Saturday, 29 October 2011

reviews: active child, johnny foreigner, portugal. the man

Active Child - You Are All I See

Active Child - You Are All I See (****)

As Active Child, former choirboy Pat Grossi exploits his God-given pipes to striking effect. His Marmite falsetto will split listeners, but the thumbs-up camp will praise it loudly. Ariel Rechtshaid’s sumptuous production treads carefully (but confidently) across an area of influence in danger of being over-exposed of late – a glossy synth-pop concoction of stuttering electronic snare and Blue Nile-esque atmospherics.

While sequenced with laser-focus, You Are All I See’s alluring hall of mirrors amalgamates multiple styles, any one of which could have potentially sustained an entire album by a less confident artist: the title track enters on twinkling harp; a guesting Tom Krell (How To Dress Well) goes full R Kelly on Playing House; while the instrumental Ivy provides a well-timed break from Grossi’s divisive vocals. Its chilliness may initially resist being taken to heart, but once you melt into its shimmering waters you won’t want to surface.

Out Now

Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner Vs. Everything

Johnny Foreigner - Vs Everything (***)

With each album, Johnny Foreigner seem to find it harder and harder to relinquish material: their thirteen-track debut seemed the optimum length for such high energy tumultu-pop, whereas its fifteen-track follow-up felt comparatively swollen. Unfortunately, the seventeen-track Johnny Foreigner Vs. Everything suffers the same ailment as its predecessor, only more acutely.

Parcelling the material into smaller portions does wonders, since nothing here is wholly disposable (though twin concrète interludes would be first for paring were it given a proper filleting). Taken together, however, the flow is damaged by frequent tempo swerves – take, for instance, the transition from Hulk Hoegaarden, Gin Kinsella, David Duvodkany, etc’s punky swish (they still christen their songs with expert irreverence) to the bland sorbet of Johnny Foreigner Vs. You. Interpreted more favourably, the preponderance of slower tracks suggests a band midst-metamorphosis; an exciting proposition, as when they get the balance right – see 200X’s sensitive breather – they triumph.

Out 7th November

Portugal. The Man - In the Mountain, In the Cloud

Portugal. The Man - In the Mountain, In the Cloud (****)

In the Mountain, In the Cloud is Portugal. The Man’s sixth album in six years (seventh if you count acoustic miniature Majestic Majesty), and though their punctuation remains annoyingly wayward, their retro-style is gaining traction with each venture. Here, their stalwart Americana-based sound is tarted up with glam tinsel and enough old-fashioned rock n roll heart to have Almost Famous-er Cameron Crowe weeping clichés of appreciation.

The immediate reference points are either decades old (Elton John, David Bowie) or styled that way (with hints of Scissor Sisters – in a good sense – in Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now)’s falsetto pomp, and Oasis – in a slightly less good sense – on Beatlesy closer Sleep Forever), yet they always sound fresh. The parenthesising continues with Everything You See (Kids Count Hallalujahs)’s summer jam and Head is a Flame (Cool with It)’s sauntering space-walk, accumulating track-by-track into their finest full-length to date.

Out 14th November

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