Mark Lanegan might be my favourite male singer of all time, with a gravelly cigarettes-and-alcohol baritone that sounds so richly lived-in and is deceptively controlled and flexible. And he looks like his voice too – like a person who’s lived through some dark and troubled times. His pipes have become more brittle with years and these days Lanegan sounds less like he’s about to jump out of the speakers and punch you in the face, and his lower register on Gargoyle is almost Leonard Cohen-esque. But his grizzled vocals are no less compelling for that.
These latest two albums continue the experimentation with electronica and synths that first appeared on the 2012 Blues Funeral, while retaining the trademark dark bluesy vibes and oblique lyrics full of macabre gothic imagery and ruminations on sin, death, love and redemption. Business as usual in other words, but as long as his output remains this strong and consistent I’m not complaining. Now bring on the tour!
I would have preferred a full concert recording from the Push the Sky Away tour, but this loose and casual 10-song show performed for the KCRW station in Santa Monica is a great live offering. It’s predictably dominated by the Push the Sky Away material, and the rest of the picks match the quiet, meditative mood of that album, bar the closer Jack the Ripper, a throwback to the fire-and-brimstone Nick Cave of old. It wouldn’t be a Bad Seeds gig without The Mercy Seat, their signature showstopper performed here as a stripped-down piano version with all the white-knuckle tension and power of the original.
Like many people, I adored this band’s hushed minimalist debut, but then came the dreaded second-album dilemma: where to go next after you’ve already emerged as a fully formed deal with the sound, image and mood all perfected? More often than not it’s a course of diminishing returns, more of the same but not quite as good. Luckily, on this third album the xx seem to have figured out how to move on by embracing a wider range of influences, samples and vocal loops, and the end result sounds both fresh and unmistakably like the xx. There’s also a greater variety of mood; while it’s not necessarily a “happy” album some songs sound decidedly more optimistic and upbeat. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim may not be great singers in a conventional sense – neither of them has much depth or range – but they know their way around limitations and their vocal interplay still remains enchanting. A couple of songs in the middle of the album sticks closer to the blueprint of the debut, and while they’re fine the best tracks are the ones where the band push themselves.
Hans Zimmer’s name might not be instantly recognisable among the general public, but most people would know the popular films he had scored: Gladiator, The Lion King, Inception, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Rock, and many more. An impressive body of work to say the least. I have my sister and her husband to thank for letting me know about this concert: they’re big fans of Zimmer’s work and were blown away when they saw his show in Prague last year. I could only afford cheap tickets at the very top of the arena, which unfortunately blocked about a third of the orchestra from view, but in the end it didn’t matter so much.
It’s been a long five year break since her last visit, but PJ finally made her way here with her latest tour and I made it to my ninth PJ concert. Short review, it was awesome (again). Passionate, intense, musically and vocally perfect, great crowd.
More like, music I got ages ago but didn’t get to write about, but better late than never.
Christine and the Queens – Christine and the Queens
Why does everything sound so much more charming when it’s sung in French, or with a French accent? Christine and the Queens is the androgynous alter ego of the French singer Héloïse Letissier, who alternates between English and French on this album but is at her most appealing when she sings in her mother tongue. Catchy, top-notch electronic pop with some provocative lyrics.
Radiohead have always been a band I found easier to admire than to love. I’m very fond of The Bends and there’s a good dozen songs of theirs that move me deeply, but I never felt an urge to own a whole Radiohead album since their second one. So I’m rather surprised to find that I dig their latest so much. It’s probably their prettiest album; while they haven’t abandoned their weird eerie electronica thing the emphasis here seems to be more on the orchestral arrangements, with gorgeous strings and sad pianos. Thom Yorke’s vocals, which in the past I often found too nasally and strident for my liking, has also never sounded more gorgeous.