I picked up some new albums recently, and I’ll pause here to echo a comment I heard on the radio the other night as I can’t remember what the inside of a record store looks like, especially now I don’t work in the city centre and no longer have the evil geniuses at FOPP fleecing me on a weekly basis. I’m not even sure I’m bothered by this, although there is something satisfying about physically opening a CD, reading the sleevenotes, and extracting the disc from the spindle … but that’s a transistory pleasure at best, after the first few viewings, the cover art and sleeve notes are much of a muchness usually.

For a change, every single album I picked up is pretty damn good and as I’ve not done any review type posts here for AGES (mainly because the competition is of such a high standard) I thought I’d rattle through my thoughts on the following:

  • Amy Winehouse
  • Mark Ronson – Version
  • Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
  • Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther
  • Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

And no, I hadn’t planned to list them in order of increasing name and title. These things just happen.

Amy Winehouse
I’m going to start with Amy Winehouse. Not because I’ve recently bought any of her stuff, but because I’ve been rediscovering it. I purchased her first album, Frank, when it came out and it never really sat well with me. If I had a category for this type of music it would probably be titled “meh, next… meh, next.. not in the mood for that either, next” which, whilst not the catchiest name for a category of music, pretty much sums up my initial impressions of Ms. Winehouse. All tattoos, and croaky voice.

However, since buying her second album, Back to Black, at the behest of my wife, I’ve suddenly realised how wrong I was. I’d love to say that this is due to a change in song writing quality on the new album, or perhaps a different engineer or… something else that isn’t my fault. But I can’t. Because having listened to Back to Black, and then Frank, last night, I found myself reaching for the “why don’t I listen to this more often, it’s great” category.

I really must work on my category titles.

Anyway. Amy Winehouse. Pretty damn good.

Mark Ronson – Version
Now I just KNOW that some people will baulk at this album but, frankly, they should get out more. YES there is a re-working of a Smiths track but I think it’s pretty damn good, and it may even be better than the dreary Smiths version (ok ok, I’m just trying to wind them up… hope they don’t beat me to death with gladioli… gladioluses.. big floppy flowers like wot Morrissey had that time on TOTP).

Yes, it’s largely an album of cover versions, yes Robbie Williams is on it, as is Lily Allen, but don’t let that put you off. If this isn’t the “album of the summer” then I’ll eat my copy of the CD (that’ll sort out the people who weren’t paying attention!). All in all it’s cheery, hip-hop-lite pop music and the version of Toxic, yes the Ms.Spears track of the same name, is pretty damn AWESOME, especially when played very loud on a car stereo… ahem.

It’s a fun and hugely infectious album. Just which it was a bit longer.

Kings of Leon – Because of the Times
Disclaimer. I’m a huge fan. I am biased.

Having listened to this a few times I can confirm it is an excellent album for both fans and new-comers alike. It manages, somehow, to retain the “Kings of Leon” style – although a lot of that might just be down to the guitar sound and wailing Americana tinged vocals – whilst sounding completely new.

Americana tinged vocals? You know what I mean… right?

The songs seem better crafted and less raw than previous albums, although that’s partly down to engineering I think, but they retain the same vivid lyrical quality. Tune-wise there isn’t a duff track on the album, and all in it’s probably a better introduction to the Kings of Leon than previous albums. Some would say that’s not a good thing, but I think this album makes the KoL much more approachable than they were before, it certainly SOUNDS more “radio-friendly”.

I remember a time when the Red Hot Chili Peppers were very much a “big but not massive” band. That’s where Kings of Leon are now, and this album might just start to tip them towards being REALLY big.

Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther
I picked this up on the basis that the band are appearing at the Indian Summer festival in Glasgow this year, and had heard snippets of good stuff about them. The album is a beguiling mix, hopping gently through different sounds, without ever sounding disjointed. I guess good songwriting always shines through. Most of the tracks float along and pull you in with some lovely melodies and harmonies, all very relaxing and I can see this on repeat during the summer holiday.

Not sure what else to say really, and I can’t even get a handle on who to compare them too… possibly someone like Arcade Fire at times, with prog rock influences here and there. No, that’s not right.

Worth a turn though, as it’s one of those albums that you only realise you are really enjoying when someone comes up to your desk to interrupt you.

Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
Pitchfork alerted me to this band, and a couple of comments on other websites piqued my interest enough to add this to the basket. I’m glad I did.

Apparently this is “post-rock” but the easier comparison is to Mogwai (which may be the same thing). Dripping with guitars, crashing crescendos and slow building harmonics, it’s a musical landscape kind of album, and ideal for ‘background noise’. Reminds me of M83 a little in parts (without the vocals) and seems to get better with each listen. Which is just as well as it’s quite a short album, but does have an excellent 13 minute track in the middle.

It is an album that requires repeat listens though as you tumble between the quiet, gorgeous moments of delicate instrumentation before slamming headlong into a wall of drums and thrashing guitars.

Trust me, it sounds better than my description. Which wouldn’t be that difficult I guess.

So, over to you. What are you listening to at the moment?