Cameron Carpenter: Rock’n’Roll Rewind – Driven To Tears
This week we have a short rewind back to 2008. I had a few opportunities to write for the Canadian men’s lifestyle magazine Driven, whose editor-in-chief, Gary Butler, was an old friend. As you can tell from the quality of the copy, he is a great editor and elevated all who wrote under his watch.
Gary currently spends his non-editing time as a member of The Autumn Stones who have just released their wonderful debut album Escapists (http://www.theautumnstones.com/).
Although too-short-lived Driven is the only publications that had bylines by Kyle and Cameron Carpenter. We had hoped to both review the same album in an upcoming issue for the ultimate father-son generation comparison, but, alas, we never got the chance. Here are four albums reviews which appeared in the fall of 2008.
Johnny Flynn – A Larum – Driven September 2008
Citing influences W.B. Yeats and The Bard, it`s no wonder that Johnny Flynn’s North American debut, A Larum (a medieval term for a village’s central warning bell), sounds more like a theatrical recital of 13 tales than a standard collection of pop songs. The good news: it’s both. Door-creaking cello, mandolin viola, guitar, bass and rollicking percussion weave through the album compliments of Flynn’s band, The Sussex Wit, who are an enormous part of this record’s appeal. Flynn is a consummate storyteller, employing a kitchen-sink folk base similar to traditionalists such as Mike Scott of The Waterboys, Canada’s Elliott Brood and even a young Ray Davies. To that last one’s famous penchant for social pegging, the song “Wayne Rooney” finds Flynn calling the Manchester United football star “a primordial soup of a man” and later quipping that “the bartender looks like George Best – many of them do.” This is a record in the classic sense (the packaging for the vinyl version is stunning) and deserves to be savoured as a full meal, not a series of snacks. To quote another decent lyricist, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
Conor Oberst – S/T – Driven September 2008
You could hear where Conor Oberst was heading on the song “Four Winds” from last year’s Bright Eyes release, Cassadaga. He continues in that vein on his latest self-titled solo album, sans the Bright Eyes moniker for the first time (a reverent hat-tip to this release’s absence of multi-instrumentalist, producer and friend, Mike Mogis). It’s also the first album to don the former wunderkind’s 28-year-old mug on its cover art. He still evokes easy comparisons to Bob Dylan – in fact, a little too blatantly on “Get-Well Cards” – but nonetheless seems to be settling in to a Tom Petty Full Moon Fever-era singer-songwriter mode, with a dash of Gram Parsons thrown in for good measure. This works well, for the most part, “Cape Canaveral”, “Sausalito”, “Moab” and “Souled Out!!!” are some of the best songs he’s ever written. “I Don’t Want To Die (In The Hospital)” is a rocker that shows the looser, more playful side of Oberst, while “NYC – Gone, Gone” takes it a step further and borders on breaking into Slade’s “Run Runaway.” On the other hand, “Lenders In The Temple” loses a lot of its charm with the cheesy sound effects of loose change, and if there’s an in-joke to the intrusive three-conch blast in “Valle Mistico (Ruben’s Song),” then it’s beyond me (and I will not be pleased when it shuffles its way on to my iPod). Overall, though, some pretty nice sleight of hand, bright eyes.
Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains – S/T – Driven October 2008
It’s arguable that Sebastien Grainger is Canada’s alt-fringe answer to Dave Grohl. As with the former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighter, Grainger has stepped out from behind the drum kit, slinging a guitar. After an acrimonious split from Death From Above 1979 partner, Jesse Keeler (now a sought after re-mix producer and half of MSTRKRFT) it seemed like the huge potential of DFA would all be for naught. Copping equal amounts of Cheap Trick, Journey and Raw Power-era Iggy Pop, Grainger and his current band, The Mountains (he vows to change the line-up with each album), for the most part rock. The references hark back to the ‘70’s, but there is nothing retro about this record: “American Names”, “Love Can Be So Mean”, “By Cover of the Night (Fire Fight)” and “I Hate My Friends” all chug along at a modern-rock pace. Standing out like a snow-capped peak, the ever-building ballad “Love Is Not a Contest” may be the disc’s most memorable track. A couple of songs hint at DFA, and the CD closes with “Renegade Silence,” previously released as a 7-inch in the U.K. under Grainger’s alias, “Rhythm Method.” Go ahead and take a chance on Sebastien – his record certainly wasn’t afraid to.
Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads – Driven October 2008
After repeated plays of the third Kaiser Chiefs album, the reason why I have always liked this band finally made itself clear: they remind me of the criminally under-rated Sparks (minus Russell Mael’s soaring falsetto). The Kaiser collective’s latest roars into high gear with “Spanish Metal,” where Dick Dale-inspired surf guitar seamlessly plunks itself in the middle of a spaghetti-western soundtrack. Obvious first single “Never Miss a Beat” sports call-and-response vocals that bring to mind The Beatles at their playful best. Other nods to the Fab Four, are, ahem, peppered throughout the record, notably the Revolver-ish “Remember You’re a Girl” and “Tomato in the Rain,” a charming little number that could easily have come from a Ringo solo album. In times when artists are only as good as their last single, Off With Their Heads has the audacity to be a collection of 12 pure pop singalongs. Blimey.
Come request a little Johnny Flynn at The Kensington Lodge some Wednesday night.
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Cam’s column appears every Thursday
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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener, The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music, NXNE Magazine and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.