Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Donkeys - Born with Stripes

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

It’s rare in this modern world in which we live, where so much is conducted on a global scale, that one can instantly pin a band to a particular part of the world. Putting this album on before going anywhere near any press material, it becomes instantly and possibly painfully obvious that The Donkeys are from Southern California. I check the press release. I’m right.

The Donkeys have produced an album that owes more than a nod to this region’s great heritage. The parallels to the Fifth Dimension era work of The Byrds and the driftier parts of Buffalo Springfield’s oeuvre are totally unavoidable and it would be pointless not to mention them in passing. But to lean too heavily on these comparisons would not really be fair, since these bands are peerless and magical and The Donkeys are, for the most part, a bit ordinary.

It’s not fair to say that they’re ordinary because they’re not very good; it’s more that they seem to be trying a little too hard to cram in as many psychedelic references as they can fit on a record: reverb-heavy harmonies, reverb-heavy guitars, drifting melodies, the odd random sound and even a sitar all make an appearance. What this leads to is an album with little cohesion, which is almost instantly annoying and feels a little derivative.

Occasional high points do exist on this record though, with a particular favourite being Bullfrog Blues, which is a nice little 3-minute psychedelic pop song that wouldn’t sound out of place on Elektra’s legendary Nuggets compilation. Here I feel that the band truly achieve their aims. It’s a great little number, but it’s followed by a seven-minute noodle entitled Valerie, which is clearly meant to call to mind CSNY’s fragile and beautiful Guinevere. And this is, perhaps in essence, why this album doesn’t work for me. Touted by the record label as a modern re-working of some of the elements of 60s psychedelia, it really isn’t. It’s actually a bit difficult to listen to without treating it as some kind of I-Spy exercise in spotting 1960s Californian influences. Shame.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Little Screm - The Golden Record

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

The Golden Record released 04/11/11 on Secretly Canadian Records

The title of this record is a reference to the golden discs included on the Voyager spacecraft, which contain a representative sample of sounds, languages and music from Earth. The hope is that if the discs are ever discovered by an alien race, they will be able to play them (assuming they’ve not ditched the physical format) and hear a cross-section of our society. Douglas Adams once said that the discs were going to include the music of Bach, but the designers were worried that even vastly superior life forms might see this as showing off. But I digress. Already.

Little Scream’s full debut is, in this case, well titled. It seems to contain a whole range of styles, sounds and influences, all held together by Little Scream’s fragile, soulful voice. The album manages to perfectly pair beautiful lilting folk songs (The Heron and The Fox is a particular favourite) with a rather fine line in bombast (Cannons - Both these tracks can be previewed here). It almost comes as no shock to discover it is produced by Arcade Fire’s multi-instrumentalist and hell-raiser-in-chief, Richard Reed-Parry. The way the louder tracks build and incorporate many instruments is reminiscent of the producer’s better-known work.

But to focus too much on the production or the host of local Montreal guests (other members of Arcade Fire and The National chip in) would be to do Little Scream a huge injustice. Her voice and song writing are both beautiful, and the album drifts from quiet and introspective to epic and enormous (particularly the rumbling Guyegaros and the curveball intro to Boatman) with an ease that carries the listener along, whilst keeping them constantly guessing and occasionally (in my case) squirming with delight. The fact that the album closes to the sound of gentle rain, wind chimes and what can only be a synthesiser playing Land of Hope and Glory will give you some sort of insight into what we’re dealing with here.

This is an album that achieves the core purposes of the debut record: to showcase a phenomenal talent, to leave the listener already itching for the next release, and to make me long to see her live. It’s also a record inside which I could comfortably live; so complete and enthralling is the world Little Scream has created. When next she visits these shores (she’s just supported Jose Gonzales at The Barbican), I shall be waiting with baited breath.