Hello, and welcome to perhaps the most interesting Listening Booth yet. I have checked out a lot of music this week, but the albums I have chosen to talk about all captured my imagination for very different reasons. With that in mind, I’m going to stop blabbering and let you get on with hearing about it. Have fun.
FEVER 333 – NUMB333RS
The news that letlive were calling it a day might not have made the front page of the BBC or rattled the doors of the mainstream musical world, but for people like me, it was devastating. A band that were shaping up to be a generation-defining act were gone. However, life must go on, and in what is probably the first big release of the year, letlive’s Jason Butler is back with FEVER 333.
And that’s last time I will mention letlive because this album has nothing to do with them. There is no resemblance to their soul-tinged hardcore as this is instead a firebrand of Rage Against The Machine-inspired, hip-hop fuelled political anarchy. Right from lead single ‘Burn It Down’ it’s pretty clear that FEVER 333 have something to say, and they are happy to punch you in the face until you listen.
Which leads us to the second thing that must be said about NUMB333RS. This album isn’t aiming for the underground. It wants to be heard by as many people as possible, a fact that influences both its sound and the lyrics. Jason Butler is a smart guy who is capable of writing complex, emotional words. That’s not what he’s doing here. While phrases like ‘just so you know, we are the product of people you stole’ are powerful in their simplicity, there is no denying that they are sloganeering. They are meant to be chanted, to be screamed from rooftops and roared in the face of the unbelievers.
As for the sound of the album, it’s not as raw or as powerful as I’d have liked. Tracks like ‘One Of Us’ will inspire pits the world over, but ‘Inglewood’ and ‘Out Of Control’ are aiming to be epic pop songs. If a mainstream sheen turns you off, this is going to be tough for you.
I guess the final question is the simplest one: is it any good? Well, yes. It is. However, it’s not as good as I want it to be. I love the message behind this album, and I’m on board with it. However, from a musical standpoint, it feels like FEVER333 are held back by their political aims. With people like Butler and Stephen Harrison (The Chariot), you expect the incredible. This is merely the good. Where you stand on what it has to say might be the difference between whether you can accept that or not.
Blackouts – History In Reverse
It wouldn’t be a Listening Booth without a trip back into Seattle’s musical past via a band mentioned in Mark Yarm’s brilliant Everbody Loves Our Town, Yarm is going to owe me loyalties with the amount I plug that book. This time I’ve been listening to Blackouts, a band whose claim to fame was not their inspiration on Nirvana or Mudhoney, but Ministry.
For History In Reverse is not an alt-rock, grunge or whatever the fuck you want to call the Seattle Sound album. It’s a post-punk album. A post-punk album with a streak of industrial running through it. It’s got that arty weirdness that came out in bands like The U-Men, but it’s fuelled not by fuzzed-up electric guitars, but by the synthesisers and saxophone of Roland Barker.
And, truthfully, it’s not for me. While the last few weeks have seen me rave that bands like Malfunkshun are not mere curiosities, Blackouts are that, at least for my ears. Tracks like ‘It’s Clay Again’ and ‘Everglades’ meander through their weirdness, never getting anywhere. As I’ve been listening to it over the last week I’ve struggled to connect with it, too often it drifts to the back of my mind, unable to capture my attention.
However, there’s a chance it won’t be like that for you. Post-punk is hardly my specialty, so my ears aren’t attuned to this stuff, and it’s not something I’d have listened to if it wasn’t for the aforementioned book. If that is your world, this might work for you, and in tracks like ‘Probability’ there is something that catches me. You get the impression that if they’d wanted to, this band could have written some absolute bangers.
Yet perhaps they didn’t want to. Perhaps Blackouts were happy to release this weird, foreboding music that isn’t easy to listen to. In many ways, I respect that more than any number of pop hits.
Pedro The Lion – Phoenix
Pedro The Lion is perhaps the most famous project from the creative mind of David Bazan, a musician who has more associated acts than most have albums. I should also be honest and say that I have listened to exactly none of them. Even old Pedro has only wandered into my sights this week because someone recommended it on Twitter and I was looking for something to listen to. These opinions come from fresh ears.
Fresh ears that, to begin with, were pretty unimpressed. My first few listens to this album saw it drift past, one-paced and unable to grab my attention. I had it on while I was writing and the only purpose it really served was stifling the often terrifying sound of silence.
However, I have learnt on more than one occasion that not every album revels in being listened to in such a way. Many, need your full attention. They demand to be heard, to be appreciated, so that night as I walked the streets of Edinburgh I plugged my headphones and discovered a second album, one which captured my imagination.
Because Phoenix is what I’m going to describe as a lyric album. I didn’t fall for the music, I fell for the words and they, in turn, made the music work. It’s introspective and reflective, choosing to revel in the past. ‘Yellow Bike’ and ‘Circle K’ are both songs of childhood. The freedom of a bicycle and the angst of not understanding money and the world. You get the impression there is probably more to it than that, but even on the surface level, those words entice you in, they welcome you, and you want to hear more.
And as I listened, the songs that I thought weren’t there began to show themselves. Tracks like ‘Clean Up’, ‘Powerful Taboo’ and ‘Quietest Friend’ made me scoff at the person who earlier in the day had found the whole thing bland and uninspired. They were there, they just needed my attention.
Who knows where I will stand with this album in a month or two. Perhaps the bond will deepen, or maybe I will drift away, satisfied with what I got, but unwilling to go further. That’s one of the great things about intelligent music. You often get from it what you give. If you’re willing to give to Pedro The Lion you might just find there’s something there for you.