10 Most Recently Recommendations http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/harry-connick-jr-discography/ Shows a list of the 10 most recently updated recommendations. The dazzling duo's fantastic 5th official studio album http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/glow-and-fade-kilbey-kennedy-album-review/ <p>In 2007, The Church’s Steve Kilbey got in contact with All India Radio’s Martin Kennedy through his brother John Kilbey, who owned the now defunct Karmic Hit label, which[...] had released Kennedy’s Big Spaceship side-project,<em> Dream On</em>. Kilbey had been listening to Big Spaceship and All India Radio’s self-titled third album and wanted to know, if Kennedy had any unused music, or if he could write some new tracks, for him to add his vocals to for a forthcoming collaboration. A decade later and here we are, here’s <em>Glow And Fade</em>, the dazzling duo’s 5th official studio album (not counting the three must-have collections of songs commissioned by fans). </p> <p>After the completion of Kilbey/Kennedy’s previous album — 2015’s <em>Inside We Are The Same</em> — Martin Kennedy, who writes and records all the music, sensed that it might turn out to be their last release, at least indefinitely, as he felt burned out. Kennedy: <em>“I usually always feel as though our most recent album is going to be the last, perhaps because of the effort put into them and the draining feeling that always goes with it.” </em>The album title and some of the lyrics certainly seemed to suggest that things had indeed come to an end. For instance, the title track, <strong>Glow And Fade</strong>, implies a fire burning out. Or that the collaboration had, possibly, come full circle with this release: the last song, entitled <strong>One Is All</strong>, alludes to the first album’s <em>All Is One</em>. But, apparently, “closure” was never the inspiration for the duo’s <em>Glow And Fade</em>.</p> <p>In August, 2016, Martin Kennedy received a phone call from Steve Kilbey: <em>“Martin, no matter what happens, we’ve got to keep recording. We just have to keep recording.”</em> And now, with the positive reception of <em>Glow And Fade</em>, Martin Kennedy feels re-energized and enthusiastic. Kennedy:<em> “In fact, I’m inspired to continue faster and better than before.” </em>So what are the lyrics on <em>Glow And Fade</em> actually about? The beginning and end of things on a much larger scale: life, love and death? As always, singer/lyricist Steve Kilbey is not prone to explain his lyrics, preferring instead to let his fans do their own interpretations. </p> <p>Steve Kilbey: <em>“I have my own interpretation, which I can’t summon out of my subconscious to give it words. It’s all connected up. Space. Time. The love of women. The temptation to fall into regret and bring on loneliness. This album deals with wide-eyed optimism and bitter scepticism in one breath — not so much cosmic, but, rather, microcosmic. The universe reflected in a tawdry love affair.” </em><strong>Glow And Fade</strong> is nothing short of mesmerizing, the hitherto most effectively enticing opening track of any Kilbey/Kennedy album. The seductive, velvety timbre of Kilbey’s voice, as he sings <em>”Sorrow is an anger / As I poke into the puddle / And I start to drink”</em> is haunting and decidedly hypnotizing. It’s full of loss and regret, seemingly suggesting irresistible, inevitable infidelity and its repercussions, yet Kilbey’s vocal performance comes off as strangely uplifting: <em>“I love the river where we washed away / All the sins that I love / And I love the love that I love to give away / Until I ended up with no one to love…”</em></p> <p>The epic 16-minute long tour de force that is the spacey <strong>The Game Never Changes</strong> may possibly be the greatest composition that the duo has ever recorded, a culmination of everything that they represent (and according to Martin Kennedy: his favorite Kilbey/Kennedy song). Kennedy began working on the <strong>The Game Never Changes</strong>, as he was completing work on All India Radio’s 2015 album <em>The Slow Light</em>. Kennedy: <em>“I was influenced by Pink Floyd, particularly 'On The Run' from 'Dark Side Of The Moon', and other similar songs that bridge the more traditional verse/chorus compositions. I’m very proud of The Game Never Changes.”</em> As he should be. It’s fantastic. </p> <p><strong>The Game Never Changes</strong> takes off with a spoken word intro — NASA recordings of Mission Control talking to the astronauts from the Mercury Space Program in the early 1960s <em>(“Did you see anything else that might shed some light on this?”)</em> —  a gentle acoustic guitar, synth stabs reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s <em>Echoes</em> (off the progressive, psychedelic band’s 1971 album,<em> Meddle</em>), and subtly chiming electric guitar chords. Then, midway through, there’s an energetic instrumental passage inspired by ‘70s/‘80s Electronic music such as Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Georgio Moroder, respectively. Lyrically, <strong>The Game Never Changes</strong> revisits <em>Spirit In Flame</em> from Steve Kilbey’s 2008 solo album, <em>Painkiller</em>, the trials and tribulations of life and love <em>(“The game doesn’t care, if you win or lose / The game doesn’t care, if you’re bleeding or bruised”)</em>. Martin Kennedy:<em> “This track ends with a soaring solo of Pink Floyd proportions, which took me weeks to get right!”</em></p> <p>The album artwork was designed by Bruce Pennington for a book cover back in 1973. Martin Kennedy had admired it for ages, and it somehow seemed to suit the mood of the music, which is why he asked permission to use it for Kilbey/Kennedy’s <em>Glow And Fade.</em> As can be seen, the illustration depicts skulls and bones orbiting the planet of Saturn, immediately bringing to mind the infamous secret society (Skull and Bones) and various conspiracy theories, the history of ancient civilisations, the rulers of the world, those in the know about the ‘secrets’ of the universe, mysticism, mythology, the royal families, the elite/illuminati, satanists worshipping Saturn, and their repeated use of big business logos that resemble the ringed planet, etc. But I had to ask, if I was overanalyzing the album cover and reading too much into the lyrics of a song like the acoustic ballad <strong>They Know</strong>? Steve Kilbey: <em>“My songs invoke all the things you mention, yet are not necessarily about them. My songs are rarely about anything specific. They are abstract canvasses for you to interpret. You can never read too much or too little into my words. They are guides for you to roam through your imagination with. Martin’s music and my voice and my words in symbiosis to lead you into a lovely place. If you like this album, it’s because you already understand what it’s about.“</em></p> <p>There’s a melodic simplicity to the synth-Pop of <strong>We Are Still Waiting</strong>, the album’s first promotional single — which also features All India Radio/Melbourne-singer Selena Cross’ airy, ethereal vocal, plus a pleasantly catchy acoustic guitar outro — and it’s by far the most radio-friendly song here (much like <em>Theodora</em> from <em>Inside We Are The Same</em>). Steve Kilbey’s own personal favorite song on <em>Glow And Fade</em>, <strong>The Law Of The Jungle</strong>, is a mid-tempo track underpinned by an electronic drum loop and adorned by half-programmed/half-real trumpets, and, once again, the backing vocals of Selena Cross, who first sang on All India Radio’s <em>Four Three</em> from 2006’s <em>Echo Other</em> album. </p> <p>Like the lovers in the song’s narrative — who’ve reached a standstill in their relationship <em>(“And I would levitate / If you just gave me one good reason”)</em> — the languid <strong>Levitate</strong> is barely moving, albeit sizzling with staticity and pent-up intensity, as well as a synthetic, clicking effect (sort of like castanets), spectral synthesizer sounds, and sporadically rolling drums. <strong>The Story Of Jonah</strong> morphed out of All India Radio’s <em>Crows In The Machine</em>, a piece of music from Sci-Fi Indie film <em>The Rare Earth</em> (2014). Martin Kennedy culled the strings from a song titled <em>The Lie</em> (off All India Radio’s 2012 album <em>Red Shadow Landing</em>), and the strings were then arranged and conducted by Sydney-based Australian conductor, composer and arranger George Ellis, who also conducted/arranged the Church live album <em>A Psychedelic Symphony: Live At Sydney Opera House,</em> released in 2014. A thumping, recurring synth bass motif is heard all the way through <strong>The Story Of Jonah</strong>’s musical arrangement, as if simulating a pounding heartbeat. As the song reaches its crescendo and Kilbey sings <em>“But now you swallow me only / Spat me out lonely / Rolled me out on to the hostile shore”</em>, a flood of sweeping synth sounds washes over the listener and creates the single most goosebump-inducing sequence of any Kilbey/Kennedy song so far; it's got that melancholic, mystical atmosphere to it that always makes me fall head over heels in love with a piece of music. </p> <p>The closing album track, <strong>One Is Al</strong>l, alludes to <em>All Is One</em> off Kilbey/kennedy’s debut album <em>Unseen Words Unheard Music</em>, but, when Kilbey sings <em>“Spirit, come and take me now / Spirit, come and fill me now”</em>, you get the feeling that he’s not referring to death, the end of things; more likely, he’s summoning a spirit, a muse, to feed his creative mind in order to keep his musical legacy alive. Long may Kilbey/Kennedy run. </p> Mon, 01 May 2017 05:12:44 -0500 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/glow-and-fade-kilbey-kennedy-album-review/ Electronic outfit All India Radio's adventurous musical journey into outer space http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/the-slow-light-all-india-radio-album-review/ <p>A Science Fiction fan ever since his mother took him to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1976, Australian musician/multi-instrumentalist/All India Radio[...] mastermind Martin Kennedy has been exploring his fascination with outer space, not least through the cinematic ambient soundscapes (primarily synths, keyboards, electronic drums, and reverb-drenched guitars) of his long-standing, prolific band and its evocative song titles such as, for instance, <em>Solstice, Tomorrowland, Saucer, Evening Star, Open Sky Experiment, The Final Frontier, Red Shadow Landing</em>, etc.<br><br>Recorded in Martin Kennedy’s home studio, <em>The Slow Light</em> was conceived in-between All India Radio’s <em>Red Shadow Landing</em> (2012) and Kilbey/Kennedy’s third album <em>You are Everything</em> (2013) — and then completed at a later stage. Martin Kennedy: <em>“The inspiration for The Slow Light was “space” — as in stars, galaxies, and the universe. I also like exploring ambience and the “space” between the notes. I wanted to do something very different from the previous album Red Shadow Landing, which was a band effort that got a bit out of control with too much instrumentation.”</em> <br><br>Even the album artwork (executed by Victor Atkins, who did the award-winning cover for Miles Davis’ <em>Miles In The Sky</em>) is inspired by the vastness of space: Several song titles on <em>The Slow Light</em> refer to various aspects of interstellar light, and the fading shades of blue create the optical illusion of being transported further and further, deeper and deeper, into the unknown, into outer space, as stars and galaxies move towards us. This phenomenon is called <strong>Blueshift</strong> and that is the title of the Pink Floyd-ish track that starts off this celestial musical journey; floating along on sound waves of spacey synth layers and reverb-laden guitar, the almost meditative pace slowly but surely takes us to <strong>Dark Star</strong> (Martin Kennedy’s third favourite All India Radio song), a composition consisting of soaring, sparkling electric guitar, an undertow of sweeping synth, static vinyl sound effects, and a sparse, echoing drumbeat, which, sporadically (and surprisingly), is interrupted by skittish, syncopated drum fills. It’s a beauty alright.<br><br>At first listen, <strong>Can You Hear The Sound</strong> may come off as sort of a New Age-esque Pop song in a similar vein to <em>Theodora</em> (from Kilbey/Kennedy’s <em>Inside We Are The Same</em>), but it soon reveals itself to be of greater interest. According to Martin Kennedy, it was meant to be <em>Four Three, Part 2</em> (that’s to say, a sequel to All India Radio’s <em>Four Three</em> from 2006’s <em>Echo Other</em>). Selena Cross, who also sang on <em>Four Three</em>, adds her whispery vocals to <strong>Can You Hear The Sound</strong>, while the ambient atmosphere is, more or less, <em>Tijuana Dream</em> (from All India Radio’s self-titled 2003 album) played backwards. <br><br>Martin Kennedy’s 14-year-old daughter Hollie sings lead vocal in an airy, sweet tone of voice on the wondrous <strong>Galaxy Of Light</strong>, an absolute album highlight that echoes the gorgeous <em>Evening Star</em> (also off 2003’s self-titled All India Radio album). Martin Kennedy: <em>“Can you see a pattern here? It's just the way I operate. One song leads to another, transforming over time but retaining something of the “original”, a big family tree with numerous branches of cousins.”</em> The warm, wobbly sounds of a Rhodes keyboard introduce the tranquil <strong>Sunburst</strong>, followed by shimmering percussion (both programmed and analog), crystal-clear acoustic guitar, and ethereal backing vocals by Selena Cross (who also sings on the next Kilbey/Kennedy album, <em>Glow And Fade</em>). This track is a Martin Kennedy masterclass in creating magical and memorable atmospherics.     <br><br><strong>

Redshift</strong> gradually approaches by way of woozy synth washes before arriving on samples of assertive, driving drums/cymbals, as well as slightly ominous bass, swirling guitar, and percolating piano. And then there’s the sequenzer-driven <strong>Time</strong>, a hypnotizing track propelled by a rhythmic ostinato/a relentless, repetitive synthesizer motorik beat reminiscent of late 1970s/early 1980s electro music (think Giorgio Moroder's Donna Summer albums and his Midnight Express soundtrack, with a bit of Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Kraftwerk added for good measure). <br><br>All India Radio have been labeled anything from “Chillgaze”, “Chilltronic” and “Chillwave" to “Ambient Electronica”, but regardless of labels, the otherworldly music that Martin Kennedy records — with other musicians or entirely by himself — is in a league of its own. As good as any album he’s ever done as part of Kilbey/Kennedy is (and they’re all damn fine), he’s very much created a universe all his own (a precious musical paradise) under the moniker of All India Radio. Martin Kennedy fully deserves to be inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame.</p> Thu, 31 Mar 2016 07:43:36 -0500 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/the-slow-light-all-india-radio-album-review/ A solid, satisfying compilation of John Grant's former band, The Czars http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/best-of-the-czars-album-review/ <p class="p1">Before American singer-songwriter John Grant embarked on his creatively fascinating and critically acclaimed solo career, he spent all of nine years as[...] the leader of the unjustly under-appreciated Denver/Colorado-based Alternative Rock band The Czars. John Grant has stated that he was never quite satisfied with the six studio albums, which The Czars released during their tenure, and that he doesn’t feel that he reached his full potential as a songwriter until he had written and recorded his superior debut solo album, 2010’s <em>Queen Of Denmark</em>, with the assistance of Texas-based Indie-Rock band Midlake. While Grant’s sentiment isn’t entirely unjustified, his unsentimental assessment of The Czars’ output/legacy is nonetheless too harsh and most likely tainted by the memories of a particularly difficult time in his life that was fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse. </p> <p class="p1">Like any other career-spanning single-disc compilation, this <em>Best Of</em> doesn’t contain all of The Czars’ greatest songs, but there are several truly magical moments amongst these selected works. <em>Best Of</em> wisely excludes the band’s first two/lesser studio releases, concentrating instead on selections from their four best albums (2000’s <em>Before…But Not Longer</em>, 2001’s <em>The Ugly People Vs The Beautiful People</em>, 2004’s <em>Goodbye</em>, and 2006’s <em>Sorry I Made You Cry</em>), all released via the Indie label Bella Union (formed by Simon Raymonde, the former bassist of Cocteau Twins).</p> <p class="p1">True to its title, <strong>Dave’s Dream</strong> has a very dreamy quality to it, with its crystal clear electric guitar sounds that shine as brightly as the stars in the night sky, and the lilting melody and swaying chorus that lull you into a tranquil state. <strong>Val</strong> starts off with heavy bass chords — or, possibly, a guitar replicating a thumping bass sound — a distinct motif throughout the whole song, whose instrumental accompaniment also features discreet dobro and sparkling xylophone. The heart-wrenching, dark acoustic ballad <strong>Drug</strong> is a metaphor for the addictive nature of love. In this case: bad love. An addiction that can be near-impossible to shake and recover from, like the constant struggle of a recovering addict <em>(“You are a drug to me / I never ever thought it otherwise / And I love the lies you've told to me / While looking me directly in my eyes…/ This is not ecstasy, but it's better than cocaine”)</em>: a recurring theme that would even resurface on John Grant’s solo albums, 2010’s <em>Queen Of Denmark</em> and 2013’s <em>Pale Green Ghosts</em>. </p> <p class="p1"><strong>Side Effects</strong> is extremely intense, exploding like a cascade of fireworks in the shape of distorted, abrasive guitars that perfectly capture the subject matter of emotional abuse <em>(“Do you know the heart? / Do you know that it can be destroyed? / You can make it go away / You can make it shrivel up and die”) </em>and also the defiant anger when you’re on the receiving side<em> (“Take a look at me / Give me everything you've got / If it's not enough / Make me everything you're not”)</em>. The melodic <strong>Killjoy</strong> is not your typical Pop song, with its diverse selection of instruments, ranging from a trumpet, castanets, and Spanish-style acoustic guitar, to a keyboard that sounds slightly like an accordion. Equally smooth and catchy, if not more so, is <strong>Paint The Moon</strong>, a mid-tempo track floating along on a bed of assertively stroked whispers, gently strummed acoustic guitars, and energetically pounding bass. <br><br>Rolling piano licks open <strong>Little Pink House</strong>, a reflective, trumpet-infused, Jazz-tinged ballad, a smoky duet with Denver-based Jazz singer Julie Monley that ranks among the most heartfelt and engaging compositions in The Czars’ song catalogue. The Czars hit their stride with their third album, 2000’s <em>Before…But Not Longer</em>, and the following two albums, 2001’s <em>The Ugly People Vs. The Beautiful People</em> and 2004’s <em>Goodbye</em>, and it’s these releases that contain all of their best works. Still, <em>Best Of</em> is a very solid sampler of some of the most exquisite songs The Czars recorded and a very good starting point. </p> Fri, 15 Apr 2016 14:40:49 -0500 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/best-of-the-czars-album-review/ A career-high by Irish musician Frank Kearns and Australian singer-songwriter Steve Kilbey http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/an-enchanting-work-by-irish-musician-frank-kearns-and-australian-singer-songwriter-steve-kilbey/ <p class="p1">If patience is a virtue, as they say, then Irish musician Frank Kearns (guitarist, songwriter) deserves a medal of honor[...]. As far back as 1986, Kearns and his band Cactus World News were touring the U.S. at the same time as Kilbey’s The Church, and that’s when the two of them had their first encounter after a double bill performance. Kearns was standing beside his band’s tour bus and staring up at a very clear, bright Milky Way in the starry night sky, when Kilbey (vocals, bass, keyboards) walked up beside him and asked: <em>“Hey, ever wonder what we are all here for?”</em> In light of everything that lay ahead, it was almost as if the stars had aligned, like a predestined, poignant, and foreshadowing meeting between two soulmates: In 1988, The Church scored their first (and only) international hit single with the very title <em>Under The Milky Way</em>, and, in 1998 — after having met again at an acoustic Church gig in London — Kilbey and Kearns began writing songs for what was to become <em>Speed Of The Stars</em>. </p> <p class="p1">Frustratingly, these early recording sessions in Dublin, Ireland, were marred by Kilbey’s failing health (due to years of substance abuse, primarily heroin addiction); he was so sick and weak that he couldn’t get out of bed and had to take two weeks off, while Kearns looked after him and drove him to Narcotics Anonymous. It was an unsustainable situation, and, in the end, they decided to “hit the pause button” for a while, so Kilbey could concentrate on quitting<br> his addiction cold turkey and staying clean — which, much to his credit, he managed to do. All of eleven years later, Frank Kearns visited The Church, as the band were recording <em>Untitled #23</em> in Sydney and ended up playing guitars on <em>Deadman’s Hand, On Angel Street</em>, and <em>Operetta</em>. That’s how they became reacquainted and rekindled their friendship. Then, in 2012, Kearns emailed Kilbey the old tapes that they had been working on in 1998. Excited by the high quality of those early recordings, they began writing songs together again, on and off, whenever their individual schedules made it possible. In 2016, they finally finished recording the album <em>Speed Of The Stars</em>. </p> <p class="p1"><em>Speed Of The Stars</em> is a sensuous, aesthetically alluring album in the sense that it piques all of one’s senses: The common denominator of these evocative songs, whether they be summery or autumnal, is a sense of warmth, melancholia, yearning, old memories, nostalgia, and contemplation, bringing to mind mental images of hazy, sepia-tinted photographs, sunrays reflecting on water's shimmering surface, sunlight shining through the tree tops, a gentle breeze, and the scent of freshly-cut grass. </p> <p class="p1">Kilbey and Kearns both consider <em>Speed Of The Stars</em> to be a career high — or among the absolute best work they’ve ever done — and several of the songs here are most certainly strong contenders. Not least the wondrous <strong>Heliotropic</strong>, an entrancing beauty of a song moving along at its own languid pace, wistful and pensive, its transcendent elegance further refined by Kilbey’s quietly reflective, lightly processed lead vocal, understated cymbal hits, and Kearns’ impossibly, impeccably tasteful eBow and Fender Jaguar guitar sounds. The accompanying video (see below) is poetry in motion and perfectly captures the luminous soundscape: Tranquil meadows, withered dandelion flowers, lens flares, late summer atmosphere, and the blissful ignorance of childhood innocence.</p> <p class="p1">The pent-up intensity and underlying drama (punctuated by punchy drums) that pervades <strong>Back Wherever</strong> brings to mind the 1998 Church album <em>Hologram Of Baal</em>. It was written and recorded a few days before Kilbey/Kearns’ final session in Sydney, Australia, on a hot, humid evening, so they opened the window to the recording studio, and, as they were recording the track, the loud sound of a cicada made its way into the microphone (as can be heard throughout the whole song). </p> <p class="p1">The instantly likeable <strong>Autumn Daze</strong> was the first song that Kilbey/Kearns wrote together after the long hiatus. It was recorded in Kilbey’s home studio in Bondi Beach, Sydney. A sparkling and surging Bluesy guitar motif, bended eBow notes, and lovely David Crosby-esque harmonies adorn <strong>Autumn Daze</strong> that made Kearns name it the “Crosby, Kearns &amp; Kilbey” song (as a “tribute” to Crosby, Stills &amp; Nash, naturally). </p> <p class="p1"><strong>Nepenthe</strong>, a trippy track that originates from the early recording sessions in 1998, would have fit right in with the other songs on The Church’s 1992 masterpiece/magnum opus <em>Priest=Aura</em>, with its airy musical arrangement, spacey ambience, its bouncy and elastic drumbeat, and lush 12-string electric guitar. <strong>Nepenthe</strong> is the name of an anti-depressant mentioned in ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology, which originally hailed from Egypt: An interesting piece of information considering that the cover of <em>Priest=Aura</em> depicts an Egyptian pyramid and because <strong>Nepenthe</strong> sounds very much like an outtake from that very same album. </p> <p class="p1">In keeping with Steve Kilbey’s intriguing propensity for/fascination with contradictionary lyrics — light and darkness, inner conflict — Frank Kearns’ guitar intro to <strong>When You Think Of Falling</strong> combines both coldly metallic and warmly chiming guitar sounds before fading out on a wave of reverb-laden guitar noise. The complex struggle between fear and fearlessness, the tug of war between heart and mind, ecstatic highs and depressive lows, success and failure, seems to be the subject matter here, and, in Greek mythology, this age-old dilemma is depicted in both literature and paintings: The mythological figure Icarus wore wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus' father warned him of flying too low or too high, but Icarus ignored his father's instructions not to fly too close to the sun, causing the wax in his wings to melt, whereupon he fell into the sea. </p> <p class="p1">As the song title and ambiguous, enigmatic lyrics suggest, the dramatic <strong>The Archeologist</strong> digs down into history, the passage of time, and the journey that is life, its trials and tribulations <em>(“Some come broken / Some come in pain / Some come unwoken / Some come in vain”)</em>; the insignificance of most people’s existence in the larger scheme of things <em>(“The lonely babble of the rabble…”)</em>, and how little imprint we leave before the impending, inevitable end that nothing or nobody can save us from <em>(“The arrival of your rival at the gate / The trumpets of Cavalry arriving much too late”)</em>. Halfway through, Frank Kearns plays a violin bow to achieve a raspy, tense sound like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page did on <em>Dazed And Confused</em>. For this reviewer, <strong>The Archeologist</strong> is a highlight on a par with <strong>Heliotropic</strong>.</p> <p class="p1"><em>Speed Of The Stars</em> is yet another impressive Steve Kilbey side project that ranks right up there with his Jeffrey Cain collaboration <em>Isidore</em> and Kilbey/Kennedy’s <em>Inside We Are The Same</em>. Any fan of either one of these two musicians should add S<em>peed Of The Stars</em> to his/her record collection, that’s how mesmerizing and memorable this album is.</p> Mon, 04 Jul 2016 10:34:11 -0500 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/an-enchanting-work-by-irish-musician-frank-kearns-and-australian-singer-songwriter-steve-kilbey/ A very promising debut EP from NYC Power Pop/Classic Rock quartet http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/tidal-wave-ep-marco-with-love-review/ <p class="p1">Marco With Love are an American quartet who formed in Brooklyn, NYC, in 2013. Prior to their formation, each band member was playing in his own local band before the four musicians[...] decided to join forces, encouraged by an undeniable chemistry and a mutual love of Rock ’N’ Roll pioneers from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, including: Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Ramones, Harry Nilsson, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and, in particular, the band’s “soul brothers”, Tom Petty &amp; The Heartbreakers. The band consists of Marco Argiro (guitar, lead vocals, music, lyrics), Blaine O’Brien (pedal steel guitar, background vocals), Peter Landi (drums, background vocals), and Subodh Samudre (electric bass, occasional harmony).  </p> <p class="p1">Marco With Love’s first release, the four-song EP <em>Tidal Wave</em>, kicks off — and kicks ass — with the punchy, powerful title track. The first original composition that the band ever worked on together, <strong>Tidal Wave </strong>is a hook-filled Power Pop song in the best sense of the word — in the same vein as Nada Surf (think <em>Hi-Speed Soul</em> from 2002’s <em>Let Go</em>) and early ‘90s The Posies — featuring thumping bass, vigorous drums, and an insistent, scorching pedal steel guitar solo that’s to die for. According to main songwriter Marco Argiro, <strong>Leave It Behind</strong>, another accomplished Power Pop song, is an autobiographical account of his family’s struggles early on in his life: His mother left her hometown in Kentucky, and his father emigrated from Southern Italy, both of them travelling to NYC in search of the “American Dream.” Later on, after living in Florida all of his young life, Marco ended up in the same city as his parents, when he moved to New York. As he says, the song’s about <em>“following your heart, taking chances and not letting other people tell you how to live your life”</em>, a sentiment that most of us can surely relate to. </p> <p class="p1">The third track on the EP is a refined, respectful cover of legendary Texas singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt’s exquisitely atmospheric Folk ballad <strong>Waitin’ Around To Die</strong>, a dark tale about a guy’s hard-luck life, his abusive father and absent mother, his drifting days, and his drug and alcohol abuse. Marco With Love’s contemporary version stays true to the original arrangement while putting its own spin on a song that has long since become a cult classic. <strong>Poor, Young And Gifted</strong>, another self-penned track, has a haunting quality to it that lingers on long after <em>Tidal Wave </em>has ended, with its smouldering verses and intense choruses. The EP <em>Tidal Wave</em> shows a lot of promise and bodes well for a prospective full-length debut album. </p> <p class="p1">[In 2015, Marco With Love also released the EP <em>Promised Land</em>, see below.]</p> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 08:06:36 -0600 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/tidal-wave-ep-marco-with-love-review/ An unexpected but welcome comeback just five years after the Norwegian trio's farewell tour http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/cast-in-steel-a-ha-album-review/ <p class="p1">Once upon a long ago, there were three young Pop star wannabes from Oslo, Norway, of all places: They had a dream of[...] becoming an internationally famous band, so they went to London in pursuit of a recording contract. Here, they struggled for quite a few years, and it wasn’t until they released the single <em>Take On Me</em> for the third time that they — aided by an innovative, groundbreaking animated video — scored their first big, worldwide hit single (U.S No. 1, U.K. No. 2). 1985’s <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/%20http:/volt-and-volume.com/albums/a-ha-hunting-high-and-low-album-review/"><em>Hunting High And Low</em></a> is one of the great debut albums of all time, reaching No. 15 on the U.S. Pop Album Chart and No. 2 in the U.K. Remarkably, the three young Norwegian guys’ second album, 1986’s <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/scoundrel-days-a-ha-album-review-3/"><em>Scoundrel Days</em></a>, was an even more impressive accomplishment, a big leap forward in the trio’s musical development and their songwriting skills, in terms of both maturity and creativity.</p> <p class="p2">For lack of a better description, a-ha’s tenth studio album, <em>Cast In Steel</em>, bears a certain resemblance to 2009’s synth-oriented <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/foot-of-the-mountain-a-ha-album-review/"><em>Foot Of The Mountain</em></a>, but the soundscapes are generally much more lush, intricately-layered, quietly melodramatic, dark, and bittersweet. Several of the songs marry slow-burning, sometimes icy electronic sounds with some of a-ha’s most string-laden orchestrations to date, but due to the subtle, elegantly stylized and tasteful production, the arrangements never sound overly bombastic — or sentimental and sugary. Rather, the soaring strings add an air of splendour and dignity to sweeping, windswept tracks such as Pål Waaktaar-Savoy’s <strong>Cast In Steel</strong> and <strong>Under The Makeup</strong>, as well as the Morten Harket co-writes <strong>The Wake</strong> and <strong>Living At The End Of The World</strong>. The latter is somewhat reminiscent of 1988’s classic hit single <em>Stay On These Roads</em>, albeit devoid of the overblown late-1980s production values. </p> <p class="p2">Elsewhere, keyboardist Magne Furuholmen’s futuristic <strong>Mythomania</strong> is a testament to his self-acknowledged admiration for Depeche Mode, with its haunting vintage synth slithering sinuously over a static, electronic drum beat, bringing to mind more contemporary incarnations of rhythmically mechanical and instrumentally sparse songs like <em>Train Of Thought</em> (from <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/a-ha-hunting-high-and-low-album-review/"><em>Hunting High And Low</em></a>) and <em>The Swing Of Things</em> (off the trio’s masterpiece <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/scoundrel-days-a-ha-album-review-3/"><em>Scoundrel Days</em></a>). And then there’s that one song that actually does harken back to the 1980s. In 2011, Pål Waaktaar-Savoy retrieved some old, worn, lost notebooks (from the band’s ex-manager) containing lyrics, notes, diaries, and sketches — plus tape reels. Written during their mid-‘80s heyday, <strong>She’s Humming A Tune</strong>, a long-forgotten song, starts off with slight vinyl surface noise and chiming acoustic guitar, and then abruptly kicks full-force into an uptempo groove propelled by drums, frantic bass, and surging synths that capture a lovely, warm analog sound. </p> <p class="p2">Following a-ha’s 2010 farewell tour (documented on <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/ending-on-a-high-note-the-last-concert-a-ha-album-cover/"><em>Ending On A High Note: The Last Concert</em></a>), the band released the comprehensive 2-CD singles anthology, <em>25</em>, and what was supposed to be their very last single, <em>Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)</em>. Therefore, it was all the more surprising when — just five years later — a-ha announced that they were releasing a new studio album. Equally surprising, at this late stage in their long-running, illustrious career, is the fact that <em>Cast In Steel</em> is among a-ha’s most accomplished and praiseworthy albums (alongside <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/%20http:/volt-and-volume.com/albums/a-ha-hunting-high-and-low-album-review/"><em>Hunting High And Low</em></a>, <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/scoundrel-days-a-ha-album-review-3/"><em>Scoundrel Days</em></a>, and <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/analogue-a-ha-album-review/"><em>Analogue</em></a>).</p> <p class="p2">In an interview, in conjunction with the release of <em>Cast In Steel</em>, Pål Waaktaar-Savoy stated that pre-fame a-ha never doubted their own abilities as musicians and songwriters, and that they always knew they’d be famous. <em>Keeper Of The Flame</em> (from 2005’s <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/analogue-a-ha-album-review/"><em>Analogue</em></a>) depicts these early days of youthful daydreaming and anticipation of a great future. And the pride that a-ha take in their musical legacy is conveyed in the lyrics to <em>Cast In Steel</em>’s title track: <em>“Set in stone and cast in steel / Made a pact, eye to eye / Cross your heart and hope to die”. </em></p> <p class="p2">There are, however, indications that <em>Cast In Steel</em> might very well be the trio’s “last hurrah”. Once again the dynamics in the band created tensions, and, as has been the case for years, none of the band members recorded their parts together in the studio. Pål Waaktaar-Savoy even admitted to being somewhat unsatisfied with the end result, the final version of <em>Cast In Steel</em>, preferring earlier recordings of songs that subsequently were tampered with to a degree that wasn’t necessarily an improvement on the originals. The narratives, too, evidently address some sort of closure, as Morten Harket sings: <em>“Can you see the end of things? / Can you see it happening? / Feel the ashes on the wind / Don’t you hate how everything / Falls / Just falls away.”</em> The last two tracks on the album deal with leaving the past behind and facing an uncertain future — the regretful <strong>Giving Up The Ghost</strong> <em>(“Giving up the ghost / That’s what hurts the most”)</em> and the atmospheric <strong>Goodbye Thompson </strong>(featuring Beatles-esque harmonies): <em>“What comes after what was / That was once strangely new / What awaits up ahead / For me and you”</em>. Regardless of what lies ahead, the Norwegian trio have achieved more than most bands ever will, both creatively and commercially. If <em>Cast In Steel</em> does turn out to be their final album, a-ha would indeed end their time together on a higher note than if they’d ended it with <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/foot-of-the-mountain-a-ha-album-review/"><em>Foot Of The Mountain</em></a>.</p> Tue, 13 Oct 2015 13:07:56 -0500 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/cast-in-steel-a-ha-album-review/ The Indie Folk-Rock outfit takes the listener on a mesmerizing, mystical journey http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/strange-trails-lord-huron-album-review/ <p>When L.A.-based Indie Folk-Rock outfit Lord Huron released their debut album <em>Lonesome Dreams</em> in 2012, the critics immediately drew comparisons to[...] Fleet Foxes –- and with good reason. Lord Huron explored the same aesthetic territory as Fleet Foxes –- a ramshackle, rustic, rural sound –- even if <em>Lonesome Dreams</em> didn’t quite reach the same heights as Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut album (2008’s <em>Fleet Foxes</em>) and 2011’s sophomore album <em>Helplessness Blues</em>. But with their second album, <em>Strange Trails</em>, Lord Huron have raised the stakes and are now finding themselves on an entirely different level: the songwriting –- the melodies, their structures and arrangements –- is significantly superior to <em>Lonesome Dreams</em>, much more ambitious, distinguished and memorable, and the four-piece’s musicianship is more incisive and self-assured. </p> <p>In conjunction with their first full-length release, <em>Lonesome Dreams,</em> Lord Huron shot a series of sun-faded, sepia-tinted retro music <em>videos</em> (<em>Time To Run, She Lit A Fire, Lonesome Dreams</em>) –- very much in the style of ‘70s cinematography –- that testified to a nostalgic appreciation for old-fashioned narratives. The band viewed <em>Lonesome Dreams</em> as “a series of old adventure tales”. Frontman/main songwriter Ben Schneider: <em>“…and we wanted the videos to kind of reflect that and have that same feel and style”.</em> As suggested by <em>Strange Trails</em>’ evocative album artwork, which looks like a scene out of a 1940s Western movie, Lord Huron still revere this retrospective approach to cinematic songwriting and storytelling. </p> <p><em>Strange Trails</em>’ album cover depicts a man gazing into the woods, as if he’s contemplating which road to take on a solitary journey to…enlightenment, self-discovery, revelations? Schneider: <em>“There’s always been two parts to my nature. I’m really attached to my family and my friends. But I also like to spend time on my own. I’ve always been the kind of guy, who likes to be by myself a lot of the time.”</em> <em>Strange Trails</em> is music for people who contemplate life in solitude, mortality, life after death, and dream of simpler times, better days, when man was in touch with nature and had a deeper understanding of spirituality and the beauty of the natural world. And true to the band’s name -- which was inspired by Lake Huron, where Schneider spend evenings playing music around the campfire as a youngster -- the album is littered with references to nature: “lit by the moon”, “through the sand”, “the sun”, “the desert”, “rain”, “mountain”, “dancing in the wind”, “beyond the clouds”, “sky”, “birds”, “breeze”, “rocks”, “trees”. </p> <p>But these narratives aren't necessarily overt homages to the healing powers of nature (with, perhaps, the exception of the captivating <strong>La Belle Fleur Sauvage</strong>). <em>Strange Trails</em> takes Lord Huron and the listener to some spooky, dark places en route. Schneider’s cryptic, enigmatic lyrics were influenced by the vintage sci-fi and horror comics that he read on the road while touring the album <em>Lonesome Dreams</em> (Alan Moore’s "Swamp Thing"; and the works of Charles Burns, e.g. his graphic novel "Black Hole"). Ben Schneider: <em>"I guess Strange Trails is kind of about not being afraid to confront sort of the dark side of life..."</em>. A man looks death in the eye in the eerie <strong>Dead Man's Hand</strong>, as a living corpse refuses to be buried <em>(“I laid him down in a grave in the sand / And he grabbed my arm with his dead man's hand / He said: "I know I'm dead, but I don't wanna lie / In a grave out here where the carrions cry…/ So lift me up out of here, my friend / And I'll wander the night 'til the ages end.")</em>. Are they perhaps one and the same man facing his fear of death, his own mortality? Is he looking down at himself, as his soul leaves his body? Likewise, the protagonist of <strong>The World Ender </strong>is a vengeful, hell-raising spirit or living dead hell-bent on avenging the murders of his loved ones, his wife and daughter <em>("I'm the World Ender, baby, and I'm back from the grave / They can run for their lives, but they cannot be saved / I'm the World Ender, baby, and I'm coming for them / They put me in the ground, but I'm back from the dead") -- </em>a tale of righteous anger and hate that's both morbid and life-affirming at one and the same time. </p> <p>From start to finish, <em>Strange Trails</em> is a surrealistic journey: The lyrics often read like a hallucinatory trip, and the lines between reality, imagery, nightmares, religious conviction, and superstition, are constantly blurred. If S<em>trange Trails </em>is a metaphor for confronting the dark side of life, its trials and tribulations, the mysterious <strong>Meet Me In The Woods </strong>might possibly be about growing up, the stage in your life when you realize that you're no longer a child and that childhood was pure bliss compared to adulthood: <em>“There ain't language for the things I've seen / And the truth is stranger than my own worst dreams…/ Say goodbye to who I was / I ain't never been away so long / Don't look back, them days are gone.” </em>Then again, it might be about something completely different -- like, of all things, a traumatizing alien encounter. In <strong>Until The Night Turns</strong>, an otherworldly being proclaims the end-times <em>(“I had a visitor come from the great beyond / Telling me our time in the world is done / And to watch for a sign in the midnight sky”)</em>, and <strong>Frozen Pines </strong>seems to tell a tale of alien abduction <em>("And I look up to the sky, and I know you're still alive.../ On the night you disappeared, I wish I had seen it clear / But a strange light in the sky was shining right into my eyes"). <br><br></em>All of this may sound very dark, gloomy and claustrophobic, but the uplifting, melodic music -- chiming, reverb-drenched electric guitars, energetic Indie Folk-infused Rock, frantic Rockabilly rhytms, handclaps, Country-ish twang -- makes for a liberating counterpoint. Even the bleakly-titled <strong>The Yawning Grave</strong>, with its slow, softly lilting melody and poetic words, exudes a strangely comforting atmosphere. <em>Strange Trails</em> is an adventurous, deeply engrossing set of songs, an album for the ages. It will be very interesting to join Lord Huron on the band's continued journey. May there be more strange trails to follow.</p> Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:25:20 -0500 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/strange-trails-lord-huron-album-review/ Soul Power is a raw and real Soul record in the very best sense of the word: Soulful, heartfelt, proud, and powerful. http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/curtis-harding-soul-power-review/ <p>Looking at the bare-chested, <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/al-green-discography/" target="_blank">Al Green</a>-ish cover shot of Curtis Harding (think <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/al-green-discography/" target="_blank">Al Green</a>’s <em>Greatest Hits</em>), and the[...] politically-incorrect cigarette, you get a sense of what to expect before you’ve even listened to the 27-year-old Soul singer’s debut album, <em>Soul Power</em>. This isn’t slick, digitally-produced, assembly line R&amp;B as we know it from the 1990s and onwards; even the same decade’s more distinguished Neo-Soul –- a fusion between retro and contemporary –- by talented artists such as <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/otis-redding-discography/" target="_blank">Maxwell</a>, Lauryn Hill, and D’Angelo, was more polished and studio-processed. Instead, Curtis Harding favors the grittier, groove-driven vintage Southern Soul sound of Muscle Shoals, Hi Records, and Stax, as represented by the likes of <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/joe-simon-discography-soul-singer/" target="_blank">Joe Simon</a>, Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/al-green-discography/" target="_blank">Al Green</a>, <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/otis-redding-discography/" target="_blank">Otis Redding</a>, Wilson Pickett, and O.V. Wright, among many others. But Harding’s songs go way beyond mere pastiche: When he channels the deep Soul and vibrant Funk music of the 1960s and early-1970s, he also adds his own versatile style by way of his uniquely compelling interpretative skills.</p> <p>First up is the quietly dramatic <strong>Next Time</strong>, a break-up song in which the heartbroken and disillusioned protagonist (Harding?) has finally come to the conclusion that it’s time to move on <em>(“They say it’s never over / They say it’s never fair / I don’t know, if that’s true / I don’t even care”)</em>, but not before interjecting one last acerbic comment to his girlfriend: <em>"See you later, bitch"</em> –- all set to the mellifluous tones of a midtempo, albeit assertive, drumbeat, thumping bass, understated trumpet, sporadic tremolo guitar, and warm Rhodes keyboard. The slow-burning <strong>Castaway</strong>, a Blues-inflected Soul ballad, depicts the final kiss-off, as Harding’s reverb-drenched, distant vocal echoes the lyrical sentiment:<em> “Cast it away / Focus your brain / Relax yourself / Detach yourself”.</em> The energetic, toe-tapping Northern Soul of<strong> Keep On Shining</strong> (the first single) defies you to sit still, let alone not to turn your living room into a dancefloor, as does <strong>Heaven’s On the Other Side</strong>, with its four-to-the-floor rhythm, Spinners-inspired horns, and funky <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/chic-discography/" target="_blank">Chic/Nile Rodgers</a> guitar riff –- even if the lyrics are bittersweet and regretful <em>(“I miss you / But the dancefloor’s right here”).</em></p> <p>With the lines <em>“Now draw the line / Seize the time / Build a home…/ Listen up, beautiful people / You got to stand up or die”, </em>the poignant <strong>Beautiful People</strong>, a rally for black people, takes its rightful place among so-called “call-to-arms anthems” akin to <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/sam-cooke-discography/" target="_blank">Sam Cooke</a>’s <em>A Change Is Gonna Come</em> and Curtis Mayfield &amp; The Impressions’ <em>People Get Ready</em><em>.</em> <strong>I Need A Friend</strong> deals with the realities of life, the trials and tribulations, feeling lost, feeling lonely, in the face of adversity, its urgent plea underscored by punchy drums, throbbing bass, and insistent wah-wah guitar.</p> <p>There’s a depth beyond his years to Harding’s songwriting and delivery, no doubt due to the life experience he amassed during his childhood, which was spent on the road singing Gospel with his mother. Curtis Harding: <em>"Gospel is inspiring. From hardship and trials, you make something beautiful. It's the history of black people in America, what happened to us during slavery; it's the foundation of Blues, R&amp;B, Soul, Country, Rock."</em> These early, formative years evidently shaped Curtis Harding, who isn’t afraid to venture outside of his comfort zone, as he also incorporates elements of other musical genres, e.g. ragged, rattling Blues Rock with a touch of Garage Rock (<strong>Surf</strong>; <strong>Drive My Car</strong>; <strong>I Don’t Wanna Go Home</strong>) –- which is why Harding himself describes his music as "Slop 'N' Soul". At its heart, and at its finest, <em>Soul Power</em> is a raw and real <em>Soul</em> record in the very best sense of the word: Soulful, heartfelt, proud, and powerful.</p> Sat, 21 Mar 2015 14:58:59 -0500 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/curtis-harding-soul-power-review/ The Australian duo's fourth album is overwhelming; a thing of rare beauty http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/the-australian-duos-fourth-album-is-overwhelming-a-thing-of-rare-beauty/ <p>By Steve Kilbey’s own admission, he and Martin Kennedy are very different individuals; he has described their personalities as: <em>“Hedonistic, drug-addled[...] singer meets up with quiet, reserved musician a few good years his junior”.</em> But you wouldn’t know it from listening to them. The chemistry between <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/all-india-radio-electronic-ambient-band-discography/" target="_blank">All India Radio</a>’s Martin Kennedy and <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/the-church/" target="_blank">The Church</a>’s Steve Kilbey is undeniable; they’ve really found their own voice. Hence the title <em>Inside We Are The Same</em>. Kilbey/Kennedy’s previous collaboration (their third), <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/you-are-everything-steve-kilbey-martin-kennedy-album-review/" target="_blank"><em>You Are Everything</em></a> (2013), was their most accomplished album yet; this was where Kilbey and Kennedy melted together as one, and the marriage of music, lyrics, and vocals meshed seamlessly and truly played to the Australian duo’s strengths. Not only does <em>Inside We Are The Same</em> pick up where <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/you-are-everything-steve-kilbey-martin-kennedy-album-review/" target="_blank"><em>You Are Everything</em></a> left off, it also expands on Kilbey/Kennedy’s soundscapes by virtue of an abundance of inspired and entrancing sonic textures as well as some unexpected new musical directions.</p> <p><em>Inside We Are The Same</em> is the first album of theirs to contain a couple of tracks that are considerably more fast-paced, dynamic, and hard-hitting than any other songs on their three earlier releases — which all largely explored low-to-midtempo compositions — and it’s thrilling and refreshing to hear this edgier, rockier side of the duo: The riveting <strong>Amenia</strong> combines otherworldly, spacey synth sounds with an insisting New Wave guitar riff, a blistering solo, and a skyrocketing chorus that explodes in a brilliant cascade of flares and star-like sparks. The equally exhilarating <strong>Oh My Glad</strong> is driven forward by thumping bass, buzzing electronic effects, a poised spoken word sequence, and a dazzling instrumental passage consisting of ringing electric guitars that bring to mind the Space Rock of <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/the-church/" target="_blank">The Church</a>.</p> <p>But the main focus is still on the dreamy, mesmerizingly languid style that has served Kilbey/Kennedy so well and continues to do so. In a recent <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/blog/an-introduction-to-australian-singer-songwriter-steve-kilbeys-solo-and-side-projects/" target="_blank">interview</a>, Steve Kilbey said: <em>“I love the music that he </em>(Ed: Martin Kennedy)<em> writes, and the way it makes me sing.</em> <em>But my favorites are the beautiful ballads”.</em> And listening to these, it’s easy to hear why. Something special happens to Kilbey’s vocals, when they are inspired by Kennedy’s stunningly elegant and luxurious music. Almost gone is his semi-detached “speak-sing” approach, and instead a nuanced and expressive singer <em>—</em> with an endearing, achingly affecting tremble in his voice <em>—</em> has emerged. <br><br> Once again multi-instrumentalist Martin Kennedy wrote all the music and played all instruments (except as noted), and with <em>Inside We Are The Same</em>, he’s outdone himself and added several more Kilbey/Kennedy classics to the duo’s gilt-edged song catalog: The fragile, bittersweet beauty of <strong>Elude</strong>; <strong>Ho Chi Min</strong>’s captivating, crystal-clear synth-piano; the gorgeous acoustic ballad <strong>Once</strong>, where Kilbey is joined by Kennedy’s 12-year-old daughter, Hollie, towards the end of the song; the haunting vintage synth and tremelo guitar effects of <strong>Shegaze</strong>; <strong>This Is The Universe</strong>, which mixes Kennedy’s backing vocal with Kilbey’s vocoder-processed voice to create a <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/david-bowie-biography/" target="_blank">David Bowie</a>-esque, slightly retro sci-fi feel, only to catch the listener off-guard with a towering school choir; <strong>Swansea</strong>’s sparkling guitar lines and subtle electronic flourishes; and the heartfelt <strong>This Merciful Blur</strong>, a <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/pink-floyd-discography/" target="_blank">Pink Floyd</a>/David Gilmour-inspired track featuring a talented, anonymous gun-for-hire guitarist. For those of us who never really expected Kilbey/Kennedy to be much more than a one-off side project, their continued collaboration is a gift to all fans and one that keeps on giving. <em>Inside We Are The Same</em> is as close to perfection as any musician can hope to get <em>—</em> a thing of rare beauty.</p> Fri, 13 Mar 2015 08:41:37 -0500 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/the-australian-duos-fourth-album-is-overwhelming-a-thing-of-rare-beauty/ The genius Beach Boys mastermind delivers a surprisingly satisfying late-career highlight http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/no-pier-pressure-brian-wilson-review/ <p>Despite the fact that <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/the-beach-boys/" target="_blank">The Beach Boys</a> have always been the premier purveyors of sunny, feel-good music, dark clouds have often hung over their heads[...] due to their internal relations (personality clashes, lawsuits). Since the mid-1960s (circa <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/pet-sounds-the-beach-boys-album-review/" target="_blank"><em>Pet Sounds</em></a>), there’s been significant friction within the band -– in particular between ambitious and experimental songwriter/genius arranger <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/brian-wilson-discography/" target="_blank">Brian Wilson</a> and conservative lyricist/singer Mike Love, whose relationship appears to be as complicated as Wilson’s most intricate musical and vocal arrangements. Which is why it was all the more surprising, when The Beach Boys managed to set aside their differences and released their first new album in 27 years, 2012’s <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/thats-why-god-made-the-radio-the-beach-boys-album-review/" target="_blank"><em>That’s Why God Made The Radio</em></a>. Excited about the success of the album, both critically and commercially, Brian Wilson continued to write songs with Beach Boys harmonies in mind, but, predictably, Mike Love suddenly “pulled the plug” and went back to touring with his (and Bruce Johnston’s) incarnation of “The Beach Boys”. As a result of this, Brian Wilson went on to record all of these Beach Boys-style songs for his 11th solo album, <em>No Pier Pressure</em>, with the remaining band members, Al Jardine and David Marks, plus one-time Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin (1972’s <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/carl-and-the-passions-so-tough-album-review/" target="_blank"><em>Carl &amp; The Passions – So Tough</em></a>; 1973’s <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/the-beach-boys-nineteenth-official-album-yielded-the-classic-song-and-minor-hi-/" target="_blank"><em>Holland</em></a>) –- and as could be expected, it’s these songs that truly captivate.</p> <p>Considering that Mike Love and Bruce Johnston were missing in action, it’s too bad that Brian Wilson didn’t opt to record a “Beach Boys” album of his own, an unofficial follow-up to <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/thats-why-god-made-the-radio-the-beach-boys-album-review/" target="_blank"><em>That’s Why God Made The Radio</em></a>, even if he couldn’t credit it to the band (Mike Love owns the rights to the name); in addition to utilizing Al Jardine, David Marks, and Blondie Chaplin, Wilson could’ve/should’ve employed fanboys The Explorers Club, who released a formidable Beach Boys-influenced album titled <em>Freedom Wind</em> in 2008. But much of Brian Wilson’s frustrating solo career has been hampered by questionable decisions and ill-conceived concepts (with the exceptions of 1988’s <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/brian-wilson-debut-solo-album-review/" target="_blank"><em>Brian Wilson</em></a>; 2004’s <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/smile-brian-wilson-review/" target="_blank"><em>Brian Wilson Presents Smile</em></a>), so you’d be forgiven for thinking that <em>No Pier Pressure</em> is no exception. Five of the songs on the album hand over vocal duties to much younger guest artists, and as a longtime fan, you can’t help but imagine what these tracks would’ve sounded like, if Al Jardine &amp; co. had sung lead vocals and harmonies. With that being said, if you keep an open mind and keep listening, you may very well appreciate the smooth MOR collaborations, too, which should appeal to anyone with a soft spot for mid-late-1970s/early-1980s Soft Rock. And even if you don’t warm up to the guest artists, there are eleven wonderful Brian Wilson/Beach Boys-esque compositions for the purists on the deluxe edition (the version to own).</p> <p>At least four songs on <em>No Pier Pressure</em> seem to address the disappointingly short-lived Beach Boys reunion, with a sense of loss and missed opportunities. In the 1:30 minute-long intro track, <strong>This Beautiful Day</strong> –- featuring piano, viola, muted trumpet, and surging harmonies –- Brian Wilson laments the band’s dissolution, singing: <em>“If we could find a way / If you would only stay / If we could hold on to this feelin' / And this beautiful day”</em>. The lyrics read like a hopeful plea to his band mates, as if he were putting words to <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/thats-why-god-made-the-radio-the-beach-boys-album-review/" target="_blank"><em>That’s Why God Made The Radio</em></a>’s wordless, harmony-drenched opening number, <em>Think About The Days</em>, or writing a sequel of sorts to the same album’s closing track, <em>Summer’s Gone</em>: <em>“Old friends have gone / They’ve gone their separate ways / Our dreams hold on / For those who still have more to say”.</em></p> <p>Wallowing in nostalgic, sepia-tinted reverie, the very same references to days and summers of yesteryear reappear in <strong>Whatever Happened</strong> (“…<em>When I know the day is through</em>”, and “…<em>Summer was my favorite time”</em>), a song that ranks right up there with Brian Wilson’s most heartbreakingly beautiful ballads; its lush orchestration and swooning vocal arrangement is emotional and enthralling, and the sweeping chorus is touchingly bittersweet: <em>“Whatever happened to my favorite places? / Nothing’s where it used to be / Whatever Happened? / What’s gonna happen to me?”</em> Much in the same vein, the wistful weeper <strong>Tell Me Why</strong>, another gorgeous standout track, mesmerizes with verses full of melancholy regret <em>(“I think about that ocean view / And all the dreams I shared with you / I guess they won’t be coming true”)</em>, and a heartfelt, breathtaking chorus sung by Al Jardine, one of <em>No Pier Pressure</em>’s absolute highlights. An air of pensiveness also pervades <strong>The Last Song</strong>, which closes out the album on a sad note that lingers on after it has come to an end. To the sound of subtle piano, elegiac strings, and haunting harmony vocals, Brian Wilson sings: <em>“Don’t be sad / There was a time and place for what we had”.</em></p> <p>But it’s not all melancholic wistfulness. As befits any Brian Wilson/Beach Boys album, there’s no shortage of uplifting compositions –- the melodic sing-along Pop song <strong>The Right Time</strong>, the R&amp;B-inflected <strong>Our Special Love</strong>, the hopelessly romantic ballad <strong>One Kind Of Love</strong>, and the <em>Sloop John B</em>-inspired <strong>Sail Away</strong> -– even <strong>I’m Feeling Sad</strong> floats on a spirited, carefree melody. The breezy Tropicalia/Bossa Nova-lite of <strong>On The Island</strong> (with Indie duo She &amp; Him) has been pigeonholed as “featherlight, quaint” by some reviewers, but that’s sort of the point; it’s meant to evoke the feelings of a pleasant summer breeze and a long-gone time period. Others have stated that it doesn’t even sound anything like a Brian Wilson song, but, stylistically, it certainly has quite a bit in common with Wilson’s <em>Busy Doin’ Nothin</em>’ off The Beach Boys’ 1968 album <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/friends-the-beach-boys-album-review-volt-and-volume/" target="_blank"><em>Friends</em></a>. And the good vibrations don’t stop here. A sprightly banjo adds to the happy-go-lucky nature of <strong>Guess You Had To Be There</strong>, a charming and irresistibly catchy duet with Country songstress <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/same-trailer-different-park-kacey-musgraves-album-review/" target="_blank">Kacey Musgraves</a>, while <strong>Saturday Night</strong> features Nate Ruess (of Indie Pop band Fun.) as lead vocalist; interestingly, his voice sounds very much like a cross between much older singers Jon Anderson (of Prog Rock group <a href="http://volt-and-volume.com/artists/yes-progressive-rock-group-discography/" target="_blank">Yes</a>) and Pop/Soft Rock singer-songwriter Christopher Cross. Initially, the concept of <em>No Pier Pressure</em> was perceived as somewhat dubious, even “calculated”, and, subsequently, it generally garnered average reviews, but this is one album that seems destined to become much more appreciated in hindsight. <em>No Pier Pressure</em> is Brian Wilson's late-career highlight.</p> Fri, 30 Jan 2015 02:00:07 -0600 http://volt-and-volume.com/albums/no-pier-pressure-brian-wilson-review/