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.
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
'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
This is a
collection of drifting lullabies that will gently ease and lull you into a
better state of mind.
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
Fantastic, that’s all I
have to say! A damn fine album….
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
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
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…
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
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!
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.
- 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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
Picastro – ‘Red Your
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.
‘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
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.
The Bronx – ‘The Bronx’
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.
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!