wears the trousers magazine

angus & julia stone: down the way (2010)
March 2, 2010, 1:15 pm
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Angus & Julia Stone
Down The Way •••
Flock Music

Hailing from Newport on the northern beaches of Sydney, Australia, brother and sister Angus & Julia Stone return with second album Down The Way, the follow-up to 2007’s critically acclaimed A Book Like This. They may have grown up in sunny, laidback climes, but there is an awful lot of anguished rain in their work. Downbeat and reflective, at times bordering on the maudlin, there isn’t much in the way of upbeat relief. But with clever songwriting seemingly in their bloodline and two complementary voices, they come with plenty of pluses. If the first album was all about acoustic simplicity, Down The Way moves a few notches along the production scale. Drafting in the watchful ears of Brad Albetta (Martha Wainwright) and beefing up the instrumentation, it’s an electrified statement of future intentions.

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kath bloom: thin thin line (2010)
February 25, 2010, 11:46 am
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Kath Bloom
Thin Thin Line •••½
Caldo Verde

With a recording career that began over thirty years ago, Kath Bloom has been enjoying something of a second renaissance of late. During the late ’70s and ’80s she worked with Loren Mazzacane Connors, releasing a stash of avant-garde folk recordings that won them a small but impassioned following who loved the oddness of Bloom’s traditional voice with Connors’ curious guitar style. Rediscovered in the mid-’90s by virtue of Richard Linklater’s inclusion of one of her songs in ‘Before Sunrise’, Thin Thin Line is her third solo full-length. Though her voice at times sounds too fragile to bear the emotional load of her songs, she is capable of suddenly hitting the listener with an unexpected bluesy power. With intimate production values and the dial set to simplicity, Thin Thin Line is straight-up singer-songwriter fare in an American tradition that owes more to Woody Guthrie than it does the experimental.

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laura gibson & ethan rose: bridge carols (2010)
February 9, 2010, 9:05 am
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Laura Gibson & Ethan Rose
Bridge Carols •••½
Holocene Music

“Where have you gone my pilot star?” asks Laura Gibson on Bridge Carols, her new collaboration with fellow Portland musician Ethan Rose, but it’s hard to imagine that the singer behind last year’s sublimely beautiful Beasts Of Seasons could ever lose sight of her guiding light. Assured in its self-knowledge, that album reflected the concerns of a precarious old-soul about to turn thirty noticing lichen growing on gravestones where before there had only been unfamiliar names. Life’s depth was explored with a short-story writer’s sense of the whole word being contained in the miniaturised version of the moment. With evocations of great American writers like Hoffman and Munro in her work, Gibson seems very much at home with words, an impression which makes Bridge Carols all the more interesting for its shared mindset with Rose, whose previous work has often been shorn of conventional language.

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scanners: submarine (2010)
February 4, 2010, 12:47 pm
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Submarine •••

We all have a sell-by date. It might not be marked on a plastic wrapper that encases us but there is no mistaking our disposability. Scanners frontwoman Sarah Daly reminds us of this fact on ’Jesus Saves’, the opening track of their second album Submarine. Reminding people of their inevitable end is an uncompromising way to begin, but it’s fairly typical of much of what follows. Scanners don’t live in a hearts and flowers kind of world it would seem. Formed in 2004 by Daly and guitarist Matt Mole, the quartet have been rumbling around on the indie scene for a number of years without a significant breakthrough into the mainstream. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why; in Daly they have a charismatic lead and the music they produce, while peculiarly angular and rarely cheerful, has both credibility and accessibility running right through it.

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corinne bailey rae: the sea (2010)
February 1, 2010, 11:00 am
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Corinne Bailey Rae
The Sea •••½

Some albums should come stickered with a large notice that reads ‘Do not listen for clues’. Corinne Bailey Rae’s second album The Sea was always likely to be listened to in the light of the death of her husband Jason Rae in 2008. That the sleevenotes namecheck him as the motivation and part-inspiration for the recording perhaps allows us to feel less guilty about trying to read the lyrical runes for traces of her loss. Sometimes knowing too much can make you feel prurient, particularly when that loss was the result of a untimely tragedy, but if the grieving artist has just one gift in the midst of their sad struggle it is the ability to relate what they are going through to those who luckily do not know what is like, and to touch those who sadly do.

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first aid kit: the big black & the blue (2010)
January 28, 2010, 1:53 pm
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First Aid Kit
The Big Black & The Blue ••••

The theory that there must something in the Baltic air that imbues Swedish teenagers with maturity and wisdom beyond their years might seem like a fanciful piece of romantic stereotyping…until you take a listen to The Big Black & The Blue. Whether they’re oddly unique or an example of some larger national characteristic, there’s no doubt that First Aid Kit’s Klara and Johanna Söderberg, aged 16 and 19 respectively, write songs which suggest a much older provenance. The richness, and obvious genetic similarities, of the sisters’ vocals is laid bare right from the start with ‘In The Morning’, a beautifully wrought a cappella that has borne lazy comparisons with Fleet Foxes. That First Aid Kit became a YouTube sensation with their cover of ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ perhaps doesn’t help matters, but it is far from the full picture. Inhabiting a similarly quasi-mystical, part-bucolic, stripped-back lyrical landscape of open pastures, the song paints pictures of wedding bands being thrown into the grey deep. The lost arcadia of a marriage on the verge is perhaps not what you’d expect from two sisters with a combined age of thirty-five, but they somehow make it sound convincing.

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sounding off: january 2010 (i)

In this month’s roundup, we’ll be looking at a bunch of stragglers from last year that we ran out of time to publish before Christmas, plus a few early 2010 releases in brief.

* * *

Lauren Hoffman
Interplanetary Traveler •••

On her fourth album, Interplanetary Traveler, Virginia-born singer-songwriter Lauren Hoffman doesn’t so much warp between musical worlds as gently hop between familiar acoustic styles. But the good news is that, for the most part, she does it very well. Boasting cleaner production than her earlier releases, the title track makes for a brilliant opener with a strong melody and some warm horns couched in a tight arrangement. As ever, Hoffman’s voice is gorgeous; effortless and smooth, and the perfect match for her material. Other high points include ‘Surrender’, which transforms from pleasant sunny pop in its verses to a much more sensual chorus, its simplicity allowing the melody to breathe, and the haunting ‘Pictures From America’, which even has a slight touch of Ennio Morricone about it.

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