This week: David Gray's Mutineers, Eno & Hyde - High Life, Strand of Oaks - Heal, Irish band The Harvest Ministers, and Arcade Fire
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
David Gray – Mutineers (Good Solider Songs)
The man responsible for the biggest selling album in Irish chart history (White Ladder, from 1998, has shifted 350,000 copies here to date) is back after a four-year hiatus.
Mutineers is his 10th album and offers a reminder of his superior singer-songwriter chops. Granted, there aren’t tracks here to rival the mass appeal of, say, ‘This Year’s Love’ but there’s a radio-friendly vein to several of these 10 tracks and the sort of depth that young pretenders like Ed Sheeran can’t hope to match. (Incidentally, Sheeran’s X – released last week – is already the biggest selling album in Ireland this year.)
Declaring himself to be “back in the world”, Mutineers is an album that seeks to find pleasure in the everyday and beauty in the commonplace. It’s the sound of a singer who seems sure of himself again and there’s something wonderfully unforced about songs like ‘Beautiful Agony’.
Gray is not afraid to experiment either, with ‘Girl Like You’ and ‘Gulls’ pushing the boundary way past troubadour-territory, but always staying on the right side of self-indulgence. The latter song, incidentally, is one of a handful that appear fixated with birds. (When I interviewed him some weeks back, he admitted to being something of a keen ornithologist – but don’t hold that against him.)
With great care taken to deliver lyrics that are both poetic and enigmatic and a willingness to fashion meticulously textured music, Gray is in his best form in years.
He plays the Westport Festival of Music and Food tomorrow evening.
Key tracks: ‘Beautiful Agony’; ‘Girl Like You’
Listen to single ‘Back in the World’ here...
I have three copies of Mutineers up for grabs. To win, simply email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the name of the album that David Gray released after White Ladder.
Eno and Hyde – High Life (Warp)
The hugely prolific Brian Eno returns with his second collaboration with Underworld’s Karl Hyde in a matter of months. Where their first outing (Someday World) was steeped in genre-hopping electronica, this is a more eclectic affair that incorporates everything from African rhythms to post-rock – and, although some versions weigh in at just six tracks, it is the more compelling of the two releases.
There’s magic to be found in the way Eno ‘treats’ Hyde’s guitar and the Underworld man is in his best form in years as he takes a very definite step out of his comfort zone with the help of his veteran collaborator. The fruits of their labour is typified by the intoxicating ‘DBF’.
For his part, Eno has had a fine recent run of music and while some won’t forgive him for his dalliances with the likes of Coldplay, he is still a significant figure to be reckoned with in 2014.
Key tracks: ‘DBF’; ‘Moulded Life’
Listen to single ‘DBF’ here: http://www.enohyde.com/
Strand of Oaks – Heal (Dead Oceans)
Philadelphia is enjoying its moment in the sun on the music front: The War on Drugs have released one of the great albums of the year; that band’s ex-member Kurt Vile is been in stunning form over the past few years; and, now, Tim Showalter has released an album under the Strand of Oaks moniker that is among the most exhilarating you’ll hear in 2014.
From the pulsating, anthemic rock of Goshen ’97 – which features Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis on guitar – to the gorgeous seven-minute tribute to the late musician, Jason Molia (JM), Showalter has delivered something very special.
Oh, and the title? Here’s its creator’s assessment in his own words: “It’s not a soft, gentle healing. It’s like scream therapy, a command, because I ripped out my subconscious, looked through it, and saw the worst parts. And that’s how I got better.” You’ll be glad to accompany him on a journey of discovery.
Key tracks: JM; Goshen ‘97
CLASSIC ALBUM REVISITED
Prince – Purple Rain (1984)
Released 30 years ago this week, the sixth album from Prince (and his crack band, The Revolution) was a bona fide sensation – going on to sell 20 million units and becoming one of the most defining albums of the 1980s: not bad for a soundtrack to a film that was almost universally panned.
With so many of today’s ‘stars’ trading on being just like you or I, Prince was (and remains) a larger than life creation who made escapist music to burn its way into your soul. And there’s something heightened and Technicolor’d about Purple Rain – from the unashamedly melodramic title track to magisterial tale of unrequited love on ‘The Beautiful Ones’.
The album is suffused with sexual longing too, not least on the sparkling ‘Darling Nikki’ – a song whose explicit lyics led arch-conservative Tipper Gore to found the Parents Music Resource Centre, which eventually led to those Parental Advisory stickers.
Listen to ‘Darling Nikki’ here...
The Dublin-based outfit The Harvest Ministers have been making music for quarter of a century years but, regrettably, remain something of a fringe attraction.
You Can See Everything From Here is a compilation album that collects some of their finest songs and offers an ideal starting point for wanting to investigate the songwriting prowess of Will Merriman.
Quite why The Harvest Ministers aren’t better known is anyone’s guess, but listen to the likes of ‘A River Wedding’ and know that it’s nothing to do with the quality of the songs.
GIG OF THE WEEK
Arcade Fire bring their latest masterwork, the double-album Reflektor to Dublin’s Marlay Park on Sunday night. The Canadian collective have put on some stunning Irish shows, not least a now legendary appearance at Electric Picnic in 2005, and they were in blistering for on The Suburbs tour in the O2, Dublin, a few years back. Get there early for support from Pixies, whose comeback album Indie Cindy got decidedly mixed reviews. Pixies also headline Cork’s Live at the Marquee on Monday.
Thanks to those nice people at Aiken Promotions, I have a pair of tickets to giveaway for The Prodigy’s Live at the Marquee show in Cork on Wednesday night. To be in with a chance of seeing the irrepressible Keith Flint and friends put on a blistering party by the banks of the Lee email me with the answer to the following question: In what year did The Prodigy release their big-selling Music for the Jilted Generation album?
Here’s the Prodigy in ‘Firestarter’ mode...