Music Blog – 7/04/2017 and 14/04/2017 Releases – The New Pornographers, John Mayer and The Barenaked Ladies with the Persuasions

Due to WordPress losing my last Brew blog, and having no spare time due to selling a load of vinyl on eBay, it’s a double whammy catch up this week, a couple of days later than usual. 

I’ve also omitted a couple of records I listened to, namely Aussie punk rockers The Smith Street Band (good, but some of the production is a bit dodgy, and I’ve never been a massive fan of Wil Wagner’s singing voice) and Happyness (also good, but a bit slow for me in places)

First up is Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers, featuring indie-rock stalwarts Neko Case and AC Newman, but not Destroyer’s Dan Bejar on this record due to conflicting recording schedules. 

Whiteout Conditions is much more synthpop influenced than their previous efforts, with a bit of an 80s theme running through it, reminiscent of the Ladyhawke debut album. The opening three tracks are certainly the highlights, and if the rest of the album was of the same standard it probably would be a contender for one of my all time favourite albums, nevermind just one of the albums of the year. The opener “Play Money” is a jerky guitar-led indie rock track, complemented perfectly by Neko Case’s lead vocals. This is followed by the title track, opening with a drum beat, followed by keyboard and guitar, breaking into AC Newman’s vocals before Neko Case’s vocals are introduced on the chorus and the track flows into a dual vocal song. Third up is single “High Ticket Attractions” – another dual vocalled track with the catchy 80s-style synth pop chorus. These descriptions certainly don’t do the 3 tracks justice as they are tremendous. 

The rest of the album, whilst being brilliant, isn’t up to the exceptionally high standards of the opening 3. There are definite highlights though, such as “Darling Shade”, which could have been lifted straight from the aforementioned Ladyhawke album; the chorus on “Second Sleep”; the harmonies and electro-pop backing on “We’ve Been Here Before”; and the introduction to “Clockwise”. Overall, this a superb album, which suffers slightly from the opening 3 tracks being so exceptional.

From a Canadian supergroup, to THE Canadian band – Barenaked Ladies. I confessed my love for them last month when I reviewed The Cousins. They are the greatest band of all time in my eyes, although (All in Good Time aside) I much prefer their Steven Page era recordings. In “Ladies and Gentlemen“, they team up with 1970s acapella group The Persuasions to re-record 14 Barenaked Ladies songs (including the, to my knowledge, previously unreleased “Don’t Shuffle Me Back”) and The Persuasions own “Good Times”. I was originally hoping for a completely acapella record, in the vein of Ben Folds Presents University A Capella but, slightly disappointingly, that is not the case here. 

However, the extra/different instruments together with the extra harmonies and vocals provided by the Persuasions, it gives a lot of songs a new lease of life. The stand out tracks here aren’t the big “must be included on any kind of BNL compilation” tracks like “One Week”, “Odds Are” and “Old Apartment”, or the songs like “Keeping it Real” or “When I Fall” that haven’t been significantly rearranged, but the songs which been resurrected from the depths of the Barenaked Ladies back catalogue, so often forgotten about. Songs like “Some Fantastic”, and “I Can Sing” are brought back to life sounding fresh and interesting. 

Another of my highlights is “Sound of Your Voice”. Although I had hoped for “Barbershop Quartet”-style version of the song as often done live by the band, the extra harmonies really give it a lift. Finally, the Kevin Hearn penned  “Don’t Shuffle Me Back”, which I’d never heard before, sounds like it was written for this album with its Motown flavor and typical clever BNL lyrics. 

It’s not the groundbreaking Acapella album I was expecting, but is certainly a pleasant listen and breathes new life into some forgotten classics.

Finally, The Search For Everything by John Mayer. When Mayer first announced at the turn of the year that he was announcing 4 tracks a month because “there were too many songs to ever get out the door at once”, I had thought we were going to get a 50 track triple album or something similar. And he had the “Continuum” and “John Mayer Trio” backing band back for this album which raised my expectations further. Imagine my disappointment when it transpired that he was releasing 4 tracks in January, 4 in February, and then a 12 Track album in April, and that was all

I gave a full review of the Wave 2 EP when it was released, which features the opening 3 tracks from the album release. I’m still not a massive fan of “Still Feel Like Your Man” – it is very well done musically but those lyrics still make me cringe so much – but I must say I have warmed to “Emoji of a Wave” a lot, I love the classical-style guitar that runs through the whole track. I also still think “Helpless” is a cracker, and it’s probably my favourite song on the album – upbeat and funky. “Roll it on Home” has been moved to the second last track on the album, and my opinion on it hasn’t changed – a reasonably catchy but throwaway country-pop song.

2 of the next 3 tracks appeared on the Wave 1 EP, which I briefly touched on in my Music Catch Up Blog. I like first single “Love on the Weekend” a lot, it’s a kind of typical modern soft-rock ballad about a long distance relationship. It’s slightly over produced to sound a bit like something from an American Teen-drama but otherwise it’s enjoyable. “Changing” works very well with the slick production of the record. Starting off as a piano and vocal ballad (think John Legend’s “Ordinary People”), with other instruments introduced, and I really like the solo that starts after around the 2:08 mark. This is one of the triumphs of the album. The other tracks from Wave 1 have been moved, with “Moving on and Getting Over” being track 8 and “You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me” moved to its rightful place a the album’s closing track – it’s the perfect closer to the album, and another example of where this slick and polished production style works well. 

Of the 4 new tracks,  “In The Blood” is the best by far. It’s one of the album’s stand out tracks, an Americana tinged soft rock ballad, but suffers from the same teen drama feel as “Love on the Weekend”. “Theme From..” is interesting. An instrumental interlude, not a great deal happens on it but it is catchy!
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that John Mayer will never release another Continuum, and that he will never record anything in the studio to even come close to his live material. And with that in mind, I’ve enjoyed this album quite a lot. It pretty much sums up the love/hate relationship I have with his studio work – “Changes” and “Helpless” are 2 of the best songs he’s done in years, but “Still Feel Like Your Man” is over polished and cheesy whilst “Love on The Weekend” and “In The Blood” are potentially brilliant tracks, knocked down a level or 2 by over-production.

Thank you for reading. As always, please visit my Facebook page. I’ve added “High Ticket Attractions” and “Don’t Shuffle Me Back” to the Playlist.

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