Album reviews: new offerings from Chvrches, City and Colour, Jake Shimabukuro and !!!
Scottish electronic pop trio channel the synthesiser giants of yesteryear, while former Alexisonfire frontman Dallas Green taps a darker vein of raw emotion
Every Open Eye
As evidenced by the shimmering synth-pop of their acclaimed, mega-selling debut album The Bones of What You Believe, Scottish electronic pop trio Chvrches aren't afraid to wear their '80s hearts on their shoulder-padded sleeves. The band are brimming again with self-confidence and opting to write, record and self-produce their follow-up Every Eye Open, which expands on the sound of its predecessor in a less-is-more fashion. While still sounding clean and modern, Chvrches draw their influences from the goliaths of British electronic music, the Eurythmics, New Order (including the album cover artwork), and especially Depeche Mode, but Every Open Eye also bristles with its own pristine energy. As "that band with the pretty frontwoman", focus obviously centres on singer Lauren Mayberry (as did plenty of misogynistic internet trolls, whom Mayberry slayed with veracity); however, the producer "boys", Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, have forged a noticeably glossier and more cohesive sound. Shining brightly like an indie disco beacon, stadium anthem Clearest Blue is the finest example of this, and the album's euphoric highlight.
City and Colour
If I Should Go Before You
Dine Alone Music Inc
"You can steal it, stream it or even buy it," Canadian alt-folk troubador Dallas Green declares of his fifth solo album, If I Should Go Before You, so long as you "Just try to enjoy it. I know I do." As the vocalist and guitarist of post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, Green's spine-tingling vocals have always lent an uplifting melancholy to the haunting sadness of his solo side project, City and Colour. Recorded this time with a group of touring bandmates for a fuller sound, the 11 tracks on IISGBY hang heavy, with an atmosphere darker and moodier than the raw emotion of his previous one-man affairs. Setting the tone of despair, nine-minute lead single Woman is an ambitious and beautiful opener. As Green declares "Woman I'm a fool, guilty of all crimes", his vocals pierce the bleakness as a colossal heartbeat of percussion forms into a ringing wall of sound. The catchy hooks of Mizzy C and Lover Come Back are charged with an upbeat easiness, the beautifully confused landscapes of happiness and sorrow a fine example of the bluesman's continued growth as both a musician and songwriter.
The ukulele is arguably the easiest instrument in the world to play. Even I can knock out seven chords on the "little guitar", and I have failed to play a rudimentary tune on pretty much every other instrument, but Jake Shimabukuro's finger-picking mastery of the four-stringed instrument is truly bewildering. Showcasing the Honolulu native's many musical styles and worldly influences, Travels is Shimabukuro's first studio album since his collaboration with Alan Parsons in 2012. While the uke was once thought of as a novelty instrument, Shimabukuro is partially responsible for its recent resurgence, most notably through a cover of George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Here the obscure pop covers sit nicely among the sun-drenched island tunes, the Jackson 5's I'll Be There remains a sweet and gentle ballad even without the soulful vocals, while Shimabukuro manages to pluck the driving bass line of War's funky Low Rider to great effect. Along with the modern classical tracks, there's a joyous aloha spirit running through the self-penned tunes ( Passport and Hiilawe), ably demonstrating why Shimabukuro is thought of as the world's greatest ukulele player.
"We believe pop can be weird," states Nic Offer, charismatic frontman of indie disco funkers !!! (pronounced "chk chk chk"). "I don't think it's [unusual] to expect much out of a band that has been together for 18 years. My hope is that we are an unusual case." Offer decamped to his New York bedroom with songwriting pal and multi-instrumentalist Rafael Cohen and composed more than 40 demos for As If, the band's sixth album and follow-up to 2013's THR!!!ER. Drawing inspiration from early '90s house records, the tracks were polished in studios in Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Texas, with Offer proclaiming: "We are throwing everything at the wall, doing genres we've never done before." Freedom! '15 is certainly a furious four-on-the-floor disco stomper, and even when they slow it down a little, as with the laid-back slink of Bam City and Sick Ass Moon, !!! ooze a sweaty dance floor sexiness.