Monthly Archives: January 2011
British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall
With Do You Like Rock Music?, British Sea Power moved further and further away from the visceral side of their sound and more towards the majestic, with hooks aiming for the stadium cheap seats and guitars ringing out towards the heavens. And like their score for the Man Of Aran documentary suggested, the band continues in this direction on Valhalla Dancehall, the band’s fourth proper album. This isn’t just a continuation of Do You Like Rock Music?‘s ocean-sized anthems though. British Sea Power instead decide here to embellish the more atmospheric elements of their sound, which fails almost as often as it succeeds. Surely, they have excelled at large, meandering productions in the past (hell, they made their debut’s 14-minute “Lately” never feel tiresome), and previous songs like “Waving Flags” were able to make their expansive sound genuinely rousing. But here, with the exception of the great, fist-pumping opener, “Who’s In Control” and the swaying closer “Heavy Water,” the more ethereal feel blunts the impact of the anthems, giving them less to rally behind and obscuring vocalists Yan and Hamilton’s hyper-literate words in reverb and synths. Similarly, a few songs like “We Are Sound” and especially the epic “Once More Now” are interesting in spurts but end up coming across a bit dull as they sputter to a close. Fortunately, not all his lost because Valhalla Dancehall‘s softer, more gorgeous moments redeem the album. “Luna” and the dreamy “Baby” are fine songs, but with its swooning strings and sighing vocals, “Cleaning Out The Rooms,” which first appeared on 2010’s Zeus EP, is the absolute standout. Also, the pure pop of lead single “Living Is So Easy” is one of the album’s best moments and, tellingly, one of the tightest and simplest. These moments are enough to save Valhalla Dancehall from mediocrity, but British Sea Power need to curb their ambitions if they don’t have the songs to back them up.
Daft Punk – Tron: Legacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Since French knob-twiddlers Daft Punk haven’t released a studio album since 2005’s Human After All, the music world immediately jumped on the idea of the duo writing the score for Tron: Legacy, Disney’s long-awaited sequel to sci-fi classic Tron. After all, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo always seemed like they were beamed from the not-to-distant future (what with their robotic music and costumes), so they seemed a perfect match to Tron‘s digital world. And when the neon pulse of “Derezzed” gave the public a first taste of the score, it seemed to confirm the hopes of the soundtrack being the grand return of one of the most popular and influential groups in modern dance music. However, as many should have expected, given that it is still a Disney score, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack veers towards contemporary classical music much more often than it does towards Daft Punk’s patented house and club music. This doesn’t mean that they have completely abandoned electronica, though, and the soundtrack is at its most successful when it blends the organic and the synthetic. “Solar Sailer,” for instance, mixes futuristic keyboard arpeggios with melancholy string swells, while fuzzy, pounding drums and ominous tones emphasize the horn interjections on “The Game Has Changed.” In fact, only “End Of Line,” “Tron: Legacy (End Titles),” and the aforementioned “Derezzed” are the only places where the music is in the same ballpark as their earlier work. These are much-needed respites from the tightly wound tension found elsewhere, especially on tracks like “Rectifier.” While these dark and digital soundscapes certainly fit the tone of the film, with the visuals separated from it, there are many times that the music is less than moving. There are a few points on the album where horns and strings rise and fall in predictable patterns that don’t contribute to the atmosphere the score expertly creates otherwise. Actually, Tron: Legacy is at its best when it strays away from conventional classical arrangements, perhaps because Daft Punk have much more experience with electronics. In any case, this album is still a worthwhile listen for fans of Daft Punk and for fans of soundtracks and scores in general. Just don’t expect a follow-up to Human After All.
Duran Duran – All You Need Is Now
In the late ’90s and early ’00s, Duran Duran went through various line up changes, releasing a few middling albums that struggled to update their sound in the face of the ever-changing pop music scene. This culminated in the release of 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre, where the band enlisted the help of producers Danja, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, fresh off that trio’s monumental success with Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds. It did indeed result in the band sounding more contemporary than they had in years, yet their collaborators’ combined presence, along with the hip-hop and club pulse affectations, threatened to overshadow the band. Fortunately, Duran Duran decided to abandon the attempts to update their sound and return to their roots—and their strengths—on their 2010 follow-up, All You Need Is Now, enlisting eclectic producer Mark Ronson to helm the project.
As it turns out, Ronson is the perfect fit for Duran Duran’s return to form as he specializes in both making the classic contemporary, such as with his work with Amy Winehouse, and in more danceable productions for musicians across many genres. This means that no matter how tied to the ’80s the band’s music may be, Ronson remembers that production techniques haven’t been stuck in time, and All You Need Is Now accordingly sounds modern even with its retrogressive tendencies. But it isn’t all the production: this album also features Duran Duran’s strongest set in years. It isn’t exactly the sequel to Rio or Seven and the Ragged Tiger, but it’s cut from the same cloth. The beats and grooves are slick and sultry, and the choruses are bright and soaring with Simon LeBon singing over all of it like the last 30 years never happened. “All You Need Is Now” and “Blame The Machines” sound like updated versions of Duran Duran classics; “The Man Who Stole A Leopard” and “Before The Rain” develop the darker shades of the band’s personality; “Safe (In The Heat Of The Moment),” on the other hand, is a sexy and funky dance track with Scissor Sisters’ Ana Matronic playing the part of the seductress. Not every song is as distinct, but every time it seems the songwriting is slipping a bit, Ronson throws in another production trick to keep things interesting. This won’t break through to the pop audience of today by any means, and (oh no!) it’s not exactly innovative, but All You Need Is Now is a great pop album—easily their best since 1993’s Duran Duran—and the kind of album that loyal Duran Duran fans knew the band would make again.