Monday, 30 May 2011

reviews: white denim, secret cities, ryan driver

White Denim - D

White Denim - D (***)

White Denim have always seemed better in theory than in practice. Omnivorously squeezing as many diverse influences as possible into every track, the Austinites have produced intermittently excellent records, but their genre infidelity has fatigued as often as it has invigorated. D makes few concessions, yet comes closer than ever to matching outcome with promise.

At the Farm and Street Joy offer a representative one-two: the former a prog instrumental replete with galloping solos; the latter a gently-soaring ballad. Anvil Everything is even more representative, cramming the same degree of variety into one four-minute trip: Marnie Stern meets Muse at the beginning; a boisterous Ponytail-esque middle; with a thickly-grooved coda. Yet while the recipe might seem faultless, the proof is in the pudding, and somehow all this inventiveness, once again, fails to produce the expected highs – but there's a lot of fun to be had in the middle register.

Out 6th June

Secret Cities - Strange Hearts

Secret Cities - Strange Hearts (****)

Always Friends; Ice Cream Scene; The Park – just reading the names of the first three tracks of Secret Cities’ second album might cause seizures in the twee-intolerant. On listening, it makes perfect sense, acting as a serving suggestion for maximum impact: who to listen with, how to dine appropriately, and where to do it.

The opener lilts to life (that’s lilt as in ‘totally tropical taste’, as well as ‘light, rhythmic swing’), setting up an album reminiscent of the laid-back kitsch-pop of Dent May and his Magnificent Ukulele – though here, the palette is more interestingly diverse, with Magnificent Ukulele accompanied by Splendid Singing Saw, Resplendent Trumpet and, er, Glorious Electric Bowtie (an experiment with contact microphones pressed against Adam’s Apples, adding to the slightly off-kilter air). Its brevity is a bonus – just as it threatens to lose lustre, it’s over, nudging you to pour another and play again.

Out 6th June

Ryan Driver - Who's Breathing?

Ryan Driver - Who's Breathing? (**)

It’s best to take all press release hyperbole with a shovel of salt, but claiming that Ryan Driver “just made the greatest soul record of the decade” is particularly perplexing. Never mind whether it’s the greatest or not; it’s not all that clear what’s meant by “soul”.

Nick Drake’s whispering croon appears to have influenced the vocals considerably, but while Driver doesn’t limit his inspirations to folk – eclectically taking cues from country (on pedal-steel opener Dead End Street) and lounge-jazz (much of the latter half) – there’s scant trace of gospel or rhythm and blues.

Unfortunately, nor is there much ‘deeply felt emotion’ to be had (the other presumed meaning of ‘soul’ in this context): songs are spun with such a delicate touch they barely register, and when they do – such as on the easy-listening fondue of Don’t Want to Leave You Without You – it’s not necessarily appreciated.

Out Now

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