Review : Athlete - Black Swan
YahooAthlete are a band who've never quite found their time. They arrived in 2002 with the shambling hobo melodies of "Vehicles And Animals" just as the charts got obsessed with NYC secondhand cool. They delivered a second album, 2005's "Tourist", full of widescreen emotions and aching strings, just as Snow Patrol cornered the market in epic longing, and then with last album, 2007's "Beyond The Neighbourhood", they opted for low-key introspection just as the world went stadium. Now, newly signed to Polydor imprint Fiction - home of Snow Patrol - album four is a chance to reset to zero and establish once and for all what it is that Athlete do.
It's an opportunity they've grasped with both hands. From the synth laden, glad-to-be-alive surge of "Superhuman" to beautifully tender nursery lament "Rubik's Cube", "Black Swan" is alive with an energy, conviction and relish which acknowledges the new record deal as a last minute reprieve from the indie-pop scrap heap and this as their one go at proving they deserved it.
Wisely though, they've seen this as a time to consolidate, not experiment or wander off on the tangents which have undermined them in the past. The thudding sweetness of "The Getaway", the tragic optimism of "Black Swan Song" and "Don't Hold Your Breath"'s quiet affection have been boiled down to their good natured core, attached to solid anthems and rammed home with reassuringly efficient melodies. It is, in essence, the best of all their previous attempts - the soft heart of their first album, the grandiose sweeps of the second, the touching intimacy and imaginative spark of their third - combined into a properly rounded package and played, finally, like they mean it....full text
MusicomhWhen they first started getting namechecked back in 2002 there was genuine excitement about the Deptford four-piece. They ticked a lot of the right boxes. They were suitable for mass consumption, boasting elements of a one-size-fits-all daytime radio pop that was inescapably promising. But they also had a quirky side to them, something leftfield that put them in a league above those who were simply peddling lifeless guff to try and receive radio airplay and chart success.
Indeed, 2003's Vehicles And Animals is a perfect illustration of Athlete's ability to craft FM friendly pop monsters that still had enough bite, experimentation and decent ideas to be attractive to more discerning music fans.
But since then their form has been questionable. Wires, taken from 2005's Tourist album, was an achingly profound and deeply poignant song that saw Athlete propelled to the top of the charts for the first time in their career. They reached it with a song that dropped the tempo, minimalised the instrumentation and fashioned a sound that was far more introspective.
Since then, the band's experimental side (the side that made them good) has suffered, as if Wires was the new blueprint on how to write successful songs. And unfortunately that makes for a band who are becoming more toothless and pallid with every release....full text
GuardianSouth Londoners Athlete followed their likable quirky debut Vehicles & Animals with two albums of solemn pop that sold almost a million copies combined - so it's no surprise that that's the route they continue to tread here. Having left EMI for Polydor imprint Fiction, Joel Pott and co hope to follow fellow Fiction emigres Elbow in going supersonic on a self-made record. Whether they will depends on the public's appetite for earnest melodies and lyrics that talk a lot without actually saying anything. Chris Martin's made a career out of it, so who knows, but Black Swan's generous servings of crescendo-and-strings guitar music are so all-encompassing that any charm is suffocated. They seem like a nice lot - but that's the problem, there's no edge. This is music for a Hollyoaks montage, or for waving mobile phones in the air to at V festival. It's hard to love....full text
PitchforkIn the UK it's hard to hear Ellie Goulding above the hullaballoo of the hype-cycles. Tipped in January as the sound of 2010 in two tastemaker polls, she's received distinctly underwhelmed reviews now her album has been released. It's an odd record to have been caught in the crossfire: There's no high concept or big personality, it doesn't ride any particular fashion wave or nostalgia agenda. Instead critics have seized upon a sense of contrivance, the idea that UK pop culture is meme-splicing from the recent past, and that Goulding has been cynically designed to hitch the nu-folk fad of 2008 (Laura Marling) to the 1980s pop vogue of last year (Little Boots) and achieve full-spectrum media approval from Mojo to Popjustice. And so she's getting shot by both sides: not folky enough for purists, not sensational enough for the pop crowd, but mid-market, middlebrow-- the new Dido.
If she'd been born Else Goldsdottir, and hailed from Helsinki rather than Hereford, Goulding probably wouldn't have these problems. Maybe it's because ABBA started out in folk groups, but the Scandinavians seem more comfortable with the idea of a confessional pop that marries immediacy with intimacy. Goulding would fit in perfectly alongside Lykke Li, Jenny Wilson, even Robyn.
Outside of its immediate context, Lights is a sometimes great, always promising debut. It's an album about leaving home, and it works best when the contrast between the folk singer and the pop production chimes with the tensions between the pull of home and the allure of the city. "Guns and Horses" may be the best opening invitation for travel since "Two Divided by Zero" kicked off the Pet Shop Boys' Please: "Let's join forces, we've got our guns and horses...." It builds from spare acoustics to urgent trance pop-- "I left my house, left my clothes, door widen open, heaven knows, but you're so worth it, you are..."-- concluding with a desperate a cappella coda, and a brief breathless chuckle at her casual audacity....full text
GuardianIt may not have been a vintage year for music, but if nothing else, the 2010 Brits offered a bumper harvest of pathos. There was courageous Samantha Fox proclaiming that she was "going to get it right tonight", then announcing the award for the "most rememorable performance of the last 30 years". There was Geri Halliwell demanding "Where are they now?" of Kula Shaker; a woman whose last solo single reached No 41 five years ago mocking someone else's faded commercial fortunes.
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And there was Ellie Goulding from Herefordshire, winner of this year's Brits critics' choice award. Whisked backstage after the presentation to be interviewed before ITV's cameras, she stood sandwiched between Halliwell and Courtney Love, while Fearne Cotton bellowed at her. The 23-year-old looked a little discombobulated, which frankly seemed to speak volumes about her immense cool-headedness and self-control: a lesser woman would have taken one look at the company she now appeared to be keeping, dropped her Brit like a hot brick and scrambled over the nearest wall, back to the relative sanity of the Welsh Marches. It was as if persons unknown but of wicked intent had noted Goulding's regular protestations of ordinariness in interviews – "I'm quite normal," she kept saying to the Observer's Paul Morley recently – and decided to offer her a cautionary glimpse into the future. You're quite normal? Maybe now. But look at these three. This is what close proximity to the music industry does to people....full text
NmeTop of the BBC Sound Of 2010 poll. Winner of the Critics’ Choice Award at this year’s Brits. Without bagging Young Sportsperson Of The Year and winning The Apprentice, expectations couldn’t be higher for 23-year-old Ellie Goulding. Her success is a foregone conclusion – with this level of pre-album hype even HEALTH could guarantee a Top Five hit. But Ellie has a heavier responsibility to bear. Alongside Marina she’s expected to carry the femtronica torch into the new decade and ensure a bright and credible future for those girls who were born part-synth.
You’re right to be concerned. Ellie wasn’t born part-synth. She was your common-or-garden acoustic singer-songwriter until she ran into Frankmusik and realised there was more to life than open mic nights full of Magners addicts with beards. Now, the folkie-turned-squelchmonger breed doesn’t have a great track record. Add in suspicions that Goulding might be shrouding her fundamentally folk heart in Frankmusik’s skin-deep pop sheen to cash-in as the new La Roux and what can we expect from ‘Lights’?...full text
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