Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country (2006)

Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006)

Let’s Get Out of This Country was one of the last albums I picked up based on personalized recommendations before I abandoned my paid subscription to LastFM about two years ago in favor of independent radio. I remember it was a time when I was merely starting to realize the vast unexplored territory ahead of me, thanks to bands like Camera Obscura and The Postmarks just to name a few. To this day I still regard this album as one of the first few albums that opened the door for me to new and exciting experiences.

I believe that the vintage sound of Camera Obscura has the advantage of becoming an instant nostalgic memory even if you’ve never heard it before. It’s not the only thing going on for them of course, but that being the trademark on their sound I wanted to get that out of the way first. For me it was a nice discovery in the middle of a sea of indie bands sounding pretty much the same (I was a newcomer back then and everything was pretty much the same for my uneducated ear), and even though some might argue that this kind of approach is just a gimmick I’m confident that the sound as a concept becomes secondary once you discover the real intentions and the meaning behind the music.

But beyond technicalities and sound discussions, I must confess that I wanted to talk about this album after all this time because I just love how honest and down to earth the songs are. The lyrics are never trying to drag you out of your mind and into bizarre and unknown worlds, they are actually pretty much ordinary and mundane stuff, and that honesty makes you really make an emotional connection based on your own experiences being mirrored on this enjoyable tunes. Let’s Get Out of This Country thus becomes a collection of mostly love and broken heart songs, and even though that might sound like a depressing formula to some folks, the interesting thing is that this album does that in a somewhat ironic yet surprisingly bright way… and those are some ingredients that you don’t usually see mixed every day.

And without much fanfare you end up being absorbed into this concept. The best part is that you realize you’re lost with no chance of going back once the songs start to cycle and instead of becoming something repetitive you discover you’re enjoying them even more than the last time. I have yet to discover a song that I really dislike from this album, and I’m starting to suspect that it is not going to happen, and even though a good amount of the tracks are discrete to say the least, each and every one contributes to create a solid experience. Sure, there are a few moments here and there that will caught your ear more than the rest, and yes, you can select one or two favorites and stay with them for the most part, but I’m sure you would be missing a lot if you just do that.

When you reach that moment when you believe you know this album inside out, I dare you to stop listening to it in the traditional way and start a whole new adventure by trying to discover new details and aspects you didn’t knew were there. I wouldn’t recommend that with many albums, since most of the time you just want to listen to your favorite tracks and listening the rest is an enormous sacrifice… Let’s Get Out of This Country is one of those cases where you can actually enjoy it from start to finish.

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L’Altra – Different Days

L'Altra - Different Days (2005)

L’Altra – Different Days (2005)

Since the first days of this reviewing adventure I’m in, I always said that indie music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. That seems a little contradictory under the light of the sheer amount of albums belonging to the genre I’ve reviewed this far, I know. And here comes yet another indie album, so bear with me.

This Chicago-based indie band has been around for some years now, and I’m ashamed to admit that even though I’ve had this album in my possession for at least 5 years, I have never been curious enough to pursue the chance of getting some of their more recent material. Shame on me.

Different Days is sometimes labeled as indie rock, and that might be a little odd for someone who is more used to the usual “dirty” and kind of messy sound (almost like a cliche) associated to indie rock. Truth is, Different Days sounds and feels way more sophisticated than what you would usually get on your favorite indie rock radio. I’m almost tempted to discard the indie rock label and classify them as just contemporary adult melancholic pop… Ah screw it, I’ll refrain myself from even mentioning the indie rock tag on this review.

The fact that the vocal work is shared between Lindsay Anderson and Joseph Costa through the entire album gives Different Days an interesting touch, because not only they seem very comfortable sharing the microphone duties, each one features in their very own set of solo songs, which seems very appropriate after hearing the end result. Anderson’s songs are a reminiscent of any good trip hop, female-vocalist driven music, while Costa tends to go for some more melancholic effect. In either case I can safely assure you that they were careful enough to focus on what suits their individual styles the better.

Lyrically and musically speaking, this album shouldn’t be regarded as an uplifting experience, as it tends to wander through some melancholic moods (without getting into mellow territory though), so if you are in the mood for an introspective session and want to have something to go along with that, Different Days is a very good choice for that. I’m not warning you against this album if you are in a brighter mood though, this could also be very helpful if you’re looking for something elegant to rev you down a little bit, or if you are already on a slow and quiet state of mind this album might even actually provide some reassuring company.

It has been many years since I wanted to talk about this particular L’Altra album, because in a personal level it does have a special meaning due to everything that was happening around me at the time. I would like to point out that besides my personal attachment to it, this would have been reviewed anyway, so don’t pay attention to my feelings here. And even after all those years, this album still evokes the same set of emotions and feelings, so yeah, you could say that it has passed the test of time… is there any greater feat for an album?

There’s just one thing I can’t promise though… and that is stop reviewing indie albums, seems like lately I just can’t get enough of them. Might as well be on my way to get some other L’Altra albums while I’m on it.

 

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (2012)

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die (2012)

I’m absolutely convinced that the first time I heard about this lady, I must have thought that this might be one of the oddest names I remember. Also the cover art seems like taken straight out of some late 60s  magazine or family portrait long forgotten in someone’s attic. But the truth is that the last thing in my mind was curiosity about how this album would actually sound, and if all of the reviews and talk about it are actually justified.

I was completely unaware of the incredible experience that was awaiting for me here. I was honestly just waiting to find some hipster girl pretending to be an artist using and indie image to sell some records and then fell into darkness and mystery after the dust settles down. Now I’m sure that this is just the first step in a very productive career that probably won’t reach heights of mega-stardom, but it certainly won’t go unnoticed and will have an avid number of listeners that will stay loyal for as long as she might feel like releasing more albums. Wishful thinking on my part, I know, but there are lots of potential here, you can tell right from minute one.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why this album sounds this amazing though, I’ve been puzzled over a few weeks trying to isolate the single element that makes this stand from the crowd. I failed so far to do so, and I’m starting to suspect that there isn’t a single element that can be blamed for making this album so enjoyable, it must be the result of several variables that are not yet clear in my mind, but they sure work great together.

I have to confess though, sometimes I have a hard time deciding how exactly this album should be categorized. Sometimes it feels just like your regular vanilla pop album that comes with a couple good songs, and some other times it jumps into a whole new category and it feels like the most amazing pop album you’ve heard in years. And that’s probably one of the few complains I have about Born To Die, consistency. It is a pretty darn good album, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t always feel the same, at least for me.

Another bizarre thing about this album is the fact that Del Rey is admittedly an Eminem fan, and one or two songs here sound almost like some of Eminem’s songs of a few years back. Those moments feel just a little bit out of place here, they don’t blend that easily with the rest of the album, and while it doesn’t really diminish the value of this album, it provides us with some confusion and maybe some blank stares in the middle of an otherwise interesting experience.

However, there’s one thing that will overpower any number of flaws you want to find in this album, and that is the theatrical, almost cinematic feeling that Del Rey’s voice communicates, that moment of awe when her voice rises and plays with the lyrics in a way I haven’t been able to identify in someone else. You can’t explain that, you just have to sit there and let it flow through your mind, and yes, maybe the lyrics are far from being mind blowing, but they do have something going on for them and you end up just being indulgent about it.

Is that reason enough to give this album the thumbs up? Yes, it definitely is. We can only hope that this will be explored in subsequent releases by Del Rey, as that is the reason many of us are here in the first place, and while this isn’t a perfect album, for being a debut album it scores surprisingly high in my book. I want more of that cinematic voice, I want more of that somewhat indifferent attitude while delivering warm performances that slip through songs that act just as vehicles for her voice.

Born To Die might not be the new pop revolution, but it certainly brings some fresh elements and is a very interesting proposal for those usually unwilling to listen to the typical pop stereotype. This is a pop album with an indie approach, not the other way around.

(The following video is not mine, as Youtube penalizes any account uploading videos belonging to Universal Music Group… Sorry about that guys, serves just to show that corporate music has its own agenda, and that ironically prevents people from actually listening their music.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6wxDqdOV0

Kate Havnevik – You

Kate Havnevik - You (2011)

Kate Havnevik – You (2011)

It’s amazing what five years mean in terms of evolution, musically speaking. From Melankton we learned to appreciate Havnevik’s particular way of delivering her songs, however something has changed since that and we have a collection of more pop driven songs, you can almost feel an effort to simplify things and make it more accessible for everyone.

That is of course something good, because instead of making everything more complex, it just proves that evolution isn’t necessarily a process that requires making your art increasingly complex and difficult to digest just for the sake of it. Making it easier for everyone might have been a risky decision considering that Melankton was generally perceived as a breath of fresh air amidst bland and uninspired electronic inspired pop albums at the time

However when I refer to this album as significantly easier, I don’t want to give the impression that the key elements went missing in the lapse of time between one and the other. It certainly feels different, but still retains the key elements that made us fell in love with her voice and her approach to singing. You departs from the general downtempo influenced mood that dominated for the most part in the past, and greets us with a bright new direction, vivid and with a lot more confidence than we could ever notice before.

Perhaps this became way too pop for someone who is used to more electronic influenced music, but it shouldn’t be seen as a turning down point. Something I liked was the fact that this album stands by the strength of it as a whole, it doesn’t depend on a catchy tune as an entry point, and while it does have its share of enjoyable songs, I couldn’t find one that could overpower the rest of the album, or at least it isn’t noticeable at first, which speaks of a good balance between the 12 songs included.

Something that was lost in the translation was the inclusion of some trip hop and downtempo moments here and there. It was without a doubt one of the reasons that made Melankton memorable for me, and while this new attitude seems to be working wonders for Havnevik’s career, I can’t avoid the feeling that something important was left out of this album. It doesn’t diminish the good replay value this album has, just to be clear.

I remember criticizing Melankton of being a somewhat cold overall experience, and although I’m not sure I still consider it that way, truth to be told, You is the complete opposite of that, falling into the warm and happy category in my book, it’s a surprisingly pleasant experience from start to finish. Midway through you realize that you forgot that you are actually listening to a pop album, and that’s not something many albums can brag about.

You might not be a game changer in the usually crowded pop arena, and I certainly don’t think there’s enough arguments here to make this go into all-time favorite lists (I might be wrong, but at this point in time it seems unlikely), but overall it’s a very solid effort and some of the songs here demand to be taken seriously.

Second albums are always tough, specially if you are trying to prove that your first album wasn’t just a lucky shot in the dark. This might have gone in a different direction than most of us were expecting, but it not only serves to prove the first, it also helps to assure us that this Norwegian might have some more tricks under her sleeve. Let’s just hope that we won’t have to wait another five years for it.

 

Samantha James – Rise

Samantha James - Rise (2007)

Samantha James - Rise (2007)

When I found out that this was Samantha James’ first album, it was a bit of a shock, but also an affirmation that when someone is this committed to music, you can easily tell by the passion and effort that most of these songs have.

It was a bit of a shock because this is a professional record.  No rough edges, no fillers, everything seems to have a purpose.  And that unity, that vision to create this unified concept is what I liked the most.  Actually, if you think about it, that is one of the advantages that you get when you do compose your own songs, you get the chance to create a collection of songs sharing very similar characteristics.

This album has a particular emphasis on evoking a good vibe through rhythmic tunes, an almost latin feeling in some of the songs, without losing the notion that this is a pop album influenced by some electronic beats here and there.  Fortunately this does not become a non-stop festival from start to finish, as we are granted some more chilled songs in between, and the result is a very well-balanced yet charged album.

Exotic, lush and inciting tunes is something that Mrs. James does brilliantly.  Enchanted Life became one of my favorite songs almost from the beginning.  Her voice and the rhythm are just so well-balanced here, it shouts perfection all the way through.  I Found You is another good example.

If the exotic vibe is not your cup of tea, you can always rely on songs like Angel Love, Deep Surprise, Rain or even the incredibly smooth Right Now, this last one being a completely different category, belonging more into a trip hop record.  It is a tough decision to pick a favorite from these.

Being a helpless fan of the female vocalists genre, this is a definite must have in my book.  Not only for the incredible songwriting skills shown here, and also not only for the very high production values found here, but for the combination of both.  Great songs alone usually are lost if the means are not there to support them, and also production values applied into mediocre songs produce mediocre albums. 

This however, is one of those times when happily for us, both things were done the right way.  I still haven’t got the chance to listen to Subconscious, the latest album from Samantha James, but judging from what I know so far, I’m already looking forward to it.