Back in 2013 we called New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo one of the greatest American guitar bands ever. The trio returns with their fifteenth studio album and first set of all originals since that year’s Fade album. While learning how to use Pro Tools, bassist James Mcnew started recording the band’s practice sessions and soundscapes which lead to working on songs for this release.
First single “For You Too” is lo-fi guitars teamed with heartbreaking lyrics – “but if it’s not too late, if I could protect you… maybe I could be that guy”. Ira Kaplan also takes on the vocals with mumbly goodness in “She May, She Might”. Georgia Hubley’s lead on “Shades of Blue” is surely one of the finest songs ever written about picking out paint colours. Instrumentals “You Are Here” and “Here You Are” do a fine job in bookending the disc.
In between, the album is broken up by three, five minute instrumentals including the atmospheric “Shortwave” and the jazzy “Above The Sound”. Having all three in a row slows the momentum down as the rest of the album is a mix of more instrumentals, song sketches, and subdued material. Only “Esporte Casual” lightens the mood and sounds like the kind of musical interlude that blur used to do so well. Several great Yo La Tengo tracks abound in the first half but the second half of There’s a Riot Going On is not nearly as memorable.
With Elton John’s Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace coming to an end in May, myself and the missus packed our bags and headed down. Catching the show that made it into the news due to an unruly fan trying to touch him saw our performance end on a bit of a sour note, however Elton was phenomenal throughout. If you have the chance, do absolutely try and catch him on his last ever tour that starts later this year. With the anticipation of the show, I picked up Diamonds, the latest in a long line of greatest hits sets Elton has put out through the years. Track listing is very similar to the greatest hits that came out in 2002 with a few minor changes.
Opting for the two-disc set of Diamonds instead of the super deluxe edition, the first CD is extraordinary. Front to back classics from “Your Song” to “Rocket Man”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Daniel”, “Bennie and the Jets”, etc. These Elton John/Bernie Taupin compositions make-up some of the greatest compositions of all time. Disc two starts with “Song For Guy” before giving way to the hits of the 80s up to 2016. Highlights include the sentimental “I Guess Why That’s Why They Call It The Blues” and “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”, the defiant “I’m Still Standing” and the disco house mix of 2003 UK chart topper “Are You Ready For Love”.
The second disc can fall into schmaltzy territory with “Nikita” and wedding reception staple “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. “I Want Love” updates Elton’s sound to the point of sounding like a Robbie Williams knockoff, not necessarily a terrible thing. After his 70s heyday, even the best songs sound slightly less substantial and at times suffer from 80s production. That being said, the performances are always spot on and having virtually all the hits in one spot for a legendary artist like Elton John is fine indeed.
Modern Kosmology is Jane Weaver’s sixth studio album. Much praise was heaped on the Manchester based, Liverpudlian upon release in the spring of 2017 and received a new lease on life (in my world) when Mojo magazine ranked it their fifth favourite record of the year. “Did You See Butterflies” is the most immediate track with a droning bassline and early 90s Lush style vocals.
The electronic folk album is a slow burn that reveals treasures throughout. The throbbing techno of “The Architect” and spacey rock of the title track. At the deep end, last track “I Wish” recalls the beloved Broadcast. “I wish you were cool, I wish you were something” Weaver’s high-pitched vocals tell us. A varied listen with nothing that sounds out of place, this was well worth travelling back a year to discover.
After collaborating with Sparks in 2015, the newly reconfigured Franz Ferdinand line-up return with Always Ascending. Lots has changed in the Franz world – heartthrob guitarist Nick McCarthy is sitting this one out with keyboard player Julian Corrie and ex 1990s guitarist Dino Bardot entering the picture. The build-up that opens the title track is exciting and sounds like the background music to an action movie trailer. On the other hand I could do without the less than inspiring refrain of “I’m a lazy boy” chant in “Lazy Boy”.
The 80s keyboards are a nice touch in “Lois Lane”. “Huck and Jim” sounds like two mediocre song stuck together. Maybe I’m a sucker for slower FF tracks (see: “Eleonor Put Your Boots Back On“) but the much maligned “The Academy Award” is the song that sticks the most when the disc has stopped spinning. I don’t think it’s a great song but the stylized up-tempo numbers mostly blend together and unlike past releases, very little here particularly stands out.
Released in October 2017 on Matador, the shaggy hairs Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile released an album that they had worked off/on for two years. Matador Records is a fitting company to have released this on as it has much in common with early 90s indie rock. It is a mixture of Pavement, Yo La Tengo’s Fakebook album, the bluesy grunge sound of Seattle, and a cover of Belly’s “Untogether” tacked on at the end for good measure.
First track and single, “Over Everything” sees Kurt and Courtney tripping over each other to trade verses about songwriting which is a topic revisited in “Fear Is Like a Forest”. Trading songs to cover, Kurt tackles “Outta the Woodwork” and plays it slow and dirge like while similar to the original, Courtney takes on Kurt’s “Peepin’ Tom” with just her guitar. Album highlight “Continental Breakfast” is funny and clever, “Blue Cheese” is slacker tunefulness. The album could use some editing in spots but overall this is a welcome diversion for fans of both artists.