Review: Black Flower – Intermediate State

black flower

We take a look at the new 10” record from Black Flower; a dreamy, psychedelic delight created between albums.

Having released their critically acclaimed second album Artifacts in 2017, Belgium’s Black Flower didn’t just sit back and rest on their Laurels. Like all good musicians addicted to their trade, they wanted to release more music as soon as possible.

Inspired by artists such as ‘father of Ehtiojazz’, Mulatu Astatke, sax giant Getatchew Mekurya and bossman Fela Kuti, Black Flower manage to carve out grooves where others wouldn’t find them, and Intermediate State is testament to this skill. The band draw inspiration from Salvador Dali’s creative dreaming ritual; he used to enter a deep sleep while holding scissors (nice and safe…), and when the scissors were dropped, this would wake him up. Dali would then paint using the inspiration from his dreams. This influence has allowed the band to create 4 tracks of dreamy substance that have all their usual signature sounds , and accompanied by a riveting playfulness that drives the record along.

Opener Almaz starts off slow and sultry, as simple bass patters over drawn-out hammond organ and jazz drums, before the bass takes centre stage with the sax stepping in to clean things up. The band are gently egging each other on here to make an interesting piece of music full of dream-like wonder, skill and dexterity.

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Maqam Tizita Saba sees the drums of Simon Segers kept simple, but with lightning bouts of insanity that draw you out of the hypnotic music and back into the real world at various places. You’re then gently coerced back into the lumbering wonderland as the music caresses you deep into your own mind. The upper structure allows for a flow of innocence, and the peaceful elements work perfectly throughout.

Side B sees The Good Side Of Bad’s addictively funky bass drive the song forward from the start, amidst a host of sounds and instruments filling out the track to bring it to life. The stops and breaks add depth and character, allowing the track to completely change its output, gradually slowing down into 60s psychedelica, feeling like being lost in a world where nothing makes sense.

The record finishes with the dark sounding Fly High Oh My, which almost uses elements and melodies of drone metal as a template to provide a strong, energy propelling high to climax the musician’s journey into dreamland, and waking up just as Dali’s scissors hit the ground.

Interesting, crazy, and hypnotizing, Intermediate State is a powerful release that is best listened to with your eyes closed and your mind open. It draws on each member’s ability to get lost in their own world, and bring it all back together in 4 really fascinating pieces of music. Well worth a listen.

Score 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Dub Syndicate – The Pounding System

DubSyndicate

We take a look at the band’s early dub showcase record The Pounding System to see if it’s stood the test of time on its recent Vinyl re-release.

Long perceived to be a cornerstone of maverick British producer Adrian Sherwood’s pioneering output with his Dub Syndicate crew, The Pounding System (Ambience In Dub) has received a welcome re-release on heavyweight, high quality vinyl as part of a lively, four-LP re-issue programme from his groundbreaking On-U Sound imprint.

Originally recorded in 1982, this set charts the evolution of the eclectic, London-based collective away from the label’s preceding outfit Creation Rebel and establishes leader Sherwood’s idiosyncratic, progressive and inventive take on dub reggae.

The Pounding System was recorded in a spontaneous flurry, due to the label’s financial difficulties, yet this urgency supplies much of its embryonic, ramshackle charm. Many of On-U Sound’s trademarks permeate this stripped-down recording – loping rhythms, cavernous bass, a sprinkling of whooshing electronic effects, the judicious use of delicious reverb – along with sly and irreverent nods to the work of Scientist in both style and track titles.

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The late Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott had yet to join the crew and later recordings would showcase a more expansive, layered and collaborative approach, but the album emerges in its own right as a compelling, ambitious and intoxicating forum for the outre, experimental tendencies of Sherwood’s production style: the fizzing, psychedelic abstractions on Crucial Tony Tries To Rescue the Space Invaders work a treat and can even be viewed as a precursor to Andrew Weatherall’s work with Primal Scream a decade later, for instance.

Whilst the initial draw here is the adventurous, textural hum of Sherwood’s mixing-desk funhouse pyrotechnics, a simmering elegance is derived from constituent, organic features of the mix: the aforementioned Crucial Tony’s warmly melodic bass vamping, Mr Flesh’s congenial sax interjections or African Head Charge’s clanking percussion contribute as much as the sonic sorcerer’s disembodied mangling and joyous reconfiguring.

Dub Syndicate and On-U Sound would go on to explore a plethora of vivid sound clashes, but the dubs assembled here still sound fresh as a daisy.

By Michael Sumsion

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Review: Mista Savona Presents – Havana Meets Kingston

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Mista Savona returns on production duties for this impressive and unique hotbed of talent drawing on the best sounds straight out of Cuba and Jamaica.

So close, but so different in terms of culture, politics and society is one way to look at Cuba and Jamaica. And yet it’s these differences, and the fact they’re close neighbours, that make this collaboration work so well. Both countries are passionately linked to music and it took the inspired work of Mista Savona at the helm to meld these musical worlds together into something appealing and special, and altogether new and exciting.

Recorded at Havana’s famed Egrem studios in Cuba over the course of eight days, the music features a myriad of artists on top of their game; the rivalry, brotherhood, and artistic similarities seems to bring out the best in all involved. Carnival, featuring Solis and Randy Valentine, peaks and struts its way around a reggae soul with Cuban undertones, gently caressing out its voice of unity: “Welcome to Havana town, Cuba and Jamaica link up people gather round”. It manages to be both unifying but individual in a way that showcases both countries’ styles, and is easy to see why this track was picked to be the poster child of the record.

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Featuring vocals in Spanish, English and Jamaican, the record creates a hotbed of unity and togetherness with no one influence standing out amongst the rest. Candela pops with hip-hop beats before trumpet kick in to a distinctly Cuban sound, then switches things up by seamlessly slipping into a reggae wonderland of strong vocal work and Jamaican vibes, before switching back again. The movements are completed with such skill and dexterity it really doesn’t feel out of place at all, and the use of both the traditional and contemporary gives the whole sound a timeless feel.

Elsewhere on the record, you find tracks that are specifically devoted to one style of music over the other, but if you dig deep you still have sly undertones from either Cuba or Jamaica working in the background. Heart of a Lion is a strong effort on the reggae front with fantastic vocal work by Brenda Naverette breaking up the track beautifully, whereas La Siitiera ‘s laid back but equally impressive piano and Cuban vocals screams Havana, even if it has a subtle reggae beat underneath.

Mista Savona Presents – Havana Meets Kingston is a beautiful record. Throwing up surprises and thrills throughout, it’s a real hotbed of creativity and a true masterpiece of collaboration. Being one of the first ever album partnerships between Jamaican and Cuban Musicians, I’m already eagerly anticipating future efforts taking place to carry on this new and fantastic genre.

Score: 5/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Vinyl Review: Alison Moyet Reissues – Alf/Raindancing/Hoodoo/Essex

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Coming into prominence at the beginning of the eighties, Alison Moyet knows what makes a good hit, knows how to write a good tune and, most of all, knows how to change with the times. Her four records from the 80s and 90s have been rereleased on 180g heavyweight vinyl, and they have never sounded so good.

Alison Moyet is probably better known for her solo career now rather than half of the pop duo Yazoo that kick started her career. It’s a journey of transformation listening to her first four albums back to back, where you can physically hear the change in time, skill and sound throughout the artist’s life. Starting off with Alf, we have that raw 80s sound accompanied by young innocence and lust for life. This in no more apparent than in track All Cried Out. Possibly Alison’s most well recognised song, the track’s stellar chorus takes you back to a time of mismatching clothes, heavy make-up, and everyone not giving a shit. The extended intro builds into a crescendo of melody, with Alison’s voice full of exuberance and youth; it’s sultry, driven and empowering. Track Invisible enters ballad territory where you can almost see the rain dripping down the window as Alison sings ‘I feel I’ve been had and I’m boiling mad, still I can’t live without you’.

Album Raindancing sees the singer experimenting and allowing other people into her musical world by adding’ a lovely cover of Fly Joy’s Weak in the Prescence of Beauty and co-writing Is This Love? With Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. This shows growth in the singer’s work, able to draw on the influence of others instead of wanting to create something completely of her own, and this really comes through in the music. The latter track’s steady synths break through into a fun chorus as Alison uses her vocals to duck and weave through the melody, allowing her to show off the ranges and skills she’s learned since her first record.

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3rd album Hoodoo is a different kettle of fish altogether. With a more rocky/indie sound through out, it wears the early nineties tag front and centre. This time Alison adapts to her surroundings and draws influence from the scene rather than specific artists. It Won’t Be Long features more accent on the singer’s vocals, darker lyrics and a more constant direction than previous work, making for a tight and twisting track that performs admirably. Wishing You Were Here with its acoustic guitar and gently brushed drums sit perfectly as Alison croons through a tale of love, loss and sorrow.

 

The last of the remasters brings us to 1994’s Essex. Some say this album is marred with controversy over the battle for the sound of the record between Moyet and her record company resulting in bitterness between the two, and the singer feeling aggrieved. But whatever the truth behind this is, the fact is that there are still some well-crafted tracks on the album. Whispering Your Name has Alison filling her voice with raw emotion as verses build into a chorus out of nowhere with the song effortlessly flitting from idea to idea, whereas Dorothy sticks with an Irish sound, but with added sultry tones and flourishes of effervescence.

On vinyl, these albums have really come into their own. A lot of records from the eighties were beginning to be produced on cheaper vinyl that transported into a decrease in sound quality, so it’s a pleasure to hear these records on heavyweight 180g vinyl. The warm tones in the synths are really noticed in the early work, whereas on the 90s albums, its Alison’s voice that really shines and plays centre stage. The artwork also acts as a timeline in photography trends, as we see Alison strike 80s poses against filtering light or rain-drenched windows early on versus the indie poses and a simple stamp motif on Hoodoo and Essex.

Alison Moyet is a sign of the times, and the time has treated her records well. She wears her sound on her sleeve throughout, and although the music stays firmly in the decades from where it was created, they remain good listening for nostalgia, discovery or a place to find the beginnings of ideas.

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Album Review: Matti Bye – This Forgotten Land

matti-bye

We take a look at Swedish Composer Matti Bye’s new record This Forgotten Land, and with it are thrown into a contemporary world of wordless story telling and emotional fulfilment.

Matti Bye has been part of the Swedish music industry for a long time, and it’s no wonder he’s starting to break into the mainstream. Beginning his career with silent movies, he gained the freedom to move the music where he wanted it to go, which helped develop his unique style and sound. This Forgotten Land pulls together all the best parts of Matti’s stellar career into a deeply atmospheric record that uses silence as much as its prolonged and drawn out sounds.

Opener Melt gives you a taste for what’s to come with its muffled tones, dystopian backgrounds and slow sense of a burning foreboding. Comparing to Chopin’s most tranquil of pieces would be a good start, but Matti manages to breath life into the track and helps the track become it’s own personality altogether. Absence, with its creak of piano and almost sullen tango-like quality, gives the listener a twinge of apprehension as you’re dragged along into its addictive and sultry tones.

Galloping Waves is an album highlight for its sheer audacity to manage to feel both disconcerting but pleasant at the same time. There are not many pieces of music that can portray both these emotions in unison, and it’s actually refreshing to hear a track that not only tries to pull your mind in two directions, but succeeds in doing so.

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Loneliness of Earth sounds like Pink Floyd gone classical with its long-winded background drones driving the track on, whereas Cascading Sun is beautiful and serene piece. Its charisma brings a story to the surface without words, leading the listener to visualise their own way through the tracks sombre and sad, but all encompassing forest of sound.

Listening on Vinyl, the record is given a true character with warm, sultry tones, that are especially brought out on tracks with accompanying background tones. This gives the music a fullness that would be missed on other formats. The artwork with it’s flowing vapours of gold on a black background give the minimalistic feel of simplicity but depth, with which can be drawn direct comparison’s with the artists tone he’s searching for on this record.

Matti Bye is a unique artist who can create beautiful music where others would fail. This Forgotten land is a testament to his talent of painting wonderful pictures with music, and drawing in the audience in a way where they won’t want to let go.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Album Review: Turtle – Human

turtle

We take a look at Turtle’s newest record on vinyl, and with it comes all the inspiration and guile you’d expect from this powerful artist.

Jon Cooper, the Glaswegian producer and sound sorcerer known as Turtle, first sprang to attention in electronic music circles in 2014 and 2015 with two warmly received EPs that found the middle ground between glistening ambience and elegiac shuffles, inspiring comparisons with such luminaries as Jon Hopkins and Thom Yorke.

Turtle’s sure-footed debut long-player, Human, sees the mercurial sound-scaper toning down his Hopkins-like swells and assimilating his influences rather than flaunting them like favourite band stickers on a school satchel. His meticulously prepared sound beds trace a distinctly cinematic and introspective path through ethereal, Sigur Ros-inflected shoegaze, post-rock, trip-hop and music-box textures. As disparate as it is gloriously tasteful, this record eschews robo-precision and continuity for atmospheric effects and woozy, fluttering mutations, all executed with widescreen production values and a mildly eerie moodiness.

A fug of glazed, weightless gracefulness permeates the opening Time, a gorgeous slice of scorched ambience worthy of Julianna Barwick or Jonsi & Alex; here less is more and the listener is ushered in and out with all the tenderness of waves lapping in the ocean. It is a stunning way to begin proceedings, an invitation to dream and be beguiled. The similarly exquisite Fabric builds from its beat-less cloud of voices towards a loping, tropical pulse, familiar yet steeped in mystery.

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Blood Type boasts the wispy vocals of Eliza Shaddad, who imbues the mid-paced electronic ballad with a sense of hushed intimacy. Air channels the sepulchral mist of a post-rock instrumental alongside the wistful breakbeats of Cinematic Orchestra, whilst Solar nods towards the early-hours foreboding of Johnny Jewel’s Chromatics project with its elegantly realised Italo-disco dread. Meanwhile, Elephant and Limbic whirr and crackle with the shrillness of machine-crafted, stream-lined club fare. The Rivers twinkles and smoulders with an orchestral majesty, all intoxicating strings and shadowy corners.

None of these tunes dissolve into a blur of archetypal background listening; Turtle is always searching for inspiration in the most unexpected places. Cooper delights in stitching together a crepuscular musical splash in a delightfully homespun fashion; the overall aura is never self-indulgent, radiating a keening, future-pop bliss.

Score: 4/5

By Michael Sumsion

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Album Review: John foxx, Harold Budd & Ruben Garcia – ‘Nighthawks’, ‘Translucence & Drift Music’

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We take a look at the new vinyl box set for these 3 ambient artists, to discover if they work together as a whole on their first time in the format.

Three ambient artists, three LP’s. What more could you want for a laid back Sunday listening session? This Demon Records triple release box set is the first time these albums have graced vinyl, and with it brings the artists’ brand of clear and minimal to a new audience. Nighthawks brings a more sentimental value to the release, being the record that features renowned artist Ruben Garcia who sadly passed away in 2012. John Foxx was actually introduced to Ruben’s music by Harold Budd, giving off a real importance when looking back at with the three artists in mind.

Nighthawks, released in 2011, is the standout record for me. Featuring all three artists, the album pulls so much emotion from ambience that it impresses in great measure. That’s no easy task; ambient music is a difficult skill to master with its slow movements and sparsity of sounds, and to be able creates stories around the music is tough. The artists work together here and it really shows. The Shadow of Her Former Self takes a dark tone, with gentle, sporadic accompaniments fleshing out the track; a cymbal here, a cricket sound there, these little touches move the track forwards and allow the listener to follow along as part of the music. Now That I’ve Forgotten You is slow, sultry and full of misery and regret, creating emotions that are hard to avoid, but hypnotizing and delightful at the same time. The record feels cinematic with an underlying feeling of uneasiness, which is rarely seen in more mainstream records, so is something to savour.

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Translucence & Drift Music seem to skim where Nighthawks sails. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing; it’s the technicalities in the record that set it apart from its predecessor. Opener Subtext with it’s gentle and serene sounds surround the listener and make you feel like your wandering down a long forgotten path. Here and Now Brightens up proceedings, being one of the more fast-paced and melodic tracks that grows into its own as it skims along; it’s as if its jumping from lily pad to lily pad on an undisturbed pond.  Linger is a more sombre and sparse affair which draws on the skills of the artists to create from simplicity. It wouldn’t seem out of place in the background of a psychological thriller as its dream-like essence pulls you along for the ride. The album is bound together by a sense of regret and reprieve, and makes for a really pleasing listening session.

The three Heavyweight LP package is completed with beautiful artwork from graphic designer, filmmaker and typologist Jonathan Barnbrook, probably most know in the industry for his work on David Bowie’s Black Star. The artwork is the essence of serenity and calm, and there’s a lot to work with, with 3 sleeves to enjoy. Faces in clouds, flowers bathed in deep blue and a blurry city street all create different feelings that in some way fit throughout the listening experience. The sound of these releases on vinyl brings a sense of transience and warmth, but some fans may find that the changing of records disrupts from the constant ambience effect that could be gained from longer formats or streaming. It’s a matter of personal preference at the end of the day, and I feel the added warmth and depth is well worth a try.

This 3 LP release brings back together three artists of great talent and stalwarts of the ambient scene. Bringing together past and present, the atmosphere is strong, the songs beautifully constructed, and emotions brought right to the surface throughout.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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Review: Underworld – Beaucoup Fish (Reissue)

underworld

We take a look at the new Underworld Beuacoup Fish reissue to see if it’s stood the test of time after almost 18 years since it’s release.

If you’re looking to Britain’s 90s music scene, you’re mind immediately turns to Britpop. That all encompassing term might feel like it represents guitar music for many, but it was so much more than that. It wasn’t just Blur vs Oasis, but it was indie movies, it was girl power and the Spice Girls, it was dance music, it was a mentality, a scene, a movement. Underworld were one of those bands that blurred the lines between dance and indie, appealing to the masses and made famous by track Born Slippy featuring on one of the defining movies of the 90s, Trainspotting. In the middle of all the chaos, Underworld had introduced the world to the powers of a new music fusion that, in my opinion, was topped off by their fantastic record Beaucoup Fish. Now being reissued on vinyl, it’s a great time to be reminded of the techno/house triumph that went mainstream.

Arriving at the tail end of the 90s, Beaucoup Fish is a record of fractured bliss. In-band tensions during recording have been heavily rumoured, with members supposedly recording separately in the studio. If this is true, then you don’t notice the separation within the music. It seems well-put together, rhythms and ideas sync seamlessly, and sporadic vocals flit in and out ruthlessly accompanying the beats and flows.

Album-opener Cups is a thing of beauty. Clocking in at just under 12 minutes, the simple but complicated nature of the song gently builds up to a rollicking stomp at around 8 minutes in, leaving you mesmerized and sucked into the abyss. The track hasn’t aged over the years, and it would still mix with the best dance floor fillers of today.

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Shudder/King of Snake and its Donna Summer I feel Love beat turns into an altogether different beast using pop and synth elements to highlight a feel good factor, whereas Bruce Lee once again harks back to that 80s beat sound, but accompanied by an indie guitar music feel, which, perhaps, pulls influences from the likes Blur’s Damon Albarn and his use of vocals, which tantalisingly delve in and out of the surrounding music.

The record still feels so concise and thought through which can’t be said for many techno/house records of the time. It feels so at home and brings that nice reminiscing feeling, whilst not feeling aged or tired. Moaner closes off the record with its rollicking highs, heavy drums and excellent use of synths to create piercing sounds that pull the track into the ether. Bands such as Basement Jaxx can be seen as being influenced by this record, and it’s easy to see why listening to this.

This Vinyl reissue almost sounds warmer than I remember with the original. Whether that’s time playing a part, or the recording, I don’t know, but it’s a record that works fantastically well on the format. The deep cuts don’t feel fractured or stressed and the climax of track Moaner sounds even boslhier played loud and proud. Breathless and rampant, the record’s cover directly contradicts this feeling with its serene blues and white squares, almost signalling the calm before the storm. Artistically laid out across two records in a gatefold package, it’s simplicity at its finest.

Beaucoup Fish is a triumph of the 90s. Ageless and defiant, the album sits amidst a wave of originality and should be rightly heralded as a triumph of Britpop. This reissue is vital for the collection of anyone who missed out on it the first time round or if you’re looking to enjoy and reminisce about an intriguing time in music history.

Score: 4/5

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Book Review: Why Vinyl Matters

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Along with the unexpected revival of vinyl comes the question, why has this happened? And what better people to ask than the musicians and vinyl enthusiasts themselves? Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, author of Why Vinyl Matters, fills a book full of interviews, photos, information and anecdotes looking for answers to this very question.

Bickerdike has dedicated her life to music, which really shines through in this book fit for the coffee table of any vinyl lover. Starting off with a brief introduction into how Jennifer discovered vinyl, and leading up to the recent resurgence (and the number of albums she bought for “research” towards the book… 108 if you’re wondering), she then moves onto her well structured and interesting interviews. From Lars Ulrich of Metallica to Author Nick Hornby, each interviewee brings a fresh insight and different opinions to answer the statement put forward in the title of the book.

Accompanied by high quality photos, Jennifer manages to give the reader a brief glimpse into the love of vinyl each person has in their own unique way. Who would have thought Fat Boy Slim grew up listening to Carpenters albums, or that an old Muppets record influenced Gaz Coombes of Supergrass? It’s not just little tidbits of information like this that keep you interested, but the way the conversations manage to delve deeper into the reasons of why vinyl is still such a beloved music format. Nearly every interview includes a story of nostalgia in which you can almost see people reminiscing and falling back into earlier days of their lives. Alison Fields discusses how she found her first record in a forgotten plastic bag on a train home from Birmingham, whereas Chief Xcel from Blackalicious talks about how he used to get his Dad to buy him Kiss albums just for the covers.

The book also includes insight sections delving deeper into areas such as creating artwork for records, or how vinyl is actually made in the factories littered around the world. These give an interesting left-field look into the processes behind the music, helping to break up the interviews and create a more accomplished read.

One of the main underlying themes that’s found running throughout is how much people are influenced by and respect independent record stores. There’s a genuine love of these places and a feeling that more needs to be done to make sure they stick around. Vinyl aficionados need a physical community where they can dig for records and discuss music with other fans, rather than succumb to the ease of ordering on the lonely internet.

Why Vinyl Matters is a great addition for any vinyl lover. With a plethora of interviews that are not overwhelmingly long, this provides the perfect opportunity to pick up and read the book now and again as you listen to your favourite record or when you have a spare 5 minutes. It really shows off how much vinyl not only means to the author, but why it matters to musicians, music industry stalwarts and music fans alike.

By Jamie Parmenter

 

Check out the link below to pick up your own copy!

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Review: The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

the-war-on-drugs

The War On Drugs return to the limelight with their first new material since 2014’s Lost In The Dream.

The War On Drugs just seem like one of those bands that wouldn’t enjoy the monotony of recording – more comfortable being on the road, playing live and generally getting their music out there. And it’s this thought that makes A Deeper Understanding so juxtaposed; on the one hand it features their most clean cut and processed music yet, but on the other it has the freedom and energy to encapsulate the audience. With this is mind, front man Adam Granduciel has once again bucked the trend in recent music, and made a record that’s a little bit different in a sea of familiarity.

Although Adam doesn’t mind going against the grain, he’s not shy to show off his musical influences either. Up all Night’s melodic, synthesized build-ups remind you of early Kate Bush, feeling sweet and bleeding emotion as the music dances around a simple beat. Pain, on the other hand, is a cross between Bruce Springsteen crooning and Ryan Adam’s musical whimsicalness from his past two albums. The track reverberates through words and shows off the heartache to full view of the listener.

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If you like your music accompanied by pictures, make sure to watch the beautifully shot and heart-wrenching video for track Holding On. It perfectly suits the songs contemplative style as it’s moved along effortlessly by Granduciel’s understated vocals, finding a way to bind with the music where others would struggle. The whaling guitar guides you through the track with a level of ambience that’s as much addictive as it is integral to this album highlight.

You Don’t have To Let Go’s Sunday afternoon heartbreak carry’s on the wounded soul theme in a serene wave of nostalgia, whereas In Chains pulls on 80s heartstrings with its ballad opening transforming into a bright and airy rolling beat classic. These two songs are examples of how the band has grown with time, being able to create not just catchy tracks, but tying lose ends together to create a more rounded experience.

You have to be in the right frame of mind to listen to A Deeper Understanding, but when you are, you can take a hell of a lot from this record. Granduciel’s lyrics create and conjure images and emotions so vivid that you’ll get lost in his world without knowing it. Mesmerizing in areas and contemplative in others, this is The War On Drugs best work to date and is destined to stand the test of time.

Score: 4/5

By Jamie Parmenter

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