Monthly Archives: November 2009

LIFE IN SLOW MOTION by david gray

by Gordon

davidgray.lifeinslowmotion

Pitchfork: N/A           Rolling Stone: 3/5           Metacritic: 69           Spin: N/A

 

Released: September 2005
Tracklisting:
  1. Alibi
  2. The One I Love
  3. Lately
  4. Nos da Cariad
  5. Slow Motion
  6. From Here You Can Almost See The Sea
  7. Ain’t No Love [LISTEN]

  8. Hospital Food
  9. Now and Always
  10. Disappearing World

   Life in Slow Motion is not David Gray’s most recent album (2009’s Draw the Line). It is, however, his best one to date, as well as one of the best albums put together I’ve ever heard. It was more than just the “next step” from his previous top-sellers White Ladder and A New Day at Midnight. It was at least  a couple.

   I hadn’t been a longtime David Gray fan when the album was released. About a year earlier I had a faint musical memory of a beautiful guitar-driven song I’d heard years before that was sung by a guy who sounded slightly like a sheep (in a good way). The song was “Babylon”, and upon further research into his discography, discovered enough other gems (like “Please Forgive Me” and “This Year’s Love”) to soak in all his tunes and become a fledgling fan. When I heard a new album was coming out, I was mildly excited to see if there’d be another gem or two on the table. When I actually heard the album, my admiration and respect for his sound and direction multiplied.

   The opening track, “Alibi”, uncharacteristically starts with a slow and eery pace with a full minute of growing but understated orchestration. It is at this point that Gray’s vocals boom through with an almost sorrowful passion (“Where’d it all go wrong,” he sings) atop a piano and string backgrop. Halfway through the song, enter the percussion and bass as the chords take a brighter turn, turning the second half of the song into an almost optimistic anthem as Gray belts, Tonight, I’m running wild, with his own beautifully harmonized background vocals right behind. This was a great sign for the album.

   The second song, and perhaps most radio-friendly, “The One I Love”, is more characteristic David Gray…a guitar-driven, happy and heartfelt song sung to the object of his affections. It’s catchy, and worth listening to if only for the “yehee!” from Gray that follows each chorus. “Lately” sets the pace back a bit, with a laid-back, 7-beat electric guitar riff bearing the bulk of the tune’s weight, later being overpowered by piano as Gray soulfully sings “Lately, I’ve been weighed down.”

   A standout track for sure is “Slow Motion”, which again utilizes a piano-driven, melancholy melody where each verse caps off with a drawn-out last word given a melody all its own. The build-up (coming off of a line like “Life in slow motion, somehow it don’t feel real”) lends itself perfectly to the climactic chorus, similar in anthemic scale but with a slightly different syntax (“Ba-da-da, ba-da-da, ba-da-da-da-daa, baa-da-da-da-wooah!”).

   Another personal favorite is “Ain’t No Love”, a somber but beautifully played and sung piano and string piece with a slightly less optimistic tune: “Maybe that it would do me good if I believed there were a God out in the starry firmament/As it is that’s just a lie and I’m here eating up the boredom on an island of cement.” Gray leaves a little room for a few thundering vocal powerhouses (“No it ain’t no love guiding me”) before easing back into a gentle close.

   “Disappearing World” is a closing track that refuses to either be the kind to slowly and gently wave the listener goodbye, or the kind to send them off with a bang…it does both. I find the slow bit (which takes most of the track time) to be a great soundtrack to passing landscapes from the passenger seat view of a moving car, as Gray sings, “Don’t it just look so pretty, this disappearing world.” Then, out of nowhere, all instruments pick up full throttle and deliver a one-minute exuberant backbone to the song, then fall again into a peaceful end to the memorable album.

   The tracks not mentioned have a feel all their own, giving the album a varied enough sound so as no one could peg it as following a formula or particular direction. It’s an album that was more than I was even hoping for from the artist. I was able to see David Gray perform in Upper Darby, PA the year of the album’s release. It will be a show not soon forgotten.

In an unprecedented move, I present the first single from David Gray’s NEW album (because I probably won’t do a review on it for some time).

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VIVA LA VIDA OR DEATH AND ALL HIS FRIENDS by coldplay

by Gordon

coldplay.vivalavida

Pitchfork: 6.5         Rolling Stone: 3.5/5         Metacritic: 72         Spin: 4.5/5

 

Released: June 2008
Tracklisting:
  1. Life in Technicolor
  2. Cemeteries of London
  3. Lost!
  4. 42
  5. Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love
  6. Yes
  7. Viva la Vida
  8. Violet Hill
  9. Strawberry Swing [LISTEN]

  10. Death and All His Friends

   To anyone who considered Coldplay a one-trick pony, capable only of a certain kind of sound that we’ve seen them almost perfect over the course of their first three albums, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is a wake-up call. Considering Coldplay is my favorite band, I of course have a bias, but here are some facts on the album’s release: It was the best-selling album of 2008. It won Best Rock Album at the 2009 Grammy Awards. It is the most paid-for downloaded album of all time. Now of course much of the reason for this success is simply that the band is so popular already, and the expectations so high, that naturally a lot of buzz circulates when they release something new, and people buy it. But I’d like to think that much of the reason for the success of the album is also because it’s an amazing album.

   The opening track, “Life in Techniclor”, is a two-and-a-half minute instrumental piece (aside from a few “Oh-oh-ohh”s). Starting in a synth-y dreamlike loop, the song grows in intensity using a set of pleasant chords one could expect from the band, although something sounds quite different in the sound and execution. A stringed Indian instrument called a santoor drives the major melody, accompanied at first by a pair of what sound like hand drums. The song, catchy from start to end, climaxes in a pounding display of instrumentation, and trickles out to bleed into the second track. It’s an early sign that you’re listening to a Coldplay on a slightly different path. (Note: Prospekt’s March, an eight-song EP released post-Viva la Vida, is worth purchasing if for no other reason than “Life in Technicolor ii”.)

   “Lost!” was one of the album’s singles, and while not one of my personal favorites, certainly a great rock ballad. Again utilizing interesting percussion, it’s an organ-heavy, clappy song with Buckland’s characteristically simple guitar riffs, booming from start to finish. The next track, “42”, is served in three parts, reminiscent of a late Beatles formula. The first part is a soft piano and string ballad with eery vocals from Martin. The second part picks up the pace significantly with a frenzied guitar solo and uncharacteristic drumming on Will Champion’s part. The third segment is an upbeat back-and-forth between a now chipper Martin on acoustic guitar belting, “You thought you might be a ghost!/You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close!”, and more rockin’ guitar riffs from Buckland.

   “Lovers in Japan” is one of my favorites, not just from the album but the band themselves. It is from start to finish an up-tempo wall of sound multi-layered with piano, guitar, bass, drums, vocals and a constant “background aura” for lack of a better word. The song shares its nearly seven-minute track time with “Reign of Love”, a tender, dreamlike piece comprised of simple piano chords, Martin’s vulnerable singing and the ever-so-slight U2-esque background of Johnny’s guitar-playing. The following song, “Yes”, is edgier and more serious sounding, and though one of the most atypical Coldplay songs upon first listen, still an instant Coldplay gem. Displaying a heavy use of strings and Inidan-style guitar playing akin to some of Harrison’s later Beatles contributions, it also features the deepest vocals to come from Chris Martin, ever.

   If you’ve been near a radio at all for the past summer, you’ve heard the title track and biggest single from the album, “Viva la Vida”. Full of history- and religion-inspired lyrics, it’s a catchy melody accompanied by a thumping timpani and a sea of strings played with a sense of urgency. The chorus booms with Martin’s vocals and later an anthemic “Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohhh” from the other bandmates. “Strawberry Swing”, another personal favorite, opens with more late Harrison-esque jangly electric guitar from Buckland, which continues throughout the song along with Afro-pop-inspired thumping percussion. Martin has stated that he thinks the song is the best track on the album.

   “Death and All His Friends”, go figure, is another personal favorite. As the closing song to the album, I was doubly curious as to how it would be. Would it go something like “Everything’s Not Lost”? “Amsterdam”? “Til Kingdom Come”? It begins with softly-sung vocals by Martin, the same tune of which is mimicked on the piano. After a verse, an inconspicuous solo from Buckland. After two more sung lines, the song picks up with a dance between now harder-hit piano chords and a more confident riff from Buckland. Cue the drums. Cue the background vocals. Cue a spontaneous climax, ushered in by searing notes from Buckland’s guitar and crashing cymbals from Champion. Cue the full-band anthemic singing (“No I don’t wanna battle from beginning to end/I don’t wanna cycle or recycle revenge/I don’t wanna follow death and all of his friends”). It’s a short-lived, but perfectly-timed climax, and a great close to the album (although the real close to the album is a hidden song harking back to the spacey opening, “Life in Technicolor”).

   Is it the band’s best album to date? It’s personally hard for me to say it beats A Rush of Blood to the Head, which I very well may never let take second place, but to those who say it is, I wouldn’t fight them. It certainly shows about as much ambition and departure from their previous sound as AROBTTH was to Parachutes. And yet it’s still unmistakably Coldplay, with the same key aspects of the formula that make it easy to love their sound, as well as a few new ones. Viva la Coldplay.

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