(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket

Alex G

Alexander Giannascoli (Alex G) burst onto the scene in 2014 following the release of his critically acclaimed self-released album “DUS”. Since his rise to cult fame, Alex G (also known as ‘(Sandy) Alex G’) has released two albums: ‘Beach Music’, and now ‘Rocket’.

Alex G’s official recording title, ‘(Sandy) Alex G’ is a result of a recent trademark. In December 2015, a Youtube musician trademarked the name and since, Giannascoli has adopted his typical online tag ‘Sandy’, now choosing to introduce himself as a combination of his two previous names.

Giannascoli’s worked is frequently characterized as lo-fi indie rock. Part of the reason for Giannascoli’s lo-fi recording style was almost certainly a lack of resources. Preceding his feature in many magazines’ ‘Best Album of 2014’ (including Vogue and Timeout), Alex G was releasing records on Bandcamp. His scope for high-end recording was severely limited. Just as Daniel Johnston was recording on cassette tapes, Alex G was recording and mixing on his laptop. Hence, it’s no surprise that Alex G’s latest album, ‘Rocket’ is his most technologically sophisticated thus far.

No longer recording solely on a copy of ‘Garage Band 6’, Alex G manages to mix his usual guitar style of off-beat strumming and mismatched melodies with a larger production. Introducing new instruments such as a banjo and a violin (or fiddle, perhaps?) on tracks such as ‘Bobby’, Alex G introduces a new dynamic to his music: no longer sounding like home recordings, Alex G hauls his music out of the internet scene and onto the professional music stage.

Recent reviews of Giannascoli’s work have varied in opinion. Whilst the Guardian dubs it “disappointing”, Pitchfork have given it a massive score of 8.4. This disagreement in understandable. Rocket’s track listing at first comes off as disjointed, with an odd switch from G’s usual indie style into an almost Primal Scream-esque deep house track in ‘Brick’ and then, a few tracks later, into the uncharted territory of country-folk with ‘Powerful Man’. An unusual progression for any musician, Alex G has taken a big risk experimenting so heavily on just his second professional released album. Reluctantly, though, I would have to agree with Pitchfork on their review of this release: Alex G has produced his best album with ‘Rocket’, and the experimentation is a significant factor in this success.

Switching of styles was vital in this album. Whilst Alex G is most at home producing his trademark indie-rock tracks, he runs the risk of producing an album of tracks indistinguishable from one another, as seen with artists such as Frankie Cosmos, or Mathew E White. ‘Brickis a perfect interlude to his usual style, and his success in producing such a track is an ode to his ability.  Similarly, a subtle shift in style between the likes of ‘Powerful Man’ and ‘Alina‘, from indie-rock to country-folk is enough to minimize the similarities in successive tracks. The best tracks on the albums are those written in classic Giannascoli style, but their impact is assisted greatly by the introduction of new, novel, alternative styles on other tracks.

‘Sportstar’ sits in the middle of the listing, and succeeds in standing out the most, without being the best. Relying heavily on auto-tune, Alex G’s voice is transformed into what sounds like a completely new person. Accompanied by smooth guitar solos and a simple but catchy piano riff, the track manages to reclaim auto-tone from the mainstream charts musician and change it from a tool used to mask poor singing ability, into a musical technique in itself.

Whilst ‘Proud’ is most probably the best track on the album, and ‘Sportstar’ is the most notable track, a special mention should be given to the closing song: ‘Guilty’. Recorded with multi-layered voice, making it sound like a group choir performance at the end of a show, ‘Guilty’ is a feel-good track which allows the listener to forget the confusion felt with the track listing (on first listen – the confusion lessens with each listen) and leaves a positive impression. If anything proves that Domino and Alex G aren’t incredibly naive when it comes to track listings after the earlier order, this is it.

Artist: (Sandy) Alex G
Label: Domino Recording Company
Release date: May 19, 2017
Tracks: 14
Play time: 41 mins
Standout track: Proud
Rating: ★★★★☆

RECOMMENDATIONS – Laura Marling: Semper Femina

Marling

Semper Femina – roughly translated from Latin to mean “woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing.” – is a phrase lifted from ancient poet Virgil. In the hands of some, the references made in Marling’s new album would seem pretentious, but Marling’s confidence, style and image makes the album both intellectually and musically intriguing.

A study into womanhood and female relationships, Marling’s Semper Femina adopts an approach to relationships rarely found in music. Drifting from the typical topic of heterosexual romantic relationships, Marling delves into both platonic and romantic intra-sexual relationships, as well as developing an underlying theme of introspection.

Marling’s success in the folk scene can be attributed to her seeming self-assurance on all her releases. Each album gives off the impression that Marling understands where her ability lies, and uses this ability to its full extent. Nonetheless, Marling isn’t like this. A few years ago, Marling gave up music and became a yoga teacher in America. There, she says, she felt she had no identity. Depressive and lost, Marling’s hiatus was a difficult time. Hence, with the release of Semper Femina, the self-exploration is authentic, and the feelings discussed real. Unlike many in the current folk scene, Marling doesn’t have to develop a character, or fabricate struggles to produce interesting work. Just as Townes Van Zandt’s lyrics were genuine, so are Marling’s. The authenticity in her latest work makes Semper Femina an oddity in the modern folk scene.

Simple acoustic finger-picking accompanies Marling’s voice on many of the tracks to great effect. Other tracks, such as ‘Soothing’ illustrate the dynamism of the folk singer. Adopting two bass guitar tracks and a much heavier orchestration, Marling’s best track on the album is perfectly mixed and perfectly sung. ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ again marks a move away from her usual acoustic folk style. Mildly distorted and heavily altered guitar plays over a preset drum track (later developing into live drums) to produce a low-tempo track which possesses no frills, but still remains in the listeners mind five tracks on.

There is a reason why Laura Marling has progressed to the heights she is currently at, and others have been left behind in the London ‘Nu-Folk’ (as somebody thought it should be dubbed – unfortunately). Producing albums which portray musical confidence in the midst of confused introspection leaves a mark of authenticity which is lost recently in the discography of many current artists. Not yet falling foul to the trap of commercialism, Marling’s Semper Femina is worth a listen – or ten.

Artist: Laura Marling
Label: Kobalt Music Group
Release date: March 10, 2017
Tracks: 9
Play time: 42 mins
Standout track: Soothing
Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

Slowdive: Slowdive

Slowdive

Slowdive’s latest album – and their first in 22 years – is interesting, though oddly difficult to review. Written after reforming in 2014 for a series of festival tours, ‘Slowdiveis standard of the band’s style: often described as shoegaze. In fact, to an unwitting listener, there would be little hint of a 22 year gap between albums at all.

Influenced by the likes of Pink Floyd, Slowdive have drawn on their ‘dream-pop’ style since their formation in the 1980’s. Also cited as inspiration by main songwriter Halstead are ‘The Velvet Underground‘, and ‘Pixies‘. However, a possible result of the band’s break was the introduction of new influences on Halstead’s songwriting. Opening the album with ‘Slomo’ the track has a very ‘Plastic Beach’ (Gorillaz) feel about it. In particular, the bass-line is reminiscent of the virtual band’s ‘On Melancholy Hill’. There also seems to have been a delayed influence on Halstead by ‘The Stone Roses‘, with track two (‘Star Roving’) sounding like a song that should have been on the rock band’s classic self-titled 1989 album.

‘Slowdive’ contains fewer tracks than many recent albums, with just eight individual titles. Nonetheless, the album clocks in at around the standard play time at just under 50 minutes. Clearly not made for the radio, the albums shortest track is just under four and a half minutes. Nonetheless, they don’t seem to play for too long. This can most probably be attributed to the lack of lengthy instrumentals and clear song development – not always easy to achieve in this genre.

Whilst ‘Sugar for the Pill’, their early single release from the album, is probably the most notable track on the album, the closing song ‘Falling Ashes’ deserves an honorable mention. Markedly slower than the rest of the album, Falling Ashes sounds like the shoegaze band have lifted the piano from John Murphy’s ‘In the House – In a Heartbeat’ and transformed it from a film instrumental into a great alternative music track.

Slowdive fans would surely have been worried about the prospect of a disappointing comeback album (Pixies’ ‘Indie Cindy’ is probably the most recent instance of this) on the run up to release. However, the band have done a good job with their latest album. Maintaining their standard sound, but subtly incorporating influences from more recent albums, their new release reminiscent is of their work in the 90’s but manages to blend seamlessly with the current alternative music scene. A solid album, the though lacking consistency in great – rather than good – tracks, ‘Slowdive’ most probably fits the three star category.

Artist: Slowdive
Label: Dead Oceans
Release date: May 5, 2017
Tracks: 8
Play time: 46 mins
Standout track: Sugar for the Pill
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Miracle Legion: Annulment (Live) (A short review)

Miracle Legion Live

This review of Miracle Legion‘s ‘Annulment’ is the third and final review of the Mark Mulcahy themed weekend. Preceding this article, came a review of Mulcahy’s new album: ‘The Possum in the Driveway’, and Miracle Legion’s final studio album before their split in the late 90’s: ‘Portrait of a Damaged Family’. If you wish to read these articles, which provide insight into Mulcahy and Miracle Legion respectively, then click the hyperlinks attached to the album titles.

Once again, I am late to the party on this album. Released just over a month ago, on the 7th of April, ‘Annulment’ is the first live album from the band from New Haven. Compiled from performances from last years tour, which followed the announcement of their reformation, the album contains a massive 25 tracks, and lasts an hour and 45 minutes. Despite being a lengthy release, it contains very few fillers, and incorporates all of their most popular tracks, plus introducing a few lesser known songs into the mix with good effect.

One  question raised by the release of a live Miracle Legion album, however, is: ‘how can a rock band like Miracle Legion increase the energy of their tracks in their live performances?’ The answer is: they mostly can’t. Those familiar with Miracle Legion‘s studio albums will note that their work is characteristically energetic by nature. This makes them hard to top. Mulcahy does, however, find a few ways to inject new energy into the show. Tracks where the harmonica is used – such as ‘Old and New’ and ‘Mr. Mingo’ – show a notable shift in energy, and are better for it. Other techniques, such as harmonizing, and call and effect work well at times.

There is definitely a case to be made for a DVD in any subsequent live release. Watching Miracle Legion perform at Green Man last year, Mulcahy’s dancing was strange, but it added a lot to the performance. Foot stomping and small leaps introduced an energy into the music which is lost on ‘Annulment’. Those who haven’t yet seen Mulcahy in action, see below for a video, though, for authenticity you will have to imagine him with a Robert Wyatt style beard.

Still, the album is a great listen. Lead guitarist Neal, and Mulcahy demonstrate the strength of their partnership, with the two working together well. The same can be said for all of the band members, however. Though only recent additions to Miracle Legion, the drummer and bassist play solid and well rehearsed sets, which make them almost indistinguishable from the original members. Certain tracks seemed to have benefited from the band’s reshuffle. A few tracks, though most notably ‘Snacks and Candy’ and ‘Ladies from Town’ differ from and outdo their studio counterparts.

‘Ladies from Town’ is far and away the best track on the album. Played at a high tempo, and allowing the bass drum more of a role than in other tracks, there is a much rawer feel to the performance. Whilst the whole album is worth a listen, this song is more than worth the four minutes –  you won’t regret it.

Other tracks worthy of a mention are ‘Homer’, ‘Screamin’‘Old and New’, ‘All for the Best’, and ‘Gigantic Transatlantic Trunk Call’ (an unexpected addition to the album which is different in style to most tracks on the album,  though just as good).

Artist: Miracle Legion
Label: Mezzotint
Release date: April 7, 2017
Tracks: 25
Play time: 105 mins
Standout track: Ladies from Town (Live)
Rating: ★★★☆☆

RECOMMENDATIONS – Miracle Legion: Portrait of a Damaged Family

Miracle Legion Portrait

This article is second in three part series on Miracle Legion/Mark Mulcahy. For article one, which provides background information on front-man Mark Mulcahy, click here.

Released and re-issued on Mulcahy’s very own record label, Mezzotint, Portrait of a Damaged Family is the fourth and last (insofar) full-length studio album of the cult rock band Miracle Legion. Formed in Connecticut in 1983, they’ve since earned moderate fame in their home New Haven, but also internationally. Never breaking into mainstream fame, their records have nonetheless boasted college-rock hit status. Miracle Legion‘s best known releases include their first EP, The Backyard’; first full length album, ‘Surprise Suprise’; and their latest LP: the subject of this post, ‘Portrait of a Damaged Family’.

Across the years, band members have left and joined, with Mulcahy and lead guitarist Ray Neal being the only surviving original members. The duo have experienced series of set-backs across their career. Firstly, half the band leaving left them with what was potentially a band-ending situation. However, they chose to continue, touring as a duo, a set-up which worked well for them (see below). From 1993, they were left in limbo as a result of legal issues with their (now debunked) record label Morgan Creek. These issues forced a four year quasi-hiatus, where the band was still in existence, but unable to release.


‘Portrait of a Damaged Family’ 
was reissued following the reformation of the band (with new members) in 2016. The reissue saw the track listing shuffled, and the inclusion of a new track, entitled ‘The Depot’. A folk/college rock hybrid, the album is standard of Mulcahy’s preferred style, mixing rhythm guitar with simple drum tracks to produce songs which are both catchy, and easy to listen to. The lack of extensive orchestration often allows the finger-picking of the guitars to take centre stage. Mulcahy’s voice is rarely strained, and this helps add to the easy accessibility of the record.

The album is a treasure trove of great songs, with only a couple of tracks (including ‘Good for Her’) failing to live up to the overall high quality of the album. Standout tracks include the opening track: ‘You’re My Blessing’, as well as ‘Homer’, ‘I Wish I was Danny Kaye’ (An American actor from the mid-20th century), and ‘Madison Park’. When you are unable to list all the good tracks from an album on an already overly-extensive list, it is a clear sign that the album is of the utmost quality.

Not picked up by many of the mainstream music sites, Miracle Legion‘s reissue was one of the best releases of 2016. Accessible, catchy, and worthy of greater appreciation, ‘Portrait of a Damaged Family’ is an album you shouldn’t let pass you by for any longer.

Artist: Miracle Legion
Label: Mezzotint
Release date: 1997  (Reissue: April 16, 2016)
Tracks: 15
Play time: 53
Standout track: Screamin’
Rating:  ★★★★☆

Mark Mulcahy: The Possum in the Driveway

mark-mulcahy

Kicking off a Mark Mulcahy themed weekend of reviews, I begin with my scheduled new album review. This time, I plan to review an album whose release date was a fortnight ago on the day of publication. This is quite late for my page, but if anybody deserves a late mention, it’s the ever unappreciated Mark Mulcahy.

Best known as the front-man for Connecticut based band ‘Miracle Legion‘ Mark Mulcahy boasts a music career spanning over four decades. Outlasting his band in the industry, when Miracle Legion  split in the mid-1990s (though reformed – more detail to come in subsequent posts), Mulcahy has existed under the radar for years releasing a new album every few years.

Mulcahy’s new album: “The Possum in the Driveway’ came four years after his previous release, and therefore we expected something big. Sadly, what we got was no more than an average production: generally okay with flashes of brilliance, but nothing to rave about. This is a shame. Mulcahy looked sure to fulfill expectations, with the reformation of Miracle Legion proving a hit at smaller folk festivals such as Green Man.

‘The Possum in the Driveway’ (Possum) can be given some credit for being completed at all, however. Mulcahy and his entourage were forced to record in multiple studios, traipsing back and forth, following an accident in their first studio: it burned down. Mulcahy said “The record took years off [his] life to make” . Maybe we should give Mulcahy credit, first and foremost, for seeing this project through at all.

Opening with a slow-ballad, reminiscent in style of Paul Simon’s ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ (song, not album), Mulcahy seems to come agonizingly close to a single of the same calibre as  Simon’s classic, but falls short. Where exactly this shortcoming can be found within the song, one can’t say, but it disappoints given its clear potential. A bad start.

This disappointment is followed up by disinterest. The album’s second track is solid, with a strong bass-line, but doesn’t do enough to lift spirits after the opener. It is only when we arrive at the third track in the album, ‘I Am the Number 13′, that we begin to hear work worthy of the alt-rock musician. Markedly switching away from Mulcahy’s usual music style, he chooses this time – as is the case for the whole of Possum – to ditch the resonator-sounding guitars, and instead opts for bigger orchestration. The inclusion of trumpets give the album an unusual twist, and in track three, it works to perfection. Whilst the previous tracks failed to mix sufficiently to give the feeling of growth and layering, I Am the Number 13 is effective; it’s orchestration this time hitting the nail on the head. A slightly Latin feel to the whole production, I Am the Number 13
combines harmonising vocals, rhythm guitar and an understated but effective baseline to produce a song of magnificent quality. One of Mulcahy’s best solo productions: I Am the Number 13 deserves to live on in the minds of listeners, even if the album as a whole is more or less forgotten.

This likely to-be-forgotten classic is followed up by another solid track: ‘Catching Mice’. Unlike with track two, the preceding tracks ensures suitable appreciation of Mulcahy’s work. Catching Mice is an unusual song, which has an almost child-like feel to the lyrics and theme. This is oddly disorientating, but nonetheless, the track can be appreciated for what it is: good, but not great.

This theme continues for the majority of the album. No songs blow your socks off, but you aren’t too disappointed. ‘The Fiddler’ sounds oddly familiar, but what it could be likened to is unclear: a bit like a Foxygen single. ‘Hollywood Never Forgives’ is an outlier in the album, with a quicker paced tempo. It is clear in this track that Mulcahy in experimenting with his new orchestral style, giving it an unusual charm not afforded to experienced musicians in this style. ‘Jimmy’ has a distinct Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe feel to it and, equally, ‘Geraldine’ sounds like a Robert Wyatt single (perhaps better suited to Wyatt’s vocals too). Both tracks live up to the ‘solid’ mark, but following two mediocre tracks, they lack impressiveness. A theme throughout the whole album is clearly the devaluation of decent tracks by disappointing fillers. An argument could definitely be made for cutting at least four tracks off the album, which would have left Mulcahy with a short, but very good release.

Overall, Possum is like many of the album I review. It has good songs, but it lacks the track consistency of a noteworthy album. As stated before, if you listen to just one track in the album, it would be far and above ‘I Am the Number 13’. Impressive as a single, it is a testament to the ability of the under-appreciated Mark Mulcahy.

Artist: Mark Mulcahy
Label: Mezzotint
Release date: April 28, 2017
Tracks: 11
Play time: 42 mins
Standout track: I Am the Number 13
Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

Super Furry Animals: Where to start

SFA cropped.png

Psychedelic rock band Super Furry Animals (SFA) could put in a convincing bid for the title of ‘best Welsh band’ (though possibly challenged by Manic Street Preachers and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci). Across three decades, they have maintained a large following, frequently headlining festivals in the UK, and touring tirelessly with up-and-coming Welsh support acts. This article serves to introduce new listeners to the band, picking out their best tracks from each album, and getting rid of the filler.

“But didn’t the band release a best of album just last year?” Yes, they did. However, this album contains almost 40 tracks, clocking in at two hours and 35 minutes. For a new listener, the sheer length of this release could be off-putting: who wants to spend over two hours of their life listening to a band they’re not sure on, when they can be listening to one of their favourites? This is where the playlist below comes into its own. Containing 25 tracks, and taking just an hour and a half to listen start-to-finish, this playlist serves as a more appealing introduction to the band.

Whilst producing this playlist, I tried to ensure the tracks were not too similar as to avoid the playlist merging into one continuous rock song. As a result, you will find tracks within the playlist that the official best of album chose to ignore. This is not to say that these tracks are inferior, but rather they tend to be excluded from live shows, and hence, they are less popular. As was the case with the Eels playlist, the songs are listed in chronological order, with one exception: ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ is placed as the final track, despite featuring on their very first album. This is to give the playlist authenticity. SFA have always closed with this track (combined with full sized furry animals suits), and hence, it only made to sense to close the playlist with this song, that once held the title of ‘most frequent use of the word ‘fuck’ in a single song’.

Once again, it seemed intuitive to provide you with a taste of their live music as well as their studio albums. Whilst their studio albums are good, they don’t give you an insight into their performances, which are both brilliant and unique. Hence, below I have attached a performance of their latest single “Bing Bong” which I chose not to include in the playlist. This performance last year at Pitchfork Festival shows their standard attire, but also their tendency to sing in Welsh. Gruff Rhys, lead singer of the band, is a vocal activist for the maintenance of the Welsh language, which is slowly dying out. Their commitment to the cause is a testament to their values, and has facilitated the release of many great welsh-language tracks.

I hope you enjoy, and thanks for visiting.

This post has been written in response to recent communication with an account titled ‘a1000mistakes’. Clicking here will take you to his page, where you will find a selection of music articles, written in a unique style.