September album reviews

The National – Sleep Well Beast

‘Nobody Else Will Be There’, ‘Day I Die’, ‘Born to Beg’, ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’. These are all titles from the National’s latest, Sleep Well Beast. They really are the emos of indie, but they manage repeatedly to find sincere musical splendour in all that’s so terrible. High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me made the National an arena band, a festival headliner – they’ve become one of this decade’s most formidable acts. And yet, seven years on from High Violet, their tracks reflect the spirit of their works spanning back almost 20 years. Sleep Well Beast presents everything already loved about the National, with many gentle, pensive moments (‘Born to Beg’, ‘Carin At The Liquor Store’) facing up against the kind of “mainstream” National (‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’) and aggressively huge tracks that demand attention (‘Turtleneck’). Its title track ends the album as one of its more intriguing inclusions – a warping addition with just-woke-up vocals and discordant guitar solos. Like much of Sleep Well Beast, it’s gloom-filled, yet lets shards of hope through. It’s confusing, but it’s beautiful.

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Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold

Foo Fighters release albums like clockwork, having not let three years pass between any of their nine records. For a long time I’ve been strung along by Dave’s rock formula. Yes it’s predictable, but who cares – it’s bloody fun. There’s no denying there’s been some duds along the way, but there’s also no denying the anthems that have shone through, along with unrivalled videos and stage antics. A Foo Fighters live set is looong, because they have a lot to get through. Now they’re extending all that with Concrete and Gold. Album nine combines classic Fooies with the visceral grunt Wasting Light and Sonic Highways only hinted at. It’s exciting, a little unpredictable and blatantly heavy in its most exciting moments. Compared with previous efforts, Concrete and Gold has collectively more screaming, less lyrics and about the same guitar work. Opener ‘T-Shirt’ pulls the old-but-clever trick of “start really quiet and make them turn their speakers riiight up” before booming into a gone-too-soon, Queen-esque rock pomp. It kicks the adrenaline into gear and leads into ‘Run’, an altogether less interesting song, but screamed triumphantly none-the-less. Concrete and Gold continues with all sorts of throwback, greatly 70s sounding rock and roll. ‘Arrows’ is the big chorus track, as is pub rock chanter ‘The Sky Is A Neighborhood’, while ‘La Dee Da’ introduces psychedelic fuzz to the mix. Looking at the new additions to their collection, it’s easy for them to choose the crowd pleasers rather than the curveballs, but wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t?

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Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – Choir of the Mind

I love Metric and had no idea Emily Haines had released a solo album before. Said solo debut is now 11 years old and Metric have had plenty of successes between then and now. Dressing her name up as Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, Choir of the Mind is not what you’d expect if, like me, you’d only heard the Canadian voice via Metric. If you expect the anthemic pop rock of Fantasies or Synthetica, you’re not gonna find it here. But if you’re keen to hear Haines’ calm side, her introspection, and something soulful and comforting, this solo outing is for you. There’s a dream state that floats through this record, held my Haines’ soothing voice and minimalist accompaniment. Piano, self-harmonies and vocal effects complement the voice, but there are occasional moments (like ‘Strangle All Romance’) where isolated vocals are all there is – a fine example of this pop vocalist’s versatility, given she’s more often heard layered over synths and guitars. ‘Nihilist Abyss’ is a standout track, with a distinctly eerie feeling and vocal trail-offs. It’s nice spooky punctuation on an otherwise wistful outing.

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

Another one bites the dust, only to come back a few years later for a massive festival circuit and new album. Unless you’re particularly old or seriously despise one another, a band breakup these days actually just means a hiatus. Whether a comeback is actually worth doing is another matter. For LCD Soundsystem, coming back was absolutely the right thing to do. With only three albums to their name before this, the band was too young, had far too many huge tunes and maintained too killer a live reputation to call it quits. A reunion only took five years, but American Dream has taken seven. And it was well and truly worth the wait. The songs here are long (really long) and rekindle the band’s build and release methodology – layering infectious hooks slowly into dance pop tunes that get stuck in your head for days. There’s familiarity in various forms, too. ‘oh baby’ and ‘american dream’ sound like they’re from a classic 80s teen-film soundtrack and feel like they’ve always been a part of your musical life, while ‘other voices’ lends the spoken word character of ‘Pow Pow’ (from This Is Happening), punctuated by a chorus of voices chanting its title. The six minute ‘tonite’ proves the most driving, most addictive, and most dance worthy on American Dream, and takes out top track. This album is so distinctly LCD, its songs could have come from any time in the past two decades. Yet each song brings its own strengths to a catalogue already bulging with treasure, failing to disappoint from start to finish.

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The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

The feature presentation is right up front on The Killers’ latest outing – ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is a damn cool opener, blending oldschool U2 verses, desert psychedelia, and a rousing chorus for big effect. It’s a statement piece – The Killers announcing a mighty return to form. It leads into some of the most exciting Killers material since their inception, with bombastic track ‘The Man’ getting celebrations started before expansive ‘Rut’ presents the album’s second epic so close to its opener. The remainder of the album’s first half is large; ‘Life to Come’ delivering some more obvious U2-throwback with its wailing chorus, ‘Tyson vs Douglas’ providing the sick 80s guitar solos and ‘Run For Cover’ surpassing all other tracks on Wonderful Wonderful with its quick fire lyrics and addictive hook. Then, oddly, it all goes a bit soft. The back end of Wonderful Wonderful is full of glossy ballads and loses the edge that previously cut through the cheesiness. The division of tracks is obvious, and while I don’t have much against the latter tracks individually (‘Out Of My Mind’ is synth pop solid), all bunched together they round out the album somewhat unexcitedly. Maybe hit shuffle on this one, or stop half way. In any case, there are at least a few real keepers here.

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