Friday, September 6, 2013

Glasvegas Release New Album: Later...When The TV Turns To Static

Scottish band Glasvegas have released their third album. It's a 10 song set titled Later...When the TV Turns to Static. I've been listening to it now for a week or so, and below is a review. You can see my previous reviews of their Glasvegas and Euphoric Heartbreak albums.

Lets start with the album name as Glasvegas main man James Allan puts a lot of thought into song and album titles. The name references a time gone by and hour of the night that used to be very solitary for anyone up all night and alone. That's right, at one time people, there were only a handful of channels on TV and at about midnight most or all of them went off the air. Yep. No programing overnight. Just static. But more than referencing the past, with the title I think Allan is trying to use nostalgia or remembrance of a now-gone nightly event to make a point  about human emotion. Specifically, that moment when the TV goes off (or did) and you were left alone, in the dark with your thoughts with only the blank canvas of the TV static to stare at and project our feelings. That's my take on it. I remember those times.

Album cover of Later...When the TV Turns to Static

Taken as a whole, this album is a serious affair with themes and music that for the most part make you think rather than tap your toe. Allan is one of the more gifted lyricists going these days in my opinion, and on this new album he is plumbing the depths of his ideas. This ends up meaning that Later... is the type of album you'd listen to loudly on your home stereo by yourself after dark with your drink of choice in hand instead of bopping along to in your convertible on a sunny road trip.

Don't get me wrong, each song has something musically interesting about it, but as an entire body of work I think it's honest to say that this is an alternative music album and not at pop rock album. Don't expect Fallout Boy, Muse or My Chemical Romance here. And this is great to me. In fact, this is one thing I like best about Glasvegas. The world is full of standard issue pop rock bands, but this group works its guts out to give you something more to ponder...and yes, it turns out there are a couple toe tappers anyway.

Here are the songs on the disc with some comments from me...

Later...When the TV Turns to Static. "Only I can turn things the other way." The album opener is a return to unusual or alternative themes for songs that Glasvegas explored on their debut a few years ago. Instead of a song about love, a girl (or boy) or what have you, this one is best I can tell about a guy in prison reflecting on what it is like to be locked up and what his hopes are behind those "prison fences and defenses" as he thinks about what must be going on back on his home street and house. Or is he actually now out of prison and back up on the edge of his bed "up in the attic?" Either way, the point is made. The loneliness of isolation and the hope of overcoming a tragedy or major life mistake are well communicated - whether behind prison walls or freshly released but equally sequestered in a dark attic. And yeah, the image of that late night time when the TV goes to static does evoke the feeling well.

As for the music, this is an atmospheric mid-paced song that has a solid wall of guitar from Rab Allan raging below the surface and punctuated with occasional feedback and noise as James Allan's voice soars over the top. Binding it together are the steady bass and drum work by Paul Donoghue and Jonna Lofgren respectiviely. This is a solid start to the album and a "grower" song that you will like more and more as you listen to it.

Youngblood. "Off the edge of the cliff goes the vehicle carrying something happy." Starting with some electronic noises and guitar squeal, this one is a spikier tune right off the bat as a thudding bass and sharp drums join quickly. Over the course of the song, the music builds and builds so that by the end this one is in full loud rocking mode before tapering back to the electric noises that began the tune. The subject of the song seems to be about a young love just finished and the hurt that goes with the separation - realizing that while the hurt is real, it's also "part of growing up." The "youngblood" reference seems to be the other person in the now-defunct relationship, recognizing that this person will probably love and leave again.

Glasvegas Publicity Picture
Choices. "I don't want to be told, but independence is hard to hold." OK, this song is a downer. To me. Well done, but a downer. Why? Well, this song is about how someone is at the end of their rope in virtually all aspects of their life and the fact that they still have "choices" - implied possibly as either killing themselves or perhaps some other (hopefully more positive) changes. No matter which way you go on that, it's a pretty depressing lyric. Combine that with the slow, sparse music and vocal delivery and, well, lets just say this ain't "Fun, Fun, Fun" by the Beach Boys. Probably not one I'll listen to very often.

All I Want Is My Baby. "It's all about the money, money, money." Normally you would think a song about "wanting my baby" would be about someone desiring their lover. But this is Glasvegas, so it is about wanting custody of a daughter from an abusive and bad-behaving former lover. Yep, "all I want is my baby." Literally. In the song, the voice exoriates a former partner for her hypocrisy, for the embarrassment she's putting him through and asks if she has ever heard of karma. It also seems that paying off the woman is maybe something she has suggested as a way of seeing the daughter again.

Meantime, this is back to the mid-paced tempo of the first couple songs after the downturn with "Choices."

Secret Truth. If "Choices" was depressing, then "Secret Truth" is haunting. Musically, this one's more up tempo and follows "All I Want Is My Baby" well. This is a lament about a relationship lost, and it seems to be saying that even though the singer instigated the breakup, he wishes they had not. That's the secret truth. Or I suppose you could take it the other way and the secret truth is that while the breakup was painful it was perhaps all for the best. Either way, it makes you think about the decisions you make in life and what the real truths are behind those decisions. We may display our motivations publicly, but we also may have - and often do have - "secret" truths around what we do.

I'd Rather Be Dead (Than Be With You). "You showed me what this world can do." The title of this song is right up there with Glasvegas' early Christmas album song called "F*^%k You, It's Over" as brutally honest and clear song title.

A piano driven song without much other instrumentation, the title of this one says it all. Someone has been done horribly wrong by a lover and is not happy about it. Someday - maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon - the guilt and the consequences of other person's actions are going to be real. Does this mean the protagonist is going to attack the other person, harm themselves or simply that a heap load of negative karma is going to catch up to the other person? Who knows. But, remember, he'd rather be dead than be with her.

Magazine. "How could I not see that what I was looking for was inside of me already." This is an
Glasvegas on stage
interesting one, and pretty straight forward. The first half of the song is a bout someone who is empty, does not like themselves and searching for answers of all different kinds...and finds what appears to be those answers in the form of a famous person on the cover of a magazine. An image, an attitude to emulate. Trying to be like that hero in the magazine appears to be the way to fill up his spirit and provide an identity. But then, halfway into the tune, the protagonist suddenly realizes how shallow that really is...that the only way to really be happy is to be ones self, love ones self and realize what he's looking for is already inside him - not in a magazine, not in religion or in the approval of others. He puts the magazine on the shelf and gets on with life.

The music matches this more upbeat message and "Magazine" is indeed one of the more accessible tunes on the album. Thumbs up.

If. "If our love was ever to part ways, the world as I know it would never ever spin again." Musically and lyrically, this is full on Glasvegas in all their glory and the star of this album. Get it. It's also clearly the most poppy, commercial song on the album. Hear the song and see the video HERE (short ad in front of the video).

The binary premise of the song is that without one extreme, how would we even know the opposite extreme existed. If not for this, we wouldn't have that. It takes one side of things to truly know the other - making both real. For example, in one line James Allan sings, "If not for dark, how could I recognize the spark. If not for evil, the kind man would walk by invisible."

Much of the rest of the song uses the same juxtaposition of things (sun/rain, Mary/the devil, etc.) to make the point, culminating several times with the crescendo chorus that if "our love would ever part ways" the world would surely end - simultaneously implying that a love shared and active keeps the world turning. For anyone who is or ever has been in love - either short term lust and longing or lifelong love - this is the ultimate and personal payoff on the "if" theme of the song and for that it packs a powerful emotion punch.

Mid-way through, the song re-trenches with what I'd call a tip o' the hat to the Talking Heads using a wordplay on that group's song "Road to Nowhere" - flipping it on its head to be on the more positive "road to somewhere." It then seamlessly picks back up into the main riff and finishes.

Musically, I'd call this a mid-paced rock song featuring Rab Allan's shimmery guitar and "oooh, ahhh" backing vocals, a galloping drum beat from Joanna Lofgren to move things along and solid bass work from Paul Donoghue. I'd compare it to earlier Glasvegas songs such as "Geraldine" or "The World Is Yours" - both excellent tunes.

Neon Bedroom. "Between your four walls, I picture myself there soon." This song is about a young student who has an anonymous infatuation with an older person. The student goes so far as regularly walking past the older person's house after dark and seeing the TV flicking - casting a shadow of the person and making them wonder what it's like inside that house and how they'd like to be there with this older person. Teenage fascination and desire.

And, up and until about 3/4 the way through the song you think this must be a young teenage guy lusting and longing for a slightly older woman. This is easy to understand certainly because of Allan's male voice. But then he sings out, "I'll be a woman soon." So...the character is a girl, not a boy. Is the focus of her attention and older guy? A woman? We don't know. And that's probably by design. What's left is clear though...this young person is aching for her adult future and, in this moment, hoping it's with this person on her street.

This is not the only time Allan has used his straight, male voice to tell the story of others not like him. Two songs on their previous album, Euphoric Heartbreak, communicate feelings from the perspective of a closeted gay man. And on their debut album, Allan voices "I am Geraldine, I'm your social worker." I like this. It's bold. It opens up many stories to tell and feelings to express for Glasvegas that would not be possible by creating songs strictly from the straight, white, male perspective. 

Finished Sympathy. "Sick to death of the means to an end." I think this one is about the final, crushing realization that something - a relationship or perhaps innocence - is over. Done and dusted. There is no longer even sympathy from those involved, just...the finished finality of things. Over. And it hurts at least one party as expressed by the singing voice of James Allan with backing voice provided by Rab Allan.

Previously released as a sparse demo on the band's If EP earlier this year, the song appears here with more fireworks. I like the change. It takes the song from being primarily a piano ballad to a song drenched in guitar sounds and a number of musical and vocal crescendos that punctuate the theme of the song and keeps it moving along nicely.

  • Download now - If, Magazine, Later...When the TV Turns to Static, Youngblood, Finished Sypathy
  • Want more? Try these - All I Want is My Baby, Neon Bedroom

Glasvegas has three albums out now, along with a Christmas EP. Below is a 15 song set of what I would consider the best songs from those releases. If inclined, you could put these together for a great "album" of music. All are available on iTunes:
  1. Geraldine
  2. Go Square Go
  3. It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry
  4. Daddy's Gone
  5. Flowers and Football Tops
  6. Euphoric Heartbreak
  7. Lots Sometimes
  8. Dream Dream Dreaming
  9. The World Is Yours
  10. Whatever Hurts You Through the Night
  11. Cruel Moon
  12. A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss)
  13. If
  14. Magazine
  15. Finished Sympathy

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