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  albums -july 2004

 

Eye - ep
This is the debut EP from Anglo-Finnish-Swedish-Italian quartet Eye, and pretty solid it is too. Comparisons will obviously be made with the angsty rock-pop of the likes of Muse and Placebo; Eye have the melodic sensitivity, without the sometimes irritating whininess (and judging by the group photo, black eyeliner) of the latter. In fact, any of the opening three tracks are quite capable of chart success - if that is any indication of quality.  

While there is nothing here that is earth-shatteringly original, this is a very polished effort, and there is enough to suggest on this evidence that Eye are a group we could hear a lot more of.

Leighton Cooksey


Muleskinner Jones- Death Row Hoedown (Red Meat Records)
With ‘Death Row Hoedown’ we see the second release from James Closs (aka Muleskinner Jones) and his strangely compelling gothic, industrial Country.

There appears to have been a spate of dark and introspective Country music of late. Recent releases by the likes of Johnny Dowd and Ben Weaver have offered the kind of Country I’ve always enjoyed, that which drips with a twisted sentiment and features stories of woe and betrayal in the tradition of such greats as Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. Following on from these we have England’s very own offering in the form of Muleskinner Jones. But can this home-grown effort match up to the levels of musical accomplishment of Dowd et al? Well if not they’re certainly not too far off.

‘The title track ‘Death Row Hoedown’ is a foot stomping, well, hoedown which for all its upbeat exterior has dark overtones and the overall sentiment is to ‘Kill your partner nice and slow/we’ll have a hoedown on death row’.

Many tracks here are steeped in distortion, noise and programmatic sounds adding to the off kilter ambience of the work. Further to this vocals are rasped and groaned in equal measure to those sung, shown wonderfully in ‘Concrete Swamp’.

While some tracks fail to live up to what the rest of this album offers, such as the rather disappointing ‘My Rented Room’, Muleskinner Jones is certainly an artist worthy of praise and one I hope will continue to develop and disturb for a long time to come.

Luke Drozd


For Stars - …it Falls Apart (Munich Records)
The last time I heard For Stars they were recording a couple of ace little songs for the Shifty Disco singles club. That must have been at least two years ago, and I’d assumed they’d buggered off and split up.

So, it’s a big hug all round for For Stars who rescued my week from a pit of despondency with this skill new record. Not that much has moved on since that Shifty Disco single; For Stars still make the sort of placid epics they did a couple of years ago, it’s just that this is so much better produced that those other songs I’d heard.

This is a band that can do the straight forward heartbreaker song as well as they next load of soppy indie tykes. But For Stars have added a certain kookiness to their pop cocktail. ‘It Doesn’t Really Matter’, for example, is a heady mix of Slowdive, the Boo Radleys and Mercury Rev, whilst things get odder still on ‘Reminds You’, which, in places sounds like Simple Minds’ ‘Belfast Child’! Blimey, that was a close escape. Perhaps my favourite track is ‘If it All Falls Apart’, which is much like a heavier version of Tears in X-Ray Eyes.

All in all a very enjoyable little album, which takes the epic to a new level of loveliness. Bravo!

Sam Metcalf


This Et Al – Everything’s Irrelevant and No Idea’s Original (Matchbox recordings)
This Et Al are a band whom I’ve heard about, seen publicity for and missed actually seeing play for a couple of years now. On the strength of this musical effort I don’t know how much of an issue that honestly is for me.

This is Indie played with an angular and raw edge and has a definite passion to it that I find hard to fault. However what these three tracks offer by way of passion they lack in direction. This release failed to ever really grab me and I could never shake a niggling resemblance to Muse (a phenomenal stumbling block in my opinion).

While this is not bad it is ultimately lacking. When all is said and done, the songs on this CD end up sticking far too close to the sentiment of its title.

Luke Drozd


Velvet Revolver - Contraband (BMG/RCA)
By my estimation, you could probably get the entire Guns and Roses back catalogue for the price of this baby. I would heartily recommend you do that. Hey, even if you own it all, it couldn’t hurt to have some back up copies??!!!

Slash, Duff and Matt from the (previously mighty) GnR, Scott from Stone Temple Pilots (am I the only one who thought he was dead? Anyone?), and a chap who used to be in Suicidal Tendencies…the formula seemed sooooo right. To be honest I am pretty surprised most of these chaps are still standing, let alone playing any recognizable forms of music, so much respect for that, but this album is a little …well…dull. The whole collection of songs are of a quality that fifteen years ago Guns and Roses would have thrown out with the bath water (Christ, Scott sounds like Axl!), in fact they probably did, and thus their appearance here.

Treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality.

It all seemed such a good idea at the time…

It is pretty funny though.

Drew Millward


The Fairways – This is Farewell (Matinee)
Saying goodbye is never easy. Especially when you’ve got a mouthful of toast. However, the passing of The Fairways – one of the first bands that the fledgling Matinee label picked up on way back in 1998 – is tempered by the fact that they’ve left behind such a healthy body of work.

There are eight new tracks featured here too, and they’re all jaunty little buggers that seem to worm their way into your heart without much effort at all. Fans will know what to expect here. Newcomers to the band will find only the best underground indie pop. Celebrate that!

Sam Metcalf


Mono – Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined (Rykodisc)
When I first listened to this I will admit I was expecting something heavier. I will also admit to being a Mono virgin and from what I’d been led to believe about their previous work I was expecting to experience noisy walls of post rock. What I was actually greeted by was an album of bittersweet and rather complex beauty.

Sharing a musical bed with the likes of Sigur Ros and the Album Leaf, they can conjure up some wonderful pastoral musings that manages to elevate itself above a lot of this current spate of music. This is thanks in part to Mono’s ability to shift mood and perspective so easily. Whilst one minute you can be led through a song by calm swirling cellos and sparse guitars, suddenly a complex wall of sound greets you like a brick to the jaw, adding comparisons with the like of Kinski or Trail of Dead.

Mono prove they have a place at an already crowded musical table and I for one am willing to help them fly their flag.

Luke Drozd


The New Year - The End Is Near (Touch and Go)
While listening to The New Year the pace of the world seems to slow down. I may as well lay my cards on the table and point out at this juncture that I absolutely love The New Year, and in their previous incarnation as Bedhead. Love them, get it? And they really are one of those bands you can absolutely love, yeah, you may not listen to them everyday of your life, but when you do, well, everything just seem peachy.

This is their first album since 2001’s ‘Newness Ends’ (their first as The New Year, they changed a member, and hence the name), and incredibly it lives up to the magnificence of the previous record, and possibly even betters it in laces. This is the kind of music that can almost pass you by, its sweet lulling melodies and hushed instrumentation is a thing of pure beauty and joy, the tunes stick in your head for weeks, and if you are not careful, you may even forget where they came from, but to find them again is one of the best feelings ever.

There are stand out tracks on the album, but this is really something that needs to be taken as a whole, just let it play and you will discover something new with every listen. I cannot recommend this enough. Certainly one of my favorite albums of the year so far, and imagine that this is unlikely to change.

Drew Millward


The Killers - Hot Fuss (Lizard King)
I don’t often buy records out on major labels, not because I’m some elitist music fuck (which I am, but it has nothing to do with my purchasing), just because the most interesting and forward thinking music is generally released on indie labels. This fact is something that I think The Killers, or more importantly, their P.R. company has counted on. As you can see the label is billed as Lizard King, which on closer inspection is merely Island/Def Jam Music Group, or the wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will. The plot thickens.

Ah, fuckit I’m not hereto give some damning critique of modern music marketing, I’m here to tell you about music, right?

I got to see The Killers supporting British Sea Power early this year, and it has to be said, no matter how good British Sea Power are The Killers blew them off stage, so I thought getting the album wouldn’t be a bad idea. Turns out it wasn’t, yeah!

On record they don’t quite pack the same punch as they do live, but good goddamn they are as catchy as a bag of crabs. The recent single ‘Mr. Brightside’ sticks out a little within this collection of songs as one of the less synth driven numbers, in fact Luke was convinced it was a new Hundred Reasons track, and with that he has a very good point, spooky in fact.

I read a review of this album somewhere and someone kept harping on about Franz Ferdinand, saying if you liked Franz Ferdinand you should hear the The Killers, but they felt that they lacked a little of the originality and excitement of Franz Ferdinand. This is what we have to deal with…. FRANZ FERDINAND ARE NOT ORIGIONAL, NOR ARE THEY EXCITING. Now fuck off and listen to Orange Juice, get a copy of ‘Entertainment’ by Gang of Four and come back when you have found a clue! Or go and listen to countless American bands that produce better post-punk/new-wave/jerky/stop/start nonsense in their fucking sleep.

I forget the point I was making.

This album, in short, is derivative as hell; influences from the past twenty five years are interwoven freely, to produce one of the catchiest and downright fun albums in some time. There are definite echoes of Depeche Mode, Joy Division, The Smiths (yes it is a very English sound, and the Franz Ferdinand link is probably not too far from the mark), mixed with a quite contemporary American alt. sound, which I reckon works pretty damn well. I imagine it will be one of those albums that will be forgotten about within six months only to be gleefully rediscovered at a later date.

Oh yeah, extra points for the track ‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’, the irony almost killed me.

Drew Millward


Mission of Burma - On/Off/On (Matador Records)
And here’s me thinking that the three years I’ve been waiting for the new New Year album was unreasonable. It has been twenty-two years since the last Mission of Burma album; now I cannot claim that I was there the first time round, in fact I was barely alive when the last record was released, but this is not to say I haven’t discovered them since. To say Mission of Burma were/are an influential band is to understate the importance of their work. Oh, and ‘Vs’ is one of the best albums ever.

Now bearing in mind that bands reforming is a path fraught with danger pitfalls, misgivings were always going to be present. A good example of this is the sheer indignity displayed by The Pixies on their recent come back trail, supporting The Stereophonics for fuck sake; ‘Surfer Rosa’ may never sound the same again. Mission of Burma however has managed to put in appearances at the Shellac curated ATP a few years back, and for want of a better term ‘keep their heads down’ ever since. Dignity…Frank Black, I’m talking to you!

This track record of bands coming out of retirement for another ‘crack of the whip’ makes this album an even more remarkable feat. This is a record that can stand up to anything that Mission of Burma has ever produced, including ‘Academy Fight Song’, yeah, that good! This is not some sort of exercise in an outing of the Burma name, all original members are present and correct, with the exception of Martin Swope, who has been replaced by Robert Weston (Shellac) on tape loops/sound tomfoolery (its all a bit techy), this is very much a legendary band showing that they can still perform at the top of their game.

‘The Setup’, ‘Falling’….ah, the whole thing is an absolute joy to behold. There are initial stand out tracks, but on repeat listens it is very apparent that the whole album is a unified work of genius…. I may sound a little over excited, but it really is that good.

I’m off to see them live next month, so shall let you know how that goes.

Album of the year? Leave it with me.

Drew Millward


!!! - Louden Up Now  (Touch and Go)
Its spelt !!!, its pronounced ‘Chk,Chk.Chk’, and they sound like Prince and The Cure in equal measures, and conjure up a feeling of unbridled delight not felt since you first tapped off at a school disco! They are fucking class; there is no two ways about it.

The whole thing seems to flow and ebb a lot better than the last album (which was ace as well, by the way, ad well worth getting hold of); this is probably a little more maturity that is present in the songwriting. But maturity in a way that comes across as still relatively naive, as if the whole album occurred while a group of friends and vast quantities of class A drugs had been locked in a recording studio for what must have seemed like weeks on end. But in a good way, there was no violence and everyone enjoyed the comedown.

If this doesn’t make you shake your ass off, then my friend you are either dead, or you have no ears. In both cases my deepest sympathies are with you and your loved ones. Its dance music for those who hate dancing. I suppose as much as I’m loathed to admit it, this is ….. Disco. I’m not talking Boney M here, or Earth, Wind and Fire, more New Order. But better.

Drew Millward


Ral Partha Vogelbacher – Kite Vs Obelisk (Monotreme Records)
A band not an individual, Ral Partha are an odd bunch indeed. Fronted by Chadwick Bidwell and featuring the members of stable mates Thee More Shallows, they produce music that seamlessly blends country, rock and a sort of lo-fi folk with wonderfully audacious results.

With each song sounding different from the next, Bidwell dispenses a merciless witticism into the tunes here producing a series of thoroughly brilliant often far-fetched stories, a bit like mixing Bill Callahan with William Burroughs. He can sound hurt and venomous in equal measures, demonstrated at its finest on tracks like ‘Red Hot Tugboat’ (“And I still don’t have an ounce of pity for you and that bastard you claim is half mine”) or ‘Kite Carry Obelisk over Lake Victoria’.

Not since early Will Oldham have we had such beauty and nonsense in equal measure. This, coupled with some truly outlandish song titles, means Ral Partha Vogelbacher have delivered a wonderfully serious and passionate work of fun.

Luke Drozd


Norfolk and Western – Dusk in Cold Parlours (Hush Records)
With the release of ‘Dusk in Cold Parlours’ Norfolk and Western have finally made the album they’d been threatening that they would.

Named after a particular now defunct train route in America, Norfolk and Western have been honing there lo-fi Country sound for a few years now and Adam Seltzers latest offerings of songs see him at his finest yet. This is bleak and yet content, musically sharing much with the likes of Sparklehorse and M. Ward (who guests on the album as well). It feels late night and dusty, and also romantic in the true sense of the word. Tracks like ‘Terrified’ and ‘Disappear’ show Seltzers song writing at its most complete with his voice whispering along and bringing forth comparisons of a country tinged Ben Gibbard.

A subtle album that’s romantic and whimsical without ever feeling trite or saccharine sweet. A real joy.   

Luke Drozd


Nina Nastasia – Dogs (Touch and Go)
Ladies and Gentlemen, after years of persecution we are finally allowed to feel like the civilised individuals we always believed we were. Yes that’s right we can finally own Nina Nastasia’s first album ‘Dogs’.

Since I first heard 2001’s ‘Blackened Air’ and subsequently saw her live, I have been 1oo% in awe of Nastasia’s songs. For all the times we can get wrapped up in sprawling Post-Rock and subversive programmatic ramblings, let us not forget the power of the singer-songwriter. This is a collection of unforgiving sparse and utterly unbelievable songs by one of the most talented artists currently producing music. A collection of stories where the lead narrative is supplied by Nastasia’s voice and guitar whilst cellos, violas and saw, amongst others, dance and weave creating and changing the mood as they go.

For me it will always be Nastasia’s lyrics though that really set her apart from her contemporaries. You just have to listen to tracks like ‘Jimmy’s Rose Tattoo’ where the story of a troubled artist is vividly painted by lines like ‘Jimmy Rose works from 12 to 5/ to pay off the doctor that he prescribes/ There’s kerosene in the wishing well/ and I throw a penny still holding his hand’ to realise what I mean. Another highlight of the album ‘Stormy Weather’ has long been a live favourite and I’m sure I will not be alone in my joy at finally being able to enjoy this in the pleasure of my own home.

A spellbinding album that allows access to tracks that I’m sure Nina Nastasia fans were beginning to fear they may never get to hear and one that I strongly believe everyone should own.

Luke Drozd


Sodastream – A Minor Revival (Fortuna Pop!)
After being berated from all sides for missing their Nottingham show a couple of days ago, I shall make up for my sins by saying this is a truly beautiful album. The Regulars released a posthumous album a bit ago called ‘Effortless’. That is what this album should’ve been called, because it flows like a can of Heinz tomato soup into a pan. By that I mean if flows is in a very lovely way. Not that I tried to cook the cd or dip bread into it. Mind you, it’s that good, I had a mind to try.

The first great track is ‘Blinky’ which is little like The Lucksmiths more upbeat moment – and there are plenty. But Sodastream also have that melancholy air of Herman Dune, seen most noticeably on tracks such as ‘Brass Lines’ and ‘Chorus Line’. So many lines, not enough time.

Altogether a most precious album. Well done Sodastream!

Sam Metcalf


The National – Cherry Tree (Talitres Records)
After last year’s pretty good album comes a storming mini version. There is an easy to way to berate The National. They have a crap name that reminds you of sweaty horses for a start. Also, they’re very much the Tinderstick and Nick Cave copyists. But when they make such delightfully dark music that can offer the chance to wallow, just when you need it most.

Which is where ‘Dolled Up in Straps’, despite its daft title, comes in. It’s so funereal but at the same time mighty uplifting in the same way that certain Joy Division soncs might be about going loopy, but are also seriously groovy. Ditto ‘Cherry Tree’, with it’s refrain of ‘Loose Lips Sink Ships’ and it’s deathly pace – this song is still one for those who like to fight back somewhat.

So, for those who like their lounge pop a little darker than usual. The National deliver. For those who are happy all the time, well, I just don’t believe you.

Sam Metcalf


St Thomas – Let’s Grow Together – the Comeback of…(Track and Field)
Often quite morose, ‘Let’s Grow Together’ could quite easily be written off as yet another Herman Dune-a-like record. And the similarities are obvious. But it would be a mite churlish not to point out that young Thomas is very much a novel prospect. Which is pretty much evident in such ace songs as ‘Like You Know’ which builds and builds and remains as nicely claustrophobic as I’m sure it was intended to. A late night album of some esteem, not destined for a coffee table near you, soon.

Sam Metcalf

 
 

Trademark – Want More (Truck Records)
Trademark are adamant that they make pop music, and on the evidence of ‘Want More’, I’m not gonna argue with them. There seems to be quite a lot of good music coming out of Oxford at the moment, but Trademark have set themselves apart somewhat by pushing out a brand of early neo-80s synth pop.

First track ‘My Life in Stereo’ is far too muscular and Mode-esque for my liking, but second one, ‘Sine Love’ shimmers like a great New Order track, say, like off ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’. ‘Square Wave Anger’ is industrial-lite, and so it goes throughout the rest of ‘Want More’.

However, underpinning everything is a definite effort to make great big bloody POP! music. Not for them a piano-led dirge, or even anything approaching an epic. Nope, Trademark want it hard, fast and sweet. And so should you. Oh, and they do the best line in badges. You must get one.

Sam Metcalf

 
 

Razorlight – Up All Night (Vertigo)
For Razorlight, the rock n roll myth is very much alive and kicking in ‘Up All Night’. This is an album that hangs on to the coat tails of The Strokes in such a blatant fashion  that it’s sometimes hard to take things seriously.

Occasionally, Razorlight slip into pub-rock mode. ‘Dalston’ is particularly lumpen. But maybe I’m being a little too cruel – this album does have some mildly enjoyable moments. ‘Up All Night’, for example, is quite a lovely little blighter, and for once, Razorlight don’t try too hard and actually let a sense of mystery enter the song. And that’s probably my main gripe with ‘Up All Night’ – the album – it’s just too bloody obvious. Give a few rich kids some instruments and this is what they’ll, on the whole, come up with. Me, I like my rich kids that little bit more coy.

Sam Metcalf