Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Album reviews - Hot Chip and Midlake

‘The Courage of Others’
(Bella Union)

USUALLY a case of ‘back to the drawing board’ comes when a new idea is needed, a better one than has gone before. On this album, The Courage of Others, American indie band Midlake have produced something completely different to their preceding, breakthrough album, The Trials of Van Occupanther.
It is not quite a case of re-inventing the wheel, rather more Fairport Convention than Fleetwood Mac, but it is nonetheless admirable from a band that built up quite a head of steam with Van Occupanther, their second after 2004 debut Bamnan and Slivercork.
It would have been easy to make version two of that record but the band have said they refused to do that, “pushing for a newer sound and emotion”.
Where Van Occupanther had the excellent, pulsating soft-rock track Roscoe as its calling card, the steady throb of folk-inspired tracks such as Winter Dies and the Wilco-esque Small Mountain form the centrepiece of this album.
Rather than the mid-70’s Fleetwood style rock they channelled on their last album, Midlake have mined the trad-tainted folk sound of early British and American folks bands and added a druggy, prog-rock element, with the result producing a gently undulating, yet gripping acoustic-folk rock album that is a joy from opening track Acts of Man to closer In The Ground.
Of these, the epic, Jethro Tull inspired Small Mountain - featuring a heavy, throbbing guitar line that Wilco fans will devour - stands out as one of the finest, while the superb Children of the Grounds builds to a stirring finish.
Themes of nature and vivid Americana populate this album, which is a dark and often mournful offering, vocalist Tim Smith retaining his instantly recognisable drawl.
Rulers, Ruling All Things is a mournful epic, but it is on the deliciously country-esque The Horn and the short, trippy burst of Fortune that Midlake achieve heights not seen on their previous offerings, vindicating their decision to go back to the drawing board.
Rating 4/5

Hot Chip
‘One Life Stand’
THERE IS SOMETHING triumphal about the opening to Hot Chip’s new album One Life Stand, as a single drum beat gives way to a spacey, bleep-filled wonder featuring some of the most heart-felt lyrics founding member Alexis Taylor has written in the band’s relatively short life-span.
This is the happiest and most-structured Hot Chip album of the four that the London based electro-pop/dance outfit have released, a journey that began with the release of their debut Coming On Strong in 2003.
Where they made their big breakthrough with Made In The Dark, released in 2008, it was in fact their most unstructured offering, a dark and at times indecipherable album that didn’t stand-up to the test of time, at least in the eyes of this reviewer.
For all of their big dance floor numbers, Hot Chip’s greatest successes have been the softer, heart-felt songs, of which there are many on this superb album, most notably on the aforementioned opener Thieves in the Night, and the Joe Goddard-sung Brothers, a delicate and melodic offering that sounds like a tribute to Goddard’s bandmates.
The addition of drummer Leo Taylor and in particular, the Trinidadian steel player Fimber Bravo, add an extra oomph to this album, the sing-song steel pans on the dancey I Feel Better and the rather delicious One Life Stand really standing out.
Live favourite Alley Cats is finally included on record, and is a delight, its soft electro tones supplemented by a gently undulating beat.
Taylor has declared that this is the “most warm and soulful sounding record” Hot Chip have recorded, and he wasn’t wrong.
It is also the most cohesive, and a much calmer and inventive collection of songs that will give people plenty to dance to, but will also leave them with plenty to think about after listening to it.

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