Listening Post: The National/Herriot Row/Mark Olson/Coldplay
Our weekly wrap of new music.
Sleep Well Beast
Can indie darlings The National ever put a foot wrong? The Ohio band has enjoyed a remarkably consistent run since their 2001 debut - one continued by their latest album. All the key National ingredients are on-hand: Matt Berninger's low, aching voice, backed by scratchy guitars and uber-hip production. "Gloomy'"is a word used to describe the band, and there's an abundance of that here — slow, atmospheric songs detailing heartbreak and discontent — but this time there's a bit of a kick in the tail. Every now and then they rock out, on songs like Turtleneck, but most noticeable is an extended, swirling sonic landscape. It gives many of the songs — Empire Line, The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness, Sleep Well Beast — an extra punch, with Berninger's grinding vocals mixing in with sampled beats, almost-symphonic drums and multi-tracked guitars. A good late night album, Sleep Well Beast is a fine addition to the band's impressive catalogue.
For the previously uninformed or initiated — including yours truly — Herriot Row (just the one r thanks) is the name of a street in Dunedin, home to The Chills, The Clean etc and the adopted alias of songwriter Simon Comber, whose mentors include Mike Chunn and Neil Finn, who discovered him at a Sacred Heart College fundraiser in Auckland in the early years of the new millennium. Lesser Stars is one of those albums that threatens to suffocate you with it's simple beauty and the intimate intensity of the lyrics of songs such as Learning Not To Talk, The Beggar and Song For A Shadow. As earnest as Comber can sometimes come across as, his largely acoustic songwriting style has echoes of some of the great hippie singer-songwriters of the late 60s and early 70s.
Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun
Moab, Utah, late August, 1995: it's Sunday night open mic at The Third Eye, Moab's new-age healing centre/cafe. Inside, a few people lounge around on beaten up chairs, while the smell of incense - and, from outside, weed - wafts in the air. The lights are dimmed. After a passionate cover of Redemption Song kicks the night off, Mark Olson and his wife Ingunn Ringvold amble up to the stage. They sit down. Olson tunes his beaten-up guitar. "Hey, Ing," he says, turning to Ringvold. "What shall we, uh, play?" Ringvold stares at the ceiling. "I don't know, man" she says. "Why don't we, like, make up something about love and spirituality and, uh, tea dates?" Olson smiles. "Sounds great," he says. And an album was born.
If anyone ever doubted Brian Eno's influence on modern music over the last 40 years, they just need to listen to the new Coldplay EP. With rumours of their impending demise they turned to the king of ambience who has produced and rejuvenated the careers of artists such as David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2, James and Slowdrive. That's not to denigrate Chris Martin and co who have achieved the kind of commercial success that has eluded Eno. Kaleidoscope does though breathe some fresh air into a band who have relied so heavily on churning out euphoric anthems that they've become almost passe. And while Eno produces just the one track, Aliens, it's drum'n'bass rhythmic background and muted ringing guitars are just what Martin needs to deliver a poignant lyric about refugees "fleeing their home from a war-torn planet and trying to seek refuge somewhere else". It's a lovely reminder that no matter what you think of Coldplay, Martin has the heart and soul of a spiritual warrior. He cares and reminds us about the things we should also care about.
- Sunday Star Times