Mr Jukes – God First
After a brief period of silence since Bombay Bicycle Club’s announcement of an indefinite hiatus, frontman Jack Steadman has emerged from the studio as Mr Jukes and with him comes a debut album – ‘God First’. While this isn’t Jack’s first foray into production, this is his first full solo effort and it was always going to be interesting to see what he can do when left to his own devices.
From the opening track ‘Typhoon’, a huge range of influences are displayed from trip-hop to folk – there are a lot of ideas in this track and every single one of them is perfectly implemented. The range of influence increases further on the next track ‘Angels / Your Love’, the lead single from the album and one of the best tracks of the year thus far. There’s jazz here, and the addition of BJ the Chicago Kid in the second half brings in a more R&B edge. BJ’s vocals are perfectly suited to this track, and Mr Jukes’ talent for matching a vocalist to a track is displayed all through this album which is laden with guest appearances – particular highlights are De La Soul’s appearance on ‘Leap of Faith’ (which comes backed with another stunningly produced beat) and closing track ‘When Your Light Goes Out’ which features the silky vocals of Lianne La Havas.
Steadman takes more traditional lead vocals on several tracks such as ‘Ruby’ and ‘Magic’ – this definitely satisfies any cravings for more Bombay Bicycle Club-style material, with ‘Ruby’ in particular sounding like one of the more electronic-tinged cuts from ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’. These tracks, while very well produced, mark some of the slightly weaker points on the album – they’re lacking a little bit of the Mr Jukes magic to tie it all together.
On this album, Jack Steadman is really spreading his wings and showing an amazing talent for production, with sampling and guest artists throughout – it takes something very special to pull off an album as well curated as this one. While ‘God First’ is a real mixed bag of genres and styles, it somehow finds a sense of cohesion, and this beautiful chaos is what makes it one of the more unique listens of the year so far. This is a great first effort from Mr Jukes and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
It’s been near enough half a decade since Grizzly Bear released their fourth album ‘Shields’ but the slow brewing process of their latest work ‘Painted Ruins’ seems to have been more than worth it. On their fifth album, we see the band with a somehow even profounder sound than they had before – throughout, there’s buckets of dizzying reverb and swirling guitars, particularly on ‘Wasted Acres’ and ‘Four Cypresses’, the latter of which has some highly impressive drum work that massively ups the energy of the track at the halfway point.
There are some more traditionally structured tracks here too, like the single ‘Mourning Sound’ and the unexpectedly Beatlesque ‘Losing All Sense’ which is a definite highlight. The heavier use of synthesisers throughout this album is a new but well executed string in the Grizzly Bear bow – this comes to a fore on ‘Aquarian’ which starts with some positively apocalyptic sounding synths, and it’s used to great effect again on ‘Glass Hillside’, which starts out very folky but takes a left-field synthesiser turn for the chorus. Grizzly Bear are unpredictable as ever in their arrangements and they’re an absolute joy to listen to.
This album is of a highly consistent quality throughout and it’s honestly near-impossible to pick holes in – the second half is a bit more slow-burning than the first but comes with several big hitter tracks like ‘Cut-Out’, ‘Neighbours’ and closing track ‘Sky Took Hold’. If there’s a weaker point on ‘Painted Ruins’, it is perhaps on the much folkier ‘Systole’ but it’s still an excellent track by any other album’s standards.
The more synthesiser-soaked soundscape of ‘Painted Ruins’ is a new avenue for the band, while still keeping that classic sound that made Grizzly Bear unique in the first place. They have created an album here that feels like a perfected, polished version of what the band has been doing for the previous decade, and it may well be their best work yet (which is a tall order indeed). Grizzly Bear seem to be getting better and better with time, and if the next album takes another five years to materialise, at least we have this masterpiece to enjoy in the meantime.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Sketches of Brunswick East
Staying true to their ambitious ‘five albums in 2017’ commitment, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have graced us with their third album of the year so far, a jazzy collaboration with Mild High Club called ‘Sketches of Brunswick East’ and a return to the far more laid back sound we saw on ‘Quarters!’ and ‘Paper Mache Dream Balloon’.
The grooves on this album are some of the best and most jazzy the band have come up with thus far, with the three part title track that bookends the album being a particular highlight, as well as the short instrumental ‘Cranes, Planes, Migraines’ – the only complaint here is that they could have gone on much longer! Many of the grooves are tied down by some excellent bass work – ‘Dusk to Dawn On Lygon Street’ and ‘A Journey to S(Hell)’ show this off brilliantly.
The microtonal style we saw on the band’s first album of the year ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ returns on ‘D-Day’ and album highlight ‘The Book’, which shows off this album’s sense of fun – though this isn’t the best material King Gizzard have released, you can really feel the fun they had recording it and that makes it a pleasure to listen to – ‘The Spider and Me’ is notably playful.
While ‘Sketches of Brunswick East’ is at times a frustrating album where the grooves with the most potential are wasted on shorter tracks, there’s no denying the sense of fun the band clearly had making it and it means the album is a really enjoyable listen, and the way it segues from track to track is incredibly satisfying – King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard continue their flair for structuring albums.
Arcade Fire – Everything Now
After a slightly longer break between albums than their usual three-year cycle, Arcade Fire have returned with their fifth album ‘Everything Now’, throwing caution and expectations to the wind by continuing down the much more danceable route they started going down on 2013’s double album ‘Reflektor’. If you’re expecting another ‘Funeral’, look away now.
The album opens with ABBA-tinged ‘Everything Now’, which sounds something like ‘Reflektor’’s brighter cousin, and the dance party continues through the first half of the album. ‘Signs of Life’ sounds like an Arcade Fire take on what Talking Heads were doing on ‘Speaking in Tongues’, and ‘Peter Pan’, while an incredibly simple track, is so sincere in its delivery that I honestly can’t help but love it.
This isn’t to say the album doesn’t have its weaker points – ‘Chemistry’ is a hook-heavy track with a ska-style rhythm that sadly falls rather flat after the first couple of chorus repeats, and ‘Infinite Content’/’Infinite_Content’ is a double-track interlude that while good in concept isn’t quite well executed enough, and it’s most definitely outshone by ‘Everything_Now (continued)’/‘Everything Now (continued)’, the duo of tracks that begins and ends the album, creating a perfect loop on digital copies when placed on repeat.
The second half of the album very much picks up the pace again though, with Regine taking the lead vocals on the gorgeous ‘Electric Blue’. The ABBA vibes come back in full force on ‘Put Your Money On Me’ which is a definite highlight of the album, and we close on the beautiful, emotional ‘We Don’t Deserve Love’, which sits atop a slightly unsettling, spinning bed of synthesisers.
No, this isn’t Arcade Fire’s best album, but it certainly isn’t a bad album by any stretch – it rather wonderfully builds on the framework that they started on ‘Reflektor’. The lyrics throughout are classic, ever-emotive Arcade Fire. There are some truly magnificent moments on ‘Everything Now’ and we see Arcade Fire not only at their most carefree, but also at times their most refined.
Steven Wilson – To The Bone
Porcupine Tree frontman and highly prolific songwriter/producer Steven Wilson has returned with his fifth full-length solo album ‘To The Bone’, an album that Wilson says harks back to many of the prog records of his youth, and a vast variety of influences are displayed all over this album, perhaps most notably that of Peter Gabriel who is definitely here in spirit in both musically and in lyrical style. There’s also a certain ring to the songwriting style that reminds me of Crowded House’s Neil Finn to an extent, particularly on ‘Pariah’ and ‘The Same Asylum As Before’.
For me there are two tracks that stand out as the real gems of this album – ‘Refuge’ and ‘Detonation’. ‘Refuge’ is a massively dynamic track that builds from a simple piano ballad into an absolutely huge guitar crescendo, and right at the end of the track it completely strips itself back to some absolutely stunning piano that sounds like pure Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd. ‘Detonation’ is a very different beast though, a 9-minute Goliath of a track that starts with some very Thom Yorke-esque jittering drum machines but segues through multiple sections including some massively explosive guitar work and a surprisingly funky breakdown towards the end. If you’re looking for an album with some truly masterful guitar solos, look no further.
It’s wonderful to see someone not only releasing a more classic-sounding progressive album, but absolutely owning it at the same time. There’s a definite respect for the prog legends of years gone by, but Steven doesn’t rely too heavily on these influences and here he has created a rather fantastically arranged album – where its lyrics might be a little weaker (see ‘People Who Eat Darkness’) they are more than made up for by the fantastic instrumental production that makes every track sound larger than life. A must for prog fans.