Artist: Lights Album: The Listening Genre(s): Electronic Subgenres(s): Synthpop Released: 2009 Length: 43 minutes Language(s): English Label(s): Universal Music, Sire Records
02. Drive My Soul
04. The Listening
07. The Last Thing on Your Mind
08. Second Go
09. February Air
10. Face Up
13. Pretend (Reprise)
Lights The Listening Cover
Lights The Listening Review
The Listening is the debut album of Canadian synthpop solo artist Lights. It is a low key outing that puts her voice, which is so sickly sweet that it could give you diabetes, at the front and centre of each song. This isn’t inherently a bad thing but the music itself can feel secondary at times and this approach leads itself into a by-the-numbers result when looking at this in the context of a full album.
Saviour introduces the listener to The Listening and sets the tone nicely while also making use of auto-tune software that isn’t necessary because Lights has a voice that should be able to stand on its own merits. It is also prominent on the title song and its use might simply be a by-product of the pop trend for auto-tuning voices that arose in the mid to late 2000s. All but two songs are under three and a half minutes long so their shortness will lend itself to a good amount of replay value on individual songs rather than as a whole album.
Both Pretend and The Last Thing on Your Mind take on a downbeat mood and feature an acoustic guitar which adds to the sincerity of the performance with the latter breaking out of the mould further by having a distorted guitar playing in the crescendo to the finale. This also has Lights singing far more intensely over a comparatively rapid paced beat and makes it a standout moment for the album. Being placed in the middle of the album, it is a good way to break up the pacing although it would have made for a better closing song.
Lights sounds rabid in her choppy delivery of the second verse of Ice and combined with the frantic synthesiser part that follows it, it quickly becomes a stand out moment like Pretend (Reprise), a reimagining of Pretend as a piano ballad that strips away all of the polish associated with the synthpop sound and gives a glimpse into another side to Lights.
Many listeners will undoubtedly be won over by Lights’ voice alone but since The Listening has Lights and her co-producers working within certain parameters and only ever tip-toe across the line, which is what yields some of their best results, it shows that there is room for growth.
Lights: Vocals, production (all tracks) Thomas Salter: Production (tracks 1–3, 5, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15) Dave Thomson: Production (tracks 4, 7–9, 12, 16) The Angry Kids: Additional production (track 15)
Artist: Lykke Li Album: Youth Novels Genre(s): Indie Pop Subgenres(s): N/A Released: 2008 Length: 51 minutes Language(s): English, French Label(s): LL Recordings
01. Melodies & Desires
02. Dance, Dance, Dance
03. I’m Good. I’m Gone
04. Let if Fall
05. My Love
07. Little Bit
08. Hanging High
09. This Trumpet in My Head
10. Complaint Department
11. Breaking it Up
12. Everybody But Me
13. Time Flies
14. Window Blues
Lykke Li Youth Novels Cover
Lykke Li Youth Novels Review
Youth Novels is the debut album of Swedish singer Lykke Li. Accompanied by producer, musician and co-writer Björn Yttling the pair craft out a series of sleepy indie pop songs that focuses on youth, self-discovery, bashfulness, love, closeness and sex. For anyone paying attention to Lykke Li’s saccharine voice the title of album will become self-evident in a short while.
Melodies & Desires is an obvious example of this with the mood coming from a creative blend of a vibraphone, theremin, piano and other keyboard/electronic instruments. The use of percussion is minimalised as Lykke Li delivers instructive spoken word verses of “follow these instructions/do exactly as I do/lean your shoulders forward/let your hands slide over to my side/move your body closer/let your heart meet mine” and later “…then I’ll be the rhythm and you’ll be the beat/and love, the shoreline, where you and I meet.”
This contrasts to Dance, Dance, Dance in which Lykke Li sings about discovering how to express herself through dance (“having trouble telling how I feel/but I can dance, dance, dance/couldn’t possibly tell you how I mean/but I can dance, dance, dance” and “when I’m shaking my hips, look for the swing/the words are written in the air/ooh dance, I was a dancer all along”).
Complaint Department wakes up Youth Novels by moving into synthpop territory as synthesisers and drum loops become the backbone of the song but Lykke Li retains her soft voice and the contrast in moods from both sides results in a hit-and-miss combination unlike Tonight, which showcases a much stronger vocal performance. Unfortunately the same can be said for the lost opportunity that is This Trumpet in My Head. This is because while it has some poetic lyrics (“and you say you can’t stand me when I’m quiet/and so I shot you with my silence”) the other lyrics are too sparse to offer any additional context or meaning and finds itself between being an interlude and a short song in and of itself, as odd as that might be.
One of the most striking things about Youth Novels is that the lyrics don’t glamourize anything and instead they explore the insecurities and uncertainties of personal and social situations honestly. Be it the bashful Little Bit (“I think I’m a little bit, little bit/a little bit in love with you/but only if you’re a little bit, little bit/little bit in love with me”) or the self-awareness of Everybody But Me that describes an introverted mood at a party where everyone is getting on with the event while Lykke Li is “standing in the corner” not wanting to be a part of what’s happening and proclaims that “I don’t wanna be seen, touched, heard, bothered/by the fellas who got a look in their eye/they wanna take me home without knowing my name”.
The spacious arrangements allow for each instrument to breathe easily and in turn this reveals the great depth of thought that has been put into Youth Novels, ranging from the subject matter to the surprise keyboard solo on Breaking it Up and the small jazz flourishes that come out from the saxophone and trumpet on many songs or the string quartet. Ultimately Youth Novels is a reflection of an introverted personality in musical form and the low-key presentation is what will endear it to many listeners.
Additional personnel for the international edition:
John Eriksson percussion (on “Everybody but Me”) Per “Ruskträsk” Johansson flute (on “Tonight”) Lars Skoglund cowbell (on “Tonight”); drums (on “Everybody but Me”) Björn Yttling electric bass, piano (on “Tonight” and “Everybody but Me”); celesta, organ, percussion, rocksichord (on “Tonight”); flute, trumpet (on “Everybody but Me”)
Artist: Tomahawk Album: Mit Gas Genre(s): Rock Subgenres(s): Experimental Rock Released: 2003 Length: 41 minutes Language(s): English, Spanish Label(s): Ipecac Recordings
02. Rape This Day
03. You Can’t Win
06. Capt Midnight
07. Desastre Natural
08. When the Stars Begin to Fall
10. Harlem Clowns
11. Aktion 13F14
Tomahawk Mit Gas Cover
Tomahawk Mit Gas Review
Mit Gas (German for With Gas) is the second album by American experimental rock super group Tomahawk. Released only 2 years after their self-titled debut and the band has already shed themselves of their country influences and delved a little bit further into soundscape territory with more noise and ambient elements creeping into the mix.
Birdsong sets the ball rolling, ever so slowly, with a mild-mannered wall of distortion contrasted with samples of birds tweeting. If you can imagine a sludgy liquid slowly oozing out of your speakers with birds gently perched on your lightshades tweeting joyously then you’ll have some understanding of the surreal nature found in this song. The tension builds up over the first minute and then bassist Kevin Rutmanis and drummer John Stanier change the pace by beginning with a moody mid-tempo rhythm before Duane Dennison’s guitar comes in to enhance the tension further.
So far so good – and steady – then Mike Patton introduces his eclectic vocal stylings in the form of a wordless wail that sounds rather distant and is somehow akin to a lunatic chasing you through the woods with a knife, if only that lunatic was a gleeful Mike Patton taunting you with his sinister vocal acrobatics. The verse arrives with a characteristically obtuse narrative delivered in a deep spoken voice about “the way you look at me when you’re hungry/lay your head down, shoot a load in your ear/the way you look at me when you’re hunted” that only gives credence to the lunatic-chasing-you-through-the-woods image. The song eventually breaks into a frantic lead-guitar with the energetic rock attitude fans will be anticipating. A steady decline in tempo then leads to what would have been a disappointing fade out but buzzing noise, church bells and the familiar bird tweets carry the song into an unexpected and satisfying conclusion.
Delving into completely new territory, a looped drum beat more akin to an ambient drum and bass song is coupled with a slow and sombre clean guitar to make the mid-album Capt Midnight instantly stand out. In case there’s a chance of you losing interest the song explodes into full-on rock fury half way in and Mike Patton goes from an eerie croon to shouting without any vocal effects which lets the rawness of his performance stand by itself. The drum loop and ambience is restored after the outburst with the song ebbing and flowing to the build-up of it happening again through the use of noises and sound loops to keep the anticipation high without ever reaching the expected payoff.
More atypical song arrangements are also found at the end of Mit Gas with the bass and keyboard centric Harelip breaking down and turning into the transitional piece to Harlem Clowns to create a two part song. The latter quickly returns to the distortion and noise first heard on Birdsong and uses a looped snippet of dialogue stating “I don’t know how to read notes” before the unusual soundscape becomes the focal point. Another recording is played at the end which listings numerous other bands and artists.
Even more challenging than this is Aktion 13F14. It marks the return of the acoustic sound found on their debut but is nothing like what Tomahawk has done before. A mechanical voice, presumably performed by Mike Patton, is overlaid and gives the listener instructions on how to defeat an opponent in hand-to-hand combat and concludes with a reminder stating “remember, attack aggressively, with one purpose in mind: to kill”. A series of rapid snare drum rolls are performed before ear shattering noise is pumped into your skull at maximum volume and goes on relentlessly for about half a minute. Assuming you haven’t suddenly developed tinnitus there is a graceful period of silence before a melodic guitar begins and is overlapped with mumbled and incoherent voices.
There isn’t any real context available for the last two songs so their durability is down to how outside the musical box you’re willing to travel before you start asking if you really get what’s going on or if Tomahawk is just taking you for a ride.
With so much focus being given to the noise and experimental aspects so far it is fair to ask what happened to the atypical rock songs. The answer is that they’re still here with inviting names like Rape This Day, Mayday, Rotgut, When the Stars Begin to Fall and Harelip. They’re far more accessible and probably what most fans are after so they are more likely to garner repeat listens and favourability than the bits that genuinely remove themselves from most people’s understanding of music. In contrast to all of this there is a sincere moment to be found in Desastre Natural, a ballad with its only quirk being that it is sung entirely in Spanish and somehow it manages to fit in with everything else around it.
Mit Gas has a broader experimental edge that draws on ambient and noise music while still maintaining a balance with their off-kilter rock foundation. However at the same time these new influences are more likely to deter listeners so it is worth listening to for existing fans but for newcomers it is advisable to start with Tomahawks self-titled debut.
Mike Patton: Vocals, keyboards Duane Denison: Guitar Kevin Rutmanis: Bass John Stanier: Drums
Artist: Gojira Album: Magma Genre(s): Heavy Metal Subgenres(s): Groove Metal Released: 2016 Length: 44 minutes Language(s): English Label(s): Roadrunner Records
01. The Shooting Star
03. The Cell
08. Only Pain
09. Low Lands
Gojira Magma Cover
Gojira Magma Review
Magma is the sixth album by French heavy metal band Gojira. By their own standard, Gojira are far more subdued and concise on Magma than all of their predecessors with much of this being down to a conscious decision “to be a little punchier sometimes*”. The unfortunate passing of Joe and Mario Duplantier’s mother will also have undoubtedly had an effect on the mood of the album too.
Those familiar with the band will expect Mario Duplantier to unleash a percussive barrage at the start of The Shooting Star but instead the song breaks into a simple nu metal-esque guitar riff, rock drumming and monotonous chanting wrapped up in reverb. To their credit this well-worn style is done with a unique flare and as the first song it sends a message to long-time fans that Magma is going to have something different about it.
This isn’t to say that long-time fans will be alienated because the next three songs, Silvera, The Cell and Stranded leap right back into the groove metal sound that Gojira fans are listening out for, complete with the shouted vocals that are sometimes mixed with this new monotonous speak-singing style, but the death metal influence has all but evaporated.
Gojira tradition dictates that there should be a short instrumental track in the middle of the album and this time it comes in the form of Yellowstone, a 79 second garage rock jam doused in distortion that is, to put it politely, unfocused. Maybe the band was testing the waters or maybe they needed a new way to express themselves but in the end it comes up short. In contrast the acoustic song, Liberation, is a peaceful instrumental that is as stripped back as it gets with only a simple percussive beat to accompany the guitar. It isn’t how you’d expect the album to end but it is pleasant and quite possibly the most honest expression of some of the feelings in the band.
Between introducing a flute on Pray, flirting with new genres and taking a lighter approach to their own style Gojira are still far from a full-on metamorphosis like some bands have undergone. For this reason there is plenty here to appease the core fans while still being able to cast a wider net without overtly changing. Only time will tell if the band embraces these new characteristics or reverts back to their traditional sound.
Joe Duplantier: Vocals, guitar, flute Christian Andreu: Guitar Jean-Michel Labadie: Bass Mario Duplantier: Drums