Sunday, 11 December 2011
Album | Real Estate – Days
3 November 2011By Nico Franks for For Folk's Sake
The word ‘sunny’ rarely gets a look in around this time of the year, when daylight itself becomes a precious commodity. But Real Estate are a band that can’t avoid the word. Categorised as ‘surf-pop’, which essentially means they sound a bit like The Beach Boys, the New Jersey five piece have been intrinsically linked with summer since their debut Real Estate was released in 2009. And album number two, Days, doesn’t show any dramatic change in sound – instead showing more of a refinement. It’s very much the album expected of Real Estate- undemanding, romantic and, of course, summery.
Given that we’re now told to buy our vegetables seasonally, should we follow the same logic with our album purchases as we enter the winter months? A few of the lyrics to ‘Easy’, the breezy, reflective album opener, could indeed jar with your average winter commuter: “Floating on an inner tube, in the sun/Around the fields we run, with love for everyone”.
But as soon as the bouncy optimism of ‘It’s Real’ leaps out, it becomes clear that what Real Estate inspire is escapism, not seasonal jealously. Often the songs end hypnotically, with repeated bars of the same rolling basslines and woozy reverb, played at a rhythm that could relax the most agitated of commuters. Vocalist Martin Courtney, with a singing style bordering on comatose in terms of its lack of urgency, dictates the woozy tone of the album to a tee.
Yet the ease with which it’s possible to drift in and out of Days, almost as if in a perpetual daydream, could be seen as the album’s main weakness as well as its strength. The band lose focus after the halfway mark and songs instead start to ape styles bettered by their contemporaries, turning nonchalance to lethargy.
‘Wonder Years’ sounds similar to Yo La Tengo at their most sunny, but lacks the enticing threat of experimentation that won the latter cult following. And ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ carries the same classic rock sound of Springsteen and Neil Young that Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs have already nailed.
But Real Estate’s defining characteristic is their canny knack for melody, exemplified on the instrumental ‘Kinder Blumen’, spaced out single ‘Out Of Tune’ and the blissfully layered ‘Municipality’. Come the end of the winding, sedative album closing track ‘All The Same’, you’ll be ready to start daydreaming all over again.
Album | Cass McCombs – Humor Risk
18 November 2011By Nico Franks for For Folk's Sake
Humor Risk, the second Cass McCombs album to be released this year, juxtaposes itself against April’s Wit’s End; where the first was harrowing and gloomy, this is, at times, surprisingly buoyant and hopeful. And as the album’s title suggests, Cass has stuck his neck out by adding a sense of lightness to his songs, resulting in a style that doesn’t always fit. ‘Robin Egg Blue’ has an appealing pastoral folk-rock spirit, but lacks a backbone, while the ‘The Living Word’ is drearily inoffensive.
The problem is that, though each song holds its own distinct and singular musical character, sometimes the hooks aren’t strong enough to drive a song anywhere special. The repeated riff of ‘Mystery Mail’ that signals a gear change to 70’s AOR rock is initially refreshing but soon drags, once the guitarist develops repetitive strain injury.
However, diehard doom-lovers need not fear. Despite a lack in quality control in this offering, the two albums are, to borrow Cass’s phrase, cut from different sides of the same cloth. And this being the work of a songwriter very much the heir to Elliott Smith’s misery throne, there are still plenty of moments laced with Cass’s characteristic melancholia as exemplified in one song’s refrain that “pain and love are the same thing”.
His attempts at comic relief won’t have you stifling the giggles, but there’s a definite smirk lying beneath some lyrics that exposes Cass’s gratifyingly dry wit. ‘To Every Man His Chimera’, which sustains a satisfying, linear morbidity throughout, much like Lennon’s ‘Mother’, sees Cass rile against his friends and his hometown: “California makes me sick / Like trying with a rattlesnake your teeth to pick”.
At it’s best, the album’s tone is musically more aggressive than the mid-tempo fare on Wit’s End. The muffled bassline on ‘Love Thine Enemy’ embellishes the distinctly vitriolic tone of Cass’s lyrics, as he puts the knife into insincere poseurs. Elsewhere, there’s a rolling, infectious optimism to ‘The Same Thing’.
‘Meet Me At The Mannequin Gallery’ is charmingly eccentric and the lo-fi hiss of ‘Mariah’ gradually grows into something beautiful, providing an ominous, disorientating end to the album. But by that point the album’s more lightweight moments have already instilled a nagging sense that, despite its admirable diversity in sound and mood, Humor Risk is nonetheless frustratingly inconsistent.
What's gone before....
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