Posted in Album Reviews

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (2017)

Released i51f6ijxhRgL._AA327_QL65_n 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.

8/10

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Posted in Album Reviews

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2017)

619A+lTIqIL._AA327_QL65_Enough has been written about Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that it could fill the Royal Albert Hall… and then some. 2017 was the 50th anniversary of arguably the most talked about album ever and as such, the deluxe editions were rolled out to celebrate. A six-disc super deluxe edition came out along with a 2CD deluxe edition. With the former trending close to $200, we opted for the latter. On this edition, the original album features a new stereo remix by Giles Martin and Sam Okell along with an extra disc of outtakes + extras.

The sound that Martin and Okell produce here is extraordinary and far exceeds the 2009 stereo remaster. The relatively simple “With A Little Help From My Friends” sounds expansive, like its growing from the middle outwards. “She’s Leaving Home” is warm and tender before “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!” breaks in and somehow sounds louder. Never really a favourite of mine, this version sounds downright menacing and surreal. One of our favourite album tracks, “Good Morning” gets a rollicking version and Paul’s countdown in “Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise)” is as thrilling as ever. It’s amazing to think that even after the embarrassment of riches preceding it, one of the greatest songs ever in “A Day in The Life” closes out the album.

Oftentimes with these types of releases, the disc of extras may get listened to a few times before being filed away. Here, the extra disc is an absolute joy from beginning to end. “With A Little Help From My Friends” appears in an instrumental that does not sound too dissimilar to the theme song from Welcome Back, Kotter. “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds (Take 1)” is missing the chorus but it’s nearly impossible not to sing along to the empty space. There is a rawness to some of the recordings “Lovely Rita (Take 9)” and elegance to others “She’s Leaving Home (Take 1 – Instrumental)”. “Within You/Without You (Take 1 – Indian Instruments)” carries on from Revolver’s “Love You To” however in instrumental form it can start to drag. At the end of the day, it is a fascinating listen to some of the most talented musicians ever working through some of the greatest songs ever. The inclusion of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” in both stereo remixes and outtake form makes this an absolute essential purchase for fans of The Beatles either in this deluxe edition or the super deluxe.

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album Disc 1 – 10/10
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Outtakes Disc 2 – 10/10

Posted in Album Reviews

St. Vincent – Masseduction (2017)

413m+O3PHWL._AA327_QL65_Masseduction is St Vincent’s fifth album and first with acclaimed producer Jack Antonoff who is everywhere at the moment. Similar to past releases, this is a mix bag of sounds from the talented and capital A artist, Annie Clark. First single “New York” was a song of the year choice for us from the second we heard it and second single “Los Ageless” has a killer chorus: “how can anybody love you and lose you and not lose their minds too?”

First track “Hang On Me” is the most downtempo sound here followed by the peppiest in “Pills”. The 80s robotic funk of the title track and “Sugar Boy” are less successful but the apoplectic “Fear the Future” is a roar of sound. The fury of an overdosing “Young Lover” is another high: “I heard the robins and thought they were sirens, wake up young lover, I thought you were dyin’”. On Masseduction St Vincent continues to be one of the most interesting artists working around the fringes of the mainstream.

p.s  I thought the album was called Mass-Education  until a few days ago…

7.5/10

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Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder (2017)

61G2N4fVxzL._AA327_QL65_After a seven year hiatus, Toronto supergroup Broken Social Scene reconvened to record Hug of Thunder, their fifth release. “The gang is all here” is a most fitting expression for this as 18 musicians are credited on the album including all the usual bigger name suspects such as Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Emily Haines, Feist, etc. After a short instrumental the band hits the floor running with “Halfway Home” whereas the modern folk tinged “Skyline” sounds straight off a TV commercial that has people reaching for Shazam to figure out who sings it.

“Towers and Masons” is a unique midtempo track while the Haines’ fronted “Protest Song” is the best rocking moment here. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the hushed Feist lead title track is to these ears is the best thing they’ve done since 2002’s “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl”. “There was a military base across the street, we watch them training while we eat” is a very simple but excellent line about the state of the world. While a couple of songs drag, the band mostly wear their aging Toronto hipster (musicianship) very well.

7.5/10

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The National – Sleep Well Beast (2017)

41vvuqcUxVL._AA327_QL65_In Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book, Meet Me in the Bathroom, The National are cast as lesser characters in the NY/Brooklyn scene of the early 2000s. While The Stokes, Interpol and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the ground running, The National took longer to find their footing. But over time, they have risen above their more popular colleagues from that era to become critical darlings and festival favourites. Back in September the National released their seventh studio album, Sleep Well Beast. Their last album, 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, felt like the end of a trilogy which would make this a new beginning or at least a transitional one.
Second track “Day I Die” has a guitar line that sounds air lifted from The Kings of Leon with an instantly classic chorus. The sung/talked “Walk It Back” has an electronic blip running through it and first single “the System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” replaces the blip with a squiggly guitar line. “Empire Line” starts a string of classic National songs that runs through the great “Guilty Party” and ends with “Carin at the Liquor Store”, that features their usual trick of sounding both melancholy and uplifting at the same time.
Unlike the past few releases, Sleep Well Beast has a few tracks that when listened to individually are a bit dull (“Born to Beg” and “Turtleneck”) but when run right through, are less noticeably cast as missteps. Where the last three albums felt more concise, Sleep Well Beast meanders here and there – a guitar squall here, an electronic flourish there, a few tracks that go on for a few minutes longer than they need to, etc. However, there are enough good moments on every track that makes this another great album from The National.

8/10