Hello friends, welcome to The Listening Booth where I breakdown what I have been plugging into my ears in the last week. It’s part album reviews, part confessional and part me making everything about, well, me. This week we’re going into some heavy hitters as we kick things off with La Dispute, luxuriate in The Cinematic Orchestra and say goodbye with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Enjoy.
La Dispute are not a new name for me, yet despite numerous previous attempts, I have never clicked with them. I own two of their albums, but my efforts to unravel them have seen me bounce off. While I have never believed them to be a bad band, something about them held me at arm’s length. Can you see the twist coming? It’s an obvious one.
Because all of that was true until I put on Panorama last Friday and the distance closed. Something about it broke down the walls, and the only thing that’s stopped me going back to check out the others again is the fact I don’t want to stop listening to this one. It’s a beautiful and heart-wrenching take on post-hardcore, and each time I hear it, I discover something new.
It all starts so sedately too. The dreamy world of ‘Rose Quartz’ draws you in, bringing you into its world. La Dispute have spoken about this album being born from long drives, and in ‘Rose Quartz’, you can hear the comfort of being in the car with someone you love. Feet on the dashboard, warm and safe as the world flashes past outside the window. Sadly, it’s a comfort that doesn’t last.
For Panorama is an album built on tension. Most of the lyrics come in a spoken word style, calmly intoned on tracks like ‘Fulton Street I’ which comes straight after that initial period of dreamy calm. However, the storm is never far away. As the track builds so does the tension, rising and swelling as the winds pick up, the clouds gather and finally burst, bringing with it a roar of frustration into the dark. Panorama is a work of peaks and troughs, of plaintive wails and desperate yells. It seems to revolve around a relationship and the dark days brought on by grief as lead singer Jordan Dreyer puts his heart and soul into every word. One can never truly unpick a story from just the lyrics on the page, but listening to him deliver it you can believe in every word he says.
Yet, it is also beautiful. In those moments of calm, La Dispute create music that swells and catches your breath. That transports you away for a second and places you somewhere safe until the inevitability of life comes and drags you back. It is an incredible album and one of the few to have come out this year that strikes me as something I will be listening to for a long, long time. Sure, it took La Dispute a while (I’m sure they were worried about it), but they’ve finally caught me.
The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe
It’s the week of the album in The Listening Booth. Of course, every week is an album week, but this week’s choices are particularly designed to be listened to as one piece of music. One should not be chopping them up and placing individual songs onto your playlist of choice (although, it’s all good enough that I’m sure it could survive outwith its world too, let’s try not to be too pretentious).
And yet, on paper, it might be easy to see The Cinematic Orchestra’s latest as an example of something that would work as individual pieces. As someone unaware of their output, I was intrigued to learn that guest vocalists populate To Believe. It’s always a style that brings to mind Slash’s debut solo work or Probot. When you have vocalists as different as Roots Manuva and Tawaih (I’m not going to pretend I knew who she was before listening to this), it’s hard to picture what you’re looking at as a cohesive whole.
You’d be wrong. To Believe can be summed up by the name of the band. It’s grand, sweeping and my God is it cinematic. I knew nothing about this lot before hearing Riot Act talk about them, and it was still no surprise to learn they’ve previously done soundtracks. You can’t listen to the mournful violins of ‘Workers of Art’ and not picture it on the big screen. It’s an instrumental and yet there is more emotion seeping out of those instruments than the words in a thousand identikit love songs.
And, truthfully, this is a style of music that I am no expert in, but you can get lost in this album either way. The way they layer things, building on earlier motifs and fleshing them out is astonishing. Take ‘A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life’ which is the song featuring Manuva. It starts simple, bringing up the energy after the fragile beauty of the title track, but still not complicating things. At least to begin with. For as it goes on more and more instruments come in, the track building until it becomes a lush soundscape dancing around its vocalist.
A point that provides us with the perfect segway, as despite being a flowing musical entity, The Cinematic Orchestra use those vocalists superbly. Performances like Tawaih’s could easily have gotten lost under this musical world, but they never let that happen. The Cinematic Orchestra knows when to strip it back, to support rather than dominate and that by working to elevate their singers, they end up lifting everyone involved,
I’ve spoken before about not being entirely sure whether I’m qualified to talk about some albums, and this is the perfect example of that. There is so much going on here musically – and it’s produced brilliantly, so you can hear every bit of it – that I’m just happy if I can figure out what instruments I’m listening to. However, I know how I feel, and when I listen to The Cinematic Orchestra, it’s pure delight. Give it your time and get lost in their world with me.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
There aren’t many musicians who, thirty-four years after the release of their debut album, can put out music that many would regard as a masterpiece. Then again, there aren’t many musicians like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Skeleton Tree is, to date, the latest album from those particular geniuses and it is one born from the depths of grief.
For this was the album that Cave made following the death of his fifteen-year-old son, and it is impossible to listen to it without that thought weighing heavy on your mind. Skeleton Tree is dark, it’s unsettling, and it is wracked with pain, devastation and emotions that I can’t even begin to imagine. On songs like ‘Anthrocene’, you feel like you’ve been invited into Cave’s head, buffeted by his grief in the frantic whirls of the music. Then, on ‘Magneto’, you can hear the sounds of a piano and guitar trying to fight through the ambient electronica that dominates it all while Cave recites his poetry over the top. It’s like the sound of a man broken, mindlessly strumming at his instrument as the noises in his brain overwhelm him.
And writing all that down you wonder why anyone would ever want to listen to this. How you could put on ‘Girl In Amber’ in which Cave’s vocal performance reminds me of Johnny Cash’s work on the American series. Not necessarily in style (although there are some similarities), but in that, as his voice wavers, he sounds like the weight of the world is resting on his shoulders. Like a life of decisions is weighing him down and he’s not sure whether he can stand up again.
Yet, in the darkness, there is light. There is love, and there is empathy, and it might only be breaking through the tiniest of cracks, but it is there. You get the feeling that not only did Cave take himself apart to make this album, but that eventually, he puts himself back together again too. Until on the title track, the very last song on the album he can sing: ‘and it’s alright, now’. Through Skeleton Tree, you witness Cave’s grief, but you also witness his acceptance. His acceptance that the world will never be the same, but that he can stand-up, and he can go on. That’s one hell of a powerful thing.
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