Liam Finn – FOMO

FOMOThe eagerly awaited second effort from Liam Finn was a major event for indie music in 2011; indeed, it was easier to find his new album than it was to track down the latest efforts from his famous father or uncle. I’ll Be Lightning had set the bar incredibly high, with across-the-board great songwriting, crisp (if occasionally slightly lo-fi) production, and mind-boggling performances from Finn, who played and sang every note on the album. How could he surpass that opening act?

With FOMO, it would seem that he wasn’t trying to surpass it, but to steer clear of it. As universally lauded as Lightning was, it was a pretty good bet that the follow-up wouldn’t live up to everyone’s expectations. FOMO‘s lead single, “The Struggle”, was a sonic mess compared to Lightning‘s panoramic production and gorgeous harmonies – swampy, even more lo-fi, and more suited to fans of shouty punk rock than to fans of the previous album. It was evolved from the loop-based style that Finn had adopted during endless one-man-band touring for Lightning, but was a little off-putting if you’d grown accustomed to I’ll Be Lightning‘s house style.

Fortunately, it’s also an oddball song on FOMO, which opens with four songs as good as anything on Finn’s debut album. “Neurotic World” picks up where the Lightning‘s relaxing, harmony-based pop songs left off, while “Don’t Even Know Your Name” is a jumpier rock song with improbable ascending vocals in the chorus. The one-two punch of “Roll Of The Eye” and “Cold Feet” is the strongest pair of songs on FOMO, and it’s no accident that the latter was quickly rolled out as the album’s second single with an amusing video to match. It’s with these two songs that one of Liam Finn’s major influences can be found: while his father may be aspiring to be the 21st century’s answer to Paul McCartney, Liam is exploring Lennon territory and doing so boldly. If you’ve been missing the John Lennon sound, just as melodic as McCartney but occasionally bolder and more unpredictable, you need to be following Liam Finn’s musical exploits. “Cold Feet” was one of the catchiest songs I heard in 2011.

“Real Late” has a faux-Eastern flavor to it, but loses a lot of the energy built up in the first four songs. This is followed by “The Struggle” and “Little Words”, another low-key number with some great harmonies. “Reckless” gets things back on track with a jumpy punk-pop feel that – as much as I don’t want to make the obvious comparisons – would’ve fit right into the early ’80s Split Enz setlist. “Chase The Seasons” is a pleasant, beautifully-harmonized shuffle, while “Jump Your Bones” closes things out with a bit of a free-form jam – the closest any other songs on the album gets to “The Struggle”.

4 out of 4Most of the album is a real joy, even in its quieter moments. Liam Finn continues to show expert songwriting and performance chops, and some impressive production skill to boot – bits of “Cold Feet” are almost Lindsey Buckingham-esque (perhaps even moreso than anything Buckingham himself has turned out in recent years), and that’s not a bad thing.

Order this CD

  1. Neurotic World (3:00)
  2. Don’t Even Know Your Name (4:09)
  3. Roll Of The Eye (4:40)
  4. Cold Feet (4:16)
  5. Real Late (3:11)
  6. The Struggle (2:52)
  7. Little Words (2:37)
  8. Reckless (2:36)
  9. Chase The Seasons (3:01)
  10. Jump Your Bones (5:37)

Released by: Yep Roc
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 35:59

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7 Worlds Collide – The Sun Came Out

7 Worlds Collide - The Sun Came OutThe first 7 Worlds Collide album (and DVD) chronicled an all-star gathering of international musicians who assembled quickly to play a few dates in Neil Finn’s stomping grounds; the album was culled from the live performances, and the superstar band (which included the likes of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder) disbanded, after its shows raised money for charity. The second release under the 7 Worlds Collide banner retains the all-star band part of the formula, but the resulting double album is a creature of the studio, often under the watchful production eye of Neil Finn and/or the talent to which any given track is credited. There a few old faces and a few new ones as well: many of the guest musicians are drawn from a somewhat more local talent pool, with a number of names who may be well known in New Zealand but perhaps not so much outside of the south Pacific.

Virtually the entire Finn family is present, naturally; Neil Finn duets with his wife Sharon on “Little By Little”, a song about the rapid approach of an empty nest at home, and he also duets with Liam Finn, his son who’s carving out a respectable career as a solo artist, on “Learn To Crawl”. Liam also gets a solo turn in the twisty waltz “Red Wine Bottle”, while his younger brother Elroy (who has already been playing live with Crowded House) gets the studio to himself for “The Cobbler”, and while he hasn’t quite carved out the unique sound that Liam has, Elroy still bears watching – as with his older brother, his voice gives away his lineage. Tim Finn also turns in a pleasant solo song, “Riding The Wave.” Fans of the Finn family tree certainly won’t be disappointed by this collection.

Neil’s signature production style permeates nearly every other track on the album, too. It could be argued that The Sun Came Out is perhaps a little less varied in style than the previous 7 Worlds Collide project; with the whole thing in the studio under Finn’s aegis, it’s easy to tell who was at the wheel. This doesn’t detract from the fact that there are some fantastic songs here: Don McGlashan’s “Make Your Own Mind Up” and the KT Tunstall/Bic Runga duet “Black Silk Ribbon” are two of the best songs I’ve heard out of anyone, anywhere, all year long. Liam Finn’s “Red Wine Bottle” is a low-key number that sticks in your head, while the cheery lead track, Johnny Marr and Neil Finn’s “Too Blue”, is enough to brighten anyone’s mood. I also have to single out Jeff Tweedy’s “You Never Know” for special praise: the tune, the performance and the production almost achingly remind me of early ’70s George Harrison, and this is not a bad thing. At all.

If I have a single complaint with The Sun Came Out, it’s that the first disc is a pure pop adrenaline rush, while the second seems to slow down. It really doesn’t, but somehow the second CD lacks the “oomph” packed by the first disc (which literally doesn’t let up for its entire running time). And disc two is no slouch by any means – we get a new Neil Finn solo number (“All Comedians Suffer”), Tim’s and Elroy’s songs, KT Tunstall’s “Hazel Black”, and another Don McGlashan number, “Long Time Gone”. There’s no letdown in quality but somehow there’s a slight darkening of mood.

4 out of 4But that’s a very minor quibble indeed; with the possible exception of Battlestar Galactica Season 4 (and let’s face it, in most cases these two projects are aimed at wildly different audiences), there’s not another two-disc set that’s going to give you this much enjoyment for the price – and once again, Finn & company are sharing the proceeds with charity, so there’s more feel-good to some of these feel-good songs than you might expect. Very, very highly recommended. (Now get back in the studio with Crowded House, Neil!)

Order this CDDisc One

  1. Too Blue – Johnny Marr with Neil Finn (4:01)
  2. You Never Know – Jeff Tweedy (4:18)
  3. Little By Little – Sharon Finn and Neil Finn (3:18)
  4. Learn To Crawl – Neil Finn & Liam Finn (4:59)
  5. Black Silk Ribbon – KT Tunstall & Bic Runga (3:48)
  6. Girl Make Your Own Mind Up – Don McGlashan (5:29)
  7. Run In The Dust – Johnny Marr (4:23)
  8. Red Wine Bottle – Liam Finn (4:26)
  9. The Ties That Bind Us – Phil Selway (3:22)
  10. Reptile – Lisa Germano (3:53)
  11. Bodhisattva Blues – Ed O’ Brien & Neil Finn (3:55)
  12. What Could Have Been – Jeff Tweedy (3:41)

Disc Two

  1. All Comedians Suffer – Neil Finn (4:28)
  2. Duxton Blues – Glenn Richards (3:35)
  3. Hazel Black – KT Tunstall (3:46)
  4. Riding The Wave – Tim Finn (3:32)
  5. The Witching Hour – Phil Selway (3:03)
  6. Over & Done – John Stirratt (3:41)
  7. A Change Of Heart – Bic Runga (3:14)
  8. Don’t Forget Me – Pat Sansone (3:38)
  9. Long Time Gone – Don McGlashan (4:02)
  10. The Cobbler – Elroy Finn (4:33)
  11. 3 Worlds Collide (3:06)
  12. The Water – Sebastian Steinberg (4:02)

Released by: Sony
Release date: 2009
Disc one total running time: 49:33
Disc two total running time: 44:40

Liam Finn + Eliza Jane – Champagne In Seashells

Liam Finn + Eliza Jane - Champagne In SeashellsAn EP to keep his fans satisfied after his successful (to say the least) indie debut, Champagne In Seashells isn’t so much a continuation of I’ll Be Lightning as it is a continuation of Finn’s celebrated live show, in which he uses multiple looping effects pedals and multiple instruments to perform stunning feats of live multitracking, building his grooves up right before his delighted audiences’ eyes. Along for the ride this time is E.J. Barnes, who’s been integral to his live show for some time now.

With only five songs, you probably wouldn’t expect dizzying experimental heights from Champagne In Seashells – but it manages to deliver them anyway. The highlights of this quintet are the distinctly ’80s-flavored “Long Way To Go”, and the final track, “On Your Side”, with Barnes’ beguiling lead vocals lending a whole new feel to Finn’s experimental palette of sounds. I don’t know if the two are 4 out of 4planning on forging ahead as a double act, but with songs like, that, it certainly can’t hurt to consider it.

“Won’t Change My Mind” also reminds us that Liam Finn has stepped out from the not-inconsiderable shadow of his musical dad and uncle not because of studio trickery, but because he’s a gifted songwriter and performer in his own right – really, the whole EP is a testament to that, and as such comes highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. Plane Crash (3:43)
  2. Long Way To Go (2:45)
  3. Won’t Change My Mind (6:34)
  4. Honest Face (3:42)
  5. On Your Side (3:02)

Released by: Yep Roc
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 19:46

Liam Finn – I’ll Be Lightning

Liam Finn - I'll Be LightningAs much of a fan of Betchadupa as I’ve been, I’m going to fess up that I wasn’t sure what to expect from Liam Finn’s first solo effort. I’d heard a live recording, and the songs were plenty catchy, but it’s so hard to tell from a live recording what the final product will be like. I needn’t have worried. We are, after all, talking about the son of Neil Finn of Crowded House fame, and after listening to I’ll Be Lightning a lot in recent weeks, I think we can say without reservation that he’s picked up his dad’s ear for crafting a great song and giving it a great performance. And when I credit Liam Finn with the performance, I’m not being disingenuous or oversimplifying things: he plays and sings every note you hear on the album.

Liam’s style is guitar-and-loop-driven, with a kind of lo-fi charm to it. He aims more for atmosphere than for high-end production, so things are occasionally a little bit fuzzy, but not to the point that it doesn’t sound good. The effect is more often mesmerizing than not. I’m going to go out on a limb and nominate “Gather To The Chapel” as the catchiest song on here. There are far faster and more densely-produced tunes on this album, but something about this song is just insanely catchy – I’ve honestly had sessions where I’ve listened to it over and over for a stretch of about half an hour. It’s just so peaceful, and I’ll be damned if I haven’t found myself whistling, singing, or humming it long after the last time I heard it. “Energy Spent” and “Music Moves My Feet” are close runners-up for the catchiest song here, in the finest Finn tradition.

While I love “Gather” and “Music Moves My Feet”, don’t go thinking that everything on here is slow/mid-tempo. “Energy Spent” and “Wise Man” are downright jaunty, while “This Place Is Killing Me” and “Lead Balloon” are balls-to-the-wall rockers. “Second Chance” and “Better To Be” are no slouches either. Young Mr. Finn’s overdubbed vocal harmonies are nothing short of astounding on some of these songs, and he’s got a great range to his singing voice.

The more I listened to I’ll Be Lightning, “Energy Spent” emerged as a song whose lyrics I identified closely with my experiences as a new father. To realize that those lyrics and the accompanying insights, in whatever original spirit they were intended, came from a young man in his twenties, is frankly humbling. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned how much I enjoyed the lyrics as well as the performance of them. To 4 out of 4play an entire album like this entirely solo is the result of hard work, intense concentration, and what may be the best rock ‘n’ roll apprenticeship anyone could hope for. I could go on and on about where I think I hear the influence of Neil or Tim here, but Liam Finn is his own man, and this is his own album, and it’s a fantastic piece of work. With such a well-crafted and polished debut album, Liam has more than earned his own spotlight out from under anyone else’s shadow. This is the best album I’ve heard this year, and I’m not sure I can actually say much more than that.

Order this CD

  1. Better To Be (3:46)
  2. Second Chance (4:52)
  3. Gather To The Chapel (3:20)
  4. Lead Balloon (4:15)
  5. Fire In Your Belly (3:15)
  6. Lullaby (2:02)
  7. Energy Spent (4:08)
  8. Music Moves My Feet (2:24)
  9. Remember When (3:04)
  10. Wise Man (5:17)
  11. This Place Is Killing Me (4:06)
  12. I’ll Be Lightning (4:14)
  13. Wide Awake On The Voyage Home (5:37)
  14. Shadow Of Your Man (2:57)

Released by: Yep Roc
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 53:17