This time of year-with the pavement’s getting frosty and the air attaining that kind of fresh chill that fills up your lungs in the morning but has you hurrying home at night, tunes our ears to reflective, haunting sounds and lyric that begin to question our homely comforts. This week’s Headphones takes a listen to new tracks that question, that delve, into self-awareness, vulnerability and ambiguous sentiments.
Grouplove – Do You Love Someone?
The wistful style of Brill Buildings songwriters such as Carol King, Gerry Goffin and Neil Diamond usually revolved around unrequited love. The melodically swinging choruses of early ’60s pop is something that Grouplove borrow to the fore on “Do You Love Someone?” -the stadium-raising second track on their new effort Big Mess. While album title often try to cheekily distill the dirge contained within, Grouplove deliver a hot mess, like the hard-partying best mate full of potential, but liable to get arrested on any given night out.
Thankfully, “Do You Love Someone?”, a song which twists the question “do You Fancy Me?” to “could you fancy anyone?” in a strangely self-deprecating style that almost resembles King & Goffin’s paen to abusive love “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss), is a tune that is all hands-in-the-air, gorgeous party chorus. Even if you come away from the party feeling as if you need to stop listening to grown men sing words seemingly written by lovestruck, glutton-for-punishment boys.
Okkervil River – Okkervil River R.I.P.
Calling the opening track to your band’s ninth album something that reflects a headstone might sound alarms bells for most, but Okkervil River’s ever-literary Will Sheff manipulates the very idea of elegy to typically conceptual ends. Self-awareness regarding the band’s almost heroic soldiering on despite the mere evidence of a long list of critically praised but steadily selling albums, not a drug-related death and only one major member’s departures (dormer bassist’s Jonathan Meiburg’s excellent Shearwater having a run of equally ambitious efforts) to show for it informs Away, an album soaring with songs of fading and renewed promise.
The heartbreaking lyrical plot of “Okkervil River R.I.P” , a washed-out indie rocker talking to a child full of wonder, trying not to spill the beans of his regret, is a pilgrim’s progress of a hipster road movie. The line that comes after a roll call of indie casualties, “they had some great songs/it must have been a great time/so long ago” cutting sharply, like few other lines from their supposedly equally “serious” peers. Sheff directed video, with acclaimed comedic thespian Tim Blake Nelson a priest delivering the song as a fiery sermon at Sheff’s funeral, is one of the best of recent years. Simply astounding.
Coldcut & Roots Manuva – Only Heaven
Ninja Tune bosses Coldcut hook up once more with the poet laureate of Stockwell to deliver a spine-tingling track of melodic, eerie downtempo. The sweet soul chorus (of an uncredited female singer-adding further to the ghostly ambiance) is the the perfect counter between Root’s clinical rhyme delivery on hypocritical attitudes to race and social status in contemporary and Coldcut’s precise, steely keys & beats. Resembling the kind of thriller soundtrack that Massive Attack release every six years, only with audible lyrics & rhymes, “Only Heaven” heralds a welcome return for London’s most significant electronic duo.
Pip Blom – Honey
Amsterdam’s 20-year old indie rock wonderkid Pip Blom delivers clever, fresh takes on pop songwriting with loud, crunchy guitars. The sly, seductive dirge of “Honey” shows her knack for a nice hook and all-knowing subtlety graduate into a song screaming out for an edgy fashion campaign, putting Blom on the tip of casual , yet calculated, cool.
Bon Iver-8 (Circle)
Sumptuous synths and horn section, semi-penetrable lyrics, head-nodding drum programming-has 22, A Million era Justin Vernon gone accessible? Just like how he shocked the blogosphere with the Bruce Hornsby sonic referencing of “Beth/Rest” and followed up with a Volcano Choir album which veered on traditional song structure -it always surprises when Vernon releases a track that could played on evening radio without seeming like the DJ is REALLY trying to make a statement.
Post-“Skinny Love” Bon Iver have often seemed like a sacred cow in indie terms, dividing the diehards who loved the Blood Bank ep and the eponymous second album and the ordinary folkies who preferred if Vernon just kept producing the hummable side of For Emma, Forever Ago. With “8 (Circle) Vernon has arguably provided his masterpiece however: just listen without prejudice, and try not to be moved.
Nicholas Jaar – History Lesson
The re-appropriation of ’60s soul music seems like a strange place for Techno pianist Nicholas Jaar to be stepping into-but as new album Sirens proved, he has been willing to step in much stranger, often dishearteningly monotone, territory. De-tuned organs and metallic percussion stomp through Jaar’s early Marvin Gaye soul interpretation on “History Lesson”-easily the album’s most rewarding track-which sets up a perfect way to end a night out, pissed and wanting crisps, but trying falsetto will do.