Saturday, 31 May 2008

Pretty Miserable Girls

Or should that be miserable pretty girls? A pair of album reviews from me here.

Firstly, we're one month away from the nominations for the Mercury Music Prize - and it's time to look back at a previous nomination.

It's hard to understand what this particularly accolade offers over than a sudden jolt of sales for some artists - like a NASCAR Race fot the Chase for music?

Back in 2002, one of the runners up (the winner being Ms. Dynamite unfortunately), Gemma Hayes - an irish female singer-songwriter, whose guitar driven album, Night On My Side, got a reasonable amount of press attention for all of about two months that year.

Having suffered writers block, it took 3 years before her follow up album, The Roads Don't Love You was released quietly in 2005. Now, her third album, the Hollow of Morning, has been released after a few distribution problems to almost dead silence (so quiet, even her own website doesn't mention it's been released!).

A very downbeat affair. The Hollow of Morning features acoustic guitar, some old fashioned synths and here and there some layered electric guitar as well. A relatively short ten-tracker, weighing in at just under 37 minutes - Gemma's distinctive voice works a treat over the moody melodies.

The album opens with a Lloyd Cole-esque acoustic hook, with whispering vocals for This Is What You Do. The more pop ready single follows, Out of Our Hands (with some similarities to her prior albums single, Happy Sad) as the album alternates between electric and acoustic guitars by track.

January 14th drifts nicely past your ears, and then Home, a shoegazing style song sneaks in. In Over My Head, a built up dirge featuring Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine on guitar marks the albums mid-point.

Chasing Dragons is another catchy miserablist acoustic number - then Don't Forget, a chugging guitar track, sounding similar to the Rentals raises the noise level briefly - and then back to acoustic and lo-fi synths for Sad Old Song.

At Constant Speed is a brilliant rising epic to end of the songs with lyrics, as oddly an instrumental closes off this album.

It's a great album that probably should have been released in the winter, but hey!

Gemma Hayes - Out Of Our Hands & In Over My Head Live

On to miserable girl #2.

And to link it in, Kevin Shields recently produced some new tracks for this artists movie breakthrough a few years ago - Lost In Translation.

Yes, another movie star has dared make an album, and this time it's Scarlett Johansson, who concretes her standing as the Hollywood misfit with this outing.

Let's put it this way, J-Lo, Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan won't share the same shelf with Scarlett on anyone's collections here.

After you get past the first track, Fawn, which is also an instrumental like Gemma's closer - we get introduced to Scarlett's baritone singing voice. If you've seen Lost In Translation, you can see we've clearly been sold a dummy - as Scarlett drops an octave (or two) and battles with the blokes for notes for Town With No Cheer.

Scarlett Johansson - Brass In Pocket from Lost In Translation

The third track is the single, Falling Down, with the first of two appearances by the thin white duke himself on backing vocals.

This musical format stays in use for the whole album. Keyboards, bells, whistles, chiming guitars make a very dirgy effort on this album of - since I didn't mention it, - Tom Waits covers.

Similar musical styles appear from Mazzy Star, to Slowdive to Saint Etienne by the time we get to the slightly dancable I Don't Wanna Grow Up. It only becomes really evident that it is a covers album when you hear Scarlett voicing fears about her hair falling out.

This is an incredibly brave release, and could probably be my favourite musical release from a movie star ever. The concept is just so insane, it's brilliant. There is an original track hidden in there in Song For Jo which blends in secretly amongst the brilliance of Wait's penned numbers.

Scarlett Johansson (feat. David Bowie) - Falling Down


Asp said...

I'm quite a fan of Times music editor Pete Paphides.
His review of the album is, erm, scathing...
"On Johansson’s album, Dave Sitek’s production heaps on dislocated synths that camouflage Johansson’s voice. Under the circumstances, who would blame him if he went one better and removed it entirely?"
"a bleat that only a deaf mother could love is hitched to a vocal cameo from David Bowie."

I've just listened pressed play on "Falling Down" - and now can see exactly what he means. I daren't listen to the other video...

Hazard said...

Ouch. Love one track album reviews - they're the best! You really could be a British music journalist after all! :)