I’ve written about Measure before, posting about two songs off their 2008 EP “Begin Again” – the eponymous track and “Closer”. At the time, I used similar language for both – hypnotic, singsong, haunting; heartfelt, touching, affecting. Since then, I’ve posted about Laura DiStasi, Measure’s lead singer, and I’ve also creepily made friends with her.

As part of the court order over keeping more than 100 yeards away from her at all times, I did managed to get an advance copy of Measure’s new album “The Air Inside Our Lungs”, due for release in the next couple of weeks.

Okay, fine, Laura asked if I’d like to review it.

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I agreed – but tentatively (she doesn’t know this yet!). What if I didn’t like it? And so, with my first listen of the first song, I feared the rest. “Somewhere Outside” was…nice. But..fuck – it was forgettably nice. A little bland. And so I panicked (now Laura knows. Sorry, Laura!).

However, once I got beyond the first song… Well, I can honestly say, the remaining 7 (5 originals, 1 cover and a reworked version of “Fireworks”, from “Begin Again”) is one of the most wonderful music releases of the last couple of years.

For your digestion, the song-by-song breakdown. What is interesting is that, after “Somewhere Outside”, I feel that Measure get back into what made “Begin Again” – that off-kilter, semi-electronic kick, beautifully supporting Laura’s voice.

Point of You – Starting from Laura’s voice, which is soon joined by a repetitive piano line to die for, that more familiar Measure beat is back, with lyrics to cut an ex-lover deeply…

This is your art
Already on display
When you don’t start
When you don’t walk away
What is your point of view
So what is the point of you
What is your point of view
What is your point?

Down Easy – A slow piano start that feels a little off-key, that voice and hiss kick in, until a fade-out at 0:47 and an almost-perfect introduction of a violin at 0:51 and the growth of a string section over the rest of the song; a song that swells, that ebbs and flows, over 4 minutes 13 seconds, ending with the most wonderful quiet fade-out, and lyrics to match. Lyrics that trailed an icy finger down my spine, if I’m being honest.

Hope can carry you so high
All those nights I missed you so much sleeping by your side
Planning for the fall, I didn’t feel the sun at all
So don’t you, don’t you wait

We’ve come so far
But maybe, maybe
This is just as far as you can take me
With no big alarm or siren sound, you’ll find the words and let me down
Go on, while no one is around, and say the words to let me down
Easy
Let me down easy.
Oh, go on, it’s easy
Let me down easy

Other Plans – Another piano start, but with layers of electronica on top, “Other Plans” is proof that Measure can branch out (I hate to say it, but it’s the song “Somewhere Outside” should have been…) Not as off-kilter as the previous songs (or “Begin Again”), it’s as near to poppy as Measure have gotten – if poppy means a very, very vague tempo lift in a song which is utterly heartbreaking, when you see the person you loved love someone else…

I found out, but not from you
I found out, and so it’s true
But you play it so cool
She’s just someone you met
Well go on pal, put it there
You know, I’m just someone you’ll learn to forget

And love turns into friends, who always make other plans
the months pass by themselves, while you hang out with someone else

So, where are all my friends, and when were they all making plans
To leave me by myself, while everyone’s with someone else
And how’d it come to this
Disposing of the evidence and sitting by myself
You gave your heart to someone else

Well, as near to poppy until you get to the UTTERLY wonderful I Want To Know You – Another step away from the off-kilter, “I Want To Know You” is a happy Measure song, and is what truly perfect music should sound like. A piano and guitar start that has a somewhat anthemic feel to it of sorts, a backbeat which will leave your foot tapping, and a wonderful guitar line at 0:52, over the course of 4 minutes, “I Want To Know You” swells larger and larger (wait for 1:42), with lyrics that are, gasp, happy. Ish. And vaguely stalkerish.

There she goes
Walking home
Heels click click click on the pavement I want to know you
To the beat of something familiar coming through your headphones

I’m good with words
So what sounds like something I’d say first
How ’bout roll down both of the windows so I can see you
While you scream at the top of your lungs thinking no one can hear

I’ll say oh oh oh I want to know you
Always come and go oh oh
And I just see you
That when you go oh oh
I want to know oh oh
Where you go oh oh oh oh

Run – After a pair of songs bringing us outside of our typical expectation of Measure, “Run” brings us crashing back to that vaguely unsettling feel to an extent, but shows growth – a tieing together of “Begin Again” and the earlier songs on the new album with the anthemic qualities of “Other Plans” and “I Want To Know You”. A heavier bass line than previous, “Run” slowly, slowly pounds its way through you…

I want to run this city
Kiss the last year behind
And when I run this city
There’s be no room for you in my mind
I’ll run around this city
Turn it upside down in my mind
And when I run this city
There’ll be no room for you

Make You Love Me – Perhaps my most played song of the last 12 months, Measure cover Slowrunners’ “Make You Love Me”, and in doing so, make it theirs. I’m not sure I can ever return to the original, as this offbeat love song leaves your foot tapping and a whistful smile on your face, telling a story of what happens when you get what you’ve always wanted (hint: it goes to shit and you look to what’s next…). A gorgeous guitar line every time the chorus kicks in just MAKES this song.

When you choose me
You start to lose me
When I get you
I start to regret you
When we’re lovers
It’s almost over
You can hear my heart
In the dark
Like a bird, singing
All I wanna
do is make you love me

When I’ve used up
The best you
And I’m breaking myself against
The next you
I’ll think of
Your sweet and true love
It’s another inner monologue I’ve got to ignore
But all I wanna do is make you love me
All I wanna do is make you love me
All I wanna do is make you love me
All I wanna do is make you love me

Fireworks – And finally, Measure end where they begin, reworking “Fireworks” from the “Begin Again” EP. A return to the off-centre feel of the earlier songs, an electronic hiss intermingling throughout, layers of instruments, and THAT voice, building and building and building, through a song about how we can so easily lie to ourselves and to the ones we love.

Clean it up
So much for afterglow
We are flesh and bones and victims of everything
You whisper that this is so incredible
Too bad we’re not responsible for what we say
When our eyes aren’t open

And fireworks fall like shooting stars, so I wish
Be aware of me, on burnt up chemistry
All flash and noise, so I close my eyes and say
Come on and fill me up with something real or something brave or something
Come on and fill me up

However, when listening to both versions of “Fireworks” side-by-side, the true change of Measure is revealed: throughout “The Air Inside Our Lungs”, Measure separate out Laura DiStasi’s voice and the beauty of their electronica and instrument lines; whereas once the voice was layered under the music, the new album pulls them apart, gives them both freedom, and simply allows them to recombine.

And recombine they do.

Perfectly.

Into what will be one of THE albums of 2012.

GO AND PRE-ORDER IT NOW!

www: Measure’s offical website, MySpace, Facebook Page and Twitter. But seriously, go and buy the new album NOW!

Despite the unsubstantiated rumours going around that Rufus Wainwright would be supported by his singing sibling, Martha, it was a small, slightly scruffy man that took the stage in front of us, in Vicar Street on the 26th October 2004. Introducing himself as Ollie Cole, from the Dublin band Turn, he proceeded to give an impromptu 7 song set – impromptu in that not only did Cole do requests, and occasionally forgot the words to the songs, but also managed to check his text messages (and reply) between songs.
Not detracting from the music in any way (which was very good, moving from Turn staples such as “In Position” and “Forward”, to a beautiful cover of Elliot Smith’s “Angeles”, before finally ending on Loudon Wainwright III’s “One Man Guy” – and of course apologising to Rufus for stealing his father’s song), you couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at Cole’s lack of organisation at times. Perhaps the result of a late phone call looking for Cole as a support act?

Who knows?

Wainwright himself began on a dubious note – singing “Grey Gardens” from his second album, Poses, he looked distinctly uncomfortable wrapped in a green scarf, and signalling for something to drink several times. However, removing the scarf, and launching into “Pretty Things” from his latest, Want One, we got to see the Rufus that we know – utterly unique – an operatically trained voice, singing ballads and up-tempo songs with equal gusto. His albums contain lush melodies and musical landscapes, so it was an amazing sight to see Wainwright manage to convey the same power in his songs with just a piano or a guitar, depending on his mood.
Wainwright mixed songs from Poses, Want One, and the upcoming Want Two, swapping between piano and guitar every 5 songs or so – from the humour of “Gay Messiah” to the sad longing of “11.11”, Wainwright mixed music with humour – showing us his new pants, he talked about the New Ireland – “Liberated, Diverse…Expensive!”

The 1st major highlight of the show appeared halfway in. Singing the amazing “Vibrate”, accompanying himself on the piano, Wainwright held notes like the audience held its breath – seemingly for minutes at a time. Then Wainwright moved into his longest monologue, discussing his history with Jeff Buckley: how he wasn’t allowed in to Sin E in New York to see Buckley play, and hated him for it, until Rufus met him just a few weeks before Buckley’s tragic death, and spent an evening with this man that he would now never forget. This monologue segued into a beautiful song, “Memphis Skyline”, describing one singer finding another dead, before segueing further, into Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” – a song Buckley made his own.

Despite the loveliness of Wainwright’s version, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling disappointed that, as often happens, a cover of a famous song overshadows the current singers set. People gasped and applauded as “Hallelujah” rang out, but it’s a pity that Wainwright’s set didn’t garner this sort of reaction, when it really deserved to.

As the set unfolded, moving through “Matinee Idol” and “Want” (with Wainwright conjecturing about not wanting to “be John Lennon, or Leonard Cohen, just want to be my dad”), you could feel change in the room – people were realising how special this talent is. People were as rapt as I’ve seen, while Wainwright himself was utterly lost in the music – you felt that he could have been playing to an audience of 5, rather than a nearly-full Vicar Street, and still inject the same emotion into every song.

The stunning “Art Teacher”, again, off the upcoming Want Two, was another highlight, with its description of a young woman imagining that her art teacher is the most beautiful thing in the museum that they are visiting.

The set finished on a beautiful double header – two songs, one each for his mother (“”Beauty Mark”, discussing her influences on him during his life “But I do have your tastes / I never had it, I never wanted it, I never had your Beauty Mark”) and his father (“Dinner At 8″). Wainwright’s parents are both themselves world-renowned singers and these two songs dealt with acknowledging his mother’s ideas and influences, and his mixed fear, love and appreciation for his father, alternatively. “Dinner at 8″, especially, may be Wainwright’s most autobiographical song: “But ’til then no, Daddy, don’t be surprised, If I wanna see the tears in your eyes/I’m gonna break you down And see what you’re worth, What you’re really worth to me”.

An encore followed, of “Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk” (a song dedicated to loving what’s harmful to him – an interesting choice for a man fresh out of rehab); an a capella “A Little Irish Ditty”; before finishing on “Poses”, with its lyrics dealing again with the shallowness of life (“Life is a game and true love is a trophy, And you said, Watch my head about it”).
Walking away, you feel Wainwright managed to gain himself more than a few new converts to his very special type of music. Despite the absence of personal favourites such as “14th Street” and “Movies of Myself”, Wainwright managed to convert the multi-layered songs of his albums, to a piano or guitar simplification accompanied by the richest voice in the business today.
Coming from a musical family with a history such as his has, you couldn’t help but smile and think that Mum and Dad would be proud.

The National, hailing from Ohio in the USA, have just released their first mini-album in Ireland, “Cherry Tree”.

Comprising 6 new songs, and a live version of “Murder Me Rachel” from their previous album release, the National are comparable to many bands currently in the public eye – Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers.

But before you go out and buy this album in the hopes of discovering this years “Take Me Out” before all your friends do, be warned – this is not the art-house pop-rock favoured by Misters Ferdinand…this is dirty, depressed, drunken music; fantastic in its utter despair at times, with the occasional lighter moment. And it’s bloody good.

Kicking off with the acoustic-led “Wasp’s Nest”, lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep voice reminds you of Tom Waits sitting at a bar-room piano, with Nick Cave accompanying him. The song, with a slightly upbeat tempo, deals with a man who KNOWS he’s in a bad relationship – “You’re a wasp’s nest, your eyes are broken bottles, and I’m afraid to ask/you’re poison in a pretty glass” – but cannot leave – “Get over here, I wanna kiss your skinny throat”.

“All the Wine” deals with that wonderful situation we all feel from time to time – out on the town, drink and/or drugs flowing through you, money in your back pocket, and the world at your feet – “I’m put together beautifully/I’m a perfect piece of ass/So tall I take over the street/I’m a festival, I’m a parade”.

Highlight of the album has to be the low-burning “About Today”. Dealing with that split-second at the end of a relationship when you know it’s over; when you realise there’s no going back; when it dawns on you that the person across from you will be leaving your life…never has 4 minutes and 10 seconds so perfectly described a moment – “Today, you were far away/What could I say, I was far away”. Over a violin, an incessant drum beat, and a low guitar strum, Berninger’s low baritone invokes utter resignation – “How close am I, to losing you? Tonight/Are you awake? Yeah, I’m right here”

“All Dolled Up In Straps” deals with the moment you see an ex-lover with someone else for the first time, and describes that sudden unexplained, and unnecessary, rush of anger you feel. “My head plays it over and over, I think I heard you singing/Where have you been?”

The live version of “Murder Me Rachel” fits perfectly in with the tone of the album, as it deals with the same subject matter as “All Dolled…” – “I saw my love with pretty boy”. Recorded live in France, the song breaks up the downbeat acoustic songs of the last half of the album by providing a loud drum- & electric guitar-driven intermission.

An excellent introduction to a group of guys who know what heartache is. Although slightly weaker in the second half of the album, that doesn’t matter when 5 out of the 7 songs are eminently listenable. Some beautifully-crafted melodies, the only word of warning is not to concentrate on the lyrics too much if you’re listening to this with your partner present – they may feel you’re trying to tell them something.

Labelled “this years Coldplay” (despite the fact that the Irish band have been releasing albums for 2 years longer), the anthemic single “Run” crashed into both the Irish and UK charts, and with it increased sales of their 2003 album, “Final Straw”, along with inspiring a re-release of the album.

Allegedly named due to the fact that neither of their previous releases, 1998’s “Songs For Polar Bears” and 2001’s “When This Is All Over, We Still Have To Clear Up” managed to break the band into the big time, band leader Gary Lightbody saw this as the last chance for the band to make it big – and succeeded. Final Straw is bigger, bolder, and ever-so-slightly more mainstream than their previous releases.

Lightbody’s Scottish/Northern Irish superband side-project, the Reindeer Section, has seemingly had a huge influence on Final Straw. Gone are the indie undertones, the disjointed rhythms of their last album, to be replaced by big choruses (the aforementioned “Run”), beautiful ballads (the moving “Grazed Knees”), and guitar-led pop gems (“Wow”).

The Reinder Section’s previous album, Son of Evil Reindeer, was a haunting, acoustic-guitar-oriented stunning piece of work, pulling in members of such luminaries as Belle & Sebastian, and Idlewild. Lightbody has moved some of this acoustica to Snow Patrol, and it has brought with it a more mass-audience appeal.

“How To Be Dead”, the first single off the album, deals with the calm acceptance of the ending of a relationship, and this is followed up by “Wow”, a pounding insistence that everything will be okay. “Gleaming Auction” is a bitter riposte to a demanding partner, buried in reverb and electronica. Other album highlights include “Chocolate” (a slow-building, sweet-melodied admission of fear & lies), the aforementioned “Run” (dealing with the promises made & broken over the course of a relationship), and the album closer “Same” (the aural equivalent of the old excuse “It’s not you, it’s me” – “maybe somewhere else will not be half as cold as me”).

Each song on Final Straw, although from different stables, deals with the same thing – heartache, pure and simple. Lightbody and company have relationship issues, and have leveraged this to produce a masterpiece. If this is Snow Patrol’s last album, then they’ve left us with quite a swansong. But I, for one, hope that we’ll be seeing more of these Northern Ireland bitter-sweet romantics.

If I say to you Babybird, chances are that the first (and only) thing to spring to mind is the 1996 hit single “You’re Gorgeous”. And that’d be it.

Stephen Jones, the one man band that is behind the Babybird moniker, is in fact responsible for 5 albums to date, and has a back catalogue of over 400 songs, but is destined to only be remembered for that one hit.

Which is a shame, as his latest album “Best Of Babybird” shows that Jones is a criminally under-rated singer-songwriter, blessed with a good voice, and a sharp eye for lyrical twists.

This is typified by “You’re Gorgeous”, the song that is on the soundtrack to hundreds of Irish relationships. The first song on the album, it’s a lush, heartfelt song, which, contrary to popular belief, deals with the exploitation of a young woman by a seedy photographer, and his false promises to convince her to do what she doesn’t feel comfortable doing (“You paid me 20 pounds/You promised to put me in a magazine, on every table, in every lounge”).

Quickly following this, second song (and sometime minor hit) “Bad Old Man” is an acerbic, bitter rant dealing with parental abuse over time, and its outcome – what it forces people to become (“He drowned his stepson in the duck pond”/”He put razorblades in the ice-cream”).

“Back Together” is a dichotic call for the return of a lover – referring to her return and the fact that the songs protagonist can’t cope, and is breaking to pieces (“Give me all that you have; if you don’t I will steal it”/”I’m falling apart every minute of every day, but you’re there to put me back together again”)

“Goodnight” lightens the tone of the album somewhat. A guitar-driven gem, it deals with a relationship in which the two participants just can’t get on, at all (“I’m like a TV learning to swim”), but the chorus storms in with one’s acceptance of their flaws (“But I don’t blame you, you’re always right, I’m like a bad day, on your good, good night”).

“In The Country” continues the light tone of the album, but with an undercurrent of fear (“Let the sun make us believe, that everything is true”).
“Candy Girl” describes Jones questioning of a partner – what is she to him (“Are you the tornado in my sails?/Are you Paris without snails?”); and his acceptance she’s not everything he’s looking for (“Of course you’re not, you’re not, you’re not”).

“If You’ll Be Mine” is an orchestral-led journey through Jones’ acceptance that the relationship the song describes doesn’t give him what he wants (“Built like a house, A little house that’s peeling, As it peels away you’ll see, There’s no feeling, there’s no feeling at all”), but his willingness to stay in it, and make a future if he has to ( “I burn like a tree, at the end of the garden, We put up a swing for the children”/ “If you’ll be mine, I’ll be yours”).

The remainder of the album can be divided into two general groups of songs: pop songs dealing with everything from acceptance (“The Way You Are”) to materialism (“Cornershop”); and experimental harsher soundscapes (“The F-Word”, “Atomic Soda”, “One Dead Groove”).

Each and every song of the 17 on this Best Of highlights just how good Jones is, and answers the question “Where do some one-hit wonders go?”

(Answer: They continue making absolutely amazing music).