Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Courteeners - Falcon

He's been away, he's been working. But now he's back and he needs to know if you're still there. He needs to know if you still care. Of course you do. Of course you do. You were made for him, and he was made for you.

It was looking all rather promising and platonic there, until the last sentence where it all got a bit personal. Although, I'm sure Liam Fray, lead singer, wasn't claiming that everyone revolves around him. He's not that arrogant, is he?

Two years on from their debut, 'St. Jude', The Courteeners are back, and just in time. With the demise of Oasis (RIP), it is clear that the British music scene needs a band to fill that hole. Now, that is the last time i will refer to Oasis within the same breath as The Courteeners. Because, despite several reviewers claiming an immediate connection between the two bands, i believe there to be little more connection than the fact they are from Manchester, the lead singer's mother decided to call her son 'Liam', and sunsequently decided to bring him up to be a confident little so-and-so. And it would be lovely to hear about The Courteeners without hearing about Oasis and Morrissey, wouldn't it? No, that wouldn't be possible.

A hefty amount of money was poured into this, Fray determined to keep pushing boundaries, to keep his band going, and to not die a tepid 'second-album' death (Kooks who?). This is definitely seen, as a full and rather majestic sounding album is the result, providing a solid enjoyment throughout.

Solid is definitely a key word here. This album does not push boundaries. While it might apply pressure to them, they pretty much remain in the same position we found them in before. This album is.. good. It is enjoyable. Much like a second album, it is nothing new (running theme Vampire Weekend anyone?).

Fray's continuing wit is on display and his famous 'couplets' are thrown in and around to good effect: "All I can do is flip the Mac and gently touch the screen". He sings about how he'll be "minding your drink as you go to the RBS cash machine" and how he hasn't "felt this alone since his art GCSE". He still provides a very personal outlook within his songs, directing a lyrical story, with full effect.

Sometimes this album, and Fray's lyrics in general, can get quite boring and irritating, because, as he is usually describing his life in and around Manchester, he has a tendency to spell events out and 'story-tell'. And while he is being hailed as the new 'Morrissey', this technique provides very little room for imagination, and, as listeners, we don't want everything to be spelt out for us. We want to speculate, we want to argue, and we'd quite like The Courteeners to be a bit more adventurous thank you very much.

Songs that stand out are: audacious, sometimes in danger of being too grand, 'The Opener', singlong 'Sycophant', mid-tempo 'Cameo Brooch' and, again quoting simple young Manchester life, 'Will It Be This Way Forever?'

A good solid second album, securing their indefinite future in the iTunes libraries of teenagers throughout Britain, not just Manchester, where locals are almost definitely fed up of Fray running around, scribing events, with an old notebook, for future songs! The third album will decide if they can push themselves up into the upper reaches of 'Post-Oasis' musical Britain.

See, told you it wasn't possible to not quote them.


1. The Opener
2. Cameo Brooch
3. Sycophant
4. You Overdid It Doll

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Vampire Weekend - Contra

There's a mood for Vampire Weekend. A 'VW Mood'. You have to be in the zone, or just With It. For instance, you can't listen to them while you're feeling terribly serious. The wood blocks, silly guitar lines and the occasional xylophone would probably push you to madness. But, and its a big but, if you are in the mood for VW, then it will work for you. I'm not suggesting you have to be daft or have a session of Alphabeat before, because it is crucial to have a certain level-headedness in order to appreciate certain subtleties.
VW (i hope the 'VW' acronym isn't causing too many issues within car lovers) have been a way a while . A long while. An almost unforgivingly long while, were it not for the results of 'Contra'. Streaming their album on long-forgotten MySpace probably wasn't a wonderful idea, for me personally anyway. Taking one listen, i initially dismissed it. The inclusion of more synths and quirky beats put me off. (I'd been listening to Arctic Monkeys constantly since August. I was not feeling in a 'VW Mood'. I was very much in a serious guitar driven mood.)
But, what was clear was that, with Batmanglij taking time off to polish off his own synth-based record, he learned how to compose, properly. And it is no secret that without Batmanglij's stringed arrangements, VW wouldn't have half the sound they have.
'Contra' takes a while to listen to, to get to grips with. That is no bad thing, all of the best albums are. It takes a while to get into a 'VW Mood'. But, once you are in, you are in. All of these songs have character, and while they may not jump out at the beginning, they develop and become very like-able.
Single 'Cousins' is the new 'A-Punk', with little more than Guitar, Bass and Drums. And, although it is a crowd-pleaser/radio cert, it is the other songs that add more substance to 'Contra'.
I assume most VW fans are now fed up with 'Horcharta'. Personally, it is not a strong song, and is very annoying right from the start, especially as they gave it away free long ago and we have overplayed it so very much.
Next single, 'Giving Up The Gun' and 'Diplomat's Son' are both strong songs, but my favourite is 'White Sky', which was actually written at the same time as the first album. So, after hearing this at the Blur gig at Hyde Park in the summer, it was great to hear a polished version.
For me, the most disappointing song is the closer, 'I Think Ur A Contra', not least because of the clear grammatical errors. More musically, it is a typical slow closer, and i don't think VW like slow songs. They don't seem comfortable with them unless they have a deep African beat combined with a couple of cheeky bongos.
Bearing all of this in mind, 'Contra' is full of similar VW trends, just with more keyboards. Not as clear/genre defining as the first, but it was never going to be.
Besides, no-ones favourite album of a band is their second, everyone knows it's their third album where we really decide if we like them, right?


1. White Sky
2. Giving Up The Gun
3. Diplomat's Son