Welcome Stranger (Art Star)
In the hangar since 2011, Gerard Langley’s dusted off the props and recommisioned his Bristol indie art-rock outfit which, some 20 years ago, could count REM among their biggest fans. Six years has not, however, wrought any major rethinks in the design and, while long time fans will be happy to hear they’ll recognise the band they’ve long known, this return to service isn’t likely to win many new passengers.
Stately percussion and ringing, muscular guitars announce the return with the spoken intro to Looking For Xs on the Map before it erupts into a surging throwback to early Velvet Underground. There’s more staccato stabbing guitars and pounding drums kicking off Sweet Like Chocolate before the chiming sets in and it sounds, well, a bit like Velvet Underground actually. There’s not much variation in what follows, some numbers are slower and more deliberate than others, the mid-tempo steady plodding Retro Moon again not only sees Langley talking the lyrics, but also has a proper spoken passage midway as the keyboards swirl around. Actually, it’s better than it sounds. The same can be vaguely said for Dead Tree! Dead Tree!, where the ringing, circling guitars provide some compensation for the dreary lyrics and sluggish mid-section.
Langley hands over the vocal reins to Bec Jevons for the choppy Skin which, if nothing else, succeeds in making them not sound a bit like Blue Aeroplanes at all. Unfortunately, it makes them sound like some anonymous indie new wavers who might manage to get fifth billing on a 90s punk revival night somewhere.
This isn’t mean to be a negative review as such, indeed there’s much here that sounds great with the volume cranked up, the powerchord swaggering Iggy rifferry of Elvis Festival for example, while Here Is The Heart of All Wild Things introduces jazzy touches to its otherwise staple clunky thump and closing track Poetland serves reminder that the band’s influence could be heard when Jarvis Cocker decided to give up being art and selling nothing and become a pop band with intellectual clothes. At the end of the day, those who wanted them back will be glad, and strangers might wonder what the fuss was about.
THIEVES LIKE US
Thieves Like Us (Sea You)
Following a five-year recording hiatus, the Swedish-American electronica outfit return, core members Andy Grier and Bjorn Berglund now joined by a flesh and blood rhythm section in bassist Thomas Franklin and drummer Tore Knipping with Chris Wackow on guitars and Martine Duverglas, Mia Von Matt and Monika Martinez providing the backing vocals. Grier’s airy vocals remain the defining characteristic while the album mixes together the disposable clubby pop of Dani and the krautrock lite of e-Problems with musings on economics, militarisation and technology. They include a track titled Israel, though lyrics like “Israel cheat the tiger, may you rise and forgive the ones who took you” seem unlikely to make it on to any university politics course anytime soon. There’s touches of glam and disco wafting through things, but ultimately it’s all unmemorable, a few calories down from Metronomy or Hot Chip and certainly nothing like the early Human League it sometimes feels like its desperately trying to emulate.
THE PIGEON DETECTIVES
Broken Glances (Dance To The Radio)
Having burst on the scene with a vengeance back in 2007 when their debut album went top three, swiftly following it up with 2008’s top 5 Emergency, things quickly tailed off. Their third album peaked at #30 and the follow up didn’t even make the top 40. Clearly an overhaul was needed if things were going to continue. So, four years on and back on the Leeds independent label after parting company with Cooking Vinyl, the press release calls their latest ‘more eclectic’. Roughly translated, this seems to mean the band have lost a sense of their own identity and it’s impossible to listen to several of the tracks without thinking of other bands, Pet Shop Boys (Sounding The Alarm), New Order (Lose Control),Tears For Fears (Enemy Lines a close relative of Everybody Wants To Rule The World), for starters. This isn’t to say it’s a weak album, indeed things like the gently sad and softly chugging Postcards, the taut, brooding Wolves and sparse, melancholic piano ballad Falling In Love are very strong while Stay With Me and Change My World show they’ve not lost their catchy pop nous. Even so, while an initial flurry of sales can be expected, it’s hard to see this reversing the downward slippery slope.
People We Become (Chief)
Hailed as one of the UK’s finest soul and blues singers, Devon-born Harman returns with her sophomore album, again fusing southern soul with bluesy rock, as perfectly evidenced by album opener No One Left To Blame. She declares it as an attempt not to ride and popular waves but to root itself in classic, timeless songs and production. As such, it takes in everything from blues and soul to jazz, gospel and pop, offering Broadway break up balladry like Silhouettes of You and the Laurel Canyon tints of Changing of the Guard (where she sound a little like Janis Ian) alongside the percussive stomp, handclaps and rock guitar of The Reformation that suggests perhaps Queen influences, the soft, folksy shades of the acoustic Lend Me Your Love and the laid back late night blues that colour The Final Page. Elsewhere the funky groove of When We Were Young conjures thoughts of the Doobie Brothers, and not just because it features harmony from Michael McDonald.
It ends with the reflective six-minute electric piano ballad Lonely Like Me, a hushed intimate performance complemented by gospel style backing that underlines just how much more confident and assured she’s become in putting a song across. It won’t make her star, but it takes her a considerably long way further down that road.