After a month of gorging on Christmas titbits, we must once again return to our musical diet. Which albums are straining at the seams with discordant saturated fats and sugars and which are bursting to life with melodic superfoods? Let's dine...
Allow me to begin with Oczy Mlody, the 14th studio album from Oklahoma natives The Flaming Lips. As you might expect by now, the album is crammed full of experimental soundscapes overlayed by unusual lyrical trial and error. Front man Wayne Coyne sounds as crisp as ever but the album unfortunately veered towards error far too often for my liking.
Despite enjoying aspects of their work in the past (notably the infinitely more lucid Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots), I have to say this album left me distinctly unimpressed. It all just feels a bit... ploddy. The songs come across as flaccid and uninspired, lacking both the lyrically creativity of earlier work or the real majesty to generate the psychedelic sci-fi feel that the band have always reached for. It is not that I have an issue per se with 'stream of consciousness' songwriting. We do have to bear in mind though that a similar process is used to decipher the ramblings of individuals who doodle on the walls in their own faeces so it is not something to be trifled with. Oczy Mlody feels very much like trifling for trifling's sake.
It is a surprisingly good week for country albums with two works of note that couldn't be more different in style. The first is Laws Of Gravity by The Infamous Stringdusters, a five piece string band that originate from Charlottesville, Virginia. My introduction and love for banjo music came courtesy of the comedic genius of Steve Martin. It is an instrument that is clinical yet versatile and, when played by a true musician, can really drive a song forward.
The Infamous Stringdusters have cultivated a pop sound whilst staying true to the roots and spirit of country. If I had to have one critique, the vocals can sometimes feel a little flimsy – almost lapsing at times into Weird Al barbershop quartet (Black Elk). Fortunately, the viruosity of the group acts as a safety net and instrumental track Sirens really is a joy to behold. Vocal inadequacies in mind, Laws Of Gravity will never hold up to previous studio album Ladies & Gentlemen – on which the band collaborated with eleven tremendous female vocalists. It is, however, invigorating to see a band that understand their craft and use it to such devastating effect.
The second album is definitely my favourite of the week – Mount Renraw by Otis Gibbs. Unlike The Infamous Stringdusters, Gibbs has far more of a rustic feel. I love Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and the violin on opening track Ed's Blues (Survival) took me straight back there. Gibbs conjures up a simple, de-glamorised Americana which tangled with the ache of my heart for a simpler life and refused to let go.
He charms with the story of wrestler and Civil Rights figure Sputnik Monroe, expresses shame at the modern world beneath the gaze of activist Lucy Parsons and laments the plight of the Native Americans in the Dylan-esque Bison. An album like this is what happens when we brush the varnish from our nostalgia and glimpse the rotten core beneath. Thought-provoking, authentic and complimented perfectly by Gibbs' rich tone, Mount Renraw is a carriage ride through a 'warts and all' USA that might seem alien yet, at the same time, oddly familiar to us today.
We'll close off this week with Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, a Transatlantic collaborative album between American Matthew E White and British Flo Morrissey. It is a rareity nowadays to see two separate artists with established careers come together on a project such as this pretty much just for the hell of it. The album consists of covers that range from the maudlin reflection of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne to the teenage abandon of the Bee Gees' Grease. A particular highlight is the opening track, a cover of Little Wings' 2002 song Look At What The Light Did Now.
As with all duets, the success of this album hangs on the blend of two vocal styles. White has the delightful husk of a man who might smoke fifty Silk Cut before breakfast while Morrissey (no relation) adopts the role of innocent melody pixie, floating through her parts with an effortless grace. It is a combination that works well and makes for a distinctive record.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Good week for country
Gibbs and Stringdusters make up
For The Lukewarm Lips
As always, please feel free to write your own review using the comments section below. The more the merrier. Please do take note of our contribution guidelines. Looking forward to hearing what you thought.