Friday, 20 May 2011

Ben Howard - Old Pine

I heard Ben Howard, the South Devon singer songwriter, sometime last year with the chance hearing of his EP at that time; 'These Waters'. From that point onwards, I was desperately hounding his PR agent to review the EP that I had been told was in the pipeline. Months after and finally that EP is sat right before me in the form of 'Old Pine' a four track EP released via Island Records.

Opening track 'Old Pine' nestles perfectly with a vocal melody seemingly telling a tale of the outdoor lifestyle that I'm sure Ben has experienced to such a high degree given his place of residence. This entwines with the quirky jaunty acoustic guitar, that is suitably backed up with the soothing sound of cello, while the spare drumming (think less is more and you have it) builds the track to a finale that see's Ben using his voice to create soulful howls reminiscent of Ray Lamontagne. 'Follaton Wood' has a country-esque guitar style with hints of steel guitar being played in the distance, the vocals sounding very much like that of my favourite Damien Rice track 'Coconut Skin', while finishing track 'Three Tree Town' works around a simple low key plucked guitar sound, enhanced by Ben Howard's single voice, sounding very similar to that of Angus Stone.

At the young age of twenty three, Ben Howard is creating folk music that belies his age showing that the song is more important than anything else, often making this release seem low key, but beautifully so. This in turn creates links to the greats, the likes of Nick Drake and Bob Dylan while adding a clear south west influence, a laidback summer sound that fans of Jack Johnson may appreciate. 'Old Pine' is hardly an album that will blow you away for its virtuoso talent, but I'm glad that Island Records have picked up Ben Howard because it's clear he has an ear for penning a great song and that aside, he has a fantastic voice to back it up. 'Old Pine' is clearly the chill out CD for a hot summer of lounging around and hopefully this summer can live up to it.


Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Antlers - Burst Apart

The first time I was tuned into The Antlers was at the release of their last album ‘Hospice‘. It’s songs, a story of an emotionally abusive relationship told through the analogy of a hospice worker and a terminally ill patient, were quiet, emotionally heart wrenching pieces of art understated in the musical delivery that often lay quietly soothing behind the haunting high key vocals of the man behind the formation of the band, Peter Silberman. It came as no surprise to me that not only was ‘Hospice‘ heavily praised and listed on many album of the year lists, but also that they were picked up by a label (‘Hospice‘ was self-released while they now come under Transgressive Records as well). This month see’s the release of their latest album ‘Burst Apart‘, but given the critical success of ‘Hospice‘ is it too much to expect the same quality of output from the band?

‘Burst Apart’ is very different from the bands last release but yet at the same time, very similar. It sounds like one of the strangest things for a writer to perhaps say about a band but in this case it’s nothing but the truth. With ‘Burst Apart’ we see the band writing songs that will perhaps appeal in a more widespread fashion. Yes, perhaps on this record there isn’t the cool kid indie appeal of songs like ‘Two’ but they still have some unashamedly indie style songs, they just seem more appealing to a wider range of people. That isn’t to say that The Antlers have lost the understated beauty to their music though, it’s still there, perhaps in more abundance that ever with the band happily layering keyboard samples, brass sections and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink, but it’s done in such a way that it is only ever to compliment the song which showcases the musicianship within the band. On ‘Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out’ the band move into territory that has made Deathcab For Cutie so popular, Silberman’s vocal delivery sounding frail and vulnerable behind entwined picked guitar melodies but still working to an immediency that perhaps was never really evident on ‘Hospice’. On ‘Parentheses’ the band sound very much like a nineties baggy Manchester band letting the drums take centre stage before a dance bassline comes in, finally making way to a fantastically jagged guitar riff. This is The Antlers as we’ve never heard them before, with ‘Parentheses’ in many ways an infectious pop song. ‘Corsicana’ on the other hand is The Antlers that many have grown to love, based around lightly strummed guitar chords with atmospheric keyboard work behind, Silberman gives a fantastically passionately sad performance here singing “We should hold our breath with mouths together now”. It’s simple song writing, but The Antlers have shown that unlike many, they can make it work.

‘Burst Apart’ perhaps isn’t as lyrically inspiring or affecting as its predecessor but musically it comes across as far more accomplished with the band wearing their eighties influences on their sleeve and yet still creating a sound that they can call theirs and only theirs. ‘Hospice’ racked up a space on many critics top ten albums of the year lists, I have no doubt in my mind that ‘Burst Apart‘ will achieve the same, if not more.

If you do anything this year, buy this album.