Politely experimental and inconsistent in quality. A review of David Gray’s ‘Gold in a Brass Age.’

Gold in a Brass Age

The thing about David Gray is that we’ve probably seen the best of him already. His fourth album, ‘White Ladder,’ is the benchmark to which the rest of his catalogue will always be compared. So how does ‘Gold in a Brass Age’ stack up? If anything, the album is a microcosm for Gray’s career as a whole. ‘White Ladder’ aside, everything else he’s done has been hit or miss and ‘Gold in a Brass Age’ is no different.

The first few songs find Gray experimenting and playing with different arrangements as he tries to find originality in today’s ever-changing musical landscape. As with any musical experimentation there’s always the chance that it could go horribly wrong but there are a few songs that charm their way to success such as the title track, ‘Gold in a Brass Age.’ With a fantasy-filled, light-hearted accompaniment Gray tries to figure out what’s going on in his mind, his husky voice contrasting beautifully with the light, happy-go-lucky melody lines.

Then there’s ‘Furthering,’ perhaps the most experimental track on the album which goes more in the direction of dream-pop, but takes all conventional song-writing wisdom and throws it out the window. Rhythmically it’s all over the place as new verses start in the most unexpected places, but that’s by no means a bad thing. The abnormal rhythms create a very unique kind of tension that holds the listener’s attention throughout.

Apart from one or two other songs, there’s not much else to write home about. The second half of the album gives way to less imaginative, more repetitive tracks like the monotonous ‘It’s Late,’ and ‘If 8 Were 9’ which, in an attempt to be experimental, ends up sounding as forced as an introvert trying to have a good time at a night-club.

David Gray has to be applauded for being brave enough to try new things in his songs, a few of which pay off and lead to some lovely moments. But on the whole, ‘Gold in a Brass Age’ finds itself missing as many times as it hits.

You can stream the album here.

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A Different Kind Of Medicine

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The Medicine Dolls have released the fourth EP in their ever-growing discography. ‘A Good Chance Of Bad Weather’ signifies a step in a somewhat new direction for a band known for their edgy, post-punk sound.

This small step into the new is evident from the jump as the title-track comes to life with an single note from an electronic organ that marches on through the opening bars, soon being joined by Greg Allan’s voice. A surprise for seasoned fans will be the increased use of the bass. As it forays into unexplored territory it brings a new dimension into the band’s sonic universe. It becomes evident that this EP is going to fall on the more romantic section of their spectrum as Allan says “I want to love you darling creature, I want to kiss your fucking soul.”

The organ finds more footing in ‘Careful Affection’ creating an eerie, carnival-for-the-disturbed feeling. The mood of the song is heightened by tempo named lethargy and a voice fighting to remain calm in the midst of turmoil. The song sounds like the beginning of the fourth stage of grief. There’s a sense of pain and restraint that’s brought across well by the aural landscape. The final track brings us back to the familiar ground that fans have come to love and know.

It’s the familiar with just a hint of experimentation. As if it went on holiday and came back with a new perspective on things. ‘Sick Little Cynics’ has the same old, born-from- experience cynicism that their previous offerings introduced. The energy, driving rhythms, moody guitar, and the dynamics that keep it interesting and alive are there. The only down-side is that you can almost hear a few of their older songs in it, but it’s still the strongest track on offer.

‘A Good Chance Of Bad Weather’ has an experimental feel as The Medicine Dolls try to find new dynamics to add to their arsenal. For the most part it strays from the sound that made them a name on the Cape Town scene but it was a calculated risk that paid off.

You can listen to the EP here.

A hitchhiker’s guide to earth

 

Tranquility Base

Photo credit: Alex Turner's official Instagram page

Warning: This is not the sort of album you’ll be getting drunk to at your favourite drinking hole or getting sweaty to at the hottest club. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is not here to entertain you but rather to warn you. What Arctic Monkeys have created is an album filled with shattered sci-fi fantasies, critique, introspection, regret, and acceptance from a hotel with a perfect view of a broken pale blue dot.

Turner is fed up, both with himself and with the world, and he’s getting serious. If Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker were to have a love child it would be Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. The album carries the same sense of brooding and regret with a hint of psychedelia that doesn’t sound too dissimilar to something out of Alabama Shakes’ catalogue. Set in a hotel on the spot where man walked on the moon for the first time, we are treated to an examination of the world as well as Turner’s views on where his life has taken him.

The album is set in a hotel that exists because of a mass exodus of planet Earth probably following a world-wide disaster of some sort, a theme that reinforces the sci-fi bent that flows throughout Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. From his position in the hotel Turner forces us to take a hard look at the state of the world. In his eyes it’s a world where politicians act more like entertainers who will bend and sway to public demand just for a few extra votes and where curated online profiles are more important than real-life personalities.

Turner is notoriously wary of social media and it doesn’t get more heavy-handed than this. ‘Smile like you’ve got a straw in something tropical’ he croons in She Looks Like Fun. a daring, intimidating song that describes a world where thoughts can be shared in the blink of an eye and where people will be validated for saying good morning and sharing photos of their cheeseburgers. But it isn’t that easy. In this song ‘There’s no limit to the length of the dickheads we can be’ as anyone can say what they want. A song that is simultaneously comforting and destructive.

Then there are the ways in which social media and technology gently take control of people’s lives. The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip opens with the line ‘You push the button and we’ll do the rest’ with a melody that sounds like it came out of a circus from the wrong side of town. It’s a song about how people willingly give their personal data to social media corporations and allow themselves to be distracted by sex and stories of monster trucks doing front flips. All of which, according to Turner, are designed to distract the general populace from what’s really happening.

American Sports creates a landscape in which the truth exists on a spectrum where it can never be false. ‘They took the truth and made it fluid’ and that can only be accepted. Turner compares the political system to sports as he speaks of ‘a montage of latest ancient ruins soundtracked by a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing”‘ as he frantically tries to say that protest is futile.

‘I sell the fact that I can’t be bought.’ A line that wants to be heard in Batphone attempts to highlight the hypocrisy that is rife in a world where creating a brand is the only way to survive. Even individualists, people who don’t want to fit in or sell out have to conform if they want to stay relevant. Four Out of Five takes a more satirical view of contemporary advertising by dressing up as an advertisement for the Tranquility Base Hotel. ‘Advertise in imaginative ways, start your free trial today’ pokes fun at the lack of originality in a world that is dependent on creativity and originality.

But the Tranquility Base Hotel is not as spectacular as its view of Earth. In this fictitious space all of the issues that have been lamented throughout the album have hitched a ride to the lunar lap of luxury which is rated four out of five stars, by the way. Technology has replaced all that was previously considered sacred as Jesus fills out an information form in the day spa and Turner personally has a weekly video chat with God. Gentrification grips the hotel as an old, washed up rock star makes easy money as a lounge singer in the bar as he dreams of the life he wishes he had and Turner wants answers to where it all went wrong as the music around him brings his inner turmoil to life.

But this album is not all about social media and politics. Star Treatment welcomes us into the album by showing us how Turner ‘just wanted to be one of the Strokes’ but lost his way in the pursuit of success. He feels that fame and success have corrupted him as he looks back on the dreams that he had when he embarked on his musical journey. ‘It’s the star treatment’ he says. A fickle sun that sets on artists faster than it does on the equator. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is rounded off by The Ultracheese. A memorial to the friends that he made and lost along the way, whose pictures still hang on his walls. It’s a song about regret, loss, and acceptance as he decides that at the end of it all his one true love is and will always be music.

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a step away from what fans of Arctic Monkeys expect. It’s dark, brooding, and introspective and the lyrics are the focal point. It isn’t background music and it would be disrespectful to form a full opinion of it after just one listen. It’s a thematically diverse album that forces us to look at ourselves by taking us away from ourselves and that makes it immediately deserving of respect.