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LISTENING STATION: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Eight musicians cycled their way through Oasis' lineup, but the band was always the product of its two most famous members. Liam Gallagher was the mouthy frontman, the physical embodiment of the swaggering, revved-up rock songs that earned the band its cocksure image. Brother Noel was the pop craftsman, responsible for balancing his sibling's wilder instincts with structured songwriting and clever, Beatles-esque melodies.
The two clashed often, but it was the conflict between Liam's untamed yin and Noel's disciplined yang that made Oasis work. When the band split up in 2009, the Gallaghers took their contrasting approaches with them. Liam funneled his love for roaring, retro rock 'n' roll into Beady Eye, while Noel - acting with typical self-control - laid low for nearly two years before announcing plans for his well-mannered solo debut, "Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds."
Left to his own devices, the elder Mr. Gallagher turns down the volume knob on his electric guitar and delivers gem after gem of lush, pretty pop-rock. Orchestral strings weave their way through the mix, and "Sgt. Pepper"-influenced horns pop up several times, ratcheting up the Fab Four allusions during songs such as "The Death of You and Me." Some songs bounce along with the cadence of a marching band; others amble through a psychedelic haze like lost tunes from the '60s.
Most of the music jogs along at a midtempo pace, leaving the heavy sprinting to Beady Eye. As a result, "High Flying Birds" never manages to break a sweat. Even so, this is still the same guy who wrote "Live Forever" and "Don't Look Back In Anger" - two ballads that always felt more like arena-rock anthems - and the new songs occupy similar territory, packing a heavy punch without sounding like they're trying too hard.
Oasis' breakup was a messy one, but if there's a chip on Mr. Gallagher's shoulder, it doesn't show. "High Flying Birds" never tries to beat Beady Eye at its own game. Instead, it dials down the guitar histrionics, focuses on Mr. Gallagher's voice - a perfectly fine baritone that's less distinctive than Liam's scratchy wail, perhaps, but also less nasal - and on melodies that have real heft.
The brawling Gallagher brothers are still equally matched. One sibling rocks; the other croons. Liam may have beaten Noel to the punch since Beady Eye's debut album was released months ago, accompanied by the first major tour by any Oasis alum - but "High Flying Birds" hits back with equal force, proof that this boxing match is still anyone's game.
Crazy Clown Time
Long before the release of this solo debut, David Lynch had a hand in the music that filled his films and TV shows, working alongside composer Angelo Badalamenti to develop a spooky, "Lynchian" sound that echoed his distinctive visual sensibility. Even so, he's never thrown himself into songwriting as completely as he does here, handling all the vocal and instrumental duties himself - aside from Karen O's guest performance on "Pinky's Dream" - and diving headfirst into a brainy mix of electronica, synth-pop and left-field mood music.
Like Mr. Lynch's films, "Crazy Clown Time" is a surreal piece of work. His voice is an odd, feline thing, and he makes use of all its peculiarities, speak-singing with the assistance of a vocoder during "Strange and Unproductive Thinking" and howling out-of-key lyrics on the bizarre title track. The instrumental parts are just as varied, with everything from icy keyboards to bluesy slide guitars making their way into the mix.
"Crazy Clown Time" could very well be the soundtrack to a lost season of "Twin Peaks." You can almost picture these songs playing beneath a night of dancing at Silencio or a lonely happy hour at One Eyed Jacks.
Those who haven't familiarized themselves with Mr. Lynch's catalog are out of luck, since music this obtuse needs some sort of accompaniment - maybe no more than a Netflix queue that includes "Blue Velvet" and "Eraserhead" - to help explain some of the director's bizarre choices. As a result, "Crazy Clown Time" is a fans-only affair, a polarizing album that targets Mr. Lynch's audience at the expense of everyone else. For those on the inside, though, it's the most experimental thing he's done in years.
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