wears the trousers magazine


wears the trousers albums of the decade #50–26

part one | part two | part four

Here’s the third part of our albums of the decade countdown, running from #50–26.

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50

Queen Adreena
Drink Me

[Rough Trade, 2002]

Casting aside the disparaging comparisons to “Kate Bush on crack” bestowed upon her in the wake of Queen Adreena’s debut album Taxidermy, KatieJane Garside upped the ante with Drink Me, tearing whatever hinges that were still attached right off with a blisteringly manic grunge-metal fervour. Among her Wonderland’s re-energised malice, the softer moments found Garside’s raging voice shrunk mouse-high, whispering seductively as if through the keyhole, or chillingly into a void. Richly imaginative and manically enjoyable, Drink Me remains one of the decade’s most vigorous and visceral thrills, disturbing to the very last note.

Alan Pedder

read our interview with KatieJane

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the innocence mission: street map ep (2008)
January 5, 2009, 9:40 am
Filed under: EP, review | Tags: , , ,

i_lp_innocencemission_08

The Innocence Mission
Street Map EP ••••½
Self-released

Reviewing The Innocence Mission is at once a pleasure and an absolute pain. They are so wonderfully easy to listen to and so awfully difficult to write about that the temptation to spend your time only doing the former is ever present. When eventually you get to the latter there are plenty of traps in which to fall. Many critics become so enamoured with the band that they can’t help but make vocalist Karen Peris, her husband Don Peris, and Mike Pitts sound like the leaders of a religious cult. Plenty of others get caught up in trying to describe the sound produced by the Pennsylvania trio and start wading in clichés (the big, dirty f-word here being ‘fey’). There are even those strange few who just don’t get it.

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the innocence mission self-release new ep
November 28, 2008, 4:10 am
Filed under: news, trouser press, video | Tags: , , , , ,

281108_innocencemissionStreet Map available to pre-order now

Over the course of their 22-year recording career, Lancaster, Pennsylvania trio The Innocence Mission have forged their own unique path through the music industry, seemingly unbowed by any kind of pressure to wander substantially away from their signature sound. It’s hard not to admire their longevity, and why would you even try when they just keep getting better? Last year’s We Walked In Song was pretty much a masterpiece. Anyone looking for direction could therefore do worse than to refer to their new limited edition EP, Street Map – their first in almost a decade.

The EP includes eight tracks, described as “a few songs from the new album” – their as-yet-untitled tenth studio release, out next year – bundled with “some other new songs and an earlier unreleased song”. (Actually, a demo of the latter, ‘A Thousand Miles’, was released on an obscure compilation back in 2000.) It was recorded at home in Lancaster earlier this year with lead singer Karen Peris on piano, guitar and field pump organ, husband Don Peris on guitars and drums, and Mike Bitts on upright and electric bass.

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2007 reviews dump: i j

The following reviews were published on our old MySpace blog in 2007.

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Indigo Girls
Despite Our Differences •••½
Hollywood

Despite Our Differences marks The Indigo Girls’s 20th year as a going concern and, as a suitably fitting landmark, is their 10th studio album. You might wonder what Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have left to say after such a long time, but this is the Indigo Girls we’re talking about here. As well as their by now familiar political tunes, the girls take a frank look at personal relationships and allow themselves to indulge in a little introspection too, all delivered with intelligence and fire. For a pair so far along in their career, Despite Our Differences sounds remarkably fresh and enthusiastic. It certainly sounds like an Indigo Girls album, dominated as it is by chiming acoustic guitars and their trademark vocal harmonies, but there’s something else. Something new that snags the ear.

The opening trio of songs are immediate and attention grabbing. ‘Pendulum Swinger’ is possibly the most hummable anti-establishment protest song that you’ll hear for a long time to come; it’s as much of an indictment of George W Bush’s testosterone-filled leadership image as it is a catchy pop ditty. Not easy to pull off, I imagine! Meanwhile, first single ‘Little Perennials’ is resolutely positive about the personal rewards of truly throwing yourself into a new relationship, while ‘I Believe In Love’ manages to be sweet and touching without sentimental overindulgence.

Given the strength of this triumphant triumvirate, it is perhaps no surprise that, on first hearing at least, the mellow, rootsy approach of ‘Three County Highway’ pales in comparison. That’s just first impressions, however, and repeated auditions allow the rest of the songs to grow. There’s some interesting, and in one case perhaps unlikely, cameo performances too. The swinging indictment of music industry commercialism ‘Rock & Roll Heaven’s Gate’ features backing vocals from none other than P!nk, while the tender closer ‘Last Tears’ boasts the vocal stylings of up-and-coming alt-folk heroine Brandi Carlile.

It’s difficult to say how much of the album’s freshness is due to the duo in trusting their sound to über-producer Mitchell Froom, but whatever the answer it’s worked! Despite Our Differences ease the sonically beautiful album and it draws the listener in with a mix of killer hooks and provocative verbal imagery. Froom’s great skill here is not to have imposed his own sound upon the recording but rather to have created a sort of heightened Indigo experience.

It seems likely that posterity will rank Despite Our Differences among the finest examples of the Indigo Girls’ output. Be that as it may simply taken on its own merits it seems clear that it represents to prodigiously talented songwriters rejuvenated and enjoying their art form. And that can only be good for fans and casual listeners alike. Differences or not, there’s no room for disagreement on that front!

Trevor Raggatt

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The Innocence Mission
We Walked In Song ••••
Badman

Impossibly lovely. There, I’ve said it. 

For some, the family Peris (Karen on vocals, Don on guitar and drums), augmented by Mike Pitts on upright and electric bass, will always be one of the following – spiritual, fey, fragile, delicate…enter your own additional words as long as they don’t rise above a whisper and involve a lot of pastel colours…or, most horribly, folk-pop; whoever thought that last one up, it is to be hoped they are banned from commercial use of the written word forever more. I’m not the first nor will I be the last, but when writing a review of The Innocence Mission it seems critics find it increasingly difficult to avoid stereotypes and sweeping generalisations. So now I’ve got my opening line out of the way, I can say what I really mean. If all you hear are soft lullabies for the weary of heart, you’re missing the point – The Innocence Mission deserve so much better. 

This is music that can’t be placed under a label. It can’t be categorised, it just is. Yes, it runs a gamut of styles and genres, yes it’s ‘natural’, and okay, it’s fronted by a voice that could sing a recipe for stew and still captivate, but the best advice I can give you is lock the door, put it on and listen to it, really listen to it. Not whilst ‘Deal Or No Deal’ is on in the background, or the dinner is cooking; just you, the CD player and your ears. 

Before I begin to sound a tad too evangelical, I will allow normal service to resume. It can sometimes be difficult to listen to a whole Innocence Mission album. Not because it all sounds the same (it doesn’t), but because you can so easily drift away to the rich soundscapes, feather-light melodies and sheer musicianship on display, only to wake having slept like a baby for the first time in years. The Innocence Mission has been doing this since 1989. We Walked In Song is their eighth full studio release, bar 2004’s Now The Day Is Over, a collection of covers and one original that included ‘Moon River’ and Chopin’s ‘Prelude In A’. Chopin’s ‘Prelude In A’! Who else would even think to try and get away with that in a commercial release? The beauty of The Innocence Mission is that you just know they weren’t trying to ‘get away’ with anything – this is what they do. They have no peers because, well, because there’s no-one else out there doing this. 

I know what you’re thinking; “He’s lost it, he’s not even told us what it sounds like, or the names of the songs, or how they start and finish” and you’re right, I haven’t. I’ve done it on purpose – to attempt to guide you through this album using my inadequate battery of critical skills would be to do Peris, Peris and Pitts an injustice. You have to discover this for yourself. It’s how the world works. We come to everything that’s good in our lives as innocents.

Paul Woodgate

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Liz Isenberg
Seaport Seeport Seaport ••½
Leisure Class

Are you a diehard fan of music produced in the spirit of true DIY? If not, then you will almost certainly find Seaport Seeport Seaport a somewhat mediocre experience. Sorry. Although there’s no question that it’s possible to warm up to Isenberg’s budget brand of rather frail lo-fi indie folk, the way it’s been put together is frustratingly slapdash and, upon closer scrutiny, perhaps a bit too rough round the edges, the musical equivalent of ‘60 Minute Makeover’. Yes, we get it. You have an eight-track and you want us to know you’re recording in your living room. Well done.

Though anything that is self-produced is, of course, admirable, it’s a shame there’s precious little else to comment on. A girl named Liz from Massachussetts felt she wanted to share something with the world so bought herself a bass guitar and a loop pedal, got her butt half in gear (though not necessarily learning to play very well along the way) and voila! Messy it may be, but Isenberg occasionally manages to hold a dreamy candle to the songwriting of Joanna Newsom and Juliana Hatfield, which, when combined with the wistful quality of her gorgeously flawed vocal, makes songs like ‘People Who Die In The Desert’ and ‘Music For Mechanics’ just right to sit alongside the more playful ‘Pop Song’ and ‘Boys To Kill’.

That Isenberg felt the need to labour her point over 20 tracks is a pity because Seaport Seeport Seaport gets really dull as it drags along. To champion DIY music as inspiration for a generation to have a go at making its own is a fine thing indeed, but on this occasion it seems too self-indulgent and gratuitous to be fully appreciated. The shoddy renditions thrown in to satisfy apparent creative freedom belittle what are ultimately gorgeous and more accomplished arrangements; softly treading around the shards of lost lovers and friends.

Songs that appear as though they ought to be some kind of sacred rite of passage sadly fall victim to the lazy side of human nature. Amidst the love letters and secret trysts, there is still a long-forgotten dirty pair of knickers to trip over while dodging the discarded MDF. Let’s just say I didn’t have the best time as I attempted to sort through these hazy sketches, but perhaps if you are more forgiving you will be kindly rewarded.

Anna Claxton

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Islaja
Ulual YYY ••••
Fonal

‘Kutsukaa Sydãntã’ announces itself with a rich, declamatory piano chord, abruptly cut off as though announcing that Merja Kokkonen has opted to bring her Islaja alter-ego blinking into the light. On last year’s Palaa Aurinkoon, she submerged herself in a disorienting, homemade assemblage of woozy harmonium, plucked guitar, percussion and multitracked vocals that constantly shifted and refracted like sunlight on a dark forest floor. The arrangements on Ulual YYY, her third album for the ever-interesting Finnish Fonal label, breathe more easily, allowing more space for her striking vocal melodies to creep closer toward centre stage.

A good way into this music is to study the album cover. Kokkonen is photographed crouching at the meeting of several snow-dusted paths in some Finnish forest, her attention fixed raptly in the distance behind the viewer. While Kokkonen herself is undoubtedly the focus of the image, a branch obscuring the top of her head is actually in sharpest focus. This new intimacy in the artwork – her previous two album covers were symbol-laden drawings of her face – combined with layers of perspective in the photograph make the cover a good representation of the music within. The aforementioned ‘Kutsuka Sydãntã’, for example, seems almost straightforward first time around, when the listener’s attention is held by the continuing piano chords that underpin Kokkonen’s unusually clear vocal. Second or third time, the atmosphere seeps in, courtesy of submerged instruments that play half-discerned at the peripheries, stretching the song’s fabric into something more widescreen and affecting.

She’s singing in Finnish, though, so I for one have no idea what exactly her concerns are. But it’s not just the language barrier that makes this music emotionally ambivalent; her melodies can veer from being haunted and introspective, even sad, to confident and almost triumphant in an instant – she has a knack for shifting her voice in unexpected directions, pitching up when you’d swear she was going to go lower, and shifting the distance between her mouth and the microphone. And what is one to make, emotionally, of a song like ‘Sydãnten Ahmija’, which sounds like it’s emanating from a frosty carousel ridden by Björk and Beth Gibbons?

‘Pete P’ contains genuine pop signifiers like drums and bass guitar and a vocal that occasionally sounds like Siouxsie Sioux, yet threatens to dissolve into something entirely different more than once in its duration. ‘Laulu Jo Menneestã’ somehow manages to be both languid and chilly at the same time, the sound of a summer’s afternoon drawing to a breezy close in some boreal clime. It sets the scene, however, for the second half of the album to shuck its earthbound clothes and dive headlong into more exploratory waters.
‘Pysãhtyneet Planeetat’ is barely there but unsettling, a two-note bass melody supporting various scrapings and whistlings and an understated, minor-key vocal. Here, Islaja sounds almost exhausted, her music struggling to reach a conclusion on two feet. ‘Muusimaa’ is plain odd, with a walking bassline and instruments talking to themselves in a manner most akin to heads like No-Neck Blues Band or the ancient improvisations of fellow Finns Päivänsäde.

The album closes on an avowedly rustic note, with the nocturnal drone of ‘Suru Ki’ melting into five minutes of birdsong and field recordings. It’s a generous move on Kokkonen’s part, to give the listener some time alone to digest this fascinating and complex example of homespun individuality. When silence finally does reign, you may find yourself going right back to the start, in the hope of encountering and unravelling more of the mysteries that lie within.

Adam Smith

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Norah Jones
Not Too Late •••½
Blue Note

After firmly establishing herself as a coffee table favourite with two hugely successful albums and a clutch of coveted awards, Norah Jones finds herself in the position of trying to break out of her easy listening mould. It’s a process she began with last year’s ballsy country salute to Mr Nelson with her side project The Little Willies and as a surprisingly much sought after guest artist, appearing on various releases by Foo Fighters, Mike Patton (Peeping Tom), Outkast and Ryan Adams. She’s even taken to acting and her debut feature film ‘My Blueberry Nights’ will open this year’s Cannes Film Festival. But back to the music…how do you follow up such massive success and still find room to explore new sounds and genres?

In Jones’s case, you lock yourself into your home with your bass-playing, songwriting boyfriend (Lee Alexander) and indulge your dark side. The result, Not Too Late, is Jones’s first release that’s entirely written or co-written by herself and her first without producer Arif Mardin, who sadly passed away last summer. Although Not Too Late doesn’t do away entirely with her distinctive combination of jazz, blues and country, Jones tentatively explores a more artistic direction. Take ‘Sinkin’ Soon’, for example. A cheeky sounding banjo and a slightly out of tune piano lead a lazy charge into a Tom Waits-inspired song with a pleasingly theatrical edge. Jones’s voice is very much present and opinionated, adding to the authentic rattle of kitchen percussion.

‘Wish I Could’ is a very intimate affair with closely recorded vocals and acoustic guitar, the touching countermelody of a cello delicately building the song around Jones’s perfectly pitched, husky whisper. Despite the simple arrangement, some clever chord choices and semitone movements in her emotion-soaked vocals keep interest at a peak. ‘Thinking About You’, the album’s first single, is surprisingly poppy and countrified for Jones and certainly uncharacteristic of the rest of the album. Even Jones herself has regarded it to be too much of a pop song for her: “I thought maybe someone else could record it…we even tried to do a version of it for the last album, but it sounded too country rock.”

‘The Sun Doesn’t Like You’, on the other hand, is reminiscent of her previous releases. The sensitive percussion, distinctive double bass, drops of piano and, of course, Jones’s soft vocals all hint towards a familiar sound. While it’s not unpleasant, it’s not particularly memorable either. ‘Broken’, ‘Wake Me Up’ and ‘Be My Somebody’ seem to suffer from the same fate. Indeed, it’s only when Jones and Alexander venture into less explored sounds that Not Too Late shines. Political satire ‘My Dear Country’ is a playful, quirky piano number that tips its hat to the theatre compositions of Kurt Weill and does it very well. Elsewhere, ‘Little Room’ with its playful whistle interludes and vocals so close you can hear her breathing impresses with its intimacy and authenticity, and likewise for the title track, a slow and delicate piano-driven ballad, Not Too Late may not push Jones to her limits but it’s a noticeable and often successful effort to distance herself from her earlier polished releases and venture towards a more bohemian musical future.

Anja McCloskey

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Rickie Lee Jones
The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard •••½
New West

Rickie Lee Jones is no stranger to musical and artistic experimentation. However, The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard may be her most unusual project to date: 13 tracks translating the words of Christ into a modern-day context and vernacular, taking as inspiration Lee Cantelon’s acclaimed book ‘The Words’. What elevates this beyond simple concept album into the realms of performance art is Jones’s approach.

Unusually for Jones, she was largely insulated from the traditional writing process. Most of the music here was created by collaborators Cantelon and Peter Atanasoff, taking a decidedly lo-fi, guitar-driven route evocative of the Velvet Underground at their best. It was on these beds of sound that Jones largely improvised the lyrics and melodies. This improvisational process is particularly obvious on tracks like the opening ‘Nobody Knows My Name’ or ‘Lamp of the Body’ where the melody retreats occasionally into monotone. However, such is Jones’s skill as improvisor that this evokes the emotional purity of religious chats rather than betraying any lack of inspiration. That the album is a coherent work rather than a series of rambles is testament to the artist. Perhaps the lo-fi sounds, and even Jones’s vocal style, could be lumped into the box marked ‘acquired taste’. So be it, but so are rare delicacies like caviar.

With later songs Jones’s musical contribution increases and they approach more traditional Rickie Lee Jones songs, although twists and turns still appear. ‘Tried To Be A Man’ has such a distinctly early ‘70s Rolling Stones vibe that one could almost imagine Charlie, Ronnie and Keef stalking the studio with her. Elsewhere, tracks like ‘Circle In The Sand’ and ‘Elvis Cadillac’ are simply great pop songs; ‘Donkey Ride’ is simply a bit weird…but in a good way.

The album closes with the understatedly epic ‘I Was There’, which, across eight minutes, unfolds a heartfelt desire to realise some degree of heaven here on earth. Perhaps Jones’s own words best sum it all up… “I love what I was able to do with it, putting myself in the skin of Christ, walking with him on the sand. It seems that the real story of Jesus is lived over and over again in each generation but no one ever recognizes the Christ that walks among us.”

The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard certainly isn’t easy listening but for those who care to mix art with their music it does repay the effort put in

Trevor Raggatt

 

 



baby boom

special feature: music for kids
Alan Pedder investigates why childrens’ music has never been so cool.

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