Albums of the week…

Emily Handley 24 April 2013

James Blake – Overgrown

For the past three years, James Blake has led his audiences on a winding path from genre to genre, often managing to alienate his previous fan base with each new release. On his second full-length album he shows no signs of stopping. Overgrown opens with a dulcet piano roll which might remind you of Grizzly Bear, but by the third track, ‘Life Round Here’, it’s clear that the genre of the month is closer to R&B or hip-hop. Blake’s jump from a reinterpretation of the genre on his 2010 EP CMYK to a stab at the real thing here feels commendably natural. ‘Take a Fall For Me’ is without a doubt the centrepiece of the album. Over a beat reminiscent of lo-fi Wu-Tang Clan productions, Blake brings in RZA to rap about fish and chips and impossible love. The effect can teeter between ham-fisted and hypnotic, but for long-time Wu-Tang enthusiasts the balance will fall on the positive side. The weakest parts come when Blake strays from the R&B conceit of the album; tracks like ‘DLM’ and ‘I Am Sold’ reveal a meandering loss of focus. Blake’s experimental, genre-assimilating approach on Overgrown may not satisfy everyone, but it provides a happy medium between all of his previous musical interests.

Kevin Sexton

The Flaming Lips – The Terror

Fans of the Flaming Lips’ classics The Soft Bulletin (1999) and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002) may not know what to make of The Terror. Continuing in the experimental direction signposted by Embryonic (2009), the Oklahoma band have turned their back on hummable melodies, squelchy basslines and bombastic drums and embraced an austere soundscape of synth textures and metronomic beats. Frontman Wayne Coyne is gloomy throughout; song titles like ‘You Are Alone’ and ‘Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die’ tell you all you need to know. With multiple listens, The Terror does yield some hypnotic power in its sheer droniness, but you can’t help yearning for the warmth of their earlier work.

Jackson Caines

The Knife – Shaking The Habitual

Shaking the Habitual defies you to unpack its ambitious contents in one review. It’s long enough to be a feature-length film. Most of the tracks are over eight minutes long, and the whole thing is interrupted by a 19-minute drone piece. Getting through it is a slog, which deflates the impact of the few genuinely exciting moments. The best tracks are visceral assaults on the senses – ‘Full of Fire’ builds to a powerful climax, while ‘Networking’ layers a cacophony over danceable beats. Sadly, the album’s political content is largely obscured by cryptic lyrics and distorted vocals. Infinitely preferable to the turgid sloganeering of Plan B, but the band’s message would benefit from increased clarity. Sonically, the overall mood is one of paranoia and claustrophobia, and a lack of diversity means it becomes grating over 90 minutes. Your new summer barbeque album this is not. I doubt I’ll be coming back to it in its entirety.

Cosmo Godfree

Mount Kimbie – Coldspring Faultless Youth

Fans of Mount Kimbie’s previous work will most likely be let down by their sophomore album. Aside from two masterfully executed slow burners- ‘Break Well’ and ‘Made to Stray’- and a few jazzy moments, the sound moves between directionless ambience and dreary, vocal-heavy songs that lack the chopped-up charm of their previous album and EPs. While some may find merit in the two adeptly-placed King Krule collaborations, for me, they were indicative of this album’s disappointing turn to bland electro-indie. A return to form will have to take a different direction.

Kevin Sexton

The Strokes – Comedown Machine

Despite the album title, the Strokes show no sign of losing their energy anytime soon. However, the band’s relentless drive backfires slightly on this record; the slick guitars often drown out the vocals and makes the band seem in competition with itself. The frenetic tempos are offset by the tenderness of ‘Chances’, which showcases Julian Casablancas’ songwriting skills with a maze of abstract lyrics. Overall, Comedown Machine is more suited to a summer party than a revision session, so stressed students be warned: the nonstop hooks may send you on a mercy mission for chamomile tea and Classic FM.

Emily Handley