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  albums - jan 2005

 

Treewave - Cabana ep (Made Up)
I remember years of my mispent youth desperately trying to get something useful out the box of electronic trickery which was my Commodore C-16. Every week I would buy 'Commodore User' magazine for the one or two programs that were included for the C-16 and had to be hand typed. Every week I read jealously of the wonders of the new fangled Commodore 64. My desperation reached its peak when they included a flexi-disc of 'Temptation' by Heaven 17 reworked (badly) entirely on the C64. So what hope for Treewave, an album largely coded on obsolete computer and video game junk?

Well, rather surprisingly, this is a delicious slice of electronica (or will we need to coin the phrase Commodore-core?) that fair bobs its way through 6 tracks, 2 videos and even a free synth program for anyone still using a Commodore 64. Whether it is the dated equipment or just plain great song writing and production, Cabana is a velvety treat, and manages to avoid the stark coldness often associated with this genre. The warm vocals of Lauren Gray add to the whole silky production. 'Sleep' is a pulsating monster with drum patterns that seem to cross and slide over each other and 'Same' suddenly weighs in with some seriously squelchy electro sounds halfway through the track that would test the staunchest of bass speakers. Now where did I leave that old C-16...

Shane Blanchard


Capillary Action - Fragments (Pangaea Recordings)
The first time I listened to this record I was left completely bemused. 'Who the hell is this Jonathan Pfeffer who thinks he can just mix metal, jazz, swing, salsa and anything else he can get his hands on together on one album of instrumental guitar music?' But at the same time I was disappointed in myself for involuntarily tapping my foot along to tracks that could have come straight from the Buena Vista Social Club and next moment nodding my head to bizarro spooky synth space rock.

This record is a bit like one of those IQ test puzzles that you can examine in minute detail for ages but never really get. Then suddenly the solution comes as you are making a sandwich or walking to work. Just sit back, read a book, just do anything else and put this record on in the background and I promise it will make a bit more sense. Not to say that there is any underlying philosophy behind it, just that amid the collision of styles, tempos and sounds some kind of order floats to the surface. This is not easy to listen to by any means but who says music has to be verse-chorus-verse? 'Fragments' is a refreshing patchwork of influences which are completely unapologetic in their juxtaposition and performance. In fact there are parts which are downright uncomfortable to listen to but given the choice between bland easy listening and truly innovative work like this there really is only one winner.

Shane Blanchard


Argentine - In Other Fictions (Pehr)
Hailing from Brooklyn, Argentine are a five piece who are deservedly well rated by many. If comparisons are needed, then touches of the Pumpkins and Radiohead creep in at points but only as a side order to a rather unique main course. Lyrically admirable and a score impeccably put together, ‘In Other Fictions’ could be classed as ‘adult-indie’, a collection of tunes that aren’t trying to prove anything but ultimately do. Powerful yet un-aggressive, melancholy yet not depressive, the groups skill and attention to detail are un-missible. With a second album in progress and a European tour planned for the year ahead, Argentine would be a welcome addition to 2005.

Mel Headley


International Karate - A Monster in Soul (Sensory Projects)
Sometimes you buy an record and it shakes you awake, slaps you round the face and leaves you feeling excited and energised. Sometimes you get a record which like a pair of new trainers doesn't seem to fit properly to begin with but soon grows and stretches until it has become something comfortable and safe and loved. And then there are the records which just seem effortlessly 'right' from the very first time you hear them - they don't may a big song and dance about the fact, they just fit.

'A Monster in Soul' fits perfectly into this last category. International Karate's sound is beautifully crystalline and in places has a stark edge more accustomed to post-rock cousins in northern Europe and Scandinavia. In fact anyone who has heard God Machine's early albums may find this slightly similar. But this belies the fact that this album was recorded in the antipodean climes of Melbourne. Tracks such as 'Tonight I can See Around the Corners' mask a foreboding undercurrent but this almost always burns away to leave a delicate warmth in its place.

All of the songs are crafted with enormous care and wax and wane then build again to crescendos or fade away into silence, but without the obvious tools of swathes of distortions and squalls of guitars. This is intricate song writing and composition of great skill and deserves to sit alongside its more famous European counterparts like Mogwai and Sigur Ros.

Shane Blanchard


Porn - Wine, Women and Song…(Small Stone Records)
Like a hammer to the forehead, so arrive Porn, with an album your mum would probably warn you to stay away from because it’s a bad influence, and as we grow older we learn that ‘mother knows best’.

I may as well get it over with pretty sharpish, this is fan-bloody-tastic, not only that, but it’s a huge throbbing beast of an album that could frankly wake the dead, or reversely kill the elderly or infirm.

The band comprise of Tim Moss, Dale Crover (Melvins/Nirvana) and Billy Anderson (Producer of Neurosis, Fantomas, Orange Goblin, Mr. Bungle), three men, that in this recording have captured a sound that is honestly a fucking scary prospect. It is a sound that is brutal, while at the same time (in some tracks anyway) quite comforting. There are mentions in the press release of Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, and that is a pretty good indication of the sound. Floyd covering Sabbath….and you’re getting warm.

This is some cosmic rock of the highest order, where ‘stoner rock’ can often be a monotonous trudge from one chord to another and back again, Porn offer more in the way of dynamics and song structure, not to mention the outstanding guitar work of Moss. I don’t think you need me to tell you, that this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you try to please everyone you end up with McFly, and we don’t want that, do we?

Drew Millward


Hinterlandt – New belief System (Alias Frequencies)
As might be expected from a classically trained German trumpeter signed to an Australian label following years playing guitar in underground rock bands, this CD fits more influences and references into just over an hour than you could shake a second hand Bontempi at. ‘Deckchair Anthem’ sets the mood with some pleasant ambient warblings which soon mutate into a breakbeat frenzy reminiscent of Bentley Rhythm Ace over the top of some slightly sinister Tutonic vocal ramblings before collapsing into a glockenspiel jamboree.  ‘Mehrgegenwärter’ ups the tempo with some serious Casio-core action which sounds like what the Aphex Twin would do if he were trying to actually sell records. 

As you are getting the picture, there is so much going on within this album that the whole thing could meltdown into a soup of bleeps and moods that would leave your mind and ears aching. But the 10-15 minute long tracks work by creating an evolution of sounds rather than five minutes of changing ambiences which would jolt and jar against each other. 

Constructed with the upmost care, gentle but invigorating and most of all, unfathomably accessible, if only all electronic music could be this good. 

Shane Blanchard


Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress- S/T (Sketchbook Records)
I suppose I’m a little delayed in reviewing this, but I bought it, so I ain’t going to apologize to anyone. And as I am a little behind the times, you have probably all read reviews of this album in other (lesser) publications or websites, but I can’t let this one slip by without giving it at least an honourable mention as one of the best albums to be released this year. And in a year that has thrown up some astounding records, that is quite a feat.

I was lucky enough to catch one of the shows that Micah P. Hinson played last month with Iron and Wine, and if you didn’t I can only offer my condolences. I have for a few years now been a fan of Sam Beam (Iron and Wine) and it was a treat to finally get to see Iron and Wine perform live, but it must be said, that it felt like they were playing catch up to Mr. Hinson, but then it is difficult to imagine what could have followed him. And he just had a guitar; just him and a guitar.

Meh, but this isn’t a live review so, I’m going to shut up about that.

The album itself came as no disappointment after the live experience, which as you can imagine stands as pretty high praise in itself. The arrangements on the record are obviously far more ornate than the stripped down version that I referred to live, but in no way distract from the bittersweet and heartfelt songs. Each track is treated to various enhancements, ranging from lush strings, to accordion, to piano, to flute…. Ahh, you get the impression. The range of instrumentation and arrangement reminded me quite a lot of Lambchop’s earlier albums, or the fantastic arrangements of Mark Linkous. But always at the centre is the voice and guitar of Micah P. Hinson, a voice that after listening to over and over, has reminded me of so many different singers I have lost count, but Kurt Wagner and Howe Gelb are two that keep reoccurring.

I suppose that it is a sad fact that this album won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for those who will enjoy it, it is just a case of sitting back and laughing at those unfortunate souls, while listening to some of the best music made recent memory.

Drew Millward


Blind Jackson – Blind Jackson (Deadskool)
What a lovely little package this is – eerie pixelated x-ray style photography adorning the gatefold CD case. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Check out this Cd – it’s black! No, completely black on both sides! I’ve never seen anything like it and I haven’t been this excited since getting a luminous green flexi-disc of ELO’s ‘ Face the Music….erm, anyway, pressing on… 

This 7 track debut album adds to the already impressive back catalogue of e.p.s from London’s spookiest 6-piece. I say spooky but the music lurches from haunted house style ditties like ‘In the Club’ to the rabble rousing ‘Stop the Clock’, a tune which could have been penned in the Bierkelles of Eastern European. ‘Don’t Lose Your Mind’ rounds things off in memorable style, fusing together all the things that make Blind Jackson so special – intricate guitar parts, punchy beats and the vocals of Sy Badham, a man who sounds like Gaz Coombes on speed. 

Shane Blanchard


Grails - Redlight (Neurot Recordings)
You know what the worse thing is about this (and indeed Grails previous album) is? Hmm?

It’s the fact you can’t stop listening to it, seriously, it’s like an addiction of some kind.

Rarely do you find an instrumental band that are so brilliantly charming, and such an absolute joy to listen to. I often think that instrumental bands try too hard, like they have something to prove, weather it’s being overly technical, overly heavy, (here’s one to be weary of) overly self indulgent, overly obscure it can often make for a less than pleasurable listening experience. It is with this in mind that is comes as such a satisfying experience to encounter Grails and if you haven’t already I suggest that you do.

There are some really interesting aspects within the music; the range of instrumentation is vast, but never detracting from the ever present melody. There are definite folk influences throughout but are often incorporated into the more hard rocking moments, the shifts in dynamic and rhythms are interesting, yet never get in the way of the song. And that is the over riding factor throughout that album, and why it is so enjoyable to listen to.

A truly fantastic album, whichever way you look at it. 

Drew Millward


The Broken Family Band – Welcome Home, Loser (Track and Field)
Much excitement in the Tasty ranks met the news of arrival of The Broken Family Band’s second full length album. Here is a band that has been around for a few years, has reinvented itself as an Americana laden alt. country group then cunningly outwitting the public into thinking they are Christians while singing about robots, sex and boozing. Fine work indeed but add in the small but important fact that to date they have never released a single record that I haven’t loved, then you get some measure of the expectations of this release. 

I am delighted to report that 14 tracks later, TBFB have created what must be an early contender for album of the year. Partially fuelled by a trip to Texas, constant touring and the Cambridge Folk scene, ‘Welcome Home, Loser’ mixes up a fine cocktail of the usual lilting melodies and lyrical story telling but adds a bitter splash of darkness and bleakness hitherto unseen from the band. 

Don’t be fooled by the title of the album opener ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ – there is more than just a touch of irony at work here but not fully exposed until a subtle change of lyrics of the second verse ‘why don’t we all get down and play in the scum on the banks of the river, we can fuck each other over just for fun’ – brilliant. It’s also our first taste of Timothy Victor’s banjo perfectly weaving the most delicate of melodies with guitars of Williams and Adams. 

And so on to Steve Adams, a man blessed with a vocal talent which caresses the listener in with its gentleness and fragile vulnerability then slaps them around the face with one blood curdling scream. It’s these darker moments on tracks such as ‘Yer Little Bedroom’ and ‘Coping with Fear’ which really stand out for me. The emptiness and iciness provides the perfect foil to the treacley warmth of tracks like ‘Living in Sin’ and ‘Wherever You Go’, like cold ice in a glass of bourbon, something which TBFB sound like they were weaned on. 

If there is any justice in the world then this record will sell loads, The Broken Family Band will headline Glastonbury following a fatal bucking bronco incident involving Robbie Williams and Stetson’s and chaps will become the new High Street chic. Unfortunately the world is an unjust place but you can and should buy your own little piece of lust, envy, disappointment, triumph and playful tomfoolery that is ‘Welcome Home, Loser’. 

Shane Blanchard


Hedaya – This Is Where I Keep It (Clever Bedsit)
An unusual album, ‘This is where I keep it’ is certainly is a bit of an enigma – that is, until the last two tracks.

Listening to the full album generates a number of thoughts. Primarily, that it is different – and welcomingly so - using a background of noises (that perhaps would find a home on a Warp record) to support more recognisable indie rifts. Second, that the unusual lyrics may have been more powerful had they been sung with less grandeur. Thirdly, there was something that, amidst the individualism of it all, seemed to be missing.

By the last two tracks Hedaya’s sound seemed to come together. Gone were the noises, quietened was the vocal and smoothed out was the rhythm. These were the tracks that didn’t suggest experimentation, but design and execution. They simply weren’t trying too hard to be different. But all in all, perhaps it’s the oddity of the first interval that makes this album worth a listen.

Mel Headley


Tompaulin – Into the Black (Track and Field Records)
I remember when I was a nipper and used to listen to The Smiths every single hour of the day, my Dad used to try and imitate Morrissey and say what a miserable git he was. My dad was a very big cunt and was wrong. But if he came into my room whilst I was playing the new Tompaulin album, then he might be justified in putting on a big crying face and whittering on about hanging himself from a double decker bus. The arse.

Not only is ‘Into the Black’ a thing of extreme beauty, it is also possibly, after ‘Closer’ by Joy Division, the most depressing record I’ve ever listened to. And I’ve got a Simple Minds album. Possibly. Much of the music here veers between Velvets-esque strumming and the odd bit of alt.country, and this makes for very pleasant listening indeed. But still the gloom remains. Whether it be on the swaying, harmonica-tinged ‘Promised Land’ with its coda of ‘This I’ve found/There is no promised land”, or ‘Useless’ which contains the cheery couplet of “Honey I’m useless, nothing to see/I’m just a faded photocopy of the man I used to be”. But this is a song so perfect that it makes me tingle. It’s a duet for a start, and that’s good enough for me.

Tompaulin save the best till last. ‘When the Night Comes Like a Thief’ is a beautiful acoustic little cutie which is so sad, that it really should be played at night, when you’re alone and it’s chucking it down with rain outside. And you’ve only for three cigarettes left. Yes. That sad.

Being a relative latecomer to Tompaulin, I cannot vouch for how this stands up against their earlier stuff. Suffice to say, that if you’ve never heard anything by the band before, then this is the perfect way to start an affair. Sad songs, they so much.

Sam Metcalf


Rob Reynolds - Sightseeing (Invisible Hands)
When a press release says that the artist is 'about to guide a missile straight between the ears' it certainly makes you sit up and take note. This is the silken-voiced Reynolds third album and features an impressive array of guest musicians.

Featuring snippets of soul and the odd lilting ballad the songs are well written, expertly produced and showcase Reynolds exceptional voice (reminded me of The Christians at times). But if this album was anymore middle of the road you would be tripping over the cats' eyes. To stick with the motoring analogies I imagine it would be perfect for the Mondeo driving salesfolk of middle England to sing along to, windows down, having just secured the week's dog food sales targets. A Lighthouse Family for 2005 perhaps?

Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad album and will probably hyper successful for the reasons listed above. Just doesn't rock my boat I'm afraid.

Shane Blanchard