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albums - july 2010


 
 

Faust – ‘Faust is Last’

For those who don’t know Faust, they’re probably a lot older than you are. The near mythical German group of musical explorationists have spearheaded the Krautrock movement since the early ‘70s and they show no slowing up yet.

So what relevance does an aging group of German hippies have today? Well quite a lot actually. Pushing forward experimental, post-Psychedelic and minimalist music before even the big cheese Brian Eno, this lot are the Godfathers of the meandering soundscape.

‘Faust is Last’ is their first official studio album in a decade and is the work of original member Jochen Irmler (who incidentally plays in a completely different Faust to some other original members - keep up at the back) and just as life imitates art, the band’s music on this double album behemoth is as complex and interwoven as their history.

Disc One picks up on a general theme of ambient noises that bleed into drawn out harmonies and notes, occasionally interrupted by propulsive, shouty punk numbers and industrial mash ups akin to Front Line Assembly. By fifth track ‘Soft Prunes’, Faust have already gone from delicate harmonies through to two noisy punk numbers and back again arriving at some Pink Flloyd-esque atmospherics. It’s a jerky, ride where the listener bounces off one wall of sound to another.

Unsurprisingly Disc Two follows suit, even if it is darker and more subtle than its predecessor. Opener ‘Karneval’ is an ambient trip full of clicks, whizzes and hums whilst ‘In But Out’ a (literally) screaming industrial number that wouldn’t feel out of place on NIN’s Fixed EP before contrasting closing numbers ‘Vorubergehen’ and ‘Primitivelona’ descend into creepy scrapes and drones. Think Vladislav Delay.

Brevity might be the soul of wit, but it’s also the soul of a good album. ‘Faust is Last’ is excessively rambling and is in need of some serious cutting room savagery. Tracks contrast each other so much and are matted together so roughly that there’s a distinct lack of clarity, direction and thus enjoyment. It all feels directionless and too much to grapple with. Perhaps this is intentional but it doesn’t always make for enjoyable listening. There are highlights, including the eerie ‘Drug Wipe’, the ominous ‘Karneval’, the driving ‘X-Ray’ and the industrial ‘In But Out’, but highlights don’t a good album make. What’s worse is that some of these songs even sound dated. I love the idea of this record, but somewhere Faust have lost focus so much on this project that a lot of this work feels more like soulless noise than exciting experimentation.5.5/10

Moker

 

The Superimposers - 'Sunshine Pops' (Wonderfulsound)

Yet more re-enactments of the sunny, sitar-drenched pop sounds of the Billboard charts of over four decades ago, the difference this time being that the chief culprit in this instance is Miles Copeland, formerly manager of succesfull 80s pop group The Police, for all I know a member of the original line up of The Turtles, and therefore possibly one of the best qualified individuals around when it comes to rediscovering, re-examining, rehashing and actually re-recording the bubblegum soft pop of the late 60s and early 70s.

So, sounding remarkably like the remastered b-sides of such classics as 'Eleanor' and 'Happy Together', The Superimposers display an attention to detail more commonly found in the world of professional art forgery - just the right amounts of fuzz guitar, clavichord and xylophone (it were a man's life in't studio in them days, none of that new fangled sequential circuitry back then) and a collection of songs many of which do sound as if they fell off the back of some b/w beat generation exploitation flick soundtrack.

In my own album collection there's a 25 track compilation entitled 'A Whole Lot Of Rainbows : Soft Pop From The WEA Archives' and it shares many things with 'Sunshine Pops', like song titles such as 'Love-In' and 'Talking To The Flowers', although the crucial difference between these albums is that one is in mono and the other is in stereo, and in all seriousness I can't really see much of what's on 'Sunshine Pops' making much of an impression anywhere, except perhaps when slipped onto the playlist of some oldies show as a joke. Someone, I hope, can do better than this.
http://www.myspace.com/superimposers

JG

 

Suzanne Vega - 'Close Up Vol 1, Love Songs' (Cooking Vinyl)

A quarter of a century since her first appearance, most of can probably recognise at least one Suzanne Vega song, whether it's the multiplicity of remixes of 'Toms Diner', the angst ridden poetics of 'Marlene On The Wall' or the bruised defiance of 'Luka', and her reputation is sufficiently intact to enable her to release a planned four albums of unplugged interpretations of her earlier material, giving a rosy supper club glow to her already delicate, literate guitar pieces. Most of the songs are just Suzanne Vega and her instrument, and the album has an air of intimacy, as perhaps the most credible female singer songwriter of recent memory shares some of her more personal memories with an audience already familiar with her craft.

Indeed, it isn't until a thoughtful and almost fully realised interpretation of 'Marlene On The Wall' is torn asunder by a clumsy, echoey electric riff that very effectively wrecks the gently seductive atmosphere Vega has spent around half an hour creating, that it is strikingly apparent that these are indeed re-recordings and I couldn't help wondering why an artiste of Vega's stature and skill would allow such a cack handed moment of instrumentation to ruin her little dinner party, unless of course we are witnessing a moment of musical irony perpetrated by a singer songwriter who might find even her own work getting a bit too sanctimoniously worthy sometimes. Woke me up, I can tell you.
http://www.suzannevega.com

JG

 

Tracy Bonham - 'Masts Of Manhatta' (Lojinx)

Practically unknown on this side of the pond, Tracy Bonham is highly regarded as a songwriter and performer in the US, one whose biography contains names such as Juliana Hatfield, Aerosmith, Eels, some of the musicians she has either written or played violin alongside and assisting her in the recording of her 4th album are some of Tom Waits drinking buddies. So I find myself forced to ask, why isn't Tracy Bonham a name I recognise? After all, her first album, 1996's 'The Burdens Of Being Upright' earned her a gold disc and several award nominations, and Bonham appears to have written and recorded constantly ever since, and you the CD buyer might also wonder as to why this multi talented violinist and jazz stylist hasn't yet found her way onto your stereo.

Taking its title from a Walt Whitman poem, 'Masts Of Manhatta' is a hugely accomplished and skilfully arranged collection of songs and if there's one thing you couldn't accuse Tracy Bonham and her backing band of, that is playing safe in terms of influences and instrumentation, definitley. Whereas Suzanne Vega is a strictly one - guitar girl and the probable inspiration for Sheryl Crowe, Alanis Morrisette and a host of other introspective female balladeers, Tracy Bonham takes here cues from a combination of early jazz, klezmer, zydeco and classical influences, arriving at several intersting destinations simultaneously. The rhythm section veers between latino and blues time signatures and Bonham herself displays a grasp of form that has songs like 'Your Night Is Wide Open' utlising several genres in the space of four minutes, shifting from conventional guitar track to Louisiana swamp jazz in under four minutes. Bonham adds a bluesy spin to the country twelve bar of of 'Big Red Heart' and her violin playing lifts the song to another level entirely.
'Josephine' is based around a barn dance polka, although the emphasis is in the word 'based', as the song quickly twists itself into a medicine show tango reminiscent of some of Tom Waits most arcane vaudeville nightmares, and it's a tribute to Bonham's own skill as a performer that she is able to carry material of this strength without either appearing to compromise her own femininity or sound too intensely raucous.

'Masts Of Manhatta' is an ever unfolding, quirkily assertive and ultimately quite remarkable album by anyone's standards, and I haven't quite finished listening to it.
http://www.tracybonham.com

JG

 

GTaa - 'The Time, The Place' (Company)

GTaa (as in 'guitar) are a bit of a Mancunian mystery and as anyone not from Manchester will tell you, there are many of these. Questions are inevitable when confronted with a suspiciously evasive press release such as that which accompanied 'The Time, The Place' Are GTaa a band or a solo performer? Are they/he industry names doing it for solely artistic reasons or complete unknowns living out their media fantasies? Amateurs or semi-pro session players? Quite probably several of these possible descriptions could apply here and while anonymity is a definite boost to some musicians it's a bit dull for reviewers whose task it is to relay information to an ever hungry music audience, and one which often prefers its plateful garnished with proper facts at that. Then I notice the phrase 'concept album', credited in its entirety to one Graham John Hollingsworth.

GTaa cite Julian Cope as a significant influence and there's more than an echo of some of Cope's more focused material around the 16 tracks on 'The Time, The Place' to a point where, if the progenitor of 'Bouncing Babies' and 'World Shut Your Mouth' hadn't gone quite so squibblingly druidic in the early 90s, then one or more of his later albums might've sounded a bit like this, MOR psychedelia for the chill zone with french horns on. Some of the songs could use a bit more in the way of fuzzed up backwards guitar solos and cataclysmic farfisa keyboard riffs, but you already know where to find that kind of thing if you need to. It's listenable enough, in a conspiratorially anonymous kind of way, but GTaa might wish they'd put a bit more into the presentation of some quite pleasant music that probably wasn't recorded in a garden shed in Stockport.
http://companyrecords.net

JG

 

Marvin B. Naylor - 'The Last Flight Of Billy Balloon' (Barcanrolle)

This is what it's supposed to sound like, 12 string guitars and orchestral backing for lyrics that speak of bohemian ne'er-do-wells performing acts of drunken artistry at last orders in the only pub in town that still serves them. The music takes on an operatic grandeur as the lyrics go a bit 'Windmills Of Your Mind' but at least Marvin B. Naylor sounds as if he's genuinely enthused by what he's singing and playing, and not enough guitarists really make the 12 string quite such a cause celébre, nowadays. Naylor is a very skilled interpereter of the double strung fretboard and is quite up to replicating the sounds of both a harpsichord and a balalaika within the same track and luckily for bot Naylor and us his skills as a songwriter manage, at least most of the time, to override his listed creative debts (REM, Johnny Marr, Scott Walker) and songs such as 'Little Creatures' and 'Dulcibella' are the work of a talent more than sufficiently able to produce genuinely captivating and inventive songs of a quality which makes the inclusion here of numbers such as 'Belle Amie', somewhat unnecessary, being a quite blatant actual steal from the Scott 4 session outtakes and not only a bit of an overindulgence, but a song that manages to undo much of Naylor's more spirited and less referential songwriting as it does so. Marvin B. Naylor is a quite real talent and his songs contain a depth and ability that should gain him an appreciative audience: I only fear that his Walker obsession will yet prove his downfall.
http://www.myspace.com/mbnaylor

JG

 

Coltrane Motion - 'Hello Ambition' (datawaslost)

From Chicago, Coltrane Motion sound like several things. They crank up the effects pedals and the ensuing swirls of feed and foldback are laid over a pilfered Stone Roses drum rhythm, while their songs are equally rich in melody and distorted instrumentation and while it's occasionally apparent where the duo take at least some of their inspirations from, 'Hello Ambition' generates its own dynamic and is a fantastically well realised 10 tracks of 21st century dream pop. After approaching a decade in the recording studio, Coltrane Motion are possibly at the peak of their abilities and 'Hello Ambition' also has the air of the band's magnum opus; here is an album that can stand full comparison with Mercury Rev's 'Deserters Songs' and the BJM'S 'Methodrone', among others. Taking as their template the effusive grandeur of Spector era Beach Boys and applying their own highly practised fractalisation to a succession of melodic guitar and keyboard riffs leads to tracks such as the masterful exercise in controlled harmonics of 'Maya Blue', while the ceaseless grind of 'Terra' has its mantra fractured by a series of swooping arpeggios, and 'High Tide' and 'My Heart Might Go On' are blissful pop melodies given an electronic overlay that heightens rather than detracts from the actual songs, the keyboards and guitars simultaneously merging and colliding to produce swathes of brilliantly mesmeric sound. Add an element of 50s doo-wop into the mix and the result has the timeless quality of a forgotten vinyl obscurity rediscovered. 'Hello Ambition' is (and I use the word advisedly) a classic, one that sets a fresh benchmark for experimental songwriters everywhere.

If Wayne Coyne were ever to form a supergroup made up of members of Vampire Weekend and MGMT, the results would sound very like Coltrane Motion. It's a little disturbing to learn that there are only actually two of them.
http://www.coltranemotion.com

JG

 

Disco Ensemble - The Island of Disco Ensemble (Fullsteam Records)

I can’t help but think that I grew out of this frenzied cymbal crash fuelled shouting when I was about fourteen. ‘Bay of Biscay’ proves my point with the stereotypical power chord choruses and repetitive running scale riffs. ‘Pitch Black Cloud’ isn’t much of an improvement, but at least we’ve learnt how to palm mute this time round.

Actually, ‘White Flag for Peace’ looks like the light at the end of the pre-puberty angst tunnel – it has better vocals; slightly broken with the tones of a distressed soul. But wait ladies and gentlemen, that promising glimmer has gone out. We must insist on the annoyingly eager guitar jitteriness and a poor attempt at screamo. How thrilling this is turning out to be. Mundane ‘Protector’ is about the fittingly mundane caveman view of relationships - ‘boy keep girl safe. Girl love in return’. I’m really sorry to ruin it for you, but it’s the twenty-first century now so women have the vote and we don’t need you to beat the sabertooth tigers with clubs anymore because they are extinct. ‘So Cold’ has the most irritating riff I think I have ever heard since any Pendulum song ever. Also, the use of about 2898757 clichés does not help the matter: ‘don’t cry for me Argentina’; ‘home is where the heart is’; ‘just give me something to do’ and the wonderfully original, ‘oh, I’m so cold’ are some of my personal favourites. Email in if you can find anymore, folks!

‘Get Some Sleep’ is also a rather monotonous ballad with the fuzzy background bass and soft drumming. Any more of this and I might fall asleep, fulfilling the request of our dear Disco Ensemble. A little excuse for America’s take on punk next with, ‘Life of Crime’. It is oh-so rebellious and shocking - oh, let’s all disobey the law and ‘listen to the police radio’. Hardcore.

Oh joy. The next one is five minutes long. ‘Semi-eternal Flame/Undo’ is another wondrous waste of my time, with straining vocals and humdrum drums to boot. ‘Lefty’ is our ‘dark tale’ of the album with its minor chords and haunting vocals accompanied by threateningly sinister lyrics. I am, quite honestly, terrified. I might have to hide behind the sofa.

Hurrah! The end is nigh my friends! ‘Samantha’ is an additional repetitive and uninspiring tale of ‘I fancy that girl, isn’t she great. Swoon, swoon, swoon.’ Great.

Well. I can honestly say that this album is an hour of my life that I am never getting back. Thanks a bunch, Disco Ensemble.

Eloise Quince

 

Black Helicopter – Don’t Fuck with the Apocalypse (Ecstatic Peace)

I’m excited at the prospect of listening to Black Helicopter’s album ‘Don’t Fuck with the Apocalypse.’ The name of the band, album and tracks such as ‘Pickle Jar,’ ‘Idiot Son,’ and ‘King Shit’ are brilliant. This is going to be heavy, it’s going to be gritty and it’s going to be angry I’m sure of it.

Maybe not... On first listen it’s not as heavy as the name suggests. Nor is it particularly angry. It sounds a bit like Pixies or Everclear, maybe even a little like Dinosaur Jr; it has got some grittiness but with a bit of a pop sheen to it. Front man Tim Shea has a couldn’t-care-less kind of voice; it’s not overly memorable and he doesn’t sound particularly passionate; it sounds like he’s tired and just wants to get things done. The guitars drone along the root of every chord with some very sketchy sounding lead parts adding instrumental harmonies tucked in there as well. By track three it’s all become very repetitive and quite boring to be completely honest.

So what of those intriguing songs I mentioned earlier? ‘Pickle Jar’ starts with some very weak sounding drums; there’s no power behind them, partly down to the playing but mainly due to the recording. The song is about going shopping, renting a film and buying a jar of pickle, then going home to eat the pickle while watching the film. Not exciting. ‘Idiot Son’ is a bit more upbeat, still somehow lacking energy though. There are a couple of attempts at guitar solos in there which should add that excitement I’m on the hunt for. They don’t. Finally ‘King Shit’ just does nothing for me, like the rest of the album it sounds uninspired, tired and almost like it’s a little embarrassed of itself. There is a two minute instrumental in the middle that shouldn’t be there. Really it just sounds like a bad attempt at being prog rock.

I really want to like this album, if only because of its name and song titles, but I struggle to do so. I found it hard to listen to and instantly forgettable… 1/10

James Borland

 

Calamateur – Each Dirty Letter (Autoclave Records)

When I think about singer songwriters I immediately imagine someone sat behind an acoustic guitar, playing songs that are extremely hard to differentiate from one another. Lots of acoustic guitar, lots of singing, oh and maybe a cello on track four to make it sound ‘different.’ Out of all the types of musicians out there singer songwriters have definitely got it hardest. The voice behind Calamateur, Andrew Howie, sings in the song ‘Bannoffee’; “Let’s break every little rule and transcend every dumb cliché.” And for a large part of this album he does just that.

Of course, there are the classic singer songwriter tracks in there, but these are placed amongst some really very interesting ideas. ‘Testimony’ is a bass heavy rock ballad. ‘City Is Mine’ has an electronic drum track emphasised by real drums (what, TWO drum tracks?!) with some proper ‘riffage’ in the middle. Last song on the album ‘A Crumbling Empire’ builds up layers of organs and guitars, with effects all over the vocals. This is not a classic singer songwriter album; it’s much more than that. If I hadn’t read the bumph that came with the CD I would have thought Calamateur were in fact a band, which is a good thing. This album is weird and wonderful, it’s dark and consuming - it’s not just a guy sat behind an acoustic guitar. 8/10

James Borland

 

Chris Brokaw and Geoff Farina - “The Angel's Message to Me” (Damnably)

If you subscribe to the theory of a family tree of musical genres, it makes perfect sense for Codeine's Chris Brokaw and Karate's Geoff Farina to get together and record an album of pre-war American blues and ragtime. Their sound on this record is about as far as its possible to get from their own work, and it's always refreshing to hear musicians reaching out beyond their home turf.

There's no attempt to corrupt the formula of the songs either. The arrangements are sparse and all the better for it, the slow pace of the songs perfectly evoking a gin soaked evening on a farm somewhere in Georgia.

The songs covered are predominantly traditional numbers with cheery titles such as “Oh Death” and “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”. They're complimented by numbers from the pen of Blind Arthur Blake (who is, to ragtime, what Robert Johnson is to the blues scene), Irving Mills, Leroy Carr and their contemporaries.

“In The Evening” is particularly a effective track with a sleepy walking bassline overlaid with some delicate fingerpicking. “Sitting on Top of the World” is very much in the traditional “My baby gone away...” mould.

“St James Infirmary Blues” is the kind of song that people simply don't write any more. There's a certain melancholy in the pattern of chords that screams turn-of-the-century blues; even if you didn't speak the language, you'd know exactly what feeling this song was trying to get across. “Trouble In Mind” is a suitable note to round off the album - “I want to lay my head on some lonesome railroad line, let the 2:19 pacify my mind”.

Perhaps an acquired taste, but if you have any leaning towards early blues music this album's certainly worth checking out. Brokaw and Farina haven't pulled any stunts musically, but they've showed great restraint in letting the songs sing out exactly as they were intended – raw, open reflections of a period in time and a place in history.

Chris Moffatt

 

My Own Flag – Divello (Amzuto)

Bristol based trio who have released a couple of EP’s and a mini-album over the last six years, release their first full-length effort. From the off there is confusion as I’m confronted with an 11 track CD with no meta-data and only nine tracks listed on the back cover. Not exactly an auspicious start.

The band sound generally like an Anglicised Nirvana but there is a good amount of nodding to other acts like Slint, Deftones, and in particular Tool. There is a contemporary slant to it too, most evidently demonstrated on the Biffy Clyro-esque stop/starts of ‘Wireless’. Vocalist Simon Barber’s abrasive timbre is probably what you’d get if The Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler had gone out on the lash with Kurt Cobain and works well on ‘Divello’. Songs like ‘Mexicola’ and ‘Phrases’ are propelled along by the solid workmanlike bass of Gaz Wills and ‘Rat’ is a pleasingly evocative mood piece revolving around a bass arpeggio while Barber puts his shouty voice back in its flightcase and whispers seductively.

There are a couple of experiments that are employed presumably to give a bit of variety and have varying levels of success; the lovely intro ‘Zahlen’ is only 45 seconds long but everyone of them is a rewarding experience, while the Beck-like slacker anthem ‘Black Lady’ is a throwaway affair which doesn’t sit entirely comfortably within the context of the rest of the record and appears a song later than it’s actually listed on the cover.

A well made and constructed album but one let down by the track listing inconsistencies which, frankly, made it a pain in the arse to review. 6/10
http://www.myspace.com/myownflag

RM

 

Velvetians – Plastic Glam (Self Release)

Debut album for a 3-piece who’s sound oozes Camden circa 1995 but who are in fact originally from a town slap bang in the centre of Italy that’s main claim to fame is the manufacture of chocolate.
Raised, presumably on this, but also on a diet of Bowie, MC5, The Stones and Roxy Music, they cheerfully ignore any of these influences and instead peddle radio-friendly up-tempo Second division Brit-pop in the style of Marion, Echobelly, and Manta Ray. “Joy Appeal” sounds like a poor man’s Suede and while comparisons have been drawn elsewhere about them sounding like early Manics, the whole thing gives only the vaguest hint. As the record goes on, you start reminiscing about TFI Friday, Marijne van der Vlugt from Salad, The Good Mixer and bloody Menswear.
To be fair, they have tried to bring it up to date with some disco-style drums, most notably on ‘Velvetian No.1’ and ‘Crystal’ and somehow manage to make it seem even more dated. But all this doesn’t detract from the core problem for Velvetians, which is that while much of the aesthetic they aspire to had as much to with the carnal rawness that lay beneath the sheen, this album fails to deliver any of that and instead we are faced with a fairly anodyne collection of samey sounding songs that don’t satisfy on any level. 4/10
http://www.myspace.com/velvetians

RM

 

Appaloosa – Savana (Urtovox)

Coming in a quite terrifying sleeve (the band morphed into a collection of angry looking monkeys), this is the third offering from the Italian instrumentalists and this is a confident, swaggering (but not in a Gallagher way) album full of hooks, licks and breaks.

Influences are hard to pin down as it literally is multi-genre melting pot of rock, dance, and electronica. Tracks like ‘Chinatown Panda’, start off in the style of Coldcut and have a great whopping DFA 1979 fuzz bass/crashing drums chorus. And it’s this where the albums heart seems to lie: fantastically punchy drums backing a twin bass guitar barrage, with textures and landscapes liberally sprinkled over the top. There are stonkingly good riff-based grooves and the twin bass tactic works well. In most people’s hands, the bass is quite a boring instrument but Appaloosa succeed in making it sound fresh and exciting. The songs themselves run the gamut from the downright sleazy (Opening track Minimo) to the utterly bizarre (the aforementioned Chinatown Panda). ‘Bostongigi’ is the ultimate high point with racing cymbals building up to a fantastic refrain. ‘Mons Royal Rumble’ sees the band easing the pace and stumble slightly as a result - the only song to feature a full vocal, it somewhat oddly manages to take the song into Ibiza chill out mode and places it somewhat at odds with the rest of the album.

Still, a fine album for all sorts of occasions and living proof that multiple basses can co-exist in the same band and not sound shite. Freebass take note. 8/10
http://www.myspace.com/appaloosarock

RM

 

Quack Quack – Slow as an Eyeball (Cuckundoo)

Beautifully recorded by Richard Formby at his Leeds studio over a three year period when the band found gaps in their schedules with other bands, this instrumental threesome have come up with a small lo-fi treasure.

Having consumed great swathes of music of wildly differing genres, Quack Quack have regurgitated them here to dizzying effect. The main themes are Jazz and Krautrock, however there also hints of Avant Prog, with post-Wyatt era Soft Machine coming through loud and clear at many points. They do a great job of fusing Rock and Afrobeat on ‘Cakes are Easy’, flirt with unstructured avant garde on ‘D Motherfucker D’, and indulge a jazz passion or two on ‘Slow as an Eyeball’. The two standout points are ‘Toc H’, which may have been composed and recorded in Leeds but is surely destined for sunnier climes, and they have a rhythmical tour de force in ‘Big Sounds’ featuring what sounds suspiciously like two drum-kits chasing each other round the school playground with a gritty Stuart Bannister bassline over the top before falling into a mellow, distorted groove.

With a name like Quack Quack, it’s perhaps obvious there is an air of playfulness about this album that goes beyond the haphazard song names, and into the arrangement and performance of the pieces. Whether this was done subconsciously in an attempt to playdown the quite serious levels of musicianship, we’ll probably never know. But there is some-muscle popping stuff going on and this is particularly evident from Bannister, whose distinctive bass tone provides many of the most satisfying moments and Neil Turpin, whose inventive drumming is never anything less than a revelation.

So, ‘Slow as an Eyeball’ is an absolute treat and one of this year’s highlights and a record that re-affirms your faith that there is someone in the UK currently making genuinely interesting and exciting music. 9/10
http://www.myspace.com/thisisquackquack

RM

 

Rollercoaster – Unfinished Business (Nosebleeding Music)

NYC three-piece’s first release beyond home shores. Opener “Change is Due” ticks pretty much every cliché box in the garage rock rulebook right down to the forced “Come Awnn”s of the chorus. In fact, they enjoy the “Come Awnn”s so much, they decide to employ them again later on in “Soul on Fire”. Cos, you know, it’s like a universal rallying cry, m’kay?

The band are a bit like The Rutles in a way, but rather than churning out pastiches of material by one band, they’ve opened it up to a whole genre. Which I suppose makes them closer to The Dukes of Stratosphear. At a couple of points though they have problems with this assumed identity – second song “Between Seeing and Not Seeing” somewhat awkwardly looks at the Garage/Psychedelic genre through the eyes of Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth, and “Unfinished Business” contains a suspiciously Rick Wakeman-like Hammond solo on its outro, suggesting that this is a band already struggling to contain themselves within the musical straightjacket they’ve donned. It’s not like the material is bad – Unfinished Business is a good song propelled by a solid driving rythmn section. It’s just that there is absolutely no originality of any sort on display here. That said, maybe that would be missing the point, if there is one.

The band style themselves (rather disingenuously) as neither a revival band or a derivative one, but rather an attitude. Absolute bollocks. The whole thing is a homage to prime-time Stooges, The MC5, second generation progenitors like Thee Hypnotics/Spacemen 3, and finally the third wave spearheaded by Anton Newcombe’s Brian Jonestown Massacre and BRMC. And while the press release tries very hard not to mention these last two, it’s rather obvious that they are the most similar sounding and probably the ‘real’ main influences.

A good enough EP and nothing wrong with this type of music but at the moment there is nothing to suggest they are bringing anything new to the party and until that is addressed, Rollercoaster will have problems justifying their relevancy. 6/10
www.rollercoastertheband.com

RM

 

Sky Larkin – Kaleide (Wichita)

The follow up to ‘The Golden Spike’ sees Leeds’ Sky Larkin emerge from recent hibernation.

Despite the band’s roots, ‘Kaleide’, energetic from start to finish, appears to nod heavily and very respectfully in the direction of American ‘college’ bands such as Belly, Throwing Muses and The Juliana Hatfield Three. However, a quirky and often dark sense of humour is frequently present to complement these sounds: “There’s a spook at the spectacle and he’s wearing your face”, “Is a selfish heart a truthful muscle?”, “There’ll be one pile of bones so they’ll know we were friends”.

A huge amount of emphasis seems to be placed on upbeat melodies and catchy lyrics but unfortunately these can occasionally come across as slightly forced: “Was I harrowed to the marrow when I fell shallow to the shock?”. A number of song structures(‘Spooktacular’, ‘Year Dot’ and ‘Anjelica Huston) bear a strong resemblance to early Super Furry Animals releases; fuzzy, repetitive, three-minute pop songs which more times than not leave the listener blissfully unaware of the soon- to-be revealed song worm that has unknowingly entered their brain.

As in the words of the opening track and first single, ‘Still Windmills’ …”I know there’s potential” and Sky Larkin certainly have great potential, they must however deliver on it more consistently. 7/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Cecilia Eyes – Here Dead We Lie

Post rock. Post caring, right? It feels like this genre has been so done to death that we’re now dancing on its ashes. It’s understandable that there’s a certain sense of fatigue around the whole progressive, soundscape scene. What more can be done?

Well it’s not always about being new, it’s about being good. And this is what Cecilia Eyes manage with their two-years-in-the-making album ‘Here Dead We Lie’. The record might start with the standard wailing guitar trills and booming drums that you’d expect from say, Explosions in the Sky but with eerie sound samples and ominous drones, Cecilia Eyes show they’re more about the dark underbelly of post rock than their more famous contemporaries. ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ signals a morose turn in the album where the music dwells much more in the minor key. Standard genre tricks are still applied here and there but the poignant use of piano on tracks such as ‘The Departed’ remind us how beautiful post rock can be and why so many fell in love with it in the first place.

The ten minute epic ‘Fifty Years Under a Tent’ must surely be the band’s magnum opus and serves as the centre point of the album. Slow, submissive and bitter sweet, it swerves into Sigur Rós territory with haunting vocal whispers that accompany an array of instrumentation on this impressive track.

After such an apex it is frustrating to discover that the closing numbers revert back to type but they still manage to offer morsels of interest as the band exhibit their heavier side. Closer ‘Death for Treason’ continues the heavy theme whilst again playing to the band’s main strength in their moving piano compositions.

‘Here Dead We Lie’ is a somewhat predictable ride with some fantastic highlights to sweeten the pill, proving this genre isn’t so much dead as merely exploited. Fans of Mogwai, GY!BE and alike should find this album surprisingly good, however it is a shame the band struggle at times to break away from the traditional post rock mould. 7.5/10
www.myspace.com/ceciliaeyes

Moker

 

Loren Scott - The Full Clown Service (Raising Agent)

Beginning gently, we set the scene. A pacing acoustic guitar, some synth-style beeps and a tender beat, not to mention a stunning voice. But just wait. Bursting into a beautifully rich finale of vocals and guitar before finally slowing down into the soft restful tempo we heard before is opener ‘Don’t Let Love’.

‘Glass’ is a soaring anthem with soothing vocals gliding over a chaos of crashing percussion and pianos, little ruptures of guitar sprinkled throughout. Folk-rock grounds are covered with the epic that is ‘Kissing Skulls’, a stomping drum beat and a current of cascading chords are the perfect setting to vocals delivered with a feverish gusto. Keeping with the acoustic ambience is the delightfully honest ‘Sunday (Seemed Like A Good Idea)’, coaxing your mind back to summery nineties Britpop ballads. ‘The Full Clown Service’ just keeps getting stronger as we move into ‘So Many Reasons’ which is more reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys, ambitious and striking.

‘Looks like Leaper’ has bongo drums and staccato pianos galore before emerging into a whirl of guitar, mirroring that of the peculiar darkness of ‘Nothing Left’. Another wonderful thing about this album is how the instrumental numbers are just as strong as the lyric laden ones – they have the same impact and sit so comfortably together. So often instrumentals are boring, just there as filler for a good five minutes of an album, but for Loren Scott, the instrumentals are a way of showcasing talent and a broad musical mind.

A whispering and twinkling that blossoms into a kitchen sink of percussion and plucking is the gorgeously laidback ‘London Fields’, so tuned to the finest details that the song comes alive, making the most simple of things so beautiful. It’s a song that highlights the subtle variety of this album perfectly as the closest attentions to detail are the key to creating such a huge effect on the listener. You feel the music, there is nothing such as listening anymore as you become of part of what you are hearing, entwining yourself into the pitches and tones.

This is truly something wonderful.

Eloise Quince

 

Vandaveer - Divide and Conquer (Bronzerat)

Big in Europe already, Vandaveer aka Mark Charles Heidinger brings his softly haunting and gently soothing brand of modern folk to the UK in from of his debut album ‘Divide and Conquer’. When hearing an album described as folk or singer/songwriter I fear for an uninspiring listen ahead of me, names like James Morrison, James Blunt and David Gray flash in front of my eyes. We’ve already got Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Nick Drake and CSN&Y and I think they’ve got it covered between them. I’ve not listened to any music in their vein since that builds upon the groundwork, just watered down safe music from artists that forget what their idols stood for and did.

This is why I breathed a big sigh of relief when the first song on this record kicked in, the deep, smooth bassline and ghostly single piano notes joined by a smoldering but powerful male/female vocal oozes classic cool, the kind of cool that wears a tipped Fedora, sits shrouded in cigarette smoke and chews a matchstick, a great opener to a good album which shows no signs of being a bland singer/songwriter affair. As the record moves on the songs become more folky but keep their power in the form of twin vocals from Vandaveer and singer Rose Guerin whose classic and sultry voice works brilliantly amongst the instrumentation and adds much to the mood of the music. The best examples of the talent of Vandaveer are ‘Turpentine’, ‘Before the Great War’ and ‘A Mighty Leviathan of Old’, all three standing out from the other seven songs on offer.

The quality of the songwriting and performance is amplified by great production which adds to the melancholy atmosphere of the record as a whole. Although radio friendly the album still stands up as one of significance as the soul of the music is really there amongst the polished vocals and full production job.

For me a great modern folk record is one where original and gripping lyrics take centre stage over the vocals and the instruments and become the main focus and talking point of the album, this Vandaveer doesn’t do yet ‘Divide and Conquer’ remains a great collection of traditional songs and a debut worth noting.

Antonio Tzikas

 

Monarchy – Monarchy (Mercury)

The debut album from elusive duo Monarchy follows their recent achievement of being the first band to broadcast a (debut) gig into space. A joyous, euphoric rush of perfectly produced dance music is what awaits this release’s listeners.

‘Black The Colour Of My Heart’, the first guest to arrive at this sophisticated and immaculately behaved party, brings traces of Phoenix and Air’s more upbeat moments. The fun-loving party guy arrives in the form of ‘You Don’t Want To Dance With Me’, a synth-soaked track ready to pull the fancy footwork when required. Monarchy work hard to add variety throughout and ‘Travelling By Ambulance’ is a spectacularly epic closing track, strangely reminiscent of TV On The Radio at their most blissed out.

‘Monarchy’ is an excellent album, full of very well polished and carefully crafted songs which have been injected with infectious melodies and rhythms that will help to distinguish it from the other pretenders at any party. Already surrounded by much justified hype, expect to be hearing these tracks regularly over the forthcoming months. 8/10

Mark Whiffin

 

I, Alexander - A Little Bit of Epic (Super Happy Records)

Opening on accordion laden, jazz funk tunes is always a wonderful way to introduce yourself. It just helps if you can tell each line of music from the other. ‘You, Does This Transcend’ is a noble attempt at combining several sounds but it unfortunately confuses the ears and frazzles the brain. ‘Kittens and Charmers’ has a great jazzy piano that announces a ringing gloominess through the song. Although, the only downfall is really the complexity of noises again that can’t really distinguish themselves – the heavily distorted guitars and jazz fusion piano parts are just too dissimilar to gel properly.

The fuzz of the layering is just too much of mishmash of sound instead of a harmonious gaggle of joy. Nothing flows, nothing feels natural. Some vocals are strained and some of the computer beeps and bleeps seem so out place it’s difficult to comprehend the point of the song at all. It all seems such a shame because there are some wonderful moments on this album, just like the gentle, pirate inspired introduction to ‘Halos and Hypocrites’ – a steady acoustic core with a stunning string accompaniment. Or the sunny opening of ‘Style’ with its cheerful chords and happy-go-lucky vocal refrain. That’s why it seems a shame that we drift off into a frenzy of hitting or strumming chords that aren’t really meant to go together. Baffling.

It just seems like there is a lack of musical understanding in terms of choosing timbre, dynamics and musical notes that can mingle tunefully. Having said that, there are some sterling moments in this album that seem promising, like the very beginning of the story.
It’s all in the name of experimentation I suppose.

Eloise Quince

 

The Perfect Crime – Everything Else Can Wait (Speechless Records)

Hailing from the leafy Cambridgeshire suburbs – The Perfect Crime are far from leafy-suburb in sound. There's something a bit Oceansize in there – huge pounding riffs and multi-layered sequences, the vocals alternating between 'regular' and 'rawk,' and you can't help but feel a permanent intrigue as to where each song is going to turn next. And there's a bit of old Biffy in there too – without getting too wonky.

It is the intricate layers upon one another than sustain interest, as without these various tracks in unison, the songs are just, well, any other song. The album retains a similar sound and style throughout, and although I sense Funeral For A Friend encroaching, it's still going pretty well. The early Oceansize notions have taken a slightly more linear turn, and whilst the initial spark may have died – I'm determined to see it through. Understandably then, my top picks come from the start of the album which is stronger than the finish; “Quietly Confident” and “Hailstones” the explosive opener.

I know I keep name-dropping Oceansize, but I can't shake it now. It's like... If you thought it would be a challenge to get someone into modern Lostprophets into Oceansize – you could do it if you played them into this first. Ya dig? 7/10

Thom Curtis

 
 

Detroit Social Club – Existence (Fiction Records)

The album opens with “Kiss The Sun,” which starts as a pleasant indie rock with a slight dirty electronic edge – and although it builds into a busy sound scape at the end, it's fair to say the song doesn't really go anywhere. It does in fact, act as an introduction to the whole album, albeit a five minute one! The next track “Northern Man” is far more complete, and essentially a warm pop song. It's got that particular string sound that has featured on every pop song in the charts in the past twenty years. However, the rest of the albums follows suit with the sounds of the opener as opposed to the second. Quite hard to put a finger on the genre; in a broad sense it's alternative, but, a slow indie? It doesn't have the plinky plonk guitars oh so common these days, but it does have an indie edge, and a strange dark tone hovering over everything. But it's a good dark. Everything is too happy these days. It's almost Kasabian minus the anthemic singalongs, and a splash of Stone Roses at times – these references most evident in “Sunshine People” and “Silver”, respectively. These are also, coincidentally, my top picks from the album.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't kicking myself that I didn't go and see them at Glastonbury, but you know how it is. This album is strong, and whilst it doesn't produce anything mind-blowing it works as an album and offers a brief refreshment from the rest of the marketplace. 8/10

Thom Curtis

 

Dan Mailer – The Dan Mailer LP (Medium Rare Records)

Apparently, since Razorlight's split up, Johnny Borrell's body has been possessed by the ghost of a dead (yeah it's a future ghost or something) Bob Dylan. However the ghost can only really remember one song and only has six chords to his name. This works in harmony with Borrell's inability to do anything remotely different to the rest of his material.

But alas, no, this was all a lie, it's Dan Mailer and his new self-titled LP. One man and his guitar, and a harmonica. Fireside ramblings, and cutting a long story short it all sounds the same. The entire album is cut in half as far as pace go. Half of the album are reasonably pacey, but all at the same speed. The other half are a little slower, but again, all at the same speed. In fact, on multiple occasions on skipping through this album, did I think I was listening to the same song again. Which inevitably suggests that this chap only uses half a dozen chords to produce all of his songs. A modern folk Status Quo, if you will.

If you don't like Dylan's folk music, you won't like this. And even if you do, it's questionable whether you will or not. Imagine Bright Eyes if it was happy and in no way lyrically talented, and you've got it. 4/10

Thom Curtis

 

Far – At Night We Live (Xtra Mile)

Pre-emo nineties rockers Far have returned after ten years out of the game. Great news, if you ask me. I was intrigued to find out where the band were now, after their break up just before 2000 and Jonah Matranga's solo projects that followed. And when I listened to the first song, I was disappointed. But, it was brief; let me explain. Being a fan of Far's first albums, I was naively optimistic about the tone of the new album, but understandable, it's far more up-to-date. The thrashy guitars, deep rumblings and charmingly out-of-tune vocals has been replaced with crisp drums and guitars, and Matranga's voice apparently on absolute top form, failing to waiver from its designated melody. Once I'd pulled myself together and told myself that this change was inevitable, I could begin to enjoy the album. I'm still unable to work out whether the song-writing has changed much, or whether it's just the cleaner instruments giving that impression.

The album opens with “Deafening” featuring a horrible crunchy riff (hence the initial downer) but does eventually develop into a decent enough song. Matranga's perfect vocal, the crunchy guitar, I don't know, it's a bit Lostprophets you know. “If You Cared Enough” follows in a melodic mainstream kinda way, and “When I Could See” offers a brief glance of something oh so much more like the Far the nineties underground loved so much.

Where Far were pre-emo grungy hearts on sleeves kids in bedrooms, they have progressed into something more balanced and refined. This does though, tend to happen, doesn't it; and while it doesn't quite do their beginnings justice, it's still a perfectly good album. 8/10

Thom Curtis

 

Collapse Under the Empire – The Sirens Sound (Sister Jack)

It’s an unfortunate quirk here at Tasty that it’s normally the CDs we like the most which take the longest to see the light of day as a review. And it’s taken quite some time to complete listening to this 5 track epic so you can safely assume we were extremely impressed.

The title track itself is worth buying the album for alone. Clocking in at just under ten minutes, you would be forgiven for thinking that it would be difficult to maintain any kind of creative tension over that period of time. But there is no way ‘The Sirens Sound’ feels like ten minutes of your life passing you by – every time I listen to it I am overwhelmed by its sheer power and beauty. This could be loosely labelled as post rock though not in the Mogwai sense of 5 guys blistering your eardrums with their guitars. Collapse Under the Empire consists of just two musicians – Chris Burda and Matthew Jason who co-sculpt these epic soundscapes with a mixture of live instruments and programming. ‘Grade Separation’ will definitely strike a tone with any fans of Maybeshewill, as will ‘Violet Skies’ where a ferocious guitar riff is allowed crash over the gentle piano lines.

This electronic/guitar crossover veers most noticeably towards the synthetic moving towards in the expansive ‘Beware/Lost’ with closer ‘A Different Complexion’ re-introducing a heavy flurry of reverbing guitar to complete the album.

It’s rare to be moved by a single song like ‘The Sirens Sound’. Rarer still to find it accompanied by such strong supporting material. Essential post rock/cinematic listening. 9/10
http://www.collapseundertheempire.com

SB

 

Kwoon – When The Flowers Were Singing (Self-released)

‘When The Flowers Were Singing’, Kwoon’s self-released and sophomore album, is a delicate and beautiful affair. Soaked throughout in cello, hushed vocals and mesmerising guitar, the results are at times stunning. ‘Overture’ opens proceedings in an immediate manner, wasting no time in revealing the band’s influences and inspirations. ‘Great Escape’ captivates instantly with its slow-burning opening and tension-doused climax. ‘Ayron Noryo’ builds slowly throughout, creating an epic and achingly beautiful track which tugs firmly on the heartstrings. The graceful and gentle vocals on ‘Frozen Bird’ will draw obvious comparisons to bands such as Sigur Rós and ef due to the undeniable fact that on occasions Kwoon unfortunately decide to follow the post-rock blueprint a little too closely. However, it is the untitled closing that is actually the stand-out track and, interestingly, the first time where Kwoon appear prepared to throw the aforementioned blueprint out of the nearest window. Overall ‘When The Flowers Were Singing’ is a gorgeous and truly rewarding listen; one that hints strongly at what innovative and pioneering records Kwoon could hopefully soon be releasing. 7/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Autons – Celluloid

The Autons seem to have invented their own genre, comprising of a mixture of electro-pop with indie influences as well as ‘Brit pop and post-punk guitar without the usual plagiarism’ – sounds good to me! This new album by the Autons is not strictly a concept album and the songs on this new release have a common inspiration – the world of Motion Pictures. They focused mainly on British and American films of the 40s and 50s that made a lasting impression on David Auton since he first watched them as a boy on TV.

‘Celluloid’ proves to be a very effective anthem; however the repetition tends to be slightly grating at the beginning, not a particularly engaging introduction. However, by the second track I find the vocalist’s voice highly irritating to me, yet I can’t pinpoint why. Perhaps it is the way he rolls his R’s or the overly heavy vibrato on the concluding notes, or maybe my particular preference for natural vocals. I feel his vocals are heavily put on to sound a bit like Robert Smith. For this particular track I believe they intended to stress the importance of the lyrics, but I find myself not being able to concentrate because of his voice! Unfortunately I am quite bored by this point already. I am pleasantly surprised by Track 4 however, the melody is gripping and I can get over the vocals somewhat, until he says ‘horror’ and unfortunately my composure is all gone. Again, the repetition grating on me, I’m certainly one for the variation and thinking outside the box in music.

Aside from my obvious peeve with this band, I believe they have some very initially interesting melodies, but then seem to panic and stick with the same idea throughout most of the song, perhaps only changing once or twice. I reckon they should be a bit more ambitious with their synths and really go crazy, veering right away from the initial setup of the track. I love the heartfelt and well thought out lyrics though and they same to tell some interesting stories, but I would have to give this band about 4 out of 10, purely my opinion though of course!

Georgia Maycock

 

Mirrorkicks – s/t

Described as ‘an album of mildly furious rock anthems and enigmatic heart warmers’ and I must say I’m not disagreeing thus far, even by the first track. The lead vocalist’s voice, high and calling over the heavy backdrop of guitars and basses provide a wonderful contrast that’s very satisfying. The chords are so quirky and feels like they have just all literally sat together, plucked a string or two and thought ‘yeah, that sounds brill!’ and gone with it.

‘Be Where You Are’ pulls me in instantly. I love my bass and I love heavy distorted guitar. I particularly love the breathy vocals and the way he twists and suspends them before actually hitting the right note, but he doesn’t overdo it like I had feared he may before listening to the whole album. The band were completely right to emphasise the vocals a lot, they alone are so overpowering and so accurate, his voice is very enthralling.

They really kick up the heat with the final track, ‘You’, with a seriously modulating little melody in the distorted electric guitar, bringing the metalhead out of you. The breaks between the guitar for the vocals just make you enjoy the rock fury even more, they really got the balance right in this little beauty. The enchanting high harmony makes me want to scream (perhaps internally or else that would be a bit weird…) as the eeriness is overwhelming as well as the contrast. Without a doubt this was my favourite track.

Overall, I reckon this is a very well balanced band, with the levels perfectly right in terms of vocals and guitar. They can afford to emphasis the vocals with the voice of their enchanting frontman and the deep, distorted melodies put the icing on the cake for me; the richness of it all is so satisfying. This band gets an 8 from me.

Georgia Maycock

 

Morcheeba - Blood Like Lemonade (Pias)

Chilled-out charms and a laidback ethos are the reasons behind ‘Blood Like Lemonade’, and it keeps to its promise. ‘Crimson’ teams a soft drumming with gentle vocals to create a delightfully distant dream. Tingly is the feeling as ‘Even Though’ begins, leaving you floating above the clouds in a bubble of cascading notes and thoughtful vocals. Even with its vagueness, you still find yourself singing along and it’s all strangely uplifting. Now imagine this with mellifluous harmonies gliding along with the main melody line and you have ‘Easier Said Than Done’. Bluesy and sassy, ‘Self Made Man’ is an organised collection of jangles and jingles held by a steady strolling beat that calmly exercises the thoughts of summer days.

Ballads with the acoustic guitar are always an inevitable part of ‘chill-out’ albums, but this one is surprisingly wonderful. ‘I Am the Spring’ is melodiously serene, pacifying the soul as we twist through an atmosphere of tenderness. Probably what’s more surprising is that there is only one acoustic joyride hidden amongst these ten tracks.

‘Beat of the Drum’ does exactly what it says on the tin – soothing riffs and melodies set to a constant, striking beat. The chorus comes alive with many voices all joining together beautifully, creating a restfully rich soundscape.

Title track ‘Blood Like Lemonade’ is mysteriously sinister, avenging “empty souls” and “drinking blood like lemonade” maintaining an eerie juxtaposition with the signature calmness and a jazzy refrain. ‘Recipe for a Disaster’ very much joins with the peculiar, the first line being, “Want to know why there’s a dead guy in my dining room?” The stark contrast between lyrics and instrumental really create ghostlike qualities, a sort of shadowy vision, much like when you wake up and you can only piece some of what you dreamt of back together. I think that’s what makes this album unusual and distinctive as a chill-out record – you almost have an out of body experience as the sound fills you up.

Beautiful and peaceful, definitely worth a listen on a lazy summer’s day.

Eloise Quince

 

Nigel of Bermondsey – London Dreamtime (Pure Mint)

‘London Dreamtime’ is Nigel of Bermondsey’s second album – recorded in his shed in London, this is an extremely polished and quirky pop record right from the first note. Album opener ‘Castle Of Evil’ gets everything going with a laid back groove driven by a synth bass line reminiscent of The Flaming Lips. As the chorus kicks in it is immediately huge; layers of drums, guitars and synths create a wall of sound. Then in comes Nigel’s high pitch, wailing voice. It’s strong that’s for sure, but it never overpowers the music.

As the album continues a theme begins to appear; it is full of bouncy pop songs with not much contrast between them. There are even a couple of moments where the songs seem to blend into one another, but it really isn’t a problem as the album as a whole is extremely lively. You could put pretty much any one of the tracks on at a party and I (almost) guarantee that people would start dancing. There are lots of different influences that come through in the music; The Flaming Lips, Ghosts, The Beatles (a couple of times you would be excused for thinking Paul McCartney had laid down the bass lines), and there is even a moment in the song ‘Human Nature’ where it sounds like Kylie had a part to play in the production.

The closing song, ‘What Have I Got to Lose,’ stands out the most for me though. It’s the one track that completely breaks away from the mould from the previous eleven songs. There are no synths, there’s no bouncing bass lines and no kick drum heavy drumming. It’s a beautiful ballad filled with flowing vocal harmonies, delicate drums and percussion and a slick guitar part. It’s the perfect way to end an album like ‘London Dreamtime’; it’s totally unexpected but in no way out of place and is a great way to round off what is a strong album. 7/10
http://www.nigelofbermondsey.com

James Borland

 

Black Soul Strangers – Animate

Within seconds of starting Animate’s opening track, I thought I knew what this band was all about: this sounds like Biffy Clyro with a bit of Interpol, wrapped up with a big dollop of Bloc Party (when they were good).

After the first track, any comparisons with those bands melt away and you see Black Soul Strangers for what they are, a band who seem to have emerged fully realised from out of nowhere, backed up with an arsenal of fantastic tunes. Despite first impressions, this is a genuinely interesting band who don’t hide behind their influences (usually).

Each track is better than the last: Tristia is immensely beautiful and sort of twinkles, but then it’s replaced by Gallows which is a rocky, guitar-propelled nod to early Idlewild, all full of immediacy and begging to be danced to (there’s also the best use of a false ending that I have ever heard, I am a total sucker for songs that do that).

The only real complaint I have about this record is that it’s a bit too densely packed. I’m not making any accusations that the record is too repetitive at all (it’s really not), but it seems like almost every songs swells to an anthemic conclusion that’s just a bit exhausting after a while. I mean, you can’t prove that you can slow things down so perfectly and then leave me hanging like that!

Overall, this album is really something special, so check them out, get behind them and make sure Black Soul Strangers get the recognition that they clearly deserve. Animate is easily one of the best albums of the year so far. Easily.
9/10

Dan Shields

 

Superbutt - You and Your Revolution

Superbutt is a five-piece beat combo from Hungary. This is important information, because it at least starts to explain why they have such a ridiculous name (nothing against Hungarians, I’m just assuming that English isn’t this bands first language).

When I finally got over the silly name, I didn’t really like what I found. Big, chunky metal riffage made popular (about ten years ago) by bands like Drowning Pool and Soil. The lyrics are about nothing in particular and showing off how “metal” the lead singer is. I can’t actually remember the last time I heard something so generic. It’s the type of music played in a club scene in an action movie.

Superbutt are at their best when they wear their influences well: the odd Queens of the Stone Age-esque riff here, a hint of Cky there. I’d like this album a lot more if there were more of these reworked Stoner Metal riffs and if you are into this sort of pop-metal then you should check You and Your Revolution out because it’s as good as anything produced by Drowning Pool or Disturbed.

Testosterone fuelled nonsense that does nothing to advance the musical landscape. My major beef with this record is that it’s just nothing new. There’s no innovation in it whatsoever. 2/10

Dan Shields

 

Ventura – We Recruit

Recently I’d been suffering from a bout of it’s-all-been-done-itis, a distinct lack of inspiration brought on by the fact that every band seems to be copying every other band. Flicking through the music channels left me feeling cold and unfulfilled, but then I discovered new and improved Ventura!

Ventura are a Swiss indie-rock three piece who play moody, atmospheric post-hardcore. Right from the first track, they go from dark, understated melody and crash through to something that sounds like the end of the world, within a matter of seconds.

Immensely technically skilled and completely in control at all times, Ventura create and break tension easily in a way not seen since New Noise by Refused. This type of schizophrenic stop/start song writing sounds like a mix of the classic Deep Elm Records sound and early Biffy Clyro: all crunchy guitars and frantic, syncopated drums. It’s really exciting stuff.
Ventura do wear their influences on their sleeve, but you never feel like complaining that you’ve heard it before because of the sheer intensity of their music. They make music exciting again, they make it seem new even if it’s not and here’s the secret: it’s okay to borrow from other bands if you make the sound your own.

If you like that kind of quiet/loud indie rock noise, then you’ll love this, it’s not the next in/casino/out, but it is going to make a lot of burned out hipsters happy. 8/10

Dan Shields

 

Laboratory Noise – When Sound Generates Light (Recurring Accident Records)

The debut album from Bradford’s Laboratory Noise is a hugely satisfying cauldron of sonic delights. The band carefully create a dream like mixture, delicate ingredient at a time, until a richly rewarding potion is produced. A smattering of Ride, a teaspoon of Mazzy Star, a dose of Spiritualized and a pinch of The Warlocks help to form a sweeping and majestic album.

‘She Dies Screaming’, the lead single, swaggers along with its garage guitar riff swamped in psychedelia. ‘Tesla’, a long lost cousin of Ride’s ‘Dreams Burn Down’, is a fine example of restrained sound-scaping, never applying the kitchen sink approach to music making but instead using a wisely chosen selection of instruments to compliment and develop a beautiful song. Fifteen minute centre piece ‘Dream Sequence’ feels slightly out of place, however persevering listeners are rewarded by a track that would sit comfortably on a number of early Pink Floyd releases. ‘Here, She Is Evergreen’ finds itself in what could be described as ‘indie guitar’ territory and at times reminds strangely of Eugenius. The Spiritualized gospel blues of ‘The Value Of Experiments’ again shows the diversity that Laboratory Noise have at their fingertips. A very satisfying record, full of variety and depth, and one which deserves to be explored fully. 8/10

Mark Whiffin

 

Applicants – Escape from Kraken Castle (Tigertrap Records)

Applicants claim to be punk, as in proper punk with all the ideals that come with it. They say they are unique, they don’t just take other peoples ideas and make them their own. That’s a big claim to make, but I think they have every reason to make it. Their music is riff heavy and very strange: It sounds like their guitars are fighting one another in a battle to the death in a custom made computer game for the Sega Game Gear (if you don’t know what a Game Gear is then where were you in 1990?!) The whole album sounds very raw, it is intense noise, almost bordering on hardcore at times. It sounds kind of like Fantômas if they had actually structured their songs into concise two and a half minute pieces. Oh, and without the screaming… and better.

It’s only when you get to the second half of the album that it starts to calm down a touch. They keep the rough sounding guitars and computer game backing tracks, but it’s got a slightly more indie edge to it. With this different sound they even bring different instruments to the forefront at times; ‘They Wrote Gone Fishing on His Grave’ has a hint of harmonica in it, and ‘Since Porn Took Over eBay’ features a recorder solo. Applicants are going for an open minded, witty way of creating music. Their songs might be intense but they all have a comedy edge, whether it’s lyrically or musically. It’s great to hear, and extremely refreshing. 9/10

James Borland

 

StringerBessant – Yard (Xtra Mile Recordings)

You remember Reef, right? They did that song ‘Place Your Hands’ back in the 90’s that is now a must for any budding DJ at a student night. I know they did more than that, but really if we’re being honest that’s the only thing of note they ever released. Well now they’re back, kind of. StringerBessant are Gary Stringer and Jack Bessant, formerly singer and bassist of Reef respectively. I say formerly, Reef have reformed for a reunion tour this year so I suppose it is currently. So why oh why have they decided that along with having to relearn those old Reef classics, they would also go and write some kind of folk-blues album as well? To be honest I’m not quite sure.

The album is actually being sold as a ‘former members of Reef’ record (StringerBessant isn’t the most subtle), which is never a good start. If it’s not going to sell on its own merit then why bother? And being completely honest again, it wouldn’t sell without the Reef tagline (and it will probably still struggle). The songs are poorly written; they feel like they are never-ending. Gary Stringer’s gruff voice doesn’t suit the music and Jack Bessant just sounds weak. Some of the guitar work is OK, but as a whole it’s extremely dull. The only thing that I really enjoyed was the touch of theramin-esque synth in the first song ‘Hey Girl.’ That on a twelve song album just isn’t enough, maybe if it appeared a little later in the album as well I wouldn’t be giving such a bad review.

While we’re being honest, I like Reef. I think that their album ‘Glow’ is great, so StringerBessant must know what makes a good or bad song. All I can think is that they must have run out of good ideas. I am actually disappointed; I was quite excited at the albums potential before I pressed play. So do I think the 2010 Reef reunion might be a bit of a publicity stunt to promote a below par album? Yes I do, it needs it. 1/10
www.myspace.com/stringerbessant

James Borland