Saturday, March 12, 2011

Album Review: Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys! (4.5/5)

British alternative rock band Elbow's last album The Seldom Seen Kid was an undeniable breakthrough for the band—winning the 2008 Mercury Music Prize, becoming one of the most acclaimed rock albums of the year, with critics applauding the record for its bracing balance of the early dispirited rock of Radiohead and the more pop-friendly rock of Coldplay.

So how does this fifth album, Build a Rocket Boys! follow up? Well, similarly to the new Radiohead album The King of Limbs, which I said was “an extension of their highly-regarded moody, electronic coated, atmospheric musical experimentation,” this album definitely capitalizes on the layered, grand atmospheric rock of The Seldom Seen Kid—perhaps working even better on here. “The Birds” is a downbeat 8-minute opener. It's quite layered in its production; clattering beats beneath the sheet of muffled guitar chords and pacing drums, progressively diffusing into the oncoming discharge of orchestration, buzzing electronic undertones and piano keys.

“Lippy Kids” highlights a distinct sensitivity in Guy Garvey's throaty vocal—laced with poignant piano keys, with leisurely emerging soft guitar patterns towards its middle. Immersed with caressing melodies and mellifluous whistles that contributes to the song's melancholic core. It's a clear standout—It's also responsible for the albums title. “With Love” which isn't so subtle—engaging in a more voiceferous production—heavy choir endorsed vocals and championed with, what I think is, decelerating harp strings and kinetic handclaps. It's exciting, but it's not a highlight. Better is “Neat Little Rows” which discharges a rawer rock edge—abrasive guitars which sound suffocated beneath the obnoxious echoing clanging of piano chords and the layer of distortion on the chorus.

“Jesus is a Rochdale Girl” quickly reigns in the rock induced theatrics for a more rootsy, prominent guitar-fiddling, minimalist approach. I like the random bursts of keyboards throughout the song, highlighting the subtlety of the song. “The Night Will Always Win,” sounds slightly gothic—Garvey's vocal are boisterous and brawling, effectively contrasting the rather minimal production behind it; plodding keyboards and hollowing soundscapes. More interesting is “High Ideals” which sounds more fulfilled in its production—layers of rollicking horns, heavy orchestratic strings, engaging atmospherics and an aberrant tribal drum beats and clicking, which sounds a little unorthodox for the band. “The River” is a grand piano backed ballad, with a manifesting backdrop. It's a little melancholic too—which now seems like an obvious theme running through this album.

Thankfully, the album doesn't falter towards the album, which is what I expected. “Open Arms” (which is not a Journey cover) has a great anthemic theme, a very crowd-embracing number with a big, blusterous, chant-like chorus backed with prominent, heavily-strummed acoustic guitars. Ending on a more subtle note is “Dear Friends” a breezy guitar-driven number with that distinctive countryside accommodating sound. I can already imagine taking a bus ride to Parliament Hill Fields as the trees casually cruise by, while listening to this on-repeat on my iPod.

There's a lot I like about Rocket, but in particular I think it works best on its more subtle moments, where it's just vocal, subtle instrumentation and sweet atmospherics. However, where the rock gets harder and more assertive is great too—the balance between the delicate and sonorous sounds is awesome on here and possible way more compelling than The Seldom Seen Kid and to answer my opening question, follows it up very well.

Best: Lippy Kids, Neat Little Arrows, Jesus is a Rochdale Girl, High Ideals, The River, Dear Friends, Open Arms

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