Saturday, May 31, 2014

Arctic Monkeys – AM (2013)

I chose to write my review about this album, because it practically restored my faith into humanity and to good music being still made. I discovered this album in November, last year – in that time I really was disappointed what was considered good music - having almost lost all hope of hearing something new that wouldn’t make my ears hurt. Fortunately I found this amazing album on „Elu 24“ (why I was there, I don’t want to know). Arctic Monkeys wasn’t completely new to me back then, I had listened to some of their songs from the album „Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007)“. I however can’t say I had enjoyed them as much before, as I do now thanks to „AM“. Nevertheless  I gave „AM“  a try and listened to „Arabella“ firstly, a game changer for me… . Well the album on „Elu 24“ was however brought up because of the music video, where one could see a fair share of naked boobs.
But now about the band. Arctic Monkeys is an English indie rock band going back to 2002. Alex Turner (lead vocals, guitar), Jamie Cook (lead guitar, rhythm), Nick O’Malley (bass guitar, backing vocals), Matt Helders (drums, backing vocals) and former member Andy Nicholson (bass guitar, backing vocals) came together in Sheffield  after meeting at Stocksbridge High School. They have so far released five studio albums“ “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” (2006), “Favourite Worst Nightmare” (2007), “Humbug” (2009), “Suck It and See” (2011) and “AM” (2013), all of which debuted at #1 on the UK Albums Chart. 
AM” features the following singles: “R U Mine?”, “Do I Wanna Know?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”. It also features guest appearances by Josh Homme, Bill Ryder-Jones and Pete Thomas. It was produced by James Ford and co-produced by Ross Orton at Sage & Sound Recording in Los Angeles and Rancho De La Luna in Joshua Tree, California“.
Having listened to their previous albums I can say that „AM“ shows a whole new side of the Arctic Monkeys, one can hear them getting more mature and understanding what they want to do and how to do it properly. This record is beyond doubt the best of their career. I liked a point Mike Williams brought out in his review – he said that this album is a cornerstone, not the peak of their career, that is still to come, from here they will only get better. The release of this album marks the point where they will no longer be defined by a genre, but they will be seen as artists. Before one would/could categorize them as an Indie-rock/rock/indie band, but no more. What they did here was pure genius – 41minutes and 57 seconds of it really.
The brains behind the album was mostly Alex Turner. Let me quote Mike Williams once more: “And the lyrics… oh, maaaan. At times they sound like they were written by a man with a burning hard-on who wants – or rather needs – to savagely fuck your body, mind and soul”. They are that good, they really are. Already back in 2011 while listening to the soundtrack from the movie „Submarine (2011)“ Turner revealed his genius. This guy just keeps getting better and better. Can’t wait to hear what he will come up in 10 years. And it’s not just the ability to write music, he’s also the leading vocalist in Arctic Monkeys. He’s unique voice and charming accent make it a perfect combo.
As said before, it’s quite amazing how much they have matured in their music since their first album, it is a whole new cognation/feel, a brand new and much improved Arctic Monkeys. They sound just so maddeningly brilliant.
While listening to them – the structure of a song is near perfection, it isn’t loaded with unnecessary embellishments. The steady beat (from hand clapping and tambourine) with the help of some drums and guitars added to the leading vocals of Alex Turner makes them unstoppable. Just listen to “Do I want to know” – the intro of a smooth beat which soon is joined by a guitar tune is enough to charm even the most emotionless bastard. But Alex Turner, damn that voice, it brings back memories from the time music was still music. The vocals are bittersweet, but smooth as honey. His voice is almost hypnotic, taking the listeners back in time. The music video of “Arabella” characterizes the change Arctic Monkeys have gone through. In addition to the fact that they sound unique and awesome, the video doubles everything. It’s just so rebel, the black-and-white theme adds an extra vehement touch. It reminds me of the times when true rock was valued, a time I value and dearly miss. The music and the video of “Arabella” reeks of smoke, sultry – it’s vigorous and firm. It’s a reminder to all those mellow pop icons of how it is really done, and what it should feel and taste like. It’s bittersweet and thoroughbred sound.
However, the entire album is, to me, concentrated around romance – Alex Turner seems to be a hopeless romantic living in a not so romantic world. “AM” goes beyond seemingly innocent flirting, dancing closely at some den-of-a-club, bad decisions after drinking too much and the acrimony in the morning to come. The essence of the album is almost too well stated in “R U Mine?”  the lyrics go: “are you mine tomorrow, or just mine tonight?”  It’s about sex and love and passion filled with boiling emotions. This album is a whole, which must be listened to from the beginning to the end, shuffle at least for me, ruins it.
AM” also strikes with diversity – songs are different, they do not feel heard or start repeating themselves. The creativity and variability is stunning. The album just won’t let the tension drop for a second. The audience is always excited and waiting for what’s to come. When “Arabella” strikes with sultriness and its utterly amazing riotous sound/lyrics, “No.1 Party Anthem & Mad Sounds“  take down the pace and show a peaceful side of Alex Turner. I dare to say that the soundtrack of „Submarine“  is quite close to these two. They are mild, smooth and beautiful to listen.  One for the road“ feels rather sour and with its „ooh-oooohs“ reminds of their past taking us back to the album “Humbug”. So it feels that each song offers something new, yet the album remains a complete set.

AM” is a fresh and exciting album featuring brilliant lyrics and incredible sound. It’s a stepping-stone for the Arctic Monkeys. The album has depth, balls to experiment summing up to an utterly satisfying record. I would like to end with a quote from another review – “there is something very special about this album. It’s that rare thing, a record that defies normal music adjectives like sweet or happy or eerie or sad. They’re still bittersweet, still lusty, but also lithe and suave and slinky and sexy and dark and intoxicating. If AM was a hairstyle, it would be messy. If AM was an item of clothing, it would be studded leather shorts. If AM were a photo, it’s of a girl with messy hair and studded leather shorts with her hands by her side, legs open, maybe mid-walk“.
Oh yeah, and if you have heard the „Bacardi rum“ commercial from TV3 and were wondering why it was so seductive and good sounding – well it’s because of the fact that „Do I Wanna Know“ is playing in the background! 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Elaiza – Gallery

The first time I heard Elaiza was when their song „Is it right“ was on MTVs top songs. Then I found out that the same song was going to represent Germany in Eurovision Song Contest 2014. Elaiza did quite okay in Denmark and won 18th place with 39 points. But already before Eurovison Elaiza released their first album with 12 songs (in March 2014). The band was created in 2013 and consist of the singer Elżbieta "Ela" Steinmetz who also plays piano, Yvonne Grünwald- accordion, Glockenspiel and backings and Natalie Plöger- string bass and backings. Their music is a mix of folk, indie and pop.
I guess it is right to start with Elaiza´s most popular song “Is it right” which represented Germany. It caught my attention right away. Its melody is catchy and enthralling. But it is a song that gets annoying too soon, I would not want to listen to it more than once in a row. It was better than many songs in Eurovision but I would have chosen some other song from their repertory to compete with others. If you listen to other songs from their album it does not get so tedious as fast as it does with “Is it right” and regarding the lyrics – well, the song has no depth, central idea or flow – it is just a mind-blowing ~3 min. repetition of “is it right?”, right? Or is it wrong? 

However, it’s not that bad really – the album is bearable-listenable even to a “rockaholic”. Not all of their work is music that consists of three words, a beat and accordion in the background -  if one were to listen all of their songs, different sides of their music would start to stick out. I would even dare to say that the Eurovision song is an exception and their work is roughly divided to two. Music that is close to pop (Indie-pop) and music that is comparable to ballads (manipulated by pop etc.). Since she is Slavic origin it has left a mark on her music. When listening to her album I inevitably drew parallels to similar artists. I don’t know if it’s just me…, but the singer reminds me of Pink – so she is the German Pink to me, she has as strong voice as Pink does, but her music is a bit more calm. I somehow also manage to draw parallels between her and Beth Hart. I would like to see/hear Ela try something similar to Beth’s style (rock, blues-rock etc.). Ela’s voice is a little softer and purer, so it would be interesting to hear, how she would sound.
Elaiza´s indie-pop side is flowing and light, its vocals support their cause. However, in some songs the lyrics are, at some point, strange and the songs lack of integrity. The good correlation of lyrics and melody in some songs is broken by random stuff (sentences and lyrics that just don’t fit, they don’t) – it ruins the song. You just can’t sacrifice the direction of the song to make room for a good refrain etc. To me it feels somehow like from the show “Palume lavale”, when they sing at the end, and the part of the refrain comes and they just forget about the theme they were doing and start singing random stuff – but hey, it sounds good, right. And Elaiza does sound good, Ela´s vocal, she could do so much more. I would like to hear rock/indie rock/blues rock etc. in her repertory. Something that could distinguish her, where she could do something deeper and emotional.                                           
She has commented that lyrics in her songs have a deeper meaning, they are about her family, relationships and love.  But for a listener these songs seem quite superficial and simple. The album does not shine, but gives something for every taste.
Now more about Elaiza´s songs about which I said before can be divided into two broader group. First about the songs that have more rhythm in them. There is a nice melody in “Fight against myself”, a song tells a story about the struggle of finding herself. “I don´t love you” makes me feel mixed. She sings how “I don´t love you, I was only into your character”, but the brass instrument sound in the back makes it sound very sarcastic and funny. Or is it just a joke? What I really like from the bunch of rhythmic songs is “Green”, because it is so positive, lively and happy. No trace of sarcasm is felt in there. “Lemonade” is kind of a funny song. Its music is like a mix of Turkish and Greek folk but turns into a pop song in the refrain. Maybe this would have been a better choice for the Eurovision, we hear similar songs each and every year and they still get their votes. It´s absolutely different from other songs on this album. “Cinderella” is another catchy song which I could listen to more than just once. It’s pretty seductive and could very well be a hit in radio, so Star Fm etc. could play it 24/7, like they do with every new song. 

And the other part of Elaiza´s songs are slower and more emotional ballad like projects. “Goodbye” is one of the most beautiful songs on this album, it´s a sad and emotional love song. But “Thank You” is not weaker at all and I can feel that Ela´s words really come from her heart and are meant for someone special and close. But “Circle of Life” is like a repetition of two latter songs, the melody is nothing new and all I could remember was na-na-na-na-na. “Without” is the most boring song on “Gallery” and feels like it is made with half an hour. It beginning is promising, but it really goes nowhere, there is one catchy and good section, but that’s pretty much it. “Miracle” is a song where brass instrument absolutely fits but the lyrics aren´t so impressive… “Visible Line” finishes the album with another ballad that is neither a folk nor a pop song. It’s calm, maybe even too calm and repetitive once again – and I seem to have made my mind that ballads are not for her. They just aren’t.
Elaiza is a modern-folk or some say neo-folk band that have both awesome and quite boring sides in its music. Live music is one of the best things about Elaiza and Ela sings damn good. At least I don´t see young people playing contrabass and accordion in a modern band every day and that makes Elaiza special and unique. But their problem is repetition, repetition, repetition in each and every song. And did I mention repetition? They have many catchy songs but also slower ballads which are nice when you first hear them but when you listen to all of them, they seem all so similar to one another that in conclusion, none of the songs is special. So I guess that Ela should try different approaches, different styles. She is a good singer, but needs a more effective way to show that. I´m not sure if the title “Gallery” really fits for the album, because these songs aren´t really that different from each other. Elaiza has already gained fame with their first album, but there are definitely more to come and I guess the next ones are going to be improved.