Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Review: Fightstar - Be Human

A few weeks back, a friend of a friend mentioned the new single by Fightstar, "Mercury Summer", having just been played on Radio 1. I asked him what it was like. He replied "kind've upbeat and positive". I checked it out straight away, and wow. This was a poppier Fightstar for sure, and it got me very interested in the new album.

Kicking off with the dark, cinematic "Calling On All Stations", it's clear to hear that that this record is going to be a big one, and this tone is continued on "The English Way", which features lots of strings, and a wonderfully huge chorus.

Things take a turn for the dark with "War Machine", but then Fightstar do a complete 180, and bring out "Never Change", a Cure-esque upbeat pop song, with additional cowbell. Even the slightly upbeat nature of Mercury Summer couldn't prepare for this, although it is a great song, which a strange contrast to the darkness of the previous track, but it's this wrong-footedness that actually kind of works. Definite single material, and possibly the closest the band have come to frontman Charlie Simpson's previous band.

Things stay upbeat with "Colours Bleed To Red", with its absolutely killer chorus. The only downside to this track are the slightly cringey verses, which are a bit too over-dramatic for the tone of song, with lyrics about "jumping the bridge" sung in a weird half-shouting distorted fashion. This takes something away from the song as a whole, which is a shame, as this song could have been another great single for the band.

"Whisperer" kicks in next, with it's chilled out guitars and harmonica. This track almost, ALMOST, seems like it was influenced by Panic at the Disco's recent record, with the whole track taking a bit of a summery, almost funky, rock direction. It features yet another great chorus, and leads nicely into "Mercury Summer", which slots in beautifully.

Things take a turn for the epic again, with the huge, sweeping "Give Me The Sky", leading into the dark "Chemical Blood", which is a wonderfully epic song, only let down by a brief screaming breakdown, which just isn't required in a track like this. "Tonight We Burn" takes a brief trip into synth-pop territory, with another great upbeat chorus, and then we get back into the orchestral side of things with "Damocles", which features a fantastically heavy breakdown.

The album closes off with the beautiful "Follow Me Into The Darkness", which is very, very Bon Iver-esque, but with it's subtle synths and gentle vocals, it's given just enough character of it's own to close off the album in a gentle way.

Overall, Fightstar has created a cinematic work of art with this record, treading a neat line between poppy and epic, but still keeping their trademark dark sound for the majority of the album. The only real letdown are the occasional heavy screaming breakdowns, and the occasionaly cringeworthy lyric, but for 95% of the time, this album keeps you hooked. It's got the singles to bring in new fans, and the substance to keep the fanbase happy.

As Daniel Mount says, and I quote verbatim, "The new fightstar album is fucking awesome...."


Here's the video for "Mercury Summer"

Be Human is out now from the Internet Record Shops, the Real Life Record Shops, and the Imaginery Music Shops.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Stef reviews..a few albums in brief

Over the last few weeks, I've been listening to tonnes of new albums, but alas I've just not been writing about them. Shocking I know! I'm going to rectify that by writing a few paragraphs on some of the best of the last few weeks. A round-up if you will.

First up, Sam Isaac - Bears. After several well-received singles and EPs, Sam Isaac finally releases his first full length album in April, and it's been worth the wait. Kicking off with a newly recorded version of old myspace track "Bears", now with added I-was-a-cub-scout-synths, Sam instantly draws you into a world of hope, naivety, and teenage dreams a little bit more "famous five" than "skins". Previous singles "Fire Fire", "Sideways" and "Sticker, Star and Tape" are all found in the first half of the album, with new single "Come Back Home Tonight" joining them in creating a fantastically upbeat start to an album.

Act 2 of the album is a bit more quiet and contemplative, with tracks like "Calendar" and "Berlin" being a bit more laid back. The pace doesn't completely slow down though, as "Carbon Dating" and "I Traded My Friends For You" make welcome appearances. Overall Bears is a fine indie-pop-rock album, and there is a feeling of pure love emitting from it from start to finish. Perfect for sunny days and adventures.

Talking of music for sunny days, Simple Times, the second album from Joshua Radin, is perfect for relaxing with the sun shining on your face. "I'd Rather Be With You" is an absolutely beautiful track that you can't help but mentally playlisting it to put on a mixtape for that girl that you like. No? Just me? Fine. Either way, its a fantastic song that deserves to soundtrack your summer.

Elsewhere, there's the beautifully hopeful "Sky" featuring Meiko on backing vocal duties, the uplifting "Brand New Day" (I dare you not to get uplifted by the refrain of "It's a brand new day/sun is shining...for the first time in such a long, long time i know..../i'll be ok") , and the achingly sad "You Got Growin' Up To Do". The record ends with a track about Radin's adopted mantra of "No Envy, No Fear", and as proceedings come to a close, you actually believe every single word of Radin's laidback trademark hushed vocals.

Next up,
Grammatics' debut selftitled album, Grammatics. Surprisingly, I think I've yet to even mention this fantastic band on this blog, which is shocking! Take one ex-member of ace york band Colour Of Fire, put him in new band consisting of a bassist, drummer and a cellist, and then give him some intriguing instruments, and then put in a bowl with cursive and shake accordingly.

The result is a record so full of beautiful twists and turns that you don't want to fault a thing. Opener and single "Shadow Committee" features an ending to die for, and the guitar harmonics littering "D.I.L.E.M.M.A" make it a truly ethereal listen.

The chorus of "Murderer" will stick in your head for days if not weeks, the rhythm and call-and--response verses of "The Vague Archive" will have you confused about whether to tap your foot or sing along, and "Broken Wing" will drag you in with it's delicate acoustic guitars before throwing you off the top of a mountain with it's huge ending. It's truly epic stuff, and we haven't even reached "Relentless Fours" yet.

"Relentless Fours" is brilliant. Opening with a gentle loop of guitar harmonics and synths, Owen Brinley's vocals are soft enough to to sing you to sleep, as he sings genius lyrics such as "How can you call yourself an actress/When you cannot get your act together", and takes you up to the first mini-explosion of the song, announcing that "Everyone loves a breakdown". Laura Groves features on backing vocals in this track, and it adds an almost fairytale quality to the track, and the track swells and swells until it explodes into one of the most perfect guitar riffs in recent times. It's worth catching Grammatics live for this one track I swear. Beautiful.

Elsewhere, we get a re-recorded "Polar Swelling", an exhilirating "Rosa Flood" and the album closes on the epic "Swan Song". Probably one of the best alternative-indie albums of this year. Very highly recommended.

Lastly in this short round-up, the absolutely storming follow up to "I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child" from Manchester Orchestra, entitled "Mean Everything To Nothing". Opening with "The Only One", and it's almost beach boys-esque backing vocals, MO grab you, and deliver a brilliant rock album, with echoes of pinkerton-era Weezer in lead single "I've Got Friends", In Utero-era Nirvana in "In My Teeth", and of course, Themselves, in tracks like "Break It Out" and "One Hundred Dollars".

Overall this album feels like a natural progression from "I'm Like A Virgin..." and is great both musically and lyrically. This could be the album that gets them a bit further into the mainstream, especially as "I've Got Friends" has a chorus that refuses to leave your head at all. Perfect.

I think that's it for album review round up number one, any thoughts on the bands?