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  albums -april 2004

  - Carina Round
- Merchanidise
- James William Hindle
- Moonshot

- Adem
- Tompaulin
- Aveo
- The Loves
- The Divine Comedy

Merchandise – Lo-tech Solutions to Hi-tech Problems (Cityscape Records)
After last month’s wondrous single, comes the first long player from Bolton’s Merchandise. And it’s flippin’ good too. Far from going straight for the pop highway, Merchandise seem to content to lead you down a dark path marked 'jazz’ before you enter the wonderful garden of indie pop, much like The Real Tuesday Weld, and their ilk. So, whilst ‘Beautiful Morning for a Bad Day’ is a cracking little number it’s interspersed by some kind of free-form funky drummer boy, just to leave you guessing, like…

Onwards! And ’14:53’ could tug at even the most stale of hearts, with it’s simple, pleading guitar coda. Yes, even mine. And Pinkie meets perky in ‘Distil Disappointment’, which features, somewhere in the background, a – gulp – driving distorted guitar. But back to safety with ‘Echolia’, a sort of latter day Sinatra number, but the best is saved for next. ‘For the Shore’ is simple as Sam Dingle, but builds and builds and goes around and around, leaving you quite giddy with excitement. Honest. I’m not making this up.

To say Merchandise are a band of some quality is to understate this hugely enjoyable album, which has been spinning round, right round, baby, right round in t’ cd player for some time now. I suggest you buy this little beauty and try and make a worse Dead or Alive pun than that. Off you go.

Sam Metcalf

Adem – Homesongs (Domino)
More power to the much-maligned singer-songwriter. David Gray has a lot to answer for in dragging these solitary artisans to the ground, yet people like ex Fridge magnate, Adem, continue to take the flag back.

‘Homesongs’ is set around the….ermm…home. How clever! And, as Kirstie Allsopp would say, attention to detail is everything. Therefore, every note plucked from the guitar is perfect, each line sung is done in exactly the right way. Gosh, Adem even has matching socks on. And it takes a lot to get me saying ‘gosh’.

Now, such perfection might sound a touch boring to someone who likes their pop music ramshackle and loose, and it is true that there are a lot of Herman Dune-a-likes out there, but Adem is somewhat different. If you’re expecting ‘Homesongs’ to be an over-produced hairball coughed up by a local stray, the you’re in for a disappointment. The nearert this album comes to stepping into Pink Floyd territory is on the haunting ‘Cut’, and even then the atmospherics are enough to get this spine a-tingling.

So, then, a triumph. And if David Gray is listening. You, sir, are a big ball of cat sick masquerading as a young Elton John. I just needed to get that off my chest. Thanks.

Sam Metcalf

James William Hindle – Prospect Park (Track and Field)
Waking up is never easy. Unless you have James William Hindle, of course. ‘Prospect Park’ virtually screams jim jams at you, and that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.

So, a quite beautiful album, then. Many have Hindle down as some kind of C&W dullard. They are utter pricks and so very wrong. This is beautiful, almost folk music. And I like a bit of folk with my cornflakes and toast. If anything, ‘Prospect Park’ sits well with the last Neil Halstead album – the title of which evades me, and it’s too early to go rummaging about this morning – but you know the kind of thing; gentle folk-touched little songs – nothing pretentious, nothing too loud (heaven forbid), but just enough to make you want to sit up, have a stretch and watch GMTV. Well, with the sound turned down of course.

Favourites? ‘Hoboken’ is a perfect perky spring time anthem, whilst ‘The Great Woodland Summer’ manages to fit hope and melancholy into one fucking lush anthem.
Take this album on your first picnic of the summer. You won’t be disappointed. 

Sam Metcalf

Moonshot – Friday Street
What a lovely surprise! A self-released album doesn’t usually with as much sparkle as this. Imagine, if you will, that I have slipped into Drew Millward’s head (stop sniggering!) and that you’re listening to the Pet Shop Boys fronted by Stephen Fry. Now that’s what I call music!

Moonshot, despite their awful name, can produce a mean electro-pop tune. See the idiosyncratic and oh-so-English ‘Ladykiller’ for evidence of this. Many have compared them to Massive Attack, but don’t let that put you off – Moonshot are far better than a bunch of funny fag addicts, because they scream POP! at every opportunity. And you know what? I love that.

Sam Metcalf

Carina Round - Lacuna
I am on some strange terrain with this one. Well …. No, hang on this is damn good. Has anyone else heard Hawksley Workman? If you have this may well be a pretty good indication of what is on offer here. David Ackles? (get hold of a copy of ‘American Gothic’, it’s bloody fantastic, and a must for anyone with a passing interest in Nick Cave) On the title track anyway.

Either way this is a positive. It’s like being stuck in a deserted fairground with a mad spinster, with a penchant for vaudevillian entertainment.

I suppose the comparisons with Polly Harvey will come flooding in, and the odd likeness may be drawn to Tori Amos…. But that’s just cos’ she’s a girl, with talent and a bit of attitude. Oh, she starts to sound a little like Bjork on ‘Elegy’

If I have to be honest the first track (Lacuna) is far and away the best within this collection, that is not to question the quality of the other songs, but if you start so strongly, I suppose it’s inevitable.

Just realized I’m listening to ‘Lacuna’ for about the fourth time. I cannot say fairer than that. Count me in. 

Imagine if you will…A fairground at night; the machinery being manned by vengeful ex-girlfriends, who have access to ‘sensitive’ photographic images from your past and are on the verge of sharing them with the world.

Drew Millward

Tompaulin – Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt (Track and Field)
Having seen a solo Tompaulin gig last year and been bored daft, then I held a grudge against this album as soon as I received it. It sat in the corner of room, looking at the wall, with its hands on it’s head. What am I talking about? Anyway, everything is beautiful now, because of this marvellous retrospective album. Taking in Tompaulin’s releases from 1999-2003, ‘Everything Was Beautiful..’ confirms Tompaulin as up there with Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian as the finest purveyors of sensitive pop music in Britain.

Take ‘North’ – advice wrapped up in a perfect little pop song…’If you go down/In the centre of town/Stay down…’. Wise words. And many of the songs here tell of small town life, ‘Wedding Life’ tells the tale of the proud family wedding their daughter off a great expense, whilst the classic ‘Ballad of the Bootboys’ mixes Fosca with Harper Lee to come up with the Holy Grail.

And Tompaulin aren’t afraid to rock out a bit. Excuse me whilst I put my Quo t-shirt on and do the Mud dance to ‘Swing Low Stuart’ which uses, albeit polite, feedback to overcome the gentle strummings in the background. A show of anger from Tompaulin? Heaven forbid..for this a very lovely, lovely album.

Sam Metcalf

Aveo – Battery (Munich Records)
All the way from Seeeeaaatttllle! Ahem…I must calm down. But England have just won the second Test Match, you see, it’s difficult. Fear not, for Aveo have just brought me back down to earth. Theirs is a very sad sound indeed – bit swathes of unhappy guitar pop. Which is just fine and dandy with me – I like miserable bastards, me. But this is Spring! Cats are doing the nasty outside my door every evening – is there room for Aveo’s morphine-pop. Damn right there is if it’s as good as the bruising ‘Awkward at the Knees’, or as refreshing as ‘The Idiot on the Bike’ which mixes The Kinks with Rocket from the Crypt, and does a quite likeable take on early Blur…but don’t tell anyone else I said that please.

Wielding their pop with an introspective passion, then, Aveo can come up with the odd angry moment, but on the whole, I think all they need is a sit down, a nice cup of tea and a Custard Cream, bless them.

Sam Metcalf

The Loves – Love (Track and Field)
So, is this a posthumous release or not? The Loves’ website is long gone, at least on my PC, and a recent tour was cancelled at the last minute. ‘Love’ is pretty much what you’d expect if you’d heard anything at all of this band. Which is not to say it’s a bad album, more that I wonder if they ever had more than one string to their bow. There’s only so many times you can sound like the Monkees playing MC5 tunes after all, which is a shame, because not only did The Loves have one of the best names in pop – they looked as cool as fuck too. Nice legs, shame about the face.

Sam Metcalf

The Divine Comedy – Absent Friends (Parlophone)
Never one to shove any good words the way of Neil Hannon, I find it, on the evidence of this album, hard to continue that tradition. Maybe I’m getting old and like the odd orchestral movement and all that lark – and Hannon certainly overdoses on them – but it’s hard not to hum along quietly to this whilst you’re boiling an egg or two. I’m not going to go into any great depth; you know what to expect with The Divine Comedy these days – suffice to say that if you ever find these songs in a musical in the West End then they wouldn’t seem out of place. Mind you, I fucking hate musicals….

Sam Metcalf