Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Album review: Gary Numan - Splinter (Songs for a Broken Mind)

For a man with nearly 40 years in the game, Gary Numan still holds an impressive amount of sway. Starting out as a pioneering figure of electronic music in the '70s, the U.S.-based Londoner has straddled each decade since with a vigour that's ensured his legacy remains largely untarnished, despite the occasional clanger. And the perennial swathes of praise from today's hip young things further feed his iconic status.

Numan's 17th solo album, Splinter (Songs For a Broken Mind), continues to pedal the industrialised soundscapes and gothic structuralism that are the hallmarks of his recent material. Its contents, then, are as you'd expect; a series of dark, gloomy cuts that range from the searing machinations and piston-like percussion of "Here In the Black" to the more introspective "A Shadow Falls On Me" and the harrowingly austere "My Last Day."

 From a songwriting perspective, Numan lays down lyrics with surprising candour. During the dark, synth-driven blast "Everything Comes Down to This" he wails, "I don't know how we let love turn to pain," while over the piano-twinkling glow of "Lost" he croons, "If I had one wish/I'd wish for one more time/To see you again/Your hand in my hand once again."

 As someone more renowned for trading in utopian yarns, these are remarkably human statements. Sadly, the thrust and thunder of "Love Hurt Bleed" and "We're the Unforgiven" resemble brutally overcooked Nine Inch Nails off-cuts, but for the most part Splinter is a solid and intriguing effort from an artist comfortable with his position in life. His legacy remains intact. (

First published here for Under the Radar

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Album review: of Montreal - Lousy With Sylvianbriar

Kevin Barnes is clearly not a man for taking a break. Over the last 16 years, of Montreal's leading light has rattled off close to a record a year. And these are never just any old long-player; each is antithetical to its predecessor, a bleeding statement of Barnes' thirst for forward-thinking pop melodies.

Of course, with such neverending productivity comes an inevitable decline in quality control. In fact, you could argue Barnes hasn't produced a truly great record since 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?—an album which remains his psych-pop masterpiece.

Lousy With Sylvianbriar doesn't quite scale such hurdy-gurdy heights, but in terms of intrigue Barnes nails his 12th of Montreal studio album with some style. Stripped down to just organic instruments, this effects-bereft affair spotlights its creator's songcraft without using any electronically-coined psychedelics.

For the most part, it works. Album opener "Fugitive Air" is typically upbeat and poppy, filled with louche guitar slides and effortlessly pithy lines like "How can I unmake someone else's mistakes?" "She Ain't Speakin' Now" is just as pulsating, contrasting its minimalist forecourt against a vibrant clang of a chorus.

But it also has the tendency to limp in places. "Amphibian Days" is a piano-centered ballad that barely breaks a sweat, while the Bob Dylan-like jaunt "Hegira Émigré" rambles along without the poise expected of of Montreal. Yet the plaintive probes of "Siren of Your Toxic Spirit" are as bare as Barnes has ever been, gliding into a flutter of heart-melting mandolin and brushing percussion.

By producing an album without electronic stimulants, Kevin Barnes continues to explore fresh musical dimensions. And while it might not always pay off, Lousy With Svlvianbriar proves once again he has a songwriting consistency few can match.

First published here for Under the Radar 

Friday, 4 October 2013

Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven

Someone needs to look into the damage the modern world is doing to our attention spans. Patience is no longer the virtue it once was. Today, we want everything—music, news, food, sex, technology—at our fingertips. And once we've basked in this instant gratification, we're done with it, slavering for our next quick fix.

In a time like this, you'd expect Daniel Lopatin's—aka Oneohtrix Point Never—seventh LP, R Plus Seven, to perfectly complement our inability to sit still. Every one of its 10 tracks packs in an astonishing range of sounds and textures that hopscotch from one direction to another without any obvious rhyme or reason. In theory, this should be a sugar-rushing, channel-hopping Generation Y-er's dream.

Yet for all the skittering electronics and industrial crunching of tracks like "Problem Areas" and "Inside World," it's unlikely to have any sort of mass appeal. This is the kind of record that will excite bearded experimental aficionados, who are happy to excavate the never-ending sonic crannies that punctuate this avant-garde affair.

 For this rest of us, these computerised structures are a difficult trip to enjoy. The likes of "Americans" and "Cry" aren't so much songs but artistic statements. They flicker effortlessly between scar tissue-ripping pulses, ethereal drones, and ebullient cloudburst synths to create malleable sonic shapes intent on avoiding repetition. In other words, it's as straightforward as a bowl of noodles.

 Album closer "Chrome County" is the most linear track here. Swaying to the chime of melancholic keys and angelic harmonies, it maintains a consistency that is both rare and relieving. And while there are similar moments of brilliance buried away, their fleeting existence only serves to underline what could have been. The modern world has a lot to answer for.

First published here for Under the Radar