Re­turn of the kings

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - Re­views by ADRIAN YAP C.K. en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

Kings of Leon

(Sony mu­sic)

IT’S hard to imag­ine that Kings of Leon were sev­eral leagues lower than The Strokes in its early years. How things have changed.

Ever since Kings of Leon hit sta­dium-sized pay­dirt in 2008 with its break­through record Only By The Night, the Nashville rock band has spent a lot of time dis­tanc­ing it­self from its roots/blues-driven rock.

Yes, Kings of Leon is no DriveBy Truck­ers. And no apolo­gies are be­ing made.

Un­for­tu­nately, with the sub­se­quent (un­der­cooked) al­bum Come Around Sun­down, the band has been in­cred­i­bly bur­dened by the need to main­tain a mo­men­tum it has lit­tle con­trol over.

Older fans, who were charmed by the band’s un­pol­ished rock mu­sic – but have since dis­owned it since the un­bear­able sales pitch of a hit sin­gle Use Some­body – might re­joice slightly with this new Kings of Leon record Me­chan­i­cal Bull.

The ti­tle of this sixth record alone sig­nals a strong in­ten­tion for the band to re­turn to its raw and ragged roots. Hope­fully the soap opera of the Fol­low­ill clan has been sorted out. Front­man Caleb sounds sobered and ready for a fight on the bruiser of a rocker Don’t Mat­ter, which tips its hat to the days of Youth And Young Man­hood.

Bassist Jared also sounds sharp af­ter his stint in Smoke & Jackal, while gui­tarist Matthew is pure riffs from start to end on Me­chan­i­cal Bull.

There is a cer­tain care­free vibe about this record that the band has been miss­ing since it opted for the slick main­stream.

The al­bum’s sin­gle Su­per­soaker and the bal­ladic Wait For Me might sport a sus­pi­cious com­mer­cial tingle, but they are played with such aban­don that you can’t help but be charmed here.

The sting­ing Rock City, de­tail­ing rock ‘n’ roll ex­cess and celebrity fa­tigue, is as re­demp­tive as it gets when it comes to Kings of Leon reem­brac­ing the gritty blues.

It’s not quite a re­turn to early form, but it cer­tainly is a jump­start to­wards the right di­rec­tion. This is one re­cent Kings of Leon al­bum you can take on a road trip.

Chvrches

(uni­ver­sal mu­sic) SCOT­LAND isn’t all about post-rock acts or mis­er­able mop­ers. Re­cent hip­ster-ap­proved acts such as Haim (US), Daugh­ter (Eng­land) and Lorde (New Zealand) have had a big year, but you have to say that Glas­gow-based trio Chvrches are steadily build­ing main­stream mo­men­tum.

The group, led by ridicu­lously charm­ing front­woman Lauren May­berry, is part of the new van­guard of fe­male-fronted acts that are dom­i­nat­ing the blogs and the trendy trenches of the mu­sic scene.

And while it would be easy to dis­miss the Scot­tish group as noth­ing more than indie syn­th­pop froth, think again.

Chvrches’ de­but, fea­tur­ing 12 cuts, sug­gests that there is more to them than mere band­wag­o­ning. In vo­cal­ist May­berry, the group has the per­fect face (and voice) for the sim­ple but ef­fec­tive elec­tro-pop sound it em­ploys. The com­bi­na­tion of ac­ces­si­ble elec­tro and 1980s New Wave melodies works like a treat.

In some ways, May­berry sounds like a mod­ern day ver­sion of Al­tered Im­ages’ Clare Gro­gan.

Chvrches’ al­bum opener The Mother We Share could lay claim to be­ing one of the most sat­is­fy­ing (and in­fec­tious) sin­gles of the year. The beauty of the track is in its giddy pop head­rush. Mu­si­cally built around a five-note vo­cal­synth line and a mus­cu­lar beat, you are cer­tain to be reach­ing for the re­peat but­ton as soon as the first cho­rus hits. And herein lies the ap­peal of the group – the abil­ity to carve out th­ese pas­tel cool and mem­o­rable tunes seem­ingly out of very lit­tle.

Of course, the trio can pride it­self with more pop kicks with Lies and Gun, which backs up the hype sur­round­ing such a de­light­fully mis­chievi­ous re­lease.

It’s a gift of song­writ­ing, not tech­no­log­i­cal muck­ing here. That’s a sure sign that there is quite a bit of meat be­hind Chvrches’ trendy bones.

Var­i­ous Artistes

(uni­ver­sal mu­sic) A MOVIE based on time travel or story themes that move be­tween large chunks of time can be dicey. Mu­si­cally, the di­rec­tor has a big task to chose the right tunes to mark each time pe­riod with a song of that era. It’s not im­me­di­ately clear if this was the case with About Time, but the track­list does sug­gest so.

Writer/di­rec­tor Richard Cur­tis’ film, re­volv­ing around a young man with the abil­ity to time travel and how he tries to change his past to have a bet­ter fu­ture, does present plenty of po­ten­tial as far as mu­sic mark­ers. Cur­tis is no stranger to us­ing mu­sic as an im­por­tant mo­tif in his films ( Love Ac­tu­ally and Not­ting Hill did this to great ef­fect).

That’s not to say he is a nat­u­ral for great sound­tracks (well, Cur­tis is no Quentin Tarantino). But the Bri­tish film­maker, mostly, gets it right with the­mat­i­cally pre­cise cuts.

He must have done his home­work or had a chat with Nick Hornby. The pres­ence of tracks by rep­utable song­smiths such as Nick Cave, Ron Sex­smith and Ben Folds gives this About Time sound­track added depth. Nick Cave’s Into My Arms, un­sur­pris­ingly, is one for the ages (it’s 16 years old!) and re­mains a ro­man­tic de­light.

Sex­smith’s pen­sive yet up­lift­ing bal­lad Gold In Them Hills is a gem in its own right, while Ben Folds’ lovely The Luck­i­est (orig­i­nally fea­tured in his 2001 solo de­but) leaves a glow against the film’s bit­ter­sweet back­drop. Dis­pos­able con­tri­bu­tions from the likes of t.A.T.u. and Su­gababes re­flect the film pro­tag­o­nist’s age, which is prob­a­bly a nec­es­sary evil.

As far as sound­tracks go, this one slides down real easy from start to fin­ish. It’s likely to evoke nos­tal­gic ru­mi­na­tions, which may or may not be the in­ten­tion.

The Naked and Fa­mous

(uni­ver­sal mu­sic) INDIE dance act The Naked and Fa­mous, hail­ing from New Zealand, cre­ated quite a stir with its de­but al­bum Pas­sive Me, Ag­gres­sive You in 2010. It also proved that Auck­land had a cool mu­sic scene in that cor­ner of the world and not ev­ery­thing was com­ing from Syd­ney or Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia.

The group’s Pas­sive Me, largely from a need for “supersizing.” Yes, just put all the influences in one record! Granted it was a di­verse record, it lacked the in­ti­macy and depth to en­dear it past a cou­ple of lis­tens.

On this sopho­more out­ing In Rolling Waves, the group at­tempts to ad­dress that is­sue im­me­di­ately with a slow-burn­ing opener A Still­ness. The track’s jaunty melody would sound ab­so­lutely Björk­like if not for a dose of gypsy-like acous­tic strum­ming. Not a bad start.

Given enough at­ten­tion and spins, this record ac­tu­ally is much more soul­ful than the band’s de­but. That’s not to say the band has locked its synths in stor­age. Far from it!

Tracks such as I Kill Gi­ants re­verts very much to the band’s early sound – “selfie” dance­able and in­fec­tious synth-lines, while lead sin­gle Hearts Like Ours is your per­fect rent-an-an­them mo­ment that is bound to dom­i­nate many mu­sic fes­ti­vals ahead.

The band’s for­mula is nei­ther fresh nor cu­ri­ous, and things do get a lit­tle too slick at times. But there is a clin­i­cal ef­fi­ciency in the way The Naked and Fa­mous ex­e­cutes the mu­sic which de­serves some rev­er­ence.

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