Archive for category CD Album Reviews
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Toad the Wet Sprocket wants you to know they’re happy. On “New Constellation,” their first studio album in 16 years (and also their only album named after a song, not counting their best-of compilation “P.S.: A Toad Retrospective,” and I don’t), Glen Phillips, the lead singer/rhythm guitarist/main songwriter sings about happy accidents, love lost but then quickly regained, and just plain love of everything. (The chorus of the title track, which was once featured on the website of “Rolling Stone,” affirms, “Declare my love to all creation!”) Even on the country-tinged “California Wasted,” when he sings, “I still make the same mistakes,” he sounds downright enthusiastic. And unlike their last studio album, “Coil,” which featured a song with the line, “Life is suffering,” there’s actually a song on “New Constellation” titled “Life Is Beautiful,” sung and cowritten by lead guitarist Todd Nichols. Has the past decade and a half really been that kind to the band?
This, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of the songs feature a sunny pop sheen reminiscent of their home state’s weather, and it’s difficult to get any of the melodies out of your head, even the ones that aren’t as rewarding. The only “bummer” track, if you can call it that, is the final one. Continuing their tradition of slower than usual songs to close out their albums, “Enough” groggily complains, “The day is short/The task is great/and I am idle.”
But let’s get down to brass tacks: Most Toad fans want to know, “Is the new album any good?” I would say it’s surprisingly good, at least better than their first two albums, “Bread and Circus” and “Pale,” though that might not be saying much. It’s not as good as their classic albums, “Fear” and “Dulcinea,” where all those ’90s radio mainstays such as “All I Want” and “Fall Down” sprang from, but I wasn’t expecting it to be. I’m still undecided if it’s better than “Coil,” though the songs are definitely happier.
It seems that after all this time, Glen and the boys haven’t lost their touch. “I’ll Bet on You” and “Get What You Want” are two of the best songs the band has ever written (I should know; I own all their albums and even some unreleased tracks), and had this still been the mid-’90s, you would hear these gems on constant rotation on your favorite radio station, unlike the unfortunate, ubiquitous Autotuned pop wonders of today’s scene. Likewise, the title track and “The Moment,” which I heard the band preview live 2 years ago, are equally catchy but still backed by lyrical resonance: “Every door you don’t kick open/there’s a million more to try.” These are hallmarks of the best Toad tracks. The album also boasts a few heartstring-pulling ballads; “The Golden Age” and “Last to Fall” are worthy of their best, including “Crowing” and “Windmills.”
Still, the album isn’t perfect. “Rare Bird” features a melancholy guitar intro that’s a little too reminiscent of “Chile” from their “Pale” album, and “The Eye” is probably the worst track in the bunch, suffering from such cheesy lyrics as, “If love is a hurricane/you are the eye.” Then, in case you didn’t hear him the first time, Phillips again shouts, “You are the eye!!” We get it, Glen. Weather metaphor.
Since I was a Kickstarter funder, not only did I get the album early, I was also rewarded with four bonus tracks, all of them as good as the ones on the official album (and, in the case of “The Eye,” better). “Finally Fading,” the last bonus song, is actually a remake of Phillips’ solo recording off his very Toad-esque “Winter Pays for Summer,” his best solo album and the only one that sounds like his Toad heyday. If anything, his lyrics are even truer today: “And the voices trailing doubt/are finally fading out.”
Whether their upcoming album, set to be officially released on October 15th, is a top seller or doesn’t move any units, it doesn’t really seem to matter; Toad is in a good place now, both musically and emotionally. That’s reason enough for music fans everywhere to rejoice.
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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
London Grammar are a trio from London, England comprising of Hannah Reid, Dan Rothman and Dot Major. To date they have released three singles and EPs: Metal & Dust, Wasting My Young Years, and Strong. If You Wait is their debut album and was released on 9th September. London Grammar are one of the few bands I have heard of late who have really dragged me into their musical spell. A combination of ambience, trance and a classical aura create an intoxicating blend which somewhat demands you to listen to them. Their Soundcloud page and them featuring on Disclosure’s No.1 album pulled me into their sound – demanding my attention, and subsequently my adoration.
‘Hey Now’ is the first track we encounter and sets the mood for the whole album. It is chilled, relaxing and enthralling. Hannah’s vocals are similar to those of Florence Welch from Florence & the Machine if you haven’t heard of them before. ‘Stay Awake’ features mellow guitar riffs alongside a powerful cymbal and snare combination carrying the track through. ‘Shyer’ offers a main picked guitar riff and subtle synths in the background pushing the song forward. Hannah’s voice is uniform throughout all the songs meaning they flow excellently between one another. ‘Wasting My Young Years’ is an orchestral ambient masterpiece and one of the best songs from this glorious album. Slow mellow guitars combined with piano and violins thrown in for good measure. The song lifts in tempo in the middle and then drops back into the acoustic for the latter part. Brilliant. ‘Sights’ starts with piano chords and echoing guitars fading in the background as more instruments flow in creating an atmospheric backing for the vocals to punch through.
‘Strong’ is the true masterpiece here though. It has everything they have to offer in spades: amazing vocals, fantastic instrumental parts and just screams excellence throughout the 4:35 duration. One of the best songs of the year by far. ‘Nightcall’ is a simpler song – a cover version of French house artist Kavinsky – featuring mainly piano and Hannah’s voice pushing through and commanding the song. Towards the end it features a more upbeat drum section than previously heard throughout the album. ‘Metal & Dust’ was the band’s first single and is more upbeat compared to some of their songs, but works well as an up-tempo number. ‘Interlude’ combines piano, vocals and a light drum exploit and shows off their talent as a live act as well as a recorded one. ‘Flickers’ has a South American vibe with the inclusion of bongos which add to the overall sound and progression of the song – slightly different to the rest of the album, but works incredibly well. ‘If You Wait’ is the final track on the standard album and starts off chilled and ambient. The sound of the piano cuts through the echoing backing with the vocals piercing through. A great way to end an album.
With the Deluxe edition you are lucky enough to receive six extra tracks: ‘Help’, ‘Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me’, ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’, ‘High Life’, ‘Maybe’ and ‘When We Were Young’. The best track out of these has to be ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ which is their collaboration with Disclosure. I spoke about how good this song was in my Disclosure review.
This is one of the best debut albums of the year – fantastic from start to finish, and should see this small trio go far in the world of music. Simply stunning.
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