music reviews

1 February 2008

Indie

THESE NEW PURITANS

Beat Pyramid (Domino) Out Jan 28

Ripe for a dose of strident, cocky new-rave hip-rock? Then step right this way, ladies and gentlemen. Beat Pyramid is bizarre, enigmatic and too postmodern for its shirt.

Hyped indie four-piece These New Puritans, being barrier-breaking types, have today blurred the line between legitimate experimental production and self-indulgent electronic noodling. Not content with that, they go on to challenge the long-held idea that excessive repetition isn’t necessarily a good thing, followed by thoroughly debunking the music industry propaganda that is rhythmic variation. Take that, fuddy-duddies! Tomorrow the world!

It’s a pity that every song is dominated by Jack Barnett’s monotone vocal delivery, reminiscent of Mark Smith drugged up to the eyelids on paranoia juice. If this weren’t so, we could appreciate the occasional interesting instrumental turn, like the first fifteen seconds of Swords Of Truth or the whole of album highlight Infinity Ytinifni. The synthed-up basslines and tribal drums ooze foreboding and menace. But instead Barnett’s deadpan draws your attention to the lyrics, which are nothing other than embarrassing.

“What’s your favourite number? What does it mean?” he raps over the opening of single Numbers and repeats ad nauseum, before launching into a list of numbers and their interpretations. “One: is the individual! Two is duality!” he barks. No, really?

You can’t help but feel there’s supposed to be some kind of Pynchonian narrative running through the record. But if so, it doesn’t show itself after several listens. On another track, 4 pounds, the only lyrics are “Four of your pounds!” I can only guess they want me to buy their singles. The album curls deeper and deeper into itself as the tracks progress before swallowing its own tail in a flash of pointlessness as the end of the last track becomes the beginning of the first. These New Puritans could have made a decent dark synth-rock record, but they decided to wallow in pretension instead. An album to be avoided.

Saul Glasman

Prog Rock

THE MARS VOLTA

The Bedlam In Goliath (Island)

Out Jan 28

Since their headspinningly brilliant debut Deloused In The Comatorium, each subsequent release from The Mars Volta has seen the band slowly disappear guitar-first up their own rear ends. The Bedlam In Goliath is the faintest of shuffles in the right direction, but ultimately does too little to buck the trend. The concept behind the album (apparently something to do with the band’s misfortune with an ouija-board) is as indecipherable as ever, and essentially an excuse to fill 76 minutes with effect-laden guitar noodling, restless time shifts and complex Latin drum patterns, albeit with the addition of a more Eastern sound than before.

The album benefits from being heavier and more direct than its predecessors, evident right from the promising opener Aberinkula. The best moments are consistently the most hard-hitting tracks, such as the frantic Ouroboros, or the relatively streamlined two-and-a-half minutes of single Wax Simulacra, and at least half of the album carries a pleasing sense of urgency. Much of the album’s remainder, however, could at best be described as silly. Their worrying affinity with horribly processed vocals continues with the likes of Ilyena and the frankly absurd Tourniquet Man, as if Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s increasingly muppetesque vocals aren’t irksome enough. There are moments that sound genuinely cheesy: the otherwise excellent Goliath opens with the sort of wah-guitar you would expect from a 70’s American cop show. Even when they do stumble upon something brilliant (the lush eastern strings and eerie chanting on Soothsayer) they almost invariably drown it out with needless guitar-wankery.

For all the Mars Volta’s technical prowess and supposed experimentation, there’s very little here in the way of innovation. The musical scope on this album is narrower than anything they’ve done before: the range of sounds they showed on earlier releases is conspicuously absent. The result is an album of all too similar sounding songs, which considering its length, makes for one tough and not particularly rewarding slog.

Jason Cleeton

Jazz

PAT METHENY TRIO

Day Trip (Warner)

Out Jan 28

Right from the opening notes of the first track, one feels safely wrapped in Pat Metheny’s silk blanket of interweaving melodies that float tranquilly around the room, his unmistakable gentle tones and flawless improvisation. Day Trip, composed of all original tracks, is the culmination of five years of on-and-off touring and one day in the studio, and the comfort within the trio comes through on the record beautifully. Drummer Antonio Sanchez is considered by some to be the best of his generation and bassist Christian McBride plays with a remarkably controlled fervour.

The vast musical diversity of the album keeps the listener interested at all times. A traditional easy-going groove can be heard on Dreaming Trees, which conjures up daydreams of pixies playing by a stream as only a track called ‘Dreaming Trees’ could. The harmonically humble Is This America?, an elegiac folk-jazz number, reaches profound levels of lushness. No matter how high one turns up the volume, these tracks will never be loud.

Throughout the swinging Calvin’s Keys, on the other hand, the audible influence of Wes Montgomery combined with catchy bluesy riffs make an impromptu Jimmy Smith cadenza seem imminent. Son of Thirteen and Let’s Move, two of the most rhythmically and harmonically intricate tracks, show that the trio can also push the boundaries, and they do so with a thrilling dynamism.

There are few weak points on the album, but The Red One simply feels out of place. The dirty grittiness of this sinister gallimaufry of rock, reggae and funk ingredients comes off as a little forced and it is a relief when the sexy bossa-nova Snova starts, a territory where the trio feel much more at home. Pat Metheny tries a similar trick on When We Were Free when he introduces harsh synthesisers six minutes into what would otherwise be one of the most melodically invigorating tunes on the album. These, however, are but minor defects on an inspiring and engaging album that bubbles over with both vigour and cool.

James Wan