Welcome back to new music reviews, with three recent albums. Manchester Orchestra’s earnest stadium rock, tUnE-yArDs’ eclectic indie-soul, and Wolf Alice’s valiant attempts to reignite mainstream rock.
The Million Masks of God
In spite of their name, this band is from Atlanta. The name Manchester Orchestra reflects leader Andy Hull’s obsession with The Smiths.
21st-century arena-rock is often problematic – empty postures against a predictable backing. But Manchester Orchestra are able to add enough emotional heft to make their cinematic rock appealing. The title The Million Masks of God is taken from a G.K. Chesterton poem about ageing.
The most dramatic pieces on The Millions Masks of God are the most memorable – Hull keens his way through ‘Angel of Death‘ and sings “I don’t want to hold back my faith anymore” in ‘Let It Storm’. But they’re also excellent when they play gentle – the gorgeous acoustic ‘Telepath’ and the brooding ‘Dinosaur’ are great moments.
The Million Masks of God sounds like a lame fifth-generation U2-knockoff on paper, but it’s often great in practice.
Merrill Garbus worked as a puppeteer before she formed tUnE-yArDs with Nate Brenner. Based in Oakland, California, the married couple are an eclectic, post-modern duo. I find a disconnect between the raw yelping and kitsch music, but there are some great tracks on their fifth album Sketchy.. Their music is vibrant, with melody instruments augmenting with the lead vocals in their busy arrangements.
The stacked vocals on the chorus of ‘Hypnotized’ are gorgeous, my favourite moment of the record. There’s a great gospel-ish bridge on ‘Hold Yourself.’, and ‘Under Your Lip’ is also pretty with its neo-soul feel.
Sometimes Sketchy. is a record that I admire more than I enjoy, but it’s worth dipping in if you’d like something refreshingly vibrant.
London alternative band Wolf Alice have been around for a decade, but their third album feels like a step forward, a confident group at the top of their game. Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell is charismatic and interesting, and the band switches between memorable tunes and impactful walls of noise. Blue Weekend has been deservedly successful, debuting at number one in the UK.
Wolf Alice cover a lot of stylistic ground without deviating far from a four-piece band setup – although one notable guest is Owen Pallett on string arrangements. They play bouncy, Beatles-esque pop of ‘Last Man on Earth’ while ‘The Beach II’ recalls shoegaze. The group’s pop-smarts are on display on ‘Lipstick on the Glass’, while the main hook of ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ comes straight from the 1980s
Rowsell takes the limelight on ‘Delicious Things’. It starts terrifically, with Rowsell’s wordless vocals riding over a great chord progression in the intro. It never lets up with Rowswell’s combination of wide-eyed-wonder and pragmatism.
I’m often tempted to write off mainstream rock music as predictable, the last whispers of a dying art-form, but Blue Weekend is vibrant and exciting.