Thursday, 16 May 2013

reviews: The Pastels, Woodenbox, Brazos

                                             The Pastels – Slow Summits

The Pastels - Slow Summits (****)

Slow Summits is being billed by some as The Pastels’ first album in sixteen years – a timescale that only fits if you discount their 2003 The Last Great Wilderness soundtrack and their 2009 collaboration with Tenniscoats. But to strike both from memory for the sake of implying a comeback would be remiss, with both projects arguably key to Slow Summit’s graceful configuration – the former coaxing the band down more wistful avenues and ushering in a gentler aesthetic; the latter furthering the transition, and commencing an alliance carried over to this record’s guest appearances from the Japanese duo.

Opener Secret Music is an impeccable introduction, Katrina Mitchell’s purring vocals melting into rich (but never ostentatious) instrumentation, its airy beauty ushering in an album remarkable more for its sense of wholeness than its individual peaks. Nonetheless, there are standouts, including Summer Rain’s misty waltz and Come to the Dance’s lithe sign-off, which closes proceedings faultlessly, if all too quickly.

Out 27th May

                                                Woodenbox – End Game

Woodenbox - End Game (***)

They may have undergone a minor rebranding since Home and the Wild Hunt (having re-dropped ‘…And a Fistful of Fivers’ from their moniker a wee while back now), but Woodenbox’s second album suggests their influences and intentions haven’t drifted far from those that informed their gallantly spit-and-sawdust 2010 debut.

Frontman Ali Downer continues to belt out lead vocals with rugged fervour, his forefront presence anchoring a robust assortment of rollicking country-folk sounds, while the three-piece horn section (arguably Woodenbox’s second cornerstone asset) delivers bolstering melodies that quicken the pulse of tracks like lead single Courage.

But while the ingredients are occasionally over-familiar, the band have found convincing ways to extend their reach, with erstwhile rough edges scraped smooth and a streamlined sense of purpose showing through in the likes of opener Asphyxiation’s pop stomp chorus or Roll For Me’s jazzy, jerky verses. A confident, if not quite revelatory, return.

Out 27th May

                                                   Brazos – Saltwater

Brazos - Saltwater (***)

Since his 2009 debut Phosphorescent Blues, Martin Crane (who performs as Brazos, perhaps to avoid being confused with Frasier’s pop) has relocated from his native Austin, Texas to Brooklyn, New York, swapping one fertile creative landscape for another and soaking up inspiration from both locales.

Of his new neighbours, there are distinct whispers of Grizzly Bear’s urbane precision and Vampire Weekend’s cosmopolitanism across Saltwater (both acts for whom Brazos has opened for in the past). The album’s textured, layered instrumentation evidences Crane’s broad palette, with much to take in between the afrobeat flavoured pop of opener Always On and the low-key blues of closer Long Shot. But while there are no major errors of judgement to spoil proceedings, there are lesser offerings amidst the tracklisting that fail to impress themselves as confidently as the album’s highlights, rendering this an assured but as-yet-unperfected expression of a definite talent.
Out 27th May

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