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  albums -june 2004

   

Black Moth Super Rainbow - Start a People (70's Gymnastics)
Aside from having possibly the most marvellous name for a record label ever, this is a splendid album. Although Black Moth Super Rainbow may sound like some kind of prog rock outfit, 'Start a People' is a mixture of mashed up electro / vocoder laden tracks that defy pigeon holing.

The whole thing has the sound quality of a well played 45. no, actually that's not true. Some of the tracks have the sound quality of a C90 cassette that has been tangled up inside the car stereo, possibly snapped, but retrieved, re-spooled and is refusing to die. I had to play 'Seeeds' four times before I realised that the crackling and drop out had actually been included in the mix.

The amount of vocoder on offer gives a brief tip of the hat to our Gallic friends Air, but this marvellous nostalgia inducing record is in a territory way out on its own. The press release says that BMSR much prefer playing music in a field or a barn. I for one would gladly buy them an extension lead.

Shane Blanchard


Iron and Wine - 'Our Endless Numbered Days' (Sub Pop)
Following on from hid two previous releases with their crackling, primitive charms, Sam Beam aka Iron and Wine, is back with his first studio album proper.

'Our Endless Numbered Days' sees the country/ folk songster bringing more clarity to both the sound and songwriting in general. Heading in on what seems familiar territory with 'On Your Wings', we are offered a stipped, dark lament ("God, there are guns growing out of our bones") that drifts out with full accompaniment unlike many of Beam's previous offerings. It is a wonderful start to the album and a standard that isn't dropped throughout.

The record as a whole is a mix of the sounds we are familiar with, that of the stripped back tones of Beam and his guitar (used to full effect in 'Radio War'), and tracks which are more 'filled out' by the addition of further instrumentation and percussion (as in tracks like 'Love and Some Verses' and the 'Personal Jesus'esque masterpiece 'Free Until They Cut Me Down'). It is this variety that lifts this above his previous efforts. This is truly one of the most remarkable works i've heard so far this year and continues to cement Beam's name as one of the greatest songwriters currently working. By the time the final track, 'Passing Afternoon', draws to a close, you'll be ready for it all over again.

This is a collection of drifting lullabies that will gently ease and lull you into a better state of mind.

Luke Drozd


Big Joan - Insects and Engines (Blood Red Sounds)
If anyone has the inclination to be belted around the head with a handbag filled with iron bricks and an assortment of spanners, this may well give you a similar sensation.

I don’t really know what to make of all this really. There are moments of Jesus Lizard (including vocals from a female Dave Yow), Shellac, Blonde Redhead, Melt Banana, Three Mile Pilot; it’s all pretty odd stuff. Oh, yeah, they are from Bristol so a bit of Drum n’ Bass is there for good measure.

The fact that this is their debut album is bewildering, they posses a much more mature sound, and I can only assume they have been cutting their teeth on the live circuit for some time.

Fantastic, that’s all I have to say! A damn fine album….

Drew Millward


Various – Rip off Your Labels (Angular Records)
This is, it has to be said, quite a brilliant compilation. Fresh out of London, Angular Records have put together a compilation of super-duper underground tunes.

The Vichy Government start things off with a cracking little synth thing which mentions something about ‘cliché guevara across Kate Moss’ tits’. And, well, that’s some start. The Violets, meanwhile, sound EXACTLY like Sleater Kinney, but I can forgive them for that. Art Brut and Friends are Stump – and that’s good enough for me. The Fucks, despite their name, are like Bucks Fizz playing a Pipas song. Yes, that good. The Long Blondes do their post-punk thing quite nicely, and Showboys are downright mysterious with ‘Factory’.

Onwards! And The Boyfriends, who have a great name, also make great music. The Swear follow The Violets down to Sleatersville, bless them, whilst Elizabeth Harper is a proper cutie, with her lovely voice and louche anthem, ‘Trouble in the Palace’, which has hints of Sandie Shaw about it, and is by far the best track here. Lovers of Today….pfft…it’s Sleater Kinney again! Pack it in all of you! Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Luxembourg try and make a Mansun song. Lastly, The Rocks get all funky with an early Cure bassline and sparse drums..not to mention the strangulated vocals.

Whilst this admirable album falters near the end, there’s no denying that Angular have pulled together some great unknown acts. I shall be continuing my enquiries…

Sam Metcalf


Clair De Lune – ‘Marionettes’ (Deep Elm)
Minnesota’s Clair De Lune are, for all intents and purposes, very much a hardcore band. They also have a pianist/ keyboard player and shared vocal duties. Now I know what you’re thinking but you’d be so far off the mark it’s unbelievable. This is a slab of achingly honest violence.

Chugging guitars dance and intertwine around brooding piano melodies as vocals burst through with sincerity. Here we are given complex hardcore songs for those passionate about their music. Tracks like the superb ‘Life on Remote’ build to intense crescendos whilst on others like ‘Blue Ribbon’ the complex guitar work echoes elements of post-punk, sharing ground with the likes of Q And Not U.

This is a record that grows with each listen just due to the sheer range of sounds and emotions at play here. Compare a sparse piano impelled track like ‘Twenty Threes’ with the anthemic hardcore of something like ‘Machinegun Lipstick’ and you’ll know what I mean. To have written a track as fine as ‘The Things They Carried’, one of the most remarkable rock songs I’ve heard in a long time, is an achievement all on its own.

The world of hardcore take note, the bar has been raised.

Luke Drozd


Ash – Meltdown (Infectious)
What Ash lack  in actual inventiveness, they make up for in effort and exuberance, and so much of ‘Meltdown’ is quite a hoot. After a few listens, and if I was 10 years younger, I’d probably think that ‘Orpheus’ was the greatest summer song ever.

And so to be too harsh on Ash sees pointless. After all, they’re pretty much the teenage pop punk band that has never grown up. You might not get another track as exhilarating as ‘Girl From Mars’ from them ever again, but, let’s face it, you’re never gonna hate them. How frustrating!

Sam Metcalf


Nhojj – ‘Someday Peace Love and Freedom’
I’m afraid this is so far of the radar in terms of my taste in music that I’m just not sure where to begin.

Okay Nhojj (or J. John as think his real name is) is a New York based singer songwriter who brings a variety of styles and influences to his music. There are elements of Dub, Reggae, R&B, Funk and Jazz. The overall results from this are evocative of Terence Trent D’Arby, Sade and elements of early Michael Jackson.

If you buy you music from the ‘Urban’ section of a record shop or have a thing for laid back groove driven R&B than this may well be for you. Personally I found extremely boring and MOR and with songs like ‘Free’, ‘Peace’ and ‘Beggars Cup’ way, way, way too preachy.

Luke Drozd


Superfallingstars - Swimming across the Sound (Skipping Stones Records)
In spite of my initial thinking that I had been presented with a CD by a low grade English folk act, I have been pleasantly surprised by this little gem. The folk thing was raised by the appalling Photoshop graphics reminiscent of a lot of that sort of thing, but that is really irrelevant, because Superfallingstars are certainly neither folk, nor English; they are however very good.

This, I am reliably informed, is their debut album and in the tradition of many great bands before them, it was recorded at home on a four-track. This recording stands as testament to the advantages of DIY recording song writing, the ramshackle indie pop market is saturated with bands who all sound the same, all over produced, over styled, and under-talented… its enough to make you loose faith altogether really. It makes a refreshing change to hear a band with such great songs and great sounds rely on just that and not be marketed toward MTV2.

In short, if you can find it get a copy, its bloody great. Oh yeah, as reference points, think Dinosaur Jr., Weezer, Green Day… but not quite how you might expect.

Drew Millward


State Shirt – ‘Don’t Die’ (Los Fucking Angeles)
Lets start by saying State Shirt is a he and not a they. He’s one of those many dedicated musicians hauling themselves up in rooms on their own and producing music to try and enrich the rest of our lives. A selfless task where you don’t even get the company of band mates to bicker with. In the case of State Shirt he’s gone one step further as ‘Don’t Die’ is self financed and released on his own record LFA Records label. Now that’s dedication but was it worth all that effort? Well yes and no.

‘Don’t Die’ is a mix of many different sounds and inspirations/ From pop sensibilities on tracks like ‘It’s a Shame My Binoculars Don’t Work At Night’ and ‘Edison Medicine’, to the random noise infested ‘Postcard’, this is an album which, like much of the work of Beck, can change mood at the drop of a hat. State Shirt employs anything he can lay his hands on when it comes to making his music and we are greeted throughout the record by dogs barking, beat boxing, scratching and much more all utilised effectively and held together by lilting guitars and an often quite effecting vocal performance.

However State Shirt’s eclectic sample pop doesn’t always quite gel as well as you would hope and on more than one occasion I found tracks sneaked by rather than calling out for my attention.

When this album works it really works rather well and even evokes moments of The Flaming Lips illustrious pop, but it is just held back by a few weaker moments. A shame really.

Luke Drozd


The Album Leaf – ‘In a Safe Place’ (City Slang)
The environment we’re in can greatly affect our behaviour. From a bleak winter day causing sadness in your heart or a spring morning inspiring you to try something new, weather and landscape has a definite effect on how we feel and what we do. On Laura Veirs latest release ‘Carbon Glacier’ and on Sufjan Stevens ‘Greetings from Michigan’ a certain environment has allowed the artists to become inspired and create some wonderful music. Jimmy LaValle's decision to record The Album Leaf’s latest album ‘In a Safe Place’ in Iceland had a similar effect on him and the result is outstanding, atmospheric work.

From the opener ‘Window’ we are greeted with a kind of aural daydream that doesn’t let up throughout the album. The tracks can vary from quite austere electronic infused instrumentals that feel expansive and bleak in the most charming way (as in the stunning ‘Twentytwofourteen’) and evoke comparisons with the likes of Sigur Ros (jón þor (jónsi) birgisson is featured here), to fragile pop orientated work like ‘On Your Way’ where the use of subtle vocal lines helps to enhance the piece.

The overall feel is nothing short of remarkable. Piano and string arrangements continually swell and shift creating rather cinematic ambience over the album as a whole. With members of the Black Heart Procession, Mữm and, as mentioned, Sigur Ros all pitching in here, what you end up with is a breathtaking work of much sincerity. I am one hundred percent blown away.

Luke Drozd


Picastro – ‘Red Your Blues’ (Monotreme)
We all know the old saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and I suppose this is a principle that can probably be applied to records as well. In the case of Picastro though I think it should be ignored. The simple beauty of the cover, with its gold and orange print and the high quality of the materials used, suggests a mature and thoughtful aesthetic, perfectly reflecting the standard of the music on the disc within.

Picastro’s musical leanings are a stripped back blend of orchestral folk seated somewhere between Rachel’s and Nina Nastasia. It has a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on the Constellation Records roster only Picastro have a much more accessible line in song writing. Where as a band like Rachel’s can often meander along and get lost between their more inspiring moments, Picastro manage not to fall prey to this. Instead their songs brood and drift along but always feel like they have a musical direction and destination. Liz Nysen’s vocal turn does much to add to the overall appeal of the work as well. There could be lazy comparisons made about who her voice is reminiscent of but that would be a needless exercise here as Nysen’s vocals stand forth on their own merits. On top of this they generally tend to act more as additional instrumentation sinking back and punching forward throughout the recording rather than be the focus or core of a song.

This is a strikingly strong album and one that will stand out as an example of how compelling and forthcoming orchestral based music can be. It’ll be a long wait for the next release of this quality to come around.

Luke Drozd


Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – ‘Greatest Palace Music’ (Domino)
Will Oldham has been recording under a variety of monikers for over a decade now. This album is a collection of songs from his ‘Palace’ era (whether that be Brothers, Music or Songs), the monikers under which Oldham established his name (no pun intended) via his unique blend of dark and twisted lofi musings. However rather than being a mere compilation of tracks from that period Oldham, like only he could, has headed of to Nashville and rerecorded a selection of early songs (picked by fans and not Oldham himself) with full band accompaniment. The results of this could, and probably should. Be awful. They’re not. What we actually receive here are extremely different takes on what were already splendid songs. Complex string arrangements (compliments of Andrew Bird), slide guitar and a full on country air fills out the proceedings and replaces the barren delivery we had known before. The wonderful ‘Agnes, Queen of Sorrow’ drifts along as a country flanked duet with meandering synth and pedal steel while the reworkings of the other tracks leave them so far removed from the originals that they can truly be considered new tracks (as on the full on Nashville sound of ‘Ohio River Boat Song’ or the brilliant knees up that ‘I Am A Cinematographer’ has morphed into).

I am fully aware of the near legendary status that Oldham has and the sort of fans this has bought him and no doubt some of them will believe this to be sacrilege. My advice to them is this. Stop taking yourselves so seriously, kick back and enjoy the ride. If Mr. Oldham can do it, so can you.

Luke Drozd


 

The Bronx – ‘The Bronx’ (Wichita)
It seems to have been a long while since we had a new truly passionate rock band. Yes I know we’ve got our post-punk, our post-rock, our seventies-revival-rock, but where is our grab You-By-the-Balls-and-Spit-in-Your-Face-Fuck-You-Rock I was always in love with. Well ladies and Gentleman start punching the air because The Bronx are here to put a snarl back on our faces.

This is eleven tracks of high octane punk rock from Black flag school of music and as exciting a rock debut we haven’t had since ‘Appetite for Destruction’ made us all want to don bandanas and hot pants (speaking of which Gilby Clarke is the albums producer so there you go).

The Bronx worked on a strict three take rule when recording these tracks and recorded them live as a band (no layering of redubbing done later) often in peoples homes rather than a traditional studio. The resulting sound is raw and emotional, the way this sort of music should sound. The resulting music is kind of like Strike Anywhere and Q and Not U producing a record together. Primal, angry but musically diverse and interesting. Okay so maybe that initial reaction of being slugged in the stomach doesn’t stay with subsequent listens, but this is still an album with integrity and lasting appeal. Tracks like ‘I Got Chills’ and the opener ‘Heart Attack America’ will have you screaming along with Matt Caughthran’s venomous raspings for many hours, mark my words.

With commercial pap and over production stealing the soul of rock all the time, The Bronx have arrived to snatch it back and damn they’re pissed off.

Luke Drozd


Jesse Malin – The Heat (One Little Indian)
For me, Jesse Malin is a touch too earnest. For every song like ‘Swinging Man’ (hey, Jesse, this isn’t 1952!), there is a cheese grater down the knackers, such as ‘Silver Manhattan’, which, to be honest, sounds a  bit like a Sting ballad. Don’t go all tantric on us, youth!

I believe I’m being too harsh, but then again, I’ve just got back from seeing an unbelievable Morrissey performance. It’s just that it’s a bit annoying when our Jesse, who can clearly write a very good pop song or two, demands the right to turn into Bruce Springsteen at the drop of a metaphor. Listen Jesse, you’re better than a plaid shirt and a perma-grimace – much of ‘The Heat’ shows me that. So drop the pretension and get those guitars a-jangling like you know they should! And that’s an order!

Sam Metcalf