18 May 2009

Catching up with Lacrosse and Maximo Park

Summer is almost upon us, which means many bands will be scrambling to release their albums ahead of the summer festival circuit and concert season. So, with these two releases, I am ready to declare summer is here and it is going to be interesting. Though I think many eyes are on Kasabian, Manic Street Preachers, and Placebo, there is a lot going on out there that should not be looked over. Here are two great albums (I promise not to gush over the pop sensibilities of Swedish musicians this time) that you should definitely give a listen to. From bubbly pop to darker indie, Lacrosse and Maximo Park are just the beginning in the diversity I think this summer is going to bring. Enjoy the music and the tanning (really soon).

Lacrosse: “Bandages of the Heart”

Straight out of Stockholm, Lacrosse delivers a strong sophomore effort. Combining a bit of everything into a pop hotchpotch, this is a great experimental pop album in the same vein of Friendly Fires or the later Banshees or even the Sugarcubes. Not as bubbly as their debut album (“This New Year Will Be for You and Me” (2007)), “Bandages of the Heart” (12 May 2009) will deliver a pop edge that is refreshing. The problem with so much pop out there is that it is constantly playing it safe, sort of getting ready for its fifteen minutes of fame in primetime, but Lacrosse has chosen craftsmanship to cliché.

With a growing trend of sounding infantile, the album opens unashamedly with “We Are Kids.” A number that packs the sonic power of “Love Will Never Tear Us Apart,” without the gloom or doom. A straightforward song, with a driving drum beat and bass line, guitars and keys there for ambience, the music is meant to rap around the vocals to enhance the mood of the song. With a playful candor (“We are kids, we can’t decide, no no no…), the song takes a quirky approach at poking fun at different aspects of adult life, including politics: “We need a recount, we need a second opinion and a judge” (perhaps Sweden is not that different than the USA). But not all the songs enjoy this kind of straightforward approach to music. “My Stop” combines some savvy Latin elements, while retaining their quirky take on adult life: “Living is not an option but I guess suicide is worse.”

When I first heard “I See a Brightness,” I had to laugh – great fucking song, but it reminded me of the Sugarcubes cover of “Motorcycle Mama.” It has a playful interchange in the vocals, with a drum beat that makes you want to stand up and do something – dance, mosh, or bounce around. But it is not all bubbly, upbeat tempos. “Excuses, Excuses” drags the listener down to a dismal despair that ends in sort of musical anger/anxiety, as the beat picks up for the last minute. Yet, the lyrics are approached with the same kind of infantile mentality: “You keep up with your excuses, you hope no one will see when you look into the mirror, you see a big phoney.” Come on, who else uses the word “phoney” other than kids?

But the ultimate naivety comes right at the end with “What’s Wrong with Love?” With an eerie guitar solo, with a dragging beat, as if tired, “What’s wrong with love, what wrong with scaring too much, to tell someone you’re in love?” And that infantile approach comes full circle, because only a child would ask the rhetorical question of what is wrong with love. As adults, we have all become somewhat jaded and cynical, expecting the worse in people quite too often. But a child understands that there is nothing wrong with love, and that is when it hits you: this entire album is about pointing out what is wrong with us. From our stupidity in our actions and choices, to the fact that we dismiss pop music as inferior and contrived, this album definitely makes you think about and feel the realities of life, while enjoying a subversive sound that is unthreatening and continuously inviting.

Track Listing:
1. We Are Kids
2. You Are Blind
3. All the Little Things That You Do
4. Bandages of the Heart
5. I See a Brightness
6. It’s Always Sunday Around Here
7. Song in the Morning
8. My Stop
9. Come Back Song #1
10. Excuses, Excuses
11. What’s Wrong with Love

Follow Lacrosse on their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “We Are Kids” from the Tapeterecords YouTube Channel.

Maximo Park: “Quicken the Heart”

The British quintet of Tom English (drums), Duncan Lloyd (guitar), Paul Smith (vocals), Archis Tiku (bass), and Lukas Wooler (keyboards), Maximo Park released their third album, “Quicken the Heart” (11 May 2009 in the UK, 12 May 2009 in the US), proving that they are much more than your ordinary post-punk revivalists. Working with producer Nick Launay, whose extensive resume includes Kate Bush, Lou Reed, Talking Heads, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, this album packs more energy and diversity than their previous efforts. Combining the urgency of punk and post-punk, the savvy craftsmanship of new wave, and every pop hook in the book, “Quicken the Heart” may be this summers’ biggest surprise.

What I really like about this album is the sense of diversity in the music. Instead of parading through tracks of dreariness or out-and-out pop anthems, the album drags you through mud and clouds. For example, the opening with “Wraithlike,” Maximo Park does not hold back any punches: easily a song that is going to encourage a mosh pit when performed live. Perhaps there are no power chords, but what the song has is a singular, driving effect: to get your attention; Smith croons from the top, “Here’s a song that finally you can understand, a minor statement meant to counteract the plan, a list of wraithlike things that quicken the heart.” Demonstrating a totally different approach to music, the closing track, “I Haven’t Seen Her in Ages,” is a pop ditty that is endearing. With a tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“We met at an opening, a very good place to start…”), the song reminds me of Morrissey at his absurd, ironic best, as the song laments of not having seen her, but she “rips him to shreds,” with music and arrangements that you can imagine to 80s style pastoral videos.

But there is everything in between, from “A” to “Zed.” The rockish anthems (“The Penultimate Crush” and “In Another World (You’d Have Found Yourself by Now)”) to the new wave influenced songs, such as “Calm,” the album demonstrates a range of what Maximo Park is capable of, while keeping their own identity. In “Calm,” Maximo Park achieves that universal quality that enables audiences to relate to music. “How many words did you come up with today? How many words do you want to hear tonight? You flare up but beneath lies defeat. I see your eyes now and they are calm.” The ultimate truth, that we have either lived or been on the receiving end, when the relationship is over and you finally admit to that, you are possessed with a calm, a serenity, that comes from knowing what you are going to do next. And what happens on that receiving end? You are left to wake up and “find a trace” of that person there, but are still alone.

There are virtuosos in music, and though I consider Maximo Park extremely talented, I do not consider them virtuosos. You will not get blaring guitar solos, funky bass playing, drum rolls that metal bands would be jealous of, or jazz/classical expertise on the keys. This is not the voice of an angel singing you to new heights. But how many virtuosos do you really see out there? Not many, because the reality is that good music is not written by virtuosos or show offs. The reality is that the main talent that musicians/bands must possess is the ability to write and arrange music effectively, coupled with lyrics that are universal and believable. From the pounding drums to the sleek bass playing, from the ambient use of keyboards to the highly crafted guitar riffs, this is a band that can come together to compose and record some of the catchiest, hooky songs out there. And this may not be the voice of an angel, but it is the voice of a man a stone throw away from meltdown, who sells his lyrics with conviction. Maximo Park delivers with “Quicken in the Heart” in a big way.

Track Listing:
1. Wraithlike
2. The Penultimate Clinch
3. The Kids Are Sick Again
4. A Cloud of Mystery
5. Calm
6. In Another World (You Would’ve Found Yourself by Now)
7. Let’s Get Clinical
8. Roller Disco Dreams
9. Tanned
10. Questing, Not Coasting
11. Overland, West of Suez
12. I Haven’t Seen Her in Ages
13. Lost Property – UK iTunes bonus track.

Keep up with Maximo Park at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Bebo.

Here is their video for “The Kids Are Sick Again” from their YouTube Channel: Maximoparkofficial.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. I will have to check both of them out. When watching the videos, i felt like Maximo Park video has the same element to a Coldplay Video...the side head shots, and phasing in and out between the vocalist and the guitarist. Sad imitation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44xirQ55IgA