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  albums - tasty 23

  - Matinee Autumn Assortment
- The Steinbecks
- The Windmills
- The National
- Gary Jules

- Captain Wilberforce
- Madrugada
- The Long Winters
- Randi Russo
- Small Victories
- Future Kings of Spain

- Fonda 500
- John Guilt
- The Twilight Singers
- Astropop 3

- The Experimental Pop Band
-Various
- Romantic & Square is Hip and Aware
- The Liberty Ship
- The Regulars


Various - Matinee Autumn Assortment (Matinee)
It is a measure of the this fantastic label's brilliance that it can simply chuck out cheap priced samplers of the quality of this one. I don't want to go over the top about how great Matinee is....but I will...
Let's have a run through of the tracks then. Would-be-Goods get all feisty on us, with the Sleeper-playing-'Jeane'-alike that is 'Morning After' - something of a paean to the hangover I think, and more songs need to be written about that particular evil, if you ask me. Then we have the gorgeousness of Graeme Elston's voice with Slipslide's awesomely melancholy 'Love Splits', which melts a few things this side of the keyboard.
It's great to be able to say you can skip over the Lucksmiths' 'After the After Party' - not least because on any other compilation it'd be the best track by a country smile, but we've heard it before, so we'll concentrate on the sheer loveliness of a new Harper Lee track - 'Autumn' - which compliments the new Brighter compilation perfectly, adding perhaps even more melancholy to this bands' ouevre.
The Pines' 'Rainy Day' and The Liberty Ships social documentary - 'Baseball Caps and Novas' slip down very nicely thank you, and Airport Girl's 'Ive Seen Mexico' could truly be heartbreaking if you let it. And then, as if that wasn't enough, The Windmills come over all Echo and The Bunnymen on us, rocking out on 'Summer Snow'. Well, when I say rocking out, I mean in a very understated way, of course.
This marvellous little bugger finishes off with Pipas' short and sweet, but very sweet 'Don't Remix' and a...erm.. Lovejoy remix of 'Night on Earth' called 'Strike a Pose'. The contrary swine.
All in all, a perfect little package.

Sam Metcalf


 
The Steinbecks - Branches and Fronds Brushing The Windows (Microindie/Low Transit)
More Aussie indie pop fun, and there's a lot of it about these days. The Steinbeck's second album (well, this is more of a mini-album to be honest), is a very fine thing indeed. One wouldn't put The Steinbecks in the same league as The Lucksmiths, but then not many bands can claim that at the moment, but they make agreeable enough, slightly quirky indie pop, seen best in the most fun track here, 'Mens Suit Hire', whilst 'Morell Bridge' and 'Trying too Hard' shows the band can do the big song just as well as anyone else.
Not as immediate as I like my pop music, but then I need things nice and simple, so don't take that as a slight on what is a very perky record indeed.

Sam Metcalf


 The Windmills - Now is Then (Matinee)
Recorded over seven days....but spread over two years. It'd be interested to see which tracks were recorded when, because this is most definitely an album of two halves.

First we have the more traditional Windmills sound of 'Ever to Exist' and 'Beach Girls', which, by the way, are two of the most gloriously soppy songs you'll ever hear. And then there's the more rocky stuff, like 'Now is Then' and the brilliantly relentless 'Summer Snow'.

And I can't make up my mind which is the old stuff and which is the new. And is possibly doesn't work like that anyway, because even older material like the sublime 'Walking Around the World' rocks out, albeit in a very gentle way.

And so I'll comfort myself with the fact that this is another very good Windmills album. It's probably not as immediate as some of their earlier work, but you still get Roy Thirwall's cuddly yet gloomy persona and all the minor chords you could wish for. And, to be honest, what else do you really want?

Sam Metcalf


 
The National - Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers (Talitres Records)

It may sound like a Tindersticks album title, and the vocals therein may sound very Staplesonian, but this is not, repeat NOT a Tindersticks album, okay?

Instead, this is a gorgeous, dark, dense piece of American alternative rock, if that phrase doesn't sound so immediately hackneyed. Sure The National can sound like Tindersticks - the first track could be that of a tribute band, but it's debatable as to whether even Tindersticks could write something of the beauty of 'Patterns of Fairytales' or 'Lucky You' both of which come right at the end of 'Sad Songs..', and both of which evoke memories of Johnny Cash more than Staples' mob.

Quite why The National have given this album such a, let's face it, cliched title is beyond me, it's so much better than some Nick Cave lookalike band. Sure, these are dark songs, but they're also pretty joyful, at least to me. Then again, it's 4pm and it's dark already, so this album is perfect for winter. Until Spring, then, I'm with the National.

Sam Metcalf


Gary Jules - Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets (Sanctuary)

I'm not sure what Wolftickets are, but never mind. Actually, are they tickets to go and see the ex-Gladiator snarl in a leotard? If so, I'll have two please!

I digress. This, of course, has that gorgeous version of 'Mad World' on it, and it's worth it just for that. But dismiss the rest you must not. Anyone who marvelled at the last Neil Halstead album will love this too. It features the same kind of Cat Stevens/ Simon & Garfunkel loveliness that is perfect for a cold winter night in.

Jules keeps it simple throughout, and this album is all the better for it. Whether it be the the gentle pickings of 'Umbilical Town' - an ode to not being able to leave your hometown, or the banjo-tastic 'Princess of Hollywood Way', which makes the current round of singer-songwriters sound as lumpen as Napalm Death. And, did I mention, there's that version of 'Mad World' on here too? I did? Oh...well, it's ace. As is the rest. Hurrah!

Sam Metcalf


Madrugada - Grit (Virgin)

Coming from the land that spawned Aha and bad Eurovision Song Contest entries, you could be forgiven for expecting the worst from Madrugada. But write them off at your loss - this album is a real gem.

Although lazily described as 'rock' their third album is full of atmospheric and melancholic blues and country riffs with the odd bit of proper 'rawk' thrown in for good measure. Singer Sivert Høyem has a voice which sounds like it was raised on 40 Marlboro reds a day - not at all gentle but still retaining a sensitivity simply by cranking up the power when required. He sounds like a man who has grown up in a place where there is only 2 hours sunlight each day and for the rest of the time is spent in endless introspection.

Comparisons could be drawn with Nick Cave and the production is very raw, really bringing the most out of the sandpaper vocals and scratchy guitars. Album highlights are the mantra like opener 'Blood Shot Adult Commitment' and the single 'Majesty' but the whole album is a beautifully sculpted music-scape. Apparently they are the best selling artists in Norway and on this showing will be giving other Scando Rockers such as Sigur Ros a good run for their money.

Shane Blanchard


The Long Winters - When I Pretend to Fall (Munich Records)

There is a fine line between excellent indie rock and They Might Be Giants. And the Long Winters, on this album at least, fall on the right side of that line. That is, not the They Might be Giants side, who I will never forgive for 'Birdhouse in Your Soul' being played at every indie disco throughout my dancing days.

This album, then, is pretty good. It's not brilliant, and I'm not gonna fill my nappy over it, because maybe I've heard this thing about a hundred times over the last ten years, namely in the guise of Velo-Deluxe and Scarce in the mid-nineties. But I'm not gonna argue with a band that can kick out something as appealing as 'Scared Straight', which out Lips the Flaming Lips for kooky, sugar sweet pop. Meanwhile, it's follow-up 'Shapes' maybe even reminds me of latter day Smiths, especially the guitar line which bops around all over the place, and if the line 'I'm counting on you to throw more than...shhhaapppes' doesn't stick with you for a week or two, then you're a brain dead Radiohead fan with no friends and penchant for Harry Potter books.

Sometimes The Long Winters go a bit wonky, like on 'Prom Night at Hater High', which goes all Jools Holland on us for a bit, but when they can revert back to something as gorgeous as 'Cinammon', I'll let them off.

Like I said, nothing new here. But why look for the something that isn't there if 'When I Pretend to Fall' is good enough in itselflf.

Sam Metcalf



 

Randi Russo - Solar Bipolar (Olive Juice records)

New Yorkers have always been the leaders of the pack in telling dark tales, but none do so with more sincerity and poignancy than the Patti Smith mixed with PJ Harvey and a hint of VV Kills on vocals of Randi Russo, in her NY garage punk and antifolk style. She cynically and succinctly tells the life story of too many people in ‘League Of The Brigands’:

'I took all of the pain from youth and I passed it onto you. You'll probably find a brand new love and do to her what I did to you, and we'll keep that cycle of hurt going on.'

Oh, why are the pretty ones always so cynical? The album features a fascinating narrative song about rebellion from society’s norms ‘Lucy’s Plan’, which is a snazzy The Clash type tune, which sharp and bouncy guitars Russo’s raw and crisp vocals tell a compelling story. The popular theme of lost love gets the Randi treatment in ‘Matchless’, a PJ Harvey style number in both the darkness and sincerity of the track. ‘So It Must Be True’ dissects the nature of optimism sharper than Voltaire in ‘Candide’. In her own inimitable way the nifty New Yorker, with the aid of creeping guitars and clattering percussion shows there is a darker side to reaching for the stars:

‘You keep on seeking something from outside, you draw yourself back into your life’. 

Having previously contributed to an antifolk compilation ‘Call It What You Want This Is Antifolk’ with revered artists such as Adam Green, Jeffrey Lewis and Major Matt Mason USA, Russo is gaining the respect of fellow artist and music lovers at a growing rate. It is good to see honesty and frankness being rewarded, if there is any justice this cactus will continue to grow in a world of rose tinted spectacles. 

See www.antifolk.net or www.randirusso.com

Dave Adair (Adairneil@aol.com)


 

Small Victories - Holding On Hopefully (Boobytrap Records)

An angry band has emerged from the Welsh valleys and proclaim to be about far more than music, as the prevalent message on the inside cover of the album sleeve urging people to read the lyrics preferably before the listening to the music signifies. This way you won’t try and fit them together because they don’t, apparently. This almost indulgent proclamation will have alarm bells ringing in many readers ears, haven’t we been down this unconventional and defiant route with a welsh band before? That is the inevitable Manics comparison out of the way and hopefully people can take off the blinkers and see this offering for its true value. The lyrics are angry, defiant and almost spiteful in places, which is borne out in ‘The Weight’: 

 “I thought this feeling would go away as I got older. Well, how wrong can someone be? Even as I sit here now – getting closer, losing interest by the day.”  

The music still plays an important part, as it is quite soothing in a Doves and Elbow type manner to soften the impact of the bitter lyrics. Previously released single ‘Go Back To Bed America’ is a case in point, whereby vocalist James Chant leads a bemused protest against America in an ever topical tuneful rant. Chant’s Guy Garvey style vocals sit neatly with tingling piano and crisp guitars, incorporating a distinctly Elbow sound in tracks such as ‘Come What May’ and ‘The Weight’. Unfortunately, this uncompromising, sincere and emotive offering does represent a small victory in the fight to impart an ounce of integrity into the music industry, with all the hype that surrounds so many shallow and empty bands that shall remain nameless. However, it is to be hoped that they will keep on producing Small Victories until the battle is won.  

For more information see www.smallvictories.co.uk or www.boobynet.co.uk.

Dave Adair (Adairneil@aol.com)


Captain Wilberforce – Dreams of Educated Fleas 

With a name like Captain Wilberforce I half expected the kind of bigoted tweedy ex-serviceman who writes letters to the Daily Mail to complain about the influx of illegal immigrants in Esher. As the opening track developed I was sorely tempted to write to the Mail myself to complain about the number of young people these days that insist on singing like Thom Yorke.

Vocals aside, the first couple of numbers built up nicely, with shimmering guitar and washes of keyboards and vocal harmonies reminiscent of British Sea Power’s subtler moments. Then, as “Making Apple Juice From Oranges” began, I had to get up to check that I wasn’t actually listening Radiohead by mistake. The riff sounds instantly familiar, but the song is so bloody infectious, that my initial reservations were soon forgiven (although this was slightly marred when the damn thing was still on a loop in my head at 3am). 

“Dark Clouds, takes a slight change in direction, slowing the tempo a little and coming on like Grandaddy performing Sergeant Pepper era Beatles, with the following “Born Again New Man” mixing a T-Rex glam stomp with Roobarb and Custard style effects.

The closing track, “Excuses,” concludes matters nicely with a low-fi doodle backed with minimal acoustic guitar and accordion, and the sound of a lapping tide. Very nice, in a Badly Drawn Boy sort of way.

All in all, while some of the more obvious similarities suggest Captain Wilberforce have not quite managed to make the break from their influences and define their own identity, the quality of the song writing is generally pretty high, and there is enough individuality here to recommend a listen.

Leighton Cooksey


Future Kings of Spain- Future Kings of Spain (Red Flag)
The task of overthrowing The Thrills as Ireland’s leaders of the new rock revolution is always going to be a difficult one, but if unpretentiousness, amateur philosophy and frenetic noise are anything to go by then the conspiracy has begun. The opening track and previously released debut single ‘A Place for Everything’ has raw energy epitomised by the high pitched vocals of Joey Wilson, with accompanying crashing guitars. This can only be described as The Hives being fronted by Corey Taylor the ex Slipknot front man. 

The album soon settles down, as thrashing guitars and noisy vocals give way to nifty grunge/NU metal with a hint of pop instrumentals plus melancholic and philosophical lyrics. Prime examples being ‘Simple Fact’ and ‘Hanging Around’, the latter number capturing feelings of rejection and longing: 

 ‘What you can’t know now, Is how I feel to know that you are going, that you are going.’ 

There is more than a hint of Queens Of The Stone Age in ‘Face I Know’, as the pace picks up again with thundering guitar riffs and angry vocals. This song adds to the variety of the album and gives it some energy, thus ensuring that whatever mood you are in be it a jump around the room energetic one or a morbidly philosophical one; there is something for you on this intriguing debut offering.

Dave Adair (Adairneil@aol.com)


 

Fonda 500 - Spectrumatronicalogical Sounds (Gentle Electric)

A big welcome back to one of tasty's favourite bands, who kick off 2004 with an ace album. The kind souls at Gentle Electric have taken up the Fonda 500 cause, so hurrah! to them for allowing us all to hear some of the best psychedelic pop music around at the moment.

'Spectrum...' (and this is what I shall call, for fear of tiring my fingers out) sees Fonda 500 breaking through the boundaries of their usual weirdness, and into new areas of frazzled pop. Yes, they do carry on about pesky bumble bees, and yes, they do make a lot of funny old noises about Casio keyboards (and indeed with them), but this, the band's second album, is so much more together than it's predecessor, which often came across as a bit of a half-arsed idea.

Here, the band make a sound akin to the Monkies being put through a heavy metal sieve. Sounds awful? Well, it's not, and for over an hour, Fonda 500 get the funniest looks from everyone they meet, especially on track 30 (!!), which consists of a scholarly voice bidding us goodnight, then giving us just enough silence before coming back to life. You have to be there really....

So, this time, it's a great Fonda 500 album, rather than half a great one. Long may the bumble bees continue to inspire them.

Sam Metcalf

 
John Guilt - The Mirrors and Uncle Sam (Munich Records)
There is no man called John Guilt - how confusing. Yet how can one not fail to love a record that features a banjo for its first three minutes.
Okay, so at times John Guilt sound like a group of pissed up tramps washing their socks in cheap rum, but, viewers, sometimes that's a very good thing. Especially on tracks so quintessentially American as 'Howl' - which could easily have been in an 80s Brat Pack movie and is therefore quite entertaining. Follow this up with the Jeff Buckley-esque 'Red/White/Blue' and what you have here is a band that on their upcoming UK tour are sure to wow a thousand scurffy oiks still bemoaning Pavement's downfall.
Not that that would normally butter tasty's toast. But you would have to be a cold hearted slab of marble not to warm to many of the tender tracks here. A gentle triumph.

Sam Metcalf

 
The Twilight Singers - Blackberry Belle (One Little Indian)
Much in the same vein, but rocker in a harder way, are Greg Dulli's new band, The Twilight Singers. If you were around in 1991, and listening to anything on Big Cat records, then this will appeal. Me? I was around then, but much of Big Cat's stuff left me cold (I keep typing 'Bog Cat'...mmm), apart from Scarce, of course, but then they were pretty much peerless at the time.
I'm rambling. On with this album, which infuriates and excites in equal measures - a bit like Emmerdale these days. For every Bob Hope ('Teenage Wristband'), there is a Andy Sugden ('The Killer'). In other words, half of this album is brilliantly wild fun, the other half is wet and dull. And a teenage farmer.
US readers will have no clue what this review means. In fact, many UK readers will think we've lost the plot. They may be right. But it's probably best that way....

Sam Metcalf


Astropop 3 - Allies and Stepping Stones (Planting Seeds Records)
The first we've heard from Planting Seeds Records in some time, but, on the evidence of this fabulous album, we hope they don't take so long to get back to us.
This is a marvellous romp through fuzz-pop territory. Starting off with the gambolling lamb that is 'Forget Tomorrow', which brings to mind the much missed Adorable, and through the equally catchy 'Nothing Without You'. Astropop 3 can also do Lush very well indeed, and on 'Fade on Your Own' it's just like 1990 all over again. Super.
In places this album does slip into mediocrity - 'Anything' and 'Cubicles' are neither welcome nor pleasant, but on the whole, what we have here is some prime American indie-pop. Hurrah!

Sam Metcalf

 

The Experimental Pop Band - Tarmac & Flames (Cooking Vinyl).
The down to earth Davey Woodhead of The Experimental Pop Band has been writing music for years and is the epitome of the work ethic that is what makes the Indie scene special. This bold venture sees Ladytron style electronica, typical mournful Monday morning Indie and Mick Skinneresque white rap are thrown into the brew to create an interesting broth. The subject matter of the songs tends to be commentaries on societies underbelly regardless of the genre TEPB are adopting. ‘Crow Ventura’ a The Streets tribute song is a great example of this, a narrative of a luckless youth who suffers more abuse than alcohol on a Friday night. ‘Can’t Stand It’ takes a bitter walk down the well trodden path of one night stands in one of the electronica based offerings. The experiment intriguingly extends to adopting a 13 era Blur sound in ‘Gothenburg’.
 

 The most impressive thing about this album is the authenticity of it, as Davey Woodhead is more qualified that a lot of musicians who comment on the mundane nature of life in slow lane because he still does the boring low life jobs. The characters and situations portrayed through experimental medium could be happening anywhere in this country. An album full of life loathing lyrics is usually very hard to take, but when it comes with such variety it makes it all the more compelling. 

Dave Adair (Adairneil@aol.com)


Various - Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware (Matinee)
This is sacred ground, of course. Not many groups have had the nerve to attempt a Smiths cover, yet here we have a whole album of them from Matinee's finest.

The Smiths are my favouritestestestest band in the world - EVER! - and so I should simply take one glance at this seemingly worthless piece of pudding and stamp on it with my slippers, but hang on a moment! What's this? A fuzz-polka version of 'I Know It's Over' by Pale Sunday? A even more sinister than the original version of 'This Night Has Opened My Eyes' by Pipas (who are on such a great run of form that they could burp into a microphone and it's be great)? And just over there is a beautifully lush version of 'Girlfriend in a Coma' by Lovejoy. Add to this Simpatico's - excuse my French - fucking stunning version of 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore', and the Liberty Ship's almost metal (stop laughing!) version of 'Sweet and Tender Hooligan' and things have turned out fine again.

There has to be a downside. There just has to be. In fact there are two. The Pines' overlong version of 'Ask' and The Guild League's far too twee version of 'Panic'. I know 'Ask' is an attack wrapped up in a whimsical pop song, but it shouldn't be this whimsical!

No matter, because the best is saved for last. The Snowdrops give us such a fantastic working of 'Bigmouth Strikes Again', that any small blips can instantly be forgotten and we can all start smiling again.

Only Matinee bands could pull something like this off. And, by crikey, they have.

Sam Metcalf


The Liberty Ship - Tide (Matinee)
Being the best band in Nottingham isn't exactly difficult these days (or any day come to that), but The Liberty Ship are just that by a country mile. 'Tide', the band's debut album on Matinee, only confirms this fact once more.

It's been a pleasure to have watched The Liberty Ship strut their stuff (in a gentle way of course!) on many a stage over the last two years or so, and so 'Tide' to me, seems like something of a coming of age. Here, at last, after a few false starts, is the the new real Liberty Ship album, complete with Marc Elston's love of both Rickenbacker guitars and analogue synths...and more importantly, great pop music.

Which is amply shown on the first great track here. 'Chords Drag You Down' is a tense yet fragile little bugger, with Marc's voice brilliantly understated throughout. And that crackle from the synth in the background gives me goosebumps. And it's quite warm in here.

Of course, The Liberty Ship are no one man band - the tracks that Rachel sings on have often been some of the best The Liberty Ship have given us. 'The Final Kick' is a good example. Almost thrown together, it brings to mind latter day Smiths, and in particular 'Unloveable'....but maybe at 78rpm.

But comparisons don't really do 'Tide' justice. The Liberty Ship have been compared to all manner of 80s bands, from Hurrah to East Village - and I suspect Marc and the band are chuffed with this. But like that other great Elston album of the last 12 months - Slipslide's 'The World Can Wait', 'Tide' is a mighty album in its own right. It doesn't need comparison with anything else, because, let's be honest about it, when it pisses all over most of what passes for 'indie' music these days, this album could just about be the best place for anyone to start listening to indie pop music.

Especially when this album contains such a precious gem as 'Coast', which manages to bring emotions of summer days and desperately unhappy winter nights all at the same time.

And so, The Liberty Ship have managed to produce an album that was always within their grasp - thank heavens! One can only look forward to what they're gonna produce next.

Sam Metcalf


 

The Regulars - Effortless (Bearos)
The Regulars were not known to many during the five or so years they were together, but, judging by the quite lovely sleevenotes, they meant an awful lot to those who were familiar with their fragile pop.

I came late to the Regulars, unfortunately, and only managed to see them live once. However, 'Effortless' has come to my rescue. This is quite a beautiful album, collecting together just about all of the Regulars work under one roof, and housed in a familiar cut and paste, fanzine style sleeve, which always goes down well around these parts.

The seventeen tracks therein see Pete Green and his men and women take on the banality of every day life through the medium of glorious POP! Everyone that will have encountered this precious band will have their own Regs favourite. Personally, I find 'University of Rain', 'It Isn't Him', 35 Hours' and the epic 'Lincolnshire Skies' nothing less than indispensable.

The great thing about The Regulars is that their particular brand of brittle pop seems like it's about to fall apart at any moment. From Pete's wavering voice, through the loose, beautiful noise behind him, this could all come to a standstill at any given time. Thankfully, it never does.

'Effortless' finishes with the romping, celebratory 'Today at Last', easily the most accessible of all Regulars tunes, and a great way to leave us. Railing against the every day mundanities of work and the frustration it brings has always brought about the very best in kitchen sink pop - The Regulars simply carried on that proud tradition. And for that, 'Effortless' deserves to played until you drop. Utterly essential.

Sam Metcalf