Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Album reviews - Swell Season and Miike Snow

The Swell Season
‘Strict Joy’

THE ACCOMPANYING press notes with this album reveal it as documenting a time of “great change, tumult and progression”.
Given that Oscar winning duo Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova reached such highs and bottomed out to a point where their relationship buckled under the strain of its intensity, that might just be the understatement of the year.
Interestingly the duo remain friends and have produced a delightful record that echoes elements of that strain and break-up but does not focus on it, produced by Peter Katis, who has worked with The National and Interpol, an ideal background, one feels, for this project.
This is, for all intents and purposes, a Frames record, the likes of which we haven’t heard since seminal offerings Dance the Devil and For The Birds; with the addition of Irglova’s effortlessly gorgeous vocals and warmth, the perfect foil to Hansard’s sometime glum nature.
The delightful ‘In These Arms’ is an early highlight, the Czech ingénue’s piano twisting delicately and intricately among the Frames (almost all of them are here, so why not refer to them as such) moody brand of Irish rock.
‘The Rain’ is superb; Colm MacCon Iomaire’s goosebump-inducing violin screeching in the background, the song building to a soaring finish that recent albums Burn The Maps and The Cost never reached for the Irish band.
Irglova takes over on ‘Fantasy Man’, a lovely ditty of a song that evokes her memorable walk through the streets in Once singing “If You Want Me”.
The highlights come thick and fast as the album progresses; the bassy, up tempo High Horses stopping abruptly on the line “we’ve gone as far as we can go”, violin holding the note in anticipation; the epic ‘I Have Loved You Wrong’ burnishing with emotion; the banjo-driven ‘Love That Conquers’ evocative of Alison Krauss and Robert Plant’s ever-so gently countrified offerings; the gloriously downbeat ‘Back Broke’ finishing the album - “back broke and happy; cause you’re nearer to me” - in wonderful style.
A wonderful album, probably - and unfortunately - made better by the heartbreak suffered in its making. Fabulous.

Miike Snow
‘Miike Snow’
(Downtown Records)
THE DELIGHTFULLY bouncy electro-pop of opener ‘Animal’ on this album from Miike Snow is a good yardstick of the gems contained within; fizzy, euphoric and ever so-slightly Caribbean in flavour.
However, the warmth of this opening track is gradually replicated by an icy demeanour and aloofness throughout this record from Grammy-winning Swedish producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg who have teamed up with Brooklyn vocalist Andrew Wyatt to produce a record that screams of potential but falls somewhat short.
Capturing some of the melody of Vampire Weekend and wrapping it - or softening it - in subtle, gentle electro-pop rhythms was a genius idea from Karlsson and Winnberg, also known as ‘Bloodshy and Avant’, the team who produced Britney Spears’ Toxic and others for Madonna etc. Unfortunately, after the heights of Animal and the exceptional, soaring ‘Burial’, they seem to withdraw into their shells as the album progresses.
The electro-house beat of ‘Silvia’ is a case in point; well crafted and a delightful mix of piano and swirling beats, yet it is icy and opaque, lacking any connection with the listener.
Likewise the deep, atmospheric Prince-esque ‘Sans Soleil’, the ueber-dancy A Horse is Not a Home and the shimmering - yet soulless - new wave leanings of Plastic Jungle.
All of the above feel like an opportunity to blow the socks off the listener, albeit a failed one. The record is rescued by the aforementioned highlights, plus the off-kilter and energetic buzz of Black and Blue and the Passion Pit beat of Cult Logic - but it seems that these super-producers missed an opportunity to step out from the shadow of the mixing desk and leave themselves out there - thus making a record that narrowly fails to to meet its potential.

1 comment:

Isorski said...

Great Swell Season review. I don't think there is a bad track on the CD! I posted a review on my blog too, at http://bit.ly/1HKsW3