wears the trousers magazine

sounding off: april/may 2009 (II)

Part II – reviews of Ora Cogan, Kap Bambino, Diana Krall and Lene Marlin.

* * *


Ora Cogan
Harbouring •••½

Anyone lucky enough to have heard Ora Cogan live will be familiar with the Canadian singer-songwriter’s ability to create a distinctively fragile and haunted atmosphere using only guitar and her voice. Third album Harbouring ambles along the same quiet, contemplative lines as her live sets, though it often feels as if a little bit of magic has been lost in translation. This is a shame, as when Harbouring hits the right notes, metaphorically speaking, it truly soars, sounding like a long-lost cousin of Cat Power’s Moon Pix. This is especially so of the strong second quarter of the album, in which ‘You’re Not Free’, ‘True Heart’, and ‘My Belle’ work beautiful minor chords to devastating effect.

Volleys of guitar that seem to suggest a Spanish influence follow in ‘Destroyer’, lending some wonderful instrumental variety that continues with ‘Archer’. If anything, it is a lack of light and shade in Cogan’s vocal delivery that tends to let Harbouring down ever so slightly. While it doesn’t hold true in her live performances, on this album her voice tends to linger heavily, weighing down otherwise impressively delicate fingerwork on the guitar. This is still an album worth spending some time with, however, and leaves the listener with the feeling that Cogan is on the verge of recording an album that is very special indeed. This only helps to make the shortcomings less obvious and highlights the strengths as exciting signs of what is to come.

Scott Sinclair
UK release date: 23/03/09; www.myspace.com/oracogan



Kap Bambino
Blacklist •••½

According to the press release, Kap Bambino’s new album Blacklist is made up of “deranged, maddening melodies and propulsive head-nod rhythms” – a pretty accurate description for this electro pandemonium. There are similarities to better-known electro duo Crystal Castles, but allegations of plagiarism are swiftly quelled when it’s pointed out that Kap Bambino were actually doing the whole frenzied-electro thing a full two years before Alice Glass and Ethan Kath were immersing themselves in Game Boy samples. Caroline Martial and Orion Bouvier formed the band in Bordeaux, France, in 2001, with Bouvier providing the berserker electro sounds and Martial ricocheting over them with the frenzied vocals and destructive energy that has given their live shows an infamous, anarchic reputation.

Claiming to be the product of the band going ‘pop’, Blacklist is said to take inspiration from the “unruly spirit” of bands such as Suicide and Nirvana, though it sounds more like ’90s techno bred with modern dance, punk wailings and full-on electronic assaults in the form of gymnastic samples and fat, distorted basslines. Speaking on the band’s ethos, Martial has said “Everything we do, we do it as if it’s the last time. Every show, every song, every record. Every plane we get on, we assume it will crash. I think that’s what makes our music what it is”; if that is so, Blacklist captures Kap Bambino’s crazed electro-punk and knife-edge nihilism with perfect clarity.

Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 01/06/09; www.myspace.com/kapbambino


Diana Krall
Quiet Nights ••••

Anyone who thinks jazz is defined by the eye-wateringly bland white noise produced by the likes of Katie Melua really needs to listen to Canada’s favourite international superstar of the genre, Diana Krall. A good place to start would be her latest album, Quiet Nights. There is plenty to be happy with, especially for those who wince when they hear drunk karaoke lovers murdering Old Blue Eyes’ classics at hen parties. Sinatra, they will be pleased to hear, has been treated very well indeed, with several of his standards receiving Krall’s luscious treatment. ‘Boy From Ipanema’ is an excellent example; Latin warmth radiates from Krall’s husky vocals, backed by a bouncy bossa that befits the song’s cheeky, longing lyrics.

It’s not all about Sinatra, though. Krall also turns her attention to the Burt Bacharach / Hal David classic ‘Walk On By’, giving a bravura performance laden with soul and heart that is definitely more Dionne Warwick than Gabrielle. Although the album contains few songs that could be described as overtly bright or cheerful, ‘Walk On By’ is a welcome foil to some of the darker songs, such as Jay Corney’s 1933 classic, ‘You’re My Thrill’. Finest of all is Krall’s take on the Bee Gees’ Billboard-topping ‘How Do You Mend A Broken Heart’. Classy, bluesy and sultry, with Krall at the helm this song sounds more gospel than Gibb. Some people may find the occasionally Mantovani-esque strings off-putting, but Quiet Nights really does show Krall at her best. A fine soundtrack for relaxed summer picnics.

Andy Wasley
UK release date: 01/06/09; www.myspace.com/dianakrall



Lene Marlin
Twist The Truth ••½
EMI Norway

Lene Marlin’s fourth album poses the problem facing many folk-pop singer-songwriters today – how to stand out in the ever increasing crowd of carbon-copy musicians. Judging from Twist The Truth, ‘standing out’ proves a little difficult for Marlin, sounding as though she’d donned her best Suzanne Vega dress with shoes by Natalie Merchant. Like her last two efforts, it largely consists of formulaic, mid-tempo acoustic ballads, the type heard during ‘emotional scenes’ in US network television dramas. Although the songwriting is sturdy and assured, there are simply too few musical ideas being stretched across the whole album.

That being said, there are moments when we’re reminded why Marlin has lasted so long. Lead single ‘Here We Are’ has the kind of relentlessly infectious chorus that calls to mind her biggest hit, ‘Unforgivable Sinner’. ‘Everything’s Good’ has melodic echoes of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’, with a pretty, understated chorus, and ‘Have I Ever Told You’s welcome change of pace, full of stuttering beats, sitar riffs, and double bass, sounds stunningly modern. Unfortunately, these moments do not an album make, so much so that Twist The Truth is likely to continue Marlin’s once bright star in the descendant.

P. Viktor
UK release date: 30/03/09; www.myspace.com/lenemarlin


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