Just in time for Halloween and four years on since Port Of Morrow, the Shins are back with a spooky twist on their Beach-Boys-in-the-21st-century style. James Mercer’s voice is still coated in a sort of heavenly mist that doesn’t sound ‘clean’, but it’s not all fuzzy either. The instrumentation jogs along at a blissful bounce, reminding me of Animal Collective, but if they decided to give up roughly half of their synths and decided to make up the rest of their sound and replace it with tapping on wood. If the instrumentation is happy (in a weird sort of druggy way), then the lyrics are the opposite. ‘So tonight, dance and cry’ and ‘Wash the blood and the guts to the ocean’ sings James Mercer, then there’s weird snatches of screaming and muttering in the introduction too. It’s a good sound for the Shins, slightly tweaked, and still slightly weird.
The last time we heard from Cherry Glazerr was last year’s punky Adult Swim single, ‘Sip ‘O Poison’, and even longer since their second album in 2014. ‘Told You…’ is one of the more expansive songs they’ve released, it plays around with classic rock solos, a thrashy outro and synths as well. If anything, it’s a culmination of everything they’ve played with up until this point. Frontwoman Clem Creevy swaps between ‘I told you! I told you! I told you I’d be with the guys’ in one of the most memorable vocals so far, before the softer ‘but I know better now than to be with the guys’. The song is about rejecting the default setting that a lot of indie rock demands – that it is a male genre and women who get involved need to be ‘with the guys’, and now that Creevy wants to be ‘With my ladies’ (also shouted from the rooftops), she has to completely turn around. If this is Cherry Glazerr-point-two, then it sounds a lot tighter, less lo-fi and a lot more ‘together’. It’s less ‘slackery’, and whether that’s better is up to you.
Glass Animals emerged in the wave that followed Alt-J’s success, alongside Django Django and Everything Everything (who were around before Alt-J hit big with An Awesome Wave, but finally found their scene). They were a bit different, in that they further embraced the poppiness of the flagbearer, dropping some of the moodiness and playing up the non-UK styles – that meant bringing in trap drums, african drums, pretty much any drums that had a foreign style. That weirdness remains on How To Be A Human Being, which is so bright and enjoyable it might just separate them from their peers. The singles that open the album, ‘Life Itself’ and especially ‘Youth’, have huge choruses, weird, unexplainable noises and just optimism beaming out of them. ‘Youth’ is aided by frontman Dave Bayley’s falsetto, which reminds me of Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe and pristine production by Bayley as well.
How To Be A Human Being is another example of these British alt-pop bands diversifying after relatively safe debuts to the world. Everything Everything did it on Get To Heaven, Wild Beasts did it very recently on Boy King. Glass Animals do it by enhancing the foreign imports – the funkiness of ‘Pork Soda’, the rap-trap on ‘Cane Shuga’, the Red Hot Chili strut of ‘Poplar St’ (the beginning really does sound like ‘Under The Bridge’), but as long as they keep bringing in the shiny production, the straightforward poppiness and the genre-hopping, Glass Animals can do what they like. ‘Poplar Street’, like many other tracks on here, does indulge in the weirdness though. It’s about a woman called ‘Mrs Moore’, and the protagonist, who transitions from a child to an adult with the chorus of ‘I feel like a new man’ and ‘I am a true romantic / Free falling love addict’ but the way it’s spun is that the boy loses his virginity to Mrs Moore, believing themselves to be a romantic individual only to be rejected by Mrs Moore. The song could have easily slotted onto Wild Beasts’ last album, but the huge chorus screams out for the radio, even if the creepy lyrics might not.
‘Cane Shuga’ is also another song ready for radio, riding an 8-bit beat and more of those trappy high hats. It just shows the band and how easily they can switch from style to style without dropping the ball, because they adapt so well. It reminds me of when Beck released the safe ‘Dreams’ and then did ‘Wow’, which was hyper-modern and very accessible. If ‘Life Itself’ is the safe choice then ‘Cane Shuga’ is the ‘Wow’. Also, extra points for reminding me of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me a River’ piano line. Deep down, How To Be A Human Being has some fairly dark lyrics too. ‘Cane Shuga’ is about cocaine and trying to give it up, and a relationship collapsing around it. ‘Mama’s Gun’ has references to murder and mental illness. And then there’s ‘Agnes’ and its story about a suicidal character.
How To Be A Human Being was genuinely surprising for how much it exceeded expectations. Just when you think you’ve pegged them, Glass Animals come back with an album that in many ways does better than their contemporaries. A lot of it comes down to their experimentation with sound, whilst still in the confines of pop music. There’s definitely hits to be had here – ‘Life Itself’ has already become a minor hit, but you could take most of the tracks here and they have two layers of accessibility the first time around, but the ability to dig deeper the second time and discover a Carpenters’ sample or a clever lyric. How To Be A Human Being is very refreshing.
Funnel Recommends: Youth / Cane Shuga / Poplar Street
Speedy Ortiz began as a bedroom project for Sadie Dupuis, so it only make sense that her first solo album comes full circle with ‘Get A Yes’. It distances itself from the guitars and the indie-rock and is instead made up of sparkly glitter-pop with synthetic drums and spiralling synths and above all, an emphasis on the vocals and lyrics. How many other songs have been sung about consent being sexy? And why haven’t more been made? ‘If you want to / You’ve got to get a yes’ goes the chorus, as the guitar makes an entrance in the most subtle way, still overdriven, but stuck underneath the bubbly synths. It’s a fun song, with a message worth listening to. It also might be a good way to tide over any Speedy Ortiz fans.
The Big Moon have quietly been building up their selection of singles, and mostly they haven’t lost any quality since the first track they ever released: ‘Eureka Moment’. ‘Silent Movie Susie’ is missing something, maybe it’s ‘Cupid’s grandness or the rockiness of ‘Sucker’, but it definitely lacks something. Along with ‘Cupid’, it is their most radio-ready, but then again, the Big Moon have always been a band with bigger aspirations than underground success. If it lacks something, it does not lack ‘whoos’. The Big Moon are a whoo-worthy band, and if you’ve come for whoos, ‘Silent Movie Susie’ has got them to spare. The song has come in the middle of summer, so when they sing ‘Come back for the summer’, it feels like the kind of breezy pop they’ve just been waiting to release. The Big Moon are starting to develop their own sound; you know the sound of that organ in the background, you know the whoos are coming.
‘Ready For The Magic’ is Honeyblood’s first album with drummer Cat Myers, who has technically been around for a while now. That time that they’ve spent together for longer has contributed has pushed them from fuzzy pop into a darker and more aggressive rock band. Guitarist Stina Tweeddale and Myers act as dual vocalists on the chorus, with call-and-response vocals that are more like yells of defiance than statements. The confidence has grown, Honeyblood are now fully-formed. Myer’s response of ‘Voodoo, voodoo over you’ is so simple but effective, and then the catchy bridge of ‘Voodoo-do-do-do’ makes the song into some kind of cross between a 60s girl group and 90s alternative rock. Honeyblood were good before, but now they really have it.
Two Door Cinema Club’s debut, Tourist History, was a great album. They had singles like ‘What You Know’ and ‘I Can Talk’, which brought a feeling of speed into indie-pop. They dropped off a little bit for their second album, Beacon, which embraced synths more as the dominant sound, and ‘Are We Ready?’ looks to continue that trend. But the pace remains, especially in the tempo change at around 40 seconds in. There’s a bit of Foals in there in the jittery bassline, but there’s also some of the glitzy pop that the Wombats decided to try out on their last album. Two Door Cinema Club generally have a bit more substance to them, as well as some good instrumental ideas, plus they are a band who can work with the current flavour of pop (the scratchy guitar riff has Nile Rodgers all over it).
Spring King were doomed and blessed the moment that Zane Lowe played ‘City’ as his first choice on Apple’s new radio station, Beats1. At the same time as exposing them to a world beyond that what they might have expected, it dragged them into ‘next big thing’ territory’. What followed hasn’t hyped them up to the lengths of Palma Violets and that’s probably been to their credit. There’s been a steady supply of singles and live shows that prove Spring King aren’t another hyper-serious indie band. Guitarist Pete Darlington’s dad used to play saxophone with them live and they make energetic, upbeat indie music. It’s another indie band that isn’t afraid of the mainstream or allowing accessible pop to bleed into their music. ‘City’ is the biggest example of this. It’s a mixture of fuzzy rock which stays put throughout the album with their poppy tendencies and a euphoric chorus. It’s not far from the kind of festival anthems the Vaccines, Bastille or Wolf Alice aim for. Spring King might be good for ‘City’, but their ability as a band to offer deeper cuts is somewhat less powerful.
They replicate the same fuzz-pop on ‘Who Are You?’, which throws the guitars to the front and lets them drown everything else out. Vocalist Tarek Musa, who also plays drums, is always fighting to try and rise to the top, but that heavy layer of fuzziness is hard to break through. A side-step on ‘Who Are You?’ is the saxophone solo, dutifully provided by Darlington’s dad. Unfortunately it only stays for a couple of seconds, but gives a glimpse of a much freakier band underneath. What other indie bands can so easily put a saxophone solo into their song? Unfortunately, it’s the last we see of that mysterious father. In the middle of the album, Spring King lower the pace down to a couple of mid-tempo swayers like ‘It’s So Dark’ and ‘Demons’, the former being your typical mid-00s indie (think Razorlight or Franz Ferdinand) and the latter recalling Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys, which is never a bad thing.
The problem is, Spring King pretty much perfected that quick-pace pop song on ‘City’, that anything that crosses the same path – ‘Rectifier’ (Which has a bit of a krautrock to it), ‘Tell Me If You Like To’, ‘Detroit’, and ‘Who Are You?’, is just a decent copy. That’s not to say Spring King are the only ones doing it, but their songs are such carbon copies that once you’ve heard ‘City’ and ‘It’s So Dark’, you’ve heard it all. Doubtless, they’re a good live band, and have a weird streak that’s begging to be exposed, but on record, I don’t think they have the variation or the heaviness to set them out from the rest of the pack. ‘Demons’ stands out though because it doesn’t fall into the categories of their slow or fast songs. The chorus of ‘Tonight the night comes alive / every time you’re in my… neighbourhood!’, where Musa actually sounds aggressive as opposed his usual vocals. Then there’s a glam-rock, screeching guitar line that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s one of the few times that the guitar really separates itself from the rest of the noise.
It bears a striking resemblance to the Last Shadow Puppets last album, minus the sprawling orchestra, but Tell Me If You Like To has more in common with the ‘get to the chorus’ Arctic Monkeys of 2006. They’re writing good pop songs and in their ‘City’ they might have found their own mini-‘Bros’ or ‘Best Of Friends’. It’s a festival song, and they might just be a festival band. I don’t think anyone will be fondly remembering this album for years to come, but if Spring King need a firm statement of intent, they have a good, if slightly wobbly, one here.
Funnel Recommends: City / Demons / Rectifier
The decade isn’t even over and we’ve got some masterpieces on our hands. We could have picked Visions, The Suburbs or if we’re talking classics waiting to happen – Weird Sister. Bloom isn’t any of those albums, and rightfully so. It exists on its own plane, a grand, dark, romantic piece of art that refuses to give anything away and allows itself to bury itself deep in the consciousness. It isn’t a concept album, its title and artwork are infuriatingly open to interpretation. It could mean the band doing exactly that – blooming into the band that they had inside of them all along when they were making dusty whisperings about Apple Orchards. Bloom didn’t come from nowhere, it formed from Teen Dream, which is exactly like what the title suggests it is. That was Beach House’s big breakthrough record, but Bloom is the coalescing of their past, present and future.
‘Myth’ is Beach House at their most mysterious and ambitious. If Alex Scally’s guitarwork was impressive on Teen Dream, then it expands further on ‘Myth’, with a sprawling section of arpeggiated notes gliding into one another for a good two minutes, until he draws out four chords heavy on the reverb. ‘Myth’s lyrics are purposefully vague, but the overall emotions that come across is confusion and relief. Legrand pleads ‘Help me to name it’ on the chorus, but what is ‘it?’. Maybe the reason ‘Myth’ is so indecipherable is that Legrand can’t quite put her finger on the message itself, and that emotion, possibly for a loved one, is so strong that it’s impossible to put it into words. Legrand and Scally enclose themselves in fantasy on the line ‘What comes after this / Momentary bliss’, something they’ve written about a few times. Even their band name is dedicated to a solitary world away from the rest of reality. Legrand is constantly chasing the feeling, though she might not know what it is, she knows it is ‘bliss’. Many times in interviews Legrand and Scally have been unable to describe what their band sounds like, no out of some kind of pretentiousness, but because it is truly hard to explain what they are. ‘Dream-pop’ is a surface description, and the ‘dream’ is certainly in Beach House’s material. They inhabit small fantasies tucked away in mundane reality. If you look at at of their album artwork photos that come with the music, Beach House is a super-zoomed image of gold, pearls and chains, Devotion is another super-zoomed set of images around flowers, gems and statues. They’re physical manifestations of these worlds that Beach House explore – We can’t touch the world of ‘Myth’, because it’s a feeling, but we can connect with it on a spiritual level.
I’m always tempted to say that Beach House have an air of childlike innocence and wonder about them, but that’s wrong. They’re more like children on the cusp of adulthood, making sense of the world around them whilst clinging onto the small fantasy worlds that only childhood can conjure up. On ‘Wishes’, when Legrand sings ‘The voices in the hall / will carry on their talking / carry weight you can’t take’, it will be familiar to anyone who has heard parents and family talking in the hall, or behind closed doors, and being infuriated that you aren’t allowed a say as they are ‘carrying your weight’. When Legrand sings ‘Wishes on a wheel’, she’s talking about the constant movement of wishes, up and down, disappearing and reappearing. It has connotations with the concept of the Wheel of Fortune, on which we are all placed and rotate around according to our fortune. It’s like the saying of ‘What goes around comes around’, but that has a negative message. Legrand and Scally see it as a wish for love and the possibility of it reappearing. Legrand sings ‘The roses on the lawn won’t know which side you’re on’, drawing attention to the fact that love is ageless and will come and go as it pleases. The song is about how love isn’t confined to an age, and as the wish of love is on a wheel, it can’t be broken off, so even in old age it can come back around.
Flowers come back again in ‘The Hours’. The song, about confusion and risk in love, has Legrand sing ‘violence in the flowers’, a direct contrast between beauty and violence. Legrand sees a darkness in the beauty of the person, contributing to the constant questioning of whether to profess her love, and whether she has to ‘Climb up to the tower’ in order to make a grand gesture of love in an attempt to capture their feelings. The best lyric on the song, however, comes from ‘It’s all in a glance you’ll see / Don’t forget about me’. To detour from Beach House completely, there’s a scene in Frances Ha where the protagonist, Frances, says this:
It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it… but it’s a party… and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining… and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes… but – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual… but because… that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s – That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.
The funny thing is, that movie ends with that exact moment that Frances describes, but with her friend, not her lover. Legrand connects with this moment (it’s coincidental that they share the same message), the possibilities between friendship and love, and the mysterious worlds that love can create. I think that sums up the point of Beach House completely.
It’s probably not a surprise at this point that Bloom is our favourite album. The instrumentation, which we’ve failed to praise enough, is vast and expansive, like the worlds that Legrand explores. ‘The Hours’ is like heavy, rolling rock translated into dream-pop and ‘Troublemaker’ has a lovely cascading section of keys and guitar intertwining with each other, and then there’s the arpeggiated synth on ‘Lazuli’ that bounces along underneath the song. But of course, it’s the themes that strike the hardest on Bloom. We’ve covered a lot of ‘themed’ albums during our time on classic reviews, but how do you write a theme album about emotions you can’t quite explain? Well, ‘Myth’ addresses that, by talking about the emotions themselves. Bloom itself is a myth, a hushed prayer just as Beach House peaked in popularity that expanded on Teen Dream in every way possible. It’s vague as hell, but Beach House ask you to dig a little deeper, and in the process, find your way into their little universes that they’ve carved out in the mundanity of normal life.
Seattle is having a bit of a renaissance. Who needs grunge when there’s vibrant and colourful feminist punk? Bands like Chastity Belt, Tacocat and Childbirth (which is a combination of the two) are leading the pack, with all three bands debuting with ramshackle punk that had an endearing DIY quality, but their second albums have been huge leaps ahead. Chastity Belt expanded into stretched-out hazy jams, Childbirth went further down the comedy-punk route and Tacocat are now making minute worlds of radiant punk-pop within their (mostly) two-minute songs. There’s always the chance that making twelve two-minute songs could end up like a Wire album where all songs blur into one, but on Lost Time the songs are defined by their lyrics and are instantly memorable. Emily Nokes is exactly the kind of vocalist you’d want singing these peppy pop songs drenched in humour and social commentary. She’s half 60s girl-group singer and half-Kathleen Hanna.
The tracks that have the funniest lyrics are often the ones that are most memorable. Tacocat are in the business of wrapping genuine commentary in a joke, so on a song like ‘Dana Katherine Scully’, a pretty funny comparison to the X-Files character played by Gillian Anderson. Nokes compares herself and idolises Scully with her ‘shoulder-pads and no-nonsense attitude’. Nokes then goes on to liken the TV show’s tagline ‘The truth is out there’ to wanting to discover the world, only to be met by limits. Tacocat and Nokes have a good balance of the humour and the message and on a song like ‘Dana Katherine Scully’ they perfectly combine the two, finding original analogies in pop culture references. The instrumentation is always breezy and breathless, from tribal drumbeats courtesy of Lelah Maupin and a surf-rock guitar from Eric Randall. They play at a wonky stop-start pace on ‘I Love Seattle’, but it’s on ‘I Hate The Weekend’ where they really hit every base. It’s a perfect pop song, but there’s a Protomartyr-esque rant about how we’re all brainwashed into looking forward to the weekend in order to spend all the money that we made during the miserable week, people that are ‘homogenised and oh so bleak’ flooding into Nokes’ street and turning into money-spending zombies. It’s a unique perspective, even if it makes life seem completely hopeless.
The similarities to Kathleen Hanna are unmistakable on ‘Plan A, Plan B’ and ‘Talk’, which is a slow-burning hand-clapper (hand claps cover the album, and we aren’t complaining), where in the lyrics Nokes sings ‘Stay true to your phone’ and it’s difficult to see where Nokes is being sarcastic about people in love with talking on the phone, or is more genuine, as the line ‘I want to talk until my throat hurts’ suggests. It’s one of the more varied tracks instrumentally, exploding in the chorus into a rainbow of crash cymbals and heroic chords. ‘Plan A, Plan B’, on the other hand, is an explosion from the start. You’d think it was Hanna on vocals if the song just landed in your lap. Lost Time is much more immediate yet more complex than their last album, NVM and the injection of sugary pop into the mix makes the songs easily digestible whilst completely contrasting the sarcastic attitude of Emily Nokes. These songs could be on the radio, but it would feel more like an infiltration than a genuine attempt at chart success. That doesn’t seem to be Tacocat’s objective though, and they’re completely fine with that.
Tacocat have polished up what they’re good at for what many may come to as their first experience of Tacocat. It’s an excellent starting point and a way to explore the music surrounding the band, whether that’s side-projects or mutual friend bands such as Chastity Belt. It’s half an hour long, and that’s a perfect amount of time to consume Tacocat. They suit the 2-minute power-pop parties that they’ve written and too much overcomplicating would just detract from Nokes at the helm, singing songs about ‘Horse Grrls’ and ‘The Internet’, which is about ignoring online trolls. The influences are varied and often make the songs not sound too similar, even if they keep to a strict verse-chorus-verse structure (which doesn’t need changing, bear in mind). This is a blueprint for how to incorporate what’s so good about pop into punk music. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is just a genuinely exciting and optimistic album in the face of all of the problems that Nokes sings about.
Funnel Recommends: Dana Katherine Scully / I Hate The Weekend / Talk