13 August 2009

Catching up with Reverend and the Makers and Peter Bjorn and John

The other day I went to see Depeche Mode (link) and realized that one of those albums that I never got to writing about was Peter, Bjorn, and John’s “Living Thing.” As they took the stage as the opening band, I realized I was sort of guilty of not giving them the credit they deserve and wanted to make up for that. Hyena, on the other hand, finally decided he wanted to get the word out on Reverend and the Makers’ sophomore effort, “French Kiss in the Chaos.” As we sat down and spoke, he described the album as something that is incredibly accessible to listen to, but that writing about it would never really capture it. He took a stab at it anyway.

On a personal note, I wanted to say thank you to all the people who added on as followers on Facebook and Myspace – means a lot to me. Now that the summer is winding down, I am finding I have more time to plan and write. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment – remember the comment space is a bullshit free zone!

Enjoy the reviews.

Reverend and the Makers: “French Kiss in the Chaos”

With an album that reached #5 on the UK album charts under their belt (“The State of Things,” 17 September 2007), Reverend and the Makers come swinging hard with their second album, “French Kiss in the Chaos” (released 27 July 2009 in the UK, available as an import in the USA), and they do not disappoint. Straight out of Sheffield, England, signed with Wall of Sound, Jon McClure, nicknamed “The Reverend,” is the frontman of a band that seems to have a revolving door. Currently the band is made up of Ed Cosens (bass), Stuart Doughtry (drums), Laura Manuel (vocals), Joe Moskow (keyboards), and Tom Rowley (guitar). Like many current indie bands, Reverend and the Makers takes joy in genre bending, with influences from 90s Brit pop and shoegazing, funk, and electropop.

As the band takes influence and inspiration from a variety of sounds and genre, there is no repetition of sound or style, but there is definitely pop sensibility. From an aggressive Brit pop opening, with a bassline worth of the Jesus and Mary Chain, “Silence Is Talking,” to the second song, “Hidden Persuaders,” a 60s-ish psychedelic number, the sound shifts song to song. Then there is the song “Long Long Time.” The sound abandons all electric and electronic sounds, for a smooth acoustic sound – an out of leftfield surprise. As the Reverend sings, the strumming of the guitar mirrors his emotions. My favorite track is “The End.” An energetic sing-along, the song on its own offers up so much in terms of a sonic adventure, it is easy to lose yourself in the arrangements and the simple solo. And lyrically, the album is not bankrupt. Going back to the second song, “Hidden Persuaders,” the chorus irks the listener with “”Cause you’re free to do as well tell you, and you’re free to do as we say.”

“French Kiss in the Chaos” may not be the hellion album that the name implies, but it is a demonstration of strong pop sensibilities and an interesting combination of funk with indie elements. What really caught my attention about the album is that there are no fillers here. Song to song, Reverend and the Makers offer up music that is strong, in a listening experience that is familiar, but not predictable, warm, but confrontational.

Track Listing:
1. Silence Is Talking
2. Hidden Pleasures
3. No Wood Just Trees
4. Professor Just Pickles
5. Long Long Time
6. No Soap (In A Dirty War)
7. Manifesto / The People Shapers
8. Mermaids
9. The End
10. Hard Time for Dreamers

Keep up with the Reverend and the Makers at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Also you can follow Jon McClure at his Twitter site.

Here is their video for “Silence is Talking” from the WallofSoundsRecording YouTube Channel.

Peter Bjorn and John: “Living Thing”

Out of Stockholm, Sweden, Peter Bjorn and John from an early start were immersed in a music scene that is multinational, multigenre, and not afraid to experiment. In the tradition of other great Swedish bands (the Cardigans, the Sounds, and Moonbabies), they are not scared of mixing up a range of influences (new wave, synthpop, noise pop, and the latest fads in indie rock to name a few), and offer up a sound that is distinct. Their newest album, their fourth, “Living Thing” (30 March 2009 in the UK, 31 March 2009 in the USA), is no different.

The band first gained notoriety, especially in the USA, after their single “Young Folk” gained exposure on television, on such shows as “Gossip Girl,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Any other, less confident band would have spent time trying to recreate that exact sound and ride that coattail. First off, this is not a recipe for success and rarely succeeds. Second, Peter Bjorn and John are not a one-trick pony; as their fourth album demonstrate, they have some ingenious melodic and production tricks up their sleeves. The album is quite minimalist in its approach: beat driven, awkward vocal arrangements, and a hollow soundscape created by sparse synths and odd guitar playing. It allows them to work with elements in music that normally one would not consider mixing together. For example, “4 Out of 5” moves addictively with a steady, slow beat and simple bass, as in the background a plethora of airy sounds (the opposite of what is to be expected) float about, while the vocal harmonies (pushing the barrier of being out of tune) are complimented with the simple rhythm guitar playing in the chorus – the guitar in the song comes as a surprise.

“Hey, shut the fuck up boy, you are starting to piss me off,” they sing in “Lay It Down,” “Take your hands off that girl, you have already had enough.” It is the closest song to a throwaway pop-ditty on the album, but the harsh, in your face chorus instantly transforms the song into something primal. Even the subject matter, protecting someone else, is out of the ordinary. The new wave “It Don’t Move Me,” using all those 80s hooks to get you to tap your feet, really is what distinguishes them from many other bands rehashing sounds. Peter Bjorn and John have learned from the past, not emulating it. This brand of new wave is a bit darker and minimalist, and the use of a piano sound makes it seem more organic than most new wave.

One cliché does exist on the album. Like fellow Swedes Lacrosse (review, interview links), they infuse some elements of the infantile in the album on the song “Nothing to Worry About” within the vocals of the chorus. But in the minimalist world of Peter Bjorn and John, where the primal power of the simplicity and gut reactions are prioritized over the complex, the voice of children is key in producing a powerful effect on the listener: you will be singing along. And that is the hook of the entire album; you simply will want to sing along. Regardless of the near experimental arrangements, the out of left field change ups (like the way the chorus sneaks up on you on “I’m Losing My Mind”), or the hollowness of the soundscape, it is an addicting, no infectious, album. Perhaps not an album for mainstream radio play, this is an album for lovers of music.

And if that is not novelty enough for you, hey they named the band after their first names – now you got to love that!

Track Listing:
1. The Feeling
2. It Don’t Move Me
3. Just the Past
4. Nothing to Worry About
5. I’m Losing My Mind
6. Living Thing
7. I Want You
8. Lay It Down
9. Stay This Way
10. Blue Period Picasso
11. 4 out of 5
12. Last Night

Keep up with Peter Bjorn and John at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “It Don’t Move Me” from their MySpace page.

Peter, Bjorn and John - It Don't Move Me

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