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Review: Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls (ATO Records). UK Release Date: 9th April 2012

Alabama based quartet Alabama Shakes bring forth their own brand of back to basics southern country/blues rock on their debut album Boys and Girls.  What follows is a catalogue of southern soul and blues so authentic and unashamed you can almost hear the barn doors being slammed shut before the band strikes up.

Comparisons to The Black Keys and Kings of Leon may abound, but in truth Alabama Shakes offer much more soul than either of their supposed counterparts.  Especially on sophomore track ‘I Found You’ on which, as Brittany Howard’s voice sirens out effortlessly over a crescendo of keyboard and guitar, it is clear that Alabama Shakes have struck upon a winning combination.  

The sound generated by the band throughout the course of the album is fitting with all the endearing hallmarks of traditional country blues rock.  The fact that Howard’s distinctive vocal errs close, in terms of delivery, to that of Caleb Followill is of no disadvantage to the band as, just as Followill’s redneck ramblings felt perfectly at home in much of the Kings of Leon’s earlier and superior material, Howard’s voice is perfectly suited to tempering the bright and brash guitars that accompany her throughout much of the album.

This combination of impassioned fulsome vocals and clattering major chords is consistent throughout the album, but rather than leave the impression of a formulaic approach to songwriting, this combination offers a commendable consistency of tone throughout.  Consequently, the homogeneity of the album makes it intensely listenable, and the presence on the album of songs boasting genuinely gigantic choruses, such as on lead single ‘Hold on’, should ensure that Alabama Shakes will be blasting out of car stereos long into the summer.

On ‘Boys and Girls’ Alabama Shakes offer their traditional interpretation of the country blues genre, and while you may know what you’re getting, that certainly doesn’t make it any less thrilling.

8/10

Filed under Review Alabama Shakes Boys & girls 2012 music

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Review: Gotye, Making Mirrors (Communion Records). UK Release: 13th February 2012

Australian artist Gotye may well have been something of an unknown quantity in the U.K before 2012 but, as his huge hit ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ today ended its 5 week reign at the top of the charts, that has undoubtably changed. But what of the album that spawned it, Making Mirrors?

First up title track ‘Making Mirrors’, a heavily instrumental and subdued affair, sets the tone for something of an oddity of an album.  What follows is an album as varied in style as it is in quality.  What can’t be doubted is that on ‘Making Mirrors’ Gotye proves himself to be an ambitious and interesting musician, throwing himself into a variety of different styles and genres. However, not everything here works.

Second track, ‘East Way Out’ boasts a spiky guitar riff that wouldn’t be totally out of place on a Franz Ferdinand record.  However, the rest of the album is, for the most part, entrenched in heavy atmospherics with the melodies taking centre stage to provide the hooks as they float over an assortment of strings and synths.  This works well for Gotye on tracks such as ‘Giving Me A Chance’ and ‘Eyes Wide Open’, and perhaps if he had made an album more consistent with this formula it would have resulted in a more satisfying end product.

Inexplicably however, by the time we reach ‘I Feel Better’, Gotye abandons his strong suit, and, in what appears to be a confusing crusade to capture the hearts of Mums across the country, sets his sights for up-tempo soul. The result is as ill-fitting as it is disastrously cheesy. ‘In Your Light’ fares no better and the album takes a further awkward twist when, following his double salvo of nauseous parent pop, Gotye unleashes his vocoder ridden ode to ‘State Of The Art’ production.  Think Radiohead’s ‘Fitter Happier’, only devoid of any context and preaching the wonders of music technology.  If you’re confused, you’re not the only one.

The rest of the album then returns to its previously successful formula, but rather than a welcome return to familiarity, songs such as ‘Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You’ feel uninspired and uninspiring in equal measure.

Despite this, it’s hard to deny that ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ works beautifully and the intimate interplay between Gotye’s and Kimbra’s vocals is a real highlight of not just the song but the whole album.  Sadly however, the fact that the second half of ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ can be considered as a major highlight of the album speaks volumes for the quality and likely longevity of the album as a whole.

5/10

Filed under Gotye Making Mirrors Somebody That I Used To Know review