Pale Honey have wasted no time preparing a new album, blending classic rock guitars once again with a rhythm section that isn’t afraid to deploy a Kills-like electric setup or even a cowbell every now and again. That combination brings the roll back into rock ‘n’ roll, it’s something you can actually dance to whilst rocking out simultaneously. It seems so wrong to splice the old and the new so strongly, but it really works and though it’s not original, it’s never done enough (what does originality even mean any more anyway?). It’s got bits of the Kills in, as said before, but the ‘oohs’ and generally the vocals are like Warpaint decided to become a hard rock band. If that’s not enough to get you interested, we don’t know what will.
The Rolling Stones could easily sit back and play world tours for the rest of their career, but here’s an album full of blues covers. It’s a funny concept in 2016, it’s like if Kanye decided to do an album of classic Hip-Hop covers – no-one would mind, but it’s just kind of unusual. But this is the Rolling Stones, who were around in the era when a big band could do a cover album. I have no idea if the Rolling Stones have approached this blues-cover idea before, but if they haven’t, it’s long overdue. It makes sense. ‘Just Your Fool’ could be easily mistaken for an original Stones song, it’s got harmonica solos, plinky-plonky pianos and casual death threats at the possibility of losing a lover. All in a day’s work.
Kings of Leon have now pumped out three singles in anticipation of their new album, Walls, the immediate-pop-first-single ‘Waste A Moment’ and the slower, acoustic-led title track. And to be honest, it’s not been horrifically bad (but was there any chance that Kings Of Leon would deliver anything other than pristine pop-rock?). ‘Around The World’ arguably could’ve been the first single, riding the closest to a dance beat they’ve ever got and has the kind of brittle, snappy guitars that drew them comparisons to the Strokes early on. WALLS is already looking a hell of a lot better than Mechanical Bull.
It’s weird to think that Kings Of Leon have now been a big arena band for more albums than they were an aspiring arena band. They’ve perfected a sound, even if it has become tiring to hear over and over again. And even if they promised to let go of some of those dad-rock-isms that covered Mechanical Bull and Come Around Sundown, ‘Waste A Moment’ is no return to garage rock basics, and it’s probably for the best – this sound does suit them. The Kings have always been good with feel good guitar-pop singles, that’s just their strong point. ‘Waste A Moment’ is the good single that ‘Supersoaker’ and ‘Radioactive’ were. It’s got everything you need in a modern Kings of Leon song – massive choruses, clean guitars, sparkly production, ‘Woah-ohs’. I don’t think you could ask for any more really, and at least it gets straight to the point.
Mitski’s last album, the wonderfully titled Bury Me At Makeout Creek, was something of a breakout, but the equally wonderfully-titled fourth album from the songwriter will arguably be her biggest release yet. The two teaser tracks, ‘Your Best American Girl’ and ‘Happy’ showed both her ability for anthemic rock and guitar-pop with the kind of jagged guitars, horns and synthetic drums that covered St. Vincent’s last album. Both of those singles were also heartfelt and self-examining. On ‘Your Best American Girl’, Mitski drew comparisons between not being able to fit into a relationship and not being able to fit into the projected aspirations of what the ‘American Girl’ should be, something that Mitski Miyawaki has a firsthand experience with. And then on ‘Happy’, Miyawaki breaks down happiness and the knowledge that even in a time of bliss, you’re always thinking what misery will hit next. But it isn’t a negative song, from the lyric of ‘And if you’re going take the moon / Then maybe I will see you’, because even if she isn’t happy, then she knows happiness will happen again and the moon will remind her of that.
I’m consistently knocked back by Mitski’s talents as a lyricist, which has come on in leaps and bounds since Bury Me At Makeout Creek. On ‘A Loving Feeling’, where Mitski describes a relationship disintegrating instead of breaking apart suddenly, and it’s heartbreaking. It goes from ‘Holding hands under the table / meeting up in your bedroom’ to ‘Making love to other people / telling each other its all good’ in an instant, and then the chorus of ‘what do you do with a loving feeling / if the loving feeling makes you all alone’. It’s almost as if she’s trying to trick herself into thinking that the feeling she’s experiencing is what any couple go through, and isn’t sure if it’s just normal, so she’s stuck in limbo. Then on ‘Dan The Dancer’, which could be about societal anxiety, but there’s definitely a sexual side to the last verse: ‘It was you and you alone / that he had shown his bedroom dance routine’ and ‘He would never tell you it was his first time’, presenting this character as someone so anxious that they can’t open up to anyone, but there’s a special person who he allows to see his dancing. Mitski has a knack for writing songs that are very easy to pick up on and are instantly relatable. She’s writing about things anyone can get their head around: relationships developing, relationships crumbling, sexuality, anxiety, happiness. And it’s all in a brief 30 minutes.
The genre-bending makes Mitski hard to pin down, and all to the better of it. There’s a fuzz-folky style on ‘My Body’s Made From Crushed Little Stars’, trendy snap-drums on ‘Thursday Girl’ and indie-rock on ‘Dan The Dancer’. It never sounds incoherent because Mitski’s at the centre of it all. It’s pop and it’s DIY, all at once. It’s heavy and it’s light, all at once. Maybe that’s the beauty of the internet and the breakdown of genre and trendiness. We have people like Grimes and Mitski taking advantage of all the sounds they can get their hands on, and why not? If they have access to it, why not make use of it whilst keeping the eccentricities of the individual to separate it from the rest of the pack? I like how Puberty 2 is all-encompassing; it sums up everything that’s important.
Funnel Recommends: Happy / Your Best American Girl / A Loving Feeling
Understandably, looking at the length of ‘Beautiful Thing’ and seeing 7 minutes might excite long time fans of The Stone Roses. Just look at what they’ve done with that time before. But actually, their first comeback single ‘All For One’ works much better than ‘Beautiful Thing’. Not only did that song aim for modern pop-rock in a short, snappy 4 minutes, but the production showed the Stone Roses in the modern era could make pop songs with clarity and decisiveness. It was refreshing, even if the formidable rhythm section was reduced to a backdrop. ‘Beautiful Thing’ is an overlong, tedious piece of wah-wah indulgence that fans might like, but doesn’t show the Stone Roses to be reuniting with anything other than nostalgia.
Ian Brown mumbles vague lyrics about ‘stay so high’ and cliches like ‘There’s method to my madness / Yes, there’s reason to my rhyme’, it’s almost like he’s taking notes from the DIIV songbook, or perhaps that’s vice versa. I’m pretty sure there’s at least two guitar solos, but it merges together so blurrily that it’s hard to pick out a key moment. In fact, there’s no distinguishable moments in the entire song, it’s just a scratchy guitar with a wah pedal and some particularly funky drums and bass for seven minutes. Mani, bassist, and Reni, drummer, do get a bit more of a say within this song though, and play a larger position in the construction of the jammier sections. But it’s just a shame that they have to put their names more firmly on this than Squire did on ‘All For One’. Still, there’s been worse reunion songs.
You have to give it to the Strokes, releasing an EP and not an album was a bit of a surprise. After a few classic billboard hints, they’ve released an EP with very little notice and whilst fans might have expected an album announcement, here it is. It’s four tracks, with one remix by drummer Fabrizio Moretti, and that EP format might excite fans about a fast-paced all-thrills ride that originally shot them to fame with The Modern Age EP. And true to its short nature, it never gives itself time to slow down, which is where the Strokes lowest moments have come from. It’s the kick up the arse that the Strokes need after Comedown Machine, but it isn’t enough to revive a band whose effortless cool is now just a twinkle in the past.
The first track, ‘Drag Queen’, aims to be anthemic in its chorus, and when it kicks in for long enough, it begins to sound good, just for the staggering verse to stumble back in. Julian Casablancas’ vocals, hidden behind his wall of fuzz, was never the most amazing thing to listen to, but he had that slur and little Casablancas-isms which made him an interesting frontman. Here, when he’s channeling more of his Voidz side-project, he pulls out some weird phrasings. The band does pull it together in the second half for a not-quite-solo, with the dream team of Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi working together in unison. ‘OBLIVIUS’, the first track that was released, has a classic Strokes sound, with some Angles-era danceability. It sounds like ‘Machu Picchu’s slightly more garagey brother. The riff is straight from the Strokes manual and the drumbeat is a reminder that this is a post-Room On Fire release. It’s interesting to pick out the ways that the Strokes have tried to evolve, despite shooting themselves in the foot by performing perfectly the first time around. Casablancas’s chorus of ‘What side you standing on?’ isn’t painful, but he can’t growl like he used to. The solo somewhat pulls it back by being ear-splitting, and then the pseudo-metal section is a little bit cute.
Then there’s ‘Threat To Joy’ as the final non-remix song. There’s this weird spoken word beginning when Casablancas says ‘Be right there honey!’. The track is the most different compared with ‘Drag Queen’ and ‘OBLIVIUS’ in that they go for a mid-tempo approach, but the guitar solo remains just as jagged and Strokesy as ever. That’s the word to describe the EP – Strokesky. There’s no weird left turns like Angles and they’ve written some fun pop songs. No doubt they’ll be on the live circuit as the Strokes play some festivals and serve as fresh material if the Strokes decide to make a new album any time soon. It isn’t revolutionary, but neither has anything the band have done since Is This It.
Funnel Recommends: OBLIVIUS
The Peppers have a love/hate relationship with critics and fans. They can often come across as comical and goofy, especially with their early material, and when they decide to put on their serious faces it comes in the form of flabby, long concept albums like Stadium Arcadium or their most recent album, I’m With You, of which I can’t remember any of the singles. ‘Dark Necessities’ is unfortunately very similar to that last album, in that the Peppers have gone bland again, if you can believe that. They fall back onto their comfort blanket of funk-rock at the beginning, which is actually quite interesting and danceable, before a forgettable chorus comes along, even though Anthony Kiedis’ lyrics ‘You don’t know my kind / Dark necessities are part of my design’ steers clear the awkward lyrics of the verses: ‘We got many moons than a deeper place / So I keep an eye on the shadow’s smile / To see what it has to say’.
At this point, Flea’s bass is unmatched, but when they insert it at the beginning of the track – popping out all over the place – it feels more like fan service than actually expressing a funky new bassline to offer. To give them credit, it’s the funkiest they’ve been in a while and Kiedis actually singing and totally rapping serves him well. People are still going to be sour about Josh Klinghoffer as guitarist and not John Frusciante, but he’s not a bad guitarist by any means and his work outside the Peppers in Warpaint and Cate Le Bon’s band has only provided more experience and refinement for the replacement guitarist. Not bad by any means, but completely colourless.
Consider the other great invincible – Keith Richards – and what his last album Crosseyed Heart stood for. Why does the idea of a new Iggy Pop album, or a David Bowie album incite such an excited reaction? Maybe it’s because Pop and Bowie have continued to stay relevant, whether that’s exploring new sonic territories, refining past ones and extracurricular activities such as Pop’s excellent radio show. For his new (supposedly last) album, Pop has recruited his modern imitators – both Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkey’s Matt Helders for his troupe of misfits, though now Pop is less interested with pushing the boundaries of depraved proto-punk and more like walking the same hard-rock-funk-strut as Josh Homme. It’s the completion of the circle – the mentored stole from the mentor and now the mentor is cribbing from the mentored. Pop’s vocals are no longer the freakish shriek of the Stooges, and they haven’t been for a while, but now he occupies the role of the low-intoning preacher. It’s less direct and more ominous.
The recruitment of Homme, Fertita and Helders is probably the best thing going for Post Pop Depression. They breathe life into songs such as ‘Vulture’, which otherwise would have been a standard spaghetti-western-freakout. Helders’ standout contribution to Arctic Monkeys’ last album, his backing vocals, make a welcome return, and Homme’s classic-rock riffs are thrown around like he’s back in the Queens, which might sound like Homme’s not pushing boundaries for another project, but it fits the persona of Iggy Pop so well that those guitar sounds would be missing here if he hadn’t deployed them. Pop’s message and imagery can come across as heavy-handed, with the titular ‘Vulture’ a loose comparison to corporate executives picking the meat from the bones. Pop returns to his criticism of the elite many times during Post Pop Depression, with him singing ‘Slick as a senator’s statement’ and ‘As cold as a corporate lawsuit’ on the dance-punk of ‘Sunday’. It might seem like an easy target for Pop to attack at this point in his career, and it often is. The corporate slamming is fairly placed, but it sounds more like generic leftism than a calculated and interesting take on the corporate structure. Pop could have delivered a statement, but instead it’s more of a hodgepodge of ideas.
The marriage of the Pop/Homme sensibilities with a tension crawling underneath the entire track [‘Break Into Your Heart’]
Then, out of the blue, he takes time to look back on his creative peak in Berlin with David Bowie. In this lyrically minimalist and bass-driven song, he sings ‘Berlin and Christ / Champagne on ice’ and ‘Brilliant brains / and the end of pain’, putting into words the disorganised but productive hedonism of his time in Berlin. He doesn’t sugarcoat the experience, but leaves it to the listener to interpret the meaning. Pop might not be typically known for ambiguity in his lyrics – he did write ‘Search And Destroy’ after all – but this is a twist that harks back to his early peaks in Lust For Life and The Idiot. He’s rarely revisited the mood that those two records capture, but there are palpable attempts to recapture the spirit. It’s a brave move. Other times, it feels more like Homme is running the entire operation from head to toe. His funky rock is all over Post Pop Depression, still gathering up the lingering traces of the Queens last record …Like Clockwork especially on a track like ‘Chocolate Drops’ with its wire-thin solo. At times like this, it’s more like a Queens Of The Stone Age song featuring Iggy Pop.
On the other side, there’s traces of Pop’s legacy competing with Homme. Lead single ‘Break Into Your Heart’ shows up with its hard-rock steady pace and Pop’s vocals commanding the scene from the very start, with a lyric like ‘I’m gonna break into your heart / I’m gonna crawl under your skin’ sounding like the classic nihilistic Pop, albeit with less of a shriek and a piano bridge that wouldn’t go amiss on a James Bond theme song. This is the marriage of the Pop/Homme sensibilities with a tension crawling underneath the entire track. It’s also an unabashed pop song in the same vein of ‘Lust For Life’ or ‘The Passenger’. The same goes for ‘Gardenia’ with its almost Smiths-like guitar tremolo and lush instrumentation that lives up to the title. Pop chews his words before he sings them, spitting them out in staggered lumps – ‘Cheap purple baby-doll dress’ – each word with pauses in between. He doesn’t attempt to keep time, he lets the words fall out as they please and it works perfectly.
It’s a shame to see Pop retiring at this point in his life as he’s clearly got some life left in him yet. Instead of shrieking his way to an early death of depravity, he’s taken a left turn to become the respected godfather of punk. The pairing of Pop and Homme is a logical and perfect union and its almost a shame that Homme wasn’t featured as a key player in the title, why not a supergroup? Maybe Pop wants his last project to be his own, and it certainly has the characteristics of an Iggy Pop sound and not just as an addition to the group. Post Pop Depression is nine tightly packed tracks with no messing around, even the longer tracks have some merit to them, ‘Sunday’ has an out-of-place and kind of funny orchestral outro and ‘Paraguay’ is pretty much an Iggy Pop soapbox for the the last two minutes where he gets as foulmouthed as ever. Pop’s past the point of burning out young, but by the looks of it, he isn’t going to fade away either.
Funnel Recommends: Break Into Your Heart / German Days / Paraguay
The last time we heard from Mourn, they were being held hostage by their Spanish label despite have a new album in the can. By the looks of it, they are out of the worst of their problems and have announced a new album, Ha, Ha, He!. And from the looks of things, we’ve got more of the same early punk mixed in with some new influences – Jazz Bueno’s furious shout with Carla Vas’ more low-key vocals. However, the difference here is that they deploy their difference better, with Vas on the spooky pre-chorus that lives up to the title and Bueno’s machine-gun shout of ‘Feast on your soul!’ on the chorus which has the same sweet comparisons with their early song ‘Your Brain Is Made Of Candy’ where they combine the sweet with the disgusting. All around the band has improved, with Antonio Postius’ drumming becoming more technical on the pre-chorus and the dual guitars playing off of each other. Mourn deserve a break and maybe Ha, Ha, He! will be worth the wait.