Let's rummage once more through the toy box of new album releases. Which records are the Etch A Sketch with two broken knobs that you keep thinking you've thrown away only to see it every time you open the lid? Which are the beloved teddy bear – eyes dangling precariously from their sockets, fur matted where it was once fluffy, a beloved friend from whom you will never part?
First up, let's take a look at Black And White Rainbows by Bush with Gavin Rossdale. Now, I may be being particularly moronic but, as far as I was aware, Bush have never been without Gavin Rossdale. I have scoured the internet for some evidence of legal wrangling that might have affected a name change with no success so I am choosing to assume that Gavin Rossdale is so irritating that the rest of the band feel it necessary to differentiate the time they spend with him and apart from him so that they may be judged accordingly. More likely, it is a reaction to Rossdale's recent appearances on ITV's The Voice where he forms one corner (alongside Tom Jones and Will.I.Am) of the triumvirate of stars with nothing better to do, flanking Jennifer Hudson as she frantically calls her agent asking to be airlifted out. Black And White Rainbows is Bush's (as I will be calling them henceforth – bollocks to your marketing whims) seventh studio album and third since reforming in 2010.
Unfortunately, the album sounds like it has been dragged backwards through a bush (see what I did there?) before being savaged by a congress of angry bush babies (good collective nouning) and then left stranded for four days in New Orleans by George. W. Bush (and that's the hat trick). The band have significantly toned down their original rock sound in favour of something that veers towards karaoke Coldplay. The modern incarnation of Bush seems to have a shameless 'let's get the old band back together' type of vibe. Rossdale struts through this album with the edgy cool of a plaid Dad at an Eminem concert. The lyrics are mediocre, very rarely deviating from the flaccid scribbles of a teenage pyrite rebel. Even Dystopia, their attempt at a political stab, feels so lethargic that the political message might as well be 'things aren't great at the moment but perhaps if we all just have a nice cup of tea then that might steady the ship'. It is a shame to see a band who were once considered a natural successor to throne of Nirvana clinging to who they used to be in such a white-knuckled fashion that they are oblivious to the fact that the world has moved on. Sucker in some unsuspecting Voice devotees they may but it will undoubtedly be at the expense of their loyal fan base.
Next is Everybody Works, the second album from Jay Som, a Californian artist who is living the dream of so many musicians worldwide – creating and releasing music from a studio set up in her bedroom. Following the success of her first album Turn Into, Jay Som returns with another album on which she is credited as writer, performer, producer, etc. and that is the real charm of the record, the overriding feeling that it is a labour of love as opposed to music by committee.
Most of the songs have an intentional unpolished quality, almost like they are thoughts that are so fleeting that they don't have time to fully form yet they must be documented, even through their distortion. The best example of this is The Bus Song, an Elliot Smithesque ditty about mending a fractured relationship. Everybody Works is the musical equivalent of a Michael Cera movie. Irreverent, quirky and with leanings towards the surreal. Perhaps a little pretentious at times but with its heart in the right place.
The only previous experience I have of New Mexico band The Shins is the shameless recommendation of Natalie Portman's 'I'm original – I have a giant hamster run' characterless void Sam in 2004 movie Garden State. At a point when Zach Braff dictated far too much of my life and thought process, I, like many others, listened to their second album Chutes Too Narrow and was wholly unimpressed. It was then almost immediately discarded to the pile of dusty CDs of whiny indie bands, most of whom at some point had featured in Scrubs, The OC or One Tree Hill. The Shins are now back after a five year hiatus with their fifth studio album, Heartworms (for the faint of heart, don't make my mistake and Google 'Heartworms' without first adding 'The Shins' after it – trust me).
I must admit to being pleasantly surprised. Lead singer James Mercer's voice contains a glorious psychedelia which entwines with a synthesised backdrop to create a floaty album that is intoxicating in its lighter notes. Name For You is an interesting challenge to pigeon-holed societal perceptions of women. Cherry Hearts is a beguiling 80s soliloquy on unrequited love. Fantasy Island is eye-catching escapism, childlike but with undertones of adult anxiety. I feel the album does lose its way towards the end but there is enough to it to make it worth a listen.
We'll close out this week with 50 Song Memoir by The Magnetic Fields. The band's eleventh release is an autobiographical concept album which takes the form of 50 songs, each allocated a year in the life of lead singer Stephin Merritt. I must confess to having only listened to the selection presented on Spotify as opposed to the full 5 CD opus, however the snippet that I have experienced bodes well for a magnificent piece of work.
As a reader, I am not much for autobiographies – I have enough trouble keeping track of my own life, let alone those of other people. 50 Song Memoir is a captivating record of a life lived and its true joy is in its diversity of subject matter. '68: A Cat Called Dionysus rather ominously tells of a childhood pet who longs to be free from the 3 year old who sees it as just another toy. '88: Ethan Frome pays tribute to Edith Wharton's novella which seemingly sits as a favourite of Merritt's. '92: Weird Diseases chronicles each ailment that has afflicted Merritt in his lifetime. These are not grandiose tales, they are wistful anecdotes that might ordinarily never leave the confines of a family gathering. By presenting them in such a fashion though, Merritt shows us the splendour in the everyday and almost invites us as listeners to form our own memoir. It is a truly unique experience.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Nothing in the Bush
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