The Flaming Lips – Forrest Gump

The Flaming Lips – Peace Sword

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If life is like a box of chocolates, then Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips have been known to over-indulge on the sweetest, darkest, richest ones in the selection. In fact, in recent times they’ve been happy to gorge themselves silly. Heady Fwends was as indigestible as the title suggests. And ‘7 Skies H3’ was longer and even less nourishing than an ever-lasting gobstopper. On this EP, they’re being a little more choosy. They’re still The Flaming Lips. So, lo-fi is no-fi. But, given that, the new regime is good for them. From the first bars of the opening track, ‘Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)’, we find the familiar Flaming Lips ingredients. Huge banks of giant synths. Pounding percussion. Pulsing Bass. Grimey guitar. Hints of electronic burblery. It’s overpowering, exhausting, and very tasty. Here, all of the tracks were written for the Ender’s Game film, though only ‘Peace Sword’, made the cut. Like Ryan Adams previously, when you ask The Flaming Lips to contribute a song to a film, they oblige by composing a score. But it’s perhaps because they were working to at least some imagined brief that the songs on this EP have more discipline than certain recent outings. Take the last track, ‘Assassin Beetle – The Dream Is Ending’, which clocks in at 10 minutes. With that sort of title and at that sort of length, this could be excuse for another bout of self-indulgence. And the almost atonal industrial beginning seems to confirm the hunch. But then the melody from the previous track kicks in and suddenly we’re presented with a much more coherent, rewarding, and satisfying offering than has been served up in recent times. With The Flaming Lips life really is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. This selection leaves you wanting more, which is always a good sign.

Pitchfork review

Consequence of Sound

GoldFlakePaint review

Glide Magazine review

Grizzly Bear – Bear Rampant

Grizzly Bear – Shields: B-Sides

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This collection should come with a health warning to aspiring artists. Beware: This Is What Grizzly Bear Can Leave Off Their Albums. There are at least two tracks here that would not grace not just any normal record, but that might still end up being on many people’s end-of-the-year best-song list. The first is Daniel Rossen’s ‘Smothering Green’. It’s both utterly beautiful and fantastically hummable. Arranged in five acts, the first three increase the tension incrementally, the fourth releases it, and the fifth provides a wonderfully liquid ending. It’s a fully realised track that perhaps should have been included on Shields. If it had replaced ‘A Simple Answer’ with its almost unrelenting and distinctly un-Grizzly Bear-ish drums, it would have made a lovely centrepiece to the record. But it was discarded. The second is ‘Taken Down’, one of the three demos from the Marfa sessions. This is a classic Ed Droste song. The verse/chorus just goes straight into your head and won’t come out. For a song that could have become another ‘Two Weeks’ or ‘Yet Again’, it’s amazing that it was omitted. Perhaps it was psychological. The Marfa sessions in Texas were traumatic. Seemingly, none of the tracks recorded there found their way on to Shields. Maybe ‘Taken Down’ was consciously or sub-consciously repressed so that the band could make a clean start. Whatever the reason, it’s good that it’s now out in the open. What does let this collection down are the remixes. They’re an acquired taste anyway. But, here, they’re unusually uninteresting. ‘Sleeping Ute’ becomes so laid back that it’s best to think of it as ‘Sleeping Yurt (the Parks and Recreation Remix)’. As for the ‘Gun-Shy (Goes to The Disco Remix)’, the less said the better. What they do demonstrate, though, is that Grizzly Bear are at their best when they’re in control of their own sound. We have to accept this includes the right to leave off some truly great songs from their albums. But at least we can be pretty sure that at some stage we’ll get to hear them. Shields: B-Sides is proof.

Pitchfork review

Pretty Much Amazing review

The Line of Best Fit review

Songs: Ohia – A Farewell Transmission

Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co. (10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

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Deluxe Editions, Legacy Versions, Remastered Originals complete with outtakes and collectors items. They promise so much but they rarely deliver. A few live tracks here. A few discarded songs there. There’s the odd exception. Jeff Buckley’s ‘Forget Her’ from the Grace reissue being one. The Dylan Bootleg Series in pretty much its entirety being another. But hidden gems are few and far between. Songs: Ohia’s Magnolia Electric Co. is a magnificent album that deserves special treatment. The good news is that the Deluxe version is very special. It serves not only as a timely tribute to the late Jason Molina, but it enhances the original in a way that very few equivalent releases have managed. The new edition begins with two bonus tracks. The first, ‘The Big Game Is Every Night’, is a full-band outing that would have graced the original version of the album. Beginning with the words “It’ll get so quiet when this record ends”, it’s a closing track if ever there was one and, presumably, in the battle with ‘Hold On Magnolia’ it came second. But it’s a genuine lost classic. The second, ‘Whip-Poor-Will’, finally ended up on Josephine some six years later, but here the vocals are shared and they give the song a nice counterpoint. The big interest, though, lies in the second half of the reissue. They’re Jason Molina’s original demos of all the tracks on the original album plus the two bonus tracks. Many of them have found their way onto music blogs over the years, but now they’re brought together and properly curated. The first thing you notice is the click of the recording button. They’re that intimate. Featuring just Molina and a guitar, they’re demos in the the sense that the band is absent. But in another mood, another incarnation, and with only minimal overdubs, Molina could have put them out instead of the original album and we would still be singing their praises. There are minor differences here and there. A slight change of lyrics on ‘John Henry Split My Heart’. But for the most part they’re ready for the band to fill out. Perhaps the most interesting inclusions are ‘The Old Black Hen’ and ‘Peoria Lunch Box Blues’ which, unlike the album proper, Molina sings himself. When you hear him in his familiar fragile voice deliver the lines, “Tell them that every day I lived, I was trying to sing the blues the way I find them”, you realise why this is no ordinary reissue. Jason Molina is gone to the “ageless darkness”. But this Deluxe edition brings him at least part way back. “I will be gone, But not forever”.

NPR review

Midlake – Midlake 3.0

Midlake – Antiphon

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One band. Three albums. Three different incarnations. The first, The Trials of Van Occupanther, was an up tempo, 70s-style album that contained one of the most hummable tracks of 2006, ‘Roscoe’. The second, The Courage of Others, was a drab, tuneless, utterly miserable affair, which took the courage of not just a few, but many, many others to listen to all the way through. The third and new album, Antiphon, is as different from its two predecessors as they were from each other. And it’s pretty good. The big change this time around is that the lead singer, Tim Smith, has departed the group. Up steps guitarist, Eric Pulido, to do the honours. There’s form here and little of it is very promising. Ray Manzarek replacing Jim Morrison in The Doors. Phil Collins replacing Peter Gabriel in Genesis. But Pulido bucks the trend and does a nice job. He doesn’t have the most distinctive or expressive voice in music, but he really suits Midlake’s sound. And it would be greedy to ask for more. Musically, familiar Midlake elements return. The flutes are back, as are the reedy-sounding synths. But what really distinguishes and transforms this album is the rhythm section. The drums in particular keep up a really good pace, turning what could have been yet more Courage-like dirges into great upbeat songs. The three opening tracks all have memorable hooks. At times, the temptation to let out their inner Steve Hackett gets the best of them, notably on ‘Corruption’ towards the end. But, happily, this is an album that gives you something to sing about. With so many Midlakes over the years, the best way to judge Antiphon is to think of it as the first album by a new band. If that were the case, would it stand out? Would Midlake be a band to watch? The answer to both questions would be a resounding ‘yes’. There’s still a sense that this new band called Midlake has more in the tank, perhaps by increasing the harmonising and accentuating the pop, but they’ve made a good start and their sophomore album will be one to look out for.

Drowned in Sound review

The Guardian review

Hot Press review

Music OMH review

The Line of Best Fit review

This Is Fake DIY review