The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for July 2009

14
Graham Coxon 'The Spinning Top'

A review of the album 'The Spinning Top' by Graham Coxon

Graham Coxon - The Spinning TopReview Snapshot: 15 tracks of pure eloquence, beauty and expert finger-picking from the Blur guitarist's seventh solo album. This album documents the life story of a man from birth to death, and realistically could've either gone one of two ways: it could've been disastrous or it could've been fantastic. Fortunately, it's the latter.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review:
'The Spinning Top', the seventh solo offering from Blur's Graham Coxon, documents the life story of a man from birth to death. This album could easily be brushed aside due to the hustle of bustle of Blur's reunion overshadowing it. But this is typically Coxon's style, he never vies for the limelight and seems content with being the musical genius in the background.

However, it would be a crime for this album to go unnoticed. There's a 60s vibe throughout, seemingly influenced by folk musicians such as Davy Graham and Nick Drake. Though these influences are apparent Coxon also retains his own unique musicianship, using varied instrumentation most of which he played himself.

From the outset the album has a loose, natural progression. It becomes obvious that this is the work of a true musician whose main concern is how the album sounds and artistic expression, as opposed to the chart position.

Though the album is mainly acoustic some tracks feature more rock inspired instrumentation. 'If You Want Me' starts off softly, with Coxon singing gently and an overall relaxed tone. But as the song reaches the half-way mark it changes and an electric guitar is introduced, this makes for an unexpected temporary return to his rock roots. It's refreshing, and also fits in perfectly with the style of the song.

It's fair to say that Coxon is widely recognised as a prolific guitarist. But 'Brave the Storm' displays his immense song writing abilities, 'There's a wood where we can disappear/Into our own little stratosphere.' It has a jaunty rhythm, and evokes peaceful imagery. This is definitely a musician at the top of his game.

'Humble Man' is, without a doubt, my favourite track on the album. With Coxon calling out 'Heaven help me/Help me to be a humble man' while the words are immersed in the most sublime of music it is flawless.  That, coupled with the fact the song will be stuck in your head for days, makes for joyous listening.

Ultimately, 'The Spinning Top' displays Coxon's undeniable musical talent at its best. It's a new, fresh album which is dissimilar to his previous albums. Though the album may never receive the acclaim it truly deserves, and may never be a staple of many record collections, it is an album in which once it's heard will make for memorable and impressionable listening.

Aideen O' Flaherty


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14

A review of the album 'Here Come the 123s' by They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants - Here Come The 123sReview Snapshot: Grammy-winning quirky, melodic fun from 90s indie icons. Not just for kids!

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
They Might Be Giants had a succession of indie hits back in the late 80s/early 90s. Their best-known album was "Flood", released in 1990, on which you'll find the indie disco staple "Little birdhouse in your soul". People took music pretty seriously back then (when rock music fans were the goodies and rave music fans were the baddies) and they suffered a little bit in the eyes of the Serious Music Fan on account of being too much, well, FUN compared to the other bands that were hip at the time, but I guess it didn't phase them much as they've released 10 studio albums since, with the most recent albums featuring music for kids that adults too could love.

Their music had a kind of kiddishness to it even early on - there was a song on "Flood" called "Particle Man" that described battles between Particle Man, Triangle Man and Person Man and was made into a Tiny Toons video. It wasn't until 2002 though that they released their first full album for kids called "No!", which they followed with "Here come the ABCs" (2005) and then this album.

Like their grown-up music output, the basic template is American alternative rock, but very quirky, very melodic, and fun fun fun! Most of the songs have some kind of number-related theme - from "Zeros mean so much" to "813 mile car trip" - but this isn't an educational record in that it doesn't make any attempt to teach, rather it just uses numbers as jumping-off points for goofy (and somtimes amazing) lyrical ideas, like "9 bowls of soup" in which an ichthyosaur uses bowls of soup to construct a Very Large Array with a view to communicating with aliens (and inviting them for lunch). Stylistically it's pretty eclectic - "There's only one Everything" is danceable indie pop, "The number two" is reminiscent of 70s Elton John, "High five" is faintly disco-y, "Days of the week" is a march - but it's all distinctively They Might Be Giants, and every single song has a hummable tune. So hummable, in fact, that it's damn hard to get some of them out of your head - in my house you can regularly hear "One dozen monkeys" being sung as you pass the shower door.

Don't let the fact that this is aimed at children put you off, though if you have kids/nephews/nieces/younger siblings this would make a brilliant present (and they'll love the accompanying DVD, complete with the band as woollen puppets). Obviously it's neither earth-shattering nor profound, but it's entertaining in the best sense of the word, and it'll put a big grin on your face.

Cormac Parle

  • Cormac is in Stoat and recently launched kids-tunes.com which sells CDs for kids (such as 'Here Come the 123s' by They Might Be Giants).

 


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13
Oxegen 2009 Day Three (live in Punchestown, Kildare)

Day Three of Oxegen 2009

 

Review Snapshot: While I didn't get to see as many bands as I would have liked to on Day Three of Oxegen 2009, those that I did see continued to impress.  From a purely musical point of view, Oxegen 2009 ended on a high with one performance in particular standing out.

The CLUAS Verdict? 8.5 out of 10
 
Full Review:
Foals live at Oxegen 2009Rarely Seen Above Ground (Red Bull Music Academy)
On paper, going to see a drummer play along to a backing track doesn't sound too appealing.  It certainly doesn't help when that drummer arrives on stage over 20 minutes late.  However, when the drummer in question is Jeremy Hickey, better known as Choice Music Prize nominee Rarely Seen Above Ground, you know it's well worth the wait.  Hickey is a very talented multi-instrumentalist and his performance is accompanied by a screen showing a virtual band who are, in reality, all Hickey.  What is rarely mentioned about RSAG is the quality of Hickey's vocals.  All in all, it shouldn't work as well as it does, but fans of Organic Sampler really have to see RSAG live to appreciate the level of talent here. 
 
White Lies (The O2 Stage)
White Lies are not a band I'd generally pay much attention to but, seeing as I was hovering around The O2 Stage, I thought I might as well stay and have a listen.  Opening with A Place to Hide, what surprised me most was the quality of Harry McVeigh's vocals, comparable with Paul Banks of Interpol.  As expected, To Lose my Life and Farewell to the Fairground provoked the best reception from a sizeable crowd.  While there is nothing particularly exciting about White Lies, their performance was more than competent and I can think of worse ways of spending 30 minutes on a wet Sunday afternoon.
 
Foals (Heineken Green Spheres)
There are probably few things more fun in music than seeing a musician, who is clearly off his face, putting in an incredible performance when all the time you're wondering how he's even able to stand.  Such was the case with Yannis Philippakis whose foray into the crowd, and the vacant look on his face as he walked by me, was one of the highlights of my weekend.  Unsurprisingly, Foal's set consisted almost exclusively of tracks from Antidotes but the band's lack of a meaningful discography didn't stop them putting in a great performance.  The crowd responded in kind and really got into the set in a way that only Republic of Loose had managed (of the bands I'd seen) at Oxegen 2009.
 
Jason Mraz (Heineken Green Spheres)
After Foals' set finished, I had intended to go and watch The Specials but a massive downpour meant that I stayed in the relative dryness of the Green Spheres tent.  However, two songs in (one of which was an instrumental cover of Andy Williams' Music to Watch Girls By) and I'd had enough.  This is, I'm afraid, music that teenage girls (and, in fairness, my friend Joanna, who really should know better) probably consider to be 'fab' and Mraz himself is probably 'like, OMG, so good' but, no, it's not for me.  As I made my way to the IMRO tent (easier said than done considering the mud) I heard Ghost Town, which sounded great and made me wish I had braved the rain earlier.
 
Wintersleep (IMRO New Sound Stage)
If I'm honest, the only reason I went to see Wintersleep is because I wanted to secure a good spot for Villagers who would follow them on the IMRO Stage.  However, I was surprised by how good the band actually were.  Fair enough, the lyrics to The Archaeologist, might be a bit odd (Belly of a whale???) but they are a very tight unit and, as word of their performance spread, they got the IMRO tent dancing.  The highlight of a relatively short set (only 2 minutes longer than their soundcheck) was the exceptional Weighty Ghost, a song whose chorus is still running around my head this morning.
 
Villagers (IMRO New Sound Stage)
Some time ago, in perhaps my first opinion piece for CLUAS, I wrote that I believed The Immediate were more than the sum of their parts and that their break-up could lead to bigger and better things.  It's not often that I get to say this, but I was right.  Conor O'Brien is, and I don't use this word too often, special.  There isn't another songwriter in Ireland today who can provoke the same emotional response in me as O'Brien and his Villagers can.  This was, undoubtedly, the act I was most excited about seeing at Oxegen 2009. Indeed, in conversation with fellow CLUAS writer Jan Ni Fhlanagain I stated that if I was any more excited I'd have to cover my lap with my coat.  Of course, I wasn't that excited but when Villagers arrived on stage and launched into Down, Under the Sea, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.  This was the defining performance of Oxegen 2009 for me, culminating in the epic Pieces and the first chants of 'One more tune' I'd heard all weekend.  It was a privilege to be there.
 
Dark Room Notes (IMRO New Sound Stage)
Dark Room Notes, with their edgy blend of keyboard driven indie, are an exceptionally gifted band.  They have in their arsenal an array of songs that most bands would cut off their left ear for.  It's a pity then that their set clashed with Nine Inch Nails, Manic Street Preachers and The Killers.  Still, they managed to wow those of us that did make the effort to brave the conditions of the IMRO tent (think World War 1 trench with less death and more Abrakebabra packaging) with a set consisting exclusively of tracks from their fine debut, We Love You Dark Matter.   Shake, Shake My Ceiling and Broken Nail were the standouts for me in a great performance, what a shame that more people weren't there to witness (see what I did there?) it though.
 
Steve O'Rourke

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12
Day Two Oxegen 2009 (live in Punchestown, Co. Kildare)

Review of Day Two of Oxegen 2009

Review Snapshot: Day Two of Oxegen 2009 was all about rain, rock and roll.  Despite the weather, or maybe because of it, the majority of acts seemed to up their game and reward their audiences with performances that defied the best efforts of the elements to ruin everyone's day.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10
 
Full Review:


The Blizzards live at Oxegen 2009Red Light Company (The O2 Stage)
They might be more than a little obsessed with Broken Social Scene but Red Light Company appear to have perfected the art of daytime festival performance.  Think Feeder.  Considering the impending weather the crowd were in good spirits and were rewarded with rousing renditions of Scheme Eugene (name check Broken Social Scene) and Arts & Crafts (Broken Social Scene Label).  Perhaps a little too sameish for my liking but still, not a bad start to day two.

 

General Fiasco (IMRO New Sound Stage)
Having arrived in the IMRO New Sound Stage to see Angel Pier, I was told that they had swapped slots with Northern Irish band, General Fiasco.  Initially, I was disappointed as Angel Pier had been one of the bands I really wanted to see.  However, General Fiasco soon proved themselves to be more than capable replacements.  Any band that can manage to sound as melodic as Vampire Weekend and as edgy as Therapy? are going to do well.  Definitely a band I will be checking out again.

Eagles of Death Metal (The O2 Stage)
While it might not be full on cock rock, Eagles of Death Metal come close.  There are some good tunes in there (Cherry Cola being my particular favourite) but EODM appear to be a band that are more intent on entertaining than on showcasing their own songs.  A cover of Stuck in the Middle with You had the audience dancing in the rain.  Jesse Hughes is a charismatic frontman and constantly thanked the audience for braving the rain just for them.  I'm not sure why but I was expecting Spinal Tap, turns out Eagles of Death Metal offer so much more.

Regina Spektor (Heineken Green Spheres)
And now for something completely different.  I'm very much a casual follower of Regina Spektor's career, indeed it was my wife that suggested we watch the Russian born American.  Not for the first time, she made the right call.  There was a lot of fun in this performance and, despite the awful ground conditions in the tent, Spektor had the majority of the audience dancing to her melodic brand of anti-folk.  Eet, On The Radio and Us going down particularly well. 

TV on the Radio (Heineken Green Spheres)
After a brief foray into the backstage area to interview C O D E S for their Oxegen diary, I made my way back to the Heineken Green Spheres tent to catch what appeared to be everybody's 'must see band' of the weekend.  This meant there was a good mixture of fan boys and casual observers in the tent when the band launched into Golden Age.  Musically, the performance was well above par but as energetic and vibrant as it was, it would have been so much better if I had been able to hear anything other than muffled vocals.  Sometimes soundmen have a lot to answer for.

Director (IMRO New Sound Stage)
By the time I got in to the IMRO tent the ground was as muddy inside as out.  This led to the security guys having to restrict the amount of people who could enter.  The folks outside mightn't think so, but this was certainly the right decision.  As for the gig itself, Director were excellent.  Diving head first into Play Pretend the band got better and better as the gig went on, culminating in a brilliant version of Reconnect.  The first of my trilogy of Irish bands had gotten off to a great start.

C O D E S (IMRO New Sound Stage)
Fresh from penning a deal with EMI, C O D E S managed to draw a great crowd, despite the fact they were clashing with The Pet Shop Boys.  Previewing tracks from their forthcoming debut record; This is Goodbye, Cities and the sing-along Algebra were my favourites.  I've written before that this band have a sound that are destined for greatness and, once more, they've proven themselves more than capable of living up to those lofty ambitions.

And So I Watch You From Afar (IMRO New Sound Stage)
I have a feeling that the quality of music coming from north of the border will play a huge part in my overview of Oxegen 2009 (to be published on Wednesday July 15). And So I Watch You From Afar will almost certainly feature.  This was one of my favourite performances ever, not just this weekend.  It's my job to try and put into words what I see and hear before me but with ASIWYFA that is easier said than done.  It is heavy instrumental rock, well that's what it says on the label.  It is so much more than that though.  There is melody here that simultaneously makes your hair stand on end and punches you in the face.  If it ain't broke, break it and The Voiceless (dedicated to 'the quiet one in The Pet Shop Boys) were my favourites but only because they were the only tracks I knew beforehand.  However, I have a feeling I'm about to become a lot more familiar with the rest of And So I Watch You From Afar's catalogue.

Steve O'Rourke


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11

Day One of Oxegen 2009

Review Snapshot: There must have been something in the air in Punchestown as at least 3 bands invited members of the crowd on stage during the first day of Oxegen 2009. There might have been an overwhelming feeling that there were less people here than in previous years but that didn’t stop the bands from putting in some great performances.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10
 

Snow Patrol OxegenFull Review:
When you wake up on the first morning of a festival and hear nothing on the radio but people forecasting 6 day traffic jams and rain, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Noah worked for Harland and Wolff, you have to wonder if it is worth making the effort at all.  However, the first piece of good news was that the traffic was almost non-existent, perhaps helped by the fact that, being relatively local, I know some alternative routes into Punchestown.  Also, the rain, which began as I parked the car, was gone in little over an hour.  Maybe this would be a good weekend after all.

Jape (Red Bull Music Academy)
I’ve been very lucky with Oxegen as this is the second year in a row that the first band I’ve seen has put in a brilliant performance. Choice Music Prize winner and possibly the busiest man in Irish music, Richie Egan, operating as Jape this weekend, wowed a very mixed crowd with an energetic set showcasing his critically acclaimed Ritual.  During Streetwise, Egan became the first act of the weekend to invite a member of the audience on stage to sing the chorus. It didn’t work very well at first and the girl was booed off before being replaced by a much more competent audience member. Egan finished his set with a rousing rendition of I Was A Man.  

 

Fight like Apes (Heineken Green Spheres)
Despite their much hyped debut album and recent Glastonbury performance, when Fight Like Apes launched into Something Global, the tent can’t have been more than one third full. Despite this (and, in fairness, the place did fill as the gig went on) Fight like Apes tried very hard to impress their audience. When they concentrated on making music the band were a joy to behold, Two news songs they played sounded excellent, as did a brilliant version of Jake Summers. However, a Fight like Apes gig is never just about the music.  Try as they might to be 'random', you can't help but feel that their gimmicks are a bit, well, gimmicky. Climbing speaker towers and beating chairs against railings (professional wrestling style) felt more petulant and childish than daring an edgy. A great band when they remember that they are supposed to be making music.

Duke Special (The O2 Stage)
Having to walk from one side of the Oxegen campus to the other meant that I missed the start of Duke Special's performance.  When I arrived there again seemed to be far less people than I would expect for an artist of Peter Wilson's calibre.  Initially, The Duke's set seemed disjointed and meandering, not helped by the fact that Wilson and band took up less than 10% of The O2 Stage. However, things soon picked up and Wilson ended on a high with Our Love Goes Deeper Than This, Last Night I Nearly Died (But I Woke Up Just In Time) and the gorgeous Freewheel.  It's a pity more people weren't there to see/hear it.  It was beauty personified.

Iain Archer (Red Bull Music Academy)
At this stage I was starting to wonder if there was actually anyone at Oxegen.  This was Iain Archer, the bloke that used to be in Snow Patrol and, with Flood The Tanks, responsible for one of Northern Irish music's true masterpieces, and yet, here he was playing to a tent that was no more than 20% full.  Not everyone could have been watching The Script could they?  Archer seemed unperturbed by the small audience and produced a lively set consisting mostly of tracks from his new record, To The Pine Roots.  While I was disappointed not to hear Mirrorball Moon, my favourite Archer song, highlights of the set included Canal SongStreamer On A Kite and Archer finishing his set with his parents on backing vocals.  

Heathers (IMRO New Sound Stage)
I only managed to catch 5 songs as the IMRO Stage seemed to be running off schedule (same problem as last year) but I'm still not convinced by these two.  Sure they are young and can still go some way to prove me wrong, but I can't help but think that they could do with listening to a few more records before writing their own songs.  Having influences is fine, so is wearing them on your sleeve, but having such a small range of influences just makes you sound like a tribute band. 

Republic of Loose (Heineken Green Spheres)
After a wasted trip over to the Red Bull Music Academy to see Ladyhawke (still no explanation for her non appearance at time of going to print) I found myself worshiping at the alter of Republic of Loose. I wasn’t the only one either as the Green Spheres tent was packed. As I posted on Twitter, there was lots of dancing here, the likes of which was never seen in Billy Brennan’s barn. Shame, Comeback Girl, The Steady Song and a brilliant rendition of Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ were the standout tracks in a set full of energy and audience interaction. There are few bands who entertain more than Republic of Loose.

Blur (Main Stage)
Initially, I was very excited about seeing Blur live for the first time. However, after the exuberance of Republic of Loose, this performance felt flat. Opening with the slow burning She’s so High was never going to be the best way to get the crowd enthused. Girls and Boys, the second song, would have been enough to spark the set into life had it not been so tuneless and followed by the awful Tracy Jacks. There’s no doubting that Damon Albarn is a consummate showman, but he’s not the world’s best singer.  Dedicating The Universal to the late Joe Dolan was a nice touch but, despite my initial excitement, I left Day One of Oxegen 2009 feeling quite cynical as to the reasons for Blur’s comeback and wishing I’d gone to see 2 Many DJ’s instead.

Steve O'Rourke

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08
Florence & The Machine 'Lungs'

 

A review of the album 'Lungs' by Florence & The Machine

Florence & The Machine - LungsReview Snapshot: Although Florence Welch may have garnered the press attention, the album's arrangement and production work ultimately makes Lungs a worthy listen.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review: For over a year, Lungs has been hyped to high heaven, propelled by a combination of four strong singles and bandleader Florence Welch’s press-baiting off-stage antics. Musically, the media have leapt on the combination of soul and indie-pop that supposedly characterises Welch’s music , the latest in the series of British blue-eyed soulsters that have made their mark with a deft eye on both retro and contemporary pop. Indeed, one could make a case for Welch simply continuing that trend: she’s certainly got the voice, and the songs could reasonably be transformed into 60s soundalikes if a Ronson-type so desired. More important than such comparisons, and what most of the year-long hype seems to have forgotten, Welch’s work also contains large doses of negativity, doubt and despair, rendered not only in her lyrics, but evoked through the despairing timbre of the instruments accompanying them. What Lungs encapsulates is the power of texture, as well as the strength of the mood often teased out by spot-on production.

“Dog Days Are Over” opens with a mix of soul-power vocals and beautifully-embellished stomp-pop that effortlessly appears to justify the pre-release hype. While opening tracks are formulated to convince sceptics that the other tracks are worth listening to, “Dog Days Are Over” works because it emphasises the best aspects of the material that follows; Welch’s voice is spot on, the production is bright and the song is structurally sound, each dynamic change strategically placed to surprise and command attention.

Following “Dog Days,” the remainder of Lungs faces a depressingly familiar test: either each song will reach the high stature of the opening track, or they will fall beneath the expectations it engendered. “Between Two Lungs” exceeds these expectations and exemplifies the album’s strengths. One of the few tracks where both songwriting and production excel, in this case with a flurry of harmony and inspired instrumentation, it also calls attention to the album’s faults, as demonstrated by “Kiss With A Fist.” Although enjoyable in an average sort of way, its idiosyncratic garage rock sound is formulaic and draws attention to the more irritating aspects of Welch’s vocals; when her voice works it is attention-grabbing in the best possible way – warm and powerful – but when she takes her foot off the pedal it falls into the death-trap of Nashesque accent fixation.

The press may have emphasised Welch herself, but Lungs is shaped by the massed production efforts of Paul Epworth, James Ford and Steve Mackie, a trio that has crafted a significant portion of the British indie scene in recent years. Here, they work to create an album that can be enjoyed on a textural level, where the intricate arrangements are often more interesting than the “main” melody or vocal line. The various audio motifs that permeate the album, from glistening harp augmentations to pummelling drums, work to add a peculiarly ethereal touch to what would otherwise be a straightforward indie-pop album.

Thanks to this attention to arrangement, the album is peppered with highlights: “Drumming” is distinguished by its lolloping drums and similarly intense lyrics. Those same cascading drums combine with synth bleeps and gently-arching strings to bring the album to an official (and ambitious) close with the final original song, “Blinding.” Like “Between Two Lungs,” “Blinding” is both excellently composed and a stylistic aberration - in addition to what should be the starting point for Welch’s next release.

By the album’s end it is clear that the stand-out musical device is in the arrangements. While many tracks are gloriously melodic and the lyrics dark enough to justify further investigation, Lungs simply wouldn’t work as well without the sylvan, Gothic atmosphere conjured up by the recurring harps and strings that run throughout. On the few occasions where this approach is eschewed (such as “Kiss With A Fist”) the result simply isn’t as compelling. However, should Welch continue with the prevailing style on show here, with some growth her next release could be a strange touchstone – like modern indie-pop filtered through a lens of soul and Vashti Bunyan.

Pádraic Grant


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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.