Thursday, 20 February 2014

Now my knowledge of Steeleye Span is limited but a concept collaboration with Terry Pratchett was enough to pique my interest....

Wintersmith is based around the character of the young witch Tiffany and the spirit of winters love for her. After the opening instrumental overture the opening song the Dark Morris Song is a real surprise as it rocks harder then I ever expected from this band - There is a power behind this album

Mr Pratchett guests on the track Good Witch with a spoken section and The Making of a Man has some really interesting rhythms as Maddy Prior lists the components of the human body.

The other surprise is quite how much the vocals are shared around throughout the group

Unfortunately having to build an album around a narrative means some filler and at 16 tracks long that's probably 4 too many. The small blue Nac Mac Feegle (basically alcoholic smurfs) may make good reading but the track Wee Free Man is a rather embarrassing inclusion with its chanting verses.

Luckily the album ends with the two strongest songs. Maddy Prior gives real feeling to the violin and piano ballad of Ancient Eyes relating the endless travels of the celestial turtle (perfect sense if you've read the books!). The final song We Shall Wear Midnight features sax and plucked strings as the band tell of the loss of youth as Tiffany realises her future as witch.

It must be difficult to take a book and make a coherent album from it but this is a excellent effort.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Sometimes an album arrives without you realising it was coming..... And such is the case with the new album from Alcest

Shelter sees the band shed any lingering darkly metal traits and, as the cover shows, emerge into a bright sunlit world. Whatever growls which were left on the last album have been replaced with the most joyous almost wordless vocals you will hear this year.

Where Anathema still have a melancholy feel this is just uplifting..... Opale scurries along on an incessant drumbeat with added female backing vocals floating in the mix while guitars dance over the top.

Voix Sereines build slowly over 4 minutes to a wall of guitar riffing whilst another guitar picks out the melody. L'eveil des Muse start with a single repetitive guitar chiming away whilst the song swells behind it.

Away is the most downbeat song sung in English by a guest vocalist with a backdrop of strings and adds an interesting counterpoint to the French vocals. Occasionally you can spot something that reminds you of Blueneck or Sigur Ros but as a band Alcest are not following anyone else footsteps...

The last album Les voyages de l'âme was one of my highlights of 2012 and even though it's only February this will be one of the best albums of 2014