Friday, October 16, 2009

She put a spell on me


You’ve heard of I’m From Barcelona, right? (In case you were wondering, they’re not – the lying buggers are Swedish.) Well, Yeasayer might as well be called I’m From Brooklyn, so brazenly do they wear their origins on their collective sleeve – and, anyway, hasn’t affirmative exclamation already been covered by Yeah Yeah Yeahs? OK, so some distance removed from Brooklyn’s current crop of C86 obsessives (see: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Crystal Stilts) Yeasayer may be, but they’ve regularly been bracketed with the likes of Vampire Weekend as Afrobeat aficionados at the cutting edge of cool.

On this evidence at least, all I can say to those who hailed Yeasayer’s debut album All Hour Cymbals as a musical milestone is that they really should know better than to endorse the kind of future where an MGMT sans hooks are king. If a postmodern, artily mangled mess of Fleetwood Mac and Hall & Oates and a vomit-splattered boilersuit with the sleeves rolled up and set off with a power balladeer’s mullet are where’s it at, then I for one would rather not be there.

Frontman Chris Keating attempts flattery, venturing that because this is Oxford we must be a "smart" crowd and thereby implying that we might get what they do. Not me, I’m afraid. Just say nay, kids.

Bat For Lashes should by rights be equally preposterous. Natasha Khan’s first album, 2006’s Mercury-nominated Fur And Gold, suggested someone for whom recording music was a rude interruption from wheeling around in crop circles barefoot, flower-garlanded and dressed in chiffon like a medieval waif or sylvan sprite, partaking in the odd pagan ritual to reaffirm her oneness with her Earth Mother.

But guffaws were stifled by the sheer power of the music: rich, emotive, captivating. Otherworldly, yes, but inclusive and enveloping too. It seemed impossible to look on disinterestedly from the outside - you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Tonight, everything from that period resonates with a dark sensuousness: ‘Horse And I’, ‘Tahiti’, ‘The Wizard’, ‘Prescilla’ and especially the single ‘Trophy’, its sinister edge sharpened by Charlotte Hatherley’s guitar and its omission from the Glastonbury set even more of a mystery.

So, how does Fur And Gold’s no less extraordinary successor Two Suns compare? Well, it’s a meditation on dualism and cosmology and Khan still sounds as though she spends too much money on healing crystals and too much time prostrating herself beneath the moon. But the difference, in the words of the Ting Tings, is largely the drums, the drums, the drums: the inventive percussion of ‘Glass’ and the tribal pounding of ‘Two Planets’ in particular, courtesy of New Young Pony Club’s Sarah Jones. Though that’s not to mention the encroaching presence of synths and electronics, most noteably on chart-bothering single ‘Daniel’.

In these respects, the fact that much of the album owes its conception and genesis to a period during which Khan spent living in Brooklyn is evident. It’s as much a surprise that her collaborators in Yeasayer don’t join her onstage at any point, as it isn’t that the infamously reclusive Scott Walker fails to show up for ‘The Big Sleep’, the duet-of-sorts that closes Two Suns, Hatherley instead providing his vocals.

One of the most affecting and intoxicating new tracks is called ‘Siren Song’, but in truth they could all be given that name. Khan is an enchantress and, quite simply, one of the few truly original stars in the pop firmament.


Del said...

Essentially, Bat For Lashes are everything Florence & The Machine desperately want to be. But aren't.

Ben said...

Funny you should say that, Del, but I bumped into Mike Troubled Diva in Nottingham at the weekend and he said EXACTLY the same thing. I can't comment, though, having never been bothered with Florence & The Machine before.

Lanterne Rouge said...

Interesting comments on Yeasayer - I bought the first album as I really liked the idea of indie influenced by world music, but the track, 2080 apart, it proved to be a little disappointing and then Vampire Weekend came along to attempt the same thing with a lot more vim.