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Minireview extravaganza

05/06/2012

Lately I’ve been busy (exams, stomach bug and generally being away from computer, thank you for your concern!) which has left me incredibly unmotivated to sit down and do what I love to do, ie to write about music. That busy period should now be ending and as a way of popping the cork off, it’s time to talk about everything I should have been talking about lately. Albeit not in length because that would be just crazy. Hence, it’s time for a minireview extravaganza to catch up what’s been happening within my music-o-sphere lately.

GUILLEMOTS – HELLO LAND!

Oh god, the Guillemots are out to take ALL MY MONEY with their crazy-insane plan of releasing four albums within 2012. Then again, if I survived John Frusciante pushing out seven releases within one year, I’m sure I can take this. And if Hello Land!, not to mention last year’s phenomenal Walk the River, is anything to go by we’re in for a treat (and a really awkward situation where a huge chunk of my top ten of 2012 list is being dominated by one group). The fresh well of inspiration the band tapped into last year is still flowing strongly and the eight songs on Hello Land are filled with imaginative ideas, beautiful sounds, wonderful melodies and gorgeous atmosphere. Marrying hazy atmosphere to some lush, strong melodies is the album’s forté and as usual for the band, the detailed production is something to adore. In other words, Hello Land! is one of the year’s strongest releases so far and it has kept me quite captivated during this time. If there’s a flaw to it, it’s that I’m not sure how well it supports its theme: this is the spring album out of the seasonal four releases and, if we’re honest, it feels more like a split between a summer and autumn ones rather than anything to do with the rebirth of nature and freshness I come to associate with spring. That said, can we really blame someone for not being able to immaculately represent what is pretty much the vaguest, most inconsistent and incoherent season in the cycle?

Highlights: the half-atmospheric swoon/half-sixties pop “Up on the Ride”, the romping-stomping “Outside” and the blissfully floating “Nothing’s Going to Bring Me Down”.

KENT – JAG ÄR INTE RÄDD FÖR MÖRKRET

It’s sort of weird how 2010’s En plats i solen came only a year after 2009’s Röd despite sounding very little alike, and now two years later Jag är inte rädd för mörkret largely sounds like it’s carved from the exact same wood as En plats i solen. Kent have switched their usual melancholisms and moody styles into a more upbeat, sunnier direction, the sound balances somewhere between a rock band sound and the shiny, highly produced more synthesizer/keyboard-driven one, and the song approach is chorus-focused and rather ‘pop’ if you pardon my expression. Possibly moreso than ever in Kent’s career. It’s fine, they’re a great bunch of songwriters in that respect – but they’ve done it better, namely with En plats i solen that took the hook-laden approach and ran with it excellently, forming one of those “all songs could be singles in the making” albums where album structure is sacrificed for turning each song into a surefire killer hit. Jag är inte rädd för mörkret feels a bit like a microwave-heated portion of En plats i solen’s oven-baked dinner from last night: still enjoyable, but the storage and reheating process have taken away the best depths of the flavour and left you with only the very surface stuff. Mörkret has a couple of amazing tunes worthy of any pedestal to raise them on, a large handful of enjoyable if not massively exciting songs and a couple of moments which pass by without much to remember them from. It’s probably Kent’s weakest album since the mid-90s but far from a disaster – just a somewhat less exciting collection of Kent doing their interpretations of sunny pop songs.

Highlights: the immense “Petroleum” that is honestly one of the best songs of the year no matter how negative I sounded in the previous paragraph, “Låt dom komma” with its high-rising chorus and delicious production, and the hypnotically forward-driving “Beredd på allt”.

SIGUR RÓS – VALTARI

The idea of Sigur Rós releasing an album on the verge of summer seems a bit off because, as we all know, Sigur Rós is music for the darker seasons of the year (we do not call them “glacial” to the point of cringing simply because they’re from Iceland, you know). Listening to Valtari, it does somewhat make sense though.Valtari is the more optimistic cousin of the dark and depressing ( ):  both albums are largely atmospheric efforts that take their time and focus more on sound than identifiable structure, but where ( ) is the band’s darkest moment Valtari is peaceful and content. It’s not a particularly bouncy-bouncy upbeat album – it’s close to ambient a lot of the time, in fact – but it carries a satisfied optimism in its music, the feeling of simply being content and peaceful for a fleeting moment. Something that suits the warm, light summer evenings and nights to a t. Another thing of note is the typical Sigur Rós trait of focusing on beauty. They’ve by now become the dictionary definition of beautiful music and have an immaculate way of creating more and more ways to show it: Valtari continues the fine tradition by being a, well, phenomenally beautiful album. The sort of album that actually strikes you down and stops you still with how much the music resonates with your senses of everything gorgeous. Despite being the band’s calmest album to the point of offering hardly any grand showstopping epic moments of the traditional sense, the songs in Valtari sound larger than life simply in how universally beautiful they sound. In many ways, it’s quite the breathtaking thing.

Where it settles down in the great Sigur Rós album rankings list is one thing, but I’m quite positive Valtari is already one of the year’s standout albums. Despite the impressions I might be giving it’s (so far) not a humongous lifechanging album that is surefire top 3 candidate in this year’s end-of-year rankings (it’s quite hard to talk about Sigur Rós without resorting to some sort of hyperbole, especially for an inherently musically optimistic person like me), but it is a bloody beautiful, well-made album that resonates with me quite wonderfully. It also goes to show how this band works best when they’re in their comfort zone: I actually quite liked the stylistic experiments of the last album and wish they had taken it even further, but there’s no denying that when Sigur Rós focus on their inate talent in crafting beautiful soundscapes, they produce the best results.

Highlights: the beautiful bombast of “Varúð”, the blissful peace of “Ekki Múkk”, the lovely yet bizarrely upsettling and creepy “Valtari”.

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