albums - may 2005
Idlewild - I Understand It (EMI)
Idlewild’s latest album “Warning
Promises” has received a relatively warm reception from journalists since
its release in March. Suggestions have been that the band are heading
towards a direction not too dissimilar to that of American middle-aged
legends REM. From this latest single it would suggest that the rumours are
infact very true. “I understand it” is a rather laid back offering with a
light but effective stomping chorus. This is not the sound of a band
breaking into new ground but the echoes of an act maturing and growing as
the sands of time pour away. For those hoping for something similar to the
punchy anthems or the like from 100 Broken Windows may be disappointed but
then again just listen to that album instead. While Idlewild could easily
have continued to represent their punk roots they have instead decided to
venture down another road and it is unlikely to do them much harm if this
single is anything to go by. It may be a game played at a slower pace but
it’s still just as dangerous.
Yo La Tengo. – Prisoners of Love (Matador)
Yo La Tengo have been gracious enough to share their musical vision with us
now for over 18 years. That’s a long time by any bands standards and what
better way to pay homage to this fact then a retrospective. Well that’s
exactly what ‘Prisoners of Love’ is, two CDs of a little bit of everything
from there jangly 80’s era to their more eclectic sound of present day. As
per usual though rather than treading the path of least resistance Yo la
Tengo have assembled there’s NOT in chronological order. Those crazy cats!
This does and doesn’t work. At time it forces interesting comparisons
between songs at others it stands to merely break the flow of the record.
However this is really a miner point and perhaps seems fitting to many from
a band who have always been wide-ranging and different. And for those of you
who are shouting ‘but I already have all there albums and the commemorative
tea towel to boot’ there’s a disc of rarities, some exquisite and some,
A great introduction to the band and a fine document of a band who always
keep you guessing. Let’s just hope they stick around long enough for
‘Prisoners of Love # 2’ shall we?
Queen Adreena – The Butcher and the Butterfly (One Little Indian)
Oh, Katie Jane Garside, howI still think you’re delightful after all these
years. Quite something for an ageing indie pop fan to admit, I’ll agree,
but it’s the way she shrieks and yelps like a cute mad bastard that will win
me over every time.
‘The Butcher and the
Butterfly isn’t bad at all, thank you very much. Much of what you’ll find
here is quite enjoyable racket, along the lines of Babes in Toyland or
sometimes even Silverfish. Opener, ‘Suck’ is particularly violent and sexy.
Yeah, there are dull moments, but even a sexvixen like Garside can’t keep up
the tension for a whole three quarters of an hour.
Anyway, this is all
rather good. I think I’m going to go and lie down in a darkened room for a
Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – ‘Worn Copy’. (Paw Tracks)
This album was originally released in 2003 on the Rhystop label and is now
being re-issued on the Animal Collective’s Paw Track label. This seems
entirely appropriate, because this album is reminiscent of the Animal
Collective. Not in terms of particularly sounding similar, but Ariel Pink
shares the Animal Collective’s ability to combine various different music
genres whilst still retaining a distinctive style. With this album Ariel
Pink has created a collage of different musical genres whilst retaining an
overall feel of lo-fi leftfield pop. Highlights include the syth hip hop of
‘Credit’, the primitive electro of ‘Cable Access Follies’ and the left-field
folk of ‘One to one’. What’s remarkable is that this appropriating of
different musical genres doesn’t come across as a fucking mess, which
frankly it should. Instead Ariel Pink has come up with a unique and
enjoyable record which made me smile in a wistful manner throughout its
The Yards - The Yards
Here's a word that Yards singer Chris Helme probably doesn't want to hear:
Seahorses. Yes, he was the poor fella who had to sing in John Squire's
tragically crap post Stone Roses band. Having interviewed him some time ago,
I know that he's sick of talking about the Seahorses, so why make such a big
deal of it in the press release that accompanied this cd? Poor bloke, unless
he and his new band manage to knock off some great tunes he's going to be
forever walking about wearing a sandwich board with 'I was in the Seahorses'
written on it, ringing bell in hand and chanting 'unclean'. Which brings us
to the Yards. The album is tinged here and there with a smidgeon of sixties
psychedelia ('Calirornia', 'Forget Your Regrets') which is sort of nice, and
on tracks like 'The Devil is Alive and Well and in DC' they get political
(bet you can't guess who they're talking about), but then we get 'Only
Myself to Blame' which sounds a bit like, er, The Seahorses. Much in the
same way that 'Crime' and 'Fireflies' do. They are redeemed by 'Pure' which
is an intimate piano led lullaby - that is until it unnecessarily crashes
into rock action thus deflating the mood a tad. Said mood is deflated even
more when it turns into a full on rock wig out. Oh dear, why can't these
boys just let things lie? Much as I'd really like to not have to say this,
on the strength of this album Mr Helme is going to have to carry on wearing
his Seahorses sandwich board for a while yet. Still, he's been lucky enough
to tour with the almighty Arthur Lee & Love which I'm sure he wouldn't have
been able to do without the 'S' word on his cv to persuade an A&R man to
sign the Yards, so I daresay he doesn't give too much of shit really.
Barbara Morgenstern & Robert Lippok - Tesri
This collaboration between Barbara Morgenstern and To Rococo Rot’s
Robert Lippok originally began life as a 12” in 2002.The two continued to
work together and by 2004 had amassed enough material to release an album.
Or had they? I found the album to be very polite, largely bland and quite
boring. Such was this impression I actually thought the album was longer
than its relatively short 39 minutes.
Of the two artists, Robert Lippok seems to have had a
larger influence on the overall sound of the album; Tesri sounds like a less
interesting To Rococo Rot recording. Two guest vocalists appear on Tesri;
Mieko Shimizo and Telefon Tel Aviv’s Damon Aaron. One of the tracks
featuring Shimizo ‘kaitusburi’ reminded me of Lamb, which is odd as Shimizo
sings in Japanese. Aaron’s contribution does enable the track (‘if the day
remains unspoken for’), to stand out from the rest but this is mainly due to
the fact that the majority of the album is instrumental rather than because
the vocal itself is particularly outstanding.
Taken in isolation some of the tracks on here are interesting enough; ‘ein
knoten aus schwartz’ in particular uses some very nice sounds – a warm
Rhodes piano, minimal percussion and fuzzy crackles that pan across the
speakers. I also rather enjoyed Morgenstern’s hummed accompaniment on ‘sommer’.
Unfortunately they’re nestled amongst a collection of music that doesn’t
deviate enough in terms of the sounds used. It’s all much of a muchness.
Don’s Mobile Barbers – Version Two Point Zero (Cordelia Records)
Take my hand as I lead you into the quietly spooky world of Don’s Mobile
Barbers. Hailing from the East Midlands, this mysterious duo have supported
Death Cab For Cutie in the past, and that’s good enough for me. Their sound
is much akin to Mercury Rev, or maybe some of Flaming Lips’ less obtuse
moments. And their might even be a little bit of Pink Floyd in there, but
don’t let that put you off, now.
Indeed, tracks such as
‘Your Agenda Will Remain’ do have that kind of frazzled 60s psychedelia feel
to them. Fragile as a freshly laid egg, then, ‘Version Two Point Zero’ is
the sound of two men going to sleep with their finger firmly poised on the
button called ‘POP!’. Bravo!
I Am Kloot - Gods And
The world of I Am Kloot is one of rain, disasters in love and a overly
intimate friendship with alcohol. We get lines like 'we smoke dead men's
cigarettes and we choke on the bitter black regrets of ourselves' or 'no
one's born/no-one dies/no-one loves/no-one cries', or even 'she's selfish
and needy/she's wanton and greedy/she's mugging her lovers/she's bleeding
the buggers'. Cheery stuff. Well, actually, it is. Kloot are a band which
revel in and even celebrate the shit that makes up most people's lives. Much
in the same way as bands like Tindersticks or The Smiths take bleak themes
and make us laugh, Kloot are masters of the absurd. That's not to say they
write daft or whimsical music, quite the opposite, it's more the case that
they acknowledge there's beauty and life to be found in the darkest of
places. Underpinning the often dark lyrics the music of this trio is
deceptively simple sounding. The core of acoustic guitar, bass and drums is
augmented by touches of organ, piano and touches of brass. The songs are
full of space which gives the lyrics a place to breath and bounce about the
place, and each one is a moment to be absorbed and experienced. Not aligning
themselves with any musical scene I Am Kloot continue to stand alone, unique
and something to be cherished. In many ways this album is not all that
different from their previous releases but it has a feeling of freshness
which is hard to explain. Most simply put this is one of those rare albums
that you will keep coming back to because of the quality of the songs. In a
world of manufactured pop and scenes which shift and change almost overnight
it's good to know that there are still bands out there who matter, who
quietly get on with it and produce the goods every time.
A Frames – Black Forest (Sub
Much chaos from former members of Cows, Butthole
Surfers and Scratch Acid. This is the sound of a band headache, mixed with a
hangover, and crossed with a shit day at work. Most of the songs here don’t
make the three minute mark, and when they do, you’re glad to see them gone.
Not that ‘Black Forest’
is rubbish, or anything. Just that’s it’s not my bag at all. I used to like
this stuff about ten years ago, and that’s a place I don’t like to visit
very often. A Frames remind me of sitting in a squalid bedsit with only a
candle for company. Depressingly good, then.
Studio Pankow – Linienbusse
This awesomely subtle album from David Moufang, Jamie Hodge and Kai
Kroker sits at the place where really deep house/techno meets electronica;
my favourite place. The album’s tracks came out of 3 sessions of
improvisation over 4 years in Kroker’s Berlin studio (Studio Pankow). This
is deep, minimal music; very atmospheric and understated. The album as a
whole feels unhurried, tracks such as ‘zoologischer garten’ and ‘ruhleben’
evolve and grow at their own pace (12 and 17 minutes in length
respectively), without ever feeling too ponderous.
Album opener, ‘heidelberger platz’, is gorgeous; a
warm, rolling, insistent bassline and snickety percussion ensured that I
wanted to listen to this carefully constructed loop again and again and
again. The combination of a variety of different percussion sounds, each
adding their own element of depth, is what makes this track for me. The
title track, ‘linienbusse’, is fantastic – its low, rumbling bass sounds
like an electronic cat contentedly purring. Added to this is the delicate,
gentle piano, played by Moufang, which cuts through the fuzzy ambience
perfectly and turns the track into a beautifully emotive piece of music.
Linienbusse is extremely engaging; it sucks you in
and affects you with a narcotising power. The sound of a lot of the tracks
on here is surprisingly full for something that employs so little in the way
of obvious hooks or melody - synth washes you don’t even realise are there
until the track dies away help to further this feeling. Music like this
demands a close listen to get the most out of it.
Best enjoyed whilst stoned.
VHS or Beta - Night on Fire
There's an eighties revival going on you know. You may not have noticed it,
but trust me, I'm a journalist and I can see what's blowing in the wind -
most probably deely boppers and overly gelled spiked hair. VHS or Beta (for
the youngsters amongst you this refers to a battle between two different
video formats in the early eighties. What do you mean 'what's video grandad?'
Video is where teenagers where given the first chance to see naked ladies
before DVDs, Channel 5 and the Internet where even a twinkle in anyone's
eye). Anyway, history lesson over, given this band's name I was expecting to
hear the dubious glories of the eighties interred, dusted off, given a
couple of cans of red bull and thrust back onto a stage. That's what I was
expecting and I wasn't disappointed. This album screams eighties revival
even more than wearing a Frankie Says t-shirt (for the youngsters amongst
you - oh never mind). So is it any good? Actually, it's not bad at all. If
you think of The Cure when they were pale skinny indie kids instead of
boated gastropods then you're not far away. The modern production makes all
those sixteenth hi-hats that we loved in days of yore sound so much better
and those raspy delayed guitars have never sounded so sleazy. What stops
this from sounding like a crass band wagon jumping exercise is that the
songs are driving, packed full of dirty basslines, relentless drum machines
and tunes which, if not catchy in a pop sense, seem to nag at the listener.
So to pinch a phrase, hurrah and bring on the dancing horses. But just one
note of caution, when the eighties revival gets to 'Alive & Kicking' era
Simple Minds or Fairground Attraction it's time for it to be put back in
Harris Newman – ‘Accidents with Nature and Each Other’
I first became aware of Montreal based musician Harris Newman via his work
with Constellation records and through this I discovered his solo debut,
2003’s ‘Non-Sequiturs’, a Fahey influenced, steel string guitar gem. So it
was with great excitement that I received a copy of his new record
‘Accidents with Nature and Each Other’.
On first listen there is one obvious difference between
the two records. Non-Sequiters was very much about one man and his guitar.
It was a personal and simple album pared back to its bones. ‘Accidents…’
feels like a far more complex and grander album altogether. It is has a
bigger palette of sounds within it and while still having its sound rooted
in Newman’s guitar abilities, which are as exquisite as ever, it also revels
in its sonic diversity. A few tracks in is when this begins to be made
apparent as gentle almost other worldly feedback and additional
instrumentation begin to drift in and out of range. This is particular noted
on a track like ‘Lake Shore Drive’ where we have a bit of help from Sandro
Perri (Polmo Polpo) and Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed You! Black Emperor).
Simplistic beauty is still in there as we hear on ‘A Thousand Stolen
Blankets..’ a track which could of come straight off the soundtrack to
‘Paris, Texas’ and which is one of the albums crowning glories.
‘Accidents with Nature..’ is an album that manages to
sound old-time and gritty whilst being fresh and contemporary at the same
time. It is quite simply a truly beautiful album rich in texture and
features one of the finest closing songs you’ll probably hear all year.
John Convertino – ‘Ragland’ (Sommerweg)
John Convertino recorded this album in his home in Tucson, a place Howe Gelb
(whose band Giant Sand Convertino drummed for before becoming one half of
the excellent Calexico) once described as ‘fucking dusty’, using only two
mics, an old piano, vibes and drums. And I know it sounds obvious but that
is exactly how the album sounds as well. If it had been recorded elsewhere
or used different methods or equipment it wouldn’t be the album it is, which
quite frankly would have been a tragedy because it is simple and wonderful
in its entirety.
Those who are expecting Convertino's album to be
reminiscent of his work with either Giant Sand or Calexico are going to be
somewhat surprised. While it is vaguely similar at times to some of Howe
Gelb’s piano work it is very much a different sound than we have heard from
him previously. It is sparse and ambient but can suddenly shift and become
far darker in its outlook like on a track such as ‘Bell Curve’ whose finale
is brutal in tone.
This is an album that is small in scale yet big in
results and one that demonstrates Convertino to be a genuine talent in the
world of contemporary music.
Charles E.Cullen - Welcome to the World of Charles E.
Cullen (Sheffield Phonographic Corporation)
I have pretty much enjoyed everything Thee SPC has put
out so far, but comedy country is really a step too far. If you found the
South Park album they put out a few years ago absolutely hilarious, this may
tickle your fancy; but in all honesty it holds less musical merit than Cliff
and The Young Ones performing ‘Living Doll’.
Smog – ‘A River Ain’t too Much to Love’ (Domino)
There are few who inspire such genuine intrigue in to what they will do next
in modern music. Will Oldham has always inspired it, Devendra Banhart now
seems too, but one of the most interesting remains Bill Callahan aka Smog.
‘Supper’, his last offering, was a great album that seemed to split fans,
some sighting it as some of his best work and others feeling he had lost his
edge. With that in mind then his latest album must have more than the usual
amount of intrigue milling around it. I personally am going to stick my neck
and say said album, ‘A River Ain’t Too Much To Love’ is probably his best.
‘A River Ain’t Too Much..’ shares a similar feel to
‘Supper’ in many respects. ‘Supper’ seemed to be a more accessible side of
Callahan’s writing and the same is true for much of ‘A River…’ also. That is
NOT to say he has lost his edge. On many of the songs it feels as though
Callahan is doing this only for himself and that he can take his time to
realise each perfectly as he slow picks and drawls along. The overall
difference I seem to feel between this and its predecessor is that ‘A
River..’ feels far more pared back as if it were purely an exercise in the
very minimum needed to create a song.
As usual Callahan’s songs cover many bases with their
subject matter but what really seems to bind is the fact he is essentially
always writing about the human condition. Songs can be beautiful tributes as
with the stunning ‘Rock Bottom Riser’ or nostalgic memoirs as with ‘Drinking
at the Dam’, a song which can’t help but end up making you hanker for days
and youth passed.
However for saying that the whole album is a
demonstration of an assured songwriter showing us how it can be done, it is
on a track like ‘The Well’ that Callahan shows us him at his finest, perhaps
ever. It is a story completely open in terms of its reading, one that tells
of a jobless man discovering an old well in a wood. It has an almost
surrealist slant to its underlying message that could equally be at home in
a Haruki Murakami novel.
‘A River Ain’t Too much To Love’ is an album that will
hopefully satisfy Smog fans across the board, even deserters, and hopefully
one that will win Mr. Callahan a few new ones as well. It should certainly
be an album that he himself is very proud of indeed.
Manuel Bienvenu - Elephant Home (Popcorn Lab)
It’s not often an album come through the door that completely stops you in
your tracks and demands to be listened to, but this is the case with
‘Elephant Home’…well I say demands, more gently suggests it in a husky
voice, but theme keep you there for the duration, as it feels like you are
drifting in and out of consciousness.
I cannot begin to imagine the amount of different
instruments played on this album, all over dubbed and weaved together to
create probably the best soundtrack to a French movie never made.
Stinking Lizaveta – ‘Caught Between Worlds’ (Monotreme)
Stinking Lizaveta inspire many thoughts when listening to them. I sometimes
want to describe them as repetitive stoner-rock (in the best possible sense
of the term!), at others a sort primal folk-rock. One thing’s for sure is
they are loud and they fucking mean it.
But what is it? Well I’m still not sure myself, but it
is good. No scrap that it is VERY good. They drone, they make noise; they
can be considered and beautiful or heavy and obnoxious. They are an
instrumental journey that deserves to be travelled with the dial cranked as
loud as it can go. ‘Caught Between Worlds’ is not so much a collection of
songs as an album of riffs that meander and react to each other that really
should be listened to as an entirety.
Stinking Lizaveta are a group of sonic-noise merchants
not for the faint hearted but one that should be embraced by those who can
The Charade - The Best is yet to come (Skipping Stones)
Aggghhh! I don’t understand why I like this! It’s female fronted fey indie
pop. I’m usually screaming at my stereo, and rushing to find a nearby
Converge record…..but, no! I’m actually enjoying this.
Why? Because this is top notch song writing and the
hint of melancholy running throughout saves it from being twee limp-wristed
nonsense, and actually makes the whole thing quite pleasurable.
The Mountain Goats – ‘The Sunset Tree’ (4AD)
John Darnielle, the real name of the man who writes and performs under the
name The Mountain Goats, has long been regarded as one of the finest
lyricists working today. He is a man who is able to conjure forth extremely
vivid images via his musical compositions. This has often been the telling
of stories and morals via characters of his invention, like a novelist, but
over recent years he has begun to dredge a more personnel well, looking
inwardly and increasingly using his own life experiences as the subject
matter for his work. Now with the release of his latest album ‘The Sunset
Tree’ we see Darnielle at his most open and personnel, and subsequently at
his best, following the death of his Stepfather last year.
The Sunset Tree is a document of an unsettled and
unsettling youth in America. It tells of broken families, of drunken
stepfathers and of teenage desperation, in this case Darnielle’s own. This
can make it deeply emotional and moving at times and yet at others
surprisingly uplifting. On a song like ‘Dance Music’ we hear of a youths
escape via music from all that seems confusing and wrong in his life and it
is one of the finest songs you will probably hear this year. Another example
is the dark stomping track ‘Lion’s Teeth’ a string-laden march that is
brooding and glorious.
But we are already aware that Darnielle is credited as
being a fine lyricist but what has also been said is that because of this
the music almost takes a slight back seat as really the songs are about the
words first and foremost. I think that that may have been a charge you could
rally at him previously but not here. This is an album that is far more
diverse than previous Mountain Goats albums in terms of song instrumentation
and variety. We have a track like ‘This Year’, for instance, that is
completely string based but then we also have others like the beautiful
country and banjo tinged ‘Magpie’, another album highlight.
But what is remarkable about the record as a whole is
that, as strong as each individual song is, the album really works best when
listened to in its entirety. It is essentially one long story divided up
into chapters with a thread which follows through and for all its dark
twists and turns there is a sense of relief and redemption waiting at the
‘The Sunset Tree’ is certainly going to stand out as a
highlight of both this year and also John Darnielle’s career. It is
emotionally charged and truly effecting. I suggest you take a listen to a
man’s confessions and prepared to be moved.
Of Montreal - The
"So Begins Our Alabee"
is a song symptomatic of the latest recordings from Of Montreal; it creeps
in with a long instrumental section that sounds like a pile-up between a
lorry of Moogs and a truckload of cymbals, and you're thinking to yourself "hmmmm.
nothing in particular". But once a couple of Talk Talk references are nicely
out the way, Kevin Barnes pulls out the most ridiculously uplifting chorus.
"You're my only
softness, you're my only pleasure it's true"
he coos earnestly over
an empty backdrop that lend his voice the musical geometry to take the song
by the scruff of the neck. Kind of like how Stephen Malkmus was always
better when the guitars parted and allowed his voice to sound disaffectedly
emotive, and on "So Begins Our Alabee" the machine-gun hi-hats and choir of
"oh-ohs" in the scenery create the perfect intensity.
So this is the
infuriating world of "The Sunlandic Twins". The record begins with the
biggest 21st century summer chorus The Shins never melted us with, and as I
open the skylight I'm genuinely surprised to find its overcast as far as the
eye can see! Some nice hints that Prince was on Barnes' mind greatly while
working on these songs, that disaffected vocal again on the Blondie charged
"Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games", and we find ourselves halfway
through "Forecast Fascist Future", which really should be on a Wes Anderson
soundtrack. That is, until the chorus comes in, this time sounding a little
forced, and the song loses its feet.
Which is the epitomy of
this record. After the aptly named "The Party's Crashing Us", the record
tails off into Electric Six-esque spoof territory. I'm still not entirely
sure if this is deliberate, but Of Montreal need to learn that the decade
they reference so much is done best when its done with a straight face. The
only moment to wake me from my slumber from here on is the beautiful
girl-next-door vocal from Nina Barnes on "Keep Sending Me Black Fireworks",
as part of the bonus EP. But the damage is already done and no amount of
gorgeous girl-chirping can stop me wishing that my scissors could cut music,
that I could put the first half of this record in my pocket, and mail the
second half of it back twenty years.
‘This Is Indie Rock- the Best Bands You’ve Never Heard’
Vol.2 – Deep Elm Records
Deep Elm seem to have been around since the dawn of time, a label stoically
sitting there releasing some of the finest bands out there from an
increasingly broad genre set. For years it was the Emo Diaries compilations
that would introduce us to new acts but now Deep Elm has its new baby ‘This
Is Indie Rock’. So what is ‘This is Indie Rock’? Well it’s Deep Elm
introducing you to some of the finest bands around that’s what.
All the bands on ‘Indie Rock’ are, as the name
suggests, independent artists and all tracks are previously unreleased and
exclusive. The mix of talent we have on volume 2 is nothing if not
eclectic. We start proceedings with the electronica tinged guitar amble of
Maxel Toft before lurching into the all out Dugong-esque rock of Jena
Berlin, and then into the bittersweet acoustic song ‘New York’ by the
excellent Meredith Bragg and the Terminals. Now that’s covering a lot of
bases and that’s just the first few tracks.
So okay there are a couple of tracks which do
absolutely nothing for me at all but they are far outweighed by those that
continue to mark the ‘Indie Rock’ series as one to pay attention too. Two of
particular note here are a stunning band called Sedona, a steel string
americana tinged wonder that will have you stomping your feet and clapping
right along, and also album highlight Death Ships with ‘Thelma Lou’ which is
a Papa M inflected number that is one of my new favourite songs.
This is a document as to what indie music is about in
all its guises. I suggest you dig deep and let Deep Elm introduce you to
some of your favourite new bands.
The Rogers Sisters -
Approximately 28 seconds into the opening "Freight Elevator", I catch
a glimpse of my reflection in an unplugged television to my right; I look
like I've been driving through the night for a week with only de-caf for
company, playing I-spy in the dark with Rick Moranis and listening to Kenny
G. The trouble with bands like this, is they come across like an incomplete
paint-by-number; somebody else's template with very little colouration.
In terms of sound, The
Rogers Sisters cite bands such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kills and Liars (whom
they've opened for) as influence, and they are in that ball park I guess.
But on the whole such dry production of the record leaves me feeling more
like I did when I first heard Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or The Datsuns -
like I'm hearing a band going through the motions, like their photograph on
the back sleeve potentially means more to them than the songs inside, like
any moment I'm going to scream "RIFFS NOT QUIFFS!"
The vocals are like Les
Savy Fav sans sass or Jack White without sounding 7 feet tall and a maximum
security escapee, the rhythm like the Yeahs Brian Chase without the jaaaazz
man, and the guitars.. Where the hell are the guitars? We're onto "Check
Level" which is 5 of 11 tracks here, and I haven't heard one part to
note. What The Rogers Sisters do they execute well, but unfortunately
while being solid, each song is ultimately forgettable.
Picastro – ‘Metal Cares’ (Monotreme / Polyvinyl)
It was a fair old wait for us Brits between the initial US pressing and
release of Picastro’s excellent debut ‘Red Your Blues’, so long in fact that
by the time it had its European release on Monotreme Records the band were
nearly ready to release their follow up. Well here is said album ‘Metal
Cares’ a whole three or so years since their first.
So have they evolved or changed their musical outlook
much? Well yes and no. ‘Metal Cares’, like its predecessor, is brooding and
nightmarish at times whilst constantly maintaining an orchestral sort of
beauty throughout. However where the first seemed to feature a more
instrumental feel with leading lady Liz Hysen’s vocals occasionally swooping
in and out like an extra set of strings, ‘Metal Cares’ seems to be more
about a solid sense of ‘the song’. Much of the material still bares some
relationship to their earlier work but now it feels like a band coming into
their own. There sound is far more varied with a wider range of
orchestration and tone from track to track. For instance you can compare one
of the album highlights ‘I Can’t Fall Asleep’, a sombre and rhythmic slow
death march (or perhaps crawl) with a largely string and guitar based
backing, with the following song ‘Skinnies’ whose backbone is Hysen's voice
and acoustic guitar which is encased and almost attacked by an eerie
electronic accompaniment, the results being nothing sort of sinister and
hypnotic, and see the scope present on the album.
‘Metal Cares’ has all the originality and
thoughtfulness that its predecessor possessed and then some. It is an album
of atmosphere but also songs. It is quite simply the sound of Picastro
developing a sound all of their very own.
Clio – This Is For The Blue Collars (Forever Inside)
When EC aren’t trying to hard with their brand new guitars, and swanky
production, they can make a quite beautiful sound. Unfortunately, that only
happens half of the time on this album.
When they’re good, they
can rival Suzanne Vega for cracking strummed, slightly kooky songs – see the
untitled hidden track at the end or ‘L’ange Blue’, which sounds a little
like early Echobelly – and how I wish that band were around today…honestly…
Other times, Ettison
Clio remind me of a third rate Avril Lavigne, all shouting in the wrong
places, and guitars so forced they sound like they’re being killed with a
meat cleaver. A game of two halves, then.
J. Kriste (Master of Disguise) - This is the Alternative
This solo project by Lefteris Moumtzis kicks off with the fabulously trippy
'Smoking in the Bathtub', a big cascading dirty guitarred monster of a
track. More vaguely eastern European guitar riffs follow before the title
track bobs into action. What's this? Starts off sounding like Beck before
contorting into some nasty electronica that could have come straight from
Styles and influences are constantly overlapping which would
normally be a good thing. But inexplicably the second part of the 'This is
The Alternative' suddenly mutates again into some frankly annoying
horn-based dirge that doesn't relent for over two minute. Ouch! Things are
saved again by 'Beautiful Place', an acoustic guitar track sounding like
Lenny Kravitz before he got crap.
But enough is enough! 'Afterhours Nite' is some weird kind swing jazz
number which I absolutely hate. I can't remember listening to many records
that had such a love-hate effect on me. Throw into the already bulbous sack
of influences a bit of Supergrass, some Screaming Trees, a shot of STP and
you have a album that is almost impossible to categorise. Much of this is
wonderful stuff but make sure you keep your finger on the skip button of the
Dead Fly Buchowski – ‘Land of the Rough’ (Beggars
Psychedelia and prog seem to be back judging by the amount of bands using
those words to describe their music of late, and Dead Fly Buchowski are
another to join the ranks.
They play a sort of foot-stomping, blues-tinged slant
on rock that veers between compelling and vaguely disinteresting. At there
finest moments, such as on ‘Blacker Than Blue’ they pound along with more
than a slight doff of the cap to greats like Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin,
but then they can just as quickly veer towards mediocrity and, I hate to be
the one to break it to them, end up sounding a bit like nineties hateable
rock twats Reef.
If Dead Fly Buchowski can find a way to make their
music move closer to their genuinely more compelling moments like the sleazy
blues-psych of tracks like ‘Blacker Than Blue’ or ‘Sun Song’ then they may
yet win me round. As it currently stands however I am far from convinced.
Cities of Foam - A Great Day for the Race (Dorado)
If only summer had properly started here in the UK, this would be the
perfect soundtrack. Lovely squishy beats and lush loops reminiscent of Fluke
are omnipresent, with the party periodically getting gate-crashed by plenty
of live instruments including trombone and vibraphone.
'Out of Reach'
sounds like the product of one too many summers listening to Cafe del Mar
tapes, but for all that it is still pretty good. The big chunky bass lines
keep lining up and tie the hole album together. And on 'Girls in Bars' they
lend the track a bit of sinister start before normal service is resumed.
It's not the most innovative or engaging record you will hear this year.
But if you're looking for something to take on holiday and listen to on the
CD player by the pool, then look no further. Plus it's nearly 70 minutes
long so you won't have to keep changing CDs!
Venerea – ‘One Louder’ (Bad Taste)
Venerea used to be called Venereal Disease. I think that speaks volumes. The
fourteen tracks present on ‘One louder’ are your staple American influenced
melodic punk rock. They are fast, loud and kind of angry. Now while there’s
nothing really wrong with any of the music present, it all just ends up
sounding like a whole host of other bands (mostly from Epitaph or Fat
Wreck’s). It was exactly the kind of CD I would have bought 10 years ago and
that is sadly the point in question. So many other bands have done this
already and a lot of them have done it much better.
The Bad Machines - Telling Lies (Lojinx)
Well here's an intriguing little release. And the cover features robots - a
whole family of them - always a big favourite at Tasty HQ. These
superficialities aside, there is a cracking indie pop record at work here
A boy/girl combo, The Bad Machines manage to mesh a skip load of Moog
with real guitars and superbly emotional vocals. Singer Michelle Margherita
can effortlessly flip between the trash pop of Shampoo or the atmosphere
deep scandic crooning of Delores Cranberry. The lyrics are always
thoughtful, if largely tales of heart break and general miserableness. But I
believe the expression is sugar-coated pill as the syrupy tones of
Michelle's mask the anguish beneath.
Telling lies uses that quirky production trick of making the vocals sound
like they are being produced from a 1930's radio so favoured by electro
fiends Client. There's a bit of the Cure in the open guitar chords of 'Schadenfeude'
and bags of The Cardigans in 'Folkways' and 'Autobahn' but The Bad Machines
never get lazy and stick with one sound long enough to get bored with it.
Another great summer soundtrack record - and guess what? Just in time -
these record label people don't miss a trick do they. And if you don't want
to put your arms around Michelle and give her a good hug to make her feel
better by the end of listening to this then there's something wrong with
The A-Lines - The A-Lines (Purr)
Hey hey! Looks can be very deceiving. At first glance of the album cover I
was a bit perplexed. Apart from the odd tattoo and a glint in the eye, the
A-Lines matching red outfits and, how to put it, general homely appearance,
made them look like they had were on staff day out from cosmetics stand in
Oh how I was wrong. These ladies have been around the block a
bit (in a musical sense obviously) and know how to knock out tip-top 3
minute punk pop tunes. The ever-present vintage guitar sound and raw studio
drum sound are tangled in an ever changing mix of high energy, high speed
and high precision garage punk. Cunning vocal harmonies and 12 songs in a
mere 27 minutes - breathless stuff.
The Len Price 3 - Chinese
Burn (Laughing Outlaw)
I see - Electric Six meets The Beatles in 30 minutes of retro surf punk.
Vintage sounds pour out of this record like Vespas out of a milk bar car
park at closing time. in addition to utilising loads of vintage equipment,
the whole thing is recorded in mono - how quaint.
Dripping with riffs and
that effervescent 60s sound, I can't help but think the constant mono sound
gets a bit samey and ends up detracting from what is some really promising
song writing. It's a good record but I'd be keen to hear where they go next
and see if they can break the mental image I have of Happy Days, The Fonz,
Austin Powers et al.
Blackloud - Mysterious Waves
Yikes! This is apparently the
more mellow of the two albums sent for review this month by Blackloud so I'm
bricking it already abot the second one. Blackloud is a solo project
recorded by James Burton. For something that is recorded on an 8-track, the
finished result is remarkably full, due in no part to the distinctive bass
lines which run throughout this whole album. Pyschadelic loops, whooshes,
zooms and other effects punctuate the rhythm section regularly to concoct a
disturbing, trippy, atmospheric record.
I couldn't find a track
listing anywhere and the lyrics are arranged for visual pleasure rather than
clarity so I can't really describe any individual tracks accurately. Suffice
to say, the lyrics I can read are as uncomfortable as some of the more
prosaic tracks which ramble their way through a multitude of bleeps and
plucked bass before reaching an unnatural conclusion before you are
expecting it. All in all though, providing you are in the right mood, this
makes for interesting if challenging listening.
Blackloud - 6th 6th 6th
No time wasted here in announcing his intentions. 'Future Shock' (I finally
found the track listing printed on the disc!) far more upbeat than any of
the tracks on 'Mysterious Waves'. The bass seems to have melted a bit more
into the background and the drum machines and vocals have been elevated to a
far more immediate position on the ears - not dissimilar to having to listen
to the traffic on a motorway at close quarters, zooming past then fading
Jimbob also has a very distinct
lyrical style, piling shed loads of words that just have the same sound
together, rather than trying to make them mean anything that cogent. I give
you, "lazer beam tracers grazing chasers haze burn change words amazing
turn" as an example. I rest my case.
After three or four more tracks I come to
the conclusion that Blackloud has actually been abducted by Aliens and
returned to earth to deliver their message to the masses. Unfortunately they
have lost the gift of communication and resort to this sonic bombardment.
This is as original as you can get so it's not worth trying to pigeon hole.
If you like your music challenging and your CD artwork lovingly assembled
with really groovy photography and complete with hand-signed playing card
then this is for you. But, having listened to 'Deep Clean' I am not entirely
convinced that Blackloud is not the devil himself, so if you are a
God-fearing Christian, then it may be better to give this a miss.
The Album Leaf - Seal Beach (Better Looking)
Jeez, after the Blackloud
experience, stimulating though it was, I need something to calm down with.
all praise then to The Album Leaf who provide the perfect antidote.
This is a scandalously well
conceived mixture of lo-fi electronic sounds awash with delicate piano and
string arrangements. Described as orchestral post rock by some, if that is
the case, then this is definitely at the more accessible end of the genre. A
couple of the tracks have even been used in the TV programme 'the OC'!
This album is a mix of studio
and live tracks tracks, recorded during the band's last tour. For something
as precise as the music which Jimmy LaValle and co are producing, these live
tracks sound even better than the studio stuff. I recommend going to see
them on their current European tour - see
www.albumleaf.com for details.
Ezekiel Honig & Morgan Pickard - Early Morning Migration (Microcosm)
This is the first collaborative release for New Yorkers Honig and Packard
and produces a rich and seductive demonstration of lo-fi electronica.
Swathes of interference battle with intermittent percussion and random
clunks and clicks in opener 'Tropical Ridges' while as the title suggests,
'Balm' is a much gentler affair.
There are loads of
naturalistic references in the song titles such as 'A Lake of Suggestions'
and 'Planting Broken Branches' but the title Early Morning Migration' might
as easily be about commuting through the city as anything in the
countryside. the sound is electronic, but also vaguely soothing. It is
introspective but also expansive in approach. maybe this is the tautness
that comes of the new found collaboration.
Some tracks are so minimal
that they hardly seem to exist at all. you wouldn't know they were whirring
away in the background but for a few well placed keys ringing through every
few seconds. But sometimes less is more and this is a record of boundless
textures and moods to lift the soul, but in a gentle way.
Formula Bone - Bear Up
I'm a reasonable man and will listen to anything. But this is pushing me to
the limits. Like a bastard love child of ZZ Sputnik and Bentley Rhythm Ace
this is an assault on my ears for 14 tracks (dear lord what did I do to
deserve the two additional bonus tracks?).
Sprouting samples and
Atari-ism left right and centre, the one constant is the imagination free
raw guitars and monotonous drum machine. This stuff leaves me wondering why
Fidel Villeneuve bother putting all that effort into something so bad. maybe
the kids'll like it. But that's why kids go to school - 'cos they're stupid
and don't know any better. Respect for the Garth Crooks photo on the website
Josh Lederman y Los Diablos - It's a Long and Lonely Time Until the Train
Will Bring You Home (Nine Mile)
Aside from having both the longest band name and album name of the month,
Josh Lederman et al also have the weirdest gimmick - free Thai condoms which
I mistook for blackcurrant sweets (though thankfully I realised before
eating them). Is this some kind of bribery? Throw in a couple of high class
Latvian hookers and we might play ball, so to speak...
But the music. This is an
intriguing blend of Irish and Americana folk music. The band don't baulk
from describing themselves as Pogues inspired bawdiness which is a
refreshing honesty. And with role models like that you get a pretty good
idea of the sound. There's little variation from the tried and tested folk
band get up to flustered about, But the lyrics are a joy to behold, poetry
about everyday woe and childhood dreams. On this showing I don't think I
would buy the record but I'd certainly go and watch them play.