by Jim Eaton-Terry
Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys
Perhaps the most perfect example of an adult rock album I’ve heard since Pulp’s We Love Life, Build a Rocket Boys transcends being a comfortable prog-inflected set of elegantly nostalgic songs about aging, family and regret.
Lippy Kids is the centre of the album and the video above shows everything there is to know about the record; elbow look and feel like a group treading water, but inject every song with enough passion and craft to lift it.
The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?
Nostalgia of another kind – The Vaccines churn out vaguely anthemic lumpen power-pop with an eye on the stadium market, and they’ve got enough of an ear for a vaguely familiar hook to make that work. There’s no actual reason to listen to this, though, unless you’re music supervising a slightly less edgy rival to Skins in which case I’d draw your attention to “Wetsuit” for use in a closing montage.
The Vaccines do have the distinction of reminding me of Birdland for the first time in 20 years. And if anyone can tell me which 1980s sitcom theme tune Post Break-Up sex is stolen from in the comments I’ll be grateful.
Katy B – On a Mission
Katy B is the latest of an endless roll of acts serving up dubstep for a mainstream audience. These vary from the glitchy annoyance of James Blake to the straight pop of Jamie Woon. If you take off the vocal lines from any of Katy’s songs you’d be left with a perfectly serviceable – very pleasant – dubby instrumental. But though the production is slick and her voice is as good as any of her Brit School peers, the lack of a single memorable song cripples it as the pop sensation it wants to be.
One day very soon someone is going to combine dubstep and pop and make the best pop single of the year, but it’ll need to have a lot more personality behind it than Katy B has. My money’s on Cher Lloyd to pull it off.
Josh T Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen
Last of the Country Gentlemen establishes its icy cold mood in the first few seconds and holds it for an album of endlessly meandering hymns (and I mean endlessly – four of the seven tracks here are over 10 minutes long). Whether the style hides the weaknesses in songwriting is harder to say, but the melancholy is overwhelming and at points it’s unsettlingly beautiful.
Glasvegas – Euphoric ///HeartBreak\\\
The third of this month’s bands who could loosely be called stadium indie, Glasvegas emerged in 2008 looking like the Clash, with the best sleeve designs in years and a few really brilliant songs. For the first few listens their debut album sounded like the future. After a few more listens, however, it sounded more and more as if the four Reid brothers had finally come together, with the Proclaimers putting the vocals to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s wall of fuzz guitar.
Three years later Glasvegas return with an album recorded in California on a budget several times that of their debut, and the results are predictably woeful. The clumsy, naïve lyrics and overblown sentiment of the debut have been ironed out and polished down to nothing, leaving an album I forgot even before it finished playing.
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
The Weeknd take an indie approach to RnB seduction music. Slowing things down, dropping in samples and references to the Banshees, and trying to create a mood of chilly distance. This attempt to introduce alienation and irony into the genre seems to be half-inspired by Scritti Polliti (whose best of is also just out and is a far better investment – even taking into account the fact that the Weeknd are giving their album away free) but falls down partly because they want to have their cake and eat it – to be both a commentary on a silk sheets seduction record and an actual player’s soundtrack. The outcome is the musical equivalent of “When Fearne met Craig David”.
Frank Ocean – nostalgia/ULTRA
Last week’s other indie-RnB sensation – also offered free online – is far more compelling on pretty much the same territory. Like The Weeknd, Ocean takes the shapes of RnB right now and uses it to utterly depressing and alienating effect. Some of his advantage is that he sounds a lot more convincing both as the player and as depressed, but the whole album hangs together better than anything else I’ve heard this month.