Recommended Listening: November 2010
- Published: 13 November 2010
- Hits: 2402
White Knuckle Ride
Buzz surrounding a new Jamiroquai album filtered through online social media sites from as early as January 2008.
The UK outfit had been pretty quiet up until then.
Three years ago in 2007, the group’s front man Jason ‘Jay’ Kay was quoted as saying he intended to quit music after splitting with the band’s then record label, Sony.
The band quickly denied claims Kay was to quit, but did sever their long-term relationship with Sony, a relationship that dated back to 1993.
In August 2009, murmurs began to circulate that the group’s proposed new album would allow for a shift in direction.
Shortly after it was reported that the band would record the new album live and have a similar sound to their last three records. It was noted the album was to have a definite lack of disco sound.
Details of the new album remained secret for another year before Kay used Facebook in June this year to confirm White Knuckle Ride was indeed in the works.
White Knuckle Ride was recorded in the UK at Kay’s home studio as well as studios in Thailand. Forty songs ended up being recorded with only 15 officially released so far.
‘Rock Dust Light Star’ starts, momentarily stops and then starts again. With a forward spin and quick backwards spin of a vinyl record the track kicks off then stops. When it starts again we hear singer Kay singing the opening lyrics acoustically and then stop declaring ‘Yeah, okay that’s the one’. It’s a little odd, but if it’s what Kay wants, he shall have.
After all, he is a man who knows what’s he’s doing. He has fronted Jamiroquai since the early 1990s and has sold more than 30 million records and spent more than 160 weeks on the UK singles chart between the years 1992 and 2006.
‘Rock Dust Light Star’ has a touch of the cosmic about it with spacey electronica as backing before transforming into a soft rock track. It is an enjoyable track though lacks lead-off track punch.
Title track, ‘White Knuckle Ride’, hits the spot immediately. This is Kay at his best. The intro builds with intrigue and draws you in as a funk inspired beat punches through the almost quiet. Kay’s drawn out ‘yeaaahs’ mixed with a delicious beat triggers continuous toe tapping. The heavily inspired disco funk track is simply fabulous.
‘All Good In The Hood’ jumps right in with a sexy bass line and disco percussion. Again Kay’s vocals are right at home with the disco/funk style. There is little not to like about this track. The chorus is just so good.
‘Blue Skies’ is a definite change in pace. In almost acoustic mode, Kay’s voice is stripped back with a piano as his only accompaniment. A blues guitar creeps in for a brief moment before a key change and Kay dials it back yet again, offering a soft ballad. A string ensemble is added with a choir of voices slowly following. It’s all rather beautiful.
‘Hang It Over’ continues the big band and big voice theme. Unlike other tracks on the album, this song features a gang of voices straight from the get-go and pushes the boundary of Kay’s funk style.
White Knuckle Ride is a welcome return for the British outfit.
The Memory Machine
Julia Stone’s voice is instantly recognisable.
Best known as one half of Aussie outfit, Angus and Julia Stone, with brother Angus, Julia has spent the past four years busy releasing seven EPs and two full-length studio albums.
Local and international touring has seen the pair perform club and arena shows with their soft folk style even gaining the attention of American television.
The pair’s singles have appeared on a variety of shows including Life, Hung, Private Practice, Brothers & Sisters and Grey’s Anatomy to name but a few.
Like Angus who released his debut album Smoking Gun under the name ‘Lady of the Sunshine’ last year, this album is Julia’s debut solo offering.
The Memory Machine is filled with songs that would not feel entirely out of place on an Angus and Julia Stone album. However, perhaps the most obvious difference is that Julia’s album is a tad darker that anything she has previously recorded.
‘This Love’ is delightful. Opening with calm brushing on drums, Julia’s vocals creep across the track like an absentminded cat daydreaming until its next meal.
‘My Baby’ is cloaked with acoustic guitar, soft violins and breathy vocals. The beauty of this track is its simplicity. Julia’s voice has such strength about it that she could carry any song without much assistance.
‘Winter on the Weekend’ introduces Julia’s darker side. With the lyrics laced with tragedy a sorrowful piano creates the intro with a weary trumpet sounding, its tune exhausted.
Lyrics follow a young girl’s cry going unheard as a man takes advantage of her.
“He laid me on the floor with my screams they go unheard/the lady next door well she’s six feet under the dirt/ Daddy why don’t you protect me, someone’s gonna hurt me, there’s nothing I can do.”
Outside the disturbing lyrics, the track is hauntingly beautiful. It is only hoped that Julia is singing about a dream or a moment in cinematic history rather than a personal experience.
The darkness is left behind on ‘The Memory Machine’. While the track does herald the return of somber and sad lyrics with melancholy melodies, there is no sign of deep gloom.
The upbeat tempo of ‘Catastrophe’ is welcomed though I’m skeptical whether it will last given the track’s title.
The chipper, almost skipping beat of the guitar, drums, tambourine and impending violin and trumpet instantly lightens the mood. This track is simply lovely.
‘Lights Inside This Dream’ returns us to the inner workings of Julia’s lyrical mind.
“There were lights inside this dream/ someone came here and turned them out on me/ now it’s dark and I can’t see/this always someone with something they need… they wear my skin like a cape and fly around nothing to say”.
There is no denying this album is indeed different to anything Julia has recorded before. While some may deem it too off the wall, the clever lyrics and utterly stunning melodies make it an absolute standout.
For The Jezebels the realisation they had made the transition from university band to a band internationally recognised came in a pretty unique way.
After releasing their second EP She’s So Hard last year, the band received a YouTube clip from a fan from Germany. The clip showed the fan dancing to one of The Jezebels’ songs.
Not bad for a four-piece from Sydney who are yet to release their debut album or tour extensively across the globe.
While they may have not seen much international gigging action, The Jezebels have toured extensively in Australia, sharing the stage with Tegan & Sara, Katie Noonan and Josh Pyke.
In the past 12 months, The Jezebels have released three EPs, the first The Man is Dead in February 2009, She’s So Hard in November 2009 and their most recent, Dark Storm.
There is a surge of energy on this release that is instantly apparent.
‘Dark Storm’ is a track thick with intrigue. The low hum and quick paced guitar strumming sets the scene for mischief. Singer Hayley Mary’s voice punctuates the track with crisp and deliberate purpose.
With a vocal range and attitude somewhat reminiscent of a young and softer Karen O, Hayley’s voice skates up and down the octaves.
‘Mace Spray’ has an enchanting introduction, echoing with gentle guitar and simple drum work. The inclusion of a droning guitar and gravelly vocals shows early signs of versatility from the band.
‘Sahara Mahala’ shifts further in style, with the band’s use of piano, stripped back guitars and drums working well. Hayley’s voice is as strong as before. This track is probably the most polished and resolved on the EP – there is a sense of ease about all elements, with nothing sounding overly forced.
‘A Little Piece’ brings the return of the gentle guitar work. This time it is a little quicker than ‘Mace Spray’, though just as sweet. The increase in tempo filters through the track. It is the album’s most upbeat.
‘She’s So Hard’ is a bit of a slow burner. It doesn’t have the same energy as its fellow tracks. While it is a beautiful on its own, it sits awkwardly on this release.
Nonetheless, The Jezebels are an incredible talent.
Ou Est Le Swimming Pool
The Golden Year
In August this year, Ou Est Le Swimming Pool made frontpage news across the world.
The British trio made headlines after an appearance at Belgium music festival, Pukkelpop, ended in tragedy.
At the time, international reports said a stage dive gone wrong had prompted band front man, Charles Haddon, to take his life.
The reports said Haddon had believed he had crippled a young girl by falling on her after diving off the festival stage.
He was believed to be so distraught that after the band’s performance he climbed a tower in a backstage car park and jumped to his death. He was 22.
Up to that point, the London band had released three singles with an incomplete album awaiting them back in the UK.
The band’s remaining members, Joe Hutchinson and Caan Capan, completed the album, releasing The Golden Year last month.
While not entirely new in its synch-pop expression, Ou Est Le Swimming Pool have a sound that pushes past the spirit paved out by groups like MGMT, Klaxons, Empire of The Sun and Crystal Castles, by not always staying within the lines.
‘You Started’ kicks off the album with trickling keyboard notes mixed in with chunky guitar chords swollen with reverb. Vocals trail the melody with use of looping creating a singsong round robin. It’s simple yet very effective.
‘The Key’ is rich with synth. Jittery keyboard notes clatter gently in time with a drum machine. Haddon’s vocals snake through the ever-growing bubble of sound.
‘These New Knights’ has a more edgy feel. Sharp and harsher vocals attempted to penetrate deep beats building into a standoff. The chorus is softer and is well balanced allowing a flood of sound to gush out.
‘Dance the Way I Feel’ has all the hallmarks of an epic anthem. It is little surprise this single is what propelled the band from their former little known status onto the international stage.
It is sensational. Bold with indie-pop angst, lyrically it is short, sharp and a little wicked. Musically it is rather unusual. The band’s now familiar dark mix of deep and stretched synch is certainly there, as is the ‘in-your-face’ vocal attitude, though the inclusion of strings adds a new dimension.
‘Our Lives’ drops the tempo somewhat with a slower reverb intro of electro beats. A steady heartbeat thump is at the centre of the track while Haddon’s vocals are ever present and at times almost dreamlike.
This album is extremely bittersweet. It has incredible promise and great style.
In March last year, Royksopp released their third studio album in ‘Junior’.
The album was greeted with much acclaim for its rambunctiousness youthful enthusiasm.
More than 12 months later the Norwegian duo of Svein Berge and Torbjorn Brundtland delivered an older, wiser fourth album in ‘Senior’.
Considered to be the companion album to Junior, the pair’s new record is a much somber affair.
Unlike Junior’s brash samples and vocal cameos from Robyn or Lykke Li, Senior is a pure instrumental record.
Described by Royksopp as being the “senile sibling of Junior” the album is certainly far from the bright lights of Junior’s famed single, ‘Happy Up Here’.
‘…And The Forest Began To Sing’ starts off with a rather somber tone, gentle atmospheric samples wondering about together.
‘Tricky Two’ picks up the pace with a mashing of sound bites, samples and generic noise.
‘The Alcoholic’ has a bit of humour about it with the sound of a beer can opened the first thing we hear. Electronic keys traipse around the track like a drunk wondering the streets in search of something, anything. Perhaps portraying the change from night to morning, tweeting of birds and the gentle patter of rain can be heard.
‘Senior Living’ is quite delightful, with an introduction that is reminiscent of a waltz being played on the gramophone. The track has sentimentality to it, as though focused on memories past as those present are slowly fading.
The quickening pace of ‘The Drug’ offers a nice change. While still gentle in its delivery there is enough of a shift to help the mind start to race particularly with the inclusion of a dance beat, off beat low level screeching and white noise.
‘Coming Home’ is a sweet track that floats along. It is very dreamy and simple in its creation.
‘A Long, Long Way’ is the album’s final track. It is mysterious with a slightly darker twist. Atmospheric almost meditative sounds echo about with an unusual bird like cry occasionally heard throughout.
The track then stops midway… silence fills the air. After a few seconds of nothingness a ghost like droning organ, and spooky almost backward sounding vocals finally invades the silence.
Royksopp have done a brilliant job on this release. With such a different outcome to their previous records, it goes to further prove what a talent the pair really are.
Music reviews by Kate Kachor at Eleven Magazine