The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Album Reviews

06

A review of the album 'Snowflake Midnight' by Mercury Rev

Mercury Rev Snowflake MidnightReview Snapshot: One-time experimental mavericks from upstate New York return with a departure in sound, but find themselves stuck on repeat, peddling their same optimistic and wide-eyed view of the world. Dressed up in a shiny new electronic suit it may be, it’s merely ‘The Secret Migration’ with beats. Where has the magic gone?

The Cluas Verdict? 2 out of 10

Full Review:
This is not Mercury Rev. That much we know since the overwrought pomposity of a least half of 2001’s ‘All Is Dream’ gave way to the epic folly of 2005’s ‘The Secret Migration’ - the sound of a band convinced they were pushing sonic boundaries whilst, in reality, they were merely elbowing The Verve aside from their pedestal of overblown epic rock. It is impossible to reconcile the band who made ‘Snowflake Midnight’ with the band who unleashed ‘Yerself Is Steam’ to such a cathartic effect on an unsuspecting audience still knee deep in Madchester and shoegazing way back in 1991.

If for many ‘Deserter’s Songs’ is their touchstone record , for me it’s ‘Yerself Is Steam’ – an obscene mélange of bad drugs, indecipherable lyrical content and a wacked-out flautist thrown on top of a rabble of musicians collectively intent on musical deviance. It’s a remarkable, malevolent masterpiece.

Sonically, ‘Snowflake Midnight’ most closely resembles 1995’s ‘lost’ album ‘See You On The Other Side’, which was sound of a band content with the fact that the world had largely forgotten them after the excesses of ‘Boces’ (which happened to be the, er, unbalanced - and much missed - David Baker’s last record with the band before Jonathon Donahue took complete control of their vision). Yet the euphoric psychedelia of that record stands in stark contrast to the relentlessly mawkish sentimentality of ‘Snowflake Midnight’.

I’ve never quite understood bands who, in search of a change of direction, invariably decide upon augmenting their sound with ill-suited faux-electronica – this, it seems, is the default approach for bands in transition. ‘Snowflake Midnight’ repeatedly showcases this change in the band’s sound and it’s one which is as ill-fitting as it is unnecessary - ‘Butterfly’s Wing’ is backed by inane computer generated beats and bleeps, and accompanied by Donahue’s, by now, customary optimistic whine. Some four minutes long, the song is an exercise in futility and showcases the dilution of Mercury Rev both musically and lyrically.

‘Senses On Fire’ - the album’s one stand-out track - with its electro-doodle intro builds into a glimpse of what 2008’s Mercury Rev could have been: the title repeated throughout and Donahue’s vocoded voice menacingly intoning ‘Ready or not, here I come’. Wonderful stuff, yet thoroughly out of place with the dross surrounding it. Otherwise, only ‘Faraway From Cars’ merits a positive mention, if only for the fact that it could well have been lifted from ‘See You On The Other Side’.

Lyrically, Donahue still resides in a dream world invariably populated by mysterious female figures; “In the green grass a young girl dreams she’s a flower in the field, But in my dream, you are real”. He’s not saying anything new – hell, he doesn’t have to – but it would be nice if he’d say it all in a different way.

Where once the band thrilled with the incandescent menace of ‘Chasing A Bee’ or beguiled with the simple beauty of ‘Holes’ or ‘Tonite It Shows’, today the band evoke nothing but half-arsed mysticism and a nauseating fixation with the natural world populated by ethereal figures of Jonathon Donahue’s imagination. With song titles such ‘Snowflake in a Hot World’, ‘Runaway Raindrop’ and ‘A Squirrel and I Holding On (And Then Letting Go)’, they have, alas, become Barney on acid.

This then is the sad sound of a band running on empty. Dear God, this is Mercury Rev.

Confucious


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19
Dennis Wilson 'Pacific Ocean Blue'
A review of the album 'Pacific Ocean Blue' by Dennis Wilson Review Snapshot: Dennis Wilson was the handsome Beach Boy - he had the musical smarts but they were sidelined till 1977 wit...

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19

A review of the album 'Limbo, Panto' by Wild Beasts

Wild Beasts Limbo PantoReview Snapshot: 'Limbo, Panto', the debut album from British band, Wild Beasts, a theatrically over the top record about sex, sin and struggling soccer teams. A genuinely strong and enjoyable debut.

The Cluas Verdict? 7.5 out of 10

Full Review:
At first listen, you would be forgiven for thinking that Wild Beasts were a satirical cover band of The Smiths spliced with 18th century opera. Lead singer Hayden Thorpe has a camper singing style than Morrissey. Just think about that for a moment. Camper then flower flinging, blouse wearing, falsetto singing Morrissey. At times Thorpe’s voice is comically operatic and on other occasions it is a guttural growl, wandering where it pleases, without consideration for the taut bass lines and energetic guitar strumming, hopelessly trying to keep up. There is a raw charm to his voice, but one that will not be to everyone’s liking. It is so incomparable and alien it will have the effect of polarising opinion on the band. You’ll love it or hate it, but definitely won’t be indifferent.

There is certainly a novelty aspect to this offering from Wild Beasts, in the way the record is presented, sung and indeed the topics sung about. But there is a whole lot more to it besides. It is an unobtrusive album, that doesn’t aim to blow the listener away, but instead coaxes you in with every listen you afford it. And after awhile the rewards come in the form of initially misunderstood lyrics, where you had mistaken wit for pretentiousness.

What is remarkable about Wild Beasts is their ability to transform the mundane into the epic, or at least bravely attempt to do so. The most notable example of this coveted skill comes four tracks in with 'Woebegone Wanderers' a song about the plight of a non-league football team. It sees Thorpe at his most flamboyant and in spite of this, or maybe as a result of it, the song actually works. Proof again that fantastically unnecessary sentimental lyrics alongside great pop rock music can work.

There is a lot to admire about this unusual album. It offers ambiguous lyrics and disjointed musical pieces yet has the potential to appeal to a wide audience. 'The Devil’s Crayon' is the track that showcases Wild Beasts ability to take on a pop song and master it with clever lyrics and catchy guitar work. It’s loud and epic with contrasting singing styles from Thorpe.

At times, Wild Beasts' debut sounds like it was produced with the view to soundtracking a Tim Burton animation. It is eerie and theatrical, particularly 'Please Sir', and 'His Grinning Skull'. The latter is the probable highlight of the album as it saunters along at its own pace with delicate guitar strumming.

The bawdy side of Wild Beasts rears its head on a number of occasions, the best xample being 'She purred, while I grrred'. You can really get away with unmannerly sexual talk if you put it cleverly. It sees Wild Beasts try and nail the mystery of life with the line:
“I die every day, to live every night, under the industry of her want for me in our fusty foundry”.

This is a cracking album from a young group doing their own thing in a British scene clustered with indistinguishable bands. It may take a while to grow on you, but what they do they do with style. 

A genuinely strong and enjoyable debut.

Kevin Boyle


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14
Daniel Lanois 'Here Is What Is'
A review of the album Here Is What Is by Daniel Lanois Review Snapshot:Here Is What Is is a weak record by acclaimed producer Daniel Lanois. Failed attempts at being 'artsy' and an overly ...

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13

A review of the debut album by The Gorgeous Colours

Gorgeous ColoursReview Snapshot: The debut from the Dublin-based four-piece is a solid, likeable indie-rock artifact. There’s nothing that’ll frighten the horses and it’ll sound satisfactory from a summer stage.

The Cluas Verdict? 6.5 out of 10

Full Review:
Many Irish indie fans first came across The Gorgeous Colours as the support act at shows by The Immediate, now-defunct next-big-things of season 2006-07. The two Dublin bands shared an alt-rock sound that will be classic for some, unoriginal for others. One can imagine how inconsolable Immediate fans, clutching their tear-stained ‘In Towers And Clouds’, will find much solace in The Gorgeous Colours’ debut.

In general, this record is a throwback to two familiar indie strands. You have the jaunty jangling of ‘Holey Moley’ and weak opening track ‘Means To An End’, where the band don’t quite pull off the breezy, cheeky-chappy attitude they seem to be aiming for.

By contrast, there’s a serious, emotive alt-rock side that’s emphasized by the mid-Atlantic twang to Geoffrey McArdle’s singing voice. The Gorgeous Colours sound surer of themselves on this ground – which is not to say that they’re always convincing; ‘I Don’t Know What To Do’ may mean well but it comes across as a exercise in writing something poignant (“All I know about hope/It don’t hang from no rope”) in minor chords.

Still, it’s no great leap of the imagination to figure that The Gorgeous Colours could build a strong live following on the back of this material. Neil Smyth’s guitar hooks on the likes of ‘Miss You’ and ‘Hunting Something’ have the ring of what would sound good at a summer festival or outdoor show. And the rhythm section – Tim Groenland on bass and Glenn L’Heveder on drums – is as sound as you’d demand from a decent live band.

However, this album’s recurrent dad-indie-rockness makes it sound a bit jaded in parts. The rolling country-rock of ‘The Rails’, for instance, will please fortysomething punters who reminisce about seeing The Fat Lady Sings in The Baggot Inn back in the day. Like a lot of this record, it’s pleasant and well-made but never catches fire. (This reviewer has the quaint notion that records should have catchy bits you sing in the shower and whistle on the way to work. We found none of that here.)

Ultimately, this is a solid debut but we reckon it may be a better experience live than on record. The Gorgeous Colours: the new Something Happens?

Aidan Curran


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07

A review of the album 'The Hare's Corner' by Colm Mac Con Iomaire

The Hare's Corner by Colm Mac Con IomaireReview Snapshot: The solo project of trad-meets-world from the Frames violinist is well-played and thoughtfully crafted throughout. But you yearn for a spark of electricity to liven up the unrelenting politeness of the whole affair. By no means a bad record – just uneventful and ultimately featureless. Let this hare sit.

The Cluas Verdict? 6 out of 10

Full Review:
The first cinemas put a piano-player at the foot of the screen and he would plink-plonk along to the action in the film, enhancing the onscreen sentiment and prompting us how to react. Today, we almost invariably describe instrumental music as ‘cinematic’. It doesn’t exist independently, but serves to soundtrack something. We expect it to evoke epic landscapes and hyperdramatic situations.

Regardless of this, Glen Hansard’s nixer, as uncinematic as cinema music can get, has earned him an Oscar. Now here’s his Frames colleague Colm Mac Con Iomaire with his own solo project, eleven instrumental tracks that will no doubt have listeners judging it against the movies in their heads.

The titles and sleevenotes to ‘The Hare’s Corner’ are bilingual, half Irish and half English. The record itself follows similar lines, mixing traditional Irish influences with a fashionably cosmopolitan range of classical and world sounds. As you’d expect from the Frames fiddler, violin is prominent in the arrangements.

However, the VU/Bad Seeds avant garde screeching of his band work is replaced by tastefully melodic lines. As a result, this record is unfailingly polite to the point of near blandness. There’s little in the way of personality or character on show here. Most of the airs are slow to mid-tempo, with only the jaunty ‘Thou Shalt Not Carry Timber/Ná hIompar Adhmad’ jarring things up a bit. Trad arrs like ‘The Cuckoo Of Glen Nephin/Cuachín Ghleann Néifin’ and ‘The Court Of New Town/Cúirt Bhaile Nua’ are played with safe hands.

Back to our opening proposition: instrumental music always being reduced to soundtrack work. In this light, ‘The Hare’s Corner’ can be called incidental music. Not in the sense that it’s packed with incident, but that it stands unassumingly in the background while something more interesting grabs your attention.

Aidan Curran


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05
Frank Sinatra 'Sinatra at The Sands'
A review of the album 'Sinatra at The Sands' by Frank Sinatra Review Snapshot: 'Sinatra at the Sands': the world's most famous performer recorded at his peak. The Cluas Ver...

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26

A review of the DownloadMusic.ie USB Compilation (Various artists)

Review Snapshot:  Possibly the most difficult album I’ve ever had to review for CLUAS, Downloadmusic.ie’s first ever USB Compilation Album also turned out to be one of the most rewarding, proving, for the most part, that Irish music is in good shape.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
For me, great albums have always told a story; each song being delicately structured to fit snugly into the ebb and flow of the overall musical tapestry of the LP. My favourite albums generally come with memorable artwork, lyrics, out of focus photographs, scribbled drunken meanderings or multicoloured feathers. So to be presented with a compilation album on a USB key was always going to be a challenge.

How should I approach this; should I take it on a song by song basis? That’s not really going to result in an album review though is it? Plus, with 15 songs most of you would have stopped reading by the third song. No, I had to approach this one differently and so I took what appears to be the central theme of the compilation, namely the present and future of Irish music and considered how representative this album was.

For the most part this album achieves what it set out to. Bands like The Flaws, CODES and The Kinetiks, if attendance at their gigs is anything to go by, are certainly representative of Irish musical tastes. However, what lets the album down is its noble effort to shoehorn multiple genres of music onto the same compilation. Ro Tierney’s The Voice and Justin Manville’s Tonight, while both good songs in their own right, sound out of place on an album containing bands like Dirty Epics and Vesta Varro.

Stand out tracks are This is Goodbye (CODES), Letting Go (SUDDYN) and The Cure (Dirty Epics) and for very different reasons. This is Goodbye and The Cure both represent the current drive by Irish musicians towards musical landscaping; creating mountains of sound from the foundations of catchy melodies and lyrics. Letting Go on the other hand has an understated charm that’s reminiscent of Damien Rice’s O period (insert ‘he certainly milked that period’ joke here).

Of course, the upside of compilations is that there is generally something for everyone. Tracks I didn’t like, such as Manmade (The Radio) and Shadows (Roberta Howett) may well be other people’s favourites.

Overall, while the idea is commendable, perhaps having fewer genre’s on one album would make for a less disjointed listening experience. Despite that, those writing about the demise of quality Irish music should have a listen to this compilation because the future really is bright. 

Steven O'Rourke


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22
Okkervil River 'The Stand Ins'
A review of the album 'The Stand Ins' by Okkervil River Review Snapshot:With their name lifted from a short story by a Russian writer and their albums to date smothered by literary referen...

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16

A review of the album 'At Mount Zoomer' by Wolf Parade

At Mount Zoomer by Wolf ParadeReview Snapshot: Wolf Parade's follow-up to their glorious debut, ‘Apologies To The Queen Mary’, is a brave comeback by the Canadian indie five-piece, but it falls short of its predecessor by some distance. Unfortunately the high points of the record are undermined and outnumbered by the low ones, making for a bit of a mixed bag. First-time listeners to this band may find the album an exhilarating experience, but those who have been exposed to the quality that Wolf Parade can produce might just be a little disappointed.

The Cluas Verdict? 6.5 out of 10

Full Review:
In 2005, Wolf Parade released ‘Apologies To The Queen Mary’, their first album after two previous EPs, to a generally positive critical response. It was an album that used electronic music as an accompaniment to indie rock as opposed to attempting to merge the two. The songwriting duties were split between the two founding members, Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner.

The result was an album of contrasting styles interwoven into classic indie. It sold quite well, brought about a substantial fan base and even earned a nomination for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize, Canada's version of the Mercury.

Album number two was never going to be easy.

‘At Mount Zoomer’ begins in fine fashion with the blistering ‘Soldier's Grin’, which showcases Wolf Parade's characteristically jaunty guitar riffs and whimpering vocals to great effect. However, it then slouches into the disappointing ‘Call It A Ritual’, which is far too flat and disjointed when compared to Wolf Parade's previous body of work. The song drags, and not in any determined direction either.

The third track, ‘Language City’, is undoubtedly one of the highlights. It is anthemic and pulsating in equal measure and as good as anything these innovative Canadians have produced. Unfortunately there are just not enough quality tracks like this one to make the album memorable.

’California Dreamer’ is another track that will help fans of the band to keep the faith. It’s a suspiciously quiet song up to the point where it explodes into the chorus of “thought I might have heard ya on the radio/but the radio waves were like snow”. It is a sweeping track and reminiscent of ‘It’s A Curse’ off the band’s first album.

One of the worst features of ‘At Mount Zoomer’ is how poorly it flows. There are no good tracks together. Songs like ‘Call It A Ritual’ and ‘An Animal In Your Care’ act as little more then album filler. It’s not a particularly long album - only nine tracks - and yet there is an unacceptably high proportion of mediocre material on it.

At no stage does this second offering reach the chaotic majesty of its predecessor. There are no equivalents of ‘Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts’ or ‘I'll Believe In Anything’. But it is still a decent album. ‘Apologies to the Queen Mary’ was a diamond in the rough. ‘At Mount Zoomer’ is more like quartz in a quarry. It’s kind of nice, but not all that remarkable.

Kevin Boyle


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Nuggets from our archive

2001 - Early career profile of Damien Rice, written by Sinead Ward. This insightful profile was written before Damien broke internationally with the release of his debut album 'O'. This profile continues to attract hundreds of visits every month, it being linked to from Damien Rice's Wikipedia page.