Reviews of the latest releases from Kaiser Chiefs, The Hold Steady, Foster the People, SOHN, Timbre Timbre, Mr Little Jeans, Oceaán, Evian Christ and Pill Wonder.
Kaiser Chiefs, Education, Education, Education & War
After allowing fans to DIY a Kaiser Chiefs album – buyers could choose their favorite tunes from a pool of 20 songs for a custom track list – 2011’s abysmal Start the Revolution Without Me surely must have seemed like rock bottom to lead singer Ricky Wilson and the boys from Leeds. Diminishing returns have been the name of the game since their earworm of a debut, the Mercury-nominated Employment, blew up 2004, and every subsequent album has yielded fewer and fewer hits, and even fewer genuine pleasures. Kaiser Chiefs had become such a bloody mess that even they weren’t sure which of their songs were good enough make the cut on a proper release.
So it’s hard not to be cynical upon the arrival of the band’s fifth album, Education, Education, Education & War. Drummer/songwriter Nick Hodgson has departed, Wilson is holding fort as coach on the UK edition of The Voice to drum up as much pre-release nostalgia/good will as he can muster, and the band has called Education a return to form. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Or perhaps it is, and therein lies the problem – the form has become a formula and it is completely and utterly out of gas.
“Factory Gates” gets the boring party started by walking down a well-worn path of faux blue-collar outrage, and the politically charged slog of perpetually bouncy tunes like “Misery Company”, “Ruffians On Parade” and “Meanwhile Up In Heaven” hover around the vicinity of successful pop hook but never do find one, which could have helped them overcome a serious case of the woe-is-us bummers. Only mid-tempo rocker “Coming Home” succeeds in matching the anthemic charms of Kaiser Chiefs’ earlier and best work. Education only teaches us that the band was at it’s best when they were merely predicting a riot instead of trying to lead one. D+ [Matthew M. F. Miller]
Oceaán, Oceaán EP
Mancunian producer Oceaán (real name Oliver Cean) emerges from the ether with a precise self-titled EP that hits all the right notes in all the right places. Over the course of five tracks in a concise fifteen-minute span, he manages to check off all the boxes that the blogosphere looks for in its heir apparent to the electronic throne. There is R&B sensibility on display here (“To Lose” and the tender “Need U”), as well as deep house groves (“Basement”), and hip-hop beats with traces of “BTSTU”-era Jai Paul (“Your Side”).
As a whole, Oceaán establishes Cean’s flair for toying with ambience. Some tracks bear the heavy atmosphere of an underground dungeon and submit themselves to an oddly compelling apocalyptic droning, while others fall on the lighter side of the spectrum and are propelled by handclaps and skittering bass. Many of the tracks possess some potential for success on the dance floor, but none of them stray far from Cean’s restrained vision, remaining dutifully on his terms. Even when Cean tries to span both sides of the spectrum on the same track, as on “Turned Away,” it seems adroit rather than cluttered. James Blake might want to watch his back. B [Jean-Luc Marsh]
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