The Week’s Music: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Foals, Iceage

Mr. Osborne is back with three more selections to please your eardrums. 

Nick Cave ages like a fine wine. You could argue that he has improved with each of the fifteen successive albums he has released with the Bad Seeds. Whilst many other artists of his age lost their creative spark along with their taut skin and youthful bodies many years ago, Cave has clung to his like a man possessed. He is also growing into his frankly unusual looks with each passing year (dubious Grinderman-era facial adornments aside).

With the release of Push the Sky Away, this creative roll isn’t showing any signs of letting up. Admittedly, this hasn’t had the same sort of impact that Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus had. That album landed on its feet, but instead of hitting the ground running it took a huge, steel toe-capped swing at my balls and floored me. To build on an album such as that is always going to be hard work, I don’t care who you are.

The last we heard from Cave and Co. was on 2009’s Dig Lazarus, Dig! which resounded with some of the rockier instincts that had fuelled the Grinderman side-project. In what is becoming something of a grunge song template, Cave’s releases are following a quiet, loud, quiet, loud formula, and so it follows that Push the Sky Away is a subdued affair, taking its time to unfurl its nine tracks. The songs meander along with characteristic brooding menace, sounding like a walk through a foreign city on an early morning in February or a late evening in August.

Cave’s quotable lyrics are present as always, and his compelling stories are bang up-to-date, referencing the particle acceleration experiments being conducted at CERN in “Higgs Boson Blues” and comparing Wikipedia to Heaven elsewhere. This doesn’t hint at a more scientific lyrical leaning, but his characteristic humour and revelry in harsh visceral language. “She was a catch/We were a match,” he croons romantically over heavily treated guitars on “Mermaids.” “I was the match that put fire up her snatch,” he concludes with a knowing smile.

These songs are not instantaneously satisfying but have a way of creeping into your consciousness and dragging you into the world which Cave has sat building, studiously in his Brighton office from nine till five every weekday since 2009. His strange habit of treating song-writing like a day job is unusual to some, but he has become a seasoned professional and his craftsmanship is, eventually, once the songs find their way into your heart, admirable.

Oxford five-piece Foals are also like a bottle of wine with a date on it that doesn’t contain the number two. Their maturity might have been in question when they released their energetic debut, Antidotes, a relentless assault of intertwined rhythms and spidery riffs, but by the time they released the hushed “Spanish Sahara,” the lead single from their follow up, Total Life Forever, it was clear that Foals had more than mere indie night dance-floors in their sights.

In many ways, Holy Fire continues this progression, but there are a few surprises in store. For a band who are used to wearing their guitars hoisted up around their tits, there are some moments of low-slung guitar riffery that bring to mind grungy hooks from the nineties. For me, this is a welcome addition to their formula. Whilst I admired their ability to exercise restraint, I often felt that Total Life Forever never really kicked in enough for my liking. Fortunately “Inhaler”, which kicks off the album, builds slowly to a real pay off with guitars that sound like they have been tuned down several steps. In fact you can almost see the strings wobbling.

Like their peers Everything Everything and the like, you can get a sense that with each new album the sense of fun and frivolity diminishes, almost as though being in a successful band is pretty miserable, forcing you to focus only on really serious lyrics, and dwell on all of the unfortunate things that may have befallen you. Foals were a lot of fun when they first came out but they seem deadly serious now and getting them to crack a smile seems like it would be difficult.

But the more serious and miserable your lyrics, the more people latch on to your music as they can draw parallels between your sorry and their own miserable existence – even though they have to go to work every day of the week whilst Foals get to be in a band and tour the world. So with that in mind, it is likely that Foals will be filling up larger and larger venues with hordes of miserable types. Lets just hope that they keep some of the early tunes like “Cassius” in the set so that those people get a chance to jump about and laugh for a brief time.

Elsewhere, ageing like a horrible concoction of cider, spit, whiskey, sweat and some weeds that was left in a garden shed for many years, are Iceage. Taking punk rock in new directions becomes more and more difficult with each passing year and, let’s be honest, most punk acts don’t try to mess with the formula. But Iceage are trying hard to be noisier, more formless and more hardcore than other acts who would fall under the punk rock banner.

You’re Nothing is a noisy and unpredictable beast which lends weight to the theory that, when it comes to punk rock, the northern Europeans understand and do it best. These Danes have released a sophomore album that is dripping with attitude and anger, almost sounding better than punk did the first time round.

It can often seem like a tuneless racket, but as you listen more and more frequently, the undeniable hooks reveal themselves and the thick-headed vocals of Elias Bender Rønnenfelt sound increasingly like the charismatic protests of someone like Billy Bragg. You will also be impressed by the power that Iceage wield in their sound which they produced themselves this time around. Barely out of their teens they are a young band without a doubt, but one who are maturing at an exponential rate.

Maturity, as Iceage prove, doesn’t have to mean settling down, slowing down or easing off the accelerator. It can just as easily mean having developed an understanding of your heritage, and learnt the art of story telling through your chosen medium.

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