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  albums - june 2005


Spoon – ‘Gimme Fiction’ (Matador)
Nearly three years since their last outing and commercial breakthrough ‘Kill The Moonlight’, Spoon return with their new full length ‘Gimme Fiction’. So what have the band that started out all art-punk and came over all pop got in for us this time? Well from the very beginning of the first track ‘The Beast and Dragon. Adored’ it is obvious that Britt Daniel has been busy honing his craft as a writer of soulful pop that’s what.

The songs here tend to be quick and punchy as often as they are slow and catchy.

Tracks like album standout ‘I Turn My Camera On’ acts as a demonstration to the rest of the world as to how a REAL pop song should be created. Tight grooves, falsetto vocals and just the right amount of edge bring forth what will have me dancing all summer long.

Okay so perhaps there are a few, and they are few, moments where it becomes a little too fey, but if there were any doubt as to just how good a songwriter Daniel is when the stops are pulled out, then I would simply draw your attention to the two final tracks of ‘Gimme Fiction’ both held together with simple melody, groove and hand claps. Both of these will help to cement Spoon, along with the rest of ‘Gimme Fiction’, as one of the finest of the current wave of American indie hitting our fair shores.

Luke Drozd

Acid King - III (Small Stone)
Well, another month, another fine release from those folks at Small Stone, this time in the form of the new release from Acid King, and I’m sure even from the bands name you can probably get a pretty good idea as to what is going to be in store.

Acid King have been around now for over ten years, releasing a succession of EP’s and albums on, amongst other, Sympathy for the Record Industry and Frank Koziks Mans Ruin label. Although it has been ten years, the bands sound clearly predates that time; with their slow and thunderous riffs, and bottom heavy sound they sound more like Melvins playing at a Hawkwind tribute night. In the best possible way…

Drew Millward

Minotaur Shock – ‘Maritime’ (4AD)
Electronica Sea Shanties anyone? Well ok maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but the theme of the sea and a nautical suggestion does run throughout the second full-length from Bristol’s electronic wizard Minotaur shock (or David Edwards as his mother probably calls him).

These are electronic tales of ocean liners, sailors and treasure…if you listen very very closely. Tracks like single ‘Vigo Bay’ do certainly evoke a certain sea-faring mood but really this is all rather irrelevant as what this album is at heart is an example that electronic and programmatic music can actual be rather charming. While a few tracks may become a little to soft and whimsical for some aficionados out there (though I defy anyone not to be charmed by ‘Hilly’), those of us willing to relax and let the music wash over us will find that life on the electronic ocean waves is pleasant sailing indeed.

Luke Drozd

Red Sparowes - At the Soundless Dawn (Hypertension Records)
I had been told that this was going to be good, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how good this record is, it truly is an amazing piece of work.

A concept album of sorts, ‘At the Soundless Dawn’ is an amazing document of a band that are not afraid the experiment, and veer away from traditional constraints of ‘heavy’ music, creating enormous emotive crushing soundscapes filled with tight delicate guitar and dense rhythms. This introduction of pedal steel throughout the album, brings to mind the noisier elements of Lift to Experience (when? Oh when? I need a new album from them!!!), while tunes will sit well with anyone who longs for the early days of Mogwai. The comparisons to other bands come in pretty thick and fast, and it comes as no surprise that Red Sparowes share members with Isis and have connections with Converge and Neurosis. But Red Sparowes do this brand of delicate yet heavy music (imagine a full scale elephant hand crafted from crystal) better than most.

Drew Millward

Electrelane – ‘Axes’ (Too Pure)
Electrelane are a hard band to pin down, a band who throughout this album evoke so many comparisons that they become pointless. They can move from skewed pop (‘Bells’) to brooding and extreme (‘Gone Darker’) to new-wave inflected oddities (‘Come Back’). Yes ‘Axes’ contains all these things and many more but what is really outstanding is that it does so and yet retains a sense of completeness. This may in part be due to the raw, semi-improvised nature the album retains as well as the lack of gaps between songs. These two elements combined lend a classical tone to the record allowing, almost forcing it, to be perceived as a whole.

‘Axes’ is bold, raucous and beautiful in equal measure and while not every piece may fit as well as it should this is merely the nature of the beast. This is a band pursuing and pushing for a sound of their own.

Luke Drozd

Weezer - Make Believe (Geffen)
This is not so much as a review, but more of a warning…sorry, that should have been WARNING! ACTUNG! ATTENTION! FOR FUCK SAKE, WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT BUY THE NEW WEEZER ALBUM!!!

I’m not sure where I stand on the legal side of things by urging you, the readers (I’m told there are some of you, so please feel free to send me an email!) of our little fanzine not to buy this, but I think I owe it to the public. Also, should you find yourself in the position of standing in a record shop about to buy this release, may I suggest you place the CD back on the rack, and donate the money saved to a charity of your choosing…. I’m not too fussy which.

I may start by saying that I, myself, didn’t fall in to the trap of actually purchasing this sorry excuse for music, but rather I borrowed it from a friend, out of curiosity to begin with, not to review, not to poke fun at, but to listen to and hopefully enjoy; because after all didn’t we all loved Weezer at one point?! Right?!

I for one did love Weezer, both ‘Blue’ and ‘Pinkerton’ can be etched in stone as two of the albums that made up the soundtrack to my youth, but unlike a number of albums from that time, I can still listen to them and appreciate them. What they are, are two intelligent and brilliantly written pop/rock albums (in my opinion ‘Pinkerton’ being the stronger of the two, but still ‘Blue’ is a damn fine piece of work), putting them on takes me back to a trouble free time of  beer, girls and long hot days and nights. I remember a friend giving me a copy of ‘Blue’ when it was first released and thinking I had never heard anything like this before, it was pretty refreshing to hear something like that as a fourteen year old boy in a village just outside Bolton, and frankly was a great relief to be spared for a while from the ever present ‘Brit Pop’ scene (interestingly enough, the tape I was given was in fact warped, so my initial judgements were somewhat clouded, but I still loved it anyway)….. I digress, but even without those fond memories, those two records still stand up to scrutiny. But, alas those days are long gone (I’m not quite sure where the last 10 years went).

As the years passed I thought we had perhaps seen the last of Weezer. After 1996’s ‘Pinkerton’ all went quiet for the following five years, during which time Rivers had his leg lengthened, and studied English at Harvard (interesting considering the lyrical content of ‘Make Believe’ could have easily been created by a below intelligence chimp grasping seemingly randomly at words laid out on cards before it). The fruits of the five year hiatus were less than promising, 2001’s ‘Green’ was ‘not so good, Al’ (to quote the ending of their ‘Buddy Holly’ video….the cry of ‘NERD’ would not be entirely inappropriate here); it had some good tunes, but overall it was somewhat of a disappointment. The same can be said for 2002’s ‘Maladroit’, again a lack lustre collection of half arsed tunes slapped together with clumsy (sometimes passable, at times painful to behold) lyrics, but again it all played out sharply, and could arouse the odd foot tap, or head nod. I find myself wanting to listen to these two albums approximately, never. It would have made more sense to distil the two down to create one slightly higher quality album, but that was not to be.

…this brings us on to ‘Make Believe’. I am pretty much at a loss of what to say (which would explain, the vast amount of waffle that precedes this paragraph), but I can tell you that it makes both ‘Green’ and ‘Maladroit’ sound like fucking ‘Pet Sounds’. I’m not sure this is the sound of a band in decline, as much as a band discussing how one can hammer the nails in to ones own coffin (I would suggest getting Matt Sharp to do it, considering he clearly had some pot of positive effect on the band, and would frankly be doing them a favour… I will provide the mallet). This is a collection of disparate songs, all as bad as each other, just in very different ways. The album starts badly (‘Beverly Hills’, the first single from the album, and a song the somehow takes the template of Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ and actually makes it a fuck sight worse), and rapidly goes down hill faster than a concrete rhino on roller blades. I was about to write about the saving grace of the album, but rapidly came to the conclusion there are none…..not one.

Well, it’s been nice knowing you Weezer, but I fear there may be no future for us. I will always have the memories.

Drew Millward

Super Reverb – ‘Avant Garde Is The French Word For Shit’ (Earsugar)
On first attempt to listen to this album I will admit I stumbled at track two. Even now on repeat listens I simply don’t get what I’m supposed to feel about those first two songs. However thank god I did decide to venture further into Super Reverbs oddly sunny world. This is fun infected indie music which is playful and complex and which remains a display of bloody good song writing. They are often clattering messes and perhaps they don’t always seem to find where they need to go too but the journey itself is a fun ride. Think Wilco with a bad case of sunstroke!

Luke Drozd

Tall Grass Captains of Greater Chicago – She Moved Through
Its very rare that a band creates an album which is full of almost perfect pop-tracks and deals with the subject of death in a mood that can only be described as celebratory (and in some cases euphoric). 

This year us lucky Brits have been treated to two, both from the other side of the Atlantic. The first, Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’ has been hailed as a masterpiece in every corner of the media. The second, is this, ‘She Moved Through’ by the Tall Grass Captains of Greater Chicago. 

The city of Chicago usually brings to mind the post-rock bores of the mid-90’s, but this release has more in common with the likes of Modest Mouse and The Flaming Lips.

‘Somewhere Else’ opens with acoustic guitars and lyrics reminiscent of Eels. Thirty seconds in and it morphs into a track that The Flaming Lips could create if they spent less time covering themselves in fake blood and more time rehearsing.  

The next few tracks flow through at a steadier pace, with ‘Her love Has Time Defied’ pairing 70’s guitar to more sweetly sung dual-harmonies. The third track sets off perfectly well, a Beatles-like melody playing behind lyrics that draw more comparisons to the previously mentioned Arcade Fire;

“Well I Stayed up late tonight, and I watched the world exploding” 

The title track is the first one that actually sounds like an album track, but luckily it passes within two minutes and forty seconds. The rest of the album continues at the same pace, with most songs being acoustic. Occasionally they resemble Turin Brakes, but they throw enough hooks in to keep you awake.

So although it doesn’t match The Arcade Fires album in consistency, the first five tracks at least hold their own, and if you can get a hold of it, then “She Moved Through” is definitely an album worth celebrating.

Jordan Dowling

Andrew Bird – ‘The Mysterious Production Of Eggs’ (Righteous Babe / Fargo)
I remember the first time I had the joy of encountering Andrew Bird when he supported Clem Snide on their UK tour a few years back. It was one of those rare occasions where the support act blows you away and you discover a new musical obsession. He was then supporting his album ‘Weather Systems’ an off-kilter folk gem that was like nothing else around. ‘The Mysterious Production of Eggs’ is the follow up to this and builds on what that album laid down by way of musical foundations.

As before this record blend together Bird’s own odd take on music, melding aspects of folk, jazz and soul and the results are varied but always compelling. As we are led in via an instrumental and a reworking of one of Weather Systems highlights ‘Sovay’ we begin to get an idea of what Bird’s MO is as violins are gently plucked and guitars strummed. Or so you’d think as the proceeding two tracks turn that on its head. ‘Nervous Tic Motion of The Head To Left’ is off-kilter and stuttery whilst ‘Fake Palindromes’ soars and stomps. And this is what we have from then on. Bird doesn’t let up or let you second-guess him. Just when think you have him pegged he will throw something else in. Now with any other musician this probably wouldn’t work but Bird pulls it off with what seems like ease. In fact that is one of the gelling factors of Bird is the sense of a man so laid back and comfortable in his song writing that he could turn his hand to anything. He can be near catatonic folk as on the beautiful ‘Masterfade’ or he can quickstep along as on the jazz infused ‘Skin, Is’, a track that will have even the most stoic of you dancing.

Andrew Bird is quite clearly a man who knows his music and is at the top of his game. Looking back over his career so far it becomes clear that there is no way of knowing what will come next from this guy. I do know one thing though, and that is that I will be at the front of the queue waiting and listening to ‘The Mysterious Production of Eggs’ whilst I do so.

Luke Drozd

Oneida – The Wedding
I have avoided New York’s Oneida for a while. For some reason I was of the impression they were a post-hardcore band. How wrong could I be? Don’t worry, the question is rhetorical. 

The Wedding opens with ‘The Eiger’, where Robin Hood like strings (you’ve seen the film right?) and vocals last heard in the 70’s prog-rock ‘revolution’ combine to give a dreary yet dulcet tone. This short song leads into ‘Lavender’, where things begin to pick up. Although the track is instrumental until its fourth minute its constant changes in instrumentation keep things interesting and unhinged. 70’s influenced music from New York should not sound as good as this. It should sound like The Strokes. 

The song ends abruptly and gives way to Yes-like noodling. We’ve reached full on prog-rock territory now; vocals float by directionless and guitars struggle to hold a melody for more than four seconds. The death knell like drums keep things in place though, and the track (and likely the joint) finishes at four minutes twenty. 

Track Six heads further into prog-land, but leans closer to stoner-rock riffs then ten minute xylophone solos. For the fourth time I check the press release and see if these guys are really from New York and not Can’s collective cryogenically frozen sperm (they aren’t of course). 

The rest of the album goes on a similar fashion, but the ever-changing vocal styles and the reappearance of the strings that inhabited the first song makes sure that you never lose interest. 

As the album finishes I regret avoiding listening to this band for so long, the album is a focused, yet beardy venture into the types of music Uncle Clive is always raving about. Maybe next time you shouldn’t laugh at him, this may be unashamedly prog but it is also one of the unexpected successes of 2005.

Jordan Dowling

Scout Niblett
I will start by saying this. I have been sitting on the fence for some time when it comes to making a decision as to whether or not I like Scout Niblett. I’ve heard her records, I’ve seen her live and I’ve listened to her helping out such friends as Howe Gelb and Songs:Ohia. Sometimes I’m convinced she’s wondrous, the rest of the time I’m convinced she stinks. So on first receiving ‘Kidnapped By Neptune’ I approached the CD player with caution and intrigue.

The first thing I found evident about this record is that it is really infused to its core with Rock. Yes with the capital R. Opening number ‘Hot to Death’ is urgent and aggressive and track two, title track ‘Kidnapped By Neptune’ maintains this with a driving repetitive groove. And quite frankly by the end of that track it was pretty obvious to me I was hooked. ‘Kidnapped By Neptune’ is for me Niblett finding her feet, working out a way for the bizarreness and the songs to fit together. Niblett marches to her own beat (and frequently plays it too) and yes sometimes it can be difficult to work out where she’s coming from or going to but that’s the appeal half the time. When she gets it right as on tracks like ‘Pompoms’ and ‘Safety Pants’ she gets it very right indeed and the good bits out way the bits where she wanders so far off the map there’s just no following.

‘Kidnapped By Neptune’ is challenging, endearing and entertaining, you just have to relax and do your best to keep up because as Niblett says on closing track ‘Where Are You?’ “I’ll make my fucking noise”, and I figure she’ll do this with or without our blessing.

Luke Drozd

Pale Sunday – Summertime? (Matinee)
Hurray for the return of Pale Sunday, and what a return.  ‘Summertime?’ is easily the best indie pop album of the year so far.  Y’know when you hear a record and you instantly know it’s gonna be good? Well, you don’t even have to hear this one…one look at it will tell you how special it is. From the packaging and the everso twee message on the back, to the chimes of ‘Never Fall Apart’, the soaring beauty of ‘She’ll Be Mine’ or the perfect pop of ‘Mary’.  Brazil may have never had a better band.

If you think this is hyperbole, then you’d be wrong.  After all, I tend to give just about every Matinee release a cracking review, but then that’s because they’re usually brilliant records. Likewise, Pale Sunday have always greased my monkey – but that’s because they’ve always released utterly gorgeous records that it’s so easy to fall in love with.  Pop music doesn’t have to be complicated, you see.

In dark days, everyone needs a crutch.  Pale Sunday are mine.

Sam Metcalf

The Chap – ‘Ham’ (Lo recordings)
Whilst listening to The Chap you will find yourself thinking, maybe even shouting, ‘What the good lord and Moses?’ at your stereo. Sometimes because it’s just so right and sometimes because you have no idea what in the hell is going on.

The Chap are a hard one to describe. They are a band with pop sensibilities but they twitch and groove along like Little Richard fucking a mobile disco. On a track like ‘Woop Woop’ you have both a tight simple groove but also a weird complexity while ‘Now Woel’ is the sound of someone beating up garage rock with a synth.

At times it becomes a bit odd even for me but just when this seems to be the case a clever hook or beat will engage you again. In fact that is one of the greatest attributes of The Chap, the fine line they walk between ludicrous and brilliant. They are a bizarre disco pop phenomenon and a joy to behold. They are not however a band for the faint hearted that’s for sure.

Luke Drozd

The Lucksmiths – Warmer Corners (Fortuna Pop!)
I’ve heard this described elsewhere as the most accomplished Lucksmiths album thus far, and it’s hard to disagree with that.  It might not have the instant POP rush as its predecessors, but it’s probably got better songs on it.  And after a few listens, tracks such as the wonderful ‘Music Next Door’ and the almost Motownesque ‘Now I’m Even Further Away’ will become firm favourites amongst fans of Australia’s best band.
However, ‘Warmer Corners’ certainly is the sound of The Lucksmiths maturing their sound. There’s some brass in here, maybe even a little bit of Americana sprinkled around the edges. It all adds up to a wonderfully rich soundscape.
So, if people ask you where the song like ‘T-Shirt Weather’ is, tell them, firstly, to fuck off, and secondly to simply LISTEN to this most lovely of albums.

Sam Metcalf

Bikini Atoll – ‘liar’s Exit’ (Bella Union)
Bikini Atoll is a band both bleak and uplifting. They are full of orchestral bombast and passion. And that is exactly what they have managed to capture on their new full length ‘Liars Exit’. Recorded with Steve Albini it is raw and honest, perhaps at times too much so. In fact that is probably one of the problems that this album can at times suffer from. The rawness can almost act to highlight some of the moments where the album strays and becomes a tad repetitive and doleful. That said when Bikini Atoll get it right as on a track like ‘Eve’s Rib’, the first single off the album, they show themselves as at truly formidable band, aggressive and beautiful.

While ‘Liar’s Exit’ may not be perfect the moments when Bikini Atoll get it right make it all more than worthwhile. Hey, who is perfect?

Luke Drozd

Ryan Teague – ‘Six Preludes’ (Type)
This release by Cambridge’s Ryan Teague combines traditional classical composition with electronica and avant rock, sort of in the vein of Labradford or Piano Magic. For example ‘Prelude I’ combines gentle string motifs and operatic vocals with a background of chiming bells and ambient digital noise. The rest of the tracks are very similar and for the main part are of a very high quality. The combination of the neo-classical and the electronic elements is effective and subtle, creating a beautiful, melancholy sound. The only track in which isn’t quite as effective is ‘Prelude VI’. The underlying piano track is fine but this is overlaid with some rather dated bleeps and glitches, akin to early Autechre. The electronic elements of the track are rather overbearing, and distract from the other elements of the song. But on the whole Ryan Teague has managed to combine the classical and the contemporary very effectively, worth checking out for Labradford fans.   

Michael Pearson

Drunk Horse – ‘In Tongues’ (Tee Pee Records)
I’ll start by saying this, when I first listened to Drunk Horses I struggled with trying to work out what should be pretty obvious to you when listening to a record. I simply couldn’t tell if this was absolute nonsense or absolutely great. In retrospect I think it’s probably neither.

Drunk Horse state there influences to be as diverse as ZZ Top, Jesus Lizard and Miles Davies and also feature ex-Fucking Champ Josh Smith. It a slab of American hard rock, laced with blues and country for good measure. On a track like ‘Nice Hooves’ it all seems to make perfect sense as riffing guitars chug along and offer up a sort intense and satisfying rock. However this isn’t the case on the entire album. The problem I started to find was that the less strong tracks began to blend together and it almost began to feel like the band had tried to doff their caps to its influences too much, with one track sounding like a Thin Lizzy track and the next like ZZ Top with a hint of the Melvins.

Drunk Horse ‘In Tongues’ is littered with the occasional great rock moment, sadly it just doesn’t have the diversity or scope to stop a lot of the record ending up sounding like filler.

Luke Drozd

Jane – ‘Berserker’ (Paw Tracks)
A new release on the Animal Collective’s Paw Track label, and one featuring Panda Bear of the Animal Collective at that. My joy is unconfined. This album doesn’t disappoint either. Although it’s not quite what I’d expected from the press release, which harps on about ‘soul’ and ‘handclaps’, and all this kind of nonsense. So imagine my surprise when the first track ‘Berserker’ turns out to be an ethereal post rock song, sort of in the vein of Sigur Ros / Labradford. The remainder of the album is trickier to describe. Tracks two and three, ‘Agg Report’ and ‘Slipping Away’, are made up of mellow dancey / dubby beats which have an almost Krautrock style repetition to them. Not contemporary dance mind you, all very retro. That description makes them sound awful, but in actual fact it works very well. Imagine the group Mum’s experimental pop, but with a slightly more dub feel to it and you’re in the right sort of area, although that description doesn’t really do them justice. All the while Panda Bear’s vocals flit in and out of focus. For this reason alone this album evokes the childlike innocence that is the hallmark of the Animal Collective’s work. 

The fourth track, which apparently is a bonus CD track and clocks in at an impressive 24 minutes 43 seconds, is simply beautiful. Loathe as I am to use the term, the only way to describe this song accurately would be ‘ambient’. But not in a shit Ibiza chill-out way. It’s ambient in the same way Labradford or Pan American are, it’s lovely, minimal music. The song is simply a very sparse organ line with Panda Bear’s increasingly distorted vocals floating in and out of focus. Enchanting stuff, and strongly recommended.    

Michael Pearson

Kinesis - You Are Being Lied To (Captains of Industry)
Definitely at the most accessible end of the Captains of Industry roster, there must be something punk rock DIY about this release from Kinesis? Ah yes! The band will split up the day the album is released - rock 'n' roll!

Well it would be better if it wasn't such a good record and non-cool cats like myself who have not heard of Kinesis before now will  be denied the opportunity to see them live. The flipside to this is a record that is completely without baggage - because they never have to play the songs again then there is definitely a sense of really going for it on this record, giving everyone a good kick up the musical arse in the process. The single 'You Are Being Lied To' is a punk rock masterpiece and call to arms about the state of world governance at the moment. Then 'Everything You Thought You Knew To Be' blasts it off the face of the planet with the sort of row that you always suspected Muse might be capable of if they weren't so far up their own backsides.

The Pixies are clearly an influence too, especially on 'Principles Are a Luxury' and Kinesis are blessed with a lead singer who sounds uncannily like Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan. This is a superlative record - not the last rites of band in decline but a documentary of four musicians at the height of their powers and stretching every style they  approach to the limit.

Shane Blanchard

The White Stripes – ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ (XL)
So with the release of ‘Get Behind Me Satan’, the White Stripes latest full length, we have one of the most anticipated records of the year so far…what ever that means. Jack White claims it to be a very different record to the rest of his career so far with far more of the record centring around the piano rather than the electric guitar and with it being a far more spontaneous studio experience altogether with little of the songs present actually being finished before the recording process began. Now I’ll be totally honest I'm not especially a fan of The White Stripes. Its not that I dislike them, in fact I think they’ve produced some remarkable singles in their career but its just that when it comes to listening to an album it always seems like there’s something missing, like a chunk of the songs are there because they needed enough to fill the album. Still I tried to cast this aside and listen to ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ with open ears hoping to be proved wrong.

The record opens with first single ‘Blue Orchid’, a blues tinged stomping number that harnesses everything that’s good about the White Stripes. Its falsetto vocal and repetitive riff make it the obvious choice as first single and it goes to show exactly what the band does best, it also turns out to the records only real out and out rocker. Following on from here we have ‘The Nurse’ a bitter piano led song inflected with occasional moments of guitar intervention like punctuated angered screams. ‘My Doorbell’ continues to show the Stripes diversity as it pummels along in its own special blend of piano soul pop. Other highlights include ‘The Denial Twist’ which is White Stripes being the White Stripes and ‘Take, Take, Take’ an ambling gem about meeting Rita Hayworth in a bar which is full of bombast and passion and for me one of the Stripes finest ever.

Sadly there are also a handful of moments that simply don’t work. For example both the stones-eque ‘Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)’ and the thoroughly bland ‘As Ugly As I Seem’ demonstrate the old White Stripes problem of having those tracks on their albums that end up sounding like nothing more than filler.

‘Get Behind Me Satan’ is probably my personal favourite White Stripes album thus far. At times it shows Jack and Meg harnessing their soulful rock, with all its bluster and bile, and turning out some engaging music. However there is still that percentage of the album that just simply doesn’t work or isn’t good enough. Some songs feel rushed and clumsy and personally I’d rather have a shorter album than one tied together with musical wadding. The White Stripes can obviously do great things but I can’t be the only person out their wishing they’d push themselves that like bit harder can I?

Luke Drozd

Halfset - Dramanalog (Elusive)
This is an intriguing mix of traditional instrumentation (banjo, mandola, glockenspiel etc) with unashamedly modern electro beats. That sounds like it could be a horrible union but Halfset have managed to combine the two to create a mini-epic of a good summertime album.

There is no awkward collision of new and old styles - the precise plucked mandola actually compliments the computerised percussion which threads the hold album together. If Air had been born in Ireland then I imagine this is what their records would sound like. It crosses that tricky divide between self indulgent electro folk music and the mass dance/chill out market market. This would definitely not be out of place throughout the clubs of Ibiza at 6 in the morning as the sun rises over the sea.

Shane Blanchard

Blefari, Gouzy, Beridze, Pratter – ‘4 Women No Cry’ (Monika)
Collection of material from four female solo artists; Rosario Blefari, Natalie Beridze, Eglantine Gouzy and Catarina Pratter, each of them hailing from different points around the globe. Can’t discern from the press release what the link between these ladies is, but I assume it’s because they pursue similar musical endeavors. In general this compilation contains music which attempts to meld left-field folk with electronica / trip-hop, with varying degrees of success.  

Viennese musician Catarina Pratter’s contributions are rather more notable than the other three artists. Her tracks are more electronica orientated than the others on this CD, and also have a far darker sound, particularly the song ‘Dreamin of Love’. There are other interesting songs on this compilation, such as Eglantine Gouzy’s charmingly innocent ‘Nurse Song’. But on the whole most of the material doesn’t rise above the ordinary. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, but on the whole this album is rather too coffee table for my taste.  

Michael Pearson

Kevin Tihista – Home Demons, Vol 1 (Broken Horse)
Kevin Tihista last album ‘Wake Up Captain’ was greeted with rave reviews from the music press and it was acknowledged that yes this guy can write a hellva good song. Who could have known then that he along with the likes of lambchop's Kurt Wagner writes so many songs that the rest of really don’t have to bother? Well he does and this ‘Home Demons, Vol 1’ (get it?) is a collection of 21 of them, yep that’s right 21!

For those unfamiliar with Tihista's music he is a songwriter who pens bitter-sweet pop songs (or wimpy, crappy love songs as he puts it) that are for the most so compelling and beautiful that it must make anyone else trying to do the same immensely jealous. This is a collection of ones that didn’t for one reason or another make it onto one of his records proper. That isn’t to say however that these are somehow substandard or even as the title implies that they’re all rough demos. Most are every bit as good as his album output and where the edges are a little rougher it just adds to the charm. Songs like ‘Stratford upon Avon’, ‘Sweet’ and ‘This Should Be a Duet (Really)’ show exactly why Tihista has gotten the name he has as the blend of simple pop instrumentation and witty lyrics works perfectly, like a less cynical Wilco perhaps.

My only real problem with the record though is just the sheer length of it. There are a handful of slightly weaker songs here that I really think could have been edited and it would have resulted in a more complete sounding record. It can just be a bit of a mission to sit down and stay engaged with all the songs from start to finish. That said I think its probably worth buying the record for ‘Jim Henson’s Blues/You’re Not Bad’ alone which may not be the best song you’ve ever heard as the press statement claims but its probably up there. If you haven’t already I think its time you invited Kevin Tihista into your life.

Luke Drozd

Boy Robot – Rotten Cocktails
Boy Robot is the project of Hans Moller and Michael Zorn. Computer software geeks amongst you might recognise their names due to their involvement in the development of the Ableton Live! software. Non computer software geeks needn’t worry, it has absolutely no bearing on this review: it’s just an interesting fact. 

Rotten Cocktails is a cleanly produced album, too clean to be honest, all the sounds are right there in your face. Although a slightly derivative album in places, it’s still a fairly interesting listen. ‘Bass & Booze’ nicks a bass noise right from IF’s “Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass’ whilst the repeated strings on ‘Live In Vanilla’ sound for all the world like those on Aphex Twin’s ‘Girl/Boy’. On the plus side, Boy Robot do have the ability to establish a nice groove on tracks such as ‘Invaders of Vanity Clubland’ and ‘We Accept All Our Parents Credit Cards’, the former a nicely laid-back electro tune and the latter an energetic, almost Thomas Bangalter style filtered disco tune.

First impressions of this album were good but I eventually found that it was perhaps too immediate and subsequent listens didn’t unearth anything to get really excited about: Although it’s quite a ‘deep’ album, it’s unfortunately got no depth.

Fraser Shelton

Jay Haze – Love For A Strange World
This is the first album I’ve heard in a long time that has really made me sit up and pay attention. In short, I think it’s brilliant - lo-fi, analogue production, hints of the deepest house, techno and electronica and a peculiar vocal style (Haze himself sings on most of the tracks), that brings to mind Jamie Lidell. The similarity between Haze and Lidell’s voice is so strong that at times it’s hard to believe you’re not actually listening to the SuperCollider frontman. I was also very strongly reminded of Isolee by the wealth of discordant, ‘wrong’ synth sounds, and quirky, choppy beats. So, to recap thus far: It’s like Isolee jamming with Jamie Lidell. Immense!   

At times it sounds like Boards Of Canada-esque electronica, sometimes like too-slow booty and at others straight-up deep, clicky house. These might seem like disparate influences for an album but Haze’s voice cements it all together beautifully. When Haze isn’t sleazily crooning, D:exter steps in to introduce a little funk. D:exter sings on three tracks on this album and, though I’ve never really liked his voice before, ‘I Can Love You’ featuring his vocal talents is a wicked tune – it’s one of the few tracks on the album that has an obvious 4/4 kick to it and is lovingly produced with a crisp kick drum and minimal, bright percussion. 

Both the lyrical content and track names suggest an album informed by less than happy personal experience. A quick glance down the tracklisting confirms it: ‘Can’t Feel Anything’, ‘Troubles I’ve Seen’, ‘Down And Out’ (the latter two no doubt a reference to Haze’s time spent living homeless in San Francisco). Haze doesn’t just sing in a sleazy manner on Love For A Strange World; the content of some of the songs is downright dirty - ‘Feel My Heat’ with its talk of strap-ons , ‘Big Eyes’ where he sings about wanting to ‘put my funk in you’ and the less oblique ‘I Wanna Come’  - sample lyric: ‘Girl you’re so beautiful, you’re ass is nice and tight. Girl open up your legs, lets get freaky tonight’. Call me a child for responding to this, (I am), but the music on ‘I Wanna Come’ saves it from being just another booty influenced track to giggle about. I love its wobbly, groovy bassline and carefully placed sampled laughter. 

All those who are into the more experimental ‘out there’, downbeat electronic music should listen to this album, it never bores, which is no mean feat, and (for me at least), it never fails to get the head nodding.

Fraser Shelton

Lali Puna – I Thought I Was Over That (Rare, Remixed And B-Sides)
I couldn’t wait to get my ears round I Thought I Was Over That when I received it. The list of remixers and remixees, if you will, had me aurally salivating in anticipation of the potential delights in store. In the end I was equal parts impressed and disappointed. 

There seems to have been a fair amount of musical ‘I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours’ going on over the last six years for Lali Puna, with remixer becoming remixee and vice versa. I Thought I Was Over That features remixes by Boom Bip, Two Lone Swordsmen, To Rococo Rot, Sixtoo and Alias (amongst others) and remixes of Boom Bip,Two Lone Swordsmen and Dntel as well as a cover of Giorgio Moroder and Phil Oakey’s ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ and a previously unreleased track written for the late John Peel.  

Of the remixes by Lali Puna, their mix of Boom Bip’s ‘Awaiting an Accident’ blew me away. It’s one of the tunes on this compilation where I think they’ve got the mixture of electronic sounds and acoustic guitar just right. This is a hugely emotive piece of music: all the instruments swell and build together until the addition of the strings and heartfelt piano melody coalesce perfectly. Disappointment came in the form of their remix of Dntel’s ‘(This is) The Dream of Evan and Chan’. The original is inspired and sadly Lali Puna reduce it to an average track that sounds like, well, an average Lali Puna track. 

Of the tunes remixed by others, Alias remixes ‘Alienation’ in fine fashion, echoing handclaps and complex percussion drive the track forward with a great rhythm. Special mention has to go to Flowchart for their mix of ‘Fast Forward’ – the way they manipulate the vocal so that it forms a part of the groove is reminiscent of deep clickhouse supremo Matthew Herbert.  

Valerie Trebeljahr’s voice helps to bring a sense of cohesion to this compilation, her breathy vocals, although not appearing on every track, are very distinctively Lali Puna. It’s not just her voice that ties the compilation together; Lali Puna seem to have a strong enough sound of their own that all of the tracks on here have a certain Lali Puna-ness. Good if you like this kind of thing.

Fraser Shelton

Nacht Plank – Septs Vents
Lee Norris also records as Metamatics and Norken, but his Nacht Plank project is where he experiments with the very deepest abstract ambience - be prepared to listen very closely if you want to get anything out of this album. Featuring little in the way of obvious instrumentation other than a shedload of crackly, dusty synthesisers and the odd tinkle of keys (‘Carhaix Nonant’), and strummed guitar (‘Rijhwoude’), Septs Vents utilises heavily processed field recordings taken from god knows where to create the sound of a space station chirruping away to itself late at night. Not there is such a thing as night in space, or sound for that matter.  

I hesitated to use the word soundscape in describing the music on Septs Vents, too obvious, but soundscapes are what these tracks most certainly are and spacious ones at that. In fact, spacious doesn’t really fit the bill; vast is probably a far better word to describe tracks such as ‘Troarn’ a track that, in particular, has an amazing sense of depth and reminded me of Vangelis (this reinforces my sci-fi associations no doubt). The aforementioned ‘Carhaix Nonant’ is lovely; it’s the least ‘dense’ track on the album, the simple, clean melody is not submerged beneath layers of sound (unlike a lot of the tracks on the album which seem sort of nebulous with no one sound standing out); instead it forms the focal point. 

If you put this album on looking for background music then that’s what it will be. It’s not immediate and doesn’t demand attention, but with a little concerted listening these murky, moody constructions can be pretty rewarding. 

8 out of 12

Fraser Shelton

Ola Bergman – The Satellite City
Ola Bergman’s The Satellite City (out on the New Speak label), serves as an overview of a body of work developed over a number of years. Whilst not an ‘album’ proper, it actually works in this way surprisingly well – after listening to it you feel you’ve listened to something with real depth. 

On The Satellite City bare, brittle, rhythmic electro structures rub shoulders with more melodic, introspective downbeat electronica. In fact, the album as a whole spans the gap beautifully between these two sub genres of modern electronic music. I’m totally sold on some of the tracks such as ‘Pseudocarp’, which features detuned synths that remind me of Drexciya in the way that it sounds unexplainably beautiful at the same time as sounding ominous and brooding and creepy. It’s this contrast between the almost positive vibe and the robotic coldness that can be so beguiling about Ola Bergman’s music. It’s not all good: I found ‘Haute Volta’ slightly noodly and a bit dull and a few of the tracks are seemingly interchangeable as the sounds used across the fourteen tracks are all very similar.  

The final track on the album ‘Drivis II’, is a superb album closer. Shuffling percussion and a tough kick drum combined with melancholic deep chords create a very nice place indeed. 

The Satellite City is pretty good for listeners that already like electro and electronica but I don’t think this album is going to win over any new converts.

Fraser Shelton

Robin Auld - Diamond Of A Day (Free Lunch)
Diamond Of A Day is a little gem that has made me want to hunt out his 14 album back catalogue. As an accomplished South African singer, Robin’s sound is distinct and certainly ‘stands’ out from the rest. This album is beautiful, well constructed and lyrically mature. This is an album with an added ingredient, an additional ‘spice’ of magic where you are left with a warm glow. “Kiss it off” is simply meltdown; its ambient, melodic vibe is simply sublime with Robin’s distinctive voice (David Gray, Neil Young with a husk!). The musical layers on “Solid Gold” work well, shifting from acoustic to humming. A South African vibe can be heard on “Bobby come back” and “Weather” has a burst of saxophone with vocals on a sliding scale that I have not heard since the early days of ‘Pavement’. Robin Auld is a singer/songwriter not to be missed, a bonus find with an added twist in a field where there are many new flowers.

Sarah McDonald

Last Harbour - Hold Fast Pioneer
This album starts of with the sounds of a bar; the clinking of glasses; the murmur of good natured conversation, perhaps it’s a quiet Tuesday night in All Bar One? …Unfortunately Last Harbour seem to have recorded the whole album in same said bar. Sometimes slight production invokes an intimacy between music and listener, other times it creates an inertia which seems to be the case here; like listening to pine. Musically Last Harbour join the long list of bands influenced by Lee & Nancy and those they have already influenced. With the trademark vocals; baritone male brooding and earnest female swooning, the list of comparisons dribbles off the tongue; Nick Cave, Tindersticks, Lampchop, Calexico etc. And it has to be said that Last Harbour make better use of the female vocal parts than some of the aforementioned. I do like this sort of music, and though I think Last Harbour will go on to make some great music this record is just ‘quite good,’ I don’t think they’ve the songs to match their aspirations and sometimes solemn can sound, well, dull. Definitely one to watch, but get in a studio eh?


The Pelicans - Dangerous Love (Rub Wrongways)
What starts out as ostensibly tweesville gently lurches through a number of tracks demonstrating a Costello-esque care in song writing generously interspersed with intriguing left field guitar parts to keep you on your toes.

'We Just Don't Get Along' is a bit of a lumbering ballad-type beast but the cobwebs are quickly blown away 'Burnout', a far more up-tempo offering with a bit of nod to the Presidents of the USA and They Might Be Giants. Things are rounded off nicely with '(Hey hey) We're the Snipers', a slightly darker affair which would not have been out of place on 90's Sub Pop label. Admittedly this is more my cup of tea generally but I think The Pelicans do this sort of track better than the slow ones. But with a range of influences and styles on display, it won't be long before The Pelicans slip into a niche which they are truly happy with.

Shane Blanchard

BAILEY - The Way That Things Are Done
Today's musical climate is awash with albums trying to disguise a distinct lack of ideas with over-produced, 64-track digital jiggery-pokery, so much so that many of us seem to have forgotten just how pleasant the sound of one man and his guitar can be - me included! Thanks then to Bailey who, with the aid of a few friends, has served up this charming album of analogue loveliness.

Spinning sweet yarns of mermaids, lighthouse keepers and failed romance in self-deprecating style, his songs are simple, straight-forward and never outstay their welcome or become boring despite only the odd piano flourishes. "Could Have Been a Sign" is a classic example - a dead ringer for Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" with a more subdued Morrisey on vocals. I also particularly liked "Hospital Bed". All in all, a small triumph.

Will Columbine

Sunnyvale Noise Sub-Element - Techno Self Harm (Field)
SNS-e make the kind of noise that is normally associated with heavy industry or metal workshops around the country set to electro beats and loops. While not being the sort of music to play in the background of a dinner party, 'Techno Self Harm' offers up some intriguing ideas and atmospheres as the chuggy guitars manage to slash through the break beat percussions.

Sufficiently obscure titles like 'There are Already Enough Photographs of People and Doors' are an indication to the post rock leanings of some of the tracks where the obligatory electronic hisses and squelches are accompanied by a more minimal and refined guitar part. The harmonies themselves seem to loop in unison with the beat to comprise one coherent soundtrack.

Some might describe parts of this as self indulgent twaddle, others as genius experimental improvised electro-thrash. Like most things in life, it all depends on your outlook. But if you're willing to make the effort, you might just be rewarded by this challenging release.

Shane Blanchard

ZZZ. The Sound of ZZZ
A sneak preview of a video game released in 2037.

-A collective noun of marauding, mercenary cats has kidnapped the princess. You have to dance, fuck and fight your way across Europe to rescue her. (Soundtrack courtesy of ZZZ)-

The Doors famously decided they didn’t need a bassist. ZZZ have taken this further by losing guitarist and preposterous front-man as well, leaving us with just organ and drummer / vocalist. On paper a frankly ridiculous idea but this is one of my favourite releases this year. There is something Doors-esque about this music, with the organ, (I imagine it’s impossible to have an album of organ without some of it sounding like Manzarek,) and the German beer-house vocal.

I reckon this is the sort of music that sounds great on a cocktail of booze and prescription painkillers. It’s not without its faults, it maybe tails off towards the end and the press release was so smug I burnt it instantly. But this lack of material can be forgiven in a debut and I can’t wait for the next album. I bet they’re a fucking blast live as well.

It’s the perfect antidote to the good time al fresco sexual frustration of summer. My favourite tracks are the pomp and stomp of ‘Lucy’ or the champagne fizz of ‘Soul.’ This music is; ‘Zoors zo Zance. On the soundtrack of Zebbie Zoes Zallas.’

It sounds like the future. Go to your GP, pick up your prescription, pick up some bourbon put on the Sound of ZZZ and dance, fuck and fight your way across Europe.