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albums - november 2010


 
 

Shipping News – One Less Heartless to Fear (Africantape/ Ruminance)

Having previously released four albums (the last being in 2005), US band Shipping News have decided to go all out with their fifth LP: Who needs to record in a studio, doing take after take on each instrument until you get the sound exactly as you were hearing it in your head, when you can just go and record everything live? That is exactly what Shipping News set out to do, and they have done it in style with ‘One Less Heartless to Fear’.

The songs possess a raw energy that would never be there if too much thought was put into the recording process. You can hear the sound reflecting off the walls of the venue, the spill from one microphone to the next. None of the songs are played perfectly; they speed up and slow down throughout with a few bum notes here and there, but that is what makes live music so great. You wouldn’t want to go to a gig and hear the band play everything note perfect, would you? The tracks themselves are entirely suited for this live sound; the guitars are a mess of crunchy chords and flickering high notes, the bass is reminiscent of Lemmy’s aggressive and fast paced style, and the vocals spoken manner can sound soothing and seething at the same time. They remind me of Refused if Refused had been able to tone it down every now and then to create a five minute breakdown which built up to a mass of noise that was barely audible through its own distortion.

‘One Less Heartless to Fear’ is a great example of a live album; it shows off not only the bands song writing, but their ability to perform their material with enough energy and passion that it comes across perfectly on a recording. It leaves you wanting more, wanting to experience the Shipping News live show first hand and desperately wanting to hear what they played as an encore. 8/10
www.facebook.com/shippingnews

James Borland

 

Tapso II – Tapso II (Self Release)

I’m starting to enjoy listening to Italian rock music; from my growing experience it is always unconventional both in sound and structure, but never to the point where it becomes inaccessible to the listener. So it was with great pleasure that when first taking in Tapso II, they fell into this exact stereotype. A three piece from Sicily, they are an experimental rock band with one of those never-gonna-work kind of line ups; drums, guitar, vocals as standard, then the addition of a violin and electric organ make for what is no doubt going to be an intriguingly bizarre mini album.

As the opening song ‘Bulldog’ crashes in it is immediately evident that the violin and organ is by no means going to be an obvious addition to the sound of the band. Everything besides the drums is laced with distortions, phasers and seemingly any other effect they could lay their hands on making all the lead instruments blend into one mass of noise. The vocals in the songs are very sparse and often not much more than softly spoken lines, but they can change the dynamic of each track very effectively, at times adding some much needed bottom end to a bass-less line up. The songs themselves vary from jagged jazz rock sections to long winded psychedelic moments where that violin sound all of a sudden becomes very apparent and out of place. It is unfortunate that as you get further into the record these long winded sections seem to take over. It takes nearly four minutes of not much happening in ‘Almond Galaxy’ before the song fully kicks in and actually starts making an impact, whereas ‘Il Mostro’ never really gets to that point even after seven minutes of constant drones and gratingly amateur sounding violin arpeggios.

It is a pity that Tapso II lean so heavily towards the obscure and slow side of their music; when they do kick in and start playing their instruments to their full potential they make one hell of a racket, in a very good way. With occasional moments that sound like they could have been taken from Jon Spencer’s ‘Now I Got Worry’ or Beck’s ‘Mutations’ there is an obvious potential there, but I do think realising this will involve sacrificing some of those lengthy moments of calm for something more appealing. 5/10
www.tapso.it

James Borland

 

A Silent Film - The City That Sleeps Xtra Mile Recordings)

Following recent successes after playing their BBC Introducing Glastonbury set, A Silent Film are re-releasing their debut album for more ears to devour. Mixing tales modern day societal practices with an eclectically euphoric range of synths, riffs and uplifting vocals, this is something quite uniquely magical.

‘Driven By Their Beating Hearts’ is proves an able opener on this album of soundscapes as its refrain of collective voices shimmer through the instrumental, giving an epic surround sound effect. But then tracks such as ‘Thirteen Times the Strength’ and ‘Sleeping Pills’ provide delicious vocal ranges that hover perfectly above razor sharp riffs that intensely cut through the mind. Beautifully contrasting this vivacity are the slower paced tracks such as ‘Feather White’ and ‘Aurora’, showing attention to dynamics as well as a love of cascading piano parts. The swirling drums of ‘Firefly in My Window’ give the perfect lead into an immense chorus. Firm favourite, ‘You Will Leave a Mark’ soars majestically through its piano-lead fervour into an explosion of true musicianship, elevating spirits to the sky. In the same vein is ‘Julie June’ with a feature piano and a distorted guitar hook that glides effortlessly between vocal lines.

Twelve months, and this band will be household names.

Eloise Quince

 

Chap A - Creation Room

When Chapa's press release proudly states "think Keane or The Feeling" to describe new album 'Creation Room', things aren't exactly looking promising. Such a heady combination only suggests we're in for bubblegum pop and sickly sweet production. But luckily enough for this trio of Brazilian brothers, they've created something much more odd ball and charming than first feared. The songs are piano led and querky, reminiscent of Ben Folds Five or a more bashful Everclear. Indeed, there's no doubting these three are musically skilled.

However, the brothers seem overwhelmed by the task of creating their first English speaking album. The songs are painfully bashful and unassuming at all times. They deviate little from a standard pop rock formulas and in the moments when there is flexing of musical muscle, the music immediately recede back into sounding like a band playing in a library.

Album opener and new single 'Before You Go' is a bizarrely off-beat track that politely stomps along, setting a precedent for the whole record: polite. Whilst each verse-chorus-verse that is played might contain a curve ball or two, put together, 'Creation Room' only sounds unremarkable.

Of course, there are note worthy moments: The whole of 'Move the Night' is a beautiful ballad, 'Right Now' has an addictive Beatle-esque middle, 'Somebody Is Crying For You' is pleasingly soulful and 'Silver Fails' is as jagged and gutsy and the trio allow, but a couple of swallows does not a summer make. Or in this case, not a interesting album. Such music might sneak its way into dinner party play lists but it won't make it to most teenagers stereos.

Chapa are clearly a talented bunch but they seem to actively shy away from any kind of musical indulgence, perhaps to remain accessible and poppy, perhaps because they are boring. Whatever the reason, the result is lack-lustre songs that are pleasant enough but a whisper of what they could be. 'Creation Room' will appeal to many but will be loved by none. If only there was a bit more Brazilian passion in the mix this might not have been the case. 6/10
http://www.myspace.com/myspacechapa

Moker

 

Gwyneth Herbert - 'Clangers And Mash' (Naim Edge)

What a lovely bright sunny morning it is, and Gwyneth is going to sing for us a song she wrote on just one such busy breakfast time, a song inspired by her experiences while nipping round to the corner shop to buy a newspaper and a pinta. 'All the birds are singing just for me' trills our Gwynnie while hopping into her small BMW to traverse the 100 or so yards to the nearest McColls, and 'My Mini & Me' is a very probable actual candidate for the next Mini advertising campaign.

The rest of the album is equally as upbeat and relentlessly, occasionally mercilessly cheerful. Gwynnie's personal favourite song is 'Perfect Fit', in fact she likes it so much there are three versions of it on this 9-track, each one perhaps inspired seperately by her own declared influences - Tom Waits, Dresden Dolls, Steve Reich - and the tonal collage of 'So Worn Out' has definite artistic flair although there isn't anything on the album that quite equals the monolithic one-chord symphonies of either Reich or Philip Glass. Gwynnie also recommends that we listen to Hackney Pirate Radio stations, although her own songs are probably more comfortably suited for Radio 2 than the grimestep scene. She's a girl with a future our Gwynnie, and the sort of lass whom you call by an abbreviated form of her first name after hearing her album twice. She'll go far.
www.gwynethherbert.com

JG

 

Backwords - 'Quilt'

Recorded in a darkened Brooklyn basement, Backwords 4th album is a shambling, chaotic creature: part folk, part garage punk, part hippy be-in, and the band themselves are augmented by no less than ten named collaborators so we are all in for one or two, if not exactly surprises, then moments of at least partial inspiration. And over 12 tracks. Backwords do supply these, as their songs range across genre and instrumentation with apparent disregard for the fnal result. An actual patchwork, and therefore (this is only hinted at) a concept album of some kind.

The album, if I want to attempt to second guess the process of conceptualisation that Backwords may have used to fully structure their new album, appears to consist of three parts. The first is folk based, and has a traditional feel to it with fiddles and accordions backing up some country guitar tunes. The second part has the core trio of Backwords getting down with some three chord psychepunk ramalama and the last section (I'm making assumptions here) is something of a series of tributes to Backwords own heroes, with one track sounding a lot like Dylan, another resembling a poetry recital that took place on a San Francisco park bandstand on a warm summer evening in 1965, and one or two others that, while I don't quite recognise them, are clearly inspired by the work of others. Interestingly flawed, 'Quilt' contains sufficiently diverse songs and music to please just about everyone, in measured doses.
http://backwords.bandcamp.com/

JG

 

Johnny 5th Wheel And The Cowards - 'Tales Of ...'

I really don't know anything like enough about this lot to form a coherent opinion. Yet more mystery men, Johnny & The Cowards. 'This is sometimes a good thing' I hear you postulate. Yes, perhaps, but it's bad for reviewers who need a hook to hang their opinions on. Let's just concentrate on the music ...

They make a lively racket, Johnny and his chums, a bit folksy, mandolins and discordant strings, chanted shanty choruses and an all-round air of roister-doistering redolent of Gogol Borgdello, Bellowhead, even the Levellers. Johnny himself has a pleasantly tuneful voice, and a certain wry humour runs through the songwriting.

So why am I less than wholly enthusiastic about 'Tales Of ...'? well, partly it's the palpable secrecy surrounding exactly who is involved in The Cowards, and as I do not posess a magnifying glass I am actually unable to give the names of any of the musicians credited on the inner sleeve with any accuracy. That's never Guy Garvey on drums, is it?
www.myspace.com/johnny5thwheel

JG

 

Bleu - 'Four'

I need to say that I admire the single minded sense of purpose displayed by William James McAuley, whose 4th album (this one) benefited from a remarkable $20.000 raised through charitable donations from his fan network. A significant portion of this appears to have gone into the printing of the album sleeve, a colourful fold out decorated with pictures of a very young WJ McAuley and his family. So what are we in for? Well, there's also a lyric booklet, and the lyrics themselves are those of the highly personalised confessional variety, tales of drunken confusion and the ensuing guilt trips with titles such as 'Dead In The Morning' and (really) 'When The Shit Hits The Fan', and you probably aren't alone in wondering why no-one - Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Billy Joel - titled a song thus until Bleu put that familiar phrase to a tune.

As to the actual music, I was expecting some soporific keyboard balladry but Bleu posess a fulsome stadum rock sound, one primed for AOR radio - part Springsteen bombast, part Lennonesque whimsy, altough the lyrics lack the biting edge of Randy Newman or perhaps Dean Friedman, and a little more imagination in that department would give Bleu's songs the extra impetus they require and place WJ McAuley more firmly within the pantheon of US singer songwriters than 'Four' probably will.
www.myspace.com/bleutopia

JG

 

Heathers - Here, Not There (Aunthill)

Irish twin sisters, Ellie and Louise Macnamara serve up a delicious folky vibe with lashings of punchy, harmonious vocals to tell of stories of heartbreak and growing up. All of this with just two voices and an acoustic guitar.

‘Remember When’ is a wonderful romp of strong guitar lead and warbling vocal harmonies whereas ‘Honey Please?!’ has a strikingly beautiful choral layering with additional shouts to emphasise a sense of urgency. ‘What’s Your Damage?’ has terrific vocals that are slightly out of key with one another in a very PJ Harvey fashion, creating a charmingly strident swiftness through the strapping guitar parts.

The shortness of the songs only adds to the fleeting pace that makes you stand to attention, ears pricked up and ready to take it all in.

‘Bloodpact’ really shows how the layering of vocals can be used to create a huge sound as the harmonies resonate and bounce around the brain. Bringing in a string section to ‘Slices of Palama’ coaxes tender emotions as the song soars and flies around. Marvellously juxtaposed are the stark staccato rhythms of ‘Veronica’ which briskly slap you around the face with their stark truth to match.

Laura Marling duplicated and set to work with a raucous streak of mischief.

Eloise Quince

 

The Jolly Boys – Great Expectations (GeeJam Recordings)

Still going strong after 5 decades, countless line-up changes, deaths and rifts, Jamaica’s finest and most well-known Mento band release their seventh long-player, an album of covers of non-Jamaican artists ranging from The Doors to The Clash.

Often confused with calypso, Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music pre-dating and heavily influencing ska and reggae. Mento typically features acoustic instruments, such as acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums, and the rhumba box — basically a large mbira in the shape of a box that can be sat on while played and carries what would be conventionally known as the bass part.

It has to be said that the whole exercise is reminiscent of the “Rhythms del Mundo” nonprofit collaborative album of 2006 that featured an all-star cast of Cuban musicians including some of the Buena Vista Social Club, re-working songs of the day. In a similar vein this album re-jigs well-known tunage but rather than going down the contemporary line with indie rock as “Rhythms del Mundo” did, the choice of material covers a much broader church of mainstream pop and rock artists stretching back over the lifetime of the band.

Their take on Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” (Iggy is honoured not once but twice with “Passenger” also getting the Jolly treatment), with octogenarian Albert Minott’s gravel voice singing Pop and Bowie’s ode to the joys of being out and having a bit of a jig, does provide some unintentional guffawing but this mirth is easily countered by the sentimentality displayed on Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and The Strangler’s “Golden Brown”. There are however, some utterly bizarre moments on this record. Most notable is their cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Re-hab” (and the only song from the last twenty years to make this album), which for similar reasons to “Nightclubbing” provokes some ironic mirth. The other curiosity is New Order’s “Blue Monday”, which bins the cold minimalism of the original but still (despite the sunshine backing) manages to retain the song’s inherent darkness. Somewhat improbably, it works really quite well.

A curious but ultimately a fun album, and one perhaps highlighting a forgotten genre; with any luck, it hopefully might even encourage a broader revival. 8/10
www.jollyboysmusic.com

RM

 
 

Sea Above, Sky below – Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter (Self Released)

Taking his nom de plume from the song by instrumental trio Dirty Three, Seb Pidgeon’s Sea Above, Sky Below started (predictably enough) as a solo bedroom recording project and eventually expanded to the stage that there was enough material to release an album, named after the ancient (and presumably now discontinued) naval punishment of bending over a cannon to receive your lashes from the old cat o’ nine tails. Cheerful stuff.

The material is classic, winsome proto-shoegaze dreampop and stylistically heavily in the thrall of the Cocteau Twins. Opener “November” has Robin Guthrie chorus guitar washes over a codeine-anaesthetised organ landscape and eventually segues into “The Gunner’s Daughter (Part 2)”. It has to be said that at points you do tend to find yourself half expecting Liz Fraser to start chirruping in the background such is the familiarity of the sound. There are also plenty of other references for the avid shoegaze trainspotter to catalogue should they feel the need, from Chapterhouse (“Receipt”) to My Vitriol (“Whispers on the Stairs”) via Slowdive (“Sweeping away the Leaves”) There are moments that are quite lovely, “Circles & Squares” most definitely being one of them, and the aforementioned “Sweeping Away The Leaves” is a gorgeous song with a delicious outro.

This isn’t to say the album is without faults though. “Rendlesham” is let down by an awful pre-set drum machine opening, which spoils an otherwise good song. The practicalities of a one man set up may have dictated the use of electronic drums but throughout the album, while not quite a deal breaker, they are easily the worst thing about this record and the one element leaving Pidgeon most open to accusations of trying to rip off the Cocteau’s sound wholesale. To be fair, there is an degree of redress on “Montauk”, which throws in some post-rocky stop/starts and “A Station with One Platform” shows too much originality to bear anything more than a passing resemblance to any sort of influence. Some of this may sound a little unfair, but it’s only because the good things on this album (and there is a lot to like here), are marred by cheap drum sounds that only the Cocteau Twins (and in their latter days, only barely) got away with.

One rather hopes Pidgeon keeps making music, because on the basis of this album, he’s pretty damn good at it. The next record however is screaming for a move away from slavish devotion to the Guthrie altar and to something displaying more of his own character, so tantalisingly glimpsed on “A Station with One Platform”. Decent drum sounds would help too. 7.5/10.
www.myspace.com/seaaboveskybelow

RM

 

Dyonisis – Intoxicated (Singed Records)

Sheffield Goths release follow up to 2007’s eponymous debut. It’s all a bit melodramatic unfortunately. The lyrics are rather predictable, dealing with the broodier side of existence, as if there hadn’t been enough said on the subject already. If they were to start singing songs about the relative merits of Morrison’s own margarine against the leading brand, then I might be surprised, and more importantly, interested. But no, instead we get nuggets along the lines of “I am more than the screams of the shadows in my dreams” in ‘Lunatic’ and occasionally, utter bollocks like “Run Run Run/Please Stop and Cut Me Up/Through It/Refuse to Scream” on ‘Inside Out’. Dyonisis have also surely created some sort of precedent for using the word “rustling” as a lyric on ‘Of The Fear’. This was a word I previously only associated with crisp packets.

If the lyrics are predictable, then sadly the music is even more so. Almost the entire album is MOR mid-paced ballad type music, with some programmed beats and a slightly exaggerated sense of the operatic in keeping with the genre. Terrible to say but I keep expecting a small-scale model of Stonehenge to descend from the ceiling to the accompaniment of dancing dwarves; such is my inability to take this album completely seriously. “Flown” is fairly ponderous song further marred by some cheesy ‘Foot-on-the-Monitors’ style guitar playing. And final track ‘Lunatic’ has a little bit of cod-drum and bass sampling to try a liven things up a bit but soon descends back into mid-paced drudgery.

Chiefly suffering from a lack of variety, this is not an awful album by any means, but definitely a dull one. 4/10
www.myspace.com/dyonisis

RM

 

The Scratch – D.I.Y.

D.I.Y. is a totally schizophrenic listen. On this, a re-release of their 2004 debut album the scratch are all over the place. One minute, they’re 70s punk throwbacks, the next they get all dancy, then there’s Britpoppy bits and stuff that sounds a bit like T.Rex. Which is brilliant, but it makes it a bit difficult to explain what they sound like.

Generally speaking, The Scratch are an indie guitar band who take their influences from early punk and Britpop and also know how to write a great tune.

Opening track, ‘I Relax to Spiral Scratch’ is a perfect nod to the Buzzcocks first EP, sounding like a lost Buzzcocks track covered by Stiff Little Fingers. There’s a timelessness to this record that lesser bands almost always fail to capture, D.I.Y. feels like it could’ve been written yesterday or twenty years ago. ‘Rotten Soul’ nails a creepy indie sped up Bunnymen/Cramps hybrid vibe that sounds like it was written in the seventies.

The dance influenced tracks haven’t really held up well, usually sounding either like old Space b-sides or Propellerheads tunes, but when it works, it works well. Where ‘Brainstorm’ sounds dated, tracks like ‘X-ray eyes’ give off a completely catchy, Mescaleros-influenced culture clash vibe.

For me, the standout tracks are ‘Back to Ten’ and ‘Alcohol’s a Depressant’. ‘Back to Ten’ sounds like it was written for the closing credits of a particularly awesome film and ‘Alcohol’s a Depressant’ reminds me of a punkier early Blur, with fuzzy guitars and a massively catchy chorus.

If nothing else, this re-release just goes to show that these decade hopping, genre-bending indie punks knew what they were doing from the start. Rough in places, but still fantastic, D.I.Y. is a great debut. 8/10

Dan Shields

 

Shush – Soundtrack of My Life

Shush are a female-fronted, four piece beat combo who play totally conventional pop-rock of the variety you usually find yourself ignoring down your local on a Friday night. Blandly perpetuating the same ‘black clothes, long hair, studded belt’ rawk ‘n’ roll stereotypes you only really see on bad TV shows, they competently chug through the twelve tracks on this debut LP.

Soundtrack of My Life is so derivative that most of the writing credit should go to the bands whose riffs were stolen. I suppose track five is a standout. It’s all punky rock with catchy vocals, but I was always going to love it because the main guitar part is actually the riff from Brain Stew by Green Day, shamelessly stolen and plonked straight into the verse. When the chorus kicks in there’s a fuzzy, super melodic bass line that rumbles away really high in the mix, making this song a catchy pop-rock monster. The name of this song? ‘F**k you’. Nothing tells the world that you’re a badass rawk band like self-censorship.

It’s so infuriating that this great song is bookended by eleven tracks of riff-tastic filler. Vocalist Milena Yum has a pretty good voice, but overall it’s as though the singer’s trying too hard and the rest of the band isn’t trying hard enough. There’s not a lot of variety to this record, which makes it difficult to get through in one sitting: the seemingly endless trail of verse/chorus/verse/chorus/verse chorus makes me want to cry, generally, I hate guitar solos, but Soundtrack of my Life left me begging for one. There is, however, a silver lining tucked away at the end of the CD: ‘You Will Never Get’ is a speedy, venom-filled nod to classic riot grrl like My Ruin, at least I thought it was till I heard the line ‘not a suffragette, I’m a goddess on your TV set’. Tut tut, whatever would Tairrie B say? “Must try harder”, possibly. 3/10

Dan Shields

 

Casanatra - Split the Atom Again

Split the Atom Again is a melodic, prog-tinged, alt-rock record. It’s the sound of a band who not only know how to experiment, but know how to do it well. It can be quite a familiar brand of alternative rock: melodic, quiet/loud/quiet. It’s not a million miles away from the laid-back, funk-infused sound incubus came up with on their A Crow Left of The Murder LP. I suppose it’s the sound of a band working symbiotically, instinctively and without any self-imposed restraint when it comes to what they feel they should sound like, though Casanatra add a hefty dose of Skynyrd-style blues rock.

It’s a great combination, Complex, bluesy guitar licks work their way around funk powered bass lines and crisp drums that fluctuate effortlessly between straight up rock and roll and hip hop. The vocals flow effortlessly throughout the album, sounding like a cross between Brandon Boyd and Chris Cornell, but without doing that thing where Chris Cornell sings like he’s fighting to be heard amongst the music.

I mostly loved listening to this album. It’s a bit of a difficult listen in places, because the music gets to be almost overwhelmingly textured in places, but beyond that, it’s a great record and one that I think you should at least give a listen. In fact, you should go on their Myspace page and listen to Sleeping on Air, It totally nails the loud/quiet/loud bit with one of the heaviest choruses you’ll hear for a while. 8/10

Dan Shields

 

The Temper Trap - Conditions (Remixed) (Infectious Music)

Bringing the debut album from this wonderful band to indie dance floors of the UK, ‘Conditions’ has been remixed deliciously by many infamous names including Three Trapped Tigers, Adam Freeland and The Count.

Sashaying effortlessly through each track, the echoes of ‘Rest’ remixed by Three Trapped Tigers has all of the sexy grittiness that the original had, and then some. ‘Sweet Disposition’ is somehow un-commercialised by the quirky layering of beeps and bleeps that add that techno fun to the track, whilst still retaining the melody line that everyone loves.

‘The Science of Fear’ on the other hand, holds onto the starting tension so fiercely you believe the track may just growl, before exploding into a frenzied mix luscious dubstep with little accents of ‘Blue Monday’ just poking through the deafening cymbal beats. Freeland’s take on ‘Fader’ is very much in same vein, building up and up before letting the beat drop and carry itself through the rest of the song with poised ease and the added joy of a vocal refrain.

The Penguin Prison remix of ‘Resurrection’ and the brilliant ‘Solider On’ are both blistering stings of throwback seventies beats before detonating into true floor fillers of synth-y goodness.

All I can say is if you thrash this out at a 2010 Christmas party, you might just be the remix star of the night.
http://www.thetempertrap.net

Eloise Quince

 

Tripping Hazard - Wron: Suicide Goat

I haven’t been able to dig up a lot of information about this band, except for as follows: Tripping Hazard are Canadian. They have been around for about five years and this is their debut full-length. They have one of the best band names ever and they are a female-fronted grungy, poppy, alt-rock band. and with an absence of any other real empirical facts about this band, I suppose I’ll have to actually tell you what they sound like.

Wron: Suicide Goat is definitely not of this decade. It’s a record that has its roots Mid-nineties alt-rock. if you imagine Smashing Pumpkins more straight-forward moments with more of a punk/classic metal edge then you’re most of the way towards understanding what Tripping Hazard sound like.

Wron: Suicide Goat is a bizarrely titled but great record. At times the instrumentation’s almost sparse, quietly simmering away while the vocals do their thing before all the stoner grunge guitars wash over everything. Audio Pornography is without a doubt the best example of this. It starts out as a dirty, punky mass then slows down into a moody, organic indie noise during the verses. When the track speeds up halfway through and evolves into a huge, grunge mess, you realise you’re listening to greatness.

If you were ever a checked shirt-wearing, Sonic Youth-loving grunge-punk (and you probably still are) then this record was made for you, by the single most mysterious band in the world. 8/10
http://www.myspace.com/trippinghazard

Daniel Shields

 

Elysian Born - Magisterium

Elysian Born have been battering crowds with their titanic riffage since 2005. Now, finally, they have released their debut EP, Magisterium, and I am going to tell you all about it.

As the first song, Magisterium, comes into play with a melodic, complex riff and a double bass pounding my delicate ears, it appears as though these guys are serious from the start. It has fantastic guitar work - musically this is terrific. The vocals of Pat Blake are ferocious and cleverly implemented into the heavy persona of the opening track. As for the rest of the songs, Black Slate, The Righteous and Curse Your Name, just reread what I said for the opening track.

For a debut EP, Elysian Born have been very mature in their approach to this. It’s not wild and untamed, like you’d expect it to be; it’s intelligent and precise. I’m extremely impressed with the immensity of Magisterium; it’s deep and powerful, I can hear the emotion and meaning behind every second of every song. What they do, they do it well, and I’d like to see Elysian Born succeed in their difficult genre.

It’s all a bit the same though, isn’t it? Each of the four songs on Magisterium provides the listener with the same components: heavy riffs, melodic accompaniments, a heart-thumping double bass and barbaric vocals. I don’t like to see the same all the way through an album. I know this is an EP, but it’s the same idea. A little experimentation is never a bad thing. If they so aspire to be like their obvious influences, they must learn that the same thing in all of their songs won’t get them to the top. Because if they carry on the way they are, they’ll get slated at the top, by reviewers a lot crueller than myself.

Elysian Born are like the lovechild of Trivium and Killswitch Engage, brought up by Lamb of God - but a bit more brutal. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future, Elysian Born would be contenders for the title of the kings of heavy metalcore that bands such as Children of Bodom and Machine Head currently store in their trophy cabinets. This is a truly excellent debut and I very much look forward to their future dominance in metal.

Alex Easton

 

Nickel Pressing – Uncanny (Loaf Recordings)

Every once in a while I hear of a new band that when described to me gets me genuinely intrigued. Whether it’s because I’ve heard they sound like another band I love, they have amazing live shows, or maybe because they just they’re a little bit ‘out there’, it could be the tiniest thing and it makes me sit up and take notice. Well I had one of these moments when I heard about Nickel Pressing: Having read that this French three piece took guitars out of the equation and replaced them with a violin, yet still sound like Dick Dale meets Sonic Youth meets Nirvana I got very excited. Well who wouldn’t be interested in hearing that?

As I press play and start listening to the first track I wonder if I’ve been given the wrong CD… No, I double checked and it definitely says Nickel Pressing ‘Uncanny’ on it. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty to judge but unfortunately after a bit more of a listen my first thoughts are indeed correct; they sound absolutely nothing like Dick Dale, or Sonic Youth and certainly nothing like Nirvana. What is coming out of my speakers is ineffably bad – I suppose it would be considered electro punk if I was forced to pigeonhole it. All I know for certain is it is completely out of time, very repetitive and grates to the point that you want to switch it off even if just for a moment to give your ears a rest. This is by no means helped by the appalling violin playing that sounds like a child scraping away at the strings, not an accomplished violinist in a professional band. The only moment that they step it up a notch to the slightly bearable is during their cover of Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’ which sounds similar to Arcade Fire with lots of warbling backing vocals behind what sounds very much like a full live band. With more tracks like this on the EP they might actually be going somewhere more positive.

I sometimes wonder what people see in bands like Nickel Pressing; there has to be a market for them somewhere or labels such as Loaf Recordings wouldn’t pick up on them. Maybe it’s just not my thing, or maybe it’s a French trend that I don’t get because I’m English, like an inside joke that you’re not involved in. Perhaps I’m just getting old and past it. Whatever the reason (and I desperately hope it’s nothing to do with me losing touch with ‘the kids’) Nickel Pressing just don’t do it for me. 2/10
www.myspace.com/nickelpressing

James Borland

 

Cowboy Junkies – Renmin Park

This album offers so much more when one knows the formulation behind it. Written after a three month stay in a small Chinese town by band’s guitarist Michael Timmins, this album tries to illustrate it’s inspiration and “other-worldly experience”. Renmin Park, which translates to People’s Park, is a celebration of a different culture’s sights and sounds and this is highlighted perfectly by the inclusion of “field recordings” of such things as school children and badminton games. One in a series of four albums (due to be released over the next 18 months and called the Nomad Series) this is quite an ambitious and unprecedented move but is one that the band feel confident of facing, given their 25 year experience. It really is an organic production and one certainly gets the feel that they are enjoying what they are writing. Consequently, this album is certainly not easily accessible. It is a rollercoaster of songs, with highs and lows. Track one is a recording of what sounds like a fun-fair, followed by track two; a melancholic, beautiful piece called Renmin Park, which seeks to set the underlying tone of the album. What they have produced, ultimately, is an artistic album. Very creative and very expressive. Sincere and with a story. The listener may not relate to the story, may not be able to listen to it in one, enjoyable sitting, but it is a noteworthy and significant creation nonetheless. I for one certainly look forward to hearing the next in this series. 7/10

Matt Bull

 

Not Squares – Yeah OK (Richter Collective Records)

I can’t decide if it’s a good thing when a band describes themselves as a ‘mutant Cyclops lovechild’ of various other very well-known artists. On the one hand it shows that they recognise their roots and realise that they fit into a certain genre that can be defined by those artists, on the other it suggests straight away that they’re going to be unoriginal and a carbon copy of something that has already been. Not Squares claim to be the lovechild of LCD Soundsystem, Soulwax and Crystal Castles – but I needn’t have told you that if you had listened to the album already.

The album sets off at a fast pace with ‘Release The Bees’; a drum and synth heavy track not dissimilar to The Chemical Brothers. The next two songs come around before you know what’s really happening amongst the incessant rave that has suddenly started pouring out of your speakers. The songs reek of every stereotype you could think of from an electropop band: Lots of half-spoken, quite unclear vocal lines, fuzz bass all over each song, synths screaming out sporadic sounds all over the place. This is all fair enough, these are the sorts of thing that define a genre and without them they wouldn’t be that electropop band that they’re obviously aiming to be. But then something completely unexpected comes along; a multitude of cowbells. By the fourth song on the album ‘Smith & Carlos’ all of a sudden there is a rhythmic overload of cowbells, it all sounds very familiar. And so it should, as this is one of the first things I think of when I think of LCD Soundsystem. They use cowbells to create an almost carnival like atmosphere within their songs and it turns out that Not Squares have gone for the same approach. It is at this point that they also decide to ditch some of the synth parts and replace them with simple picked guitar and bass lines making them all of a sudden sound like a band rather than a dance act. They sound exactly like LCD Sounsystem to be more precise.

I could be mistaken that for being in the process of giving Not Squares a bad review with all this talk of them sounding like everyone else and in particular LCD however this is not the case; although it has all been heard before it hasn’t necessarily been done a huge amount better than this. If they were to clean up some of the rough edges on a couple of the tracks, Not Squares would be up there with the bands they aspire to be. If they could then add to that a unique edge that none of the previously mentioned bands have used then they really could become something quite special. 7/10
www.myspace.com/notsquares

James Borland

 

The Megaphonic Thrift – A Thousand Years Of Deconstruction (Deadly People Records)

The Megaphonic Thrift hail all the way from Norway and are considered somewhat a supergroup over there consisting of band members from Casiokids, The Low Frequency In Stereo and Stereo21. If like me you have never heard of any of those bands then you might feel that the supergroup side of TMT is not necessarily important, but I would beg to differ. I have noticed in the past that a supergroup tends to write more accomplished material, bringing with them different influences and experiences from previous bands that is absolutely priceless when trying to make decent music. So although I might not know the roots of where this band came from and ‘A Thousand Years Of Deconstruction’ is their first EP, I’m not going to let them off easily, no more Mr Nice-Guy and all that. This band is experienced and I should treat them so.

This is where I’m meant to write a barrage of criticisms down, kind of setting you up for the fall, but I can’t do it. Right from the first chord to the last fade out this EP is full of songs that I can’t help but fall madly in love with. From the high energy opener ‘Acid Blues’ to the beautifully soothing title track, each song has its own place while sitting perfectly next to one another. The tracks range from fuzz heavy, pounding indie shoegaze that sounds like it was bottled up in the ‘90s specially to be opened in 2010 to reverb filled noisescapes to get lost in that build up and up to the point where you’re willing them to explode into life. It is in fact these quieter couple of songs that make the EP for me: They show off a band that can write diverse styles of music to a very high level; it’s relatively easy to write a fast paced song that people can dance to, but to also be able to pen an intoxicatingly serene track and put them next to one another only adds to their effectiveness. This is exactly what a supergroup is capable of doing even when it is only their first EP. A newly born band would have to be something special to make an EP like this on their first outing. This is the sound of experience, and something I can’t recommend more highly to listen to. 9/10
www.myspace.com/megaphonicthrift

James Borland

 

Izzi Dunn - Cries and Smiles (Idunnit Music)

The 90’s condensed into an album’s worth of monotony. Too laidback and too relaxed for any lyrical message that is being displayed, the music washes over the brain, not properly registering any feeling or provoking any emotion as it is just average.

A beautiful voice that fits the gentle sway of the soul tracks, but I can’t help but think I’m on some luxury cruise boat sipping martini in my black tie dress, especially in tender ‘Nothing But Love’. Then there are other tracks, ‘Kill Me Slow’ and ‘All Good Things’ that sound like the lovely lady who sings in the background on Strictly Come Dancing. Everything is too club singer, too perfect. I’m struggling to make a connection.

Too polished and commercial, something that unfortunately doesn’t quite make the cut for a young whippersnapper, like myself. On second thoughts, I might just give this to my mum.

Eloise Quince

 

Milky Wimpshake – My Funny Social Crime (Fortuna POP!)

In a time where all young bands out there are trying to find the next big sound, it is a pleasure to hear an album like “My Funny Social Crime”. The Newcastle-based Milky Wimpshake puts you right back in the 90s underground with its tingle tangle garage indie-pop sound. If one needs names, you can compare the garage pop combined with the awry, British-themed voice with a “Pavement-meets-Television Personalities”-style.

The theme of the Milky Wimpshake’s fourth full length album can be described as dealing with the imponderables of daily life: difficulties in decision making (“Itchy Feet On A Tuesday Night”), love, of course (“Broken Again”), and “Murder In London”. Pete Dale’s songs thereby come across as very charming with smart and entertaining lyrics. Though it sounds like lo-fi-indie-pop at first glimpse, it is more than that; the sound-mix is well produced, dangling guitars rotate with buzzing leading guitars, a rumbling garage drum lays the ground for the right chilled drive, and you won’t expect Dale’s voice sounding so clear and understandable on an underground indie-pop record.

“Broken Again”, “Lorraine” and “Patchwork” not only give the proof for varied song-writing talent, but also for the sense of how to make a good pop-song: harmonics underline the ambiguity between the broken-heart-theme and happy tunes on “Broken Again”, “Lorraine” comes along with a xylophone while the quiet tones of “Patchwork” include arranged strings (e.g. cello), giving a nice break from the driving hastiness of the previous songs. “One Good Use For My Heart” was the rumbling single for “My Funny Social Crime”, but alongside comes the hit “Itchy Feed On A Tuesday Night”, addressing the banal problems of right, wrong and appropriate pleasures. A nippy piano and the charming voice turn the song into a hymn for imps, just like such Milky Wimpshake appear to be.

Nice to notice – apart from their own enjoyable songs – are two cover versions. The Monitors’ “Share A Little Love With Me” and Riot Grrrl’s “Fuck The Rules” are turned into thriving garage guitar pop songs. And not enough of surprises yet, “Eyeball To Eyeball” features a duet with Amelia Fletcher from the fabulous Talulah Gosh.

Not much left to say, you should just do what is supposed to be done with an album like this: Go to the park, relax in the sun, have your pint, and let the others sing about the troubles of the trivial banalities of life. Enjoy!

Wolfgang Günther

 

The Vatican Cellars – The Same Crooked Worm (Where It’s At Is Where You Are Records)

You really don’t want to know what you have to experience to have the inspirations to write an album like this. The English singer-songwriter Simon Hughes and the Californian The Birthday Girl found each other in times of loss and grief and started The Vatican Cellars to handle with their negative emotions. Not enough with tragedy; when they were about to finish the recordings for their debut album, their engineer Rich Haines died after illness.

“The Same Crooked Worm” is supposed to reflect all those rough times and shared tragedies. Covering the motives of death, loss and guilt The Vatican Cellars produce a melancholic and intimate atmosphere in their songs. Hughes’ song-writing as well as his intense voice put him near the fragility of a Nick Drake. His folk songs are arranged with different layers of instruments; classic guitars, cello, melodica and harmonium appear at the right times and emphasize the tones. But despite all this Nick-Drake despair and melancholy the songs reveal a pop-appeal that also could be taken from Belle and Sebastian.

Just the title track for the album reveals the set for the whole concept of the album: a fragile guitar pattern, companied by beautiful “Dee Dip” girl vocals, cellos and guitars in alternating melody patterns. Though the playfulness eases off during the second part of the record and is replaced by an intimate seriousness.

The melancholic motives remain in the fore for the whole album, however the responding melodies and arrangements always bare shiny moments that are suggesting that Hughes and The Birthday Girl are just on their own way dealing with their song-writing therapy: they are not only letting the listeners but also each other alone with a positive feeling that everything is getting well soon. Though you never know what hidden dark secrets will remain under The Vatican Cellar’s surface. I wish for them that they don’t have to go through similar rough times to create another beautiful album like this.

Wolfgang Günther

 

Yusuf Azak – Turn On The Long Wire (Song, By Toad Records)

The thoughts of many people who saw Philippe Petit wandering on a wire between the World Trade Center towers in New York in 1974 must have been “Who is this insane man?”, “What the heck is this nutter doing there?” or “How can it be possible?”. Some others also might have thought “Oh how awesome is this?” and “What a visionary”. Maybe Yusuf Azak had Petit’s coup in mind when he was recording “Turn On The Long Wire”.

Yusuf’s music appears to be quite as eccentric as Petit’s temerarious walk in 400 metres. The style of his songs is a mixture of electronica and folk, involving folk-picking guitars, psychedelic melody patterns, surrounded by string arrangements, in which his reverbed murmuring voice is embedded, sometimes revealing a hidden Beatlesque pop influence. The songs just wave along like a thin wire, always in motion and evolving, but remaining still in their orbit. Sounds strange? Yes, it is challenging indeed. The sound is both breathless and breathtaking. However, where Azak’s song structure would need a direction and the song a fixed guiding line with defined chorus and hook, the wire seems to lead nowhere, leaving the listener with an impression of an ambitiously arty attitude.

Though the evaluation of “Turn On The Long Wire” is just as dialectic as Petit’s walk on a wire. Is it just crazy and absurd, or is it a challenging, horizon widening approach to popular music?

Wolfgang Günther