Saturday, 18 May 2013

Album review: Cayucas - Bigfoot

Nothing screams summer quite like indie pop and sunshine, does it? Together, the two are an irresistible combination, soundtracking rose-tinted notions of fun, frolics and whatever else equates to youthful good times these days. It's no wonder so many bands pursue a sun-soaked aesthetic. After all, hit the right vein of ebullient melodies and you're guaranteed a run of upper-billing festival appearances and a relentless sweep of airplay between June and September.

Cayucas are, unquestionably, shooting for this sphere of the indie pop canon. Given the quintet hail from the shores of Santa Monica, California, this shouldn’t come as much surprise; sunshine is in their blood. If ever a band was to embody a baking, breezy day on the beach, they would be it. Up-tempo, infectious indie-pop isn’t just their schtick, it’s what they were made for.

Which is probably a good thing. Because this world’s way too monochrome these days. Think of all the shit we hear about on a 24 hour basis: austerity, poverty, political sleaze, child labour, Nigel-fucking-Farage. Now think about Cayacus’ debut long-player Bigfoot: an aired out flush of romantic jingle-jangling that trades only in subject matter a love-struck school kid could feasibly care about. Sounds refreshing, right? Well, it is. Kind of.

 You see this is an album you can come at from two levels. On the one hand, tracks like ‘Cayucos’ and ‘East Coast Girl’ generate the sort of tropical rhythmic gaze that made Vampire Weekend such a unavoidable proposition in the first place. Each cut is unashamedly pop, filled with chasms of reverb and joyous reels of melody. ‘High School Lover’ is even sweeter, shooting out a fumble of drum and chiming guitars as vocalist Zach Yudin yearns for the memory of a lost mid-school sweetheart.

Yet it’s for these same reasons Bigfoot loses some of its sheen. This is an album filled with throwaway indie pop statements that lack any kind of staying power. Sure, ‘A Summer Thing’ is a gratifying three minutes of swooning piano twinkles, but it hardly rivals 'Wouldn’t It Be Nice'. Likewise, ‘Deep Sea’ is an ornate stroll of sea-shell harmonies and wide-eyed dreaminess, yet when it’s over it’s as forgettable as a watered-down margarita on a package holiday in Cyprus.

And, ultimately, it comes down to what you want from your sun-stroked indie pop. If emotional depth is what you’re after, these eight tracks are never likely to be your bag. But, if you can take Bigfoot for the sun-blushed, sweet-natured collection of songs that it is, then this could be the soundtrack to your summer. All you’d need then is a little sunshine.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Album review: Savages - Silence Yourself

They may be the latest British buzz band, but Savages sure don't sound like one. Rather than mining their home country's rich rock heritage, the current darlings of the U.K.'s indie press pull their energy from the seething, sex-charged sonics of acts like The Birthday Party and Suicide. Judging by the hype that's surrounded them since the release of their inaugural single in 2012, that approach is working.

Over the last year, the London quartet has taken to the road to tighten the towering gothic structures and rabid post-punk squalls that coined all the commotion. Their debut LP Silence Yourself is the fruits of this labour, combining the disarming thrum of their live appearances with a studio-born subtlety that showcases an ear for nuance.

 But this is no easy listen. Singer Jehnny Beth's moribund tones are led by a roar of serrated guitars and the kind of barbarous percussion that never seems to let up. From the opening notes of "Shut Up" the onslaught is relentless: "Husbands" pulverizes, "City's Full" howls, and "No Face" screeches. This is anarchic, itching punk at its most primal, most belligerent.

 In their pre-release press spiel, the band are at pains to state that these 11 tracks are best heard loud—in fact, it's the only way to hear them. The depth and ferocity of sound found on "I Am Here" needs decibels to deliver its full aural assault. Background filler these songs are not: each cut (and they all feel like a cut) is intended to rattle bones from the floor up.

 Perhaps the one chink in Silence Yourself's armor is the darkly veiled drone that turns "Waiting For a Sign" into a mechanical slog. But this is a minor stutter on a record that conjures up something truly unique. That something? A buzz band out-buzzing the buzz.

First published here for Under the Radar

Saturday, 4 May 2013

What I was listening to last month: April 2013

Now we’re into May, with the sun shining bright and the barometer rising, I can look back on April through a rose-tinted lens.

What started out as a month fraught with uncertainty around Su’s job (and mine) ended with late evening bike rides on our new two-wheeled steeds, safe in the knowledge that Su will be employed in the newspaper industry for at least another year and that we have a long overdue trip to Scotland coming up in the very near future. In terms of music, it’s been a fruitful sort of month.

I completely fell for Charli XCX's debut LP and all of its android-pop glory, as well as Cayucas’s breezy Vampire Weekend-esque indie saunters. Steve Mason’s Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time was a slowburner for me; it took time to love but once it clicked I return to it almost every other day.

It’s hard to talk about April without mentioning the return of Daft Punk. The Pharrell fronted Get Lucky is already the impossible to resist single of the summer and I fully expect to hear it blasted from the rafters at house parties over the coming months.

 I also had the opportunity to hear the new Savages record for, oh, one whole play – trying to write a review based on one listen is not as easy as it sounds – and my final words were something along the lines of “a buzz band out-buzzing the buzz”.

 Jon Hopkins’ new record Immunity is a feast of glichy effects and kinked beats that is arguably the most innovative eletronica-record of the year to date. And while Wiley’s latest effort was a fairly inconsistent beast, a few tracks stood out – particularly the striding My Heart, featuring omnipresent pop harlot Emeli Sande.

So that was April. May sees the full return of Daft Punk, which will no doubt polarise opinion. It will be no Homework, that’s for sure. Actually, I’d be rather disappointed if it was.