Album reviews: School of Seven Bells, Ray LaMontagne, The 1975 and Iggy Pop
SVIIB’s sweeping dream-pop is a cathartic closure, LaMontagne is on top of the world, The 1975 lack direction and Iggy Pop hypnotises as he winds things down
School of Seven Bells
Following Benjamin Curtis’ sudden and untimely death from lymphoma in 2013, the final collaboration between the 35-year-old multi-instrumentalist and singer Alejandra Deheza was always likely to be overshadowed by both life and death. Written in recording sessions during the summer of 2012, with Curtis unaware of his illness at the time, Deheza later revisited the demos to complete the band’s swansong, a process that must have been both cathartic and heartbreaking for the lead vocalist. She and Curtis were partners in friendship, romance and songwriting, and Deheza calls SVIIB “a love letter from start to finish”, but despite its inescapable finality, it isn’t mired in grief. Along with Deheza’s twin sister, Claudia, who left the band in 2010, they create sweeping electronic dream-pop that combines melancholic heaviness with uplifting lightness, but SVIIB feels like a joyous celebration of a friend. The sparse Confusion is the one exception. “That was the last song we worked on in the same room together,” says the vocalist, her beautiful breathy delivery complimenting a mournful synth melody.
Ray LaMontagne got The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach to help out on his 2014 album Supernova, so it comes as little surprise that Hey, No Pressure, the lead single from his sixth album, is built around a fuzzed-up blues riff straight from the pocket of Auerbach’s plaid shirt. But where Supernova basked in the warm summery haze of California, Ouroboros shifts its blissed-out soundscapes to the other side of the ocean, to a darker psychedelia championed by British prog-rockers Cream and Pink Floyd. Co-produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, and featuring various members of MMJ who will be joining LaMontagne on the road, this is certainly the sound of the New Hampshire singer-songwriter pushing his musical boundaries even farther than before. With layers of keys and Moog swirling around LaMontagne’s delicate rasp and intricate acoustic fingering, the floating cosmic melodies of The Changing Man and the glorious In My Own Way share few similarities with the weathered folk of his 2004 debut Trouble. Sonically adventurous and creatively ambitious, Ouroboros is simply LaMontagne’s finest album yet.
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
While his biggest fear may be “becoming Sting”, Matt Healy, the excitable and gobby frontman of indie popsters The 1975, is certainly not a man who appears to struggle with low self-esteem. “I’m challenging people to sit through an hour and 15 minutes and 17 songs that all sound completely different from each other,” he says of his band’s ambitious second album. “It’s quite an emotional investment. It’s art. It’s what I want to do. The world needs this album.” So does the world really need the pretentiously titled I Like It When You Sleep? Well in short, no, but you can’t knock the overly confident singer’s knack for self promotion. He is partly correct: it’s all rather eclectic. Jumping from upbeat dance pop to gospel to acoustic balladry, cheeky lead single Love Me valiantly attempts to out-cheese INXS with its 1980s synth rock, but the triumph of I Like It When You Sleep is also its downfall, the album suffering greatly from a lack of direction.
Post Pop Depression
While all the focus of Post Pop Depression will rightly be centred on sinewy rock god Iggy Pop, for it is his name in lights, it’s noticeable from the very first hypnotic bars that this album, Pop’s 17th and what he claims could be his last, is as much a collaborative project with the musical giant Josh Homme. It was recorded in secret last year, with Arctic Monkeys’ drummer Matt Helders and Dead Weather guitarist Dean Fertita, and Homme contributes bass, guitar, and piano, as well as producing and co-writing these nine tracks with the live-wire punk legend. Given both of their musical pedigrees and these wonderfully sleazy results, it’s a twisted partnership that should have happened long ago. The stomping riff of opener Break Into Your Heart is certainly more Queens of the Stone Age than The Stooges, but Pop’s provocative croon proves to be perfect foil throughout for Homme’s dark desert blues, while both the catchy Gardenia and the playful rolling groove of Sunday evoke the spirit of Pop’s early collaborations with his good friend and saviour David Bowie.