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  albums - april 2005


Bunky – ‘Born To Be A Motorcycle’ (Asthmatic Kitty)
When I first sat down and put this on I was less than enthused about it. That’s because the first track is somewhat of a false start being the weakest track on the album and all. Once past that though I found lots to be positive about. Bunky play a great line in skewed pop and can often be edgy and loud with it like on the track ‘Yes/No’ for example.  On this and many others here they demonstrate that they have the ability to write some catchy and compelling tunes.

Sadly that isn’t all they seem to do. They also seem preoccupied with occasionally veering towards the ‘wacky’ side of it. What could be a good song has it stripped from it by some inane line or hook that just ends up making me feel a little annoyed. However this is representative of a very small percentage of the material here but is ultimately what stops this album leaping into my heart.

Bunky are nice, let me just say that. They have moments that stray into being excellent but generally nice seems to cover it.

Luke Drozd

Giles – Blue Funk
Why in God’s name choose a moniker like “Giles”? Main-man Mark Koehurst explains that the reason is “because it is so English”. Fair enough…he’s Dutch, but has he never heard of The Fast Show? Sounds like the kind of act of they’d have on Jazz Club…ni-sssssh! And then there was that guy called Giles at my university who used to sit down the front of the comedy club and get ribbed mercilessly every month about his name. So is it any wonder that I approach this CD with just a hint of trepidation?

Giles, however, deal in “da blooze”, not jazz, and initially I am pleasantly surprised. Opening track “The Chase” occupies a spot is at the catchier end of the wine-bar soundtrack spectrum, and is followed up by a suitably world-weary cover of the standard “CC Rider”. Then we have the shuffling groove of “Keep on Dancin’” which, to all intents and purposes, actually reminds me of those young Northern upstarts The Music.

So far, so good, but then just when I was getting comfortable the album loses its way (and my attention) with a sludgy piece of work called “Lost A Friend”, before being completely derailed amidst a score of technically sound yet lifeless funk-wah guitar solos.

Will Columbine

Tydal Wave - Break Down the Walls (Tydal Wave)
Why? Why? Why? You might have thought that Grunge, Brit-Pop and Rave never happened. Maybe they never did in Memphis, a town still recovering from the legacy of Elvis. If you like your music exquisitely produced, your lyrics sung like every word might be your last and your guitar amps turned up to 11 (but only on the chorus and bridge, after the obligatory clean verses) then this will leave you wet (much like poor Mr Wave on the cover of his record).

But lovers of heart-felt rock pay attention! How much heart-ache and soul searching can one man really achieve while churning out Nickelback's back catalogue of unused riffs? My guess is that these guys will go down a storm with anyone who has a Bon Jovi record, a pair of leather strides or who has ever sported a shoulder length perm. Musically pretty adept, this sort of music just hasn't ticked my box since Dean Fowler made me listen to a Def Leppard record in second year at school.

Shane Blanchard

Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band - Horses In The Sky (Constellation)
I begin this review, yes several members of thee silver mt zion… used to be/are in perennial post-rock favourites Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I say this now to avoid dozens of emails telling me so, and also because this, the bands fourth full-length release is so far separated from GY!BE and post-rock in general that comparisons would be unfair and entirely inaccurate.  

In fact, a direct description of the band using existing genre’s would probably be longer than the bands full name. This doesn’t mean that the six songs (not drones, not movements, but songs) that make up the 59 minutes of the album are foreign or inaccessible, this is probably the bands (and to an extent, the labels) most inviting album as of yet. 

The first song of the album; ‘God bless our dead marines’ begins with muted double bass and the lyric “They put angels in the electric chairs” and soon evolves into a cacophony of screaming violins and handclaps, before retreating to campfire chanting. I’m not a fan of using hyperbole, but when you are dealing with music this emotional and otherworldly, its almost a necessity.  

The next track, ‘Mountains made of steam’ tries to retain the momentum of its predecessor, but ultimately fails. Its on tracks like this that the band has disappointed since their formation in 2001. Too often they give you a song that has the ability to move you to tears and change your perception of music and follow it with something that’s less than a shell of their potential. 

Of course, this means that when they do revert to form, you are filled with the same wonder and amazement you felt when you first heard them. This may be the reason I think the title track is to yet, sans hyperbole, the best ‘pop’ song written since Teenage Kicks. Some may not agree that ‘Horses In The Sky’ is technically a conventional pop song, I guess it depends on your opinion of what pop is. To me it’s a song with catchy hooks, a simple melody and memorable lyrics. ‘Horses…’ has all three, and Efrims fragile voice only makes the song harrowing.

‘Teddy Roosevelt’s Guns’ is the closest the band comes, on this record, to post-rock. However, the heavy political tones and acapella ending prevents categorization alongside effects-reliant bores such as Mogwai or Slint.  ‘Hang On To Each Other’ builds from a single hummed tune to a multi-part campfire chant, similar to ‘Sow Some Lonely Corner’ from the bands first album “This is our Punk-Rock”

‘Ring Them Bells’ closes the record, and is similar to the opening track in its structure and build up. The lyrics seemingly venture off into various directions whereas throughout they have been about love or the sorrow of the loss of something you love. The song fades out after fourteen minutes and you are left in daydreaming of ‘sleep trains coming thirteen story’s high’

No hyperbole indeed

Jordan Dowling

King Creosote – ‘Rocket DIY’ (Fence/domino)
Domino seems to have really put its back behind British folk and has helped it have a definite resurgence recently with the likes of Adem and James Yorksten releasing highly regarded albums on the label. The latest name to join them is king Creosote aka Kenny Anderson and friends. As head of the Fence Collective Anderson is a man doing all he can to ensure we the public get to hear the best of the nu-folk crop and his own ventures into song writing are no exception. In fact they are exceptional.

‘Rocket DIY’ is a collection of songs that are at once very much Scottish and folk and yet where as this may conjure up unspeakable looking chaps and bagpipes this album is nothing of the sort. It is in fact an album so full of diversity and depth it is truly hard for me describe. It has scope enough to encompass a song like Saffy Nool that has a beat that will have you drumming along to the melancholy amble that is ‘Circle My Demise’ a track that is achingly wonderful. It’s a record simply for whatever mood you are in as the songs here deal with every element of the human condition in both tone and lyrics.

The backbone of the album musically is very much traditional instrumentation, in particular piano and guitar but there is far more to be found within. Electronic bleeps and drones lurk beneath the surface while pedal steel and banjo jump on board to pile yet more on. It should be too much and break under the load but it doesn’t. It works, and it works very, very well.

Rocket DIY’ is quite simply one of the first essential albums of the year and one that will bore its way into your heart and lay eggs of musical joy. It should also establish Anderson as the new king of the weirdy beardy nu-folk bunch.

Luke Drozd

The Brobecks – Happiest Nuclear Winter
Hailing from Salt Lake City, this is the 2nd self-recorded album from the Brobecks during their short lifespan (1 ½ years) and they assure us that, despite limited resources, they’ve put a lot more time and thought into the production this time around.

Theirs is a very chirpy brand of Americana and, indeed, they list such genre luminaries as Wilco, Grandaddy, GBV and the Flaming Lips amongst their influences. All well and good  (I’m a sucker for that sort of thing), but all manner of bleeps and squelchy noises can’t disguise the fact that the Brobecks lack that elusive “x” factor that separates their heroes from the pack, and overlong songs and unremarkable vocals (think of a bargain basement Jeff Buckley) don’t help either.

In fact, it only takes me until track 3, “Everyone’s A Jerk”, to realise that they have more in common with…uhh…The Thrills? At least the spoken word quirkiness of “A Letter” some variation (and perhaps a more promising signpost toward the future?), but right now the overall result is of a band trying to appear more interesting than they really are.

Will Columbine

The First Second - s/t (First Second)
Heheh! The First Second are fronted by Jessejames Locorriere, son of Dr Hook front man Dennis - cool! But there is no 70's disco funk here. Song writer Stacy Burns time in previous rock bands comes through as the songs are direct and feature killer hooks.

In parts this sounds a little bit like Alice in Chains unplugged. Anyone who ever heard their 'Jar of Flies' ep will know what I mean, especially on 'Another Mission' where additional strings are introduced to the mix. On 'Speak and Spell', the vocals are edgy and put through a variety of effects to create great atmosphere while the guitar parts are really innovative and get ably supported by the bouncing bass lines.

This is innovative ad toe-tappingly good stuff. My guess is The First Second put on a good live show. But if you can't get to see them, a tenner spent on this CD would not be wasted.

Shane Blanchard

Lovejoy – Everyone Hates Lovejoy (Matinee)
The poor lambs, Lovejoy are clearly Millwall fans. ‘Everyone Hates…’ is the second album from these Brighton-based pop troubadours, and easily as swoonsome as the classic ‘Everyone Wants To Be A Millionnaire, for if there are another band that can do the mournful pop anthem better than Lovejoy, then I’m a Scunthorpe United fan. And you know that’ll never happen.

All the hallmarks of a classic Lovejoy release are here, chiming, shimmering guitars, doleful lyrics, deadbeat disco beats, and the obligatory mention of Morrissey in the album’s centrepiece, ‘Sid Vicious’. What’s more there’s a cracking cover of The Windmills’ ‘Drug Autumn’.

The fact that this album was recorded and released over two years matters not, and it’s even given time for Richard Preece to sing a cheery song! ‘Because You’re Worth It’ comes on like Power, Corruption and Lies- era New Order, and is chirpy in the way that I suppose Tony Hancock raised a smile or two.

But the fact remains that no other band I can think of are making such wonderful depressed pop music. I’m sure Preece is a scream really, but as long as he carries on crying into his breakfast, then I’ll be happysad.

Sam Metcalf

Abstrackt Keal Agram – ‘Bad Thriller’ (Gooom)
Abstract Keal Agram (AKA) hail from the shores of France a country fast becoming as well known for its hip-hop and electronica as it is its baguettes. It therefore would seem to make sense then that AKA deal in an odd blend of both of these two genres of music in order to make a raw and immediate music that is very much there own. In all aspects of the record, whether it be a more straightforward electronic soundscape like ‘Riviere’ or a more hip hop orientated track like ‘Street Lamp Confessions’, you can compare and find influences but the overall sound has little comparisons. Particularly interesting are the elements of their native country that come through on occasions such as the thoroughly Gallic guitar and squeeze box of ‘Delta Force’ resulting in a track that sounds like Django Reinhardt being dragged in to the year 2005.

This record is a short, sharp and entertaining piece of music offering flare and imagination to a publics generally undernourished hearing tackle.

Luke Drozd

Bailey - S/t
Another day, another accomplished singer-songwriter. This hour-long self-titled album is a two year labour of love from northerner Bailey, who references George Harrison/Travelling Wilburys ("Better Man"), Fairport Convention ("Aching & Waiting") and Nick Drake (check out those string arrangements!) in his folk-laden choons. Indeed, after half an hour of pastoral strumming, the amped-up stomp of "Suicide Bullet Train" is a welcome change - what a shame that it's a fairly unremarkable effort.

What this album really needs are more songs like the sweetly melancholic "More Than I" , the sprightly "Be Here to Love Me", or the marriage of child narration and trip-hop beats that is "Wounds of Craving" - all of which are bizarrely positioned right near the end of the record. However, there's no indication of the "unique sound" promised by the press release, and it's clear that there are really only enough ideas here for a mini LP at best. Then again, two years would be enough to make anyone lose perspective.

Will Columbine

Ambulance Ltd – Ambulance Ltd (TVT)
At last! A proper American indie rock album! Not since the last Death Cab For Cutie album has this tasty correspondent heard an album in that genre of such quality. Ambulance Ltd – great name that, too, eh? – make 70s-tinged proper, grown up indie pop/rock – the sort that’ll stick in the mind for more than a few listens. At times they sound a little like The Coral – see the lovely, lilting ‘Anecdote’, at other they’re more dreampop – the wonderfully soft and fuzzy ‘Heavy Lifting’, but mostly the legend of classic songwriting is never far away.

It’s hard to say which way this band will go. I certainly wouldn’t wish them to be inhabiting the same orbit as Keane etc within a year – mainly because that would mean everyone else would like them, and I’m a snob. But at the same time, these finely crafted slabs of pop/rocks deserved to be heard by a wider audience. Oh, why is life so cruel?!

Sam Metcalf

Detwiije - Would You Rather Be Followed by Forty Ducks For the Rest of Your Life? ep (Gizeh)
Pretentious title alert! Or maybe it means something really deep and meaningful, either way it takes some writing. But fortunately this lavishly packaged little CD comes up trumps.

For my money, the title track (I won't bother writing it again) is the strongest work that Detwiije have produced yet, adding an urgency and drive to their customary cavernous soundscapes. The track builds on a precise violin signature with walls of squalling guitar then suddenly just drops out leaving a fantastic delayed guitar part tying the whole song together. Generous on our concentration too, only weighing in at 6 and a half minutes.

Which is more than can be said about 'Mispelt Dutch Architect' which drags on for over 15 minutes. Maybe they're on about Rem Koolhaas (he's the only Dutch architect I know) but I wish they would get on with it as this track is just too long. 'Pop' is pretty uneventful fare before 'La Guerre des Mondes' rounds things off quite nicely (if again drawn out over nearly quarter of an hour when 7 or 8 minutes would have been fine). On balance though, a good acquisition for anyone who enjoys creative instrumentation and mighty arrangements.

Shane Blanchard

Barry O’Brien – Spark (E.P)
Barry describes his sound as “powerpop”, and, if nothing else, he has an entirely accurate handle on his output, which sounds like a cross between late ‘60s Fab Four (the descending chord structure of opener “Cut Me Out”) and the solo work of The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow (“The Strangest Game”). Strangely though, the first two tracks are the more unremarkable. Ok, so “Sisters in the Sky”, with its double-tracked vocals and string section, is the best Elliott Smith song the deceased troubadour never wrote, but what’s wrong with that? And “Under the Waves” finishes off proceedings nicely with a bit of a brass and a catchy chorus. Accomplished, yes; original…perhaps not, but then I’ve heard a lot worse.

Will Columbine

Chris Jones - Lonesome Jonesome (2casual Recordings)
This is a remarkable record in many ways. Firstly, at a time when most 19 year olds are deciding if they prefer Liberty X or Atomic Kitten, Chris Jones is nurturing a world weary song writing ability that would make Leonard Cohen weep. Secondly, it is not often that you can truly say a style is 'original' but in the case of this album, I don't think I've ever heard anything quite like it before.

Built primarily around a single guitar part and bare vocals, these tracks are bare yet intricate and free-spirited at the same time. Vaguely in keeping with acoustic minimalist acts like David Thomas Broughton, Jones manages to hatchet his way through the vocals with a variety of yelps, growls and Americana flavoured spite. But whereas Broughton could swear at your gran and get away with it because of his wonderful voice and harmonies, Jones sounds like he is hack-sawing his guitar into submission at times. Intermittent  percussion from taps of the scratch plate, the bridge and even muted use of the base strings punctuate the otherwise spartan melodies.

But this isn't all that bleak. 'Let's Get Busy' features some remarkably simple yet beautiful cascading guitar accompanied by a chorus of shouty vocals and whispered verses which sound like they were delivered by Elmer Fudd. Seriously.

This record is a work of genius. Some kind of slightly worrying genius that doesn't try to fit into any category and pours out a range of emotions in barely comprehensible yet beautiful sounding vocals, but genius nonetheless.

Shane Blanchard

Death From Above 1979 – ‘You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine’ (679)
Sit down somewhere you feel safe and brace yourself. Make sure the volumes turned up and press play on the remote. Now prepare for the sonic assault of sheer joy that is Death From Above 1979.

DFA 1979 are one of the new onslaught of two piece bands currently gracing our stereos and are also one of the best.  Form start to finish ‘You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine’ is brutal, absorbing rock of the highest order. It takes metal tinged riffs, crooned vocals and powerful tunes and mixes them together to form an album of tight fast paced songs.

Single ‘Romantic Rights’ shows how rock can groove and sleaze along without sounding completely ridiculous or facile. In fact that is probably what DFA do best. They are sleaze merchants who are encouraging kids to ‘Go Home, Get Down’. They are determined to prove to us that rock can be raw and sexy and not make you snigger. One of the ways this is managed is the though just how tight the whole sound is. If this album were anymore sloppy in any aspect it simply wouldn’t work. However what DFA do is produce a riot of noise that is a shambles that could turn on a penny. ‘Little Girl’ demonstrates this power to full effect as some of the greatest riffs I’ve heard in years are given an airing. And as if to make a point the final track ‘Sexy Results’ wields, well, sexy results mainly. It is a hip rotating song of utter immorality as grimy guitar, bongos and synths churn and thrust as we are told ‘woman friend take me to your bedroom/ let me show you how I am full grown’.

On top of all this there’s also a limited bonus disc featuring the stunning track Better Off Dead and an amazing remix of Blood on Our Hands! This is an astonishing album of aural pleasure. Just make sure not to use some of the lines on the ladies, they won’t work….trust me!

Luke Drozd

Various - Headbangers Bible (WSM)
Oh, come on. Seriously. As if using the current success of The Darkness as a springboard to re-release a load of old metal tracks which we've all heard a million times in commercials/film soundtracks/Mum and Dad's record collection etc is justifiable. Don't even get me started on The Darkness, headlining T in the Park last year? Are you joking? Oh dear, I'm off...

Getting past the fact that this release is obviously designed to make some fatcat record executive a lot of cash out of their 70's rock back catalogue, strange move to kick off with 'Killer Queen' by Queen - how do you head bang to that? All these tracks remind me of the hordes of leather clad bikers who used to inhabit Trillians in Newcastle, drinking snakey black and bullying us poor, sensitive grunge kids. The only glimmers of light in an otherwise twilight world of piss-poor metal line up were the inclusion of 'Everything about You' by Ugly Kid Joe (for irony sake) and a couple of ZZ Top tracks. Now I've got a theory about ZZ Top being the precursors of 90's electro but you had definitely not get me started on that...

Shane Blanchard

Lorna – Static Patters And Souvenirs (Words on Music)
Nottingham’s Lorna have been around for yonks, and quite why they’re having to put their records out on an American label is beyond me. However, they’re very at home at the excellent Words on Music, and Static Patterns and Souvenirs is one of the most gorgeous albums you’ll hear this year.

Lorna’s music is something of a paradox. Lush and omnipresent, yet barely there, theirs is a sound that could both terrify and soothe a baby. And me, come to think of it.

It’s not pop music as we know in the sense of, say Airport Girl, but I dare you not to fall in love with tracks as huggable as ‘The Last Mosquito Flight Of Summer’, which has Sharon Cohen’s wonderfully rich voice very much to the fore. This is the sound of the Mysterons after a cup of tea.

Yet, like a plate from the Pound Shop, Lorna can shatter. From the dreamy heights of ‘Mosquito’, they can plumb the desolate depths of ‘Swans’ – an allegory not to the long necked, evil flying thing, but lost love and all that jazz.

If you really want to compare, then think of the sparseness of Tindersticks mixed with the beauty of Last Harbour and you’ll get near to Lorna’s sound. And that sound is one of extreme beauty, believe me. An album to treasure.

Sam Metcalf

Absent Kid - I Burnt Down the Family Business (Fierce Panda)
Absent Kid deserve fame and fortune just for coming up with the most fantastic title in April. They also seem to bring together all the best qualities of recent reviewees Antihero and We Will Be Pilots in one nasty hunk of spiky but accessible punk rock. Then at a glance they turn there hand to, and achieve admirably, some Elvis Costello style pop tunes with a sad twinge of Radiohead thrown in for good measure.

As if these unlikely lessons in band husbandry were not enough there are soundbites of what Idlewild used to sound like before they went mainstream, all fury and energy.

Not much more required to say really. Absent Kid are good - listen to this or I'll tell your Mum.

Shane Blanchard

HP.Stonji – Melaina Chloe (Spezialmaterial)
A favourite of the late great John Peel, this duo have made a digital album that really is giving me grief. Not because it’s bad, in fact quite the opposite. Its range of tone means it’s an album that you sort of drift into and you become absorbed by. Its just that this range means it doesn’t fit neatly into any one hole or description.

Some tracks like ‘630’ click and purr at you like a robot cat where as opener ‘Meo’ veers somewhere between obnoxious and beautiful. It is equal parts psychedelia to 80’s computer fun mixed with a brooding sense of menace (‘Mith’ kind of reminds me of the old R-Type music if it were re-written by a known criminal). Added to this is more bonus features than you shake a really big stick at. In short its electronic music on a grand scale so come on people open your ears and your hearts and let these blighters in.

Luke Drozd

Jerry Colburn - Smell the Love (Strip Mall of Sound)
Dispel any thoughts of Spinal Tap which may be lurking from the title - this is as far from that as could be. 23 songs in just 50 minutes, this lurches joyously between more differing styles than Imelda Marcos in a Clarks shoe shop.

I'm instantly hooked by Buzzy the Squirrel as I love not only squirrels but also electronica and, more specifically Casiocore (or indeed, as I prefer to term it - Commodorecore). There is a  serious change of tempo with the electric organ or 'Evening in Newark' before blues riffs are mixed with more electro in Santa Sangre Blues. In looking for soundalikees, this bluesey/electro theme with plenty of scratching on the decks is probably closest to the Lo Fidelity Allstars or even Beck - praise indeed!

I felt strangely compelled to flip through to 'Dildo Baggage Car' which turned out to be a Bangra-laden work of Munster-esque George Formbyisms - well weird. 'Fornication Song' is about as far as you can get from Barry White and 'Ill Spanking' has some of the finest and dirtiest funk synth this side of the 70's, maybe what the Beastie Boys would have recorded if they hadn't been nicking badges off Volkswagons all those years ago.

So don't believe all those jokes about drummers being the ones who hang round with real musicians. Jerry Colbourn has made the leap and created a menagerie of tracks that defy pigeon holing.I think he may have watched a lot of cartoons when he was a kid.

Shane Blanchard

Alto 45 – 101101 (Happy Capitalist)
Ich bin ein Alto 45er. Yes. This is a band that appeals to my indie sensibilities possibly more than any this month. Y’see, Alto 45 make music that I used to listen to when I wore turn-ups in my jeans and moped in my bedroom all day. And that makes it fucking ace pop music, in my book, cos nostalgia rules, okay?

That Alto 45 are miserable arty bastards is not in dispute. And that makes me love them even more. Listen to the repetitive strains of ‘Fell Down Stairs’, which sounds a little like Gorky’s singing Pink Floyd doing a Fall cover (phew!), and just wallow. ‘101101’ does have it’s happy, throwaway moments, like ‘Sunburn’, but even that’s an awkward bugger.

The Pink Floyd reference is particularly relevant, I think. There is a strain of oblique pop running through Alto 45’s music that brings to mind The Kinks, Pink Floyd, XTC and Gorky’s. And of this they should be proud. This makes my day, every day.

Sam Metcalf

Jacoba - Easy Listening for Foreigners (Loverboy)
Another Tasty exclusive - our first submission from the Isle of Man, home of TT races and, errr, cats with no tails. Perhaps Jacoba's geographical predicament is the source of their cunning title? Either way, the album starts off great with a couple of swaggering fiends of rock/pop writing - like an intelligent man's Muse having afternoon tea with Placebo round at The Cure's newly built conservatory. Not sure if 'Deeper' is a single but it could be. In fact, just had a sqizz at the press release and 'Deeper' is in fact earmarked for single status - ha! I truly am a muso hack!

Using my newfound press release awareness I see that 'Marquis Hudspeth' is based on a real life tragedy. The only tragedy around here is that horrible synth sound in the choruses. And bloody hell! I've just read the rest of the press release - Muse and Manic Street Preachers, my next name drop, get a mention.

It's true what they say - you only ever have one original idea in a lifetime and I may never write the perfect review. Similarly Jacoba are treading pretty familiar waters to a range of other artists. But the music is full of energy and conviction so I'm sure they'll pick up lots of fans along the way. And...Supergrass! 'Sleep on It ' sounds like Supergrass! And that wasn't on the press release - ha!

Shane Blanchard

Martha Wainwright – S/T (Drowned In Sound)
There must be something in the water at the Wainwright’s. In the space of only a few months we’ve had albums from Loudon, Rufus and now Martha. Its got to be a nerve racking thing to do to realise an album in two such lauded musicians, especially when one of them is your father who didn’t believe in your music in the first place.

Well Martha Wainwright has done it before and being the least well known of the family may have done her a lot of favours. Her self titled debut is an honest and bare album that rally lays it bare, loneliness, fears and self doubt. Songs can veer towards angry bombast (TV Show) or sweet and broken (These Flowers). All this tied together means it sort of resembles a female version of Ryan Adams Gold but with a far more cynical and bitter aftertaste.

On the whole the record is genuinely accomplished and it is only really tarnished for me by occasional moments like ‘Ball and Chain’ which tend to move a little to close to the Ani DiFranco realms of grating female folk, but hey that’s probably just me.

Martha Wainwright shows she is every bit the talent that the rest of her family has and she is finally ready to let the world know.

Luke Drozd

The Pretty Flowers - S/t (Banana Seat Records)
Bit of a misleading title band name this one - methinks Mr Irony is heavily at work here. Far from being pretty flowers, this band write about nasty things in life and accompany them with a suitably vicious punk approach, only veering from the guitar-bass-drums triangle to introduce a second vocal part occasionally. That said, the lyrics are fab, including the only recorded use of the word 'snatch' to describe a woman's bits that I've ever heard.

I think you've got to be into this kind of thing to listen to it on CD. I can imagine pogoing along like a good 'un at a gig but there aren't many times when I think I would be picking this out the old CD collection for a re-listen.

Shane Blanchard

Pilots of Japan – The Plan To Reverse Time (demo)
My word, this cd makes a terrible sound in my player. Hang on, that’s just the music. Only joking, muckers! This is…..*drum roll*….SPACE ROCK. Yes, Mama…the Pilots of Japan are OUT THERE! And some of it is quite wonderful indeed, as it makes the music reach BIG heights, oh yeah. So, the songs that I like on this album are, and get these for titles, ‘Bionic Man’, in fact, bugger it, I pretty much like them all. I’m feeling charitable and I’m going for a pint in a minute. Pilots of Japan, I love you.

Sam Metcalf

Mandarin Movie – S/T (Aesthetics)
Mandarin Movie is the brain child of Rob Mazurek, multi-instrumentalist, artist and member of Isotope 217. It also features a hell of a supporting cast including members of Califone, Wilco and Tortoise. So what happens when you put all this together in a room and let them record an album? Well it turns out to be a mix of dense music, psychotic beauty and absolute nonsense all in one.

From the out set it is clear you are not going to be allowed to have it easy as first track ‘Orange’ grabs you by the particulars and beats you over the head, in a musical sense. ‘The Green Giraffe’ that follows offers a brief respite before bursting into thunderous and down right frightening noise. It is this sort of experimental attitude that makes this not so much an enjoyable album as an interesting and at times entertaining one. Moments of joyous electonica are interspliced with what is near musical insanity (for instance the beginning to ‘Black Goat (Part One)’ sounds like someone throwing all the musicians down a well whilst they’re still miked up) and it can feel like you’re enduring it at times rather than listening to it. But trust me diligent public, invest time in it and you will discover this is a digital, industrial piece of Jazz-tronica. Yes that’s right, I made that word up.

Luke Drozd

Gene Owens – Fugitive Moments
It’d be very easy to dismiss Gene Owens as some kind of dippy hippy, with his head stuck up his own arse. After all, politics and music don’t go together, right. FUCKING WRONG! We’re supposed to be living through the largest anti-war protest movement since the early seventies, and where are the great records about this? Where are the pop stars with a conscience? Nowhere. It’s left to Gene Owens to put out HIS OWN RECORD to complain about what’s going on. Shame on the rest of you.

In truth, Gene makes music that could easily have been around in the early seventies, but it’s pleasant enough for sure. Indeed, there are hints of the Posies here and there, and tracks like ‘War Machine’ fair knock your wig off.

So, like a Housemartins, Gene Owens is here to take you by the testicles and drag you screaming towards the light. And good on him for not wanting to choose between lesser evils. Take heed you slack trousered bastards who fill my ears every day!

Sam Metcalf

Gavouna – ‘Stings & Dun Machines’ (Arable)
Gavouna aka Athanasios Argianas bridges that gap between the digital and the analogue, the electronic and the man-made. He is a talented musician incorporating pianos and lush strings into his work as well as utilising sparse electronic elements as well. He has collaborated with the likes of Micah P Hinson and supported the much lauded The Earlies. That’s pretty good going considering this is I first full length album.

‘Stings & Dum Machines’ has a very personal sound to its instrumentation . It is full and lush but has a raw quality to it so you can hear plucks and clangs and scrapes bangs. It is dirty but yet somehow still polished and complete. By track three ‘One Four’ it is beginning to hit its stride as it leads into the more swampy industrial ness that is ‘Trickstick’. It evokes comparisons to acts like Hanged Up and Brokeback whilst not actually sounding like either of them. It is in short a gorgeous and cinematic album indeed.

Luke Drozd

Unsacred Hearts – Unsacred Hearts (Serious Business Records)
After Gene Owens, this was always gonna be a bit grating. Unsacred Hearts may be some people’s cup of dishwater, but they’re sure not mine. It’s all so ruddy forced, and nasty, is this. Like someone’s holding them at gunpoint, refusing to let them go til they’ve made a record whilst scrubbing a cheese grater down their knackers. Fans of mid-90s Touch & Go records, and there were plenty of them, will probably lap them up. Me, I like my knacker more polished.

Sam Metcalf

Maximilian Hecker – ‘Lady Sleep’ (Kitty-Yo)
I first heard Maximilian Hecker a good few years back on the release of his debut ‘Infinite Love Songs’ and I was both delighted and disappointed by it. Now some years on we have his third full length and to be perfectly honest its giving me a very similar feeling.

What he deals in is lush, piano and guitar driven songs that deal in ‘love, death, anaesthesia, bliss and lunacy’ and I’d say that pretty much nails it. Much of the album demonstrates his ability to write and perform beautiful songs that are rich and comforting yet quite unsettling on closer inspection. For instance on a song such as ‘Everything Inside Me is Ill’ which has a tag line of ‘so I walk to my own grave and I watch the sun go down’ has a pure and sweet melody and its only on listening to the lyrics that you realise this is a beautiful song full of desperation.

Sadly for all its beauty Lady Sleep sometimes strays into the territory of just being a little to close to the anaesthesia mentioned before and becomes somewhat lacking.

As a whole this album isn’t perfect, however if you skip past those occasional dull moments you can bask in the intimacy of some songs of staggering beauty.

Luke Drozd

The Capstan Shafts – Unreconstructed Lo-Fi Whore (Ladder The Christmas Monkey Records)
Oh yeah, very nice. Remember the first time you heard Pavement, and could just sort of….go with it. So it is the same with the Capstan Shafts. This a band that adhere to this arm of tasty’s ‘fuck it’ attitude. They’ve clearly spent about sixpence on studio time, and this great little mini-album is all the better for it. Each songs just about runs into the next, and the lack of vocal and musical ability makes me want to pick this band up…and smoke them. I await their next move with more than a moist palm.

Sam Metcalf

Half Handed Cloud – ‘Thy is a Word and Feet Need Lamps’ (Asthmatic Kitty)
Sometimes learning can be fun. Yes it can. As a child Sesame Street would fulfil this role, then as a young man grows perhaps he turns to They Might Be Giants to tell him about lessons of life and science. But who I hear you cry will teach you about the stories from the Old Testament? Well panic no longer because John Ringhofer under the guise of Half handed Cloud will do this very thing for us. Hoorah!

So yes this is an album of songs that tells various stories from the Old Testament, that’s the bit back when it was all fire and brimstone for those not aware, so we have 16 tracks telling us about Moses, Ezekiel Bread, plagues and the removal of thumbs. Now before you start to get dismissive this is NOT a novelty item people. With the help of a few friends (including Sufjan Stevens on drums) Ringhofer constructs a series of sweet, brilliant pop songs with a slightly rough and eccentric edge. They kind of lean towards the Danielson Family’s idea of the genre though with perhaps a hint of the Beach Boys mixed in for good measure.

This is an album that will put a smile on your face whilst you’re regaled with some of the most brutal stories ever told. So why not sit back and learn a thing or two from an album that’s sure to give you a strange inner glow.

Luke Drozd

War Against Sleep – Invitation To The Feast (Fire Records)
To say War Against Sleep are seedy buggers would be to say that Jordan likes kissing a bit. ‘Invitation To The Feast’ reminds me of an obscure 60s concept album that was recorded over 56 sleepless nights. This is one warped bastard of an album, and, by crikey, I like it.

Pop goes War Against Sleep with the dirty T-Rex boogie of ‘Star/Borderline Personality’, but this is a mere second wind from insomnia as Duncan Fleming and his band of minstrels continue the nightmarish pop journey on ‘Puppies and Kittens’, the title of which has me shitting myself with fear.

Those of a certain age will remember Tales of the Unexpected, and maybe Sapphire and Steel. War Against Sleep are the audio version of the programmes that used to scare me witless as a child. Beware.

Sam Metcalf

Monika Force
This compilation of artists from the roster of the Monika label, (compiled by Gudrun Gut), left me thinking that I don’t like Germanic sounding vocals in music. With this in mind, I think that a few of the tracks on here would have worked better as instrumentals. Dinky’s mix of ‘Daleko’ by Chica + the Folder, with its off kilter house beat and slightly squelchy acid bassline, and Robert Lippok’s ‘Rearrange’ are two examples of this, the latter reminiscent of Adult’s ‘Hand to Phone’ with its brooding bassline and electro breakbeat. Similarly, T. Raumschmiere’s mix of Komeit’s ‘3 Hours’ is a decent track spoilt by its vocal. This is another track that employs an acidic 303 noise for a bassline and also has a hint of the ‘schaffel’ beat in it’s drum programming, a sound associated with labels such as Michael Myer’s Kompakt imprint. Some of the tracks on here simply don’t work at all, Like A Tim’s mix of Cobra Killer’s ‘Heavy Rotation’ being one culprit. Thankfully it only lasts a little under three minutes. 

The compilation gets off to a very bad start with the sentimental ‘I’ll come running’ by Chica + the Folder. In fact, the first seven tunes on here do nothing to dispel this notion of corniness. As the compilation progresses, this feeling is gradually removed as tracks such as Contriva’s ‘Shadow’ (Mo Mix) and Masha Qrella’s ‘Hypersomnia’ combine guitars with electronic drum programming, sometimes to good effect. The Contriva track employs a solid 4/4 beat with a looped guitar that builds until the addition of some nicely clicky percussion that sits perfectly in the mix. Masha Qrella’s track is a more laid back affair, utilising acoustic guitar but, once again, I was left with the nagging sensation that I’d prefer the track without the vocal. 

The majority of the tracks on here are too twee; I’d even go so far as to use the word cute- I’m not a fan of cute music. There is one notable exception - Dntel’s mix of Barbara Morgenstern’s ‘Aus Heiterem Himmel’ is a truly beautiful piece of swirling, atmospheric music and is something that I cannot stop listening to: it’s affected me like an addiction.  

Frazer Shelton

Built Like Alaska – Autumnland (Future Farmer Records)
Future Farmer can be so hit and miss. For every great record like this, there’s a really dreadful one waiting around the corner. But I am a patient man when they send me records from Built Like Alaska, who make the most gorgeous dream pop around.

It seems to be left to our American cousins to make this kind of music these days, and that’s such a shame….for people who don’t get see this great stuff live, anyway. This is an album so packed with melody and harmony that I’ve been listening to it on the way to work every day to take my mind of the impending eight hours of doom. If that isn’t a recommendation, then I don’t know what is.

Sam Metcalf

Thomas Fehlmann – Lowflow
The first thing that struck me about this album is just how well produced it is. All of the sounds used fit perfectly together and each are given their own distinct space in the mix. Crackles, hisses and echo are used skilfully to give the tracks added depth (unsurprisingly as Fehlmann has previously worked with German dub-techno pioneers Basic Channel), whilst strange, otherworldly noises float effortlessly in the background (also unsurprisingly, as Fehlmann is a member of The ORB). On an album that covers dub, electronica and slow-motion house the overall feel is that of a hip-hop album that occasionally veers into different territory.

The second thing that struck me about this album is how fat (or should that be phat?), many of the basslines are, especially on tracks like album opener ‘Goldhaar’, which threatens to ruin headphones and speakers with its heavy, heavy sub bass and the closing track ‘Fellmaus’ which is very dub and correspondingly deep as fuck. I especially liked ‘Fellmaus’ for its cantering percussion and ponderous pace combined with the wicked sense of space created by the use of echo on the few sounds that are used.

Being familiar with Fehlmann’s releases on the Kompakt label, ‘Andrea Is Delighted’ is more the kind of slick, minimal house tune I was expecting from this album. After four pregnant minutes of echoed synth stabs and clicking percussion, the track finally drops with a very slow 4/4 beat. I actually prefer the first half of this track: I found the latter part slightly disappointing and felt that it didn’t do justice to the promising build up.

Three of the tracks on Lowflow were written and produced with Ghostly International artist Dabrye, ‘Interstellar’, ‘Intertwine’ and ‘Intersect’. All three tracks feature odd, wonky rhythms and I would have liked to see the ideas developed further as, frustratingly, none of these are longer than one and a half minutes. Ho hum.

I often find that albums I come to truly cherish are ones that I don’t really ‘get’ on first listening to them and, conversely, albums I like immediately are most often the ones I grow tired of with repeated exposure to. I haven’t lived with this album long enough yet to know how I’ll feel about it given time. I’ll have to wait and see.

Frazer Shelton

Plans & Apologies – Tree Dee Pee ep (Artists Against Success)
If things like university and life and all that kind of crap stuff hadn’t got in the way, then I’m sure I’d have a Plans & Apologies poster on my wall by now. Not that I do that kind of thing, you understand, but they are a mighty band.

Like an atlas that was printed pre-1991, you never really know where you are with P&A. One minute they’re spazzing you out with the rush of ‘Eggbound Mutebone’, the next they come on all soft and subtle with ‘Nabbo’. No, I’ve no idea what these song titles mean either. But that’s the beauty of them. Live, they’re electric. But, I think it’s on record that you can really get inside the Plans & Apologies sound. Production values are set low, which is nice, and you can get a nice fuzzy sound out of an out old Woolworths guitar, as they prove here.

Influences include Pavement, Belle and Sebastian, Beefheart – the usual suspects, but this lot from Derby don’t just rip them off for the sake of it. Nope, they’re got their own songs, y’see. They might play it daft on stage, but I dare you to listen to ‘The Paperclip Key’ and not be moved to within an inch of your life.

Quite frankly, and to quote some burger van, I’m loving it.

Sam Metcalf

The Graham Parsnip Liquidiser Torture Think-Tank (Project) - Bordering on Pretentious
A bit of a false start on this one last month but finally words to match the picture. I don't think this will be wining any Mercury Music Awards but features five tracks documenting the slightly disturbing lives of 'middle' Britain today. With subject mater varying from infanticidal clergy to sperm counts, this would be a bold undertaking.

Hailing from deepest Lincolnshire myself, I know my Massey Fergusons from my Fords but I've certainly never heard of anyone falling in love with a tractor. How silly then a song titled 'Tractor Love'. 'Fruity Man' was just plain annoying and nearly did for the rest of the CD but 'The Baby Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells' soon perked things up and 'Rosebush', the everyday tale of catching a burglar pillaging your garden shed by hiding in the foliage is a lo-fi gem. Damn me if I wasn't humming the tune at the bus stop on the way to work.

Graham Parsnip look like a bunch of accountants and probably don't possess the greatest musical talent in the world but I'm feeling generous this month and their songs did make me laugh. How big is the Bishop of Wells' flock?

Shane Blanchard

Filtered - See Straight Through (Derailed)
Filtered hail from Essex and deal in pub-rock. They play fretless bass and probably know all the guitar scales in the book. Second track "S.C.A.B" sets out their stall early on, with plodding bass, guitar licks swiped straight from Metallica and a James Hetfield-esque vocal delivery that falls far short of matching the raw power of the original. Lyrically, the band aren't up to much either, and horrible cliches like "running round in circles drives you round the bend" are rife throughout.

The two epic tracks that occupy the album's halfway mark allow the band to stretch their musical wings a little...if you take this to mean changing time signature mid-song or employing some synth that goes whoosh! The results are still fairly pedestrian.

If I sound overly harsh, some respite comes in the form of "Drowned", which is a nice mellow acoustic track with some pleasant jingle-jangle guitar over the top. It's the best track by far. Unfortunately it's over all too soon and back to business as usual, and when on the following "Little Things" frontman Kabir Sheikh sings "we're running out of ideas" I can't help but agree.

Will Coumbine

Karl Marx Stadt – ‘1997-2004’
‘1997-2004’ combines two vinyl releases, one first released in 2001 entitled ‘1997-2001’ and a second one released simultaneously with this cd entitled ‘2001-2004’. The compilation, on the Lux Nigra label, covers a multitude of sounds, styles and influences. From ‘vgamz’ which is reminiscent of both Autechre and Plaid, to ‘011000’ (great track name) which smacks of Aphex Twin, to ‘nowhere at home’, an average techno track, to ‘nsk2. sqids’ which really reminded me of Missy Elliot’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’ with added computer game samples. You might be forgiven for thinking that you’re not going to hear anything new here, and you might be right.

There are some worthwhile moments on this compilation: ‘optime prior’ starts with a vocal sample that had me thinking ‘Bollywood’ and had me checking initially to see if the cd was skipping. Halfway through, this disjointedness makes way for a more typically electro break, which is actually pretty cool. Unfortunately, the track is ruined for me by the emergence of a full-on gabba finale after four and a half minutes. ‘nsk1. shareoom’ is really quite gorgeous, and surprised me a lot in the middle of all the noise. Warm, thoughtful and restrained, it’s everything the rest of this compilation is not.

Unfortunately it’s all downhill from here on, culminating in ‘all I wanna do’, which is just truly fucking awful. Sampling Beck’s ‘Loser’ and Sheryl Crow’s ‘all I wanna do’ (funnily enough), its frenetic beats and chipmunk vocals had me itching to turn it off. I presume it’s meant to be funny: I don’t get the joke.

Frazer Shelton

Viarosa - Porous (Pronoia)
This mini-album, released in February, is the pre-cursor of Viarosa's full studio album to be released in May, and on this evidence is pretty impressive stuff.

Almost a supergroup made up of members of several other bands from both sides of the Atlantic, including the unfeasibly busy Nick Simms, Viarosa could loosely be bunched in the all encompassing 'Americana' mould. But I think their sound is much more distinct than that, evoking elements of traditional English folk welded effortlessly together with a US style. Slide guitar seems equally at home as accordion and unaccompanied bass tom.

The comparisons with Nick Cave and Johnny Cash are obvious. Richard Neuberg's vocals have that world weary but distantly threatening quality ideally suited to this type of music. Beautiful yet sinister at the same time, this is well worth checking out.

Shane Blanchard

Various - The Nyquist Theory (Hackpen)
Always a pleasure to receive releases from the deepest deep south label Hackpen and this one does not disappoint. Compilations can sometimes be a paint to review but not today. Slip in the disc, turn up the volume and sit back to the finest compilation CD I've heard since Now 6 (it had Herbie Hancock's Rockit on it you know).

13 tracks in total ranging from south coast electronica to Leeds'  sadly disbanded string-based sextet Deerpark, this album embraces a multitude of genres and geographies. Going to prove that good music is just good music, no matter where it is from and what so-called genre it is.

We get sent about 40 or 50 CDs every month at tasty but there were still only two artists on this disc that I had heard before, going to prove that even the rustiest of muso-hacks still have plenty to learn if they keep their ears open.

Early highs are supplied by the sublime 'Oom', a latter day Sneaker Pimps and Cowdenbeath's finest, '96 tears' who supply a trance like musical soundtrack full of whooshes and tinkly keyboards.

So let's hear it for Hackpen, for independent music and for all the artsists who have contributed to put together this stunning compilation.

Shane Blanchard