If you are lamenting the fact that, with no more presents to unwrap, Christmas is over for another year, you will be pleased to hear about some musical gifts that several bands are offering online, as gestures of their seasonal goodwill. The hype surrounding Gorillaz’s free online album ‘The Fall’, released on Christmas Day, was generated not simply by the novelty of this generous act, but also by the means used to record the album.
Damon Albarn and co., using a mixture of different iPad applications to produce the 15 songs, have produced the first album to be recorded by a mainstream artist on the iPad. It is helpful to know this fact before listening to the tracks themselves, since, despite their diversity and originality, the limitations of the recording medium are unignorable, and listeners will be disappointed should they be expecting something equivalent to the kaleidoscopic sonorities achieved on Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s most recent album ‘Plastic Beach’ (out at the beginning of this year).
A couple of the songs (‘Detroit’ for example) have a distinct flavour of that familiar ‘canned’ commercial Christmas music which, thank heavens, will not be assaulting our ears again for another ten months or so. The most dynamic songs on this album are those that do away with sonic cleanliness in favour of more chaotic, disorganised textures (‘Joplin Spider’), and others which make full use of Albarn’s soulful vocals (‘Amarillo’). ‘Bobby Phoenix’ features the gritty, emotionally-charged voice of Bobby Womack – guest vocalist on ‘Plastic Beach’ – and is exceptional for its tenderly lyrical quality. This experimental album is intriguing – but it is technically progressive rather than musically outstanding.
Klaxons were also in festive spirits this Christmas, releasing a new five-track EP ‘Landmarks of Lunacy’ on Christmas Day, which can be streamed and downloaded without charge from their website. Featuring unreleased material recorded during sessions in 2008 with Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, the band described this period as ‘magical’; proof that they were on good musical form at this point can be found in these tracks, which share a refreshingly straightforward style, somewhat removed from the density and earnestness of their famed ‘nu-rave’ sound. There is no ebullient guitar-chattering in these songs; instead the shimmering ambience of songs such as ‘Ivy Leaves’ has an almost psychedelic quality. The lilting arpeggiated keyboard accompaniment in ‘Marble Fields’ is a beautifully mellow touch, demonstrating the softer side to a band which has finally shaken off its association with glostick-waving teenagers.
For a final Christmas offering, it would be worth investigating the dreamy pop Swedish duo jj’s free downloadable mixtape ‘Kills’ (from Sincerely Yours’ website) released on Christmas Eve. Together these songs provide an eclectic mix of covers and samples from various hip-hop or r’n’b artists; some of them are strangely effective when overlaid with the hypnotic vocals of both Joakim Benon and Elin Kastlander. Highlights include ‘Kill Them’, in which you may recognise strains of Akon’s ‘Right Now’, and ‘Kill You’, a re-working of MIA’s ‘Paper Planes’.