Zulu Winter // Language // May 14 // PIAS
Comparisons to well established big guns can be welcome or unnecessary and harming whichever way you look at it and depending on what you, as a band seek. London’s Zulu Winter might sound like a fashionable bunch taking their cues from the darker reaches of 80s post punk and combining it with the modern day style not dissimilar to that of Wild Beasts. Sounds alright so far doesn’t it? Not anything overly original but not a colossal catastrophe like other recent big sounding UK bands. Then how come that most reviews compare Zulu Winter to aural abortion - Coldplay? Find out on their long awaited debut LP Language.
Such divide is seen in more than just their sound. They might have released their earliest singles on indie legends - Fierce Panda Records but other than sharing stages with some of the best bands in the country like The Horrors and Friendly Fires, Zulu Winter’s most recent support slot came from another aural abortion - Keane. They are taking the big risk of being lost in the middle. Too hip for the fun-loving festival crowds and too mainstream minded for the cool kids. Just like that recent Maccabees record, Language is big, it has it eyes set on stages that are much bigger than sweaty 500-capacity rooms. But just like the case with Given To The Wind, the songs on here are way too slow. Never mind the singles like Silver Tongue and We Should Be Swimming that are quintessential British indie, it’s tracks like Bitter Moon and Small Pieces that slow things down to an almost awkward level. Zulu Winter pay a lot of attention to atmosphere, admittedly they are not doing a bad thing. The guitars and keyboards are well produced giving the record an ethereal floating-in-space feel. They’re not the first one’s to do that but unlike other bands that just crank up the spring reverb and lose themselves in space, Zulu Winter are still in Earth’s atmosphere, falling in slow motion rather than floating away.
So yeah, in a way Language is one of those huge sounding albums that somehow end up coming out just before the festival season, what a coincidence eh? It’s not like it has a lot to offer for the masses as the music on here is suited for exploration rather than celebration of everything that is familiar. You Deserve Better and Let’s Move Back And Front sounds a lot like Foals but instead of having that sense that everything around is sunlit and beautiful, the London boys are delivering the music in an uncertain mystery that lacks the punch or enough hooks to be appreciated by masses. By this point even the plebs will realise that singer’s Will Daunt’s voice sounds not that dissimilar to that of Colplay’s Chris Martin. Don’t let that discourage you though as the lyrics that Zulu Winter are dealing with here are much more imaginative than the cliched blabbering that Martin comes up. Language feels like an album written by people who have read enough books in their lifetime. These little upgrades are nice but it doesn’t help the fact that Zulu Winter are merely taking ideas without ever delivering something new. It’s all good when they’re ripping off Coldplay or whatever but it’s tracks like Moments Drift that sound like sub-par Beach House mixed with Two Dancers era Wild Beasts which makes you feel that Language is more like a compilation of poems written by others rather than an original epic. Zulu Winter are building their nation from bigger pieces of the puzzle and are not afraid to take obvious cues from established bands, but while those bands have managed to make a stand on their debut albums, instantly sounding divisive and packing a flavour for stuff that is not “in”, Zulu Winter sound lost in the snow storm of ideas that are currently being used by just about everyone.
So Language is not the greatest album you’re about to hear this summer in Topshops and New Looks, who cares right? Zulu Winter have recorded an LP that may be low on originality and memorable moments but one that is filled with grace and composure. Considering how dumbed down indie music in the UK is nowadays, Language is something that will be on people’s lips for a good reason, even if Zulu Winter are speaking in foreign tongues.
Keane // Strangeland // May 7 // Island
Believe it or not, there was a day when Keane could’ve game Coldplay a run for the title of sappy piano softie rock for grandmas. What happened? They tried to get too clever and forgot that they will never be considered good between people who like their music brimming with ideas, hooks or anything that is memorable and striking. What do you do when you’re in a MOR band that is 5 years past its expiry date? You get off your high horse, stop fidgeting around with nonsense like original decisions and go back to the sound that made you famous in retirement houses in the first place. All things considered, Keane’s fourth album Strangeland does just that.
In more ways than one Keane sounds like old men, not only in trying to relive their glory which was less than a decade ago. The embarrassing faux grand moments are all over the place too. Sovereign Light Cafe is probably the biggest offender here. Not only does the singer sound like Elton John after a facelift, he also has the tenacity to finish the song with “la-di-da” type harmonics. I know 50 year olds who would cringe at such behaviour. Even the lyrics with self discovery that feels more like old man’s wishes to live the life like he used to. “there’s still so many things you don’t know” go the chorus of On The Road, a song that sounds more like preparation for the final journey of life rather than a rebirth and lust for knowledge. “you stumble and find out there’s such a long way to go” from the follow up The Starting Line does not help their case either. I can’t imagine anyone young being able to properly get into this album. If you’re a teenager who likes Keane then you are a virgin and dead inside, sorry but it has to be said.
Musically it’s the same old Keane. Yeah they might have dropped their look-at-us-we’re-a-rock-band-without-guitars attitude but Strangeland doesn’t feature that many of them. If you’re not paying attention, which let’s face it is not a hard thing to do considering you’re listening to a Keane record, you might find Strangeland a combination of Hopes & Fears era stadium sized piano power balladry and Under The Iron Sea synthesiser touches. The more atmospheric tracks like the penultimate In Your Own Time sound like they should’ve been on that album. Rather than complaining about instrumentals it’s just too hard to overlook that everything here is done by production. The echoes, reverb and explosive drums try their hardest to make the listener feel that the music on Strangeland is huge, epic and all that but really, under different production these songs could easily be intimate ballads. The songs on Strangeland lack personality or strong backbone to make them who they are, they could really be anything. It’s no surprise then that such loose attitude to songwriting is mirrored in the lack of hooks and memorable moments. Most of the sing along moments on here are delivered through the tired medium of ooohs and aaahs, no clever lyrical moments or any trace of wit to be found here then. All of this is far too familiar only few songs in and it doesn’t take a genius to find out that Strangeland is anything but strange.
Not that they needed to reinvent themselves but while their early moments sounded lively and vital, Strangeland feels like people trying to emulate their early success after 30 year career and that’s just not the case with Keane who aren’t even middle aged yet. Strangeland is so safe it’s miraculous that it didn’t come out back on mother’s day. In the end one can only express the equally tired sentiment of “if I wanted to listen to the early stuff, I’d listen to the early stuff instead of new stuff that sounds like the early stuff”. Everybody might be changing but Keane definitely feel the same.
#: Never mind the brilliant Kindred EP that Burial dropped just few weeks ago. Here is brand new track called Nova that he made with his frequent partner in crime Four Tet.
#: Cass McCombs, who made everyone’s 2011 sad with his duo of albums Wit’s End and Humor Risk has a new video for the latter’s highlight - Robin Egg Blue. he also released Love Thine Enemy single on Domino.
#: Grimes collaborator from Darkbloom split - d’Eon is releasing his self titled debut album on 5th of June.
#: Frank Ocean will be supporting Coldplay on their tour. Nice move considering that Ocean covered Strawberry Swing. Eagles should get him on tour as well… oh wait, they’re all dead or in a wheelchair.
#: Odd Future posts second of their trilogy of videos leading to the release of Odd Future Mixtape Vol. 2. Disgusting video, shit song, what else did you expect.
#: Big K.R.I.T. - the guy responsible for one of the best rap mixtapes of last year - Return Of 4eva, has dropped another mixtape - 4eva N A Day over at Livemixtapes. Free stuff this good doesn’t come often enough eh.
#: Bjork is at it once again. Here’s a new video for the polarising Hollow off the amazing Biophilia LP. Apparently all those things are inside Bjork’s body. So if you ever felt the need to get the deeper look into her world…
#: Is there some weird reason why you don’t think that Bradford Cox is a genius and a living legend? Well, during one of his US shows he accepted a My Sharona cover request from a heckler, played a noise version of it lasting a whole hour, told the heckler to get on stage and get naked and audience to stand up and lift their chairs above their heads. Stop worshiping the dead and sell your soul to this guy.
#: You know Beach House right? The best dream pop group in the world at the moment? They have a new album Bloom coming in May and they just dropped the opener for it called Myth.
#: Florence + The Machine prepares for the release of her/their first live album to show that she really does have a nice voice.
#: Kendrick Lamar & Schoolboy Q sign to Interscope. Betting on how long before they feature on a Jigga record begins.
Coldplay // Mylo Xyloto // October 24 // Parlophone
There’s no need to look at me like that. I try my best to enjoy all kinds of music, honestly. Truth be told, at one point in my life I’ve found myself seriously enjoying most of X&Y, the album that I still think is quite alright. But sometimes, it’s impossible to not think of a band when listening to their music, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to escape the fact that Coldplay is a bunch of worthless cunts. There’s always a sense of embarrassment when stadium sized bands start believing that they are some kind of otherworldy prophets, that usually happens when album names take up some foreign words that make no sense to most of their thick fans. In which case Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay’s 5th release in just over a decade, is right up there with Zenyatta Mondatta.
Supposedly, an album about some kind of love story in the modern world between two people who shouldn’t be together. The ridiculous amount of graffiti is used as some kind of metaphor here, but let me ask, didn’t that already happen before? 21st Century Breakdown anyone? Not to say that Chris Martin and his colleagues are rocking out on this album, of course no. Mylo Xyloto could not inspire a revolution in your local branch of Tesco, never mind the world. It’s a relatively low key affair, their most acoustic based album since their debut - Parachutes. Incidentally, it’s also, by far their worst. Not enough mindless “hands in the air” moments rear their faces on Mylo Xyloto to hide the fact that when it comes to lyrics, Chris Martin could take a page or two out of Rebecca Black’s book.
That said, it does open rather strongly. After the faux baroque of Viva La Vida, an album that was a killing blow to all their ambitions of ever being taken seriously, Mylo Xyloto showcases some of their more electronic influences, courtesy of Brian Eno. Hurts Like Heaven with it’s cheese ball lyrics and Paradise, which is just about the biggest straight up pop song they’ve ever written, are some of the brighter points of this mixed album, that will probably do well with their own fans. However, if they came up with these songs when they debuted, they would be considered some kind of cheap Steps rip off, as the lack of anything that could be described as depth is quite embarrassing. Rest of the album dabbles way too much in acoustic sounds. Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall is a good entry point here as the genericness of it clearly showcases the kind of sound these lazy sods are aiming for. By now, even the much discussed and liked/disliked Rihanna collaboration on Princess Of China is a welcome change. Her vocals manages to go well with the music, but at no point does she even threaten to feel an essential part of the song and amidst it all, she feels vacant and replaceable.
So the safest band on the planet have once again tried to cover some new ground and failed. Like a scared baby in a labyrinth, Coldplay peek their heads in various directions but then turn back around and carry on sitting in their safe alcove. While their willingness to incorporate new sounds in an environment, where any change is negative, could be viewed as positive, the execution of their ideas is nothing but laughable attempts at global unity. The world needs more honesty. If Bono came out and said that he couldn’t care less for african children and he’s only milking them to be able to afford another pair of sunglasses, world would be a better place. And if Coldplay gave up on making music? Heaven would be a place we call Earth.