Review: Hozier – Wasteland, Baby!

When I first listened to “Nina Cried Power” late last year, I could tell that whatever Hozier was cooking was going to be something worth listening to. It wasn’t just that I was excited to hear a new Hozier song, but it was clearly a song meant to impact. Other than being the first taste of new music, it’s the track that ended up opening his new album, Wasteland, Baby!

You can buy or stream Wasteland, Baby! on Apple Music.

A lot of people talked about “Nina Cried Power” when it was released, because of how well it captured today’s activist culture – featuring, of course, an activist herself, Mavis Staples. In the description of the music video, Hozier called it a “thank you note to the spirit and legacy of protest.” It’s very fitting as the first track to the album because throughout it, Hozier speaks again and again of the change the world needs to see.

The second track, “Almost (Sweet Music)”, continues the name dropping. Virtually every line refers to a jazz song or artist from the past. “Movement” slows things down a bit, as a low, sultry track about dancing with someone you love. One of the things I love about Hozier’s music is the way his allusions make you feel like he was there when these things were happening. When he talks about listening to Chet Baker, the familiarity and fondness with which he refers to him makes you feel like he and Chet are old friends. The same in “Movement” – you almost feel like he stood by as Atlas was holding up the earth. The way Hozier writes is so timeless and I think that’s one of the things that makes him such a great musician.

In “No Plan”, we swing back around to looking at society as a whole. He talks about how life is what it is – “There’s no plan / There’s no race to be run”, so we may as well take things for what they’re worth and appreciate the beauty in them.

The love songs on this album are truly unique. Where guys like Ed Sheeran have their metaphors down, Hozier zones in on an experience. We see this in “Shrike” and then a little bit later in “Dinner and Diatribes”. Comparing his partner to a shrike, which is a bird that impales its prey on thorns, he sings that he can’t leave, even though he knows that staying will leave him on a thorn. The latter track is about being at a party and deciding that you and your lover don’t want to be there anymore. It’s a really cute track.

“Be” is a track about life. He talks about life from the beginning and how constant his love has been. The world isn’t the kindest place, and Hozier makes a reference to Trump, and says that when he’s reincarnated, he could be one of the refugees at the border, and that those he shuns could be “On TV giving people the sack”. It’s scathing, but he finishes the line by saying that even though the world isn’t as great as it seems, his love will be the thing that lasts the longest.

The album closes with the title track. He sees that society is a wasteland, but that there’s still good to be found. There’s positivity in his relationships, in nature and in just the idea of enjoying what life has to offer. As a whole, Wasteland, Baby! is an ode to the way we live now, crying out that change is possible, and the idea that even though it’s a wasteland, it’s a wasteland with the ones we love.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Reflecting On: The Fratellis – Costello Music

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Ten years ago, the iPod helped launch the career of The Fratellis. Lead single “Flathead” was played against the vibrant commercial featuring flashing colours and black silhouettes of hipsters dancing. The song was hypnotic, to the point that I found out the U.S. release date of their debut album, Costello Music and counted down the days until I could hear more music from the band. I had hopes that it wouldn’t be a one-hit wonder album.

What I didn’t expect was that 10 years later, I would still consider it one of the top five albums that I think everyone should own and listen to.

Costello Music is simply a work of art. It is Britpop gone full-tilt. The songs cover the spectrum of genre, punk rock, pop, acoustic ballads, blues and the type of rock that is only inspired by the sex and florescent light of British pubs. Each song sounds completely unique on the album, but never out of place. The energy crafted into each song is on a level only a band like Green Day can accomplish. The guitars are frantic, the bass dances with a playful carnival stride, and the drumming beautifully keeps a manic tempo. For a band consisting of only three members, they make a hell of a lot of noise.

But punk rock can only do so much for a band. What sets it apart is the flourish. This is music you can drink to as much as you dance. Every little thing provides a unique binding that sets the song apart. “Henrietta” features a balto saxophone in lieu of a traditional bass guitar, as well as a vocal solo of the band shouting, “wah wah wah waah” amidst the tepid growls of horny cats. “Whistle for the Choir” sets a mandolin solo between bouts of souldful acoustic guitar. Fan-favorite “Chelsea Dagger” makes what I have heard described as “the dead-man’s chant” the anchor point for the song, so much so that it’s what an arena full of fans chant each time the Chicago Blackhawks score a goal. “The Gutterati?” features a heavy harmonica solo as prominently as it does the raw guitar, and as the song ends after a frantic two and a half minutes of loud guitar and tongue-twister inducing speed choruses, one of the band’s members casually say, “I hate your fucking lyrics”.

What makes the songs endearing, though, is the storytelling. As the rock scene was reinventing itself in the mid-2000’s, The Fratellis didn’t sing about depression or girls – they told stories. There were characters and tales of infidelity. Everyone in the album was born with a pint in their hand. The Chelsea mentioned in “Chelsea Dagger” is a stripper who comes up again in the song “Ol’ Black and Blue Eyes” as Jon Fratelli sings, “And Chelsea says she’s got somewhere to go / And if she does she’s gettin’ there slow / And I would help her out but I’ve got some place to be”.

“For the Girl” is a jangling punk song about falling in love with a girl at a concert. The verse and chorus move at a break-neck pace, backed with “la la las” and a sliding guitar. The song features a setting and paints the scene perfectly for the whirlwind romance of bad ideas as Jon sings, “Well she said I know but I just can’t tell everything you’ve just been saying / Lucy was there as well in the dark, the kids in the band were playing / No one can hear a word or tell what the girl was singing / She must have been 16 or 18 or just past caring”.

“Got Ma Nuts From a Hippie” is perhaps the single best song ever written about drug use. It’s sleazy, angsty, paranoid and ends with the main character not sure what is happening until he wakes from his stupor to find himself in the back of a van with a girl he met at a pub. “I listened with my ears but I couldn’t hear what she was saying / And I guess she talked with her mind, but I didn’t want to seem too unkind so I just laughed / And kept my eyes peeled to the door, wondering what I was there for / But it’s alright…I got my nuts from a hippie in a camper van on Saturday night”.

The album is a gritty tale of drunken nights out, looking for romance and finding it in strippers. The songs are a series of short stories, but none fall the way you would expect. There is never a happy ending, there is never a cliché version of romance. The characters stumble through the streets, hate the music they’re listening to in pubs, and just want to get laid. Like the songs themselves, they’re full of energy and not quite sure what to do with it. But it’s that uncertainty that makes the songs so real and liveable. You can picture each one, where it takes place, and the characters talking to each other as another round of pints line the table around them.

Costello Music is an album unlike any other. It’s a story of young Englishmen trying to figure themselves out in a world they can barely stand up straight in. Their stories don’t end perfectly, but they end the way they should – in utter, magical chaos.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has listened to Costello Music almost weekly for ten years. That is just absurd. Also, the band changes tempo when playing live to make the songs bluesier sometimes. How neat!

Review: The Fratellis – The Soul Crush EP

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Ever since their reunion two years ago, The Fratellis have set out to conquer the world in their own way. Yesterday, they quietly released the incredibly short The Soul Crush EP for free through their website. Only three songs long, it’s over as soonerthan you’d expect, but packs the energy expected with any release by the band.

As the teaser for a new album expected sometime next year, the EP cuts straight to the point with the swagger and impressively frantic guitar work that shot the band into popularity in the first place.

With so few songs, it’s actually amazing how much is actually packed into the EP. The opener “They Go Down” sounds like a sibling to fan favorite B-Side “Cigarello”. Jon Fratelli’s guitar work shows just how talented of a musician he is, as he rattles effortlessly between twangy country style guitar lines to crunching powerchords and a crisp rock solo.

Even so, Barry Fratelli’s bass work keeps the speed of the song and never allows itself to be drowned out beneath the guitars. Mince Fratelli’s drumming is impeccable as usual, keeping a strong beat while maintaining a playful simplicity that falls somewhere between party rock and the blues.

“Oh Scarlett” is a soft, simple ballad that bounces with a simple melody equal parts pop and blues. The self titled “Soul Crush” however, is one of the longest songs the band has written, and is an absolute jam. There is a classic rock feel that allows the band members the ability to play and have fun with the song without the ordeal of trying to fit it in with the rest of an album.

Jon’s vocals and lyrics are at the top of his game, matching the melody of the Here We Stand era and the punk/blues scratchiness of We Need Medicine. The lyrics don’t follow any particular theme other than being great pub friendly songs and easy to sing. In “They Go Down”, Jon sings, “Well I was born inside a fire on the curtails of desire, I was orphaned in the flood, I was taken for a lie. My dreams came crashing to the ground, I was defeated by the sound, they go down.”

The Soul Crush EP is a quick, simple and energetic treat. It’s obvious that these songs came after the sessions of their most recent release, We Need Medicine, but the addition of what sounds like the lightest brushing of bluegrass plays perfectly with the band, making The Fratellis’ sound akin to a much more accessible and poppier version of Jack White. The only real issue with the EP is the fact that it is too short to make a lasting impact, but for a free release, it’s a great taste of one of the U.K.’s most talented bands.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.