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  albums - december 2005

 

Marconi Union – Distance (All Saints)
Marconi Union is a duo from Manchester. Here they have created a wonderful soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. All seven tracks drift hypnotically along, gently propelled by a softly pulsing heartbeat and wrapped up in warm guitar melodies. It also creates a feeling of space, as sounds echo off into the distance, never to return. What could have been a very cold, clinical sound is somehow imbued with feeling that carries the listener along with it. It’s crying out for some images to accompany it. The only drawback is that, with all the seven tracks intended to form part of a whole, the effect is one of repetition and occasionally monotony. Taken individually however, they will entrance the listener and create a movie in their own mind.
www.allsaintsrecords.com

Matt Latham


Let Airplanes Circle Overhead – s/t (Motive Sounds)
This is the debut album from three 18-yr old instrumentalists who cut their teeth rehearsing in a shed in Newcastle, and it’s not a bad effort on the whole. The problem is, how to describe such music without using the words “explosions”, “sky”, “godspeed” and “emperor” when the band object to being “bracketed with the over used ‘post-rock’ label”?  

Ok, I give up.

Will Columbine


The Spectacle Experiment – Just In Time for Nothing
The alarm bells began ringing when I read the press-sheet for this one. Was it main-man Hadrian Mordecai’s train-spotting quest to unearth rare analog FX pedals…the gratuitous use of phrases like “feedback merchants” and “sonic astronauts”…or the unabashed references to Slowdive that gave me the chills? I mean…Slowdive?! 

Pink Floyd, Spiritualized, MBV and Sonic Youth are also mentioned as influences. Well, try imagining any of these bands without the melodies, ideas or pop savvy that made them famous and you get a good picture of what’s wrong with much of this album. While it can be argued that Mordecai has produced some impressive sound collages, there’s little else that commands attention on this record. Moreover, the bitter lyrics (on the few occasions you can make them out through the sludge), which seem to be aimed at an ex-lover, are clichéd and trite. 

It’s by no means a complete disaster. Acoustic-based tracks like “Last You’ll Hear from Me” and the haunting “Above the Fall”, as well the closing “Never Thought” with its Dandy Warhols-at-the-piano prettiness, offer some reprieve, but on the whole this is a classic case of style over substance.
www.thespectacleexperiment.com

Will Columbine


Dracula Zombie USA - s/t (Serious Business)
The album starts strongly with The Summer Jam and I Like The Snow, which suggest the band have found a sound of their own. Unfortunately, having discovered it, they then seem to put it down whilst on a bus and forget it when they get off. This means the following tracks descend into an incoherent mess and we are left with the sound of a bunch of guys trying to start a band and not really knowing where they’re going with it; a situation not helped by Travis Gravitas having lost the instructions to the drum machine. It also seems their song-writing consists of putting ideas in a tombola and picked them out at random, bolting the ill-fitting segments together to fashion each track. Realising they don’t actually have a song they then rapidly fire it at you in the hope you won’t notice. Unfortunately I did.
www.draculazombieusa.com

Matt Latham


Sonver - s/t (Disconnected)
Following on from their self released ep earlier this year, Sonver return with their first full length album. Lending heavily on the material from the original ep, these tracks are sandwiched by some new material which provides an exciting new progression in Sonver's sound.

The record still drips with cinematic soundscapes that flow and combine the orchestral with the electronic, including samples and drum beats. But over the longer format there has been more room to experiment with different textures and it is these contrast that come to the fore. Where 'Anonima' is a lush melodic piece that is as warm and comforting as it is disconcerting, 'Last Thursday' crashes onto the scene will all the bowed pomp and splendour of a Bond theme tune. Howling guitar distortion is fed through a multitude of  effects and production to lurk as a malevolent under current.

There seems to be a fluid theme running through the whole album with the watery sounding guitars of 'Viaje' wobbling through the speakers. This is interrupted by the lo-fi loops of feedback and distortion in 'Progression' which is very much in the experimental mould, ebbing and building over a plucked string mantra with a deftness that the Dr Who sound effects department could only dream of.

For all their genre-breaking ad cross pollination of sound and vision techniques, Sonver remain immensely listenable. And it is this which is perhaps their greatest accomplishment.

SB


Ctrlaltdelete – Mondegreens (Motive Sounds)
From the same label as Let Aeroplanes Circle Overhead, Ctrlaltdelete are a similar if slightly more melodic (if no less loud) prospect. They are so named as a reference to deleting “conventions, pre-conceptions and clichés”. Trouble is that there’s nothing on this CD that I haven’t heard done better by the more well-known post-rock outfits of our time, although the band play with vigour, invention and, perhaps most importantly, volume! I’d get more of a kick seeing them play live, I’ll wager.

Will Columbine


Smokehand - The Last Train ( 10Xbetter )
Not so much genre hopping but genre assassination in a dark street with a knife, filmed in scratchy black and white monochrome.  This eponymous offering by Cardiff’s lounge-core troubadour’s, Smokehand , is an album which could easily be a sinister soundtrack to an imaginary 40’s spy film.  Evoking sounds and imagery from film noir, whereby it leaves you half expecting a gruff, voice over from a gumshoed P.I speculating on the whereabouts of the murder weapon.

‘Eclectic’ is a word thrown about so liberally, so I’ll discard it immediately. A pleasant, veritable ‘hodge-podge’ might be a truer reflection of the overall sonic sphere that Smokehand create. The ‘Hand put the meandering double bass to good use, the shimmering tremolo-lead guitar (dis) chords work well, the  evil, circus organ sits positively uncomfortable in the background and the crooning; convincing.  However, amidst the polished production values and considered arrangements abundant on this album, there are precious few moments when they actually sound like themselves. There are strands of jazz, lounge, samba, show tunes and soundtracks which run throughout, but burying them deeper and more subtly into their sound would be an improvement. This is a bit of a shame because here is a sophisticated, original band brimming with obscure, edgy reference points, that just don’t put them to good enough use.

There are some fantastic, gritty Portishead-like stanza’s, smoky balladeering reminiscent of early Tom Waits and murderous words that wouldn’t look out of place on a Nick Cave lyric sheet. Despite this, it doesn’t sound menacing enough to keep up with the whole noir-ish appeal they purport to offer, and if they’re not careful down those dimly lit alleyways they could end up in a cold pool of their own ironic mediocrity.  In all, some of it’s parts are less than the sum of it’s parts, but a bit of fine-tuning and a more subtle approach to the sound could create a darker, broodier and more evocative experience. 

HT


 

Make Believe-‘Shock of Being’ (Flameshovel)
A photocopied sleeve and the band name written on the compact disc in marker pen. Not a terribly good first impression. Luckily I’m not the kind of shallow individual to be bothered by such things, and have managed to ignore the shoddy packaging and concentrate on the music it houses. Which is a plus as this is rather damn good. Recorded by Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studio, ‘Shock of Being’ treads a similar musical path to US Maple, Don Caballero and at times Faraquet. That being complex, spazzy and very strange rock. At times Make Believe go for post rock noodlings, such as on the track “Can’t tell Cop from Cab’. Other tracks follow a more ‘traditional’ rock structure, such as ‘One Zero’. I say ‘traditional’, because all the songs seem to be on the verge of falling apart (which is a plus) and are very complex. Despite the complexity though the songs retain focus and direction; a great deal of music of this ilk can seem merely complex for its own sake. Thankfully Make Believe do not suffer from this flaw. Unfortunately the vocals are rather unnecessary, at times they seem forced and are at best a distraction from the music, at worst actually irritating. This album would benefit from being instrumental, but isn’t bad at all as it stands. 

Michael Pearson


Skoud - Systems and Drafts (Motive Sounds)
Hoorah for Skoud! Or should I say Simon? For Skoud is non other than a Russian drummer from a Swedish rock band and he is really called Simon Koudriavtsev. You can see why he called himself Skoud. But this mindless wittering apart, 'Systems & Drafts' is a wonderful album full of engaging kinetic electronica which brings a real warmth and atmosphere to a genre that can so easily be cold and characterless.

None of those long meandering instrumental types that get you reaching for the skip button after the first 15 minutes of minimalist bleeps here. All the tracks are short and sharp and all the more accessible for it. Although 'Maida Vale' has a touch of Orbital about it, it is something distinctly northern (or northern European in this case). As opposed to 'System 20' which could be straight out of the Mediterranean club scene, via a swarm of cicadas. And 'Fu' is unabashed Casiocore which sounds like it may have been created for a kids TV programme about a factory production line. Unlikely though.

The second half of the album is definitely more ambient than the first few tracks and this gives you a good chance to catch breath. But the common theme is Skoud's clicks and scratches across every tune. It's a bit disconcerting, like an infestation of cockroaches crawling around in your speaker cabinets, but it does tie all the other influences and strands together nicely. 'Bagtag' even reaches back as far as 808 State and the album is completed by an unaccompanied piano piece called 'Requiem for the Art College'. Weird. And quite fantastic.

SB


31 Knots – Talk Like Blood (PolyVinyl)
One of the first things you notice listening to ‘Talk Like Blood’ is the unbounded technical expertise that 31Knots demonstrate through their music. But the sophisticated and often complicated arrangements are only one facet to 31Knots’ overall appeal, because both the songs and the delivery are of equal significance. The astonishingly competent rhythm unit provides a sturdy rock-solid back bone to the gangly, wayward limbs of the Joe Haege’s frantic guitar playing and affected melodies; but used in such a way that is neither conceited or exaggerated.  

Despite the sometimes overly abrasive feel, they are able to weave subtle refrains and idiosyncratic harmonies effortlessly throughout these 11 tracks. Haege’s vocal delivery is nothing short of impressive and often evolves from a convincingly pained howl to a low, ballsy rasp all within the space of a few lines. The looped orchestral samples are frequently used to great effect and add a thick, rich texture to the mix. Moreover, the temptation to indulge in over-production has thankfully not been taken, leaving the clattery feel of 31Knots’ music and strong compositions to speak for themselves. However, it’s not all plain sailing, the first track seems unnecessary and doesn’t serve as a good enough introduction of what is to come, there is also a seemingly ambiguous instrumental occurring half way through which seems a little out of place.  However these are short-lived, minor blemishes on an other-wise clean body of work.  

 ‘Talk Like Blood’ remains quite a rough, discordant mish-mash of ideas, time changes and unpredictable chord progressions yet polished and defined enough to remain accessible to the listener. Akin to say Beefheart or Devo in the overall disjointed soundscape, leaning in the same progressive direction as Mars Volta,  whose musical intricacy could be compared to King Crimson. All in all, a very impressive and sophisticated ‘proggy, rock-pop’ album that puts their musical expertise to excellent use and fulfils their potential. 31 Knots; 4 sheets to the wind, hatches well and truly battoned…..land ahoy.

HT


Icalma-‘Bun o und’ (Telescopic)
The first track by Chilean Philippe Boisier and Armelle Pioline, who make up Icalma, sounds pretty much identical to ‘Million Now Living Never Die’ –era Tortoise. That being instrumental rock combined with elements of experimental electronica and lounge. Nothing wrong with that per se, but Tortoise and Christ knows how many imitators have gone there before. Thankfully the rest of the album isn’t as derivative. The songs on ‘Bun o und’ seem at heart to be subtle, but compulsive indie rock songs, with slight overtones of Kraut-rock. Very good they are too, ‘Parfois Elles Chantent’ and ‘Rose’ standing out in particular, the former being reminiscent of Electrelane. The problem is that Icalma have attempted to add an electronic element to their sound. Rather clumsily. It tends to manifest itself as very dated sounding beeps and glitches at the beginning of songs or what sound like a keyboard demo going on throughout the majority of the tracks on ‘Bun o und’. These parts of the songs come over as mere after thoughts and are completely unnecessary. Whether this is an attempt to be ‘cutting edge’ or what I’m not sure, but it means this album come across as a bit of a mess. This is a shame, as this ruins what could have been a very good set of songs. 

Michael Pearson


 

Latterman - Turn up the Punk, We'll be Singing
Aren’t these guys too old to be playing music like this? It never ceases to amaze me that some people love to cling onto the uncertainty of adolescence. Sure this kind of music is good fun when your mind is muddied by pubic haze and the definitions of right and wrong are a little confused, but once you're well clear of your teens, music like this seems ever so slightly jaded.

I may have come over a little harsh in the first few lines here and if the context has been conveyed in that way, then I apologize (half- heartedly, you understand), because for what they do, Latterman aren't that bad. Indeed, their lyrics and ideals may be a little silly, take for example the names of some tracks: 'My Dreams About not Sleeping Until 3pm' and '83% off Your Self- Esteem', to name but two. However, their sound is fast, tight, meticulous, energetic, and in short, it's great music to smash your head against a wall to.

The stand- out track is… are you ready for this? Here goes, 'There's No Way "Punk was meant to be Done"  (you clown doctor)'. Come on guys, need your titles be so long- winded and downright meaningless? The music on the track is clear and relatively interesting… I could go on and on about this album, but I think I'll just let you make your own mind up about it; your enjoyment of this record really will be dictated by whatever mental frame you're currently residing in.

For all the 12- 16 year olds reading this- buy this record, play it loud, play it hard piss your parents off and don't be shy about giving them the one- finger salute when they come to your bedroom to complain.

17- 22 year olds- get tanked up on beer, cider, cheap wine, whatever your student loans'll run to, get wrecked and fuck your legs up dancing to this. Once you start with the head- banging, you'll only stop when the record does, or maybes when your lying on the floor semi- conscious, covered in blood and snot from where your buddy got carried away and collided into you.

22+ Don't bother; you'll hate it.

Alex Clark


Film School - Album Sampler
Here we go again with San Francisco 'post- rockers' Film School and their Album Sampler. Like the single, this disc opens with the wonderfully menacing On and On. This must soon be hot on the lips of every aspiring 'post- rock' band on the scene and if not, for shame.  

The rest of the sampler surprises in the listener to the extent that Film School may not have fully migrated over to the barren lands of 'post- rock'. (Indeed, this author personally insists on using apostrophes either side of the term 'post- rock' consistently, in a sense of irony, as he feels that the genre has become such inescapable labeling in its own right and is all- too readily associated with such a plethora of ambiguity in music. This is not to be construed as the gratuitous embellishments of some regular hack.) The sampler unveils a more open and broader side to Film School. It's quickly apparent that this band is capable of far more than merely leading us on a journey through endless bleak soundscapes and colourless pastures.

The lyrics on 11:11 are essentially glorified punk, whereas the guitar melodies are bluesy with a satisfying helping of good, flesh bubbling rock riffs. This is easily the standout track and is clearly testimony to Film School's unnerving talent and effortless ability to freeze the listener on hold him in his seat until the very last note fades away.

After listening to the generous 7 tracks of music which the band have already afforded us with from the forthcoming album, it's gloriously apparent that Film School are not really 'post- rock', whatever that flippant and loose term means. Rather their music is, well, 'film- school'- a genre arising entirely of it's own design. Their music is interesting and deliciously hermetic. It adheres to no instant genre or movement; it is born out of individuality, much like a film student and above all, this needs to be checked out at once. (forgive me the haste- you'll have to wait until January the 6th for the self- titled album, Film School to go on general release.) 

Alex Clark 


Merz – ‘Loveheart’ (Gronland)
Quiet singer/songwriter stuff from Huddersfield lad Conrad Lambert aka Merz. Kind of pastoral folk, with electronic elements. On the first song ‘Postcard From A Dark Star’ this doesn’t sound too bad, there is a warmth and intimacy that is not dissimilar to the work of Devendra Banhart. Unfortunately the rest of the album is not up to this standard. It swings from being ridiculously overblown, see the Spanish guitar on ‘Verily’, and just very, very dull. The track ‘Warm Cigarette Room’ sounds exactly like David Gray. Which is what on the whole I think I dislike about this release it’s all very coffee table and bland, music for people who don’t like music. 

Michael Pearson


Buzzkill - Driven By Loss (In At the Deepend)
Buzzkill hail from Leeds, yet have next to nothing in common with the ranks of zeitgeist-surfers who are currently garnering so many column inches on behalf of that fine (albeit lairy) town. Thus, whereas other bands are virtually guaranteed kudos thanks to their spirited ransacking of the more bohemian, inkie-approved sectors of music history (post-punk, glam, electro, Britpop etc.), this lot are happy to forgo all that by sticking stubbornly to a beyond-unfashionable blueprint of chundering punk-metal riffs fortified by sweaty, Dexy’s-style brass. And more power to them for that. While assuredly not everyone’s cup of tea, Buzzkill’s gleeful, hob-nailed tramp through critical sensitivities is undeniably bracing, and what’s more, even comes with a modicum of piquancy thanks to some surprisingly forlorn lyrics.

 

Ieuan Jones


Hail Social-‘Hail Social’ (Polyvinyl) 
The press release for Hails Social’s debut album uses the delightful phrase “it sounds a little Goth with groove”. Which should indicate to anyone with a modicum of common sense whether this is worth listening to. My intuition doesn’t turn out to be wrong either. Hail Social sound like a post punk version of Duran Duran, and the songs are catchy enough, but it’s all rather redundant and samey. The best I could say about this is that I could imagine myself drunkenly dancing to this at some god-awful indie night. But not something I would listen to again if it could be avoided. 

Michael Pearson


 

Hitechjet - 600 Miles From… (In At the Deepend)
Hitechjet (no, I’ve no idea either) could be described as inhabiting the space where emo meets REM. And while either of these reference points alone would normally have me reaching for the spittoon, for some strange, alchemical reason, the band seem able to convert these damnable influences into something that frequently approaches the wondrous. And so, after a few – largely forgivable – generic moments earlier on, the album soon settles into a poignant and almost shimmeringly lovely groove, which even the underwhelming production and gravely vocals can’t spoil. Beware, though – the last song is an ‘epic’.


Ieuan Jones

The Singing Adams – ‘Problems’ (Track & Field)
The Singing Adams is a new solo project from the Broken Family Band ringleader Steven Adams and is a collection of more intimate songs fittingly recorded in bedrooms and sitting rooms with some of his friends pitching in to lend a helping hand.

It would be wrong to label this an acoustic or folk album though as although it is a slight step away from the country rocking guise of TBFB in amongst the accordions and gently plucked guitars there are moments of stomping drums and fuzzed guitars (see ‘I Can Do Nothing’ for point in question). What it is though is an album that sounds personal without alienating the listener, like an English King Creosote perhaps and one that reveals itself to you just that little bit more with every subsequent listen. ‘Problems’ is bitter sweet slice of intimacy featuring songs that are tiny personal laments, the wonderful ‘Hello Baby’ in particular, all peppered with a certain English self-effacing attitude that makes sure it never feels even slightly twee.

LD


Amandine – ‘This is where our hearts collide’ (Fatcat)
Up until a few years ago this would have sounded like an American pastiche, boys from Scandinavia dreaming of American things (the band used to play under the name ‘Wichita Linemen’) and yet stuck in an in-between euro/Americana hole. However, things have changed, and after a number of excellent Nordic bands and artist’s in recent years the faux American tag has fallen off. The sound now is instantly recognizable as Scandinavian, with obvious American influences of course, but the glacial feel and folk instrumentation is a sound all of their own. Amandine sit very comfortably in this category. They sound very nice, beautifully played with piano and accordion giving real warmth to the music, the vocals offer up a Neil youngish falsetto, the drumming just keeping things above water. Highly recommended for anyone who needs their heart warming this winter. 

Ron Beasley


Angels of Light & Akron/Family – Split Album (Young God)
A split album between those choral folk visionaries Akron/Family and young God boss Michael Gira, this features 7 Akron numbers and then five Angels of Light tracks. Well that’s actually not entirely true I suppose as Gira is there helping out on there tracks and they act his angels of light as it were on his five (including a cover of Dylan’s ‘I Pity the Poor immigrant).

Starting with Akron/Family’s numbers this album instantly lets you know of its intention to grip you firmly by you listening apparatus fitting perhaps then that the opener is called ‘Awake’. The Akron/Family are a group that deal in pure joy. They’re songs can go from a marching chant to noise then into some beautiful spine tingling group harmony in a matter of seconds and without it feeling forced or contrived. They are a sort of mix of sixties pop and modern folk with a dash of psychedelia thrown in for good measure.  By the time there final number ‘Raising Sparks’ with its Love-esque beginning ends its hard not to feeling elated and more than a little exhausted.

The final five songs of Gira’s are a slightly different affair more introverted and considered in overall tone but still maintaining a sort of intelligent pop edge they is every bit as enjoyable as the first half of the record. Think The Band meets Arthur Smith ??? and your kind of getting there

Young God records has recently really began to crave its own groove in the music industry and thanks to Gira we have here one of the finest records of the last 12 months. I suggest we all listen a little harder to what he has to say from now on.

LD


Lackluster – ‘What you want isn’t what you need’ (New Speak)
It’s amazing how Scandinavian this sounds, despite its electronic production, from the opening track you know where you are, I can almost picture it, snow, fir trees, a girl with blonde hair walking towards me offering a selection of cold fish dishes. I feel clean, healthy and everything works, lets have a drink, and of course it’s dark there a lot of the time. Which would be the ideal time to pop this on you stereo, preferably through headphones, not essential, but it’s then that you can really begin to appreciate the intricacies of the music, which is quite a treat. It’s soulful, wistful and a bit melancholy, good soundtrack for walking around and getting lost. Recommended.

Ron Beasley


Jackie-O Motherfucker – ‘Flags of the Sacred Harp’ (ATP)
I’d always assumed, having never heard them and given their name, that Jackie-O Motherfucker were a heavy maybe hardcore tinged outfit. Imagine my surprise then to discover that they are actually the creators of gentle complex hymnals complete with slow drones and loops.

‘Flags of the Sacred harp’ is an album based around reworkings and interpretations of old blues and gospel, specifically from an old hymnal ‘The Sacred Harp’, and it slowly reveals itself over around 70 minutes. This could be a daunting amount of time to invest in a record but as the arrangements sweep in and out and tones gradually shift and change its easy to simply lose yourself in the recording. Love pours from this record as sweet whispered vocals interplay with the musical arrangements full of dusty nostalgia and melancholy.

‘Flags of the sacred Harp’ is an epic and rewarding album that feels like it could have manifested from any time in American folk music. Take a seat, dim the lights and let yourself bask in the scale of this record. Go on, you deserve it.

LD


Pink Punk - Zoo Politics (Freeport)
Pink Punk certainly have a lot of stuff they want to get off their collectively burdened chests. From the cult of celebrity to factory farming; from globalisation to youth culture - it seems no political hot potato is left uncastigated, if you can bollock a tuber. And quite right too - people need a kick up the arse to get involved with these issues and if the best way of doing that is to combine a beat poet, a producer and a singer then why not?

Undoubtedly energetic and angry, there is plenty of humour involved too. I love the references to 'Ozzy's monkey children' - why are we as a society celebrating these odious characters?

Despite Yap's incessant ranting, it is impossible to hide the quality of the programming and various loops and bleeps choreographed by John Hendicott. This album would probably stand up alone as an instrumental piece with a few samples. In fact, after 13 tracks it's a pleasant escape from the unremitting political comment to hear the more traditional arrangement of 'Do the Right Thing'. A very purposeful and bold album.

SB


Mi and L’au – S/T (Young God)
Young god records continue to surpass themselves with their impeccable taste in music by adding to the roster the sparse and delicate wonder that is the self-titled debut from Mi and L’au. Mi and L’au are a couple of musicians wrapped up in a musical fairy tale rather that a life like you would know. Having met in Paris, where Mi was working as a model and L’au was working on film soundtracks, they fell deeply in love and moved to the Finnish woodlands of Mi’s home country to live in an isolated cabin where they could bask in each others love and music. I kid you not.

So what do the results of storybook eccentricity sound like? Exactly as they should, delicate, with out excess and yet absolutely complete. The album is a little reminiscent of say Nico meets Nina Nastasia. It could and probably should have sounded self obsessed but an honesty and simplicity stops it ever getting anywhere near that. It is gentle music for gentle people made by gentle people. The most fitting description that can be given to Mi and L’au's music comes from Young God’s head honcho Michael Gira in his statement ‘picture a glacier with a red ember glowing in its center’. I guess there is some truth in fairy tales so tomorrow I'm buying a big bag of magic beans and keeping my fingers crossed.

LD


TEST ICICLES - For Screening Purposes Only (Domino)
It seems that Test Icicles trigger very strong feelings inside of the public. To say the least.  Some aggressively scream 'who the fuck are these no talent art students' and 'how did they get a deal with anyone listening to their music'...But the other half of music consumers seem to be defending, with a shield that is holy and all powerful in opinions linked with originality, and great musical ideas. So therefore i conduct my review for the album 'For Screening Purposes Only', in two parts: 

Haterz
"They shout all the time man, they never play their instruments well live.Yeah, they're um rubbish and stuff, erm they just want to be emo. They just want to be garage. They just want to be some indie band. Yeah. Take that you internet losers. They only won the MySpace popularity award. They're all dackads. Yeah."

Defenderz
Gordon Bennet crikey blimey.  What a great band and milestone of an album. Rammed with ideas of angular approach and in your face youthful attitude, this is an important album. By no means is this the best release in the world ever, but it really is a must have. Yes, they are a bit emo, yes, they are nutcases, yes, they may be a fad band. But to be honest, when you capture what people have been listening to for the last five years so well, and throw your own spit, phlegm, and balls into the record too, you are onto a crossover winner.   

With great singles already pulled off this album, all the boys had to do, was break a hundred musical boundaries with the rest of the tracks. And they did.  It’s catchy stuff too.  So you see, you really must give this album a try, because soon a hundred other bands will be doing the same thing, but with different hairstyles. So educate yourself now.  Just to save time. 

J Michael Davis-Fernandez


Tortoise & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – ‘The Brave and The Bold’ (Domino)
Both now over a decade into their respective recording careers, Tortoise and Will Oldham are both icons in modern underground music continually intriguing and splitting critics in the music they produce and gaining hoards of die-hard fans. Now they have decided to come together and release a collaboration record. Oh and all the tracks are covers.

Now this all sounds like a wonderfully novel idea but does it work in practice? Well on opener ‘Chavo E. Canela’ the answer is no. Imagine the excitement of getting the advance copy and loading into the CD player only to be confronted with what is a truly ill conceived cover. Thankfully CD players have skip buttons and if you flick to track two, a cover of Springsteen’s ‘Thunder road’ you will be readdressing that previous question with the answer ‘Yes of course it works’ whilst wondering why you’ve had to go so long through life without this version of the song. And thankfully that first stumbling block is the only outright failure of the record. There are moments peppered throughout that don’t quite hit the mark but when these two luminaries get it right its truly superb, as on their versions of ‘Pancho’ and Lungfish’s ‘Love is Love’ when you have to take your hat off to them as without knowledge of the originals you could be forgiven for thinking they belonged to the pen of this very band of miscreants.

‘The Brave and The Bold’ is an interesting idea and whilst it isn’t as essential as either band s own catalogue there are some inspired moments. Now if I can just find a way to wipe track one…

LD


Various - Real Pirate Radio (Brainlove)
A collective mix of global underground pop coming from all corners of the globe, like Iceland, Australia, Canada and erm…Leeds? This compilation blasts out challenging DIY noise from Napoleon IIIrd, a weird jittery folk piece. Or just pure electro-scuzz from the duo The Blitters sounding very much like the 70’s New York twosome “Suicide”. 

It takes a while to get into, but give it a listen for about four or five times and you’ll have on repeat “Trashcan”, a song by The French Men. Or if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, try The evenings “fizzy piss”…man just thinking of the title makes my stomach curdle! OR if that doesn’t work, blast out some pure DIY punk from The Open Mouths, with the lyrics “Fuck You Grandma/hurry up and die/ I want the house”. I’m sure your flatmates, parents and Ahem… Grandparents will appreciate it… 

A diverse brand of bands stretch right across this album, most of it, you just have to get use to. But it does give you an idea of what’s rattling every ones cage in the underground scene. So I guess if you lot want to stay Über cool  take a listen. 

Simon Hambrook    


xbxrx – ‘Sixth in Sixes’  (Polyvinyl)
xbxrx are peddlers of a loud noise fuelled onslaught that just won’t let up.  The 18 tracks present on Sixth in Sixes nod toward everything from old greats like The Cramps, through ‘80’s hardcore to present day greats like Coachwhips and Lightning Bolt. This means we are presented with a record loud, awkward and testing. That said though if you give the record the time and attention it deserves and then there is actually a surprising amount of accessibility and variation in the tracks. It is rock music that is challenging and entertaining with more depth then many pretenders to the throne. Yes the cathartic vocals and bizarre signatures won’t be to a lot of peoples taste but quite frankly those people won’t matter a jot to you if you listen to xbxrx loud enough. As the press statement says ‘love them or hate them, you’ll never forget them’. I for one love them, my girlfriend however is a different matter.

LD


We are Wolves -“NON STOP je te plie en deux”
The new wave electro scene at best is slightly annoying, led and supported by arrogant socialites; so if you like A.R.E. weapons, the actress Chloe Sevigny is your idol, or have an I heart N.Y. t-shirt and think the velvet underground were and rightly so “incredible”. Then We Are Wolves will make you shit you pants off. (note: they are nothing like the velvet underground).

However if it’s something more engaging, intelligent or exciting you could do a lot better in the new wave scene. “Non Stop” is like a piece of scat compared to a chocolate fudge cake. “It looks similar but…” not to say that scat can’t be exciting. After looking at the remains of my bowl movements yesterday I discovered that I had managed to produce an exact replica of a bullfrog. It’s the same with “Non Stop” on the “better” tracks like “Snake me” singer Alexander Ortiz’s vocal expulsions rival that of the “Blood brothers” and there is two of those! And when you hear the giant electro fuzz of “vostros, monstrous” stamping out any set of speakers you’d have to be a fool not to dance. But that’s it, and what the fuck is track five (go table go). I am a forgiving man but even I wouldn’t fuck Peter Stringfellow to this kind of unforgivable cosmic space jam.

Pete Williams


More Dogs – ‘Never Let Them Catch You Crying’ (Monitor)
More Dogs are a strange beast indeed. Mixing up genres like it were cheap pudding they manage to end up with an overall sound quite like anyone else. Part movie soundtrack from the first half of the 20th century, part traditional folk music and a great big handful of experimentation ‘Never Let Them Catch you Crying’ will at times leave you frowning in bemusement and at others will have you grinning like a cunt and slapping your thighs. Delightfully bizarre and whimsical nonsense in the best possible sense.

LD


Lightning Bolt – ‘Hypermagic Mountain’ (Load)
Over the past few years it’s been hard to ignore Lightning Bolt. Music aficionados have long whispered their name in reverence hailing them the kings of avant noise rock. There lives shows are the stuff of (noisy) legend. What’s more they actually have songs as well!

And now 2005 marks the release of their forth full length, ‘Hypermagic Mountain’ a record that displays the depth and ambition this loud and proud duo possess.

‘Hypermagic Mountain’ is a 57 minute audio assault of intense bass and drums riffing rock. It is primal and dense in its passion and yet let yourself be absorbed by it (I advise turning it up as loud as your neighbours will allow for this) and it becomes clear there is more to these two than noise for the sake of ruining eardrums. The songs are actually bizarrely catchy even at their most discordant and you get the feeling this is very much a band still forging forward to see where it all may lead.

Lightning Bolt have made there best record to date but you get the feeling there’s still greater depths these guys are going cast there audio net into. Fish away gents!

Luke Drozd


Billy Mahonie – ‘Found’ (Oof)
I will admit to having only heard some of Billy Mahonie's music over the last couple of years though as it turns out they started life way back in 1997. I’d been really busy you see. So it turns out in that time I hadn’t been paying due care and attention they released loads of music aside from the albums on limited addition pressings for all the geeks. Thankfully so us far less clued up types don’t feel left out those lovely people at Oof Records have teamed up with the boys of Billy Mahonie and assembled said tracks for the pleasure of our audio tackle.

For those even further out the loop than myself Billy Mahonie are a band based around the principles of rock and guitars but with slices of jazz, punk, hardcore and folk gentle pushed between the layers making a sort of dangerously addictive music sandwich.

‘Found’ as a collection is pretty outstanding really if for no other reason then as to why we haven’t been able get our grubby paws on these gems sooner and also why Billy Mahonie aren’t bigger than they are (musically that is, not in stature).  The likes of ‘Little Feet’ and ‘Are We Rolling’ are every bit as good as the music being produced by any other instrumental rock bands you care to mention and a darn sight better in most cases.

With tours and new material on the musical horizon there are exciting things about to be shipwrecked against the audio shore of our lives so I suggest you batten down the hatches and check the main sail. Full steam ahead Billy Mahonie, I like the cut of ya jib!

LD


Th’ Faith Healers – ‘Peel Sessions’ (Ba Da Bing)
Th’ Faith Healers clocked in a total of five peel sessions in there career, pretty good going considering they seem to be a band just off many peoples musical radar.

A band who forged their career on what is reasonably minimal punk tinged rock this collection fills in the gaps between their Too Pure releases and also includes tracks that would have appeared on their third album had it ever actually been recorded.

On these sessions you get some of the finest gritty rock you’re likely to find. A track like ‘Moona Inna Joor’ puts those female fronted types like the Yeah Yeah Yeah's to shame and it is these moments that are really their crowning glories. However for all the brilliant primal rock present here slower more shoe-gazing moments and a couple of ill aimed covers let down the record and slow its momentum.

Th’ Faith Healers are, as the press statement puts it, ‘gritty, noisy, heavy and hypnotic’ and these Peel Sessions serve as a great document of a band who deserve more recognition that the receive, just be prepared to use that skip button.

Luke Drozd


Whip – ‘Atheist Lovesongs to God’ (Resonant)
On this Jason Merritt’s second full length offering under the moniker of Whip we are very soon offered a question to answer. In a world already so full (and continually getting fuller by the day) of folk wonderers and balladeers do we need to let another pull up a stool and attempt to romance us with their melancholy? Surely we have more than enough low-key introverted folk at the moment? Actually on the basis of this record I think we can have one more in the herd as Whip proves to be the writer of beautiful bleak and dusty ballads that I just can’t help but fall for.

‘Atheist Lovesongs…’ is a reflective album of songs about looking around and trying to work out where you may fit into a world of endless complexity. Merritt’s croaky croon, akin to such troubadours as Will Oldham and Micah P Hinson, talks us through country tinged thoughts about death, religion and doubt whilst never becoming dower.

Jason Merritt may well be one in a very long line but as an English gentleman I have always had a weird soft spot for queuing. Now let’s just hope he has the tenacity to push his way a little closer to the front.

LD


Leaf Label Artists – ‘Check the Water’ (Leaf)
The same year that 4AD celebrate their 25th anniversary so Leaf Label is also celebrating their 10th. Even more fitting when you consider Leaf was started by 4AD’s ex-press officer Tony Morley. Leaf is a label that never expected to still be around 10 years on and has never, unlike so many other labels, had a certain genre it has angled itself towards. On this two disc compilation you will find bands exploring the areas where pop, electronica, folk, rock, classical and jazz meet, and it’s a pretty wonderful place to be.

Disc one offers up work by musical heroes like Four Tet’s first release under that moniker and Caribou, whose track here ‘Tits and Ass’ is one of the compilation highlights. However its disc two that holds the real gems. Efterklang's ‘Step Aside’ is so full of beauty its almost unlistenable , A Hawk and A Hacksaw’s rendition of ‘Portland Town’ an anti war folk classic is nearly as beautiful on record as it is live and ‘The Dust of Months’ which features collaborators Bill Wells, Stefan Schneider, Annie Whitehead & Barbara Morgenstern is an understated slice of gentle beauty.

These two discs show a ten year legacy of a label that really is in a league of its own and if you can’t find at least one song to fall in love with within the two and half hours of music here then you’re probably dead inside. I raise my glass to leaf and all that sails in it. Here’s to ten more years.

Luke Drozd


 

Jeffrey & Jack Lewis – ‘City & Eastern Songs’ (Rough Trade)
‘City & Eastern Songs’ is a collection of songs which has its feet ultimately placed in insecurity. Jeffrey Lewis is a New York based comic artist and musician fast approaching 27 and possessed with an over-whelming fear that he is wasting his time. On a song like don’t be upset we hear him almost chat his worries about his life and relationship over a gentle accordion tinged backing track, or on the amazing ‘Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’ he voices more insecurities spliced together with a bizarre surrealism involving everyone’s favourite cult hero, whilst a song like ‘Anxiety attack’, well, speaks for itself.

Now you see for as much as I can tell you that Jeffrey Lewis is a shrewd storyteller or how the off kilter and pop tinged songs contained here reach levels of near perfection (both of which are true) the real reason I love this record is that it speaks to every current fear I have (outside of being fucked by Oldham that is). I have the same worries about my art, my life and have the same arguments with my girlfriend. It basically lets you know you’re not the only whimpering geek out there and I am truly thankful for that.

I say lets put Jeff’s mind at ease and all buy this record. Hopefully that should make sure his insecurities don’t get the better of him and stop this artist dead in his tracks. Jeffrey Lewis is a man speaking to and for every geek and nerd out there struggling to find his way and I for one am glad because I’m sure no one would bother listening to a word I have to say on the matter.

LD

Static - Re-talking about memories
This is the kind of electronica for thirty year old men to appreciate who where into kraft work but now like David Grey because they have a girlfriend. Who incidentally has just bought them both Coldplay tickets for their anniversary and a new Ikea bathroom set. I’ll stop there. 

Static or his real name Hanno Leichtmanns has delivered some good songs for this album however, with opener “return of she”, “point of hope” and “colour in patches”.  So even though I’m not thirty his electronic melodies are pretty damn good, his style is very much in the vein of to rococo rot (if you like them), members of whom leichtman has collaborated with in the past. And what strange voice he has too.

Pete Williams


Korn - See You on the Other Side (Virgin)
Get the guitars tuned down and crank up the distortion pedals as Korn return with this hour long slab of guitar fuelled extreme noise terror. Now I'm not 16, I don't wear baggy jeans and I don't hate my parents and teachers so I was surprised to find a lot of these tracks quite melodic and catchy.

Using an impressive rhythmic guitar noise rather than tricksy rock riffs, Korn manage to combine jagged vocals with an industrial backdrop. But after 14 songs, the lack of variety begins to tell and boredom sets in. If I was raging against the world then maybe I could keep up this level of angst for an hour. But as my biggest concerns are the state of repair of the roads in north-west Leeds and a rather dubious stain I need to remove from my favourite jumper, my interests digressed to why Korn would use use tacky horror film inspired graphics on the album over.
www.korn.com

SB


Novocain - s/t
Combining the musical talents of Mario Reyes and Ade Klemens with various guest musicians, Novocain is like a sonic collective whose modus operanda is to disturb and unsettle the listener by wrapping them up in a distorted sonic cardigan. This  schizophrenic relationship surfaces time and again but is no more obvious than on opening track 'Around the World' where Robyn Campbell's deranged vocals weave an unsettling cloth with the electro beats of the music.

This dark style of trip hop draws obvious comparisons with Portishead and Massive Attack but a different slant is introduced in 'You' which is far poppier and optimistic in outlook while still maintaining Novocain's unconventional key changes and progressions. It is these slightly off kilter, leftfield diversions from the musically obvious which make Novocain so beguiling. Like chill out music which makes you sit bolt upright or borderline industrial that comforts and soothes rather than shakes your brains out of your skull this album is packed with creative tension and overflows with ideas.
www.novocainmusic.com

SB


Stone Sole River - Terra Mama
Barclay James Harvest anyone? Lumbering guitar riffs only partially obscured by earnest and massively reverbed rawk vocals (apart from when they break into an awful pseudo falsetto for the chorus). I may be alone, but I find this 70's inspired rock music tedious in the extreme with its massive drum fills and pedestrian melodies. You can almost smell the snakebite and black coming out of the speakers. They say you can't judge a book by its cover. they also say there is always an exception which proves the rule. And as you can see, this cover is particularly crap.

www.stonesoleriver.com

SB


The Pocket Gods - Pondfield Solstice
Just 4 tracks? Clearly this belongs in the singles/E.P. section...what? An hour and seven minutes long you say? Surely some mistake? Err, no actually. The space rock opner that is 'Pondfield Solstice' clocks in at over 17 minutes and is still over 5 minutes shorter than 'The Ninth Configuration'! Guitars phase in. guitars phase out. Some spaced out spoken word vocals pop up, then pop away. And nothing much else happens to be honest. May struggle to make the Radio 1 singles playlist methinks.

Jesus! 'The Golden Bough' is the second Barclay James Harvest tribute in a row! Keys and strings ebb and flow in quite a mellow, pleasing way that serious youths would enjoy as they lock themselves away in their bedrooms smoking joints and looking for the higher meaning in life. Alas, 'John Barleycorn Blues' seems to have little in common with the English folk song so beautifully rendered by Benjamin Wetherill recently. It is another proggy space guitar number that the Ozric Tentacles would have given their straggly beards for.

So finally, brace yourself. 23 minutes of 'The Ninth Configuration' ahead. But in some cruel trick the last five minutes of the track feature nothing but silence. Luckily I had already nodded off by then.

SB


Zeeb - MockCockSpockShockRock (Fiddler Crab)
Oh yeah, another one of those humorous 'concept' albums where the musicians dress up in costume and throw around 'amusing' song titles and lyrics? The sort of outlook that instantly makes you think that the bands don't really have any confidence in what they are doing so they do it all in a tongue in cheek jokey way so as to avoid any criticism of their 'art'. Believe me, being a joke band will not protect you from criticism Zeeb, oh no.

So it was with reluctance and a complete refusal to become subsumed by the pages of Zeeb lore accompanying the CD that I started listening. And guess what? It turns out they're quite good. Bugger. If they just ditch the masks and space paraphernalia they may just be taken (gulp) seriously.
www.zeeb.co.uk

 

SB


undertheigloo - Circlesend (Freedom Road)
An immaculately produced and mixed effort from Oxford four piece undeetheigloo. Also immaculately dreary and uninteresting. Following the well worn road hewn by the likes of Coldplay, Radiohead et al. And whilst not wanting to single out anything in particular for criticism, it seems impossible not to notice that the vocalist does not possess the range or talent or both for some of the aural gymnastics he is trying to put his voice through, to the point where some tracks are actually cringe-worthy. As an ex-games teacher once told me about my hockey prowess, ' you've got no skill but you can run fast.' He was trying to say, 'You shouldn't be on a hockey pitch' or maybe 'you should use your running skills in another, more effective way'. undertheigloo, take note.

www.undertheigloo.com

SB


Dan Coffey - Follow Up Treatment (Devote)
Ahhh, what a cure for all those serious and depressing records we get through the tasty pages each month. Not that 'Follow Up Treatment' should not be taken seriously. This collection of wonderfully squelchy lo-fi electronica gems just dives off in different tangents at every possibility, freed from the shackles of having to follow any particular agenda or genre. Whether it's with what sounds like an electro gazoo solo or just the downright funky 'Cool', 'Follow Up Treatment' fair tootles along through 13 tracks of musical diversity.

Some parts are almost orchestral. 'My Coat's Prelude' is a bit like New Order in their pomp while 'Process' almost defies definition like an elusive 808 State shimmering through a watery mix. If you don't find something on here to rock your boat you deserve shut in a dodgy wine bar with Charlotte Church for a lock-in.
www.devoterecords.com

SB


Vincent Black Shadow - s/t (Heartbreak Beat)
What a simply splendid gothic mediaeval sounding name. But dear christ, it's another one of these proggy guitar wankathons for teenage boys with overactive hormones and under active love lives. On the plus side, there is something distinctly authentic about the sound, like everything has been forced through valve amps and recorded on 8-tracks. But then if I wanted to listen to Deep Purple, I'd listen to Deep Purple.

www.heartbreakbeatrecords.com

SB


A Very Cherry Christmas - Compilation (Cherryade Music)
I really hate Christmas. And Christmas songs. But as Cherryade music keep me stocked in small sickly sweeties with every press release, I shall make an exception and review this record.

And with inspired curation, Cherryade have juxtaposed the saccharine pop of Tiger MCs with the pyschobabble of Steveless/Syd Howells with the glam cool of The Hot Puppies with the shoe box lo-fi of Sarah and the Johnsonauts. But just to humour me, the curtain call is handed to Steveless/Syd Howells with 'So this is What Dying is Like (Christmas in Swansea)'. That's the way to spend the holidays!
www.cherryademusic.co.uk

SB