Album review: The Nico Blues | Blame The Boredom, Blame The Basements

4/5 | Download it at: The Nico Blues

It’s there in the fuzzed up riff of album opener, Three’s A Crowd. It’s definitely there in the searing vocals of singer Eric Goldberg and his counterpart Evan Campbell. It’s there, too, in the reverb soaked anthemic final cut, Adjust Accordingly.

In fact, the whole of new album from The Nico Blues is run through with it: alternative rock pedigree.

These five from North Jersey may be based on the east coast, but their sound is likely to take you straight back to the west coast at the height of the alternative explosion. At one point during Unprofessional, I could have sworn that I was listening to The Pixies had they spent more time channeling the ghost of Alex Chilton. Folk Song #2 had me contemplating a holy alliance between the lyrical dexterity of Stephen Malkmus and the melodic chops of Teenage Fanclub.

But let’s not get too carried away and give the impression that we think Blame The Boredom… is some sort of pastiche; a one-dimensional throwback with a surfeit of style over substance. Let’s be plain: you can’t write songs this good if you don’t care wholeheartedly about your craft.

The minor chord progression of Exit 6, with it’s finger-picked filigree, care-worn vocal and tale of a woman that made a lasting impression is a delight. If anything, it’s a shame that it’s over in just two short minutes. But somehow it’s all the more memorable as a result. Fleeting, but oh so perfectly formed.

Skylar Adler’s booming drum pattern that kicks off Story With a Purpose builds into a mid-pace groove with an impassioned vocal and gutteral guitar thrum that will have you wanting to lope around the room, arms aloft, losing yourself in the music. That is, of course, just before the punky thrash of Don’t Forget to Breathe drags you kicking and screaming back to the now to work yourself up into a sweaty, pogoing frenzy.

And then, oh. The afforementioned Adjust Accordingly. It’s special. The kind of beautifully melodic fuzz-box guitar that reminds you of blissful summers as a teenager, saving your hard earned bucks to buy the latest Smashing Pumpkins album at your local record store. The vocal harmonies fill your heart. And then just when you think you can’t take any more comes the harmonic, chiming, impassioned howl of a guitar solo. If you don’t want to cry tears of joy at this point, then your soul is – I’m afraid to say – beyond saving. The whole track is over in three minutes. But it feels epic.

A melodic, memorable, triumph, I’ll blame the boredom and the basements until the cows come home as long as The Nico Blues make music this good.

Live review: The Hold Steady | Manchester Academy, 10/12/08

THSMAIs Craig Finn the most energetic and enthusiastic thirty-something front man in rock? Last night’s gig at Manchester Academy suggested as much. Flailing, bouncing, jiterring, jumping and ocasionally mincing around the stage, spewing forth literary lyrics like his life depended on it, rock n roll showmanship like his hasn’t been seen since the mid-seventies on America’s New Jersey shore.

If guitarist Tad Kubler was feeling any ill effects following his hospitalisation earlier in the year for pancreatities, he wasn’t showing it. The blistering guitar solo that rounded out Lord, I’m Discouraged was a crowd pleasing slab of ‘rawk’ that had the fanatical audience baying for more.

An hour and forty-five minutes later, after a show that encompassed a majority of this year’s Stay Positive, the most well known tunes from last year’s Boys and Girls in America, and a couple of story’s about Holly and Charlemagne from first two albums The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday, the faithful of Manchester left having been reminded by Finn of the joys of rock n roll and the fact that the band, the crowd – and even the pink gorilla that stormed the stage during the encore – are all a part of the musical commune that is The Hold Steady.

Since The Hold Steady were last in the UK, America have elected a new President. On the back of the positive power of their dedication to the cause of rock n roll, and Finn’s acknowledgement towards the close of the show that the band were glad to welcome Barack Obama to office, it seems that the President-elect would do well to declare The Hold Steady America’s first band. But then ‘rock n roll means well….’ and The Hold Steady would do well to remain faithful first and foremost to their music.

Album review: Animal Collective | Merriweather Post Pavilion

5/5 | Find it at: The Skin Back Alley Music Store

I’ve been trying to think of something coherent to say about the Animal Collective album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. It’s difficult to write about because it feels uncategorisable and, for that very reason, challenging.

I suppose it was almost inevitable that, whilst thinking about the music, I would think of other artists that might be comparable and that would help me to capture the sound in words. The difficulty here is that it seems possible to pick out similarities – even if they are only fleeting – to a great many and varied other performers. But how do you bring that broad spectrum into a coherent whole?

The word that feels as though it has cropped up in my thinking more than any other is ‘impression.’ I find impressions of a great many things in the music, elements that do, after repeated listening, start to build into a picture of an ecstatic reverie. The album feels ‘impressionistic’ in the same sense as the impressionist movement in painting. The brush strokes of the music are broad, visible and bright, but with changing qualities of light, movement and angle that capture something beautiful about human perception and experience.

MPP’s use of repetition, and the songs’ tendencies to build to a euphoric crescendo, all make it seem as though you are bathing in a natural, musical high. This is dance music, Jim, but not as we know it. “If I could just leave my body for a night….” sings Avey Tare, “…the ectasy turns to rising light.” If this is dance music, you would have to acknowledge that it’s at the glow-stick end of the spectrum.

So it is with all this in mind that I am coining MPP as the first ‘Impressionist Rave’ album. It is also a significant achievement and may, in time, come to be revered as a landmark. Just as, in the old musical world, Nirvana took elements of pop, hardcore and alternative and fashioned a grungy murk that blew music apart, so might Animal Collective have been the inspiration for a new, vibrant, transcendent act that would restructure the musical landscape.

As it is, I suspect that Pavilion will remain a beacon around which a discerning segment of music lovers will congregate, the old musical landscape having been worn away with the passing of time and the scattering of the musical tribes. Nevertheless, the album deserves to be heard for it’s bold creativity, restless energy and euphoric influence.