is emotive. ‘Valentine’, a sweet ballad by all accounts, changes the tempo slightly but still manages to harness that ever-present malice that has become so synonymous with Apple’s work. Never an artist to shy away from the dark or unpleasant subject matter, the singer expresses herself with an insecure honesty that is as endearing as it is off-putting.

The record’s fourth track ‘Jonathan’, written about former lover Jonathan Ames, lets us know that nothing is out-of-bounds. Singing “I don’t wanna talk about / I don’t wanna talk about anything”, Apple bears her life and loves for all to see. More than that, she does it honestly, without the presence of the familiar rose-tinted glasses favoured by other artists. With lyrics like “how can I ask anyone to love me” (‘Left Alone’) and concepts like “I could liken you to a werewolf the way you left me for dead / but I admit that I provided a full moon” (‘Werewolf’). Idler could be termed a break-up album of sorts… but one more akin to Tori Amos’ Boys of Pele than anything else we’ve seen in the last two decades.

Opinions may vary, but one thing is certain; The Idler Wheel will never be classified as easy listening. Apple doesn’t just disturb you with her pain, she does so vocally as well, embracing the contortion and daring you to turn away. For an artist whose work is so wrought with pain and suffering, Apple’s albums have always had an inexplicably alluring quality. This is no different – it draws you in with its sweet sincerity only to chew you up and spit you back out again. The pain comes in early and often and you soon realise that you’re no more protected from it than Apple herself is.

 

On their newest record, Living Things, which was released on June 26, 2012, Linkin Park finally made the inevitable leap to electronic music. Linkin Park, one of the first rock bands to popularize the integration of a DJ, have often inserted electronic elements into their music, as exemplified by “Breaking the Habit” on 2003’s Meteora and “Shadow of the Day” from 2007’s Minutes to Midnight.  Nonetheless, the Californian group are of the “nu-metal” genre by nature, so more  of their songs are fueled by distorted power chords and lead vocalist Chester Bennington’s roaring hooks.  Living Things takes every musical strategy and every genre with which Linkin Park ever experimented, pushes them to the next level and mashes them all together in a compact thirty-seven minutes.

“Lost in the Echo” commences the record with a clean synthesized beat and immediately displays for listeners some of the new concepts they will surely encounter, though once rapper and rhythm guitarist Mike Shinoda kicks off the lyrical content with one of the best rap verses of his career, soon accompanied by a loud and bombastic, classic Chester Bennington chorus, fans can relax somewhat.  “In My Remains” and Living Things’ lead single, “Burn It Down,” continue in the footsteps of the opener, combining keyboards, synthesizers and textures of dubstep, a recently popularized electronic genre characterized by deep basslines and explosions of fuzzy “vuh-vuh-vuhs” and “wub-wub-wubs,” with classic Linkin Park techniques, though “Lost” and “Burn” are far superior to “Remains.”

The record reaches its peak at the fourth song, “Lies Greed Misery,” which follows a similar formula to its three predecessors, but also resembles a dubstepped-out version of Meteora’s “Faint,” relying entirely on Shinoda’s raps during the verses, and Bennington’s screaming hook (less singing and more shouting on this one) on the chorus.  “Lies” is probably the tightest track on the twelve song album, acting as the only song, save maybe for “Lost in the Echo” or “Burn It Down” that leave listeners as heavily impacted as they were after first hearing some of Linkin Park’s early hits such as “One Step Closer,” “Crawling,” and “Numb.”

And then, with the end of “Lies Greed Misery,” the record’s quality begins to dwindle.  The following two tracks, “I’ll Be Gone” and “Castle of Glass” continue the typical Linkin Park sound, though they are more comparable, overall quality-wise to “In My Remains” rather then to “Burn it Down” or “Lies.”  After “Castle,” the band starts focusing too much on their newly adopted fully electronic sound.  If one were to listen to “Victimized” and “Tinfoil,” he or she would by no means be able to tell these songs had been written and performed by Linkin Park.  “Roads Untraveled,” “Skin to Bone” and “Until it Breaks” point back to “Castle of Glass” and “I’ll Be Gone:” not particularly mind-blowing tunes, though they are recognizably Linkin Park tunes. The power-ballady “Powerless,” however, ends the record on a note reminiscent of “Shadow of the Day,” and ties the lyrical themes up niceley

Living Things starts as a powerful, intriguing and experimental record that plays with new ground without straying too far from Linkin Park’s familiar sound, though about halfway through, it loses focus, which is sad, because the first four tracks are truly stellar.  Living Things, however, is still far more tightly constructed than its predecessor, A Thousand Suns, which took the term “experimental” to a whole new level.  Furthermore, though most of Living Things’ songs feature personal, metaphorical lyrics that Linkin Park are so known for as well as their layers of power-chords, the more house-music-oriented style of their new songs throws off the familiar-to-new ratio, and somewhat subtracts from the overall standard of Living Things.

 

 

“Hiatus” may be the single worst term a band could use to describe their current state of affairs, and it’s almost always a terrible thing when a great musical act calls forth plans for such ambiguous inactivity. To the dismay of fans worldwide, System of a Down announced their very own hiatus in 2006, and though the Armenien-American quartet lifted this self-imposing ban in 2011 for global touring reasons, plans for a new album remain nonexistent. This lack of new material from System of a Down is a drag, but the four members that make up the group haven’t exactly been keeping to themselves, and fans needing whet for their collective musical appetites have been given several solo-member outing releases. So does Serj Tankian, the band in question’s primary vocalist and resident weirdo (the term is used lovingly) have what it takes to satisfy the whims of longtime fans craving a little SOAD-esque craziness with Harakiri, his third solo album? Absolutely, and then some.

Harakiri is a full-on rock venture, and one shouldn’t really expect any less from the frontman of a metal band as ridiculously berserk as System of a Down, but it hasn’t necessarily always been that way for Tankian. His preceding solo albums retained plenty of that signature quirkiness his band has become so well-known for, but drifted far enough into experimental territory to set them apart as unique non-SOAD centric musical constructions. Harakiri is a very different album in comparison toElect the Dead and Imperfect Harmonies, though, and the record has Tankian ironically coming full circle with his very own System-of-a-Down-ness. Yes, it’s unfair comparing a solo album to full band efforts, but Tankian borrows so heavily from his SOAD-roots on Harakiri that separating the two musical identities–that is, Serj Tankian and System of a Down–is extremely difficult at times. Anyone who needs convincing should simply listen to tracks like “Figure It Out,” “Weave On” and “Uneducated Democracy,” with the latter featuring the lyrics “down with the systemas we lay helpless against the machine” Sure, these words match the overall tone of the song and “down with the system” is a pretty common anti-authoritarian rock n’ roll lyric, but suggesting that this is a shout-out to his band wouldn’t be completely pushing it, and it’s not like it hasn’t been done before on other solo outings–lest we forget that John Fogerty has a track off of 2008’s Revival titled “Creedence Song.” The similarities between Harakiri and latter-day SOAD albums are aplenty, but none of this should be interpreted as negative criticism. Quite the contrary, actually; nobody else has been able to channel the amazing bat-crazy energy since SOAD released Hypnotize, so it’s fitting that Tankian is the one to finally do it.

All right, all right… I admit it. I’ve been dropping the “SOAD” acronym far too much, and it’s not necessarily in the best interest of a solo Serj Tankian review. The simple truth is that Harakiri is not a System of a Down record, and shouldn’t really be assessed as one. Tankian does plenty of work on Harakiri that gives his solo material plenty of individualistic identity, and he does it extremely well. There’s just so much energy on Harakiri that it’s easy to get excited during repeated listening sessions. Tankian has a fantastic voice, and it’s nice to finally have him using it so continuously melodically on songs like “Butterfly,” “Harakiri,” “Cornucopia,” and the amazing “Forget Me Knot.” Even amongst all of this hard rocking, he has time for a little off-the-wall experimentation, like the synth-sample driven “Deafening Silence” and the Middle-Eastern instrumentation-led “Ching Chime.” It doesn’t stop there–“Occupied Tears” has an extremely jazzy interlude sandwiched between hard-hitting guitars and pounding drums, and there even a little flamenco flavor baked into “Reality TV.” These aren’t just cute little tricks, either–every single song onHarakiri boasts considerable strength, and they fit well enough together to give the album considerable worth as a solid cohesive unit.

If it hasn’t been made obviously clear at this point, Tankian’s Harakiri is a pretty great rock album, and it does everything that a well-made record should do without any sort of discernable filler. It’s certainly the most accessible effort Tankian has released throughout the entirety of his solo career, but contains enough Serj-i-ness to please plans fans of his two previous solo outings and those needing to scratch an unnerving SOAD itch.

And on a final note: never one to be shy with his musically driven political activism, Tankian finds himself exploring familiar territory with Harakiri, and the consistency is welcome. Social questioning is the name of the game this time around, and while it’s tempting to break down each individual track and provide reviewer interpretation, such actions won’t be addressed here. Anyone familiar with Tankian’s back catalog knows that his lyrics border the fence of ambiguity, even the supposedly nonsensical ones, and therefore analysis would be counterproductive. Besides, an artist-bred interpretation already exists, and Tankian has done a fine job letting his words speak for themselves.

Though confirmed as their final compilation, fans of the Popical Island collective can rest easy – the decision is an effort to keep things fresh and avoid a “lapse into routine”. As if to prove the point, this 23-track, double-sided offering is their most varied offering yet, featuring both firm favourites such as Squarehead and Tieranniesaur as well as relative new-comers Mumblin’ Deaf Ro and Biggles Flies Again.

Side A eases us into things with the softly meandering and piano driven ‘River Valley Girls’ from Folk Pop band Big Monster Love. Before you get too comfortable, however, The Run Ons up the tempo significantly with upbeat and catchy tune ‘A Great Bunch of Lads’, Tieranniesaur rock the jerky new-wave feel with their latest tune ‘The Changeling’. Flip over to second side (if you can with a digital release) and you get the infectious feel-good anthem ‘La La Land’ from Bobby Aherne (aka No Monster Club), blending in well with The #1s’ ‘I Wish I Was Lonely’. Squarehead keep things interesting with the simply titled and uber-catchy ‘I Love You’ while Walpurgis Family instil a mellow tone with ‘Ghost Estate’. Elsewhere, highlights include the nostalgia of Groom’s ‘When Young People Fall In Love’, the sweetness of ‘Country Tow’ from Jonny Fun and the Hesitations and the eerily soothing ballad ‘Seaweed and Snow’ from the harmony heavy Little Xs for Eyes.

With compilation albums such as this one, it’s very hard to convey a sense of the music, or to box it into a specific genre. Each track featured is as diverse and unique as the bands themselves, and to lump them all together in a series of broad and sweeping statements would be unjust. You’ll dislike some tracks, you’ll fall in love with others but that’s what this album is all about. In producing three consecutive compilations, the Popical Island collective have given the Irish music scene something truly wonderful – the chance to discover some amazingly talented and underappreciated local artists.

 

Ben Howard releases new single ‘Old Pine’ on August 6th and last night premiered a brand new Everything Everything remix of the track on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show.

If you think the name ‘Old Pine’ sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a live favorite of Ben’s who tends to work it into most of his set lists. It also featured on an introductory EP back in 2011.

A woozy, languid song, both cathartic and quietly euphoric, Old Pine weaves percussive perfection with a smoky yet controlled vocal.

 

You can catch Ben live at the following venues:

June 16 – Goldcoast Ocean Festival, Devon
June 24 – Radio 1 Hackney Weekend, London
July 7 – T in the Park, Kinross
August 18 – V Festival, Chelmsford
August 19 – V Festival, Stafford
September 6 – Bestival, Isle of Wight

Devastating news in Toronto after a stage collapsed in Downsview Park. One person is dead and another is in hospital with serious injuries as the call came in at around 4pm ET.

The Emergency Medical Services stated that paramedics pronounced one person dead at the park shortly after the stage collapsed, while another victim was taken to hospital in serious condition. Two others are being assessed for minor injuries.

The stage was set up for a Radiohead concert for the North by Northeast music festival. The concert has been cancelled and Downsfield Park and Radiohead themselves have said via Twitter that ticket holders are asked not to go to the park. Live Nation are to give ticket holders refunds.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has been called in to investigate.