Album Review: Vanishing Twin-Ookii Gekkou (2021, Fire Records)

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I cannot even begin to write about the ironically apropos and prescient title of Vanishing Twin’s second album. At least not with a straight face. Somewhere a masonic temple’s granite eyeball finial must have been struck by black-and-white lightning and gained access into a colorfully rich, well-marbled dimensions.

Given their well known habits for experimentation, I think I could be similarly excused in such synesthesia. Co-mingling ready-made genres and samples into beautiful Frankensteins is, after all, air and water to Vanishing Twin. Coming on the heels of that 2019 album The Age of Immunology, their third such exploration switches from French to Japanese kookiness. Ookii Gekkou starts with an ostensibly odd but oddly-working merger between ’60s/’70s movie soundtrack and full lyrical song.

Busier, more vocal (not just in voice but tone) and more esoteric in comparison to Age of Immunology, Ookii Gekkou resembles a circus freak show in the best positive meaning of that term. With less thematic cohesion, the tracks have individual personalities like they busted out of a soundtrack from an Italian psycho movie on schizophrenia. I kid of course, about the country of origins for the brand of weirdness – the band is based in London. But if we are after a dose of stereotypical minor key hijinks, “In Cucina” does have that and some. Together with the album’s namesake “Big Moonlight”, it bookends a first phase of the album that has fresh, propulsive notes. Ookii then offers a more familiar imprint from Age seemingly designed to please previous fans, and almost as if on-cue, submerges into more electronica territory thereafter. While never trite, it is also never predictable. It is delightful to discover that genuinely enjoyable, not just artsy-fartsy, music can erupt this way.

On the notes of “Phase One Million”, then, I will be glad to return to my insouciant and carefree stroll (indoors) while chewing on marbled beef tacos de ojo, however ill-advised that might be. And on the fact that both this and the other album reviewed this week featured pink covers, I have no comment.

Album Review: Teenage Fanclub-Endless Arcade (2021, Merge Records)

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For the first time in 19 months, it is again time to introduce you, kind readers, to my total bald-faced ignorance of a band that should have been right up my alley (please do not substitute other nouns). Although truth be told, if ignorance deterred opinion, the subject of this review might not need to exist.

Teenage Fanclub formed in 1989 and without C14 dating myself, they are a contemporary band that I confess to be a bit ashamed to have lived without. But from the opening cord of “Home” onward, Teenage Fanclub’s latest album, Endless Arcade, proved a brightly-lit collection that seems to radiate into a dimly-aware black-hole of a world spinning out of self-control. To counteract its miraculous escape from under the hellhole of an inertia from 2020, Teenage Fanclub seemed to wear a beaming veneer with just a bit more shine than they might have previously. It is then ironically and self-referentially circular to hear their lyrics still ruminate the cuds of personal conflicts, nostalgia, self-doubt, and falling apart, not the least by including a chipper number called “Everything is Falling Apart” with four-part harmony.

I cannot explain whatever reasons might have justified my expecting otherwise, really. Billy Connolly famously quipped about the ironic mystery of how he became a comedian with “We are a miserable lot. When the Sun comes out, we’d offer to pay for it”. Commiserations, then. Now the whole world knows intimately what it’s like to be tucked indoors because it’s shit both outside and in, while the only stability one has is between the ears, and even that wavers between alcohol and valium.

In an era when some view the scavenging and rhyming of “bottles”, “models”, and “poison arrows” from the OED before it is translated into BTS-ese as the pinnacle of their achievements, it is truly the mark of a purposefully universal dreamscape when the only definitive, non-transposable nouns used in an album appears to be Dionysus, and “in a deadly decline” at that. Is that a long enough sentence to draw the ire of our resident grammarian? I don’t know. While the whole album can be taken as one continuous entity, singling out “The Sun Won’t Shine”, “In Our Dreams”, “Back in the Day”, and “I’m More Inclined” is a simple task, but that’s just because of my melodic preferences.

Had this album not been waved in front of my face in a Zoom chat one Friday night, prompting a search for “pink green record”, I might have lived the rest of my life without being a Teenage fanboy. I don’t know how this highly appreciated happy accident put the universe on the track it is now. But just drop the needle somewhere and while you recline, Dionysus will show the way.

Album Review: We Were Promised Jetpacks – Enjoy The View (2021, Big Scary Monsters)

Posted on by Paul in Albums | Leave a comment

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It’s quite fitting that We Were Promised Jetpacks open their latest album with a track entitled “Not Me Anymore.” Of course the band are still very much themselves, but the moody vocal delivery of Adam Thompson and the chilled out, synth-heavy sounds signal a change of sorts and the track definitely stands out in sounding not quite like anything WWPJ have done before. It comes across as almost a mission statement – in starting the album off with such a departure, the band is definitely letting the listener know to expect something a bit different. This willingness to switch things up a bit and broaden their sound has certainly paid off, with WWPJ producing perhaps their strongest album since their debut These Four Walls.

For those worried that the band may have strayed too far from their origins, songs like “Fat Chance” veer a bit closer to the band’s past sounds, though with lyrics about doing “a complete 180,” it certainly still shares some common themes with “Not Me Anymore.” The standout of the album though is also its literal centrepiece – probably no coincidence. That track, “If It Happens,” lends the album its title with its lyric “All I want to do is get high and enjoy the view” also doubling as an apropos description of the overall vibe of the album – subdued in some ways yet also quite expansive and adventurous.

Enjoy The View is out September 10 on Big Scary Monsters.

Album Review: Sharon Van Etten – epic Ten

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Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten at SXSW 2011

Sharon Etten’s epic was released back in September of 2010 and while it was her second release, it was my first introduction to the New Jersey singer-songwriter. After seeing Van Etten open for Junip at Lee’s Palace in November of that year, I was immediately hooked and saw her no less than three times during the promo cycle for that album and several more times in the ensuing years, most recently at Roskilde 2019 … you know, back when live music was still a thing.

Sharon Van Etten is easily one of the best songwriters of the past decade or so and while everything she’s released since then has also been great, I must admit that none of it has resonated with me in quite the same way that that epic has, so I was happy to see that Van Etten is celebrating ten years of epic with a deluxe reissue. Sure it’s a little late, but time doesn’t really have much meaning these days anyways and I’ll take any excuse to revisit a favourite album, especially when it’s loaded up with extra goodies.

The “goodies” in question are, of course, covers of each of the album’s tracks by a broad selection of performers including Shamir, IDLES, and Lucinda Williams, which help to make this re-release of epic just a bit more, well, epic than the original release. Of the new versions, the standouts are Shamir’s stunning version of “DsharpG” and Courtney Barnett and Vagabon’s grungy, Neil Young-esque take on “Don’t Do It.” The biggest surprise of the bunch though comes from the previously unknown to me St. Panther, who transforms Van Etten’s “One Day” into a full on pop song.

But what of the original versions of these songs? Do they hold up all these years later. Yes they do. Very much so. From the opening strums of “A Crime” to the meditative beauty of closer “Love More”, I was taken right back to the first time I heard these songs and reminded that as much as Van Etten has progressed and grown as a songwriter, she was already so good back then.

I always look forward to seeing what Sharon Van Etten’s going to do next, but it’s nice to look back every now and then too. And epic is definitely an album worth revisiting.

Sharon Van Etten’s epic Ten is out now on Ba Da Bing Records.