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  albums - mar 2005


Ida – Heart Like a River (Polyvinyl) 
Ten years is a long time to invest in a band.  You have to really believe in what you’re doing to carry on making music in the same outfit for a decade and its obvious firm their music that Ida do.

What Ida specialise in are harmonies, think Low inhabiting the Beach Boys bodies. Actually don’t that’s horrific. From the opening moments of Laurel Blues the albums first track you are immediately aware that you are about to witness something very special. The vocal performances on this album lean towards understated and hushed but somehow the layering of the three performers vocals and the mix of male and female make them seem all encompassing and at times claustrophobic.

Heart Like a River excels at managing to be gripping and diverse but extremely subtlety. They manage to move from tracks where drones and overdrive hum away to simple beautiful jazz infused moments like Late Blues, the track Geoff Farina wishes he’d written. It is this diversity that allows an album that is nearly an hour long seem like it was barely on.

Heart like a River is an album to be basked in, one to let yourself fully get immersed by. It astonishes that after 10 years a band can sound this fresh and produce what is a truly stunning album. Is it too early to be uttering the words ‘one of the albums of the year’?

Luke Drozd

The Buckners – See You In Court
A six track, very swish demo from the US, which sees The Buckners doing their College Rock thang very competently, but without ever making anywhere near moist. There are more chunky guitar chords here than you can throw a sweaty plectrum at, but where’re the guile? The craft? The POP music?

The nearest The Buckners get to exciting is closing track ‘Confident’, which sounds like an old REM track, but at the end of the day, it’s not really worth wading through five tracks of plodding indie rock to hear something which could only be termed as ‘good’. A shame, for they’ve clearly spent all their pocket money on packing ‘See You In Court’.

A writ awaits me, I’ll bet.

Sam Metcalf

The Sound Explosion - The Sound Explosion (Captains of Industry)
Yeah! Let's hear it for rock 'n' roll! There is no doubt that The Sound Explosion seriously know how to rock. Massive Bonham-esque drums and more than a smidgeon of Zeppelin mixed in with lyrics about excess and drugs (I'm assuming the line 'spends all his time looking for a mainline' is not documenting a man's search for commuter train services).

The songs are big and posturing, much like the band themselves. And let's face it, they have to be with titles like 'Shotgun of Love' (Spinal Tap alert). Fortunately The Sound Explosion can pull these kind of things off due to their excellent song writing and impressive delivery. There is a riff round every corner and a sing-along chorus every step of the way (I can't believe I've got 'Shotgun, Of Lurrve' stuck in my head!) There is plenty of nifty guitar harmonics on 'Living in the Caves' and 'Night Train' sounds just plain fab. 'In the City provides just a little bit of a bluesey breather before, again heavily laced in Led Zep influences before the rest of the album kicks off until the end. Impressive stuff and you've just got to love the drumming.

Shane Blanchard

Milky Wimpshake – Popshaped (Fortuna Pop!)
Aahh..the mighty ‘Shake. For nearly ten years now this wonderful flop ‘n roll band have lightened up my life with their tales of love, loss and dirty politics.

‘Popshaped’ is no different, thanks goodness. Pete Dale still sings about girls he’s never gonna get, the welfare state, and the little man fighting back. And all above the greatest indie pop music.

This album is a collection of new songs and older stuff that never made it to record, or is dead difficult to get hold of these days. And how lovely of them is that?

On with the show! ‘Pearshaped’ is the first classic you’ll come across here. A cover of a Nev Clay song and featuring fantastically sardonic vocals from Cath Tyler, it’s jangletastic in the extreme, AND manages to slag off Patsy Kensit, and that’s just about everything a great pop song should, don’t you think?

Elsewhere, there’s the psych-pop of ‘Don’t Get Down (Get Even)’ – a great big swirly, deftly threatening song about the masses taking the power back – YEAH! – and remind me a lot of songs of The Housemartins’ ‘London 0 Hull 4’ album. And that’s high praise in my book, so there.

Meanwhile, back at pop central, ‘Needed: Heart Handbook’ is the song that the Shangri-Las never quite managed to record. But perhaps the greatest song here isn’t a Milky Wimpshake song at all. The medley – for want of a better phrase – of Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love Will Find You In The End, and Jonathan Richman’s ‘Don’t Let Our Youth Go Waste’ is truly spine-tingling, and possibly embellishes even the brilliant original versions of both songs. For once, Milky Wimpshake play it totally straight – and with wonderful results.

And it’s followed up by the desolate ‘Cheque Card’, in which Dale sound both angry and desperate at the same time. Utterly beautiful.

For me, this is easily the best album of the month, and is up there with the Pipas album as the best this year has given us. And as long as Milky Wimpshake are still making records, then the world will be a more just place. Amen.

Sam Metcalf

ZZZZ  - Palm Reader (Polyvinyl)
So what do you do if your two bands both suddenly fold? Well in the case of Steve Sostak of Sweep the Leg Johnny fame you grab your alto sax round up a few other musicians (including a classically trained pianist) and put together one of the most original sounding and remarkable bands to put out a record for a while.

They stop they start, they groove they rock. ZZZZ’s idea of music is unlike anyone else’s. A bizarre mix of sort of dance punk, gypsy folk and anything by Danny Elfman this saxophone led oddity is serious, fun, enjoyable and absurd all at the same time. It is an album that is packed with tension heightened by the female and male vocal duel that is ever present but also in the bands ability to move form angular dance ability to drifting sonata.

ZZZZ are unusual and diverse and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however those who don’t take a listen will definitely be missing out on a treat

Luke drozd

Marmaduke Duke - The Magnificent Duke (Captains of Industry)
Here's a novel concept (forgive the pun). An album where every song is based on a chapter of a book that the artist's parents wrote. Not only that, but the books chart the subject's decent into madness. Got that? Then I shall continue.

Things start off well with a ferocious beast of an opening track followed up by the wonderfully melodic 'An Egyptian and an Imposter'. By the time we get to 'Fridge and Fromage' things are going a little bit weird - growly distorted guitar parts and a very minimalist percussion part - this is actually very good.

But this is a long album (it must have been a long book) and there is only so long you can keep messing about with time signatures. While there is a lot of interesting stuff going on, in the vain of bands like Lords and Bilge Pump, there is also quite a bit of self indulgent twaddle. I think things came to a head when a friend came round and asked if I was listening to Pink Floyd.

Don't be deceived, this is a good record. But like you wouldn't want to read a whole book in one sitting, you wouldn't necessarily want to listen to the whole of this in one sitting either.

Shane Blanchard

Linda Draper – One Two Three Four (Planting Seeds Records)
You don’t hear many albums as cute as this, that’s for sure. Whether Draper will thank me for saying that, I’m not sure. However, in a world that is full of really shite female singer/songwriters, then she is a shining light of excellence.

‘One Two Three Four’ is an album of mainly acoustic folk pop chimes, sung in a delightful voice that immediately enchants. Think if the Famous Five got together around the camp fire after solving the mystery of the black handkerchief – well, yes, this is what they’d listen to whilst chomping on jam sandwiches.

In a world that lacks a Suzanne Vega album, then Linda Draper is king. Or Queen, I suppose. Hurrah!

Sam Metcalf

The Explosion – Black Tape (Tarantula)
The Explosion’s debut album has left me in somewhat of a quandary. Do I like it or loathe it? It’s a tricky one.

‘Black Tape’ basically bridges the gap between your average pop punk affair and the raw garage sound more recently perpetuated by the likes of the Bronx. On its rawer more impassioned moments it can get you stomping along but these are sadly too infrequent and give way to a more bland poppier side which suffers from production that scrapes away the last bits of edge left on the record.

I suppose all in all The Explosion are a truly average offering and end up sounding more like a contained blast rather than the uncontrolled car bomb the name may infer.

Luke Drozd

We Will Be Pilots - This is What You Fight For (Captains of Industry)
We Will Be Pilots make rampant, guitar fuelled music with nasty barbed lyrics that  would form a great soundtrack to smashing up your local Starbucks Coffee House to. In fact, 'Pretend It Doesn't Hurt' sounds like it may have been recorded while doing just that as it descends into mayhem and carnage.

The thing about smashing up your local convenience and the like is that you can only really do it once, then it's trashed. And so with five tracks of this ep gone, everything is 80 miles per hour, all the vocals have been fuzzed up with distortion and I'm waiting for something a little bit different. And finally Geisha delivers something a little bit different - some of the vocals aren't swamped in effects and suddenly everything is right with the world.

WWBP sound like a fab band to me and I look forward to seeing them play live some time soon. But a 30 minute live set and a 40 minute album are two separate things and I reckon the Pilots might need to find a few more surprises in their flying jackets to make it work on record.

Shane Blanchard

Potion – A Band of Outsiders (Blue Orange Records)
Ahh..wonderful synth pop music. I used to hate you, now I love you. Mainly because of bands like Potion. Potion make romping, bruising, sophisticated, fuck-you pop music, and in Annie Maley they have a true star just waiting to be found and made into an international queen of the free world.

‘A Band of Outsiders’ never really lets up. From ‘25th Century’ – an ode to Buck Rogers it seems – onwards, Potion’s sound is that of a modern pop band running wild through the history of music. They even make the banjo sound sexy. Beat that George Formby!

And even where things do let up a little, the quality never dims. Take ‘Til The Morning’, which, oddly, sounds a little like The Smiths around the time of ‘The Queen Is Dead’…but with a drum machine.

And I think that’s the beauty of Potion. While they are essential a synth pop band – they have enough about them to realise that a love of Bis and Depeche Mode will not an album make. All hail them, then for taking in even a bit of Latino – oh yes! – and following it up with something that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Orb album.

Ecelctic is a phrase that is too often used, but there’s no better one for Potion. They might scramble your eggs sometimes, but on the whole I think that’s a good thing, don’t you?

Sam Metcalf

PAiL - Blue Man on the Sun (Moderate Roger)
I've been a while putting this review together for various reasons and I reckon for the whole time my opinion of the record has been fluctuating backwards and forwards. But now that the moment of reckoning has come, I've definitely decided to give a thumbs up (for this week at least).

Like a bastardised version of the Waltons, PAil features three members of the same family, including a Dad. But unlike Hanson, PAiL are heavy as Rik Waller's lunchbox and vocalist Seb Koehorst has a voice that would scare the shit out of Faith No More's Mike Patten. That is, when he decides to scream, the rest of the time is a rather reedy vulnerable vibrato, and that my friends is the one thing I have been unsure about.

There is no denying the quality of the demonic riffs, the popping bass lines and the precise (if a bit tinny at times) drumming. Obvious comparisons would be The Deftones, early Headswim (before Parlophone tried turning them into the next Radiohead) and Biohazard. In some moods the mixture of light and heavy vocals can grate a bit - just scream Piet! But having the benefit of quite a few listens this mixture is what might make PAiL stand out from the crowd - it is not one long onslaught but a journey between light and dark.

Shane Blanchard

Quit Your Dayjob – S/T  (Bad Taste)
Quit your Dayjob are quite obviously weirdoes. The photo on the press release said as much before I even listened to the record. However on listening to their music this is more than confirmed. As spiky almost surf-esque quitar and bass synth churn and repeat over tight drumming you know these boys aren’t all right. Oh no, they’re bloody brilliant.

Short catchy songs that will make you want to dance are the order of the day here. Most songs feature one or two riffs repeated with the same stance taken with the lyrics. For instance on a track like ‘Tanktop’ we get a repeating groove with the phrase ‘Tanktop, take it off’ repeated over the top. Now I know that doesn’t sound much but trust me it is wonderful.

Inject a bit of joy into your CD collection and get yourself some quit your day job. As the opener clearly states ‘The Freaks Are Out’ so come join them.

Luke Drozd

Phil Tyler - Banjo Music#2 (Justwhattheworldneedsmore)
It's true what they say about nice things coming in small packages, or, in this case, in next to no packaging at all. No press release telling me how this disc was going to change my life or who had written what about the music, just a disc with 20 songs crafted on traditional instruments with love.

And like Ronseal, this is exactly what it says it is - banjo music. I would never have though of myself as a banjo lover, the odd bit of folk and country maybe, but a whole album of banjo - never! I couldn't even tell you if this represents good banjo playing or not but it sure is a dang fine hours worth of britches-twitching music. Recorded in the spring of 2004, it effortlessly catches the feeling of summer days, just hanging out, somewhere nice and quiet. Even the odd fiddle accompaniment has me thinking of bubbling brooks and cowslips rather than square dances or George Formby.

This is one of those surprise packages that makes reviewing demos worthwhile. I don't know why you should like this but if you don't then there must be something wrong with you.

Shane Blanchard

The Bobby McGees – Wee Twee Album (demo)
Twee album of the month alert! The Bobby McGees are, as far as I can make out – a twosome who make delightful indie pop, with a broad Scottish brogue duelling with sugary female vocals. Fans of the late, lamented Prolapse will know just how well this works, but the BM’s are nowhere near as threatening. Indeed, they wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a duckling.

‘No Friends’, ‘You’re Not My Friend Anymore’ ‘Butterflys’…I think you’re getting the picture here. And it’s ACE! They even use a recorder and I don’t hate them! There are only six tracks here, and I want more. More, I tells you!

Sam Metcalf

Sons of Otis - X (Small Stone Records)
7 Songs, 55 Minutes, and some of the heaviest bass lines you are likely to hear…..ever. I’m actually feeling a little bit sick listening to this, if anyone was searching for the musical equivalent of suffocation I may very well have found it, may I present to you Sons of Otis.

There is something incredibly satisfying to hear a band whose (from what I can gather) soul ambition is to created some of the heaviest music known to man. Now, I don’t want to cast any sort of aspersions here, but I’m guessing that whisky and a cocktail of narcotics were involved in the recording of this album, it would only be reasonable to assume that. If you are looking for comparisons in a similar ball park would be Kyuss, Clutch or even Dead Meadow…. You get the picture very heavy, very slow and very good.

Another one that Metcalf would probably frown upon.

Drew Millward

Antihero - This is an Emergency (Alpha Engineering)
Like their Sheffield based peers, 65 Days of Static, Antihero manage to subvert the mainstream take on guitar bands with subtle changes to arrangements but also via the use of Korg load of samples and sequencers.

Possibly following some kind of deep seated emotional anxiety born of school discos past, 'Don't Trust the DJ' is almost the perfect embodiment of guitar/electronica crossover - urgency, precision, great hooks and enough of a sound to keep the punters bopping away at the front of the venues. By far the most successful tracks on this album are the ones which utilise electronic gubbins to the full effect. The notable exception being 'UK Garage Girl' which is a sub-pop masterpiece.

When they get it right, Antihero are a frighteningly good proposition. Sometimes they go a bit off kilter and the result for me is a couple of songs which aren't particularly bad but just seem to be a bit sluggish. But when you've got absolute blinders too like 'Who's Looking Out for Number 1' who cares?

Shane Blanchard

By Coastal Café – Old Cartoons
‘Old Cartoons’ has some of the most beautiful packaging I have seen in a while. The CD case is a small hard backed book, its pages full of beautiful photographs. Tucked away at the back almost as an afterthought is the album itself. It all has a sense of joy and innocence, something By Coastal Café’s music seems to be trying to capture as well.

On many occasions throughout the 21 tracks compiled here from between ’96-’00 they manage this. Lo-fi home recordings with frequently muffled vocals hum and hiss from your speakers with a definite sense of charm to them. This is an intentional pared back aesthetic, one that is supposed to welcome experimentation and shows a lack of preciousness and musical clutter.

However for all the charm her I cant help but feel this super-lo-fi duo can sometimes stray to far from the idea of song and melody and the naivety just becomes irritating.

A document rather than an album, its impossible to deny the charm of By Coastal Café. ‘Old Cartoons’ manages to be grating, childlike, artistic and grown up all at the same time. A truly unique body of work.

Luke Drozd

Various - Dance to the Radio - Leeds (Dance to the Radio)
Congratulations to Whiskas and the Transmission crew on finally getting their record label together. Having been putting on top quality gigs in Leeds for the last few years they are now releasing this compilation as an introduction to the label as well as a retrospective and forward look at the Leeds music scene.

That said, anyone who is after a bit of metal, electronica or the many other genres which are eschewed here in favour of what could most broadly be described as angular rock, will be disappointed. But this is in effect a prospectus for the label and there is enough good stuff on display here to make it a worthy release in its own right.

It's also interesting to compare some of the bands who have clearly got something about them and who promise great things in the future with those journeymen bands who may never have any great success outside the shores of West Yorkshire, no matter how worthy they are. It's not always about talent - it can be drive, commitment, opportunity and the many other things that can make or break a band.

As for the music, highlights are provided by a stupendous return to form by This Et Al and the frighteningly talented and innovative O Fracas who continue to try out a whole range of styles and compositions which would scare off your run of the mill bands. Being 747 and the Scaramanga Six maintain their usual quality and Baby Food take us back to the 80's with their twisted take on synth pop.

I believe the term is something for everyone...

Shane Blanchard

Bob Collum & The Welfare Mothers - The Boy Most Likely To…(Atomic Powered Records)
This is some pretty nice stuff. Good tunes. I’m sure I would enjoy it a lot more if it were a bit warmer.

I’m just rambling now aren’t I ?.....It’s just that I’m struggling to put down how I feel about this album. And the over riding sense I get is that it is ‘nice’, don’t get me wrong, that is not to question the quality of the song writing or the musicianship involved, it’s just I prefer my ‘alt-country’ a little more bitter and booze soaked….know what I mean? There are plenty of tracks on here that wouldn’t sound out of place being played over some teen existentialist crisis on ‘The OC’, probably when some pretty girl has trample over the heart of some pretty boy, and the possibility of them ever having uber pretty children slips further from grasp.

I bet my mum would quite like this.

Drew Millward

Settlefish – The Plural of the Choir (Deep elm)
‘The plural of the Choir’ is the kind of album any band wishing to describe them selves as indie rock would love to make. Settlefish's latest full length offers an indie rock record of maturity and diversity. From the opener, the gently building ‘Kissing in Chaos’ it is clear we are witness to something special. Songs are built and stripped, pushed and pulled so just when you think you’ve worked it out it all changes. It can be angular and tense or gentle and haunting.

In some ways ‘The Plural of the Choir’ is a sort of concept album in that it is Jonathon Claney's way of exorcising and reflecting on elements of his life after the breakdown of a relationship. This allows us to hear what is an honest album peppered with regret, joy, longing and bitterness. It is a collection of songs that because of this really work better as an entirety. It is in short the sound of a band creating something unique and inventive.

Luke Drozd

Dugong - Quick to the City (Bombed Out Records)
It is quite a feat for a band to fit quite as many hooks and heart crushing melodies into just six songs as Dugong have done with this latest offering. Along with such an achievement they have created a (very nicely packaged) document of a band playing at the top of their game.

In comparison to 2003s ‘Hat Danko’ this really strikes me as a much more mature and developed collection of songs. Where ‘Hat Danko’ was content with anthemic choruses and amazing hooks, ‘Quick to the City’ is slightly more complex. With the band incorporating much more ‘mathy’ guitars and frantic bass lines, the album has been given a far harder edge (listen to ‘Ain't Seen No Trouble Like Mine’ for evidence of that.),While at the same time never loosing the melodic sensibilities of previous offerings. Musically they sound tighter and more assured, and a strong vocal performance from Matt Broadbent makes this, in my humble opinion, the best Dugong release to date. It is definitely the sound of a band that have matured (kind of like a fine wine) and found their feet, to create some of the best heartfelt punk rock this nation of ours has to offer (I will not be using the ‘Emo’ label, it’s better than that).

Drew Millward

Eleven Minutes Away – Arson Followed Me Home (Deep Elm)
A mix of Punk, Hardcore and Metal, ‘Eleven Minutes Away’ are all about tight rhythms and anthemia songs. Sing along choruses are pulled together with snarls and screams. Guitars churn out tight heavy rhythm whilst occasional metal flourishes lace the lead. All this joins together to make what is essentially pretty energetic and enjoyable but that suffers from production that removes all the edge form their sound.  What this means is we never really get anything that lifts this release above being merely quite good.

Luke Drozd

Bottom - You’re Next (Small Stone Records)
Another slow burner from the chaps at Small Stone, this time from the all-female rock-outfit Bottom (please don’t be swayed by the name, this is really quite good). Although it is undoubtedly heavy as hell, the whole album is punctuated by some great hooks and some pretty damn good melodies, albeit swathed in layers of wailing guitars, vomit inducing bass and feed back.

There is a definite stoner element to the music presented here, but as with other bands on the label, they avoid the pit falls of the genre, and aren’t just content to plod from one crushing power chord to the next, instead opting for a more interesting approach to song writing and structures, in a similar vein to Isis, Neurosis or High on Fire.

I can’t imagine Mr. Metcalf would enjoy this too much.

Drew Millward

Bitmap - Micro/Macr0 (Gentle Electric)
The gentle eccentrics at Gentle Electric must have completely lost track of time, as 'Micro/Macr0', the new album from ex-Salako genius Luke Barwell ('the Brian Wilson of Hull!'), is probably one of the sunniest, most summery, lemonade-drinkingest records to have been released in a damp, freezing January. This may have been a deliberate ploy to appeal to those of us who like a bit of climatic escapism in our music ("hmm, it's foggy and raining - stick some reggae on"), but I reckon that a few rays and the scent of freshly-mown grass in the air would stimulate sales of this record no end. Still, I'm sure they know what they're doing.

Whether you like 'Micro/Macro' will probably depend partly on what you made of 'Alpha Beta Gamma', Luke's last LP as Bitmap, as it's largely the same kind of thing, with some much worse track titles and a good few stealthy musical mutations... the Beach Boys-y ones have been rocked up in a bit more of Beatles-y way, and the sound of Luke's one-man-band is generally liver and warmer. The electronics are more spread out, which I appreciated but also slightly resented, as I always want to hear more electronica going on - my favourites on this lp are the tracks which have more electronic-type structures, like the delicately dubby "Soft Bombs in the See-Thru Forest", and the title track, which is taken over by a big moogy growly bassline halfway in. Throughout the album, there's a strange tension between these moments of oscillator-based beauty and their jaunty, poptastic fellows - even after several listens, it never quite resolves itself, and so the record as a whole doesn't flow so smoothly as the first... it's one of those albums where you'll end up skipping different tracks when listening at different times, as the pace constantly changes. This will annoy some people.

Luke's songwriting remains a thing of beauty... the lyrics still have that wide-eyed optimism and the innocent fascination with nature, which might have been embarrassing in other circumstances but which make perfect un-self-conscious sense when allied to the appealing simplicity of the music. And even if the lyrical themes completely pass you by (which was the case for me with some of the downright twee sounding tracks like "Oh, Mahima"), you'll find that the uncompromising catchiness of the tunes will hook you in. It took me a few listens to fully appreciate the extent to which this record is a progression from 'Alpha Beta Gamma'... initially I thought it had a few 'filler' tracks which could have been lost, but when I tried to identify them, I found they all contained moments of indispensable golden pop perfection (except 'Blood For Money' which we really could do without). It's a more relaxed and self-confident record than the first album, and though it lacks the bite of the songs from the 'Black Arts In The Town Hall' EP, I feel that it's a worthy sequel and deserves every success.
The Crane

Josh Rouse - Home
I bought Josh Rouse’s first album, Dressed up like Nebraska, when it was released but owned it for two years before I really got into it. Now I would probably consider it one of my favourite albums. Consequently I’m not going to be playing hard and fast with my opinions on his new release Home. 

Unfortunately, having listened to the record a few times only curiosity is going to make me play it again. There’s nothing on the album that screams wrong at you, but all the tracks merge into one radio friendly hum of bland production values. The last four tracks do raise their heads above this fog of banality, and you think  

‘Hey maybe I’m wrong. This is good. I like the drumming on track…’ 

So you put the album on again only to realise that 30 minutes have passed, it’s track 7 again and you’ve listened to the first six tracks but thought it was just one. Maybe (hopefully) I’m wrong and all Rouse records take a couple of years to crack. But I dunno...  

Put it like this: You know you have some music that no matter how long you’ve owned you’re still reluctant to lend it to a friend because you know you might have to listen to it soon. Instead you answer; 

‘Oh…erm… give me a blank tape/CD/minidisc and I’ll copy it for you.’ 

I’d let anyone of my mates borrow this, even after they’d joined the army.