Album Digest, May 2014
This month was strange. I didn’t listen to much new music and after last month’s bumper digest there’s probably a reason for that. Not to mention that Spotify gives you more reasons to look backwards than forwards. Nevertheless, this brief post features new albums by Little Dragon and Coldplay, along with the mini-album collaboration between Röyskopp and Robyn.
Little Dragon “Nabuma Rubberband”
I discovered Little Dragon, like most people, I imagine, via Gorillaz’ “Plastic Beach” album. When I investigated their “Machine Dreams” album I was surprised that their sound had transplanted to “Plastic Beach” intact. Sometimes you discover a band through a collaboration and their own work turns out to be disappointing, somehow diminished by the other artist(s) no longer being present. “Machine Dreams” is a fine album that breezes by, much like “Empire Ants” and “To Binge” do on “Plastic Beach”.
Unfortunately I completely missed their last album “Ritual Union” album from 2011 (I haven’t heard it at all) and now “Nabuma Rubberband” arrives with a bit of hype and a sprightly new art direction (not to mention a rush job “Best of” comp released earlier this year). The lead off singles “Paris” and “Let Go” showed quite a lot of promise too. At first “Nabuma Rubberband” (excellent title by the way) sounds oddly mired in collaboration mode, with the band seemingly collaborating with other people’s expectations for them. For example opener “Mirror” sounds like Massive Attack picking up from where “Mezzanine” left off. This is, of course, a very good thing because who among us does not pretend on a daily basis that “100th Window” never happened? It’s a pretty song but it seems focus grouped some how, the right pressure points applied and the right references given.
That all said, “Nabuma Rubberband” does seem to grow in confidence as it progresses. As I’ve said, the singles are great and “Klipp Klapp” is a decent little runaround too. There is a very weird and very brief interlude that makes you think they’re about to go dub step or something similarly banal/atrocious but it all blows over, a witty musical red herring. Overall the album is a nice mellow affair and worth at least a background listen.
Coldplay “Ghost Stories”
While I was travelling around South America I listened a lot to both “A Rush Of Blood To The Head” and “X & Y”. If I’m honest it’s because they fit well to both the business of staring out of the window at wonderful landscapes and that of taking a crafty nap while no one’s looking. To my mind they’re both good albums. I tried “Viva La Vida” again too and I like it more than I used to. Apparently I quite liked “Mylo Xyloto”, when I reviewed it on these pages in October 2011, but to be honest I lost interest in it (beyond the singles) after that.
Maybe I need to go back to “Mylo Xyloto” though because the new album “Ghost Stories” isn’t that great. This is a shame because I wanted to like it and I like a lot of the collaborators involved (including shiny disco twat-pleaser Avicii). Nevertheless it’s let down by its dreariness and lack of dynamism. You can’t even argue that they’re experimenting: they’ve either arranged songs like this before or other bands have produced similar songs that are better. There’s only two songs that aren’t let down by dreadful weepy maudlin lyrics and that’s not a great return. A third decent song is “Midnight” which is basically the sound of the rest of the band trying their hardest to pretend that Chris Martin isn’t there, an approach that probably should have been adopted on the rest of the record.
Röyksopp & Robyn “Do It Again”
The first time I ever wrote an album digest on this blog I included a Robyn EP and Röyksopp’s slightly underwhelming album “Senior”. This EP, just 5 tracks and 35 minutes of it, represents a collaboration between two of my favourite artists. Robyn’s last album “Body Talk” was my favourite album of 2010 and Röyksopp’s “Junior” (2009) is on my list of upcoming understated classics posts. They have each featured in collaborations on both of those albums: “Body Talk” features the low-key trance skulk of “None Of Dem” and “Junior” has the excellent single “The Girl and The Robot”. I guess that’s another reason for calling it “Do It Again”.
At first 5 tracks and just 35 minutes seems disappointing but it’s longer than at least two of the albums from last month’s album digest and in this case it’s all killer and no filler. It even manages to sound like a full length album by virtue of being varied and variegated throughout. First track “Monument” is long and lazy, it seems to be about the singularity or some such. It starts with pulses and beats, then a digitized saxophone appears (definitely the best sax on a record since Röyksopp’s own “She’s So” back on “Melody AM”) that becomes more and more “real” (as in acoustic-sounding) as the track progresses. Coupled to Robyn’s elegiac and moody vocal it’s a very stately opener.
Next up is “Sayit”, in which a speak and spell is instructed on how to get its freak on by Robyn. It’s a wonderful tune that makes a huge racket and shows exactly how a Kraftwerk record would (or maybe just should) sound now - that is if they’d continued along the lines of “Electric Café/Techno Pop” route - the fussy narrator of “The House Phone” short circuited into a “fuck mechanic” and a growling techno monster. This is jolting visceral stuff and you can hear why an EP is ideal, the short run time allows for this one great peak.
The title track is the most Robyn-dominated song here and very much like songs from “Body Talk”. It has a clever lyric that’s conflicted, either the two lovers in the song should not get back together because they’ll only “do it again” or they should get back together so that they can indeed “do it again”. Deliciously the song never comes down on a decision either way. The next song “Every Little Thing” is probably the weakest thing here, the backing sounds recycled from Röyksopp’s “What Else Is There?” of “The Understanding” (the track that did more than any other to convince me that The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson has a fantastic voice) and the lyric and song are not quite up to Robyn’s super high stands. The lovely cooing chorus is what saves it though, what it lacks in bells and whistles it makes up a little in heart.
Finally there’s the amazing “Inside The Idle Hour Club” - the best single track that I’ve heard so far this year. A sprawling 10 minute ambient instrumental, it manages to achieve everything Röyksopp tried and failed to do on “Senior”. It’s utterly mellow and absorbing, and ends in angelic choirs. It’s the only track that I am going to embed from this month. Overall “Do It Again” is a compelling mini-album that doesn’t over stay its welcome and manages to bear repeat listens, highly recommended.