“Baffled And Beat”: LITTLE FISH
So I was planning an article called "Phil Recommends: Little Fish" on account that I've seen them twice live and loved them - and yesterday I got their newly released debut album through the post. Sadly though, I'm a little disappointed with the album, it just doesn't feel like it represents the guitarist / drummer combo very well. Live, imagine PJ Harvey meets The White Stripes with acres of massive guitar distortion. On record, the songs are there and so are the vocals, but they don't feel as good with all that massive guitar distortion reined in for a more polished, radio-friendly sound.
Only a couple of times do we ever get brief momentary bursts of that live sound I found really inspiring. Otherwise, for a guitar / drums White Stripes-style combo, the studio polished radio-ready album is also bursting with other instruments including a very prominent bass guitar running all the way through from a guest bassist that’s mostly mixed higher than the guitar! To make a comparison, on Amanda Palmer / Dresden Dolls records there are other instruments but they never outshine the piano and vocals, always complementing them. Here, the singer / guitarist is lost most of the time and as if to add insult to the attempt to make these songs radio-ready, there isn't a single guitar solo on the whole record despite their live show featuring big face-melting searing solos!
So… well, I guess I just reviewed it there! A great live show but I expected a raw, guttural snarl of blues rock and searing vocals, rather than a polished slab of subdued radio-friendliness. I may grow to like the record anyway, there are still those great songs and vocals, but without the snarl of the live show they feel a little empty and without the simplicity of the guitar / bass combo they don't feel half as impressive. One of those moments when I remember why I don't buy many new CD's.
A final thought: it was with some sinking feeling after listening to the Little Fish album through for the first time, that I read the liner notes and discovered the album to be produced by Linda Perry! No wonder a live act I thought really stood out among the crowd has ended up sounding like everyone else! Makes you wonder why breaking bands aren’t producing their own albums in the way the internet underground now seem to be in droves, and with studio quality sound that would embarrass Jack White. Ahh well…
“Transmitter Failure”: JENNY OWEN YOUNGS
Another new artist album I bought this year was by American artist Jenny Owen Youngs. Seeing her live before her album came out, she's a lone singer / songwriter who plays a combination of country and punk songs with quirky lyrics and when she rocks she beats real punk energy from her acoustic guitar. So just up my street! But I was disappointed to find the debut album turned out to be all recorded with a guest band, with all the energy sucked out of the songs and everything rolling out like a watered down Arcade Fire which I guess is rather like what Florence and the Machine must sound like if I got around to listening to them. I'm guessing another example of record labels turning exciting live acts into more bankable album sales.
But after all this negativity, what about albums released this year I have liked?
“Crazy For You”: BEST COAST – Debut album from the California based trio, imagine Beach Boy’s tunes recorded in your basement with noisy shoe gazing guitars and a female vocalist. It really is that awesome!!
“Volume Two”: SHE and HIM – Another slab of sixties inspired tunes from the impossibly cool Zooey Deschanel. It’s more of the same on her and M. Ward’s sophomore album but that makes it no less wonderful.
And last but not least “Junior”: KAKI KING – Miss King goes rock n roll on her fifth album to stunning results with guitar work to melt your mind and a set of songs that just get better every time you hear them. Truly awesome!