CD reviews: Ben Harper’s dark, relentless new sound is simply addicting
Ben Harper & Relentless7
White Lies for Dark Times
Music legend Ben Harper has put aside his work with Innocent Criminals and formed a new band known as the Relentless7. The result? A slightly darker side of the genius’s personality seems to comes through, however, White Lies for Dark Times, will still resonate deeply with the millions of fans borne out of his previous work.
Each track seems to transcend a specific genre, some have a raspy country feel while others turn to electronic rhythms mixed in with imaginative guitar riffs. As usual, it’s Harper’s voice that ties the album together. He sings each and every lyric with a passion that simply cannot be found with other artists.
From the aggressive western feel of the opening track “Number With No Name” to the uplifting closer “Up To You Now,” there really isn’t a bad track on the album. Sure, the dark, scolding tone becomes a bit repetitive near the end, but it seems the more you are willing to invest into listening to a Ben Harper album the more you get out of it.
As for the new band, Jason Mozersky proves to be a magician with the guitar, taking the spotlight away from Harper a number of times on the album’s strongest track “Lay there and hate me.” Jesse Ingalls on the bass and keyboards and Jordan Richardson on the drums also shine at various times; Harper clearly knows how to put together a band.
His 2008 album Lifelines was definitely softer and focused heavily on sustaining instrumental harmony. This album turns back to this formula on tracks like “Fly One Time” and “Faithfully Remain.” It is difficult to compare the two albums because they come across quite differently; however, I found Lifelines relied heavily on a few radio-ready tracks, while White Lies for Dark Times comes across as a fuller body of work.
It’s amazing that 17 years after releasing his first album Harper is still able to rise above the crop with bold creations that are inherently different from his previous work; if this latest compilation is any indication, he is unlikely to stop anytime soon.
— Jeremy Nolais
Sounds of the Universe
I first became a Depeche Mode fan when Violator was released in 1990, a CD that I still have as a representation of some of the best tech-beats of my youth. There are few albums as complete as Violator so when I got my hands on The Sounds of the Universe, I did so with anticipation.
The first minute of the album is a confusing cacophony of tones that can only be described as a “Mode-esque” sound check that transitioned into the first exhibition of great vocals by Dave Gahan. “In Chains” sets the stage for the smooth beats that carry clearly through this album. From there, “Wrong” hurtles you into the visceral emotion that we are accustomed to from Depeche. The catchy beat hooks you even though the inherently negative lyrics take you where you maybe don’t want to be: on edge.
“In Sympathy” is a return to the silky baseline and perfect timing that is a hallmark of this collection and within a few spins of this disc, it quickly became one of my favourite tunes. There are shades of Violator all through the end of this album. “Perfect” brings back shades of Sweetest Perfection and “Corrupt” finishes this album like Clean closed off. I heard the remnants of these earlier favourites and it reconnected me to some of the best of Depeche Mode.
Only one tune did not catch my ear like the rest. “Jezebel” just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album. Martin Gore gets his only lead vocal performance in the suite of songs and although good, I felt this tune was too much of a departure from the rest of the tone and continuity of the rest. It is something of a one-song lounge act in the middle of an otherwise neatly packaged set with a strong techno-pulse.
I have to admit that this album took time to digest, but within a few samplings of the songs, it grew on me and re-established what I enjoy about Depeche Mode. Although more subdued than my earlier favourite works by the group, I found myself melting into the sustained baselines, quirky techno sounds and synthesized rhythm that is Depeche Mode.
— Clint Lovell
To hear a sample track of Depeche Mode click here.
One of the most kickass foursomes in alternative rock has returned with a force! Sure Carnavas, the 2006 debut album from Silversun Pickups sufficiently introduced listeners to the addicting harmony of Brian Aubert and Nikki Monninger’s vocals combined with frantic instrumental work, however, Swoon takes the group’s evolution to a whole new level.
There are so many memorable tracks that it is quite difficult to single out favourites. The first single “Panic Switch,” is likely the most well-rounded track the group has ever released. Intended to symbolize a nervous breakdown, Aubert combines thought-provoking lyrics with some amazing solo guitar work. In direct contrast, “It’s Nice to Know You Work Alone” and “Draining” slow the melody right down, yet the band’s pure genius continues to shine through.
While Carnavas seemed to fall into a routine at times, each song on Swoon (the band reportedly actually recorded 17 tracks before paring the album down to 10) seems to forge it’s own identity and tell its own story. They lyrics are relatively simple, making it easy to sing along while bobbing your head.
SIlversun has been ripping it up so far in 2009, most recently putting on a solid middle-card performance at Coachella in Calfornia. As time goes on and Swoon comes into its own, look for this talented foursome to develop a huge following.
Summer time seems to be upon us, so roll down the windows and crank up this brilliant compilation of work.
— Jeremy Nolais
To hear a sample track click here.
Bat for Lashes
The Echo Label Ltd.
This second album from the British Indie rock band, Bat for Lashes, will not disappoint fans. The hauntingly airy voice of lead singer, Natasha Khan, reminds one of a young Sarah Mclachlan or Stevie Nicks.
The first single, “Daniel,” based on a fictional character Natasha fell in love with in her teens, has a beautiful almost fairylike quality to it. This song coupled with the album cover and CD title, Two Suns set the tone for the entire album and let the listener know they are about to be carried away to another world.
Khan has a degree in visual arts and says that when she writes a song she sees it in her head first in full colour. The descriptively-poetic lyrics of tracks like “Moon and Moon” and “Siren Song” give listeners a glimpse of what this artist sees and left me wanting more. And the influence of her parents, an English mother and a Pakistani father, are evident in the worldly eclectic sounds of both “Pearl’s Dream” and “Two Planets.” However, in “The Big Sleep,” the addition of the deep, Dracula-like voice of Scott Walker makes the song seem a bit dramatic or theatrical for my taste. And, the gospel choir added to “Peace of Mind” give a spiritual feel to otherwise very dark lyrics and I am not sure I like the combination.
All in all, this album is very pleasing to the ear. But the listener must be aware that they are about to embark on a mystical or fantastical journey.
— Elaine Lovell
To hear a sample track click here.