Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Some Fine Acoustic Listens For A Tuesday

Given the choice, I much prefer listening to music with a full band, compared to acoustically.  I do enjoy acoustic music, but for me it's just not the same as the excitement of hearing a full band, whether it be on a studio recording or in a live performance setting.  However, there are a few acoustic albums that I have found myself listening to a lot lately.

The Silver Seas' Chateau Revenge! - Blue Edition is a re-recorded and instrumentally stripped down version of their original Chateau Revenge! album. What I really like about this alternative track-by-track rework of the original recording is that the majority of the songs take a refreshingly unique approach to the acoustic genre, with a fair few of the tracks sounding completely different to that of the original studio album.  This is by no means a criticism of the original album which remains my favourite release of theirs, I just think this alternative version offers some very interesting arrangements of some already great songs. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is 'Candy'.  With a slower tempo, softer instrumentation and vocals sung in a lower key, this version couldn't be in further contrast to what appears on the original album.  Other noteworthy tracks include 'Home & Dry' and the hauntingly beautiful 'Kid'.

John Mayer's The Complete 2012 Performances Collection - EP is a good acoustic selection of four of the strongest tracks from Mayer's latest release, Born And Raised, as well as a previously unreleased song titled 'Go Easy On Me'.  My favourite songs here are 'Something Like Olivia' and 'Queen Of California', the latter of which I like almost as much as the version which appears on Born And Raised.

Finally, I can't write an acoustic post without mentioning my favourite acoustic album of all time - Jason Mraz Live & Acoustic.  Recorded in 2001 at coffee house Java Joe's, Mraz is joined by percussionist Toca Rivera and bassist Ian Sheridan to perform a selection of tracks, some of which would later appear on future releases.  The album not only highlights how vocally gifted Mraz is, but his band perform a setlist which is tight in terms of both rhythm and vocal harmonies.
Mraz's charming and humorous banter makes the record even more likable.
Though the entire album is an enjoyable listen, 'Bright Eyes' is my personal favourite, closely followed by a fantastic cover of 'At Last' that effortlessly leads into 'Sleep All Day'.  Other key tracks include 'Did I Fool Ya?' and 'Conversation With Myself'.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Everything Everything at Heaven, London - 13/02/13

Having been a fan of Everything Everything since their 2010 debut Man Alive, I'd wanted to see them live for quite some time, however, it was after hearing this iTunes EP, that I knew they were a must see live band.  As part of the NME Awards Shows series, I was looking forward to seeing my first Everything Everything gig in the intimate nightclub venue that is Heaven in London.

The band's signature sound of crazy hooks, off beat tempos and falsetto vocals were as present as ever throughout the hour long set, which comprised of an almost equal selection of tracks from both Man Alive and Arc.  Though the understated 'Undrowned' made for an unusual opener, the proceeding songs of 'Torso Of The Week' and 'Kemosabe' really kicked the set into action.

"We're gonna play some party tunes now" announced lead vocalist Jonathan Higgs before launching into crowd favourites 'Schoolin'' and 'Photoshop Handsome', which perfectly placed alongside one another in the setlist, proved to be key tracks of the evening.  Other highlights from Man Alive included 'Final Form' and the furiously addictive 'My Kz, Ur Bf'.  'Duet' was my favourite of the newer songs played, the band's vocal harmonies worked brilliantly against sequenced violins, making it the standout track of the performance.

Higgs proved to be a charismatic frontman with a performance that was both energetic and engaging.  However, I was most impressed with his vocals which showed no signs of wavering, despite belting out the majority of the set in his distinctive falsetto range.  The overall musicianship of the band was also admirable, the instrumentation was tight and the backing vocals in perfect harmony.  On a side note, Heaven makes for a brilliant music venue.  This was my first time attending a concert there, but the acoustics were good and the sound was consistently clear throughout the set.  All in all, a fantastic night of great music in an intimate and atmospheric venue.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Hidden Treasures: Love Underground (Live) - Robbers On High Street

I listened to Robbers On High Street a lot this past weekend.  Though I rate all of their albums, Tree City (as mentioned in my previous post) remains my favourite to date, largely due to the fact that only after the first few listens of the record, I instantly loved the majority of the track list.  Taken from that album, this live version of 'Love Underground', complete with the band's distinctive indie sound and Ben Trokan's smoking hot vocals, is a fine example of what drew me to their music in the first place.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Track of the Day: Big Winter - Robbers On High Street

'Big Winter' is the song that initially got me hooked onto Brooklyn based band, Robbers On High Street.  The track appears on the soundtrack to the 2005 film 'Just Friends', and it was while watching this film that I heard the song for the first time.  Instrumentally warm and melodic, I instantly liked what I heard and knew I had to track down the song and discover more about the band behind it.  The lyrics are simple yet effective in delivery, as lines of "That's why it's so hard for
me / To have to say goodbye / To take off and fly / To where the sun shines" ride high over strings that progress into a sublime guitar solo.

The album on which 'Big Winter' appears, 2005's Tree City, is also a much recommended listen and other key tracks from this record include 'Japanese Girls', 'Amanda Green' and 'Love Underground'.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Josh Rouse - The Happiness Waltz

A few weekends ago, Josh Rouse streamed his upcoming album The Happiness Waltz on  The preview was available for a limited time exclusively to fans who have made pledges in exchange for packages and experiences surrounding the new album through PledgeMusic.  The items/experiences on offer ranged from t-shirts and posters to a private house show and an opportunity to record a song with Josh (I opted for a signed copy of the album and a pair of concert/meet and greet tickets).  While the majority of money raised from the project will go towards the funding of The Happiness Waltz, 10% of any money raised after the goal is reached will be donated to Action Against Hunger.

Onto the actual album itself.  With a title like The Happiness Waltz, I assumed the album could be of a similar theme to 1972, and while there are traces of this album in places, most notably on 'A Lot Like Magic', I see more influences drawn from Nashville, with hints of Subtitulo scattered throughout.  I think it's fair to say that musically, The Happiness Waltz is a departure from the Spanish rooted sounds of Rouse's last two releases El Turista and its follow up project Josh Rouse And The Long Vacations, instead leaning more towards the genres of the three or four albums that came before.

What captured me to Rouse's music in the first place other than the infectious melodies, is the atmospheric lyrics which not only succeed in creating a vivid imagery for the listener, but also tell a story, whether it's over the span of a song or an entire album (my favourite example of this is 2002's Under Cold Blue Stars, which follows the relationship of a Midwestern couple in the 1950's).  Infectious melodies and atmospheric lyrics are certainly present on The Happiness Waltz. Album opener 'Julie (Come Out Of The Rain)' sets the mood of the album with lines like "Outside the wind was talking / Of how I felt for you" riding strongly over country guitars and lingering bass lines.  'Western Isles' is a wonderfully upbeat track that instrumentally, with it's groovy, horn filled bridges, is reminiscent in places to 'Comeback (Light Therapy)' from 1972.  Lyrics such as "I can see the life from the Western Isles / Faded and white like a Western smile / We could live here, you know" are effectively placed, adding warmth to the song.

It's apparent that The Happiness Waltz is very much a family inspired recording, with the theme running throughout the album.  This is evident on tracks like 'Start Up A Family' and 'It's Good To Have You'.  However, 'Our Love' is the track that most succeeds in depicting the experiences that is the journey of modern family life.  "Home late from work and I'm feeling so wiped out / There's never a minute to rest / You had the kids and your feeling the same / When there's always time for a kiss" sings Rouse effortlessly over jazz littered pianos and bluesy beats.  On the chorus he sings of getting older, "The sun hides the grey in our hair / We look for things to remember / But there is life out there".

Though I found most of the album to be an enjoyable listen, there are about four or five songs that have already grown to become early favourites.  'City People, City Things' and 'Simple Pleasure', the latter of which has an irresistibly catchy chorus, are both standout tracks.  On another key track, 'A Lot Like Magic', Rouse sings "I met a man and he gave me advice...He said you live each day like your very last one / So I took that down and wrote this song" before launching into an energetic chorus filled with hooks and horns.

While I loved El Turista and Josh Rouse And The Long Vacations, I like the direction Rouse has taken with The Happiness Waltz.  The record takes influence from his previous albums, while at the same time progressing forward with modern themes and a mixture of genres - something that Rouse has always been great at, and what makes each one of his albums so unique from the last. Overall, The Happiness Waltz is classic Rouse - timeless songs with inspiring lyrics.